Wikipedia:Article series boxes
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Created May 2004 by user:AlexR
For some time now so called article series boxes (ASBs in this text) have been turning up in the en:Wikipedia.
I got involved in the subject over the article Heteronormativity, which acquired two of them, an LGBT box and a Critical Theory box. There has been much debate about them; also, there have been debates on Wikipedia talk:Article series and the wikien-l mailing list. Those who followed or read those debates will know I am not very fond of those boxes. Mind you, it is the format of a box I object to, especially in their current usage, not article series in general.
Don't stop reading yet
I hope the fact that things like heteronormativity, LGBT people and critical theory are mentioned does not deter people from considering the general points that are made; they are only used as examples here. If somebody wishes to replace those examples with others, I have no objections. It's also fairly long, but I wanted the arguments to be stated clearly, so that those people who did not follow all debates mentioned above know why I propose what I will propose. Those who did follow the debate can probably skip over the first points and jump right to ASBs and Projects and the proposals following it.
ASBs vs. other boxes
The article series boxes differ from the old series boxes in that they do not list articles that are clearly part of a series of events or people or similar, like lists of rulers or lists of battles in a war, or articles on a clearly definied and finite list, like "Members of NATO" or "Federal states of Germany" or similar. See the bottom of de:Hans-Jochen Vogel as an example of what many consider too many of those; they list all people who ever held the offices Vogel held. (Note that in the German Wikipedia there are usually no boxes around those "boxes", as there would be in the English one.) (Feel free to replace that example with one from en:WP, of course.)
ASBs on the other hand link to a number of articles the makers of these boxes, usually projects, consider particularly relevant to a general topic. There are several problems associated with that principle, however:
What is relevant?
There will be quite some disagreements over what is relevant enough to warrant a box. It would be no problem at all to make two or three more boxes in Heteronormativity alone (besides the two already mentioned), maybe more, say, a transgender box, an intersex box, a box on feminism, maybe a box on discrimination in general ... . These are all topics to which heteronormativity is relevant, after all.
Too much emphasis on the "boxed" topics
Another problem those boxes create is that merely putting some related topics in boxes, while other related topics are linked in the article itself, or the see also section, is that simply by standing out, they create an emphasis on the relation of the article to the "boxed" topic that seems to be more important than the others. Obviously, that will lead to more boxes being created, because those people who's related topics seem less important now will feel compelled to make ASBs themself. Given that the placement of boxes on the article page is right now quite random, that could lead to rather unreadable pages, or, at best, pages that do not look particularly well. Have a look at Music of the United States (particularly these old versions of it , , ) to see what I mean. And remember - other people might not have a monitor as big as yours, or not use the browser in full screen mode. Not to mention people who use screen readers or similar.
Who decides which articles should be in the box?
Given that those boxes, at least those I have seen, seem mostly deal with matters of social sciences or humanities, debates about what is so relevant that it should be put into a box is inevitable.
- Intersex was taken out by somebody who objected that many intersex people do not feel they are part of the LGBT community, and should not be claimed as part of it. In fact, there are about 30 separate conditions which are subsummized under "Intersex", and intersex therefore covers a very wide field of personal experiences, most of which do in fact not related directly to LGBT. Undoubtably they often do indirectly, but I consider the objection and the removal in this case to be perfectly appropriate.
- Transsexual people also often object to the notion of being part of the LGBT community; even those who are gay or lesbian after transitioning feel they belong to the LGBT community because they are gay or lesbian, not because they are transsexual. And while many transsexual people are discriminated against under the mistaken assumption that being transsexual is just a form of being gay or lesbian, (just as some intersex people are, which is even more wrong), many try not not solve this problem by fighting against the discriminiation of LGB(T?) people, but by distancing themselves from them. So it is only a matter of time before that is taken out.
- The objections against linking transgender are different: Transgender is a very complex subject, which is why a List of transgender-related topics exists (which does include transsexual and intersex, btw.). It might have been more appropriate to link to that instead.
This box also did not become less random at all; now many articles seem to be put in because they relate somehow to LGBT - but when you look at the List of gay-related topics that box might become a wee bit too big.
Some boxes are borderline cases, like Influential Western Philosophers by Wikipedia:WikiProject Philosophy which can be seen in Immanuel Kant and others. While you can probably incite a heated debate among any group of philosophers about which philosophers were especially influential in western philosophy, most likely there will be several names mentionend in every proposal. It might be a good idea, in cases like this one, though, to draw a line at some point in the past, say, 50 years ago or similar. Whether current or recent philosophers will in the future be considered relevant is not only guessing, it would also ignite very heated debates.
ASBs vs. lists and See also sections
ASBs vs. lists
Lists are quite common, I should say; in fact, the word list-o-mania can be heard occasionally. Lists however differ from ASBs in an important point: They strife to include all articles on a subject, not just those considered "relevant" or particularly "important". Since many lists are somewhat structured, too, they do, in my opinion, enable the reader much better than a pre-chosen series to decide what they want to read next. See the List of transgender-related topics for an example.
