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Special report
Wikimania 2018

Keep straight on – there are trolls in the hedgerows

Photograph of a long trail with grass and forestry at either side; a green arrow sign with a white border is at the forefront, attached to a wooden post and pointing left, informing the reader that "Byway" is that way
You are on the right route. Keep going straight.

In this, The Signpost's last issue with me in my short tenure as Editor-in-Chief, we offer yet another fact-packed issue. The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF)'s Executive Director appears to be blithely unaware of what goes on in the office, yet the WMF – again – has lots of money and gets a new website, but curbs spending on essential tools for volunteers; a Wikimania volunteer gets fired from his help (by the WMF); our English Wikipedia experiences one of the worst Requests for Adminship (RfA) in history; and, despite our series of articles on RfA, the drama continues. Additionally, due to a topic ban, a regular columnist withdraws her harmless humour contribution.

Although The Signpost's reporting is based on facts, like all news media it does not promise to be entirely neutral in its content. Some of it is indeed tongue-in-cheek and we are sure our readers will understand the difference.

Topping the usual average number of page views by almost double, the article "Death knell sounding for The Signpost?" in our March issue still remains the most read contribution to the magazine so far this year. It raised awareness of the importance of the publication. Read by thousands of editors and readers, not only on Wikipedia but also in the world at large, The Signpost is our organ for all things Wikipedia and Wikimedia in English. However, it can only survive through your comments and contributions.

This editor, at least, has no interest in following or even visiting the Wikipedia criticism and hate sites, and never has. By all accounts these sites appear to be significantly populated by people who have been blocked or banned by those committed to keeping the encyclopedia free from POV pushing, financial exploitation, vandalism, disruption, trolling, and other divisive behaviour that is contrary to what Wikipedia is. With the encyclopedia's extraordinary policy of open, collaborative compilation, these are no easy tasks. The Signpost rises above the cheap innuendos and not-so-vague slander in those fora even if some of our readers' comments sink to those same low levels. Wikipedia is a large collaborative endeavour and needs a newsletter; The Signpost is that newsletter. The trolls are not welcome.

As I approach my eighth decade on this planet, there is now already a generation of literate people that has never known a world without Wikipedia. In this 21st-century technological era, despite differences of opinion amongst its editors and with the Wikimedia Foundation as its corporate owner, I remain convinced that Wikipedia is an amazing achievement – not only in its content, but also having become the world's Number 1 knowledge resource. I am not abashed to admit that I am proud to have been a small part of it.

Let us, The Signpost, and you – the volunteers who have made it all possible – continue in this goal and keep collaboration and comments as friendly as possible, and based on some recent experience, beware of 'joe job' emails. My very best wishes and thanks to all who have supported and encouraged this quasi-relaunch of the magazine.

Animation of the Wikipedia logo's omega puzzle piece circling the globe
The Signpost is hiring!
More of a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle than a bung for a hole in the sinking ship that the periodical once was, The Signpost is now looking for a permanent Editor-in-Chief to fill a vacant slot in the editorial team. Start 1 September or as soon as possible. Candidates should expect to work in excess of their contracted 30 hours per month for no additional remuneration. Salary $00.00 commensurate with age and experience.

Reader comments

Photograph of Fatkullin smiling in 2017
Farkhad Fatkullin

In the closing ceremony of this year's Wikimania, held in Cape Town, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced Farkhad Fatkullin (User:Frhdkazan) as the Wikimedian of the Year for 2018. Fatkullin was selected for his efforts in support of the minority language communities in Russia. Wales said that "Farkhad is energetically community organizing among Russia's minority languages communities, going far and wide beyond his native Tatar. He is also fluent in English, a fact that has established a bridge between those communities and the wider movement after years of isolation. He is community-minded, helpful, friendly, and dedicated to both Wikipedia's mission and to diversity."

Fatkullin joined the Wikimedia movement in 2009, when he "fell in love with Tatar Wikipedia", the small yet diverse encyclopedia that he goes to whenever he needs to get informed about any topic. Since 2015, Fatkullin has been actively contributing to Wikipedias in the languages of Russia project, aiming at supporting Wikipedia in those languages. The Signpost interviewed him about his work and views of Wikipedia. (Introduction adapted from the Wikimedia blog post.)

How did you first become involved in Wikimedia?
I greatly benefited from Wikipedia's inter-language links already in the pre-Wikidata age. Then, I discovered that I can actually edit. Then, I found Wikipedia in Tatar (my mother tongue). Then, I discovered the impact Wiki-editing has for the development of both the language and the culture. Then, I didn't want to stop and since 2015 I'm actively involved in many Wikimedia projects, not being limited to Wikipedia or even on-Wiki activities.
What is the hardest challenge you've been presented with in your time?
Learning to say "Wait! I might need to change my mind and the approach I am using even if I seem to be on the right both literally and in principle". Being a member of a small wiki, I had to balance my desire to promote the principles and five pillars with the need to help community development (Wikipedia is a community).
What changes would you like to see happening on Wikimedia?
Any changes happen on Wikimedia only when someone starts showing an example and this approach grows to win the heads and hearts of the active Wikizens. So each one of us is in charge of the change we want to see aboard. I want to see more such captains.
What advice would you have for starting editors?
As in everything, one only learns by doing. Whenever one grows experienced, he or she usually smiles at the mistakes that were made along the way. So we better enjoy getting it wrong, not taking anything too seriously. The community will eventually get things right!
What is, in your opinion, the best way to deal with disagreeable editors?
To begin with, editors matter. I am lucky not to be contributing into English, Russian, or any other high-traffic Wiki where disputes about the truth and lack of justice might get out of hand. In smaller Wikis, we can't afford to scold away people who are interested and ready to contribute in our languages. In this sense, "Wikipedia does not need you" doesn't apply to our world in its entirety, as growing each respective language's user base is a balancing act. "Don't feed the trolls" is good advice, though.
How do you see Wikimedia, and the project as a whole, developing in the near future? The distant future?
We are safe, so long as we are guided by the Vision and Purpose. Russia's public doesn't know what the Wikimedia movement is and what the principles and nature of its projects are, even though Wikipedia is actively used in our country as well. I am currently concentrating my efforts on communicating the benefits of active inclusion of these in education, GLAM, and other activities under the assumption that the more people see the benefit of participation in collaborative free knowledge creation and promotion projects, the truer we are going to be to our vision, mission, and values—and the better we are going to serve our Purpose.
Imagine a world in which every single human being is a Wikimedian. That's my commitment!
The interviewee's responses have been slightly copy-edited from the original.

Reader comments

WMF hires a spam outfit

Photograph of Katherine Maher speaking into a microphone in 2017
Katherine Maher,
Executive Director

Evoking Cambridge Analytica, Smallbones demands a statement from the very top, Katherine Maher, after Only in death brings the partnership up on Jimbo's talk page. As mentioned in last month's issue of "In the media", however, with Maher spending 200 days a year at 35,000 feet, her business travel apparently leaves her little time to keep an eye on what is happening in the company she is charged with managing. Jim Heaphy (Cullen328), lead host at the Teahouse and otherwise well-known for exercising extraordinary restraint even in the most contentious situations, concurs and beats around no bushes while Maher beats her daily way through frequent flyer lounges and crowded departure gates:

While Maher may well be doing an excellent job as ambassador for the Wikimedia movement, the word 'executive' appears to be a misnomer in her job description. (executive – A title of a chief officer or administrator, especially one who can make significant decisions on their own authority. Wiktionary)

"[T]his is a gross misuse of donated money. Whoever hired or signed off on hiring a company who brags about performing such manipulation of information which is available to the public should immediately resign in shame or be fired. This is unforgiveable and inexcusable."

— Nocturnalnow

The story begins to unfold with a message on the Wikimedia mailing list from MZMcBride that states: "How is it appropriate for Wikimedia Foundation Inc. to work with a company that is, by its own admission, whitewashing Wikipedia?" Expressing his concerns further about a paid editing syndicate being hired by the Foundation and given privileged access to inside information, he continues: "Is it appropriate to give a company that sells whitewashing Wikipedia services access to private user data, as was done in <> and <>? The Wikimedia Foundation Inc. legal department apparently approved this access, but I'm curious to know why, given the company's role in selling an 'Online Reputation Management' product. This looks bad to me."

"Go Fish Digital is a company that whitewashes Wikipedia" explains McBride. On its website at "Online Reputation Management" (July 22 edition via the Internet Archive), Go Fish claim:

The primary platforms that define your online reputation include:

  • Google Search
  • Google Autocomplete
  • Wikipedia [Editor's note: "Wikipedia" since redacted]
  • Yelp, Google Reviews, and other review websites

With Online Reputation Management, we work hard to make all of the positive information easy to find. At the same time, we use many different strategies and tactics to diminish the visibility of negative content, or in some cases, remove it from the web altogether. The end result is a positive online reputation because when people search your name or brand, they immediately find positive content.

The page continues, stating:

We have custom-built a number of tools to help us with very specific monitoring activities. We can see Wikipedia updates as they happen, track the smallest of changes in search results, and monitor online reviews in real-time. These capabilities allow us to quickly assess changes in your online reputation and adjust strategy as needed to triage any immediate problems. [Editor's note: As of publication, this is still on their site.]

Smallbones saw through the poorly veiled college-taught marketing technique and helped Wales' talk page readers to understand: "GoFish has not said directly – in any of the quotes here – that they are available to edit 'your Wikipedia article' for pay, but their meaning is clear. It's not a case of being able to read between the lines, just of being able to translate AdSpeak to English."

Photograph of Dan Gary smiling in 2017
Dan Garry,
Lead Product Manager for Editing

Dan Garry (Deskana), Lead Product Manager for Editing and a Wikimedia employee since 2013, is responsible for "build[ing] and maintain[ing] the editing experiences on the Wikimedia wikis." He stated in a late-April Phabricator ticket titled "Access to Google Search Console for Go Fish Digital" that "[t]he Audiences department is currently engaging with Go Fish Digital to help us improve our understanding of search engine optimisation." He goes on to specify that "[t]hey have signed a master service agreement which fully covers our privacy policy, data retention, and data security requirements, and the agreement received signoff from Jim Buatti (in Legal) and Toby [Negrin] (the Chief Product Officer), amongst others."

Photograph of Gregory Varnum smiling in January 2016
Gregory Varnum,
Communications Strategist

Garry can probably be forgiven for being in the dark about Go Fish's actual commercial objectives. He concluded the ticket with a suggestion to "creat[e] an account for them with access to these tools, so that access can be easily revoked at a later date, but I'm happy to go with whatever the best practice is here." And who would be accessing them? "I don't know specifically who at Go Fish is going to access the console", replies Garry in early May, "I've spoken to probably around 10 people there, and any one of them might access the console."

Communications Strategist Gregory Varnum later denied that such a request had been made, stating that "they did not request or receive access to any Wikimedia user data." However, in the Phabricator ticket, Go Fish Digital were given access to the Google Search Console for the various encyclopedias' data (including the English Wikipedia's mobile version) over two months earlier, granted by Operations Engineer Rob Halsell. Admitting yet another gross Foundation blunder, Varnum replied with a press release–style letter:


Thank you to everyone that has provided thoughtful and constructive input on this discussion, and to the volunteers who are investigating the possible policy violations. We have some additional information on this vendor relationship and on steps being taken that we believe will be helpful to this discussion.

The Wikimedia Foundation entered into a short-term contract with Go Fish Digital to conduct a search engine optimization (SEO) audit on Wikipedia. They were contracted to provide information needed by the Audiences department to improve how our sites communicate with search engines and services which provide data to devices like artificial intelligence (AI) assistants. Overall, SEO performance is a strength of our projects, but we were able to identify areas for improvement, and the audit was helpful for Audiences to more effectively focus their efforts. During discussions about Wikimedia values and activities that were held in selecting the vendor, they did not disclose anything which raised suspicion, and we failed to identify this specific concern and question them about it more.

The Foundation's Legal department received the proposal after it had been approved by Audiences and drafted a contract for this agreement following standard procedures. This included a privacy review, which resulted in the inclusion of extra privacy and security protections in the contract. Their activities did not involve reputation management services, and they did not request or receive access to any Wikimedia user data. The contract concluded last month.

As we are now aware of the vendor's possible violations and feel they should have shared this information with us during discussions, we will not be pursuing any future working relationship with Go Fish Digital and will be requesting that they honor our contractual agreement by not discussing their past relationship with us for promotional purposes. Additionally, we are reviewing the way that this vendor was selected in an effort to see if we can identify what led to this issue and better identify these types of concerns when identifying future vendors and executing agreements with them. Finally, as they regularly do, our Trust and Safety team in Community Engagement are working with the functionaries investigating the possible policy violations.

