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Personal Point of View
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It's Probably a Good Thing I'm Not in Charge
My OrthodoxWiki Philosophy

An Ever-Expanding, Rambling Essay and Haphazard Collection of Comments by Fr. Andrew


I've been working on OrthodoxWiki pretty much since it was a little over a month old, consisting of just the Main Page, a collection of red links, and perhaps a sketched article or two, back in December of 2004. I'm not an expert on wiki-software, nor am I a saint, nor am I much of anything at all. Nor am I in charge! But I do claim to have at least a little knowledge on what seems to work here (which is of course worth just as much as you paid for it). I am also one of the sysops, but not The Man.

In most senses, this essay is something of a rant, but let me assure you that it's a good-natured rant whose purpose is essentially to expose my own philosophy of what works best in putting together a collaborative Internet encyclopedia of Orthodox Christianity, the strengths and particular genius which continue to make OrthodoxWiki the only site of its kind.

So, to get things going in this bit of text, let's start with what is, in my mind, most important, namely, stuff that OrthodoxWiki isn't.

This is an Encyclopedia, Not...

A Devotional/Collection of Saints' Lives

Hagiography is a wonderful, beautiful thing. It's a major literary tradition of the Orthodox Church and beneficial to one's soul. But it's not encyclopedic, not even remotely. Certainly, many elements of OrthodoxWiki are in some sense hagiographical in their basic purpose, but as an encyclopedia, OrthodoxWiki's purpose is to give brief, summarizing information on a subject, not:

  • Every title a saint has ever been called.
  • A complete list of famous quotations.
  • A complete collection of relevant texts (see: OrthodoxSource, an as-yet underused resource just waiting to fill up with sources).
  • Gushingly sentimental sentences where nearly every other Word must Indeed be Capitalized, for that is how Someone Important Would Have It.

A Repository for All Your Knowledge

I'm sure you have a lot of great stuff in your head and in your experience, but consider for a moment whether it's really worth putting into an encyclopedia. If you have an encyclopedia on your shelf (or if you have access to a library), take it off the shelf and have a look in it. Notice the kinds of entries that are included. Notice what's not included. The idea of an encyclopedia is to give the answer to the question, "Who or what is [subject]?" It is not meant to be an exhaustive work on any subject.

A Documented Archive of Everything

In history, certain persons and events rise to the top of human consciousness by virtue of their impact on the rest of mankind. For some, this is purely local history, and for others, this history is global. But historiography (the writing of history) necessarily includes a process of sifting out the relatively trivial and putting forth only the most significant and notable. Encyclopedias are even more limited in their selection of subject matter.

OrthodoxWiki is thus a presentation of people, places, things and events that have made their place in Orthodox Christian history. It is not a vehicle for people hoping to make history, but for third-party writers to summarize information about subjects that are genuinely notable. Your local parish, your parish priest, and your pet theories on Scriptural interpretation are all most likely not of much historical note (yet).

A Current Events Log

All kinds of things are newsworthy, but only very few are truly historic. Just because a bishop or church has made some kind of statement or signed some sort of document does not mean that it deserves to get included in an encyclopedia. The appointment of a new bishop is by definition of a certain historic value, but not every encyclical or speech he makes deserves to get mentioned in major articles that are about something other than him.

Always ask yourself, "Is it likely that people 100 years from now will care about this?" The answer is almost always "no." The few times one might justifiably say "yes" are when it's worth writing an article for the encyclopedia.

A Liturgical Service Book

Detailing all the rubrics specific to a particular service or part of a service is a fine pursuit... for a service book. OrthodoxWiki is not a service book. Only a general description of rubrics is ever necessary, particularly because OrthodoxWiki's reach is intended to be universal. Chances are that the rubrics in your service book only represent one strand of the vast tapestry of liturgical traditions (note the plural!) which make up Orthodox Christian liturgical practice.

