Gentle Reductionism

I changed my views from the early days of the WikiReductionists. I now have a set of proposals called GentleReductionism. It will take a little while to summarize. I don't expect everyone to agree, but I'd appreciate people taking time to let the overall approach become clear and then help to improve it. -- RichardDrake

I'm now gently going to carve this page up into separate pages. Really very slowly.

What I don't want to reduce

As indicated on WikiReductionists, I've moved my vote to say that from now on the only thing I think is worth talking about "reducing" is WikiOnWiki. Let me summarize then what I don't want to reduce on Wiki:

Like others, I want Wiki to grow and to prosper as pretty much the highest quality forum available on the Internet. Although Wiki isn't as tidy as I guess many of us would prefer I don't think it's practical to talk about widespread reduction of existing pages.

On disagreeing by deleting

On the issues raised by DisagreeByDeleting, I think it's fair to distinguish between different types of disagreement:

Although the first one may sound mild, it's long been a custom on Wiki to delete extremely profane contributions from people who appear not to want a reasonable and polite conversation. For the latest example that I happened to notice, see the discussion on the "content-ectomy" on GangstaGeeks. I agree with this. Note that one person might well draw the line in a different place from another, as to what is acceptable and what isn't. Some people were grateful, for example, that a long, very negative post about XP and Wiki was deleted from DiversityIsSmotheredOnWiki last year, whereas I regretted that fact. But I accept that some of the time I will not "get my way" on Wiki. I suggest that everyone on Wiki should realize this fact.

The three middle categories are much more difficult. People have sometimes deleted contributions which they viewed as irrelevant or of low quality. I know partly because I experienced this a few times early in 1999, way before DisagreeByDeleting was put up. It stung my pride but I judged that this was a price I had to pay for the abnormally high quality of Wiki as a whole. Not that I necessarily agreed with the specific delete, but I decided to agree with the right that Wiki had given others to do this. I didn't complain therefore (which would have created more WikiOnWiki)

I accept PhilGoodwin's point in DisagreeByDeleting and elsewhere that these middle categories can be used as a cover for the fifth category. Hear this clearly: Deletion simply because one disagrees with an opinion is totally against the spirit of Wiki and if practised widely would kill Wiki. I don't believe that I have ever deleted anything for this reason. I would be totally ashamed if I had done.

I remain genuinely mystified by claims that such deletions, based solely on difference of opinion, now happen a lot on Wiki. People have disagreed with me pretty forcibly recently, for example, without doing this. (Apart from the "reduction" of my home page, which may have been malicious but wasn't surely because of disagreement with the text, as this was mostly facts about myself. But this was a bad example to others of what to do with people that you disagree with and I would be very concerned if such abuse began to spread.)

It's extremely important not to overstate the extent of abuse because new people may begin to think "everyone else is obviously doing it, so I might as well". Which brings me to newcomers, the heart of the motivation for any changes that I might be proposing.

What I would like to reduce for newcomers to Wiki

Last but not least I also want to reduce

My primary motive is for Wiki to continue to attract gifted new people who can contribute valuable material, experience and insights as the discussion evolves. I am still proposing that some deletion of recent - and maybe older - WikiOnWiki material and debate should be considered as part of simplifying Wiki for newcomers and reducing the chance of further outbreaks of fruitless meta-discussion.

I'll outline some specific proposals relating to WikiBadges to give some clue as to what I mean.

GentlyReduceWikiBadges to reduce newcomer confusion

GentleReductionism disincentive scheme

Although some of the old WikiOnWiki wars should I guess be preserved for posterity (but I'm not totally committed on that either) the fact that deletions have clearly taken place in WikiOnWiki pages particularly would have another very beneficial effect IMO: it would inhibit any of us from debating or proposing as much as we have. The higher that we know the chances are of eventual removal of our posts, the less point there is of innovating in this area. This "disincentive scheme" would be part and parcel of the GentleReductionism programme.

Final change of mind - editing signed contributions

I'm now prepared to vote for Fridemar's proposal in ExampleStuffInMouth. This proposal reflects the real care that many have emphasized needs to be taken with signed contributions. I have tried to listen to my "opponents" on this, but again would prefer that we keep such conventions to this very simple form. [My final change of mind was further confused by my proposal of FooDash as an alternative to ExampleStuffInMouth some months later.]

Of course, my decision isn't final. But the challenge is keeping the WikiOnWiki instructions very short, very clear and very to the point, having learnt from experience and reflected current concerns.

Discussion or Reactions:

Superb. Well explained. -- RogerLipscombe

This would read much better in third person point of view. -- MattSimpson


Sometimes when a conversation is "summarized" some or even all of the points brought up by one side or another get lost. Also some such summarizations appear to be slanted toward the editors opinion. That may be one source of the DisagreeByDeleting complaints. I personally have seen bits and pieces of some of my signed posts clipped off. Over time I've noticed that these posts don't actually say what I meant them to say originally, hence another reason for the complaint. Finally, some people insist on being just too harsh and their stuff gets deleted. Perhaps that's disagreeing by deleting but I personally think that it's just fine so long as the same points are allowed to be made using civil language. -- PhilGoodwin

Newcomer confusion

Frankly WelcomeVisitors does it for me. I don't understand why the "instructions" are characterized as confusing except for the fact that the conventions that are currently in vogue keep changing. That happens in all social groups it is neither unique to Wiki nor is it an actual problem. Newcomers will feel uncomfortable and they will react to it by either leaving, conforming, or exercising leadership. I only hope that those who wish to learn choose to stay and observe and that those who feel that they have something to teach feel comfortable putting their work here. -- PhilGoodwin

I may put you in touch with DaveSteffe and others with valuable things to contribute who have told me, unsolicited, of their confusion, Phil. You're no doubt smarter than these people. Or perhaps you find it difficult to put yourself in the position of a newcomer in the current, very different Wiki environment from the one when you got started. Whatever the reason, with respect, I don't think you're calling this one correctly. -- rd

Let 'em have their say right here like everyone else. The real problem with Wiki is that there are so few people adding content. -- pg

Newcomer confusion

Is the real problem deja vue?

