Wikipedia on MUD History

We hear time and again from academics and publishers of encyclopedias that citing Wikipedia as a source isn’t a terribly good idea. That’s sad, really, as it’s such a huge body of easily-accessible knowledge that I constantly link to Wikipedia articles from this blog.

The complaints usually are that anyone can edit articles, and the information therefore cannot be trusted to be correct. But that’s only one side of the story, as a recent debate over an part of MUD history has shown.

I became aware of the debate through Dr. Bartle’s blog post about the Threshold Wikipedia article, which was quickly followed by Raph Koster blogging not once, but twice with more details.

All three links are very much worth a read, but before you run off to these other places, let me summarize the problem for you: Wikipedia’s guidelines require that articles must be based on notable sources, and not every source is notable. This blog wouldn’t be.

However, for MUDs, no such citable source seems to exist. There’s an online mini-encyclopedia about MUDs, which many consider to be the best source on them, but Wikipedia doesn’t. Expert opinions of people such as Dr. Bartle or Koster don’t seem to sway the Wikipedia editors.

The upshot is that Wikipedia will likely lose some of MUD history. For details on the how and why, do follow the above links.

It’s all very disconcerting. On the one hand, quoting only notable sources is a good policy, designed — amongst other things — to prevent self-styled experts from promoting themselves. On the other hand, as Koster points out, “Merit is based on other people citing — not well, just AT ALL in broad distribution (…) the definition of notability is based heavily on pop factors, not historical notability.”

But the gripping hand really is this: Wikipedia editors should really have enough knowledge about their subject matter to make choices based on good judgement rather than strict adherence to flawed guidelines. Any guideline, law or contract doesn’t absolve one from using one’s brain — these things are just frameworks for handling worst-case scenarios better.

To be fair, I’m not really accusing the editors of not engaging their cerebral facilities. I’m just hoping that good judgement always wins, in this as in other cases. With the huge amount of data Wikipedia is accreting, their responsibility for not inadvertently rewriting history as everyone cites it becomes huge.