If you have ever read anything on Wikipedia, you have probably noticed links in red, not blue or purple. Typically on webpages, a link to something off page is represented with blue for unvisited, or purple for visited. It is common to change the link colors to match your page’s aesthetic. You will see if on this blog. Wikipedia decided to go with the traditional color scheme, but added one more color into the mix: red. Red signifies an internal link that doesn’t exist at the moment. Today I am going to discuss the reason those links are red, the ways editors engage with them, and my own evolving thinking about them.
What Does Red Mean
There are a few things a red links can mean. Simply put, there is no actual entry at that link. Either it did exist and was deleted or it has never existed before. Occasionally, it means someone has put in the wrong link to something. The red link is internal to Wikipedia and is there to show possible expansion that hasn’t happened or isn’t ready for. What I mean by this is that someone or something isn’t ready for an entry. It could be that it’s simply not notable enough for an entry yet.
I want to talk about the permanence of deleted entries, but not this week.
There is vandalism issues with red links. Sometimes people add them in to be cute. Its really easy to go in and just make things into links, plus it might go unnoticed.
At Wikimania, we talked about programs we can run that aren’t edit-a-thons. I will discuss more about this over the next few weeks, but one idea that came up was someone working with students to ADD links to topics that interest them. The hope is that editors will come in and make pages. This type of program is not a lot of work, but also low return. The students don’t develop the links, but the idea is to show editors where people would like an entry to exist.
What Do Editors Really Do With Red Links?
In my years of editing Wikipedia, I think more editors remove the red links than build up from them. There is a policy on dealing with red links. The basic idea is to let them stay when they make sense as future entries, but remove them if they are nonsensical. I know a lot of editors who are more worried about how bad it looks to see entries littered with red links. They want to keep the clean, crisp look of an entry. Red links, in their opinions, look bad. Other editors see them as the opportunity to build new content and expand the encyclopedia. At this time I don’t know how many people do just that, but maybe things are changing.
I admit, I have felt that red links should be removed. I have subscribed to the idea that it would be better to just make the entry and then link to it, instead of linking to it and hoping someone will make it. Then I heard about the program I mentioned above. I had to think about the goal related to expanding Wikipedia and my own involvement. Wikipedia wants to college the sum of human knowledge. Right now it expands where its editors feel like editing. This is why it can feel lopsided in favor of science, technology, history, and sports. The majority of editors are men with those interests. A better balance requires one of two things: people willing to make the entries themselves or those willing to identify where people are interested in development. In a perfect universe, people would be able to do both, but for now, I can do my part. I won’t delete anymore red links. I will find a way to encourage people to add more. I will look to those when trying to find new entries to create.
What about you? Have you ever added a red link to Wikipedia? Tell me in the comments!