User:Vami IV/Completionism

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The Completionist, hard at work on our impossible dream

On 18 October 2018, I added these words, literally in purple prose, to my userpage: "As a Wikipedia editor, I understand that my goal is the destruction of my purpose." I thought of those words at random that October day and thought it poignant, if a bit silly-sounding. Indeed, if read literally, it might be cause for raising an eyebrow. But I left them there, as a mission statement, and others have since told me they, too, found them profound. Since writing them, though, I've come to understand that as not just my purpose, but our purpose – to write until we have nothing more left to write.

There is an elephant in the room, however: Wikipedia will never be finished. We'll never be finished! The only thing that could put the kibosh on our work is our obliteration. So if the completion of this Encyclopedia is impossible, what is this Completionism I speak of?

I think of Completionism as another Wikiphilosophy, somewhere in the canyon between the Inclusionists and Deletionists. However, Completionism, and Completionists by extension, shouldn't have a dog in that big, headline-grabbing chaoskampf. This is because Completionists are not watching the dog fight; they are pursuing the completion of as much of the Encyclopedia as possible, which I will term "Completion". A Completionist is thus someone who writes quality content, organizes and supplies those content writers, and/or patrols and maintains our content. A lone wolf Featured Article writer, a WP:RX regular, or a member of the Guild of Copy Editors could be Completionists.

Readers of this essay, I encourage you, if you fancy, to join the roster below if you believe the things I believe here, and to discuss this essay on its talk. You are also invited to look at the revision history of this essay to track when and where ideas were added to or removed from it.

Completion and completion[edit]

That most famous of Completionists, Saint Isidore of Seville, inspecting the Manual of Style

It must be repeated: Wikipedia can never be complete. So it must be understood, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that Completion and completion are different. Big-C Completion is the bringing of as many articles and list articles to as high a quality as possible. Ideally, every article should be Featured-class – this is little-c completion, and that is impossible. It is impossible because...

  • ...history is made every day.
  • ...quality articles deteriorate.
  • ...the resources for getting an article to Featured may not exist or be accessible.
  • ...even Completion may be beyond the grasp of our community.

Now, however, while the Encyclopedia will never be complete, we can achieve Completion, and there is much that can be Completed. And indeed, there is much that is Complete already, though you should read on. So we should define Completion, and be pragmatic. Big-C Completion is the raising and maintaining of as much of the Encyclopedia to as high a standard of quality as present resources allow.

To say that that is an awesome task is the understatement of the century. But I'm willing to try, and to wait. Isidore of Seville (pictured), a saint and doctor of the Church, worked for 25 years to write his 20-volume Etymologiae, which sought to compile all human knowledge. I can think of no better a precedent, aspiration, and comparison to Wikipedia than Saint Isidore and the Etymologiae. We have toiled now for 20 years, can fill more than 25 times 25 volumes, and have ourselves become the first, last, or both arbiters of truth, despite our warnings about trusting our content. Even naysayers heed us. But I doubt we could fill 25 volumes with Complete articles, despite there being more of us than Saint Isidore, with more time, more resources, and an even larger scope.

In this essay, I hope to illuminate obstacles to Completion and the methods we may take to reach it.

Challenges to Completion[edit]

The pursuit of completion will not be easy

The first challenge to Completion that jumps out at me is the size of Wikipedia. There is a lot of Mainspace to improve, and a lot that still needs creation. Or recreation. The goal of even 100,000 Featured Articles is an awesome task, one popularly considered impossible right back to when it was first devised. As the essay 100,000 feature-quality articles says, a lot of editors will have to put in a lot of time and effort, write thousands of words, read tens of thousands more words, all so there can be one Featured for roughly 1,065 articles in October 2021. According to the essay Wikipedia is failing, largely written in 2007, it would take 4,380 years for all the currently existing articles to meet FA criteria. I am not personally worried about that rate, because something that takes millennia to elapse is beyond me; because there are articles that will remain C-class, or Start-class, or even stubs for a long time; because getting articles to Featured is just half the battle anyway; and because Wikipedia is but one font of information - though by far the most accessible - out of thousands.