ASBs vs. See also sections
Under See also there are usually links to other articles that are either not mentioned in the text, but are relevant, particularly lists, or links to articles considered so important that they are listed again. The See also section is pretty egalitarian (unless it is flooded with links, but that is usually quickly corrected); no link looks more "important" than the others, and if there is trouble, they get sorted alphabetically.
ASBs and Projects
All ASBs seem to have WikiProjects behind them.
The idea behind ASBs seems to be that it will make it easier for people to get an overview over a given field without overwhelming them with too many details. That is, by itself, of course a good idea.
However, an article that gives that overview is probably a better idea in many cases, though, even if it is namend "Overview over whatever topic", and therefore not very detailed. Many articles are quite detailed, and might by themselfes confuse or overwhelm people looking for an overview. On the other hand, articles might be linked that are not very good, but are there because that subject should be explained.
That is what projects are supposed to do, the management of a specific family of information within the Wikipedia; which of course includes improving articles, and very likely a "List of" articles on that subject. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. (Although the project behind LGBT is not much of a project; throwing the box into articles is their only activity, but there is no debate whatever about it, and not even a statement of their aim or purpose or whatever. That does not make sense.)
So before anybody consideres making an article series, they should consider whether a) the articles listed in the series are good enough to be listed there; if they are not, they should be improved first. And b) they should consider whether there is a good introduction to the subject itself anywhere around. The article LGBT itself, for example, might just pass for an introduction, although it is rather short and does not explain what does link lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, or even "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered, intersex and/or queer or questioning". The article critical theory though, I don't know how to put it politely, but I did ask a few people to read it; all people who are used to theoretical texts, but who don't know much about critical theory. Let's just say they don't feel they know much more about it after reading the article. Other projects about less complicated and/or controversial subjects probably do better in that respect.
Proposal One - No Boxes
From what I said above, I do believe that the Wikipedia does not need article series boxes at all; because they do nothing that cannot be done with a link to a list in See also. If there is a (perceived) need for an article series, it could be done on a separate page, one that explicitly is named "Article series on ..." or "Selected articles on ..." or whatever, like a "List of ...", and be linked in see also.
Proposal Two - If there have to be boxes
I fear, though, that this will not do; some people seem to be too much in love with their ASBs to give them up. So in case they cannot be prevented, here is my proposal for ASBs:
No box without project
There should be no boxes without a project associated with them. Otherwise there would be no place where the ASBs themself could be discussed and improved. Theoretically there is of course the possibility to change the text of an ASB without project, but how many users know how to, and how many edit wars would we get if everybody did?
Valid Reasons to Use Boxes
- Link together a family of related articles where readers or contributors may easily be unaware of related articles' existence
- Provide a large topic with a conceptual structure if the topic does not have a clear one inherently. (for example where entities overlap in complex ways)
please populate and clarify!
Innapropriate Reasons to use Boxes
- Assert contentious POV relationships
- Advertise obscure topics in prominent places
- Merely list the all members of a well defined set (example: all the members or NATO on a box on all member nations, when the interested reader can easily follow a link to NATO to read the member list)
please populate and clarify!
What should be in an ASB?
Article series boxes should really link only to article series, that is selected articles from a field that can give people an overview over that field. People who already know that field are served much better with a complete list of articles.
The header of the box should link to the project itself, so that people know where to go if they have anything to say about the ASB or the project. (Looking for a project's page can be a pain in the lower rear; I couldn't find the project page for LGBT for days.)
The very first link in the box should link to the introductory article, and that article really should explain why there is a project with an ASBs. Not explicitly like "We made this project because ..." of course, but the article should tell people what this is all about and why that field and why particular subjects are important enough to go into the box.
The last link should point to a list or, if necessary, several lists that list all articles on that topic. "Several lists" should be the exception, though! It could for example apply to the LGBT box.
Also, articles should be listed in a way that is rather objective, if that's possible. Birthdates for people make sense, so do alphabetical listings. Listing them by "what we consider important" might not only confuse the reader but is also a value judgement that should be avoided; not only on general WP principles, but also because value judgements tend to result in edit wars.
(See also ASBs and Projects above)
What should NOT be in an ASB?
ASBs should not contain:
- "List of"s that try to list every article from a given field should not be in boxes, and particularly there should be no long "List of" inside that box. These should, together with links to single articles, remain in See also.
- External links should not be in boxes, either, even if they do belong together in any way.
- Boxes should not just link to projects. No matter how much a project needs people to help them, article pages are not the place to recruit them. According to Angela, there is already a rule in place saying that, so consider that a reminder.
"This article is part of ..."
Many ASBs use the words "This article is part of the article series on ..." or similar. This is, in my opinion, not a good idea. First, the ASBs should not contain any sentences commenting on the ASB or its project or other meta-matters; at most they should contain a reference to the purpose of the ASBs, and only if it can not be figured out from the title of the box. And second, to declare articles as "part of" something might be seriously annoying people who worked on that article, and who maybe never had in mind the field of the ASB, or did not have so primarily; especially if there is only one box that makes that declaration, and other field are only linked through simple links or links to lists.
