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Wikipedia accused of trashing history

Historian and journalist Benj Edwards has accused "vigilante Wikipedia users" of deleting little-known scraps of gaming history. On Vintage Computing and Gaming, which Edwards runs, the article Wikipedia is Deleting BBS Game History detailed an ongoing battle between Wikipedia editors and users. The former stated certain games aren't notable enough for inclusion in the online encyclopaedia, in part because people don't still talk about them; historians and gamers from the era have been outraged by such sentiments.

This isn't the first time Wikipedia editors have taken to removing relatively niche subject matter from the online resource, something that seems at odds with infinite space on the web and an encyclopaedia's desire to encompass as much knowledge as possible. Speaking to .net, Edwards also suggested it ran counter to Wikipedia's own history: "The site began as a collection of under-documented, under-cited articles that originated from the knowledge of its many authors and plagiarism of websites. You can think of those early entries as seeds of knowledge that later bloomed into mature, verifiable sources of information. In the same sense, it is counterproductive to trim away every 'non-notable' or poorly-sourced article because that denies them a chance to grow into something better in the future."

Edwards also noted that Wikipedia in part became popular through welcoming topics traditional encyclopaedia's didn't cover, and so to now turn away from such things is "hypocritical" and "counter to the Wikimedia Foundation's vision to share 'the sum of all knowledge'." Even without the restrictions of paper volumes, the site does have to draw the line somewhere, said Edwards, but "that line should rest just above vanity articles, absolute meaningless junk, or spam".

Deleting knowledge

In part, Edward reckoned the problem stems from Wikipedia's environment, in which people "earn their reputation for deleting seemingly meaningless articles or religiously defending them". He said this process must change, in order to "encourage people to preserve knowledge, rather than cast it aside," perhaps through the relaxation of notability requirements or the abandonment of the concept.

In favouring deleting knowledge, Wikipedia runs the risk of removing access to information, despite it only ever really being obvious in hindsight what is important from a historical perspective. "I think Wikipedia should collect everything that is not obvious garbled trash or self-promotional spam," said Edwards. "To intentionally cast away certain types of knowledge is closed-minded and prejudiced, and it runs counter to the Wikimedia Foundation's vision of 'a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge'. Instead, some Wikipedia editors are making the judgement that some knowledge is not worthy of preservation and distribution, which is a dangerous game to play."

Archivist Jason Scott agreed that we should be trying to hold on to as much knowledge as possible: "The hardest part of history is to be there when it happens. Computer history, this nascent move where we suddenly computerised and put life online is a critical moment in human history that's literally changed how people are. Society will catch up to us, but some people still question why people want to keep everything, an attitude that could mean the destruction of information, unless people are educated that these things have value." He reckoned within a decade, organisations will not question this, and companies will even have their own digital preservation aspects, but for now he "does not even feel we have the time to debate any more—we've lost that".

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