Again, we appreciate the attention provided to this by the functionaries and others who raised these concerns. We agree that the Foundation should avoid working with vendors who violate our policies, and hope the discussion around this will help reduce the chances of this happening in the future.

Thank you,


Gregory Varnum,
Communications Strategist,
Wikimedia Foundation

On the Wales talk page thread, TonyBallioni – who, like Cullen328, is also known for his restraint – spoke out, evoking Orangemoody and the connection to the BurritoSlayer sock farm mentioned by MarioGom, who discovered that the article on 1776 (company) was created for a confirmed Go Fish client:

Smallbones added: "We can also stop the noise about firing lower- and medium-level WMF employees. The problem IMHO lies near the top – senior managers need to get the word out that paid editing is a very serious business that is a very serious problem on Wikipedia. They need to take a look at the length of the sock puppet investigation and how much editor time was put into just the investigation."

The Signpost deputy Editor-in-Chief, Bri – currently on a wikibreak – joined the discussion, saying that "I added Go Fish Digital to the PAIDLIST on December 12, months before the Phabricator tickets were opened, giving the firm access to our logs. At that time the evidence of activities on-wiki in contravention of ToS [Terms of Service] was suspected, based on their own advertising. Now the connection to the BurritoSlayer sockring is known. And I agree that this should be treated with utmost seriousness, as a de facto data breach of PII [Personally Identifiable Information]. One that was preventable."

As of publication, neither Maher nor Wales have offered a comment – not even to decline giving one.

The above user quotes have been slightly modified for style, semantics, and clarity. The original text is available in the original discussion.

Wikimedia moves to WordPress

Screenshot of the new website's English-language home page in August 2018
WMF's new WordPress website

The new Wikimedia Foundation website was announced on 1 August in another mailing list missive by Gregory Varnum. The Signpost editors came across the site by coincidence while researching early this month for the lead article above. Looking for the current staff list, they had to use Google to find it, and were unable to decide whether the large German text was an error or an embellishment.

Built on WordPress, a free and open-source CMS software which was initially developed for blogging, it took a team of "over 100 individuals around the organization and movement" and "many months of work" to come up with the concept and creation. The new website came under criticism from MZMcBride, who says that "[m]any people, including employees of Wikimedia Foundation Inc. and volunteers, repeatedly raised objections to this decision to move to WordPress and they were ignored. I think this type of behavior by the communications department is really inappropriate, unbecoming, and inconsistent with Wikimedia's values." From ED Katherine Maher, there is again no comment, not even "no comment"; due to her travel commitments, she may have been unaware that it was being made.

In a step which combines the flexible creativity of web design beyond the constraints of MediaWiki with their move from their traditional software originally developed by Magnus Manske and deployed in 2002 to run the Wikipedia encyclopedia, the WMF distances itself yet further from its volunteer communities, ensuring also that the WordPress site has no talk page and is only editable by its approved webmasters. Perhaps if the Foundation's communications department were to use that time and funding to give those encyclopedias a more modern look, the complaints would not be so loud, so many, and so critical.

Further information about the 2017–18 WMF website update can be found at its documentation page and feedback can be provided here. The Signpost welcomes readers' views on the design.

Wikipedia still has cancer – where does the money go?

In July, Guy Macon updated his user essay on the transparency of Foundation spending, "Wikipedia has Cancer", with the following:

Bar graph of the WMF's financial development from 2003 to 2017 that measures (1) "Support and Revenue", (2) "Expenses", and (3) "Net Assets at year-end"; and depicts a steep growth that begins to accelerate in 2009 and shows no clear sign of plateauing
WMF's financial development shows no clear sign of slowing down

Observations as of July of 2018:

  • It is difficult to derive a trend from one year's data, but it appears that the rate of spending is beginning to level off. How much influence this page (and the previous posting of the same argument on various pages) had on this is an interesting question.
  • We still have a marked lack of transparency on spending. For example, [1] has numbers for "Grants and awards" and "Professional service expenses" but there is no obvious way of finding out the details of those expenditures (please note that this information may very well be in one of the many, many documents the WMF publishes each year).
  • All efforts to persuade the WMF to enact any spending cap, even "limit spending to no more than double last years spending" have failed.
  • We appear to be building up our endowment, but it is unclear whether the WMF has structured the endowment so that the WMF cannot legally dip into the principal when times get bad. Without this we have no protection from a sudden drop in revenue while the WMF maintains the current spending levels in the hope that revenue will recover. It is also unclear whether the endowment is legally protected against a large payout as a result of a lawsuit. The current management of the WMF appears to be committed to making immediate and drastic cuts to spending if revenue suddenly drops. Hopefully we will never have to find out.

This follows up on his original analysis, which The Signpost published in the "Op-ed" of its February 2017 issue.

Close calls at RfA – a new trend?

Apparently, our recent three-part series in The Signpost on adminship fell on stony ground (May, June, July). This month sees both Requests for Adminship (RfA) closed balancing on a knife's edge.

In one of the most hotly debated runs for adminship in Wikipedia history with a total of 318 participants, it included opposers evoking antics on Wikipedia hate site Wikipediocracy and an old spat with an arbitrator who graciously and magnanimously supported the bid for the mop. Jbhunley, author of the user essay "Identifying nonsense at NPP", stoically awaited closure. After a belated closing freeze (~11 hours) with the final tally being 196/86/10 (69.5%), a Bureaucrat discussion reached a 7–3 verdict (1 recusal) of 'no consensus to promote'.

A week later, another new perennial topic thread was started on Jimbo's talk page titled "Term Limits for Admins", following a discussion at last month's "Op-ed". In the thread at Jimbo's talk page, the RfA was mentioned as yet another example of how RfA is broken. Jimbo chimed in, agreeing completely with Carrite's point earlier in the thread that a system which considers 70% support a "rejection" is broken.

The second RfA to close this month was Philafrenzy's, which ended on time with the result 'no consensus to promote' at 143/80/19 (64.1%) with a total of 263 editors participating.

Brief notes

  • 40,000 biographies missing for academics:
  • New blocking tool: The Wikimedia Foundation's Anti-Harassment Tools team is currently developing the ability for partial blocks to be possible on Wikipedia. According to the Foundation: "Sitewide blocks are not always the appropriate response to some situations. Smaller, more tactical blocks may defuse situations while retaining constructive contributors. The goal of this project is to give wiki administrators a more robust set of tools to be able to better respond to different user conflict situations." New wireframes have been posted for users to comment on and its development is currently being discussed on the talk page of the Community health initiative's documentation for "Per-user page, namespace, and upload blocking".
  • New user-groups: The Affiliations Committee has announced (diff) that "[i]n the coming weeks an Affiliate Data survey will be launched to reach out to update key information about all affiliates."
  • Milestones: The following Wikipedia projects reached milestones this month:
    • The Santali language Wikipedia, India's first tribal language to have a Wikipedia in its own script, went live on Thursday, August 2.

Reader comments

Does AI level the playing field for underrepresented subjects? Or perpetuate systemic bias?

Official logo of WikiProject Women in Red, depicting a left-facing white silhouette of a woman in the right half of a red heart
The logo of Women in Red, whose WikiProject has been heavily involved in creating articles based on the technology

Wired, Popular Science, The Verge, and others published a story on Quicksilver, a new artificial intelligence tool that finds missing Wikipedia articles, and writes short summaries. Users can head to Quicksilver's website to find a list of the 100 released notables.

In a blog post, the people behind the technology described how it works:

[The software can] read 500 million news articles, 39 million scientific papers, all of Wikipedia, and then write 70,000 biographical summaries of scientists. ... We are publicly releasing free-licensed data about scientists that we’ve been generating along the way, starting with 30,000 computer scientists. Only 15% of them are known to Wikipedia. The data set includes 1 million news sentences that quote or describe the scientists, metadata for the source articles, a mapping to their published work in the Semantic Scholar Open Research Corpus, and mappings to their Wikipedia and Wikidata entries.

The technology can also be used to help prevent Wikipedia articles from going "stale" and lagging behind the pace of events. In February 2018, Google announced that it was embarking on a similar project, but the passages were described by The Register as "a bit difficult to read without clear capital letters at the start of new sentences, and most sentences have the same rigid structure", and the model was criticized for reliability issues. Even Quicksilver only presents short clippings from news articles strung together, and presents a large focus on those who have the most mentions in the news, but it is a good place to start.

Bias in the big-data sources selected to fire up the AI has been pointed out as a potential downfall. Haaretz published a story titled "The Real Reason Sheldon Adelson's Wife Deserves a Wikipedia Page" about Miriam Adelson, who was listed in the original 100 figures, including this observation:

The initial data fed into the program was that of academics from the world of computer science, skewing the results in favor of that field from the outset. More so, a large number of those Quicksilver proposed for articles were American figures from the world of IT, suggesting that the initial dataset provided by the San Francisco-based company reflected its own location as much as their own backgrounds as engineers.

The sentiment was echoed in a "reflection" on-Wiki (permanent link), including this comment from Xcia0069: "Many of the sources are cheap news sites that aren't the most reliable interpretations of the research undertaken [and] a surprisingly high majority of the sampled of 100 scientists are from the USA".

The worries might be moot for us, though, if the output is incompatible with open licensing. The licensing of the work states that: "The data contains sentences from news articles provided for the purpose of computational research and development. Copyright law applies to the text of these sentences which may limit its use."

In brief

Photograph of Sarah Jeong speaking at the XOXO Festival in 2016
Sarah Jeong

Do you want to contribute to "In the media" by writing a story or even just an "in brief" item? Edit next week's edition in the Newsroom or leave a tip on the suggestions page.

Reader comments

Simple English Wikipedia to stay open

The Simple English Wikipedia logo, depicting the Wikipedia globe logo with italicized "Simple English" above "WIKIPEDIA"
The logo of Simple English Wikipedia

The project closure discussion for Simple English Wikipedia was rejected by LangCom, for the following reasons:

  • The community is active and robust, and spam and vandalism are handled in a reasonable way, given the size of the community.
  • Because this project existed before the current new projects policy was put in place, the facts that Simple English (a) does not have its own language code, and (b) may not be considered "different enough from English" to have its own wiki, simply are not relevant.
  • Because of the preceding two points, there is no policy justification to close this project.
  • Additionally, given that Oppose !votes greatly outnumber Support !votes, it cannot really even be said that the community has developed a consensus to recommend that LangCom close this project.

Meanwhile, a related discussion has started on whether Simple English Wikiquote and Wikibooks (both closed) should be deleted outright. P

Creating a stopgap Interface Administrators policy

With the interface administrator group created, how will the user right be granted? Discussion of this has been going on for some time at the user group's talk page. !Voting has now begun on the proposed policy, with the following rules for when bureaucrats may grant the user right:

  1. Any admin may request the right at the bureaucrats' noticeboard.
  2. Requests must stay open for 24 hours, during which if two admins object, the request is declined.

The right may also be revoked under one or more of the following conditions:

  1. If they have made no edits or other logged action for at least 12 months.
  2. Voluntary request by the interface administrator at the bureaucrats' noticeboard.
  3. After misuse of the access, by consensus at Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard.
  4. By request of the Arbitration Committee.

No policy has been agreed upon yet. Other discussions include whether to give the right to admins who already edit these pages regularly (six admins have wide consensus for being granted the right), as well as an alternative granting procedure. P

Should drafts not yet submitted to WP:AFC have the {{draft article}} template?

A proposal (permanent link) was made on the village pump asking whether {{draft article}} should be put at the top of articles in the Draft namespace that don't have another header template, like {{afc submission}}. The main disagreement between supporters and opposers in the discussion is whether the template is useful to editors. Edits to the template are being made at its sandbox in an attempt to rectify the concerns of some of the opposers. P

Exploring the boundaries of paid editing policy

A discussion (permanent link) on the Administrators' noticeboard asks whether paid feedback for using a tool as an admin requires disclosure.

In more detail, the discussion has circled around whether compensated participation in a research study constituted paid editing subject to the disclosures required since 2014. Making it particularly puzzling was the fact that this study concerned use of a tool the study provided to assist with RfC closures and that the study was considered by some to have WMF support. Moreover, unlike usual paid editing, the compensation would be for behavior and not content. Specifically, an administrator would use the non-admin tool provided by the study to close a single RfC, even if that means reclosing an old one or testing it in a sandbox. Several administrators said they have been solicited to participate.

Administrator TonyBallioni – who has stated for this report that he was not solicited and has never received any compensation related to Wikipedia – insists in the discussion that "[p]ayment for use of a tool and providing feedback on it is not payment for contributions" and that this is an unnecessary examination of the meaning of "paid editing". Jytdog, a long-time contributor to conflict of interest matters, suggested that "people considering doing this, should not be evaluating themselves how the community should classify" compensation, bias blind spot underscoring the importance of a community discussion on the issue.