Hyacinth wondered about whether there should be a maximum length. I have been wondering about that myself, but I think that if there is a limit it should be set rather high. The problem is that some subjects like "Influential whatever people" will, to be fair, probably need rather larger numbers of entries than say an overview over a particular field of philosophy or social sciences. On the other hand, people are sometimes quite enthusiastic, so a limit might be necessary. I leave this point open for now, as it needs some more input from others; preferably from people making or planing to make ASBs.
Whatever is decided on that question, all ASBs should look the same. I do not want to suppress anybody's creativity here, but having different designs would create a few problems.
Oblong boxes vs. broad boxes
I put the current LGBT and the current "Influential Western Philosophers" boxes below for comparison. (I hope I choose the correct words; LGBT is "oblong", Philosophers is "broad" (and English not my first language).)
Despite the fact that some article series would work better in broad, and others in oblong boxes, I think that having both styles would make placing those boxes together a bit difficult. Mixing them is pretty much impossible; so either all the oblong boxes are put first, then one very long box could push the broad boxes virtually out of sight. Or the broad ones come on top of the oblong ones, then chances are high that the oblong ones go unnoticed.
Since the oblong boxes also would have different hights and widths, broad boxes are probably the better choice; but there is probably some way to make oblong ones work, too.
One word: Don't. Every box should have the same chance at being noticed, and that means they have to look pretty similar. Also, a colour-war could lead to pages that hurt the eyes if you look at them. I don't think anybody would like to see a yellow box next to a bright green one next to an orange one. Not to mention that some people's eyesight is not the best, and therefore, there might be legibility problems as well.
Boxes should stand at the bottom of pages, not on top or in the middle. People come to an article to read about that subject, not another more or less related one. Only when they are finished reading, they (hopefully) can decide what else they want to read. Also, if people come to an article to find related subjects, they will be able figure out (because this is standard not only in the WP, but since the beginning of writing) that related subjects are usually mentioned at the bottom of articles.
Putting them all together at the bottom of the page should also prevent the article itself becoming harder to read, because they don't intrude visually. And due to their rather impressive visual effect (when compared to plain text or plain links) that should mean the very bottom of the page, below all other entries, including See also and Links.
And now please feel free to comment on this proposal as much as you like. I made a comment page for this proposal, too.
It's here: User:AlexR/Article series boxes/Comments Now that the page has been moved, please use the talk page here. Old comments have been moved there, too. -- AlexR
Boxes are used to indicate districts of proprietorship
First of all, do not the categories system now make boxes more or less redundant?
- No, because navigational templates have a number of features that categories do not currently have, such as:
- Boxes can be ordered in any way that is appropriate, while categories must be alphabetically ordered.
- Boxes are more convenient for navigational purposes than categories, because they allow readers to see and go to related articles without having to visit a separate page.
- [[User:JoshG|Josh | Talk]] 00:21, Oct 22, 2004 (UTC)
Secondly, some articles have been pwned by boxey editors who wish to own them for their own purpose. Take Yama for instance, which has a box nearly as big (let me exaggerate slightly!) as the article, implicitly proclaiming Yama as exclusively belonging to Hinduism. Which is just not true. (This is not a dig at LordSurya, who applied the box - I appreciate the contributions he makes to WP). IMHO this sort of application (as well as edit-hogging) is a means of attempting to establish POV as fact. (20040302)
- It is true that non-neutral points of view are an issue, but that is the same everywhere in Wikipedia. Plus, I think "proprietorship" is a bit too of a word for that situation. In any case, a series box can be modified to have a neutral point of view just as an article can be, although it is admittedly a bit more difficult. [[User:JoshG|Josh | Talk]] 00:21, Oct 22, 2004 (UTC)
- Josh, thank-you for clearing up the distinction between categories and boxes. It may be that the category system could be enhanced.. Regarding the second point, do you not see that e.g. a particular article that is considered central to a whole set of different series may end up being washed out by series boxes? If, for instance, I were to add one of the Buddhism boxes to Yama, it would appear to me that there was some proprietorial battle going on concerning the Yama article.
- I am not against boxes per se, but I do think that they often are used to indicate districts of proprietorship, and the fact that this may be a problem with WP everywhere is not an argument against attempting to weaken some of the resources at hand for such behaviour. (20040302)
- Probably the best solution for that sort of problem would be to have more than one box in the article, so it could cover more than one use or application of the article's topic. It is important to be careful, though. Especially with smaller articles, too many navigational template boxes could make the page look crowded and overshadowed. [[User:JoshG|Josh | Talk]] 19:19, Oct 31, 2004 (UTC)
- I have come to the conclusion to leave it. My position is reverted - I feel that the categories mechanism could be enhanced to make boxes redundant. Anything else is a nightmare to organise. Regardless, I will continue to use and make boxes until I feel that the category system is enhanced enough. (20040302 23:37, 31 Oct 2004 (UTC))