The availability of those sources poses the next set of challenges to Completion. The one I spend the most time thinking about is editor location and interest. Here is an example: I live in West Texas, and I am interested in the history of the region, so I write about it. I am also interested in more regions and topics besides, though, and have also written about them. My living in West Texas puts me in close proximity to the history, locales, and people of the region and thus readily available resources about them, which has enabled me to Complete articles about West Texas. But that vanishes when I go to work on an article in, say, Poland. Now we're dealing with a language I probably don't know, with publishers I'm probably not familiar with, in a place I cannot easily go to and take photos of. Interest in something in a place in which an editor does not live or cannot easily access can still result in a Completed article, but it may result in more harm than good if an editor can't speak Polish.

Now consider that there are editors who aren't interested in editing about their locale and that there are locales devoid of interested foreigners or native editors. Wikipedia, even the English Wikipedia, suffers from a lack of an international community writing about their environs, either because editors just don't want to, or because we don't have many editors in for example North Africa or rural China. We can work across wikis or the larger internet, and grow as people; the mind is willing. But the flesh may be unable to access reliable sources; I have myself been stunted by the unavailability of PDFs for French-language books and journals, for instance, and I've spent a lot of time in the scrapyards of the academia of other languages. The importance of an international body of editors for Completion is thus underscored.

Lastly, there are also topics for which the best sources we have at the moment are news articles, or even primary sources. There are some topics, like the Trump administration, that can be Completed but will require lots of maintenance and reworking as the years roll by, and others, like Virtual YouTubers, for which we'll be spending a lot of time waiting for scholarly analysis, if we ever get it. Unfortunately, the cultural perceptions and the interest of scholars of a topic may push back Completion of an article or even the coverage of an entire topic.

Existential threats[edit]

We may one day bask in the ruins of this Encyclopedia and ask ourselves, "how did we do this?"

I spend a lot of time thinking about existence; mine, existence in general, and because of my investment in Wikipedia, Wikipedia's existence. Any change in the existence of Wikipedia will affect Completion, and vice versa. So it is worth discussing. So long as there is an Encyclopedia and Editors to Edit it, Completionism will exist, described as here or not as it has existed before. But there is the crux of the matter, something I discussed above: interest and place. So long as are the operative words, and there are ways and possibilities for that if-then statement to break.

In the essay Death of Wikipedia, veteran editor, administrator, and Arbitrator Barkeep49 (talk) lays out three scenarios for the "death" of Wikipedia:

  1. AI-written content
  2. Internet fragmentation
  3. The Wikimedia Foundation doing something apocalyptically stupid

The first and second scenarios[1] very well could kill Wikipedia and thus halt Completion. I say "halt" and not "hinder" because I think Wikipedia has the best shot of any like project seen or to be seen of achieving Completion because of its unique placement in history and it's Editors, and that if Wikipedia were to die or be broken, those Editors would never again gather in one place. The danger of Barkeep's scenarios is that they erode the community, who if Wikipedia dies would not rally to one banner. The WMF screwing up cataclysmicly is, in my opinion, the most likely and dangerous scenario. To give a historical example, dozens of admins resigned to protest WP:FRAM. What Barkeep describes as "WMF shenanigans" could also include, for instance, the WMF being sued for every last dime it possesses, or the bursting of their money bubble.