As far as The Signpost is aware, the issue was brought up before anyone engaged in the project and in fact no one may have received compensation at this point. B

In brief

  • There was a proposal on the policy village pump (permanent link) to ban political userboxes; it was snow-closed as unsuccessful.
  • The Bot to deliver Template:Ds/alert discussion was recently archived without a formal close. More than a month in, the support–oppose ratio was about 5–3, but there was some debate about whether this change would be allowed to be implemented, and many users treated this discussion as purely advisory and something that would ultimately be up to ArbCom.

Reader comments

Black-and-white 1960 photograph of Neil Armstrong smiling in a NASA suit and resting his right hand on the tip of an X-15 aircraft
Neil Armstrong (a featured article) was an X-15 test pilot before the Apollo 11 mission made him the first human to set foot on another solar system body
This Signpost "Featured content" report covers material promoted from July 20 through August 23. Text may be adapted from the respective articles and lists; see their page histories for attribution.

Featured articles

22 featured articles were promoted this month.

Photograph of freshly picked gypsy mushrooms on a plate
Maggot-free Cortinarius caperatus mushrooms
Infographic map depicting the distances to bases at each point in the 1982 British campaign during the Falklands War
7,000 nautical miles (8,100 mi; 13,000 km) of British logistics in the Falklands War
Photograph of an adult northern gannet in flight above clear blue waters in Heligoland
Retouched photograph of Amundsen–Scott Station in Antarctica with a greenish Aurora Australis streaking across the clear night sky
Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station holds an annual screening of The Thing
Graphic representation of a binary tree with the search key, 4, highlighted
You would probably not be reading this without the binary search algorithm.
Photograph of Crater Lake depicting clear blue waters reflecting fluffy clouds with forestry peeking out in the forefront
Crater Lake, the result of Mount Mazama's volcanic collapse
Photograph of of a Roman coin struck in imitation of the coins of Philip I Philadelphus of Syria, depicting Philadelphus in left-facing profile on the obverse and sitting in his throne on the reverse
Philip I Philadelphus on a Roman coin

Correction at 14:34, 18 September 2018 (UTC): The Neil Armstrong article was co-nominated by both Kees08 and Hawkeye7, not just Kees08.

Featured lists

10 featured lists were promoted this month.

Close-up photograph of Gal Gadot with a slight smile in 2017
Israeli actress Gal Gadot was most recently added to the FHM's 100 Sexiest Women (UK)

Featured pictures

Eight featured pictures were promoted this month.

Featured topics

Four featured topics were promoted this month.

Photograph of Ramdas Pai receiving an award from then–President of India Padma Bhushan, a guard standing in the middle behind them both
Ramdas Pai (right) receiving Padma Bhushan from the President of India, Pratibha Patil (left), in March 2011

Good articles

Apart from these featured contents, 230 good articles were promoted this month.

Click to show
Photograph of a juvenile tree swallow perched atop a plant stem
Juvenile tree swallow (a featured article)

Reader comments

Wikipedia is because we are

Group photograph of attendees at Wikimania 2018 in Cape Town
Group photo of the Wikimania 2018 attendees in Cape Town

A wholly thematic conference this year, Wikimania in Cape Town focused on the African continent, coinciding with celebrations recognizing the birth of Nelson Mandela a hundred years ago.

"Two things: there's a need for African knowledge and perspectives to help inform and build a better, stronger Wikipedia, both in English and other international language versions of Wikipedia as well as in their own language", says Douglas Scott, president of Wikimedia South Africa, while talking to anchor Rene Del Carme of CGTN America in Cape Town at the conference venue. "The second one is for us, as an existing community of editors, is how can we be more inclusive but still maintain the ethos that we have of trying to present a neutral point of view, fact-checking, all that sort of stuff – basically, be a better encyclopedia. But we can't be a better encyclopedia without a diversity of opinions and voices in our community."

Animated global heat map depicting significant expansion of Wikidata item coverage, particularly outside of North America, Western Europe, and China
Expansion of Wikipedia's coverage worldwide from 2014 to 2017 as determined by Wikidata items
Image by Denis Schroeder (WMDE)

"The challenges in Africa are mostly lack of infrastructure for Internet and affordability of Internet, inability of people to be able to access Internet-enabled devices", Felix Nartey, the 2017 Wikipedian of the Year, tells Del Carme. "Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia. Everybody can edit it and nobody gets paid for editing Wikipedia; however, the spirit of volunteerism – that is not embedded in our culture."

The CGTN America news segment is published on their website and available on YouTube.

Focus on the Foundation

With no fewer than 31 Wikimedia Foundation employees making presentations (some of them several), and many more attending, it would not be too great a leap to assume that the conference once more is a staff event focused on the work of the Foundation. This is in contrast to what one would assume and expect it to be: an event driven by the unpaid volunteers who provide the content, maintain the projects, organise the events, and select its scholarships and programmes. Of the 79 slots in the official programme, 22 were filled by the Foundation – that's nearly 28% (not far from a third!), with one employee alone occupying no less than four of the available slots with topics as diverse as:

Nevertheless, they were well-presented and were facilitated by a seasoned and routined public speaker. Four presentations in the timetable were given by the German Wikimedia chapter, as well.

During or shortly after the conference, the Wikimedia Foundation paid for an advertorial in the Daily Maverick.

Photograph of James Alexander smiling during Wikimania 2015 in Mexico City
James Alexander,
Manager of Trust & Safety
Photograph by Joe Sutherland

Friendly space

  • "Don't photo me!"
  • "Don't touch me!"
  • "Don't look at me!"
  • "Don't talk to me!"

  • "Go away!"

An unfortunate incident involving a well-known, well-liked, and enthusiastic volunteer organiser caused a storm on the Wikimania public mailing list. The actual details have not been released and probably never will be, but the volunteer – banned from further activity by James Alexander, manager of Trust & Safety – was sufficiently concerned about the extent of his punishment to post his experience on the mailing list.

Large infographic detailing various information about the Support and Safety Team, such as its structure, scope, members, and contact information
Infographic presenting the Wikimedia Foundation's Support & Safety Team (c. 2016) and the broad areas of their work (click here to enlarge)

The vast majority of comments came out strongly in support of the volunteer, but by some 20 or 30 emails later the discussion had mutated into a call for a variety of warning badges or stickers to be worn by conference attendees. Suggestions range from the stickers to limiting the use of cameras to authorised photographers. The exchange continues.

Under the directorship of Jan Eissfeldt, Trust and Safety (T&S) serves the Wikimedia Foundation, contributors, and the public by providing support to Foundation initiatives with a focus on community consultations, governance, and training. Formerly called Support and Safety (SuSa) and Community Advocacy, the team addresses trust and safety concerns – including threats communicated on our projects – and helps ensure the safety of attendees at Foundation-supported events. It comprises a team of no fewer than nine employees and is also responsible for conduct at Wikimania.

As of publication, the organisers have not released any attendance figures.

Reader comments

This traffic report is adapted from the Top 25 Report, prepared with commentary by JFG (July 22 to 28), A lad insane (July 29 to August 4, August 5 to 11), igordebraga (August 12 to 18) and Igordebraga/Stormy clouds (August 19 to 25).

Sad khans say so much (July 22 to 28)

Sad-face emoji with tear

For the week of July 22 to 28, 2018, the 10 most popular articles on Wikipedia were:

Rank Article Class Views Image Notes
1 Demi Lovato Good article 2,433,262 Demi Lovato 7 (40988738890).jpg What's up with all these singers on drugs? More proof that being a top Twitter luminary doesn't buy happiness or mental stability. Sad!
2 July 2018 lunar eclipse Start-Class article 1,382,648 Lunar Total Eclipse on July 27, 2018 (100 2006) (43696968392) (cropped).jpg The Moon turned bloody, and dancing zombies took over the world. Sad!
3 Imran Khan C-Class article 783,758 Imran Khan - portrait (cropped).jpg Twitter strikes again. Oops, neither this Khan, nor that one. Imran merely won an election (#8). Sad!
4 Deaths in 2018 List-Class article 759,269 3d CT scan animation.gif Obituaries are still the most popular article each and every year. Sad!
5 Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! C-Class article 738,092 Mamma mia!.svg Sad!!! Exclamation mark!
6 Mission: Impossible – Fallout C-Class article 618,233 Mi-logo.svg A boring, tired franchise. Very Sad! Forget Tom Cruise, worship 1970s precursors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in the original Mission: Impossible series.
7 6ix9ine Start-Class article 611,674 6ix9ine June.png Some rich thug on drugs got beaten up by some poor thugs on drugs. Or for drugs. Or both. Color me surprised. Sad!
8 Pakistani general election, 2018 C-Class article 585,838 Flag of Pakistan.svg In Pakistan, a Khan (#3) became the khan. Sad!
9 Rowan Atkinson C-Class article 524,722 Rowan Atkinson 2011 2 cropped.jpg Rumors of his death were temporarily exaggerated. Same for us all, really. Sad!
10 Shazam! (film) C-Class article 515,579 Captain Marvel cosplay.jpg Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Shazam! (born 1939, #10 on Wikipedia) is older than Donald Trump, a.k.a. Big Rocket Man (born 1946, #18 on Twitter). Sad!

Full report

Your report, should you choose to accept it (July 29 to August 4)

Digital timer displaying "4:59"
This page will self destruct in five seconds.

A week of film and suicide: Wikipedia loves movies. And this list makes that very clear, with 9 out of 25 articles being cinema-related and a 10th of TV. That's 40% of the whole thing. An unusual percentage.

In other news, this was a surprisingly non-scandalous week. Only two (and a half?) deaths, and Demi Lovato made it through the week. Reddit and Google are here. And the World Cup lingers, almost a month after its final. Perhaps France is still basking in its glory.

For the week of July 29 to August 4, 2018, the 10 most popular articles on Wikipedia were:

Rank Article Class Views Image Notes
1 Mission: Impossible – Fallout C-Class article 991,997
Paris, Triumphbogen -- 2014 -- 1624.jpg
The sixth movie in the franchise (occupying the #3 spot here) was released last Friday, when it didn't have enough time to get that many views and occupied, appropriately, the sixth slot on last week's list. This week, however, even without the initial rush of opening-night views, film fans managed to push it up to the top.
2 Deaths in 2018 List-Class article 753,212
What, dead people? I never would've guessed!


Predictably, this makes its appearance yet again. Not as expected, it rose two spots while dropping 6,000 views, probably due to the fact that no article this week has more than a million views.

3 Mission: Impossible (film series) C-Class article 711,052
Dynamite clipart.jpg
Soon to join the ranks of Fast and Furious, and having already surpassed Indiana Jones. Eventually to feature the likes of Jaws 19.
4 Tom Cruise B-Class article 670,756
Tom Cruise avp 2014.jpg
The star of #1.
5 Gerda Taro B-Class article 640,351
Gerda Taro-Anonymous.jpg
Google Doodle here, this time proclaiming the 108th birthday of this photojournalist who died while covering the Spanish Civil War after a tank crashed into her vehicle.
6 Demi Lovato Good article 601,492
Demi Lovato, Future Now 2016 (Cropped).jpg
Switched spots with Mission: Impossible - Fallout from last week's list.

I just never expected Princess Anna to nearly die from an opioid overdose. Did you?

7 Rick Genest Start-Class article 579,248
Also known as Zombie Boy. But to get to the point, last week he was alive. Now he's not. The police say it was a suicide, but his family says there's too many inconsistencies. They may have a point, but then again, they all say that.
8 Avengers: Infinity War B-Class article 575,746
WW Chicago 15 Contest - Infinity Gauntlet (21100774415).jpg
The movie inspiring this subreddit and its great ban (spoilers for the movie) has now been released to digital.
9 Meena Kumari B-Class article 504,102
Meena Kumari in Chandni Chowk (1954).jpg
Google is back! Another birthday, this time of an Indian actress that lived a bit longer than Kurt Cobain, but not that much. 11 years longer, to be precise.
10 Bruce Willis C-Class article 492,869
Bruce willis cinedom.jpg
So apparently he will be helping to cast the next Die Hard movie. He was also roasted. I didn't watch it, but it seems it wouldn't have been prudent to show it to my 6-year-old cousin.

Full report

Hitting a (not quite) all-time low (August 5 to 11, 2018)

Semi-circular indicator board with numbered up to 8, with indicator arrow pointing at 1
Running a bit low on page views this week.

Apparently not all too much happened this week. The lowest entry on this list had 273,062 views. The last time an article with less than 300,000 views made it into the top 25 was in 2015, and even that was higher than this. This is the lowest entry point since 2014.

In other news, surprisingly, there's no Reddit this week. There are two Google Doodles, though, and 4 out of the top 5 articles are death-related. Fairly normal.

