[Mediawiki-l] Subpages in main namespace?

Rick DeNatale rick.denatale at gmail.com
Wed Mar 22 22:33:22 UTC 2006

On 3/22/06, Joshua Yeidel <yeidel at wsu.edu> wrote:
> I think the best argument against subpages in Wikipedia is that it removes a
> whole set of arguments from the table (is "Biochemistry" a subpage of
> "Biology" or of "Chemistry"?  Who decides?  Should I add a page as its own
> main page or as a subpage of something else?).  There's less useless
> controversy letting the links within pages (including "what links here")
> specify the information relationships.
> In non-encyclopedia contexts, you may have information architectures that
> are best expressed using main-space subpages.  If so, it isn't hard to set
> up.

Yes, looking at those old pages (the seem to predate mediawiki in
fact, one talks about the coming NEW php implementaiton of wikipedia),
as an "archaelogist" rather than a participant, it seems to me that
the crux was the tension between seeing things as a hierarchy as
opposed to a more general structure.

Hierarchies are appealing on the surface because they seem to
correspond to the natural world, unfortunately too often they
correspond to particular points of view of the world and fall apart
when you try to use them to reconcile the views of multiple people*. 
Having been a long term (and now retired) participant in the
object-oriented language wars, I understand too well how this clash of
hierarchical vs. non-hierarchical views can cause conflict.

WIth Brion's recent comments I'm sensing that subpages were originally
intended to be used for the implementation of talk pages (and possibly
similar things). But then the early wikipedians started using them for
other uses like disambiguation and categorization, and the strains in
the design started to show (again, since I wasn't "there" at the time
this might be an imagined history).

They seem to have been kept because they are useful for things like
factoring long-winded talk pages, and for things like packaging
template "subroutines."  As Joshua points out, for a site using
mediawiki with a controlled context and/or user set, they might be
useful in more general usage, but I'd beware of what drove them into
the corner for wikipedia.

* For some interesting reading on how hierarchies within the "common
wisdom" don't work out in practice, I'd recommend you track down a
copy of Stephen Jay Gould's essay "What, If Anything, Is a Zebra?"  If
you are REALLY fascinated you might want to trudge through George
Lakov's "Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things" which gives lots of
examples of how different cultures have very different classifications
of real world objects from the point of view of a cognitive linguist.

Rick DeNatale

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