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Search and Deletion on Wikipedia, Part 2

Posted by: | March 6, 2009 | 21 Comments |

Speedy Deletion is, as I have already mentioned, not the only way to remove an article from the Wikipedia. There also exist two other deletion procedures, both of which are designed to allow for a more deliberative deletion process. One of these processes is known as “Proposed Deletion” and usually abbreviated onsite, in the way so many things in the Wikipedia world are, as PROD. In the Proposed Deletion process, articles that editors believe should be deleted are “tagged” with a special template (that is to say, the template code is added to the article). This template displays a large, red warning box at the head of the article and provides space for the editor proposing deletion to list his or her concerns with the article, as well as information about the deletion process. If another editor objects to the article being deleted, he or she may remove the template. The template asks that an objecting editor also document his or her concerns on the article’s talk page, though in practice this does not always happen. If the template remains on the article for five days without being removed, any administrator may then delete the article.

Of the new articles created on October 1-2 2008, I was able to find evidence that 19 were involved in the Proposed Deletion process at some point. Of these, one article showed direct evidence of having been deleted based on evidence provided by a search test. Five others listed “notability” concerns as at least part of the reasoning behind the proposal for deletion. However, the quantitative data here are probably not very good. Deletion Proposals may be added to an article at any time and, if the proposed deletion is contested, later removed without leaving any evidence that could be found without an exhaustive review of the article history. I was not able to conduct such investigations on the articles captured for my data blog. Therefore, it is possible that other articles in the data set may have been marked as proposed for deletion without my knowledge. Furthermore, not every article deleted after a proposed deletion lists the concerns that initially prompted the deletion proposal in the deletion logs, thus information on these concerns was lost when the page was deleted.

These difficulties aside, the qualitative data provided by the deletion concerns I was able to recover are interesting. The one article proposed for deletion that has evidence of search test use in the comments recorded in the deletion log shows evidence that a variety of non-google specialized search engines may be employed by Wikipedia editors for search tests. The comments section of the entry in the deletion log for the article titled “Count von count band” reads: “WP:PROD, reason was ‘Band with three EPs and no other claim in article of meeting WP:MUSIC. No hits at metacritic; no listing at allmusic.’.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Log&page=Count+von+count+band) This comment states that this article on a musical group was deleted based on a proposed deletion (WP:PROD – for Wikipedia Policy: Proposed Deletion) because an editor felt it did not satisfy Wikipedia’s guidelines for what constitutes a “notable” musical artist or group (the shorthand for this is WP:MUSIC). Among the arguments forwarded to support this are a search test, specifically, the editor notes that this band name does not yield results when he or she searches the specialized Metacritic and Allmusic search engines, which are dedicated to tracking large databases of information regarding popular music. This demonstrates that Google is not the only search tool utilized by Wikipedia editors. It also demonstrates that Google is not the only large corporate player providing tools that Wikipedia editors find valuable, as Metacritic and Allmusic are owned by CBS interactive and the Macrovision corporation, respectively.

To expand on the limited data on the proposed deletion process provided by my initial examination of new articles created on October 1-2 2008, I examined articles listed as being subject to a Proposed Deletion on March 5, 2009. Articles that have the Proposed Deletion template added to them are added to a Wikipedia category, gathering them on a single page for easy inspection, at least until such a time as the template is removed or the page is deleted. When I first accessed the page at 19:40 UTC on March 05, 2009 73 articles were listed as proposed for deletion. Of these, six possesed Proposed Deletion tags that listed a lack of search results as part of the reason the article should be considered for deletion. Four of the six indicated that Google was the search engine employed in the search test, two of these provide links to the relevant Google results so other editors can confirm the findings. One editor went through the trouble of providing links to not only the standard Google search results, but also the results for Google News, Books, and Scholar searches.

Furthermore, these six articles provide more evidence that search testing plays a key role in establishing that a topic has sufficient “notability” to be the subject of a Wikipedia article. In five of six cases in which editors proposed deletion for articles because of a lack of search results, they explicitly stated they were concerned that the subjects of these articles were not notable. In the sixth case, an article purporting to describe a condition called “Samms disease,” the editor proposing deletion writes, “no medicine related links turn up on a Google search with the title. Please provide reliable references.” This comment does not make explicit why the editor finds a lack of Google results to be reason to delete the article, but strongly suggests he or she feels that, in the absence of references provided within the article itself, the lack of Google search results might indicate a hoax. The link between notability and Google search results is made most clearly by the editor proposing that the article on St. Peter’s Syrian Orthodox Church, Auckland be deleted. This editor writes, “A search for references has failed to find significant coverage in reliable sources in order to comply with notability requirements. This has included web searches for news coverage, books, and journals, which can be seen from the following links,” and then proceeds to provide links to the search results for the string “St. Peter’s Syrian Orthodox Church, Auckland” on Google’s standard web search, as well as Google News, Books, and scholar. The editor then goes on to conclude, “Consequently, this article is about a subject that appears to lack sufficient notability.” Since 47 of the 73 articles proposed for deletion on March 5, 2009 list concerns about the notability of subjects as at least part of the reason the articles were being considered for deletion, if editors are, in fact, commonly using Search tests to establish notability for a given subject, a practice which would be in accordance with Wikipedia’s guidelines, then Google and other search engines may have played a role in many more proposed deletions.

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