Should Wikipedia be a time capsule?


There's an interesting article kdawson brought up over on Slashdot about the future of Wikipedia and it's seemingly conflicting ideas. From the summary:

“It can either strive to encompass every aspect of human knowledge, no matter how trivial; or it can adopt a more stringent editorial policy and ban articles on trivial subjects, in the hope that this will enhance its reputation as a trustworthy and credible reference source. These two conflicting visions are at the heart of a bitter struggle inside Wikipedia between inclusionists, who believe that applying strict editorial criteria will dampen contributors’ enthusiasm for the project, and deletionists who argue that Wikipedia should be more cautious and selective about its entries.”

I edit a few articles now and then on Wikipedia but for the most part I'm a fanatical reader; the first place I turn to when I'm researching anything is Wikipedia. Certainly it's not the definitive word, and I'm not treating it as such, but it's just so doggone useful for filling in the initial blanks.

The idea that there are people on Wikipedia who are judging the notability of articles and deleting them outright has always troubled me though because of the shaky foundation the idea of "notability" is based on. Aside from the fact we cannot even agree on a precise definition of notability in the first place, to me it makes far too many assumptions about subjects and material which in a global context with people connecting and editing from around the world is… iffy.

The other problem I see with this is that the idea of "notability" is incredibly short sighted. I wish I could claim to be the first person to have thought of it but someone on Slashdot beat me to it: imagine Vincent Van Gough. While he was alive he made very little money at all and frankly wasn't known by many people; if Wikipedia existed back in these times he would not have warranted an article because of a lack of notability. His works now fetch millions. Imagine how fascinating it would then be to look at an article about him written when he was still relatively unknown.

I'm not saying Wikipedia should turn into a living, adapting time capsule where in fifty years we can read about what a particular pet ate for lunch on its third birthday, but I think we should be very, very careful about deleting articles just because the moderator at the time deems it not to be "notable". We risk destroying a part of our culture now that future generations might find fascinating; heck Wikipedia could even be one of those technologies that save us from the digital dark age!

Or maybe it's because they deleted my New Time Radio and Audio Magazine articles and I'm bitter :-).

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