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This week, we spent some time with WikiProject Disambiguation, a very enthusiastic project started in July 2005. The project's 150 members help Wikipedia's readers find information by pointing the links in the body of articles to their correct destination and improving Wikipedia's collection of disambiguation pages. We interviewed PamD, BD2412, Woohookitty, R'n'B, France3470, Night of the Big Wind, and Doncram.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Disambiguation?
- PamD: The satisfaction of tidying things up, making links, helping people to get at the information they need – it's probably the retired librarian in me! Wikipedia has the fascination of an infinite jigsaw puzzle, and disambiguation is a good part of that.
- BD2412: I actually got into it through WP:WANTED. Several times, while creating new biographical articles for that project, I discovered multiple possible article subjects, for which a disambiguation page would need to be created along with the several articles. Because wanted articles are determined by incoming links, those links would then need to be disambiguated.
- Woohookitty: I kind of stumbled upon it. I'm an administrator and for a very long time did lots of administrative-type stuff but I got tired of the constant arguing. I had actually done some disamming very early on in my time here but got onto other things. But it was always in the back of my mind. I started working full time on disamming in mid-2009 as a way to pass the time while doing other things. It sort of evolved from there. I like obscure stuff that helps other users out and this fits that bill.
- R'n'B: I don't actually remember, it was so long ago. I think I came across a mention of Wikipedia:Disambiguation pages with links on Template:Active Wiki Fixup Projects, and I thought it looked like something I could contribute to pretty quickly. I like the idea that we can improve the encyclopedia through many small incremental changes as well as by the "big" splashy efforts of researching and writing major sections of articles. I've done the latter, too, but haven't devoted nearly as much time and effort to it as to disambiguation.
- France3470: When I started editing Wikipedia back in 2007, disambiguation pages fascinated me, they still do. Wikipedia essentially coined the word disambiguation (before it was merely a obscure word of the English language) and with it came the creation of thousands and thousands of pages (it was pointed out recently that 1/17 of all pages on Wikipedia are dabs). I have always felt that these pages are crucial to facilitating the functionality of the wiki system. They may not be flashy or interesting to read but they are the cement that holds together the system. As a new editor, with little understanding of how to contribute to Wikipedia, disambiguation pages seemed relatively straight forward. Careful consulting of WP:MOSDAB gave me most of the information I needed to be able to cleanup problematic pages. Next thing I knew I was helping clear the backlog at Category:Disambiguation pages in need of cleanup, at which point I really identified myself as part of the project. I have always felt that the project thrives from having very firm core policies and guidelines which most members tend to value and follow.
- Night of the Big Wind: I started working on the Dutch version of this project I think in January 2010. So when I moved over to the English version I quite quickly found the project here and continued the work. That I started with it was partly a fascination with disambiguation pages and findability of articles. The other part was that I wanted to give back something for fun that I borrow from Wikipedia, but preferably behind the scenes.
- Doncram: I joined years ago as I had become educated about disambiguation from working to develop disambiguation for U.S. National Register of Historic Places-listed places. There was a fun monthly competition running about clearing links to dab pages.
What are some common mistakes people make when creating or adding to disambiguation pages? What does a good disambiguation page look like? Should Wikipedia have quality ratings for disambiguation pages?
- PamD: Mistakes: thinking that a dab page is a listing of all meanings of a term, rather than a guide to the Wikipedia articles which could be looked for at that term. Then adding umpteen blue links to each entry. And not bothering to add dates or descriptions to similarly-named people. And creating new articles which have titles with a disambiguation, but not then adding that title to the appropriate dab page. A good dab page: clear, laid out in a helpful order with sections if appropriate, compliant to WP:MOSDAB for consistency.
- BD2412: WP:INCOMPDAB and WP:DABCONCEPT are two big problems. There is no need for a disambiguation page at, e.g., Cars of Spain to distinguish between Cars of Northern Spain and Cars of Southern Spain; that is just a list of types of Cars of Spain.
- Woohookitty: I'd say mixing an article page with a disam page. Users will treat the primary topic with one or two paragraphs and then say "it can also mean" and list some disam links instead of making the primary topic its own page and leaving the rest as a disam page.
