One of the elements that has always impressed me about Wikipedia is its transparency about quality. No other source announces its limitations right at the top of a page. They might retract something when they notice its incorrect. They might put the correction on the article, but they often hide it or put it at the end of something. Wikipedia, on the other hand, puts it right up at the very top and in a way you can’t ignore. In this entry, I am going to talk about the various types of banners and the various purposes they serve.
Types of Banners
I have seen a variety of banners, but I am pretty sure I haven’t seen them all. The most common ones I see are related to the process of page curation. This is the review of new entries to make sure they are as developed as they can be and to identify what needs to be added. This means things like: citations, organization clean up, images, information boxes, etc. They are placed right at the top of the page to encourage others to start cleaning up and adding to the entry so it gets better. My favorite is seeing ones that identify a possible conflict of interest, a possible bias (sometimes its hard to tell), or a lack of citations. These are called clean-up and dispute tags.
If you were looking at a post about what happened in Charlottesville, NC this weekend, you might have noticed a banner identifying the entry as related to a current event. You can even see when pages have been proposed for deletion. This could mean the topic isn’t important enough (yet?) to have its own Wikipedia entry. This often happens in relation to biography entries. Notability is a difficult subject to navigate and I will talk about that another week.
Why These Banners?
Wikipedia has a variety of reasons to add these banners. Part of it is connected to the criticism of inaccuracies. Even in 2005, studies showed it was just as accurate as Brittanica. That was in the first 5 years of Wikipedia. We are still dealing with inaccuracy issues. Teachers still ban Wikipedia from classrooms. People just assume information online is correct. The last year of our life has been dominated by the idea of fake news and a post-truth world. Wikipedia values accuracy and verifiability, so they want readers to see that there might be problems with an entry.
They also want to entice people to participate. The hope is that you will see the banner and want to help improve Wikipedia. It can be as simple as correct a spelling error (my edits are full of those and you are welcome to correct them). The key is that you are enticed to edit and find a way you are comfortable contributing. Has this gotten them more editors? I don’t really know, but the German Wikipedians tried a more aggressive approach this year and had some success. They told us about the program when I was in Montreal.
In the comments, tell me about what types of info banners you have seen on Wikipedia? Did you follow a current event and notice that banner show up?