Monday, June 18, 2007

The war over Wikipedia 'Trivia' sections

No doubt most of you who waste as much time online as I do and are thus avid Wikipedia fans have noticed lately that above every Trivia section in a Wikipedia article some crusading little Wikipedia user has inserted this little note of obviousness:
Yeah, no kidding it contains a Trivia section, I know that because I clicked directly on the 'Trivia' link in the table of contents. Do you know why that is? Because that's where the actual interesting bits of information are in most articles. The bulk of most articles' text is taken up by boilerplate about the topic that is gathered from one or two referenced sources, and in the case of Movies and TV shows, is merely an autistic OCDer's bland outlining of the basic characters and story, with very little regard for making the writeup itself very interesting to read.

Now it says that it is preferable to integrate the point-form Trivia bits into the bulk of the article, but most of the information is atomic in nature, and adding "while"s and "however"s to the beginning of each tidbit and sticking it in a paragraph is just going to make for tedious reading.

The reasoning in the Guidelines page about avoiding trivia sections is that the information is not 'encyclopedic'. That is to say, Encyclopedia Britannica doesn't have these kinds of sections, so we shouldn't either. And here we see a manifestation of the continual inferiority complex people who are emotionally invested in the Wikipedia project have towards 'real' encyclopedias.

Wikipedia users who want to make every Wikipedia article look like it came from a traditional encyclopedia are doing us all a disservice by removing the cool little bits of memorable trivia that are unique to a given topic. They're like the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings trying to copy the rituals and routines of the Swiss team, instead of doing what suits their own style best. I was going to insert some cool little fact about that movie but some killjoy little Wikicrat trimmed all the quotes and trivia out of the movies article page, which now reads like a fifth grader's book report. Which is too bad because that movie kicks ass.

The thing about Wikipedia pages is that there is no space constraint, which is the over-arching constraint on a paper encyclopedia. So adding a section at the end for information that is in fact more readable as point form tidbits, instead of as part of the rest of the article, does not hurt anything and can be a good place for some of the most memorable aspects of a topic - like the fact that in Family Guy "The only songs that Peter can play on the piano are TV theme songs -- for example, the themes to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dallas, The X-Files, and the aforementioned Incredible Hulk TV series." In that article the editor was clever enough to change the Trivia section to Notes, to fly under the radar of the Wikipedia Style Brigade.

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By al - 9:16 a.m. |

Thanks for nailing my thoughts exactly about Wikipedia trivia sections. They are the most fun part of each article and the stubborn persistence of some people to get rid of them is beyond annoying. I just keep waiting for this policy to change.
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