Thursday, October 7, 2010

Halopedia: Please, Stop Being Human

(Okay, this was written for Halopedia on November 6, 2009. It deals with issues pertinent to the wiki at the time, which may not be relevant at this time. Normally, I don’t crosspost articles that are just about the wiki, but as Wikia is overhauling the site, I want to have this article on my blogspot where I can trust it won’t vanish into the abyss or just look really hard to read.)

Over a year ago, I wrote the blog YOU ARE NOT WORTHY. NOT YET., in which I ranted about various problems throughout Halopedia and suggested ways it could improve. Halopedia has improved, but it hasn’t succeeded in all the ways I described. In some cases this is a good thing, as I now realize I was wrong to make such proposals, but in others Halopedia just needs more improvement. As we move into Halopedia’s sixth year of existence, now is the time to seriously focus on fixing our problems and become a more respected fansite. Why now? So we can be the definitive source for Halo information in time for year seven, of course.

In NOT YET, I first declared that Halopedia needed to cite a lot more references. This has improved to some extent, but we must still work on this. Whenever Halopedia comes up on the Halo.Bungie.Org forums, you can bet that a fan will be criticizing us for not properly citing our claims, making our content unreliable and prone to fanon. I made the suggestion that we add quotes to our cited references, but I admit to being totally wrong, as it led to this SNAFU. Easter eggs have improved but still need some clean up. Overzealous categorization is still an issue, even more so now that categories are our main form of navigation. The Seven article seems useful to keep, if just for the novelty of it having been mentioned by Bungie, but needs to be trimmed down a bit. Policy pages still need to be written; we made some progress on that with the Standards Council, but that took a nose dive after Forgottenlord’s departure and was later disbanded with the other usergroups. The inclusionist policy hasn’t been written down, but I currently believe it rather flawed (as I will explain below).

Moving on from NOT YET, one of my current concerns involves the use of capitalization. Our current convention is to capitalize the first letters of words that make up the titles of articles, using the sort of grammar reserved for titles. I believe this is flawed. Sometimes the subject of an article is not entirely composed of proper nouns, as with Sexual Assault, in which its use of capitalized words makes it resemble a tool like the Assault Rifle or a story like Assault on the Control Room rather than the phrase “sexual assault”. In the case of .fortune, the proper form is in all lowercase. This is respected because the subject is more like a computer command, something expected to disobey the rules of grammar. Why not a phrase that is not made up of proper nouns?

I know where this convention came from, and it’s silly that it’s stuck around so long. I came up with it in the early days of Halopedia as a rebellious act of defiance against Wikipedia. Understand that I was new to wikis at that point. I had edited around Wikipedia to some extent, and was disgruntled by the arbitrary conventions that seemed set in stone. The Halopedia seemed like a good chance to break free, so I did some silly things like putting all the categories on one line and capitalizing article names because it made nice fancy titles. Well, I eventually figured out that page breaks are just efficient, and I changed some other pointless rebellion to adopt the reasonable Wikipedia conventions, but for some reason the capitalization never got fixed.

Well, it should get fixed. It looks unprofessional, especially when the article is linked to from another article. An example could be “Cortana was created from Halsey’s own brain, replicated through Flash-Cloning”. Um, it’s not “Flash-Cloning”. It’s “flash-cloning”. This is one of many examples where a sentence doesn’t look right because it’s got improperly capitalized words stuck inside it. “Kinsler commits Sexual Assault”? No, sorry, that doesn’t work. It gets to the point where redirects have to be created because people want to use links comfortably within grammatical English. I really don’t think redirects should look better than the article title itself 90% of the time.

Moving on, I think blog categories need to be improved. As it is, there’s really just the one big Category:Blog, with a few subcategories for author. The blog creation page allows the author to apply certain categories to their blog, something that some users have used appropriately to group blogs by their characteristics. Several users, however, used the place to goof off. Before Wikia’s makeover caused the whole blog area to glitch and have the category tool display non-blog-related, I recall stupid categories like “Blog Blog” and “lolololol”. If these still exist, they should be removed, as should however many blogs exist that violate the guidelines. Wikia needs to fix the blog section – I have no control over that – but we should work to make it as user-friendly as possible, encouraging proper blog creation.

Next order of business: image copyright tags. So many of these just don’t work. As of now, we have tags for user images, Red vs. Blue, Covenant units, UNSC units, Covenant ships, UNSC ships, Covenant weapons, UNSC weapons, company logos, user-created images, public domain images, promotional images released by Joyride Studios, and I Love Bees audio files. That leaves out a lot. Traxus crates go where? This should be changed to be strict legal notices, and let users properly sort items in image categories. We could have tags for game screenshots, cover art, audio clips of various sorts, etc. I can’t remember how many times I’ve just dropped a copyright tag because it didn’t match one of the allowed categories, which is absurd. Legal stuff is important.

