Sunday, April 19, 2009

Terms of wiki art

"Link rot" is the tendency for URLs to become invalid as the sites they point to go dead or move elsewhere (and any forwarding left behind goes dead). It's an annoying but necessary consequence of a very basic principle of the web: links don't have to point at anything, even though they generally should*. It's probably less of a problem than it used to be as more material comes to live on sites hosted by large, durable entities., now a Google property, for example. As the man said, cool URIs don't change.

Wikipedia and similar wikis add a particular twist: Links within the wiki generally don't go dead; they go weird. Some ways this can happen:
  • The original link points to an article on, say, crickets. Per usual custom, the actual link reads [[Cricket|crickets]]. That is, it appears as "crickets" but actually points to the article entitled Cricket. This is originally about the insect, but soon someone adds an article on the game. The link now points at either the disambiguation page for the various possibilities of Cricket or at the article for the game, depending on how the process proceeds.
  • The original link points to a specialized article, say on cricket songs. This is later deemed not to be worth its own article and gets folded into Cricket (insect). Helpful bots redirect the link in the article, but the link is now considerably less useful, particularly if it was originally something like [[Cricket song|song]] and later edits rearrange the sentence the link appears in. You start with something like "The sound of the instrument has been compared to the [[Cricket song|song]] of crickets." and end up with something like "The sound of the instrument has been compared to insect [[Cricket (insect)|song]]," with the actual material on cricket song somewhere on the page.
  • In the previous case, the section on cricket song may later be removed, possibly completely or possibly to, say, a general page on insect sounds. The [[Cricket (insect)|song]] link now points to an article on the cricket, with at best a link in the general direction of the original material on its song, said link being in some random spot on what is now a very thorough and complete article on the cricket, its diet and habits, its appearance, its significance in human culture, etc. etc.
  • Or ... the first two cases can combine to leave a link that appears as "song", points to Cricket and lands you — huh?? — at an article on an inscrutable pastime of the Commonwealth.
I'm 90% sure the Wikipedia community has a term of art for this, but the obvious choices of "wikirot" and "wiki rot" don't seem to turn up anything. "Wiki gardening" is the practice of tending a wiki in order to counter such rot and generally improve the organization of the wiki.

While I'm at it, is there a term for the practice "wikifying" (making links for) marginally relevant terms while leaving really relevant ones "unwikified"?

* For a little more on dangling links as a principle of web architecture, see this post and this one. Appropriately enough, the relevant snippets are buried in the middle of them.

1 comment:

David Hull said...

Note to self: what "man"?