For the week of August 5 to 11, 2018, the 10 most popular articles on Wikipedia were:

Rank Article Class Views Image Notes
1 M. Karunanidhi C-Class article 1,428,209
After a hospitalization last week, this former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu passed away on 7 August after having been ill with age-related issues since October 2016.
2 Deaths in 2018 List-Class article 749,368
Still in the same position from last week. Wikipedians can be morbid (me included), and with the two-and-a-half-year (and counting) string of celebrity deaths that began with Lemmy in December 2015, a lot of us want to make sure no one else has kicked it since the last time we looked. The biggest peaks of views in the yearly death article occurred in 2016 with the passings of Prince and a cluster in December 2016 spanning several generations, but the views have still been, on average, climbing since 2015. A typical week of views from Deaths in 2018 (this week is pretty normal) is far above a typical week in 2015, and several spots higher in the list.
3 Chuckle Brothers C-Class article 606,524
Alice 2008 and Chuckle Brothers 028.jpg
The older of the two brothers comprising this British children's comedy duo, Barry Elliott, died on Sunday at the age of 73 after having been ill for a while.
4 Mission: Impossible - Fallout C-Class article 556,684
Paris, Triumphbogen -- 2014 -- 1624.jpg
Down from #1 last week. The sixth movie in this iconic franchise was released on July 27. I would make some snarky comment about it, but all I know is the theme, and that's really only because I had to know it. Other than that, I'm not as familiar with the movies as some individuals may be.
5 Karunanidhi family C-Class article 522,336
The death of a prominent individual (in this case, #1 on this list) often pushes articles related to their famous family members into the list. I think the record is 10 articles for a single (celebrity-dense) family, but that may not count as there were two family members.
6 Mary G. Ross C-Class article 481,054
Mary G. Ross Sculpture 1.jpg
The first known female Native American engineer, she was honored by a Google Doodle celebrating what would have been her 110th birthday.
7 Avengers: Infinity War B-Class article 477,651
WW Chicago 15 Contest - Infinity Gauntlet (21100774415).jpg
Up a spot from last week despite being down nearly 100,000 views, and as far as I know, still here for the same reason, namely, that the movie is now out on digital release. Infinity War is also the most viewed article of 2018 so far, with 28 million views.
8 The Meg Start-Class article 464,653
Jason Statham 2014.jpg
This science fiction/horror movie about Jason Statham (pictured) fighting a giant shark (#24) was released on Friday. It has a 49% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics describing it as a solid B-movie. It probably won't stay on the list for too long, but you never know.
9 UFC 227 Start-Class article 417,058
TJ Dillashaw.png
Wikipedians continue to love mixed martial arts. I'm not really into it, personally, but then again, my favorite sport is curling, so I'm probably not from the sports demographic that reads these articles.
10 Kepa Arrizabalaga Start-Class article 415,724
Kepa Arrizabalaga (6).jpg
This footballer was just signed to play for Chelsea, and he is now the world's most expensive goalkeeper, at €80 million. I don't know too much about British money, but that certainly sounds like a lot.

Full report

R-E-P-O-R-T, find out what it means to me (August 12 to 18)

Aretha Franklin singing

When a famous musician dies, it's to be expected that the commotion will be enough for its Wikipedia article to be the most seen of the week. And when it's someone with a storied career like Aretha Franklin, numbers will be huge (narrowly missing the 5 million mark!). And our #2, former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, shows two of the week's most present topics, death (which includes the ever-present yearly list) and India (in the top 10, there's Priyanka Chopra's fiancée, and the multi-game tournament they're taking a part in). Hollywood has a few movies (#9, #10), Google brings one article, and otherwise things are scattered, including golf champions (#4) and Trump's former friends worsening his reputation (#5).

For the week of August 12 to 18, 2018, the 10 most popular articles on Wikipedia were:

Rank Article Class Views Image About
1 Aretha Franklin B-Class article 4,997,992
Aretha Franklin 1968.jpg
The "Queen of Soul", responsible for immortal songs such as "Respect", "Chain of Fools", and "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman", died at 76 of a pancreatic cancer that had prevented her from public concerts since November. And to think now all the "musical guests" out of The Blues Brothers (where Aretha has a memorable performance singing "Think") are no longer with us.
2 Atal Bihari Vajpayee C-Class article 3,371,692
Atal Bihari Vajpayee 2002-06-12.jpg
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, three-time Prime Minister of India from 1996 to 2004, passed away on 16 August (the same day as Franklin) at the elder age of 93. A chief leader in Asia, Vajpayee was responsible for making India a major nuclear power with the Pokhran-II tests, and eased tensions in South Asia after arranging peace talks with Pakistan. (Does it count that these talks happened to be held right after fighting a war with them?)
3 Omarosa Manigault Newman C-Class article 901,876[1]
Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth (headshot).jpg
After the controversial release of her novel Unhinged (2018), Omarosa, former political aide to Godfather Drumpf, released four secret tapes, the first of which was recorded in the Situation Room, resulting in a major security breach. She also claimed, among others, that the Big Boss would deport his trouble and strife if she dare breach their relationship. Seems like those are enough reasons to justify her appearance on this report.
4 Brooks Koepka Start-Class article 873,589
Brooks Koepka.png
Koepka won the 2018 PGA Championship, which combined with the U.S. Open back in June makes him the first golfer to win this double since Tiger Woods.
5 Ebenezer Cobb Morley Start-Class article 827,500
The FA Cup Trophy.jpg
Ebenezer Cobb Morley was an English soccer player footballer who was a solicitor by profession. Widely regarded as the father of the Football Association (FA) and modern football, Morley was the first secretary and second president of the FA. To commemorate his great contribution to the world (IMO, of course) he was honoured with a Google Doodle on what would have been his 187th birthday.
6 Deaths in 2018 List-Class article 782,780
Views raised, as a few prominent figures (#1, #2, #13, #14) died. Yet the page fell from #2, as this time people had more things to look for than just deaths.
7 2018 Asian Games Start-Class article 763,073
Asian Games logo.svg
The Asian Games, which are held once in four years, opened in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia on August 18. This year's event, which was earlier supposed to be held in Vietnam (Sad!), marks the first time the Games are hosted by more than one city. To add to that, eSports are possibly on its way to be recognised as an official sport next time, as the competition, along with canoe polo, is being contested as a demonstration sport. (Hmm... Seems like I could try a hand.) Which country are you rooting for?
8 Nick Jonas C-Class article 709,154
NickJonasSep10 2.jpg
The youngest of the Jonas Brothers publicly announced his engagement to our #12.
9 Crazy Rich Asians (film) Start-Class article 618,889
Representativity is good for business: after what Black Panther did for African Americans, it's time for Asian Americans in this novel adaptation where Constance Wu (pictured) plays a woman who travels to meet her boyfriend's family, only to find them to be among the richest in Singapore. Crazy Rich Asians got glowing reviews and also opened atop the box office, beating our next entry.
10 The Meg Start-Class article 611,490
Carcharodon megalodon SI.jpg
Jason Statham vs. giant shark, now that's a high-concept. Don't know if it's any good (shark movies aside from Jaws usually aren't, and reviews are mixed to bad), but it has made some money, opening atop the US box office (before our #9 pushed it down to second) and having so far grossed $300 million worldwide.
  1. ^ Combined views; during the week, the article was moved from "Omarosa Manigault" (196,516) to "Omarosa Manigault Newman" (705,360)

Full report

Introducing Me (August 19 to 25)

Khalil Gibran once claimed that "only love and death will change all things"considered, and the report this week seems to lend credence to this sentiment, dominated as it is by those most domineering of human traits – love and loss. Between engagements and a multitude of prominent deaths, we have a microcosm of humanity in this week's iteration.

Outside of these lofty emotions, we also receive some entries from the entertainment industry, with Hollywood and Netflix jostling once more for the attention of viewers. A curiously diverse report, and a joy to compile.

For the week of August 19 to 25, 2018 the 10 most popular articles on Wikipedia were:

Rank Article Class Views Image About
1 Nick Jonas C-Class article 1,255,884
The singer, who first came to my youthful attention as he mused about the various lexicographic uses of the word 'dude' alongside his fellow fraternal philosophers, has been in the news with some frequency of late owing to his relationship with Priyanka Chopra, whom a cohort of the internet seems infatuated with. The page views likely stem from confirmation of their engagement.
2 2018 Asian Games Start-Class article 1,195,981
Son Heung-Min Spurs 2016.jpg
The Asian Games are underway in Jakarta, Indonesia, and incredible Asian athletes are already accumulating vast amounts of gold, silver, and bronze medal for their nations. The games are evidently a big deal for purveyors of Wikipedia, but Western coverage, at least in my neck of the woods, hinges on the efforts of Son Heung-Min to claim gold for South Korea, allowing him to forgo military service.
3 SummerSlam (2018) Start-Class article 1,125,084
Rousey HOF 2018 (cropped).jpg
Former UFC champion Ronda Rousey (pictured) went for the easiest way to get a championship belt: scripted fights! She won the WWE Raw Women's Championship in this event held at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
4 Crazy Rich Asians (film) C-Class article 997,398
Michelle Yeoh Cannes 2017.jpg
Like African Americans with Black Panther, Asian Americans are really happy to be fully represented in a hit film. The interesting title of this romantic comedy refers to Michelle Yeoh (pictured) and Ken Jeong (who has built a career out of playing crazy Asians), the rich and overbearing future in-laws of a college teacher. Crazy Rich Asians got glowing reviews and completed two weeks atop the US box office.
5 To All the Boys I've Loved Before (film) Start-Class article 947,913
Vermeer, Johannes - The Loveletter.jpg
Netflix's attempt at teen movies seem to be their most successful, and while The Kissing Booth got terrible reviews, there has been critical praise for To All the Boys I've Loved Before (which Netflix only bought the distribution rights for), about a teenage girl whose secret love letters are exposed. And borrowing a title from Julio Iglesias is much better than his son Enrique, as we'll never see a YA adaptation named Tonight (I'm Fuckin' You).
6 Asia Argento C-Class article 931,348
Asia Argento Cannes 2013 2.jpg
Seeing boyfriend Anthony Bourdain hang himself would've already made 2018 a rough year for this Italian actress. But then she was accused of sexually abusing a minor (#18) and paying for his silence. Argento vehemently denies (after all, a part of the #MeToo movement doing a #HerToo sort of deal would be inadequate), saying the payment came from Bourdain to help the boy's family.
7 Priyanka Chopra Featured article 913,738
Priyanka Chopra 2003.jpg
Bollywood superstar, former Miss World, and occasional singer Priyanka Chopra is now engaged to our #1.
8 Stefán Karl Stefánsson Start-Class article 886,545 1
The tragic end to a rare positive internet story here. From the plethora of jokes about Harambe to the altering of Pepe the Frog, memes have a tendency to be dark as well as dank. However, the internet rounded in support of the LazyTown actor (he portrayed Robbie Rotten, the villain), who died this week, and let him know that he truly was number one. May he rest in peace.
9 Noah Centineo Stub-Class article 853,559
Museum of Revolution Cuba.jpg
Centineo is an actor, who appears as a love interest in the Netflix adaptation (#5) of Jenny Han's YA hit (#12). As ever, avid binge-watchers have trawled through a wide array of links related to their streaming drug of choice. In this case, they will have found that Centineo previously found fame doing a Cuban salsa alongside Camila Cabello.
10 2018 Asian Games medal table List-Class article 817,175
Asian Games logo.svg
The best measurement of how the countries of #2 have been performing. Next year the continents where the this report's authors live will have similar tournaments.

Full report


  • These lists exclude the Wikipedia main page, non-article pages (such as redlinks), and anomalous entries (such as DDoS attacks or likely automated views). Since mobile view data became available to the Report in October 2014, we exclude articles that have almost no mobile views (5–6% or less) or almost all mobile views (94–95% or more) because they are very likely to be automated views based on our experience and research of the issue. Please feel free to discuss any removal on the Top 25 Report talk page if you wish. Except if you're EXO and BTS (even if you only care for the WMF Labs ranking, we don't condone artificial boosts!), just read WP:DENY and weep. Sad!

Reader comments

Automated bare url expansion

Citation bot now expands select bare url citations. For example, see this diff.

This doesn't work with all bare urls, but it will work with urls to Google Books, arXiv, bibcode, JSTOR, doi, PMID and several other identifiers. If you see such bare urls in an article, you can activate Citation bot here or use the one-click citation expander gadget in your preferences. The Google Books output in particular will need to be reviewed, as sometimes Google Books links to magazine, rather than books proper. It shouldn't give anything egregiously wrong, but the citation might not have the full details, list a publisher for author, or might need to be converted to {{cite magazine}} or something.