- I don't think we should have quality ratings simply because the vast majority of disam pages serve their purpose well.
- A common mistake people make as well is changing or moving pages related to a disam page without discussion because they don't realize the consequences. Or they will move a page multiple times and not for a lack of a better term, clean up after themselves.
- R'n'B: A good disambiguation page should be clear and succinct, and help the reader find the relevant article without too much trouble. Some pages are too cluttered with dictionary definitions and remotely related terms that just aren't that useful to a reader; but on the other hand some are too obscure, with just a list of article titles and no information to allow the reader to figure out which one they should look at. On disambiguation pages, as on articles, we need to remember to consider all types of readers, not just experts.
- France3470: As someone who frequents NPP I have noticed many disambiguation pages being created that are immediate candidates for speedy delete under G6. Unfortunately many editors create disambiguation pages when they are unnecessary. I often see disambiguation pages created as a means to try to challenge an article's status as the primary topic for a term. (For instance creating Foo (disambiguation) because Foo is the primary topic and the editor, having just created Foo (article), feels that their article has as much claim to the title Foo as the article currently occupying the title.) In these situations requesting a move is often the better course of action, as determining what the primary topic is can be a contentious area.
- Doncram: Some editors err in over-zealously deleting redlinks from dab pages, when it has already been established, or could easily be established, that a topic is valid. The current requirement for a valid redlink entry is that a properly supporting bluelink must be included in the entry, per MOS:DABRL.
How frequently do you add or reformat hatnotes to articles? Are hatnotes leading to a disambiguation page preferred over hatnotes that point to specific articles? Do you feel the larger Wikipedia community generally understands the use of hatnotes?
- PamD: I add hatnotes quite frequently. If there are only two or three items, then it's better to do it with hatnotes rather than create a very brief dab page. Not everyone understands hatnotes, in particular the rule (at WP:NAMB) not to link to a dab page from a disambiguated title: I've got some sympathy myself with the argument that an article on "Foo (xxx)" should have a link to the dab page at "Foo" or "Foo (disambiguation)", because someone may have done a search-engine search for "Foo" and found the wrong one first so that a link to the dab page would be helpful!
- Woohookitty: Not all that often but it happens occasionally.
- R'n'B: I don't add new hatnotes all that often, but I do reformat and clean them up fairly frequently. One common problem is that an article gets moved to a new title, but the editor doesn't correct hatnotes in other articles that linked to the old title (which is particularly a problem when the old title then gets re-purposed for something else).
- France3470: I probably change hatnotes (after new pages are created or moved), more than create new ones. Hatnotes are always done on a case by case basis so there isn't really a preferable type. A large number of different templates also makes finding the most applicable one a pretty simple process. And as Pam has said, there is often confusion over when it is best to use a hatnote over creating a new disambiguation page, which may result in the creation of unneeded disambiguation pages.
Are disambiguation pages and hatnotes vulnerable to neutral point of view and notability issues? How does the project handle disagreements about the primary topic associated with a specific name or phrase?
- PamD: I suppose there are POV issues in descriptions on dab pages, but these usually reflect the terms used in the articles listed. Notability: there are some grey areas around names or topics which are featured within articles but don't have an article. If the name or topic would have been a redirect to an article, without there being other meanings necessitating disambiguation, then it usually merits a place in the dab page. Discussions about a primary topic should be at the page for the topic, and also linked from other pages which would be affected by any proposed change of primary topic (e.g. if the dab page is currently at the base title, then any proposal to move "Foo (xxx)" to "Foo" needs to be linked from the talk page of the dab page and not just at "Talk:Foo (xxx)" which may not be on the watchlist of someone who has just spent ages tidying up the dab page at "Foo" which is now proposed to be moved to "Foo (disambiguation)").
- Woohookitty: Yes it does have issues with notability at times. We will occasionally see dab pages with multiple red links. There are times when this is OK but the whole purpose of disam pages is to link to Wikipedia articles. So if a page isn't likely to ever be made as a full page, then it shouldn't be listed. Some users struggle with that idea. It's not a directory listing of every possible term.
- R'n'B: The "primary topic" guideline is a subject of recurring debate. I think most users who are active in the disambiguation project have a consensus about the general purpose of the guideline, but its application in particular cases is often controversial. My own point of view is that designation of primary topics is sometimes affected by WP:RECENTISM and WP:BIAS issues; others think this is not so much of a concern.
