John Walker's Electronic House

Old Man Murray And The Wikipedia Signpost

by on Mar.09, 2011, under The Rest

Last week on RPS I spent quite a bit of time with a story about the Wikipedia entry for Old Man Murray being deleted. Rather than re-explain that here, you can read the original short post on the matter over there. But in short, one of games writing’s most significant, influential and hilarious pieces of history was removed from the encyclopaedia on extremely spurious grounds.

After we addressed this, and other high profile sites picked up on it, a review of the deletion quickly resolved the matter. In the end what it demonstrated was how efficient Wikipedia really is, and how effective its administration usually is. Of course, being made up of individuals, within their numbers will be those who make wrong decisions. This just happened to be one that affected something that we care about very deeply.

I’ve been accused, by covering this story, of inciting and encouraging anti-Wikipedia hate, and doing harm to what I believe to be one of the greatest achievements of humankind. I don’t think that’s an appropriate accusation – I reported some news, and people chose how they reacted to it. I agree that it’s tedious when people rage against Wikipedia, in the face of its millions of pages of extraordinary, mass-peer-reviewed information. Yes, there are issues, and yes, articles contain mistakes. But if you know of one, then fix it. That’s the joy of it, and certainly one you can’t indulge in with Britannica. And I agree that it’s a shame to see such reactions under something I’ve written. However, the reality was that a mistake had been made, and in addressing it I generated one of my favourite posts I’ve written for RPS – a collection of quotes from some of the biggest names in the industry praising Old Man Murray.

After the incident, Wikipedia’s own internal newspaper, The Signpost, contacted me to ask me about it all. The story they’ve posted is here. It captures the fiasco well, and gives good voice to all sides.

But I wrote many other words that didn’t appear on the internet anywhere, and that would never do. So here’s the full response I sent to The Signpost:

Signpost: Do you know any more background about the nature of the connection between Ben Schumin and Old Man Murray and/or its creators?

Me: No, and I have no real desire to learn any more. I wanted to give Schumin the benefit of the doubt, so asked him what his reasons were on his WP talk page. He had made it very clear on his website that this was the only acceptable way to approach him regarding WP queries, and suggested private correspondence would be ignored. So I followed his guidelines and left a polite question, making it clear who I was, enquiring as to why he had flagged OMM for deletion. However, rather than answering my question, he deleted it, which surprised me. When he was unwilling to offer his side of the story, I went on to investigate the other, and found the original Portal Of Evil thread. I only then linked to this on RPS after Schumin had very clearly declined an interest in commenting. I know nothing else about Schumin, and assume he handles the rest of his administration duties with the utmost professionalism.

Signpost: Why do you feel that the Portal of Evil comment from 2007 (presumably from Chet Faliszek?) is sufficient to represent a conflict of interest on the part of Ben Schumin?

Me: To correct that, it was from September 2000. Regarding COI, because Schumin had targeted both Chet Faliszek-related pages (Portal Of Evil and Old Man Murray) for deletion in the same week, it gives the impression that the two were related. And when Schumin wrote on his own site in 2002,

“2002-12-22 02:16:14 – Removed all links to the Web site Portal of Evil, as part of a planned dissociation from the site.”

it becomes clear that he has a personal connection with, and personal dislike of, the website. Whether his recent actions were related to this is not relevant – the conflict seems clear.

Signpost: Many gaming industry folks spoke out about the influence of OMM in response to your call for stories. Were you surprised at the responses in any way? Did you expect so many people to speak so glowingly about OMM?

Me: I was not at all surprised by the opinions. OMM is something spoken about by people in our industry with hushed tones of reverence. I’d be fairly disappointed to learn a developer was not a fan of their writing. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by the volume of comments I received, and the calibre of those who were generous enough to respond.

Signpost: What do you think about how Wikipedia has handled this situation? What, if anything, do you think Wikipedia should do differently when confronted with similar situations in the future?

Me: I think Wikipedia, as a whole, handled the situation brilliantly. Within 24 hours of its being publicly raised the page was restored, and rewritten to a far higher standard. I can have no complaints with
how the situation was so promptly resolved. My suggestion for handling similar situations would be to move beyond this peculiar misunderstanding of the presence of new accounts taking part in a debate. It seems fairly obvious that when someone unrelated and uneducated about a subject is attempting to have its page removed, that those who are related and educated about the subject would turn up to defend it. A debate like that should offer an opportunity for acculturation, rather than further building up the walls to keep out the outsiders. It’s an opportunity to say, “You know much about this subject – could you edit the article with this information, correctly cited?” People screaming “meatpuppet” at every new person does not give the impression of a professional body making the decisions.

I’d like to say that I believe Wikipedia is one of the greatest feats of humankind’s history, and something about which everyone on Earth should feel enormous pride. It’s a truly beautiful thing, no matter how many pages there may be about Pokemon, and I’m so deeply indebted to those who work so hard and so diligently to edit and administrate it.

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3 Comments for this entry

  • Gamaliel

    Great idea. Not that I have a great deal of experience, mind you, but whenever I do even a brief interview, I feel like there’s so much material going to waste that I can’t fit into the article. Might as well put it to good use.

  • FunkyB

    I think you’ve conducted yourself really professionally here John, nicely done.

    You praise Wikipedia’s handling of this and I largely agree, but what I wonder is that you managed to correct the problem though the use of your handy passing massively popular website. If I were to see a similar problem, I would be ignored. Do you feel there is a solution to this problem, or something inherent in the fact that Wikipedia attempts to democratically vote what is the truth?

  • Alex

    Your reaction to the whole deletion kerfuffle, rounding up quotes about the general awesomeness of OMM, reveals a problem that still needs to be addressed. Wikipedia doesn’t like anything that smells of original research, but for a lot of topics, the people who are passionate and knowledgeable about a subject aren’t necessarily the ones who would be spontaneously creating the source material that Wikipedia wants. Its strength as an encyclopedia lies in its nature as a creature of the internet, but at the same time it’s vulnerable to the same lack of ‘reliable’ sourcing on certain ephemeral subjects.