Many thanks to User:AManWithNoPlan for this. Headbomb {t · c · p · b}

(adapted from village pump post [permanent link])

Automatic mapframe maps in Infoboxes

{{Infobox building}} and {{Infobox shopping mall}} now automatically displays dynamic <mapframe> maps by default, if available. If you are interested in any articles using this infobox, please review how the map displays in those articles: you can adjust the size, frame center point, initial zoom level, and marker icon using various optional parameters; the mapframe map may also be turned off using |mapframe=no.

See Template talk:Infobox building and Template talk:Infobox shopping mall for further information and discussions.

Non-CC0 licenses for the Data namespace

Following previous discussions, legal approval and tech work it is now possible to have tabular and map data in one of the following free licenses:

  • CC0-1.0 (as previously)
  • CC-BY versions: CC-BY-1.0, CC-BY-2.0, CC-BY-2.5, CC-BY-3.0, CC-BY-4.0, CC-BY-4.0+
  • CC-BY-SA versions: CC-BY-SA-1.0, CC-BY-SA-2.0, CC-BY-SA-2.5, CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC-BY-SA-4.0, CC-BY-SA-4.0+
  • ODbL-1.0

The default license is empty string (e.g invalid license) and when user tries to save page with invalid license, he/she will get notified of the allowed licenses. (there is a task to make it slightly more clear: phab:T201758).

You can see an example how to declare such license here (diff).

Whenever you consider to release tabular data with licenses other than CC0 please keep in mind that any templates that pull data from non-CC0 licensed datasets need to comply with the relevant attribution terms, hence it is highly encouraged to prefer CC0 whenever possible.

Thanks, Eran (talk)

(adapted from Commons village pump post [permanent link])

Server switch coming up

The Wikimedia Foundation will once more be performing server switches, to test its secondary data centre. This has been scheduled for Wednesday 12 September and Wednesday 10 October 2018, both rounds starting at 14:00 UTC. During the switches, you will be able to read but not make any edits for up to an hour. Further information is available on Meta-Wiki and on Wikitech.

In brief

  • Advanced item Cloud Services purge – Cloud VPS projects which are not marked as actived will not be migrated to the new cloud region. Instances and projects will be eligible for suspension or shutdown from October 1, and removal from November 1.

New user scripts to customise your Wikipedia experience

Bot tasks

Recently approved tasks
Current requests for approval

Latest tech news

Latest tech news from the Wikimedia technical community: 2018 #31, #32, #33, #34, and #35. Please tell other users about these changes. Not all changes will affect you. Translations are available on Meta.

Recent changes
  • Some diffs show lines in the wrong order. The developers are working on fixing it. (source)
Changes later this week
  • The message you see when you thank a user will change. This is to make it easier to understand. (source)
  • AWB will stop adding using AWB in the edit summary. Instead it will add a tag that says AWB. (source)
  • Advanced item Some abuse filter variables have changed. They are now easier to understand for non-experts. The old variables will still work but filter editors are encouraged to replace them with the new ones. You can find the list of changed variables on They have a note which says Deprecated. Use ... instead. An example is article_text which is now page_title. (source)
  • Advanced item Abuse filters can now use how old a page is. The variable is page_age. (source)
Future changes
  • The developers are planning more ways to block users. This could be blocking someone from just a page or a namespace. You can read more. You can leave feedback on the talk page. [2]
  • The 2018 Community Wishlist Survey begins on 29 October. The survey decides what the Community Tech team will work on. You can post proposals from 29 October to 11 November. You can vote on proposals from 16 November to 30 November.
  • Advanced item Legacy JavaScript global variables have been deprecated for seven years. They will soon be removed from all wikis. Gadgets and scripts that use them will stop working. You can test your community's gadgets on "group0" wikis. For example Test Wikipedia or The legacy JavaScript global variables are already disabled there. You can read the migration guide to fix old scripts. (source)
  • Recurrent item Advanced item You can join the technical advice meeting on IRC. During the meeting, volunteer developers can ask for advice. The meeting takes place every Wednesday from 3:00–4:00 p.m. UTC. See how to join here.

Installation code

  1. ^ Copy the following code, click here, then paste:
    importScript( 'User:Danski454/ToggleSmall.js' ); // Backlink: User:Danski454/ToggleSmall.js
  2. ^ Copy the following code, click here, then paste:
    importScript( 'User:EnterpriseyBot/reply-link.js' ); // Backlink: User:EnterpriseyBot/reply-link.js
  3. ^ Copy the following code, click here, then paste:
    importScript( 'User:AlexTheWhovian/script-categorypagelinks.js' ); // Backlink: User:AlexTheWhovian/script-categorypagelinks.js

Reader comments

The Signpost congratulates the winner and finalists of the Picture of the Year 2017 competition. The top 12 are presented in order below; full results are available on Wikimedia Commons.

Perereca-macaco - Phyllomedusa rohdei.jpg
Winner: Two Phyllomedusa rohdei vie for a branch, one passing over the other.

Attribution: Renato Augusto Martins / CC BY-SA 4.0

Reader comments

Wikimedia Research Newsletter Logo.png
A monthly overview of recent academic research about Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, also published as the Wikimedia Research Newsletter.

The Battle for Wikipedia

Color image of protesters in late 20th century clothing holding signs showing a soldier in Wehrmacht uniform
Does Wikipedia lack true historical consensus on the actions of the Wehrmacht? Is our story skewed towards apologetic historiography like Lost Victories and the protesters against Wehrmachtsausstellung, shown here?
Reviewed by Bri

The "clean Wehrmacht" battle covered in the past three issues of The Signpost (May, June, July) is reviewed from a historian's perspective in The Journal of Slavic Military Studies.[1] The title of the paper is an allusion to Lost Victories, today generally accepted as an unreliable and apologetic account of the actions of German forces during World War II. The author, David Stahel, who states that he is not a Wikipedia editor, examines the behind-the-scenes mechanisms and debates that result in article content, with the observation that these debates are not consistent with "consensus among serious historians" and "many people (and in my experience students) invest [Wikipedia] with a degree of objectivity and trust that, at least on topics related to the Wehrmacht, can at times be grossly misplaced...articles on the Wehrmacht (in English Wikipedia) might struggle to meet [the standard]". The author describes questionable arguments raised by several of the pro-Wehrmacht editors and concludes their writing "may in some instances reflect extremist views or romantic notions not grounded in the historiography".

Readers prefer summaries written by a neural network over those by Wikipedians 40% of the time – but it still suffers from hallucinations

Reviewed by Tilman Bayer

Several recent publications tackle the problem of taking machine-readable factual statements about a notable person, such as their date of birth from the Wikidata item about them, and creating a biographical summary in natural language.

A paper[2] by three researchers from Australia reports on using an artificial intelligence approach for "the generation of one-sentence Wikipedia biographies from facts derived from Wikidata slot-value pairs". These are modeled after the first sentences of biographical Wikipedia articles, which, the authors argue, are of particular value because they form "clear and concise biographical summaries". The task of generating them involves making decisions about which of the facts to include (e.g. the date of birth or a political party that the subject is a member of), and arranging them into a natural language sentence. To achieve this in an automated fashion, the authors trained a recurrent neural network (RNN) implemented in TensorFlow on a corpus of several hundred thousand introductory sentences extracted from English Wikipedia articles about human, together the corresponding Wikidata entries. (Although not mentioned in the paper, such first sentences are the subject of a community guideline on the English Wikipedia, at least some aspects of which one might expect the neural network to reconstruct from the corpus.)

An example the algorithm's output compared to the Wikipedia original (excerpted from Table 5 in the paper):

Wikipedia original robert charles cortner ( april 16 , 1927 may 19 , 1959 ) was an american automobile racing driver from redlands , california .
Algorithm variant "S2S" bob cortner ( april 16 , 1927 may 19 , 2005 ) was an american

professional boxer.

Algorithm variant "S2S+AE" robert cortner ( april 16 , 1927 may 19 , 1959 ) was an american race-car driver .

The quality of the algorithm's output (in several variants) was evaluated against the actual human-written sentences from Wikipedia (as the "gold standard") with a standard automated test (BLEU), but also by human readers recruited from CrowdFlower. This "human preference evaluation suggests the model is nearly as good as the Wikipedia reference", with the consensus of the human raters even preferring the neural network's version 40% of the time. However, those of the algorithm's variants that are allowed to infer facts not directly stated in the Wikidata item can suffer from the problem of AI "hallucinations", e.g. the struck-out parts in the above example, claiming that Bob Cortner was a boxer instead of a race-car driver, and died in 2005 instead of 1959.

Apart from describing and evaluating the algorithm, the paper also provides some results about Wikipedia itself, e.g. showing which biographical facts are most frequently used by Wikipedia editors. Table 1 from the paper lists "the top fifteen slots across entities used for input, and the % of time the value is a substring in the entity’s first sentence" in the examined corpus:

Fact Count %
TITLE (name) 1,011,682 98
SEX OR GENDER 1,007,575 0
DATE OF BIRTH 817,942 88
OCCUPATION 720,080 67
CITIZENSHIP 663,707 52
DATE OF DEATH 346,168 86
PLACE OF BIRTH 298,374 25
EDUCATED AT 141,334 32
SPORTS TEAM 108,222 29
PLACE OF DEATH 107,188 17
SPORT 36,950 72

The paper's literature review mentions a 2016 paper titled "Neural Text Generation from Structured Data with Application to the Biography Domain"[3] as "the closest work to ours with a similar task using Wikipedia infoboxes in place of Wikidata. They condition an attentional neural language model (NLM) on local and global properties of infobox tables [...] They use 723k sentences from Wikipedia articles with 403k lower-cased words mapping to 1,740 distinct facts".

While the authors of both papers commendably make at least some of their code and data available on GitHub (1, 2), they do not seem to have aimed to make their algorithms into a tool for generating text for use in Wikipedia itself – perhaps wisely so, as previous efforts in this direction have met with community opposition due to quality concerns (e.g. in the case of a paper we covered previously here: "Bot detects theatre play scripts on the web and writes Wikipedia articles about them").

In the third, most recent research effort, covered in several publications,[4][5][6] another group of researchers likewise developed a method to automatically generate summaries of Wikipedia article topics via a neural network, based on structured data from Wikidata (and, in one variant, DBpedia).

They directly worked with community members from two small Wikipedias (Arabic and Esperanto) to evaluate "not only the quality of the generated text, but also the usefulness of our end-system to any underserved Wikipedia version", when extending the existing ArticlePlaceholder feature that is in use on some of these smaller Wikipedias. The result was that "that members of the targeted language communities rank our text close to the expected quality standards of Wikipedia, and are likely to consider the generated text as part of Wikipedia. Lastly, we found that the editors are likely to reuse a large portion of the generated summaries [when writing actual Wikipedia articles], thus emphasizing the usefulness of our approach to its intended audience."

Other recent publications

Other recent publications that could not be covered in time for this issue include the items listed below. Contributions are always welcome for reviewing or summarizing newly published research.

Compiled by Tilman Bayer

The Wikipedia Adventure: Beloved but ineffective

A vaguely anthropomorphic cartoon character
"The Wikipedia Adventure: Field Evaluation of an Interactive Tutorial for New Users"[7]

From the accompanying blog post: "The system was a gamified tutorial for new Wikipedia editors. Working with the tutorial creators, we conducted both a survey of its users and a randomized field experiment testing its effectiveness in encouraging subsequent contributions. We found that although users loved it, it did not affect subsequent participation rates."

See also: research project page on Meta-wiki, podcast interview, podcast coverage, Wikimedia Research Showcase presentation

Told you so: Hindsight bias in Wikipedia articles about events

Two papers by the same team of researchers explore this topic for Wikipedia editors and readers, respectively:

"Biases in the production and reception of collective knowledge: the case of hindsight bias in Wikipedia"[8]

From the paper:

Study 1: This study investigated whether events in Wikipedia articles are represented as more likely in retrospect. For a total of 33 events, we retrieved article versions from the German Wikipedia that existed prior to the event (foresight) or after the event had happened (hindsight) and assessed indicators of hindsight bias in those articles [...] we determined the number of words of the categories "cause" (containing words such as "hence"), "certainty" (e.g., "always"), tentativeness (e.g., "maybe"), "insight" (e.g., "consider"), and "discrepancy" (e.g., "should"), because the hindsight perspective is assumed to be the result of successful causal modeling [...] There was an increase in the proportion of hindsight-related words across article versions. [...] We investigated whether there is evidence for hindsight distortions in Wikipedia articles or whether Wikipedia’s guidelines effectively prevent hindsight bias to occur. Our study provides empirical evidence for both.