Your Private Project

A lot of people came here before you and will come after. Every one of them, so long as they abide by policy, has the right to change what you've contributed. No article is "yours." There's a community here, and like any community, it has a hierarchy. It has its elders and its babies. It has its crazy old men and its charming young women. It has its cantankerous diehards and its destructive vandals. There's room for them all (except the vandals, of course).

My Rules of Thumb

Many of these rules are related and/or corollaries of each other.

  1. 50% of problems on OrthodoxWiki result from editors either not reading the Style Manual and FAQ or not following them.
  2. The other 50% of problems are a result of editors not bothering to browse the wiki with some seriousness before deciding to contribute. It is this group of editors who contribute indirectly to the expansion of the Style Manual and the FAQ, as new tendencies are discovered which lower the overall quality of the wiki rather than raising it.
  3. Whatever you have in mind for the wiki has probably already been thought of before, so look around to see if the article exists already or if it's already been redlinked (i.e., a link to a non-existent article to invite its creation).
  4. Some subjects are always notable: bishops, councils, heresies, saints. Your local parish priest or parish church most likely does not qualify for inclusion in an encyclopedia, no matter how important they are to you personally.
  5. It is better to delete an article than to wait for it to improve. Experience has taught me that it is extremely rare that what is essentially a stub will ever expand beyond that status, once a few days have passed from its first appearance. Don't believe me? Check out Category:Stubs.
  6. It is better not to start an article at all than to contribute a massive number of low-content or no-content articles hoping that you or someone else will eventually fill them out. Don't believe me? Check out Category:Stubs.
  7. Presentation matters from the moment you first click "Save page". There's a reason that Your changes will be visible immediately is printed right below the editing box. If you want a scratch pad, use the Sandbox or your personal userspace.
  8. Keep it concise and straightforward. Flowery and effusive language can be great when writing poetry, hagiography, purple prose, advertisements, etc., but it is the bane of an encyclopedia.
  9. Some of the most relatively insignificant issues are the source of the biggest controversies on the wiki. This is probably because they're of such relatively little import that there hasn't been much serious scholarship done on them, nor has any general consensus emerged regarding such things. (That doesn't mean they're of no importance, but that their importance usually gets exaggerated with entirely too much undue weight.)
  10. People with an agenda usually ruin the wiki or at least attempt to do so. A few actually become normal, useful editors who contribute good articles. Most either end up storming off in a huff or getting banned for refusing to play nice.
  11. People who don't want anyone altering their contributions usually ruin the wiki or at least attempt to do so. A few actually become normal, useful editors who contribute good articles. Most either end up storming off in a huff or getting banned for refusing to play nice.
  12. Most people think what they're used to is "normal" and "standard." This typically results in parochialisms getting writ large into articles. This can be cured with a little research and may even result in personal growth in humility!
  13. Oldbies usually know more than newbies, at least regarding how best to contribute to OrthodoxWiki. This rule is really true in almost anything in life, but it's been enshrined on the Internet for years.
  14. Respecting the administration is always a fine idea and helps keep the disciplinary policy a dusty little page that no one ever looks at.
  15. No one is out to get you, nor are they out to censor "the truth," however you might define that. We're just trying to write an encyclopedia. If you're out to Expose the Truth and Show Everyone, you may wish to consider trying something besides encyclopedia writing.
  16. A corollary to the above rule is that it's always good to take wiki-breaks, especially when you feel like someone is out to get you. It's also entirely possible that your work really does need a lot of work. Consider the possibility that you may not be perfect.
  17. Another corollary is that no matter what you say or do, someone will take it the wrong way. You're always someone's bad guy, especially if you remotely look like you're in charge (even if you're not). Remember that even when the Perfect Man still walked the Earth, he was treated this way. We who are decidedly less than perfect should expect the same.
  18. If you think any of the above applies to you, it probably does. Remember that it's not official, so take it like you would a sermon—it's only helpful in self-application, and no one will force any of it upon you. Wiki-"force" only comes into play in certain situations.