[WikiEN-l] No-indexing of project-space pages

Newyorkbrad (Wikipedia) newyorkbrad at gmail.com
Wed Jul 23 00:47:42 UTC 2008

A couple of months ago, I raised on this list the issue of "no-indexing"
Wikipedia pages outside the mainspace, principally including project-space
pages such as XfDs, AN/ANI, RfA's, RfAr's, and the like, but possibly
including userspace as well.  By no-indexing, I refer to coding these pages
such that they will not be picked up by Google or other search engines.

The desirability of this change has been noted by many people, including
very experienced Wikipedians.  As we all know, the popularity of Wikipedia
and the intensive number of internal links means that when a Wikipedia page
contains the name of a living individual, then unless the person is either
extremely notable or happens to have a common name, that page will almost
inevitably become a high-ranking, if not the highest ranking, search engine
result for that individual.  This raises issues enough when the search
result is a BLP or other mainspace article, but it is totally unacceptable
when the high-ranking result destined to follow the individual around
forever is something like:

-  An AfD deciding to delete an article about a person because of her
perceived lack of any sufficiently notable or meaningful accomplishments in
life (these can be courtesy-blanked on request, but how many subjects know
how even to ask); or
-  An RfA, involving a contributor who happens to edit under his real name,
which fails because the user was deemed unqualified for adminship; or
-  An arbitration case, in which an editor was severely criticized or even
banned for violations of Wikipedia policy - regrettable, but not
something for which it would serve any purpose to tar the person's RL
reputation forever; or
-  A long and heated discussion in an ancient ANI thread, again involving a
contributor who edits using her name, involving some ancient wiki-grievance
long forgotten ... until the contributor applies for a scholarship or a job
and someone Googles her name; or
-  An ArbCom election in which the user came in 17th place; or
-  An SSP report in which a user editing under a new name is indelibly
linked to a username based on his real name, which he chose to abandon
months or years earlier because of precisely these very concerns; or
-  A discussion on ANI noticeboard of defamatory or privacy-invading
material in a BLP or other article, which it is rightfully decided to delete
from the article itself ... except it remains preserved in the
noticeboard discussion (I do see that this aspect of the problem has been
addressed on the BLP noticeboard archives, but this type of discussion
occurs on ANI and elsewhere as well); or
-  Various other places where these issues, involving both article subjects
and Wikipedia contributors, continue to arise on a frequent basis.

It has been observed that being named on Wikipedia, whether for legitimate
reasons or otherwise, has a powerful potential to damage a person's life.
(See for example the BLP policy and its talkpage, the ArbCom decisions in
RfAr/Badlydrawnjeff and RfAr/Footnoted quotes, or discussion on various
criticism sites.)  As noted, this raises a troublesome enough suite of
issues when the person in question has been accurately discussed in the
encyclopedia itself.  It is really not acceptable when it occurs as a
happenstance of an ancillary discussion of an article subject or of a
contributor (even a misbehaving or a now-unwelcome contributor).

I have read more than enough complaints from people who have found
themselves in many of the unfortunate situations I describe here.  If they
are Wikipedians, they sometimes come to rue the day they ever thought of
contributing, much less contributing under a name linked to their real
identity.  If they are article subjects with no particular connection to
Wikipedia, they must surely find the situation maddening.  By comparison,
the benefits to the general public of being able to read through internal
Wikipedia discussions of this nature as the result of a casual Google search
must be reckoned, at the best, as slight.

In the prior thread, I believe there was significant support for
implementing coding necessary to cause "no-indexing" of projectspace and
possibly userspace and other-space pages.  The main counter-arguments were:

- That some project-space pages DO warrant indexing.  An example that was
given was the notability policy or the BLP policy.  The solution to this is
to have a "yes-index" feature that would override the no-index code on a
particular project-space page where indexing was agreed to be affirmatively
desirable.  Community discussion could come up with a list of those
particular pages in a week or so.
- That Wikipedia currently lacks a top-quality internal search capability,
and therefore we need to be able to use external search engines such as
Google to perform administrator functions and the like.  There is some merit
to this observation; I certainly have used Google to hunt down references I
remembered when I was writing arbitration decisions, for example.  But
internal administrative convenience is not a good argument to disregard real
harm that we are inadvertently causing to specific individuals.  The
developers can and probably should be tasked, as a high priority, with
improving the search capabilities; but it has been too long since the
problems I have described in this e-mail were identifed, and it is time they
were solved.
- The most cynical response has been that Wikipedia thrives on Google-rank
created by internal links and is not going to do anything that would lessen
its page-ranks, whether out of pride or for some conjectured eventual
mercenary reason.  Actually, this was not a counter-argument presented on
Wikien; it's a cynical speculation about motivations that was presented on a
criticism site.  I give it no credence, but it would be easy enough to
disprove once and for all.

Wikipedia and its community are often criticized for irresponsibly
neglecting the negative effects of the project on some of its subjects and
some of its contributors.  We have here an opportunity to take an
incremental but meaningful step toward addressing a group of related,
significant concerns.  I would like to urge that the on-again, off-again
discussion of this proposal proceed to a conclusion either here or on-wiki
and that some definitive action be taken in the near future.

(Finally, I would appreciate if responses could focus on the substance of
this post and not on the identity of its author.)


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