"Cultural Interpretations of Global Information? Hindsight Bias after Reading Wikipedia Articles across Cultures"[9]

From the abstract: "We report two studies with Wikipedia articles and samples from different cultures (Study 1: Germany, Singapore, USA, Vietnam, Japan, Sweden, N = 446; Study 2: USA, Vietnam, N = 144). Participants read one of two article versions (foresight and hindsight) about the Fukushima Nuclear Plant and estimated the likelihood, inevitability, and foreseeability of the nuclear disaster. Reading the hindsight article increased individuals' hindsight bias independently of analytic or holistic thinking style. "

"WikiPassageQA: A Benchmark Collection for Research on Non-factoid Answer Passage Retrieval"

From the abstract:[10] "...we introduce a new Wikipedia based collection specific for non-factoid answer passage retrieval containing thousands of questions with annotated answers and show benchmark results on a variety of state of the art neural architectures and retrieval models."

"Analysis of Wikipedia-based Corpora for Question Answering"

From the abstract:[11] "This paper gives comprehensive analyses of corpora based on Wikipedia for several tasks in question answering. Four recent corpora are collected, WikiQA, SelQA, SQuAD, and InfoQA, and first analyzed intrinsically by contextual similarities, question types, and answer categories. These corpora are then analyzed extrinsically by three question answering tasks, answer retrieval, selection, and triggering."

"Harvesting Paragraph-Level Question-Answer Pairs from Wikipedia"

From the abstract:[12] "We study the task of generating from Wikipedia articles question-answer pairs that cover content beyond a single sentence. We propose a neural network approach that incorporates coreference knowledge via a novel gating mechanism. [...] We apply our system [...] to the 10,000 top-ranking Wikipedia articles and create a corpus of over one million question-answer pairs."

Asking Wikidata questions in natural language

From the abstract:[13] "We first introduce a new approach for translating natural language questions to SPARQL queries. It is able to query several KBs [knowledge bases] simultaneously, in different languages, and can easily be ported to other KBs and languages. In our evaluation, the impact of our approach is proven using 5 different well-known and large KBs: Wikidata, DBpedia, MusicBrainz, DBLP and Freebase as well as 5 different languages namely English, German, French, Italian and Spanish." Online demo:


  1. ^ Stahel, David (18 July 2018). "The Battle for Wikipedia: The New Age of 'Lost Victories'?" (PDF). Historical. The Journal of Slavic Military Studies. Routledge. 31 (3): 396–402. doi:10.1080/13518046.2018.1487198. eISSN 1556-3006. ISSN 1351-8046. OCLC 7781539362. Wikidata 55972890. Retrieved 28 August 2018. open access
  2. ^ Chisholm, Andrew; Radford, Will; Hachey, Ben (3–7 April 2017). "Learning to generate one-sentence biographies from Wikidata" (PDF). In Lapata, Mirella; Blunsom, Phil; Koller, Alexander (eds.). Proceedings of the 15th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Volume 1, Long Papers. 15th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL 2017). Valencia, Spain: Association for Computational Linguistics. pp. 633–642. arXiv:1702.06235v1. doi:10.18653/v1/E17-1060. ISBN 978-1-945626-34-0. ACL Anthology E17-1060. Wikidata 28819478. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help) open access
  3. ^ Lebret, Rémi; Grangier, David; Auli, Michael (1–5 November 2016). "Neural Text Generation from Structured Data with Application to the Biography Domain" (PDF). In Su, Jian; Duh, Kevin; Carreras, Xavier (eds.). Proceedings of the 2016 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing. Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP 2016). Austin, Texas: Association for Computational Linguistics. pp. 1203–1213. doi:10.18653/v1/D16-1128. ISBN 978-1-945626-25-8. ACL Anthology D16-1128. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help) open access
  4. ^ Kaffee, Lucie-Aimée; Elsahar, Hady; Vougiouklis, Pavlos; Gravier, Christophe; Laforest, Frédérique; Hare, Jonathon; Simperl, Elena (14 February 2018). "Mind the (Language) Gap: Generation of Multilingual Wikipedia Summaries from Wikidata for ArticlePlaceholders". In Gangemi, Aldo; Navigli, Roberto; Vidal, María-Esther; Hitzler, Pascal; Troncy, Raphaël; Hollink, Laura; Alam, Mehwish (eds.). The Semantic Web: 15th International Conference, ESWC 2018, Heraklion, Crete, Greece, June 3–7, 2018, Proceedings. Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC 2018) (Preprint). Lecture Notes in Computer Science. 11 (Online ed.). Cham, Switzerland: Springer Science+Business Media (published 3 June 2018). pp. 319–334. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-93417-4_21. eISSN 1611-3349. ISBN 978-3-319-93417-4. ISSN 0302-9743. LCCN 2018946633. OCLC 7667759818. LNCS 10843. Wikidata 50290303. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018 – via Silvio Peroni. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help) Free to read
  5. ^ Kaffee, Lucie-Aimée; Elsahar, Hady; Vougiouklis, Pavlos; Gravier, Christophe; Laforest, Frédérique; Hare, Jonathon; Simperl, Elena (1–6 June 2018). "Learning to Generate Wikipedia Summaries for Underserved Languages from Wikidata". In Walker, Marilyn; Ji, Heng; Stent, Amanda (eds.). Proceedings of the 2018 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Volume 2 (Short Papers). 2018 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies (NAACL HLT 2018). New Orleans, Louisiana: Association for Computational Linguistics. pp. 640–645. arXiv:1803.07116v2. doi:10.18653/v1/N18-2101. ISBN 978-1-948087-29-2. OCLC 7667759818. ACL Anthology N18-2101. Wikidata 50827579. RG 323905026. open access
  6. ^ Vougiouklis, Pavlos; Elsahar, Hady; Kaffee, Lucie-Aimée; Gravier, Christophe; Laforest, Frédérique; Hare, Jonathon; Simperl, Elena (30 July 2018). "Neural Wikipedian: Generating Textual Summaries from Knowledge Base Triples" (PDF). Journal of Web Semantics. Elsevier. arXiv:1711.00155. doi:10.1016/j.websem.2018.07.002. eISSN 1873-7749. ISSN 1570-8268. OCLC 7794877956. Wikidata 45322945. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help) open access
  7. ^ Narayan, Sneha; Orlowitz, Jake; Morgan, Jonathan; Hill, Benjamin Mako; Shaw, Aaron (25 February – 1 March 2017). "The Wikipedia Adventure: Field Evaluation of an Interactive Tutorial for New Users" (PDF). Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing. 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW '17). New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 1785–1799. doi:10.1145/2998181.2998307. ISBN 978-1-4503-4335-0. Wikidata 37816091. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help) open access
  8. ^ Oeberst, Aileen; Beck, Ina von der; Back, Mitja D.; Cress, Ulrike; Nestler, Steffen (17 April 2017). "Biases in the production and reception of collective knowledge: the case of hindsight bias in Wikipedia" (DOC). Psychological Research (Preprint). Berlin; Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg: 1–17. doi:10.1007/s00426-017-0865-7. eISSN 1430-2772. ISSN 0340-0727. OCLC 7016703631. PMID 28417198. Wikidata 29647478. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018 – via ResearchGate. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help) Free to read
  9. ^ Beck, Ina von der; Oeberst, Aileen; Cress, Ulrike; Nestler, Steffen (22 May 2017). "Cultural Interpretations of Global Information? Hindsight Bias after Reading Wikipedia Articles across Cultures". Applied Cognitive Psychology. John Wiley & Sons. 31 (3): 315–325. doi:10.1002/acp.3329. eISSN 1099-0720. ISSN 0888-4080. OCLC 7065844160. Wikidata 30062753. closed access
  10. ^ Cohen, Daniel; Yang, Liu; Croft, W. Bruce (8–12 July 2018). "WikiPassageQA: A Benchmark Collection for Research on Non-factoid Answer Passage Retrieval". SIGIR #41 Proceedings. 41st International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research & Development in Information Retrieval (SIGIR '18). New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery (published 27 June 2018). pp. 1165–1168. arXiv:1805.03797v1. doi:10.1145/3209978.3210118. ISBN 978-1-4503-5657-2. closed access
  11. ^ Jurczyk, Tomasz; Deshmane, Amit; Choi, Jinho D. (5 February 2018). "Analysis of Wikipedia-based Corpora for Question Answering" (PDF). arXiv:1801.02073v2 [cs.CL]. Free to read
  12. ^ Du, Xinya; Cardie, Claire (15–20 July 2018). "Harvesting Paragraph-Level Question-Answer Pairs from Wikipedia" (PDF). In Miyao, Yusuke; Gurevych, Iryna (eds.). Proceedings of the 56th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers). 56th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL 2018). Melbourne, Australia: Association for Computational Linguistics. pp. 1907–1917. arXiv:1805.05942v1. doi:10.18653/v1/P18-1177. ISBN 978-1-948087-32-2. ACL Anthology P18-1177. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help) open access
  13. ^ Diefenbach, Dennis; Both, Andreas; Singh, Kamal; Maret, Pierre (17 June 2018). Polleres, Alex (ed.). "Towards a Question Answering System over the Semantic Web". Semantic Web – Interoperability, Usability, Applicability (Preprint). IOS Press. 0 (0 [1]). arXiv:1803.00832. eISSN 2210-4968. ISSN 1570-0844. Wikidata 50418915. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help) open access

Reader comments

Photograph of Barbara Page smiling in 2016
Barbara Page

There is nothing hilarious about this month's humour column.

Barbara Page, who has edited as a Wikipedia Visiting Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh since 2015, has been writing a regular humour column for The Signpost since July 2017. She has added content to a wide range of Wikipedia subjects, publishing nearly 47,000 edits and creating over 170 new articles through her two accounts. Often letting her inspiration flow from the university's historical collections, in March 2018, Barbara celebrated 11 years as a Wikipedian.

Following the terms of a topic ban issued by a consensus at ANI, which precludes her from editing many of her areas of interest, Barbara has declined to produce an article she had prepared for her usual column this month. Barbara has accepted the terms of the ban. We hope to see her back with her usual comic relief next month.

Reader comments

We reproduce this month an essay begun in early 2017 by EEng, and brought to perfection with the help of his glittering salon of loyal talk page stalkers. Enjoy.

Principle of Some Astonishment

Can we get you on Mastermind, Sybil? "Next contestant, Sybil Fawlty from Torquay; specialist subject: the bleedin' obvious! " Basil Fawlty
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

— Strunk, The Elements of Style (1918)

In composing, as a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigour it will give your style.

Sydney Smith

Most first drafts can be cut by 50% without losing any information ... Look for clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away ... Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn't be there.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.

— Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars (tr. Lewis Galantière)

Some writers tend to overuse quotations.

Somebody or other

Portions of this page are best viewed in desktop mode. Mobile readers, click here.

Sometimes editors clutter their prose with pedestrian details that the reader likely already knows or would naturally assume. Rather than informing readers, this wastes their time and saps their attention. The following are examples of articles belaboring the routine and obvious, at times painfully:

You mean the game pieces can be stored for later use? I'm astonished!
In the article Pick-up sticks:
Each piece in the game also has a point value, with more challenging pieces being worth more. At the end of play, points are tallied up and the pieces can be thrown again or stored in a container for another use.
Comment: Of course the points are tallied up at the end of play. Of course we can either play again or put the game away "in a container". (If the rules said to ignore the score sheet at the end, then called for players to burn the game pieces or use them to commit ritual suicide, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)

In the article Notre-Dame de Paris fire
Some lead joints in stained glass windows melted in the heat of the fire.
Comment: DUH.

In the lead of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft:
Once inside, the pair revealed their true intentions, tied up the guards, and spent over an hour stealing art from the museum's collection, which they loaded into their vehicle.
Comment: The guards probably sensed their visitors' "true intentions" around the time they got tied up, and our readers will make the same inference vicariously. Furthermore, in this modern age most readers will envision art thieves as having a vehicle at the ready. (Had they absconded via public transport, or summoned an Uber, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)

In the article San Francisco Zoo tiger attacks:
They created a distraction which caused the tiger to turn towards the officers, who shot and killed it. After the shooting, officials removed Tatiana's head, paws, tail and gastric contents for examination.
Comment: Removing the tiger's head before shooting it, assuming you could somehow manage that, would no doubt have rendered the shooting superfluous.