But, barring those apocalyptic scenarios, I envision Wikipedia's end taking a long time to fully come about. Rather, I envisage that as more and more of the Encyclopedia is Completed, a lot of editors will find themselves out of work, as it were. They'll perhaps hang around to maintain their work or find more articles to work on, maybe feel out the possibilities of expansion in their area(s) of interest, but ultimately leave. This scenario I have termed the "Withering of the Encyclopedia", and I feel confident in this prediction because it has happened before. I'll quote this comment by Rusty Cashman (talk) on a 2011 article in The Signpost (emphasis mine):

The key turning point was the increase in emphasis on WP:VERIFY. It unquestionably improved the quality of the encyclopedia, but it just as unquestionably changed us from a large community of online users sharing everything they know to a much smaller community of scholars willing to put in a significant amount of effort researching and documenting their use of reliable sources. That was a good thing for producing a more informative and trustworthy reference work, but it was effectively the end of "the encyclopedia everyone can edit", since most people simply can't or won't make the effort to do the kind of research required to make significant edits when every such edit requires an inline citation to a reliable published source. That combined with the exhaustion of many of the easiest topics has inevitably lead to the community shrinking.

— Rusty Cashman (talk), Comment on the article Editor retention; Malayalam loves Wikimedia; Wikimedia reports; brief news April 2011 edition of The Signpost

As abandoned factories rust, so will Wikipedia begin a slow decline as editors leave or go over to maintenance against cruft. There will of course be updates as human history continues and humans continue to delve and study their history, but once, for instance, every article about Rembrandt gets to FA, there won't be much else for anyone but anti-vandals to do there. Any editors interested in Rembrandt must find something else to do, find a way to stuff their own work into the topic, or leave.

Path to Completion[edit]

So, considering the challenges to Completion, what is to be done? Well, what is to be done is to write new content, expand and curate existing content, research, collation of research and references, reviewing and copy editing, cleanup, deorphaning, and collaboration. In a word, work. The only way Completion can and will be reached is through a Herculean amount of work. Completion will also require Completionists to be bold, but civil and patient, and to some extent charismatic. This is a collaborative project! It shall also require Completionists to be discerning and travel to many places to acquire what the Encyclopedia needs. But most of all, it must be repeated, it shall require us to work. As is said of the Swabians, "Schaffe, schaffe Häusle baue" — Let's work and work, and build a house.

Idea: Completionists work from bricks baked long ago; Four Awards will be rare things to them.

There are some immediate, or short-term steps we can take towards Completion:

  1. Expansion of The Wikipedia Library
  2. Increased collaboration between editors

Longer-term steps for bringing about Completion

  1. [Wiki World Heritage UG]

100,000 Featured Articles[edit]

One goal, for me, stands above all others: 100,000 Featured Articles. It ultimately doesn't matter what they are, just that they are Completed, Featured Articles. These will be a hard core and a bastion for the Encyclopedia, the creation of which will, I hope, create and instill (or reinforce) a discipline of content writing; of Completionism.

There is fertile soil for this crop; the things really limiting this goal are time and manpower. There are content writers, but how many reviewers are there? And do we even have enough content writers? I fear that we do not, and that all we can do is make do with what we have and devote all available energy to this goal.

Recruitment and outreach[edit]

While I was discussing Completionism before writing this essay, several users raised the issue of outreach and our small editorbase (small relative to our readership and clout). My feelings on those things are mixed. More editors would, on paper, mean more getting done, which would be nice. But the amount of editors that stick around year after year, and those who manage to avoid indefinite blocks (for sockpuppeting especially), are not many. I have yet observed no commonality between every one of these editors, from the ones that have never been blocked in ten years to the ones that are controversial but continue to edit, but an ideological interest in Wikipedia and/or an interest in pinning medals to themselves.


food for thought from Vati: There is a false belief among people who could possibly become Editors that everything is already written about.

Tenets and ideology[edit]

The end of an encyclopedia is to assemble the knowledge scattered over the earth, to expound it to contemporaries, and to transmit it to posterity, to the end that the labors of past centuries should not be useless to those who are to come, and that our successors, becoming better instructed, may become at the same time more virtuous and happy, and that we may not die without having deserved well of the human race.

