Trapped in a web of meta-Wikipedia

06May09

I stumbled across this article via Google Alerts discussing the varying practices within Wikipedia. I discovered it because one of the examples it uses is… my Wikipedia entry:

Jason Mittell’s case is similar. His biography concludes with some quotes from a New York Times article in which he defended Wikipedia against the charge that it represented a threat to traditional knowledge: “I see it [Wikipedia] as an opportunity. What does that mean for traditional scholarship? Does [it] lose value?” While Mittell is a productive academic, he does not appear to have made a “significant impact” on the field or met any of the other notability criteria for academics outlined in Wikipedia. Mittell himself agrees with this assessment and attempted to have his page deleted, as “not notable enough” (he was not successful). He observes that notability is “much less absolute than Wikipedia claims: it’s more dependent on an editor’s opinion and judgment, especially for fringe pages like my own”. It seems some decisions about inclusion lie in the eye of the beholder and may also be determined by self-serving criteria.

I have been uncomfortable with my Wikipedia entry for awhile, partly because it’s sparse and unattended, but more because it seems to exist solely because I was quoted in the press about Wikipedia. Like the other case referenced of Alex Halavais (who self-blogged it as well), Wikipedians seem to have noticed us not for any scholarly notability, but because we’ve gone on the record defending Wikipedia. This is one of the key problems with Wikipedia: it reflects its own self-interests (and thus the interests of its active editors) much more than any seemingly “objective” measure of cultural importance. Thus people who talk about Wikipedia seem to qualify for some meta-notability.

While Alex’s entry has been labelled an “orphan” for its lack of connections to other entries, mine has been tagged for deletion – in large part because I asked it to be deleted two years ago! The discussion on my page is interesting, as the article about my Wikipedia entry has become a source to justify my inclusion on Wikipedia! I weighed in only to clarify my position on my own deletion, but this is obviously something for other people to debate and decide. So if you read my blog and care about Wikipedia, go on over to weigh in – and I’d be fine with you calling me non-notable! I just want to avoid being trapped in this nether world of being notable on Wikipedia for a very non-notable role in a debate over Wikipedia use at Middlebury.



5 Responses to “Trapped in a web of meta-Wikipedia”

  1. 1 Scott Ellington

    The search just I ran for “jason mittell” at the online Encyclopedia Britannica yieled no useful result. The ‘henry jenkins” alternative query…same.
    Selecting one of the suggested alternative (and irrelevant) entries that did become available, “Native American (indigenous peoples of Canada and United States)”, I was swiftly presented with an opaque blocking screen that invited me to engage in a no-risk free trial subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica.
    I guess that means that the price we pay for information is variable in amount and kind, but that there is no free lunch; treasure or participation.

  2. A few weeks ago my seminar was trying to find some info on the background of a particular professor, which led us to a discussion of how ‘lean’ Wikipedia is on academics, whether media-studies associated or otherwise.

    We soon discovered that even the leader of this particular seminar, Janet Staiger, did not have a page. The news spread through the grad student grapevine, and we decided to make one for her ourselves. Now, how do we decide who merits a page? I’ll be the first to say that Janet’s work in reception and feminist studies is profound, and she, along with her co-authors Bordwell and Thompson, are amongst the most cited in the our field. But do citations make someone Wikipedia worthy? Longevity in the field? Or is it work that defines the direction of a sub-genre, as someone like Henry Jenkins or Richard Dyer (who indeed have large entries) have done?

    But then who’s to say when that point arrives? Aren’t junior scholars on that path?

  3. At first thought, I’m inclined to think that any entry title that makes it up there should stay up there. I thought one of the whole points of Wikipedia was that it allowed for different sources of value — Britannica won’t list details about episodes of most TV shows, for instance, but Wikipedia regularly does because these things matter to people. If you matter to people, for whatever reason, then you should be up there. The whole idea of a “non-notable” seems kind of contrary to the value system upon which I thought Wikipedia was built (brother, you’re a hell of a lot more notable as a scholar, than Nashville was as a TV series, yet it has a page). It seems to me the greater concern is with what the entry actually says about you. Here, though, lies the dilemma — do you want something that lists your kids’ and wife’s name, for example, or are you happiest to stay a meta-entry since it protects some level or privacy? So, to me, the notable/non-notable issue is for the masses to decide, but the larger issue is of rights to (or at least desires for) privacy.

  4. As far as I can tell, no one has argued that O’Neil’s recent article mentioning your article (and your old request to have it deleted) is a reason why it should be kept. The deletion discussion has focused on your books and whether they indicate that you are a significant scholar within your field.

  5. Jason, I’ve been exploring your site a little bit more, and your interview with Henry Jenkins about your textbook. I strongly sympathize with your intellectual agenda. I’m a graduate student in the history of science, and popular culture in general, and television in particular, is something I see as having been seriously neglected in the cultural history of science.

    Since your someone who has both done some thinking about Wikipedia and is deeply involved in television studies, I wonder if you might like to do a podcast discussion about Wikipedia’s coverage of television topics, with me and whoever wants to join from WikiProject Television.

    Send me an email or contact me on Wikipedia if you’re interested.


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