In the article US Airways Flight 1549:
The weather recorded at 2:51 p.m. was 10 miles visibility with broken clouds at 3,700 feet, wind 8 knots from 290°, temperature -6° C.
Comment: Of course it was recorded, otherwise how would we know it?
Sullenberger asked if they could attempt an emergency landing in New Jersey, mentioning Teterboro Airport ... air traffic controllers quickly contacted Teterboro and gained permission for a landing on Runway 1.
Comment: The word quickly is superfluous, because our readers' innate cunning will inform them that controllers generally act with dispatch in such situations. (Had they instead been lackadaisical, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)
However, Sullenberger told controllers that "We can't do it," and "We're gonna be in the Hudson," signaling his intention to bring the plane down on the Hudson River because he was too low to glide to any airport.
Comment: The part from "signalling his intention ..." on is probably unnecessary, because our readers aren't mentally defective. They will conclude without being told that when Sullenberger said "We can't do it ... We're gonna be in the Hudson", he's hinting that (a) he's going to land on the Hudson and (b) he's taking this unconventional step because more orthodox landing sites are out of reach. (Had he instead done it because he wanted a bath, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)
Immediately after the A320 had been ditched, Sullenberger opened the cockpit door and gave the "evacuate" order.
Comment: The immediately bit seems unnecessary. (Had the captain made a cup of tea before ordering "Evacuate!", THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)
The first fire chief on scene transmitted a "10-60" to confirm a major emergency.
Comment: If the fire chief, seeing people crowded onto the wings of a sinking airliner, had radioed, "False alarm – no big deal", THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.

In the article University of Texas Tower Shooting:
He then drove to a hardware store, where he purchased a Universal M1 carbine, two additional ammunition magazines and eight boxes of ammunition, telling the cashier he planned to hunt wild hogs. At a gun shop he purchased four further carbine magazines, six additional boxes of ammunition, and a can of gun cleaning solvent. He then drove to Sears, where he purchased a Sears Model 60 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun before returning home with his purchases.
Comment: If he'd bought all that stuff and then left it at the store, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.

In the article Charles Whitman:
Whitman was reportedly the youngest person in the world ever to become an Eagle Scout at that time.
Comment: Are people becoming Eagle Scouts elsewhere than "in the world"? Perhaps on Mars?

In the article Club of Rome:
The Club of Rome raised considerable public attention with its report Limits to Growth, which has sold 30 million copies in more than 30 translations, making it the best-selling environmental book in world history.
Comment: I think you see where I'm going with this.

In some proposed text for the article Apollo 11:
On July 23, the last night before splashdown on Earth, the three astronauts made a television broadcast
Comment: Ditto.

In the article Saving Private Ryan:
In Washington, D.C, General George Marshall is informed that three of the four Ryan brothers have been killed within the last week, and that their mother is about to be notified of their deaths.
Comment: Lest readers imagine they were notifying her that she'd won the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Caution: May contain babies.
Caution: May contain oranges.
In the article Citrus juice:
The most commonly consumed type of citrus juice is orange juice, which as the name implies, is extracted from oranges.
Comment: But then baby powder isn't extracted from babies, I suppose.

In the article Stone's representation theorem for Boolean algebras:
The theorem was first proved by Marshall H. Stone (1936), and thus named in his honor.
Comment: And here I thought it was proved by Marshall H. Stone but named for some other Stone.

In the article Murder of Jo Cox:
Murder of Jo Cox
LocationMarket Street, Birstall, West Yorkshire, England
Date16 June 2016
Attack type
Shooting, stabbing
WeaponsFirearm, knife
PerpetratorThomas Mair
He witnessed the assailant stab Cox, who fell to the ground, before shooting her and stabbing her again shoot her, then stab her again. The attacker left the scene, but was pursued by an eyewitness who followed him and telephoned police to describe his location identified him to police. Armed police officers attended the incident, and arrested a suspect.
Comment: There's a lot to say about this one.
  • who fell to the ground: Persons stabbed and shot, then stabbed again, usually go down. (Extra points for the ambiguous suggestion that the witness shot and stabbed the victim.)
  • left the scene: If the shooter/stabber had stuck around, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.
  • was pursued by an eyewitness who followed him: That's what pursuers do.
  • telephoned police to describe his location: Usually people calling for help give the location.
  • Armed police officers attended the incident: Even in law-abiding, Queensberry-Rules, you-got-me-copper-fair-and-square England, readers will imagine that amongst officers dispatched to the shooting/stabbing of a Member of Parliament, at least some will be armed with more than their charming accents and unfailing courtesy.
  • and arrested a suspect: That's what happens when an eyewitness points out the gunman. Had police let him off with just a stern talking-to, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.
As for the infobox, unless told otherwise readers will assume that a shooting/stabbing will have involved a gun and a knife.

In the article Death of Elisa Lam:
On the morning of February 19, an employee went to the roof, where four 1,000-gallon water tanks provided water pumped from the city's supply, to the guest rooms, a kitchen, and a coffee shop downstairs. In one of them, he found Lam's body, floating face up a foot below the water surface. Police responded.
Comment: [Left as an exercise for the reader]

New York City
City of New York
Clockwise, from top: Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, the Unisphere, the Brooklyn Bridge, Lower Manhattan with One World Trade Center, Central Park, the headquarters of the United Nations, and the Statue of Liberty
Multiple choice: In what article does the infobox at right appear?
(A) New York State
(B) New York County
(C) New York CITY <== hint
(D) New York University

In the article Rodney Alcala
Her murder would remain unsolved until it was connected to Alcala in 2011.
Comment: Murders usually remain unsolved until they're solved.

In the article Glenn Miller:
On December 15, 1944, Miller was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to make arrangements to move his band there.
Comment: Oh, THAT Paris!

In the article Ted Bundy:
He broke through the ceiling into the apartment of the chief jailer—who was out for the evening with his wife—changed into street clothes from the jailer's closet, and walked out the front door to freedom.
Comment: While it's nice to know a busy chief jailer still has time for his spouse, absent mention of a confrontation the reader's common sense will tell him that no one was home. (Had Mrs. Turnkey helped Bundy pick out a tie, or had Bundy walked out the door then gone back to the jail to turn himself in, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)

In the article Seth Black (serial killer):
At the request of Scottish detectives, the Metropolitan Police conducted a search of searched Black's Stamford Hill lodgings to determine whether any incriminating evidence existed at Black's address.
Comment: Yes, well, that's usually what they're trying to determine. (And click the link for a surprise.)

In the article Eric Muenter:
Morgan lunged at his attacker and tackled Muenter to the ground as he fired two rounds into Morgan's groin and thigh. Morgan's butler finished subduing Muenter, beating him senseless with a lump of coal. Morgan quickly summoned a doctor and recovered, returning to work on August 14.
Comment: If financier J.P. Morgan got shot in the groin and didn't summon a doctor, or summoned him other than "quickly", THAT would be worth mentioning in the article. (Kudos to the butler for his skill with the coal.)

In the article Irish Boundary Commission:
The Irish Boundary Commission was a commission which met in 1924–25 to decide on the precise delineation of the border between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.
Comment: So ... the commission was a commission?

In the article Donald Trump:
He signed tax cut legislation which cut tax rates for individuals and businesses.
Comment: A sax player who plays saxes, a fax machine that sends faxes, a tax cut that cuts taxes. (Just whose taxes is another question.)

In the article Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry:
The Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry is a society devoted to the history of alchemy and chemistry. The Society was founded as the Society for the Study of Alchemy and Early Chemistry in 1935.
Comment: Surprise!

In the article Hardcore Henry:
After she replaces a missing arm and leg with hi-tech cybernetic prostheses, mercenaries led by the psychokinetic Akan raid the ship.
Comment: Are there low-tech cybernetic prostheses?

In the article Bunk bed:
The bunk or bunks above the lowest one may have rails to keep the user from rolling out and falling to the floor while sleeping.
Comment: For those innocent of the workings of gravity.

In the article 1257 Samalas eruption
Very large volcanic eruptions can cause destruction close to the volcano ...
Comment: For those innocent of the workings of volcanoes. (This is the least of what's wrong with this passage. Follow the link – if you dare!)

In the article Truth or Consequences, New Mexico:
Hot Springs officially changed its name on March 31, 1950, and the program was broadcast from there the following evening, April 1
Comment: For those innocent of the workings of the calendar.

In the article Battle of Tali-Ihantala:
On June 28, air activity was high on both sides as Finnish bombers and German Stukas pounded the Soviet formations. The Soviet Air Force also attacked from the air and hit the staff of the Finnish Armored Division hard with bombers from the Soviet 276th Bomber Division. and the Soviet 276th Bomber Division hit the Finnish troops hard.
Comment: These bombers attacked from the air, you say?

On the dabpage Horváth

The surname "Horvat", without the "h" still exists and is the most common surname in Croatia or the Croatian diaspora.

Comment: No comment.

In the article Chloe:
Chloe (also Chloë, Chloé) is a feminine name for girls.
Comment: There really should be more feminine names for boys and masculine names for girls.

In the article Henry Riggs Rathbone:
Rathbone successfully graduated from Phillips Academy in 1888, from Yale University in 1892, and from the Law Department at the University of Wisconsin in 1894.
Comment: Graduations are usually successful (except of course a graduation from Yale, which by definition is the first in a lifelong string of degradations).

In the article Stokes Croft:
Stokes Croft is the name of a road in Bristol, England.
Comment: An earlier version read Stokes Croft is what the name of a road in Bristol, England is called.

In the article Distomo
The aluminum producing company Aluminium of Greece has its production facilities in the coastal village Agios Nikolaos.
Comment: Ha! Obviously these people don't know the difference between aluminum and aluminium.

In the article Caribou, Maine
The Caribou Public Library is a Carnegie library. Designed in the Romanesque Revival style by local architect Schuyler C. Page, it was built in 1911-1912 with a $10,000 grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
Comment: Is there a Carnegie library that Andrew Carnegie did not finance? Or was there some other heretofore unknown Carnegie financing American libraries with whom he might be confused?

In the article Alice Herz-Sommer
She lived for 40 years in Israel, before migrating to London in 1986, where she resided until her death, and at the age of 110 was the world's oldest known Holocaust survivor until Yisrael Kristal was recognized as such. Kristal was also a Holocaust survivor, and was born two months before Herz-Sommer.
Comment: For readers with short-term memory deficits.

In the article Soyuz-FG
... resulted in the destruction of the rocket. The crew, NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin, escaped safely and successfully.
Comment: Whatever that means.

In the article Trinity Cathedral, Saint Petersburg
About four hours after the blaze broke out, one of the three remaining cupolas had been damaged but the fire was contained. A department spokesman later confirmed that the fire had been extinguished.
Comment: Lest the reader imagine it burns to this day.

In the article M25 motorway
By 1993 the motorway, which was designed for a maximum of 88,000 vehicles per day, was carrying 200,000 vehicles per day.
Comment: Now if they'd put the Tour de France on the M25 and you could see 200,000 bicycles, that would be worth watching.

In the article Amazing Grace (2018 film)
Aretha Franklin as herself
Comment: all participants in this documentary were marked as playing themselves. If they happened to be impersonating someone else that day, or if someone else had been impersonating them, that would be worth noting.

In the article Adele Spitzeder
Officially founded shortly afterwards in 1869, the "Spitzedersche Privatbank" (English: Spitzeder Private Bank) quickly grew from an insider tip to a large company.
Thank you. I was completely at sea.

In the article Assassination of John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy's blood-stained jacket, shirt and tie worn during the assassination are stored in the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland.
So not from that time he cut himself shaving.
The gun with which Ruby shot and killed Oswald, which came into the possession of Ruby's brother Earl, was sold in 1991 for $220,000.
The reader will assume, unless told otherwise, that the gun was not used to bludgeon Oswald to death.

In the article The Owl and the Pussycat
Portions of an unfinished sequel, "The Children of the Owl and the Pussycat" were published first posthumously, during 1938. How the pair procreated is unspecified.
Had that specification been made, children's literature might have taken quite a different direction.

Capacious captions for unerring identification

In the article
Assassination of Abraham Lincoln:
In the article
Horst Wessel:
In the article
The Wizard of Oz (1939 film):
From left to right: assassin John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Clara Harris, and Henry Rathbone
Wessel as an infant with his mother and father, 1907
The film's main characters (left to right): the Cowardly Lion, Dorothy, Scarecrow, and the Tin Man
Bert Lahr, in costume as The Cowardly Lion
It's a common misconception that the
man with the gun is Mrs. Lincoln.
You don't say!
The word "unnecessary"
hardly does justice.
Not a bad case
of hirsutism?

Various views from Donald Trump: In the article The Pentagon:
A view of the Turnberry Hotel, in Ayrshire, Scotland
View of the crowd attending a Trump rally in the U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio on October 13, 2016
Southwesterly view of the Pentagon in 1998, with the Potomac River and Washington Monument in background
The reader will know without being told that
this is a "view".
We're safe in assuming that the reader
will intuit that this "view" shows a "crowd".
Thus not some other five-sided
megastructure for some reason being
shown us in the article
The Pentagon.