Does WikiProject Disambiguation collaborate with any other projects? Have there been any drives or other initiatives to clean up disambiguation pages?
- PamD: There is Wikipedia:Disambiguation pages with links, and ongoing requests for people to look at Category:Disambiguation pages in need of cleanup, Category:Articles with links needing disambiguation, and various others. There has in the past been Wikipedia:Suggestions for disambiguation repair where a small group of editors worked through files produced by User:Quadell to add missing entries and otherwise improve a set of dab pages for personal names.
- BD2412: Some of our thorniest disambiguation situations require project expertise (earlier this month, for example, Battle of Jackson had many incoming links. I dropped a note explaining the situation at WP:MILITARY, and they cleaned it up very quickly).
- Woohookitty: Generally, the other projects are pretty good about helping us out if its a thorny issue that we can't make heads or tails of. Let's face it. Because of what we do, we touch many, many articles where we don't know the subject matter all that well. I've never really never run into an issue with other projects.
- Yes there have been some drives but we are always in need of others.
- Night of the Big Wind: I am running my own drive with help of "Templates with disambiguation links". A nice little niche in the market that I found after coming frustrated about links to disambiguation pages stemming from templates. I try to keep the number as low as possible and double the effort as soon as the number of templates grows to bigger then ten, but my desire is to keep it under three. Off course: I am not the only one working on that!
- Doncram: I've provided a bridge to/from WikiProject NRHP, which sometimes has been a magnet for surprisingly strong conflicts. I ran a huge drive to create most of what is now 3,299 disambiguation pages for non-unique placenames corresponding to NRHP places, and continue to maintain them.
What are the project's most pressing needs? How can a new contributor help today?
- PamD: More people are needed to work on the cleanup projects above, but more importantly we need more editors to be generally aware of disambiguation problems and fix what needs to be fixed. If you're patrolling new pages or sorting stubs and you find an article "Foo (xyz)", check whether it's linked from "Foo": you might need to (a) move it to "Foo" because there's no need for disambiguation, or (b) make a hatnote on the "Foo" page to link to it, or (c) add it to the existing dab page at "Foo" or "Foo (disambiguation)". It needs to be made clearer, somewhere, that if you create the article "Foo (xyz)" you need to provide an access route from "Foo".
- Woohookitty: I agree with bd2412. Nationality articles are notorious for this. In fact, the first page I ever disammed was "America", which is a very common disam issue. America, American, British, German and French are among our most frequent targets. I think people being aware of what disamming is would be helpful. I still have to explain the term quite often. Some way of explaining the term in a nice concise way would help us.
- A new contributor can help by touching one of the pages I mentioned. They tend to be easy fixes (for example, American almost always means United States) and its a good way of getting someone involved in the project.
- R'n'B: Almost any editor can help out the project by looking for links to disambiguation pages in articles they are editing or reading, and fixing them. WP:POPUPS is great for this; you can check your links while still in the preview window, and see whether any of them is actually a disambiguation page. It even has an optional setting you can enable that allows you to fix the link with a single click. There are a number of other tools listed on WP:DPL for users who want to get more involved.
- France3470: Everyone above has pretty much covered it but I will say that new contributors shouldn't feel intimidated to ask if they have a disambiguation issue – I start discussions on disambiguation talk pages all the time even if I'm pretty convinced that I'm doing the right thing. Disambiguation can be complex and confusing, often times more complicated than people initially realize. It is often best to discuss potentially controversial actions instead of just going for it, turning a page into a dab for instance could result in the creation of hundreds of disambiguation links. The WikiProject talk pages is a great page to ask questions and get feedback, people also tend to respond rather quickly.
- Night of the Big Wind: It would be very helpful as contributors start checking their own links before publishing the article. Not only for the links to disambiguation pages but to all pages. Sometimes articles need a severe clean up before you can even start solving the disambiguation links.
Next week, we'll trek across the frigid expanses between Karelia, Irkutsk, and Kamchatka. Before we set out, be sure to chart a path across the largest country in the world by consulting our archive.
Check back for the next Signpost on December 29.