AfD Discussions (draft)

Michael Stone, March 16, 2011, , (src)



This is a short essay on some surprises that I recently unravelled on Wikipedia that caused me considerable stress over the past two years until I figured out what was going on.

You see, my main exposure to Wikipedia during this period of time came from “articles for deletion” (AfD) discussions – specifically, from AfD discussions on obscure programming languages articles like Nemerle, Factor, Alice, Cat, and Pure, which I was referred to by, which is a popular news site in my field.

What does an AfD Discussion look like?

Two years ago, when I looked at my first AfD discussion, here’s what I saw:

I saw a forest of remarks, some short and some lengthy, most of which were prefixed with a bolded word of the form “Keep”, “Delete”, or “Comment”.

As I read further, I learned that these bolded words are commonly called “votes”.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that these “votes” are not counted and, worse, that (potentially partisan) efforts to raise “voter turnout” are actively discouraged!

How do people talk about AfD Discussions?

When I tried to learn more, I discovered that AfD discussions are closed “based on community consensus”.

However, this left me even more confused than before!

You see, I’m passingly familiar with (Quaker-style) consensus-based decision-making and, one of the things that I’ve learned about it is that it

Unfortunately, the AfD discussions seem to have none of these characteristics! Instead, AfD discussions routinely discard participant’s views when those views are deemed to be ill-formed, uninformative, illogical, or when the views are presented by users who are not editors-in-good-standing.

In any case, as a result of these contradictory pieces of evidence, I concluded, in the gentle words of a dear friend, that Wikipedia governance (at least so far as article deletion was concerned) “was some bizarre sham and that [I] clearly was not going to be able to figure out what these crazies were trying to achieve…”

How do people really talk about AfD discussions?

Next, if you read further into the guidelines for deletion discussions, you may eventually learn that AfD discussions are closed by an IETF-style “rough consensus”.

Unfortunately, as will surprise none of you by now, this claim is also deeply misleading. You see, as it happens, I am passingly familiar with IETF-style rough consensus and, unlike AfD discussions:

How should we explain AfD discussions?

So how should we explain AfD discussions?

As lawsuits.

Here’s why. As with the law:

Going forward…

Maybe someone actually involved in Wikipedia could help other people see these things. Dear reader, maybe that can be you?

Through my own exploration, there’s one fewer confused Wikipedia reader in the world; hopefully now that I’ve written this, there can be a few fewer.