Wikipedia’s Notability Requirement Fails for FLOSS

Jason Ryan sent me a link to his quick write up about the article for dwm, an early window manager, being flagged for removal under Wikipedia’s guidelines for notability. The notice appears to have gone up just within the past day or two. Sifting through the talk page for the proposed deletion is informative, even after factoring out the inevitable trolling and meat puppetry.

The main problem is that most free software and open source projects never get significant coverage by the kinds of sources Wikipedia would like to consider. It doesn’t mean those projects haven’t made significant contributions to software as a whole or the underlying computer science. According to the commenters on the deletion notice, dwm pioneered a particular technique for laying out out program windows that was directly adopted by many subsequent projects.

I don’t think it would be hard to come up with exceptional rules for free software and open source projects based on availability of sources, depth of version control history, or any number of other metrics in terms of adoption and support. However, how do you sustain this sort of exceptionalism for the next article representing a class of things for which the notability guidelines so thoroughly fail.

I don’t know the answer to this conundrum but I also have to wonder how widespread this problem is. I suspect that the frequency of such deletions may be small enough for the time being that the case-by-case deliberation may work just fine. I’d like to see a broader analysis before I agree with the practical need for exceptions or even more systemic changes to Wikipedia’s guidelines, as much as I agree with the objections in this case solely on principle.

8 Replies to “Wikipedia’s Notability Requirement Fails for FLOSS”

  1. Thanks for raising this issue. One other point I would add is the concern, in the context of the idealogical struggle within Wikipedia between the deletionists and the inclusionists, regarding the longer term degradation of material about (admittedly smaller and more niche) FLOSS projects on this site. Proprietary software continues to buy advertorial and so cements it claim to being the only notable/legitimate solution…

    1. The question that occurs is whether this is a potential general case the rules need to address as well. Not surprisingly, software projects seem to be leading the way but couldn’t actors in other classes of articles game the system in the same way?

      I suppose what I am looking for is some change in ethic, norm or policy that would increase resistance to this sort of gaming not just for any one class of article.

      Regardless, I concur, it is a concerning trend, as Reynir points out, that warrants much more discussion and thought.

      1. I’d agree in terms of anything that operates within the commons model. It is software that has focussed attention on this issue because of the relationship between vendors and the media; a relationship that inherits the appearance of objectivity from traditional news media, but sadly all too often fails to approach that standard.

  2. You know, I think this is worth talking about. Wikipedia’s guidelines are there primarily so that facts can be verified; so that things can’t be made up. The same guideline that makes it hard for FLOSS articles to survive makes sure that people aren’t allowed to post articles about, say, their cat and its idiosyncrasies.

    The goal would be: how can we make this not fail? What *would* be reasonable requirements for FLOSS articles? I’m sure that if you worked with, say, the WikiProject Free Software, you’d be able to get a special notability guideline for this subject area.

    The key is determining, well, what does make something worth writing about in the FLOSS world? Case-by-case deliberation is fair enough, but if the underlying guidelines don’t help the subject area, it’s not going to work out well in the long run.

    1. I am not suggesting that case-by-case is preferable for FLOSS. I agree that there are probably some very good ways to address articles about FLOSS projects as an entire class.

      My concern is that FLOSS as a class is not the only category of articles where the current guidelines present difficulties. So my question is, can the definition of sources useful for preventing the self serving cat articles you use as an example by made general enough to qualify new sources for FLOSS and other subjects where journals/articles aren’t so useful but in a continuous fashion rather than as an unending series of exceptions?

      1. I’ve recently noticed a similar problem when it comes to new media (authors, musicians, etc.) and I’m sure many other areas as well.

        It seems to me that the biggest problem is the notability guidelines are subjective. Just about anybody can flag an article for deletion and respected Wikipedians can each have their own definition of “reliable” sources and because they have history behind them they can arbitrarily delete articles.

        The good news is that they will usually move the article into a users private area (if requested on the talk page), so you can work on your sourcing and resubmit to the mother ship.

        It’s a hard nut to crack.

  3. Most commentors are missing an important aspect. Wikipedia is a general interest encyclopedia. What might well be notable enough for an encyclopedia focused on Computer Science does not necessarily belong in a general encyclopedia. If dwm belongs in Wikipedia at all, it probably belongs in an article on the X Window system.

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