On July 31, 2006, Stephen Colbert said of Wikipedia:
Any site that has a longer entry on truthiness than on Lutherans has its priorities straight.
This probably wasn’t the first time someone has noticed the tendency of Wikipedia to feature more information about arguably trivial subjects than arguably significant ones, but it certainly was not the last. Less than a year later, a contributor to Something Awful created (or popularized) a game called “Wikigroaning”:
The premise is quite simple. First, find a useful Wikipedia article that normal people might read. For example, the article called “Knight.” Then, find a somehow similar article that is longer, but at the same time, useless to a very large fraction of the population. In this case, we’ll go with “Jedi Knight.” Open both of the links and compare the lengths of the two articles. Compare not only that, but how well concepts are explored, and the greater professionalism with which the longer article was likely created. Are you looking yet? Get a good, long look. Yeah. Yeeaaah, we know, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The article included a list of amusingly juxtaposed concepts, such as Modern warfare vs. Video Game Crash of 1983 and while the concept is funny, Wikipedia recognizes this as a systemic bias they must deal with.
This seems to me like an opportunity a) to ask whether they have and in doing so b) launch an occasionally recurring feature, wherein we compare the Wikipedia of today (beginning in early 2009) to the Wikipedia of 2007. So let’s see how those specific articles from 2007 compare then, and now.
First, let’s benchmark the articles at June 1, 2007, just a few days prior to the article’s publication and about the time author Johnny “DocEvil” Titanium was doing his research. Naturally, the piece implies that the “Lightsaber combat” article was much longer than the one about “Modern warfare.” Unfortunately (sort of) the former article no longer exists: if you click the link you are now redirected to the article Lightsaber, and as I am not an administrator, I cannot see the old pages. No matter. If we substitute Lightsaber on June 1, 2007, that article was 9,500+ words long. Modern warfare on June 1, 2007 was just shy of 2,000.
Now, here are the two side-by-side as of today:
As you can see, the Modern warfare article is now somewhat longer than the Lightsaber article. Of course, length is not everything. For one thing, the Lightsaber article is now well-sourced (in 2007 it had just one in-line citation) whereas Modern warfare in fact has none. But there are mitigating circumstances here, as well. One thing that “Wikigroaning” doesn’t take into account is the amount of material on other pages, and here Modern warfare is nearly a list, serving primarily as a jumping-off point to other articles describing different aspects of modern warfare in greater detail. Some of these are well-sourced, whereas others are not. Another consideration is edit frequency: Lightsaber has been edited many, many more times than has Modern warfare, which speaks partially to the number of “experts” in the former and partially to the stability of the latter.
This being the first post in a series I have yet to fully develop, I may develop a rating system and return to this post at another date to include it. Additionally, what I write is guaranteed valid for March 9, 2009 only and may warrant revisiting at another time. But let’s see where this takes us in the meantime.
Oh, and if you really want to know all about Lightsaber combat, Wookiepedia has an article of that name which runs more than 3,300 words — but no in-line citations.