Honoring James Agee: In the article Theta waves: Meanwhile, back in Cambridge:
James Agee Park in the Fort Sanders neighborhood of Knoxville, Tennessee is named after the author.
Example of an EEG theta wave
Woodcut representing a view of Gore Hall at Harvard University
Who would have guessed? Could have been worse – it could have said
"Picture representing an example of an EEG
theta wave"?

The lead (and only) image in Twist tie: The lead image for Icebox: In the article The Desire of Ages:
Twist ties of different colors.
Labeled black-and-white image of an icebox
A picture of the book
Great example of an image
that doesn't need a caption.
We can see it's labeled, we can see it's black-
and-white, we can see it's an image, and the
discerning reader will realize, given that this is
the article
Icebox, that it's an icebox.
Recently inducted into the Principle
of Some Astonishment Hall of Fame –
caption and image both.

In the article
Boston Consolidated TRACON
(whatever that is):
The lead image for
CNN International:
The lead image for Earth:
The Boston Consolidated TRACON from the outside
CNN International
Cnn logo red background.png
CNN International logo
LaunchedSeptember 1, 1985 (1985-09-01)
Owned byTurner Broadcasting System country = United States
The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg
The Blue Marble photograph of Earth, taken during the Apollo 17 lunar mission in 1972
No shit, Sherlock. (Turns out this is the logo
all CNN brands, not just CNN International –
an example of the impulse to add the obvious
leading, instead, to addition of the inaccurate.)
And here I thought they had a giant indoor
lawn, miniature building-within-a-building,
and artificial sky
Earth. Yes, Earth. Planet Earth.
The lead image in the article Earth.

In the article
Elizabeth II:
In the article
Senghenydd colliery disaster:
In the article
Harry Elkins Widener:
The Queen with Edward Heath (left) and First Lady Pat Nixon, 1970
Because we weren't sure which one is
Edward Heath. (Apparently we're on
our own for Pat Nixon vs. the Queen.)
The funeral of one of the dead miners, miner E Gilbert, a colour sergeant in The Salvation Army
Funerals are for dead people.
Harry Elkins Widener
Harry E. Widener.jpg
Harry Elkins Widener
Born(1885-01-03)January 3, 1885
DiedApril 15, 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 27)
Known forNamesake of Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library
Harry E. Widener signature.png
Did we mention that it's Harry Elkins Widener?
Crowds wait for news at the Universal Colliery after the disaster
Yes, since they're not clairvoyant.

In the article
Chuck Connors:
In the article
Scottish National Antarctic Expedition:
Chuck Connors (right) filming a 1961 episode of The Rifleman.
Man on right in Scots highland costume, playing bagpipes, while on the left a lone penguin stands. The ground is covered in ice, with a high ice ridge in the background.
Expedition member Gilbert Kerr (left) playing the bagpipes beside a penguin, March 1904
The one with the breasts and the hairdo
is Edward Heath.
Bearing in mind that left and right are reversed south of the equator.

Special section on modes of exit and ancillary details of death

In the article Coniston Water:
Campbell was killed instantly on impact when decapitated by the K7's windscreen.
Comment: For those innocent of the workings of windscreen decapitations.

In the article Murder of Deborah Linsley:
She sustained eleven stab wounds to the face, neck and abdomen, of which at least five were to the area around the heart ... The coroner highlighted that, although passengers reported hearing "a commotion", nobody investigated. A verdict of unlawful killing was returned.
Comment: If the verdict had been suicide, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.

In the article Lyndon B. Johnson:
At approximately 3:39 p.m. Central Time on January 22, 1973, Johnson suffered a massive heart attack in his bedroom. He managed to telephone the Secret Service agents on the ranch, who found him still holding the telephone receiver in his hand.
Comment: I'm trying to imagine the alternatives.

In the article Grace Kelly:
Rainier, who did not remarry, was buried alongside her following his death in 2005.
Comment: Had Prince Rainier of Monaco been buried alive, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.

In the article Simon Meyer Kuper:
On the evening of 8 March 1963, Kuper, who was at home with his wife and daughter, was shot through a window by an unknown assailant. He died of his injuries twelve days later.
Comment: If he was shot by an unknown assailant but died twelve days later on being surprised by a train, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.

In the article James Sisnett:
Sisnett died in his sleep of natural causes on 23 May 2013, at the age of 113 years, 90 days.
Comment: Had the 113-year-old man died in his sleep not of natural causes, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.

In the article Murder of Kristine Fitzhugh:
Music teacher Kristine Fitzhugh (born 1947–2000) was murdered on May 5, 2000 in her home in Palo Alto, California.
Comment: Obviously.

In the article Karen Carpenter:
Paramedics found her heart beating once every 10 seconds. She was taken to nearby Downey Community Hospital for treatment.
Comment: Thanks for clarifying.

In the article Gary M. Heidnik:
Heidnik was executed by lethal injection on July 6, 1999, at State Correctional Institution – Rockview in Centre County, Pennsylvania. His body was later cremated.
Comment: Gosh, I hope so.

In the article Roy L. Dennis:
His body was donated to UCLA Medical Center after he died.
Comment: Ditto.

In the article Miguel Serrano
He remained in contact with neo-Nazis elsewhere in the world and gave interviews to various foreign far-right publications prior to his death.
Comment: Ditto.

In the article Jean de Florette
The film starred three of France's most prominent actors – Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, who won a BAFTA award for his performance, and Yves Montand in one of his last roles before his death.
Comment: Let's see. Um... Ditto?

In the article Wiley Post
Post with Will Rogers before their deaths, August 1935

Comment: Ditto. Or maybe they'd already died and Dr. Frankenstein reanimated them.

Principle of Complete Puzzlement

The opposite of the Principle of Some Astonishment is the Principle of Complete Puzzlement: some details don't belong because, though neither obvious nor even predictable, they're completely irrelevant and will puzzle the reader as to the reason for their inclusion.

In the article Chuck Schumer:
In March 2009, Schumer announced his support for same-sex marriage, noting that it "was time". Schumer previously supported civil unions. At a private risotto dinner with gay leaders ...
Comment: Evidently we're to conclude that gay risotto is especially persuasive.

In the article Trayvon Martin:
On the evening of February 26, Martin was walking back alone to the fiancée's house after purchasing a bag of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea at from a nearby convenience store.
Comment: Somewhat awkward product placements. As The Washington Post put it, "Skittles can't seem to escape political controversies."[1]

In the article 2015 Thalys train attack:
The remaining passengers were taken to a gym in Arras, where they were searched and identified before being allowed to proceed to Paris.
Comment: Good to know they could get in some cardio while waiting.

In the article on courageous flight attendant Barbara Jane Harrison:
On the day of the accident, as was often her practice when on duty, Harrison was wearing a black wig.
Comment: Even in death a girl should always look her best, I guess. (Personal note: give the article a read; she was truly a hero.)

In the article Lightning strike:
Sixty-eight dairy cows, all full of milk, died on a farm at Fernbrook on the Waterfall Way near Dorrigo, New South Wales, after being involved in a lightning incident.
Comment: Perhaps they used all that boiled milk to make cocoa.

In the article James F. Blake
James Fred Blake (April 14, 1912 – March 21, 2002) was the bus driver whom Rosa Parks defied in 1955, prompting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Born on Apri1 14, 1912, the same day that the British passenger liner RMS Titanic hit an iceberg ...
Comment: A bad day all around then.

In the article Myra (painting)
After witnessing the first attack, Jacques Rolé left the exhibition to buy six eggs from Fortnum & Mason, on the other side of Piccadilly close to the Royal Academy, and threw three or four at the painting before being stopped.
Comment: Only the best eggs may be thrown at the Royal Academy.

Michael Kinsley's "Department of Amplification: William Shawn and the temple of facts" (The New Republic, 1984 – and well worth a read in full) is a pitch-perfect sendup of The New Yorker as "a weekly monument to the proposition that journalism consists of the endless accretion of tiny details":

The June 18 New Yorker has an article about corn. It's the first in what appears to be a series, no less, discussing the major grains. What about corn? Who knows? Only The New Yorker would have the lofty disdain for its readers to expect them to plow through 22,000 words about corn (warning: only an estimate; the TNR fact checkers are still counting) without giving them the slightest hint why. Here is how it starts (after a short introductory poem):

When the New England farmer and botanist Edward Sturtevant retired, in 1887, as head of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, in Geneva, he left behind a bulky manuscript that was published in 1919, twenty-one years after his death, as "Sturtevant's Notes on Edible Plants." Dr. Sturtevant, who was also a graduate of the Harvard Medical School, but never practiced medicine, had scoured the world’s botanical literature for mentions of all the plants that human beings were known to have eaten (he did not count tree bark, which in times of famine was often one of them), and had come up with among more than three hundred thousand known plant species, two thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven edibles. (Latter-day scientists believe he may have missed as many more.) But, of all these, only a hundred and fifty or so have ever been widely enough consumed to figure in commerce, and of those a mere handful have been of any real consequence.

Now, there are some facts for you. No doubt every single one of them has been checked. You stand in awe as they tumble toward you, magnificently irrelevant, surrounded by mighty commas, mere numbers swollen into giant phrases ("two thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven"), all finally crashing over you with the bravura announcement that nothing you have just read is "of any real consequence." How true this is! From the end of the paragraph, you gaze back on the receding vistas of inconsequence, as far as the eye can see. Even supposing we would like a bit more information about corn, and even supposing we might be relieved to know how many other plants, edible and otherwise, are not going to be discussed in this article, why are we being told about a man whose count apparently was off by half? Even supposing we need to know about Dr. Sturtevant’s book, when it was published, and when the good doctor died, why do we need to know when he retired? Even—stretching it—supposing that we need to know that this gentleman "was also a graduate of the Harvard Medical School," why, oh why, do we have to learn that he "never practiced medicine"? As for the business about tree bark, that has just got to be conscious self-parody.

Remind you of any Wikipedia articles?

Reader comments

Thespian, a former adminstrator, is also the author of The Signpost article IP unwittingly predicts death: "Awful coincidence". He has not edited since July 2016. This originally appeared in our August 6, 2007 issue.

Graphic depicting the tragedy mask on the left and comedy mask on the right with a simple oval background

About: Ars Nova and The Wikipedia Plays

By Thespian, 6 August 2007

A recent quote on read, "Wikipedia! you go to look up a CSS term... and you end up reading about Spanish painters and astronaut micrometeorite protection."[3] Ars Nova, a small theatre group in Manhattan, recently decided to replicate that experience for users in the form of The Wikipedia Plays, a series of short plays that ran from August 3rd through 6th.

Kim Rosenstock is the Associate Producer at Ars Nova, and she created and runs 'Play Group', the in-house writing group at Ars Nova group. In the course of brainstorming a new show, "The group came up with the idea collectively at one of our meetings when we were discussing possible framing devices for a group project." One of the members, Carly Mensch came up with the idea of doing a set of interconnected plays. Members used Wikipedia to pick a starting point, then traced away from that, 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-style', each article referring to and leading to the next, and each becoming a subject for one of the plays.

The unique format of the plays, and the act of connecting them was noted. "(This is) a theatricalized exploration of language following the academic model that Wikipedia and other encyclopedias present," says Andrew Kircher, Ars Nova's General Manager. "It should be said that these plays are not based on the Wiki entries in full, but rather simply the titles. Wikipedia was the tool our playwrights used to bounce from topic to topic, following the embedded reference links in each entry to the next 'title'."

Rachel Shukert was the author of 'Stiletto Heels', one of the short plays. She admits, "I regularly fall into Wikipedia for hours at a time, particularly now that the new Harry Potter book is out," and cheekily adds, "(I) take it on faith that EVERY WORD is absolutely accurate. That's true, isn't it?" Shukert used Wikipedia as many editors suggest it should be used; as a starting point for gathering information. "I used very few of the Wikipedia facts, and kind of went with a prevailing cultural attitude toward my subject, although Wikipedia helped with this."

Kircher dealt with more of the technical aspects of the production, such as getting permission from Wikimedia to begin with. "Wikimedia was kind enough to loan us use of the name for our title and premise. This is a small production that serves to support the work of our playwrights group," he explains, when asked about the GFDL and how it might apply to these works as possibly derivative. "These plays are still the property of each playwright. We (Ars Nova) only hold the rights to produce these four performances. Given that these plays merely take their titles from Wikipedia, it seems the GFDL does not apply. Wikimedia's only request was that we share any media (photos, video, etc) of the show when it ends for their site." Unfortunately, while the theatre company was willing to release the media, the actors' union rules don't allow them to do so.

When asked if she'd enjoyed her experience with the play and Wikipedia, and if she might write another play in the same fashion, Shukert happily says she would "Totally do it again! It was fun!"

Reader comments

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  1. ^ McGregor, Jena (September 22, 2016). "Skittles can't seem to escape political controversies". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 22, 2016.