Wiki Reductionists

History of the original WikiReductionists

This movement was started when four Europeans, RichardDrake, KeithBraithwaite, StephanHouben and ManfredSchaefer, starting totally independently, tried to reduce the amount of text on Wiki by a fairly large number of deletions on Friday 7th April 2000. They mainly attacked the "soft target" of WikiOnWiki material, which they considered to be dead weight, and they would prefer to see all the debate in this area to be deleted and replaced by some very concise guidance to newcomers - see explanation in GentleReductionism. Some stated that the volume of new wiki material is so high we cannot be sure to see all proposed edits.

A vote was taken of where WikiCitizens stood on this issue; the results may be seen in WikiReductionistVotes.

It was proposed that any proposed "reductions" (or refactorings that delete a significant amount of content) should be preannounced, with an opportunity for response before action is taken, and also that each contributor should make his own garbage collection and refactoring, helped by FriendlyPeerContributors. Having enough learned, he should give help back to the community, by being himself a friendly peer contributor. This would lighten the burden of current WikiMasters.

[Some discussion of ThreadMode moved to ThreadModeConsideredHarmful.]

Some controversy arose because many of the original reductions appeared to be targeted toward a single controversial individual. The WikiReductionists did not share their full reasons at the time of their action and some believed immediate restoral of the pages was the correct action. Several people became very upset during that time and wrote rather emotional messages (by email and in public). Not all of these messages were from anti-reductionists. Not all of the people involved (on either side) participated in creating the "crisis". The public discussion took an unfortunate turn when one or more anonymous people accused others of deliberate deletion. It was agreed that nobody cared to ask some really substantive questions about how the trauma got started.


This was not a new idea, simply a new execution. See BigWikiFireOfDoubleOught.


After everything had died down, two of the original WikiReductionists had this to say.

One thing that continues to amaze me about this incident is that scarcely anyone has ever bothered to ask me how, and in what sense the four of us ended up working together on Friday 7th April 2000. One person, a humble chap from Portland Oregon who hadn't looked very closely at RecentChanges for months if not years, did ask some pertinent questions on the telephone. One "fact" he had picked up from others still mainlining on RecentChanges, that we had worked in pairs deliberately to obliterate EditCopys, was I assured him the opposite of the truth.

As Keith stated on the day near the top of GoodTasteInDeletion we made every effort to preserve the EditCopy of each page as it had been first thing in the day, so that everyone on Wiki could assess the value or otherwise of what had been done. The very rapid restore, from personal backups, of almost all the pages affected, took place before anyone contacted any of us. (I believe that our biggest mistake was in not contacting the indivduals concerned by email, to warn them about pages we knew they had invested time in; I have and do apologize for that.) One immediate effect was to obliterate the evidence about our care for EditCopy; when the restores were followed by supportive comments from third parties this denied others the possibility of the (reverse) evaluation we had wanted.

I personally did not delete any pages that day (although I did as a non-interfering show of solidarity trim small parts of other pages marked with DeleteMe). When I saw what these three others Europeans were up to I felt both sympathy for them and concern for Wiki. I persuaded the reductionists (my term) to keep in touch by email for balance and safety. This led to all three agreeing to back out of or reduce certain deletes. I was impressed by each person's attitude and struck by what an interesting and amazingly intensive process it was. This experience Wiki might even have learnt something from if it had been interested.

Instead the world of Wiki went rather crazy. Everyone assumed that they knew the facts so they didn't bother to ask about them. The four "eye witnesses" were not worth listening to, when so many others knew what had happened and why, and how important it was to make a stink about it.

We do have a full record of emails between us that day by the way. Each of us has agreed to the public release of these, if that would shed any light for anyone. Just thought I'd mention.

I agree with Stephan's comment about underestimating the silent majority on Wiki who weren't up for major or even minor deletion. I dare say that I was pretty aware of this possibility from the start. But I didn't expect the majority to stay so silent as the four of us were savaged by a rush of complaints and accusations, many of them anonymous and very soon more caustic and damning than anything I had seen on Wiki before. Without anyone feeling the need to ask a single thing about the events that triggered the crisis.

Even if the immediate restore was the right thing there were some important nuggets, things to learn, from the lead up and the day itself this side of the pond, I believe, much more than in the very nasty aftermath. Stephan says of the lead up: it appeared to me that the "general consensus" was that people should RefactorFasterDeleteMore. As the original author of that page I was not as confident of consensus I think as Stephan and I felt quite a bit of responsibility for people just "going for it". But how does one ever establish any grounds for action on Wiki? One answer I've decided is: very slowly! But there are still things to learn from our experience that day, even in our naivety. -- RichardDrake

Perhaps now is the time for me to reflect a bit on WikiReductionism?, since the initial hot emotions seem to have cooled a little (especially my hot emotions). In the weeks leading up to the Reduction, there was a lot of talk on Wiki on how Wiki was growing too fast, how pages were getting too large, how ThreadMode and WikiOnWiki were getting out of hand. It appeared to me that the "general consensus" was that people should RefactorFasterDeleteMore, but that there was a taboo on deletion which prevented this. But nobody made any attempt to actually break this taboo. So I decided to do what everybody was talking about and "reduce" a couple of pages. (By the way, I only deleted about 5 pages, of which I put back 2 when urged to. I mostly deleted content added by myself.)

To my surprise, this action was greatly criticized. At that time I thought this was extremely hypocritical, since people had vehemently advocated more deleting on Wiki for several weeks. In retrospect, I might have underestimated the SilentMajority who had simply ignored the whole WikiOnWiki discussion.

Subsequently, there were anonymous accusations that I had deleted some anonymous page. I had the feeling that there was a witch-hunt going on. Since I was now getting extremely p*ssed off, I reacted rather vehemently, which didn't help to calm things down.

Finally, I decided to ignore Wiki completely for a week or two. After that, I have pretty much ignored the whole WikiOnWiki discussion. I still feel that full-scale reductionism would be a good idea if the whole community agreed. Lacking that, something like GentleReductionism might be the answer. Anyway, I won't be deleting any more content from Wiki; I'll leave that to the WikiMasters (you know who you are).

I hope all this doesn't sound too frustrated; despite the appearance of the opposite, I do have a life outside Wiki. I am pretty confident that the whole event has left no permanent mental scars ;-). -- StephanHouben


See also: WikiFilterist
CategoryWikiHistory

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