Is the real problem that the general meta-discussion is getting confused with the guidelines for new users?

Personally I find it hard to see how discussion about what and how a forum discusses can be "off topic" for that forum. (I also think that WikiNature is at least as interesting as all that pattern stuff.) -- DaveHarris

It does sort of sound like it. Maybe we should stop talking about whether or how to reduce and start talking about how to make things clearer for newcomers. Maybe pages that make suggestions should identify themselves as being experimental in nature. -- PhilGoodwin

"Maybe we should make things clearer for newcomers, instead of talking about it. What I mean is, do what I say, not what I do :-)." -- DavidCary

GentleReductionism disincentive scheme

GentleReductionism believes in a "disincentive scheme" for WikiOnWiki innovators, freeing up many people's time for more productive things. Agreement on a "minimal necessary set" of WikiBadges is the first step.

I don't think that "disincenting" innovators is a particularly laudable goal. It's true that some people have gone overboard with their innovations, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Let's deal with those problems one at a time.

I think that we would be ill advised to try and impose editorial standards on Wiki. Wiki was designed to be a self-organizing system. Editorial standards are supposed to be an emergent property here - not something that is imposed by one set of people on another set. -- PhilGoodwin

Don't we have the right to go around deleting stuff? Surely if Wiki didn't want me to delete or modify other people's contributions, then the pages would be read-only, or append-only (e.g. SlashDot). The fact that it is technically possible to delete other people's stuff implicitly gives me the right to do so. Unless the owner of the Wiki expresses their preference that I shouldn't in a prominent place. (As a side note, I haven't deleted anyone's stuff, I merely believe that this experiment is far more interesting if we allow people to.)


I don't think that "disincenting" innovators is a particularly laudable goal.

Except for GangstaGeeks? WikiReductionists and supporters of GentleReductionism? Those who insist that WikiMasters are WikiCreeps? WikiMindWipers? Those using to attack Wiki? Those using anonymity of any kind to attack individuals or groups? These are just some of the recent "innovators" on Wiki. You've actively discouraged and where possible taken swift action against each of them, haven't you Phil? -- RichardDrake

Vandalism, ad hominem attacks, cowardice and graffiti are hardly innovative. "Reductionism" seems as if it might be innovative, but it keeps turning out to sound more like censorship. -- PhilGoodwin

Value judgments abound in your first four noun phrases and in your last one. That is as it should be, as long as it is recognized that others may draw their lines in different places. The last sentence repeats in effect the most harmful and hurtful accusation of April: "WikiReductionists DisagreeByDeleting". I'd respectfully ask everyone to read my comments in the DisagreeByDeleting section above on that.

My use of "innovators" always needed an IronyWarning in any case. Forgive the strange habits of this small island race. -- RichardDrake

WikiPairing: the more the merrier?

Why don't we try this: you reduce a page (and tell me what it is so that I can do my part), and I'll put back what I think needs to be there. Then you go at it again and so on with the only rule being that, while the game is in progress, the page can never be returned to any previously visited state. Maybe we aren't that far apart and can converge on something we both find acceptable. -- PhilGoodwin P.S. I don't have any problem with multiple people jumping in on the game.

I agree to the rules of the game but I see problems with EditCopy in allowing three or more players to take part. See WikiPairing (with thanks to DaveSteffe for that WikiName and his enthusiasm for the concept). -- RichardDrake

Don't we have the right to go around deleting stuff? Surely if Wiki didn't want me to delete or modify other people's contributions, then the pages would be read-only, or append-only (e.g. SlashDot). The fact that it is technically possible to delete other people's stuff implicitly gives me the right to do so.

Since it is technically possible for me to scratch the paint off your car door, steal your bike, violate your significant other and pets, and foul your living room carpet, by your thinking, that implicitly gives me the right to do so. It seems to me that morality and socialized behavior are in large part about not doing things that we have the technical capability to do. -- RonJeffries

Exactly how do you have access to his living room carpet?

Break a window, climb in. I have a rock, i.e. the technical capability.

Agreed, only a small subset of what we can do is moral. That subset has been easy to agree on Wiki until recently. I think we're returning to that state, though ideas like DeleteAnonymousAccusations I think deserve attention.

The poster quoted at the top of this section went on to say:

"Unless the owner of the Wiki expresses their preference that I shouldn't delete in a prominent place."''

In WikiHistory Ward says:

"I have always and will continue to make small edits to any page for the sake of brevity, clarity or decorum. I encourage others to do likewise."

I am happy to live within the "small edit" limits, with the exception of WikiOnWiki pages that greatly befuddle newcomers, and only then if the WikiCommunity agrees. Please consider deleting this message rather than replying to it. I won't complain. That's one of the nicest things about arguing with a reductionist. -- RichardDrake

View edit of December 25, 2004 or FindPage with title or text search