Now, I’m going to fix a cup of tea to sip, while I nibble on a Candy Bar (another example of inappropriate capitalization) and pretend to smoke a Sweet William Cigar. If you click on those links, you will see that Tea and Candy Bar are short and fairly ridiculous to even consider making articles about given their obvious subject matter. Sweet William Cigars, on the other hand, are brand items that are unique to the Halo universe, and are fairly interesting to read about. Yes, that’s right! I’m taking on the infamous food articles!

First a bit of history: a few years ago, I challenged the existence of the Swahili article. Swahili exists primarily in our world and exists in the Halo world only as a language like any other. It seemed ridiculous to have it included on Halopedia, and I cited the “Halopedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information rule”, suggesting that any reference to Swahili in other articles simply be linked to Wikipedia. ED disagreed, saying that Halopedia should cover everything that exists in the Halo world, whether or not it exists in our world.

ED started a topic in the old forums in which he argued to make Halopedia an inclusionist wiki, including every topic in the Halo world in its own separate article. While it was a response to the Swahili debate, it was probably also in response to an earlier incident in which a user tried to delete all the ship articles and merge them into a single List of Ships article. We had articles like Tritium, which explain somewhat obscure real world elements that feature in Halo, why not also Swahili? I was initially opposed to Halopedia becoming inclusionist, but with ED, RR, Manticore, CommanderTony, Guesty-Persony-Thingy, and other respected users arguing for it, I gave implicit consent for the policy to be put into place and have since enforced it. (So, people, stop referring to it as Dragonclaws’ crazy policy!)

The food thing, though, I have to agree is just plain silly. Apple, Squid, Milk, Chocolate Brownie… All of this is silly. We keep pointing at our article count and marveling at Halopedia’s quantity, but when so many of the articles are silly it’s not so impressive. As Stigma says, who hasn’t heard of an apple? It doesn’t improve our Halo encyclopedia and it just looks silly, so why keep it there? It is true that it is mentioned in Halo and probably deserves to be noted as an aspect of the Halo world, but it does not deserve its own article. All of these that do not have enough of their own content (i.e. stuff relevant to Halo instead of stuff copied from Wikipedia) to rise above a stub-level should be merged into List of Food and Drinks, based off of a similar list from Lostpedia, a large Lost wiki that knows their priorities.

As an extension, the use of Template:SeeWikipedia should be pulled back. It is currently used for these silly short articles like Apple to keep them stubs, to keep them from turning into giant articles (ripped off from Wikipedia) that are devoted to something far from Halo. With the merging of food items into a list, this template should stop getting used or at least be used sparingly.

In Talk:Sexual Assault, when I defended the article from deletion, I brought up that I based the article on the article Rape from Heroes Wiki. JEA13 argued that it is more appropriate there because there are a lot of rape attempts in Heroes and the article records basic info about the various attempts instead of explaining what took place. I think that the situation has somewhat changed in light of the plot of Sadie's Story from ODST, but JEA13 alerted me to the notion that articles can be based on reporting when and where, instead of what. I think this is how these articles covering subjects commonly understood but only peripherally related should be written: a single line of definition followed by descriptions of where in the Halo series it features. That means no SeeWikipedia, because the focus should not be on describing the subject itself. On a similar note, no more Template:Realworld tags in articles describing real world elements and Halo elements in the same area of text, such as Orange Juice (yeah, I know) being marked as describing the real world despite the article taking place from a Halo world perspective and mentioning spaceships.

Moving on, there should be a greater focus on readability in these wiki articles. In a normal article, paragraphs read like:

Sentence A, which describes the paragraph subject. Sentence B, which supports sentence A and goes into greater detail. Sentence C, which carries the paragraph to its conclusion. Sentence D, which concludes the paragraph and leads into the next paragraph.

Okay, perhaps not the cleanest paragraph ever, but it makes sense and has order. It can easily be understood by a reader, especially one who may have no prior knowledge of the subject. On the other hand, wiki paragraphs tend to go more like:

Sentence A, which makes a claim. Sentence B, which argues with sentence A and presents an alternative. Sentence C, which describes how the previous two sentences are totally wrong and presents a third conclusion. Sentence D, which points out how all previous sentences are partially right (Internal note, which describes how sentence D is wrong, using far more words than its parent sentence because it is clearly more right, and it lists a few reasons why it is right and sentence D is wrong) but have missed the boat.