Denis Diderot

These shall make up our credo:

  1. All that can be written has not been yet written. It is my aim to write all that can be written.
    1. If I do not write, who will?
  2. When it is time for my time on Wikipedia to be judged, I shall be judged according to what I contributed.

read the Observations

Deletionism vs. Inclusionism[edit]

The classic war between the Deletionists and the Inclusionists is not for Completionists; there are articles to write. But for that reason, the philosophy of Completionism swings Inclusionist. That said, a Completionist would gladly scoop up a free Four Award from Deletionist projects. Completionists will also not argue about the state a house should be left in, because articles that should genuinely not be here will probably already have been scrubbed before a Completionist lays eyes on it.

The Completionist roster[edit]

Now, if you've found your way here, and you agree with the philosophy described above, perhaps you, too, are a Completionist? In that case, why not sign below? The more of us the merrier, I say, and the better too for all the work that lies ahead of us.

  1. ♠Vami_IV†♠ 09:38, 25 July 2021 (UTC)
  2. Dracophyllum 09:34, 30 July 2021 (UTC)
  3. 🐶 EpicPupper (he/him | talk, FAQ, contribs 04:29, 31 July 2021 (UTC)
  4. CactiStaccingCrane (talk) 01:43, 16 September 2021 (UTC). Wikipedia:WikiProject Unreferenced articles.
  5. JackFromWisconsin (talk | contribs) 16:09, 18 October 2022 (UTC)
  6. No hesitation — Aza24 (talk) 06:47, 19 October 2022 (UTC)
  7. I pray that I have something to offer. The Night Watch ω (talk) 14:01, 19 October 2022 (UTC)
  8. I agree with everything on this page. HadesTTW (he/him • talk) 17:22, 17 February 2024 (UTC)
  9. 93565 articles remaining. Harvici (talk) 11:47, 19 February 2024 (UTC)
  10. ~~ AirshipJungleman29 (talk) 13:50, 19 February 2024 (UTC)
  11. Queen of Hearts (talkstalk • she/they) 22:03, 19 February 2024 (UTC)
  12. Generalissima (talk) 01:40, 20 February 2024 (UTC)
  13. That Coptic Guyping me! (talk) (contribs) 01:47, 21 February 2024 (UTC)
  14. Absolutely. Utopes (talk / cont) 05:57, 23 February 2024 (UTC)
  15. Hopefully I'll contribute at least a few articles. Spinixster (chat!) 06:59, 28 February 2024 (UTC)
  16. A great essay which so eloquently states what I have often thought about. Unexpectedlydian♯4talk 22:10, 2 March 2024 (UTC)
  17. 6,450 down, 93,550 to go. Just keep toiling, we will get there, word by word, article by article. ZombiUwU ♥ (🌸~♥~ 📝) 20:31, 7 March 2024 (UTC)
  18. We will complete and we shall complete. Cheers, --The Lonely Pather (talk) 00:29, 10 March 2024 (UTC)
  19. Glad to find a group that fits my intents as an editor – always improving, always working toward Completion! > Cellina Starfire: talk? 02:50, 15 March 2024 (UTC)
  20. re-stating my membership here, in honor of our friend and colleague. miss you, and truly value all of your amazing and amirable work here. --Sm8900 (talk) 16:08, 18 March 2024 (UTC)
  21. Our collective goal is the destruction of our collective purpose. Glad to join, in honor of Vami_IV. [[user:3.14159265459AAAs|3.14]]
  22. SweaTheSerg (talk) 17:49, 3 April 2024 (UTC)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The fragmentation of the internet into tongue-spheres, such as the Anglosphere dominant here on the English Wikipedia, would be bad, but thankfully will not really be a problem so long as there is a lingua franca, be it English or Chinese.

Templates[edit]

A Completionist barnstar, to show your appreciation for editors who work to Complete the encyclopedia

Some users have made some userspace templates to indicate one's affiliation with the Completionist philosophy: