How do you decide what goes into an encyclopedia? It’s a tricky question and one Wikipedia and its millions of editors have debated since the site was created in 2001. What they settled on was the concept that to be included, a topic had to be ‘notable’. In short, a subject needs to “have gained sufficiently significant attention by the world at large and over a period of time”.
In many cases ‘notability’ is clear cut. Leaders of countries should obviously be included in an encyclopedia and will have innumerable people writing about them. The chances are your next door neighbour doesn’t have this kind of coverage. What happens when opinions differ on a subject’s ‘notability’? A discussion is opened, and Wikipedia’s writers voice their opinions.
We hope that by teaching people how to edit we can lessen the cases in which new editors find their articles deleted. Sometimes articles which should be included are deleted because an inexperienced editor is not fully aware of how ‘notability’ is measured. What Wikipedia looks for is independent third-party sources. Newspaper articles and books are great examples.
By and large, the people who fall foul of the ‘notability’ guideline are newer, less experienced editors. They may spend a great deal of time and effort crafting their article only to see it deleted. No matter how valid the reasons, and how understanding the people discussing the article are, feelings can get hurt. This is especially true when people are writing about people, especially as sometimes people end up writing about themselves. If you write about yourself or someone you know – though Wikipedia actively discourages this – it can feel insulting to be told that you are not notable. It is important to keep in mind that the discussions are not about the value or worth of a person, or whether they ‘deserve’ an article, but whether it’s the kind of thing which belongs in an encyclopedia.
A lot of people learn what goes into Wikipedia through trial and error. Wikimedia UK is a UK registered charity, and one of its branches of activity is training people how to edit. In part this involves the how-to aspect of these are the buttons you press to make changes. That’s the easy part. The more nuanced aspect is helping people understand what goes into an article, and what articles go into Wikipedia!
Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, but it helps to have someone friendly and knowledgeable on hand. If you’re interested in editing but haven’t taken the plunge yet, why not take a look at the charity’s event page and see what’s going on in your area?
And what of Fraser Hobday? There is a specific notability guideline for footballers – to be considered notable they must have played or managed in a strictly professional league, or played or managed a senior international. We hope that one day Fraser’s career will reach that point and his article can be reinstated. We wish him the very best of luck.