On Thursday I rolled past 12,000 edits to the English Wikipedia, allowing me to upgrade to the rank of Veteran Editor II or Grand Tutnum. This feat, especially during the last few months, was helped by the appointment of the new life peers: Their pages all needed updating to reflect their new identities, and even in some cases moving to new names as well as creating redirects and expanding various lists. I also embarked on a project to add succession boxes to all existing life peers – well, the males at least – showing their place in the order of precedence. So far the contributions I have described still stand, and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Others are not so lucky.
Early in 2018 I came looked across the numerous articles relating to The Railway Series and its television adaptation Thomas & Friends. In particular I noticed that the images used to illustrate character pages, especially the secondary characters, had been uploaded about a decade ago and were of rather poor quality – low resolution and harshly cropped. I set about replacing them with higher-clarity screenshots from videos I found online. I did this for Annie & Clarabel (both in one picture), Bertie, Diesel, Duck, Harold, Oliver, Peter Sam, Rheneas, Rusty, Salty, Sir Handel, Sir Topham Hatt, Terence and Trevor. Now, thirteen of those fourteen are gone.
This summer I noticed a string of alerts on my Talk page saying that my images were no longer being used in any articles and so would soon be deleted (because, as screenshots of a copyrighted TV series, they could only be uploaded under fair use, not Creative Commons). My first thought was that a different editor had uploaded images of their own to displace mine, or even that they had meanly decided any illustration would be too extravagant. Instead I discovered that the articles themselves were being deleted. Editors more powerful than I have determined that these pages were mere fancruft, and therefore unworthy of inclusion. At the time of writing only the “Steam Team”, Donald & Douglas and The Fat Controller above the waterline, with enough citations from outside the franchise itself to keep them on – though even these often sport multiple error boxes and tags for improvement. The secondary characters have been relegated to brief snippets in list articles. These lists themselves are being eyed up for deletion (in the words of one editor ” Combining two or more bad articles still produces a bad article that needs to be deleted in the end.“), so they may end up disappearing altogether. It should be noted that articles about the series itself outside of the fourth wall – whether in print or on television – are not threatened, rather it is the diegetic detail that tends to be in the crosshairs.
Some series fare better than others at this – the Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Star Trek and Star Wars franchises among others have hundreds upon hundreds of pages about characters, locations and species which do not seem to be in any immediate danger of purging. Tolkien’s Legendarium, of course, has been subject to plenty of discussion by formal academic publications and other secondary sources to solidify its presence. These franchises (along with many other detailed specific topics) also have their own independent wikis (often at fandom.com, formerly wikia.com) which can be tailored to focus on them individually and not limited by conformity to the standards of the vast Wikipedia project. In the case of Awdrey’s work, the community is rather small and has been barely active for a long time. The majority of the dedicated article-builders decided it was a more productive strategy to give up the main line and plough all of their efforts into the branch.
This is not the only area where such attitudes are encountered. Moving closer to my usual areas of interest, Wikipedia has a large number articles about royal pretenders – i.e. members of deposed dynasties. A few years ago the majority of these articles had the same formatting and templates as did those of still-enthroned royals, and even described subjects by the titles and styles they would enjoy under their respective monarchies. The talk pages of these articles often sported angry outbursts by those who deemed the prince-pretenders non-notable, or at least insisted that their “real” names should be used instead of their traditional titles (thought that itself would be a matter of some difficulty, as members of these families often have presences in multiple countries, and different countries afford differing levels of recognition to these people’s titles, such that they have different legal identities depending on location). Recently I have noticed that several of these articles have undergone significant revisions to decrease the level of perceived fluff around their styles and honours.
Sometimes this has affected things that I have personally created. Two years ago I made a navbox for the husbands of British suo jure princesses, seeing as we already had ones for the princesses themselves, the princes, and their wives (and equivalents for other countries of course). The template was swiftly deleted. I also spent a great deal of time putting together a navbox for all of Britain’s then-living life peers, in the style of those on the pages of their hereditary counterparts. That too was canned almost immediately.
I will not go into the wider issue of inclusionism and deletionism. My intention here is simply to highlight how easy it is for a person – or even many people – to dedicate a great deal of time and effort to a cause which is ultimately defeated, and its fruits at a whim obliterated, such that all their toil has been for nothing. This is a fact of life that long predates Wikipedia, and will likely never be escaped.