I exaggerate, yes, but the above is based on an actual phenomenon. Because the wiki is a group project, a lot of casual editors just pop in to insert a sentence describing how another part of the article is wrong. This turns into what is more like a thread of different people arguing with each other than a coherent article explaining a subject to a reader. I recently read a paragraph like the one above and thought to myself how after spending so much time on Halopedia I can now easily read these things – not the kind of skill that should be needed at all.

Movin’ right along, I’d like to address what seems to me to be a fear of vulgarity among Halopedians. While I can understand reverting vandalism, taking irrelevant material obviously meant to antagonize off the wiki, sometimes articles describing subjects considered vulgar are aggressively opposed despite meeting qualifications. Silly articles like Tea are opposed, yes, but in a fairly calm manner, pointing out how irrelevant it is to Halo in general. On the other hand, when I created Toilet to describe how the UNSC have some implicitly-referenced futuristic toilet (unique to the Halo world, unlike tea) it received a sudden aggressive opposition. Toilets are a vulgar subject, unclean, and I imagine people have the immediate gut-reaction to get it the hell off our site as though it were obscene vandalism.

I’ve seen this elsewhere too, in response to articles with more relevance than Toilet. Way back in Halo: The Fall of Reach it was described how there was a legal brothel on the planet Gilgamesh, so when San’Shyuum concubines were described in Halo: Contact Harvest, I put together a Prostitution article. Shortly after its creation, SPARTAN-077 voiced his disgust with an “Ergh”.

You know, I don’t support prostitution, personally. By creating the article, I’m not flaunting sexuality. Nor do I support genocide, but I will write about it because it is in Halo. Likewise Corpse Humping, a Halo multiplayer cultural thing, is quite vulgar, and people have attacked the article because of that. It is a part of Halo culture, like it or not, though, and Bungie even made an avatar based on it. Being vulgar is not a reason to remove it.

For a while the article Rape described the slur, which is offensive but notable. Because there is an actual rape attempt in I Love Bees, I decided to move the slur to Rape (slur) and write an overarching Sexual Assault article with Rape as a redirect to it. The article immediately came under controversy. An IP and JEA13 compared the article to various actions that take place in Halo but are so non-notable outside of the scene in which they take place that they are not worth having as their own articles, which I don’t quite agree with at this time but think is a legitimate point.

Doghead, however, made the sarcastic remark “Let's go make one on masturbation while we're at it...” Um, masturbation is not in Halo, therefore I have no desire to write about it. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of these articles whose subject matter relates to sexuality (*cough* rape is about power, not sex *cough*). They are not there to be shocking, or to harass readers, or otherwise have their vulgarity stand as the point of their existence. Their subject matter is vulgar based on our culture (American culture, at least), but their existence is for the same reasons as anything else in Halopedia: it’s in Halo; we’re the definitive resource.

Everyone wants to keep Halopedia family-friendly, it seems. Problem is, it never was. Halo: Combat Evolved was rated M for mature. Although there hasn’t been any sex or major swearing in the games, there is explicit violence, the Flood (oh god, the Flood), torture, genocide… just plain nasty stuff! Seriously, the Flood are horrific and disgusting, especially in Halo 3. This is not E for everyone! And in the expanded universe, yes, there is sex and sexually related material. This should be treated as any other aspect of the Halo universe, and not be opposed simply because it’s vulgar.

"One more word, Oracle, and I’ll rip your eye from its socket! Which is nothing compared to what I will do to you…"
—Tartarus, to Spark and Miranda

Moving on, there’s a bit of clean up that is well overdue. Early on back in 2006, Esemono and I were trying to figure out how to note that some articles are written from a real world perspective. We came up with Template:Realworld, a box depicting the Mister Chief that would float along the right side of the page to tell folks the perspective. That worked well, and Esemono soon created another box, Template:Bees, to display on articles of people who worked on I Love Bees.

After Esemono left and RelentlessRecusant became an admin, RR made these boxes obsolete when he brought in Template:Era from Wookiepedia. Era is awesome. It makes little teeny-tiny but distinct icons float above the article to tell you in what Halo product the subject was featured. It should easily be able to replace both Template:Realworld and Template:Bees, but instead those two templates remain, bulky and in the way. After Era was brought in, Guesty-Persony-Thingy made another box, Template:Iris, for items from the Iris campaign. Now this really shouldn’t exist given that Era already does this explicit function. I heartily recommend getting rid of these boxes and replacing them with Era icons.

In conclusion (I know, finally), Halopedia is great but still needs a lot more work. Let this article be used to help influence improvement. Let’s be something that these folks from Halo.Bungie.Org and can respect. Let us truly strive to be the best thing out there, recognizing our flaws and fixing them.

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