Proposal:Create layouts to focus articles

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Status (see valid statuses)

The status of this proposal is:
Request for Discussion / Sign-Ups

Status (see valid statuses)

The status of this proposal is:
Request for Discussion / Sign-Ups

Tagline: Article Expert in a Box
Analogy: Blueprints for complex articles
Misconception: It's WP:MOS (no, it's about article facts, not commas and italics).
Example: See below #Examples.


If not English, in what language is this proposal submitted?:

Summary

Due to differences of opinion, in rewriting articles, there needs to be a system of layouts (documented article specs or "blueprints") which clearly define the format, controversies, and key issues covered by an article. Once a layout has been refined, it can be copied, as a general outline, to simplify defining similar articles, templates or topics.

An example would be: the basics for a Hurricane article, emphasizing typical infoboxes, plus specific issues, such as excess flooding, or oil-rig damage, notable for that storm, along with basic windspeed & landfall data as a sanity check against text hacking.

Layouts could be so specific that people could no longer claim, "Gee, I thought no one would care if I deleted those sentences" as they often have, in the past, by twisting the general policies to allow deleting whatever they think is "excess details" or cruft. Many future discussions would be reduced because prior layouts, similar to house blueprints, would have examined and documented the basics of related article formats, long ago.

Perhaps call the activity: "defining layouts" as a common technique to designate the goals and preferred content of some articles, and define a clear document which could be used, as a similar blueprint, for designating the format of future articles.

Suggestion

Define some quick procedure where people can create a layout page, as a guiding plan, which curtails sporadic rewriting of pages. It would also limit rehashing similar issues in the future. Although many layouts would be the result of long debates and consensus-building activities, some layouts could be the decision of upper-level members who need to quickly resolve an article-content issue, while also defining the outcome, very clearly, and curtail future endless debates about the same tired issues. In a sense, layouts would be "mini-format-guides" which only apply to specific articles, templates, or topics, unless cited as a general layout to apply in other, similar areas or entire sets of related articles.

The important priorities are:

  • Endless rewrites could be avoided, with content specifics in writing.
  • Prior layouts could be copied as precedent to future articles.
  • Weaseling by "creative re-interpretation" (of what readers care about) could be reduced.
  • People could no longer pretend they "didn't know" when deleting or rewriting articles, because the layout clearly noted important content.
  • Upper-level members would have a documented means to quickly resolve a content dispute for long-term article format.
  • Major, long discussions could be talk-archived, while leaving a stable layout as the long-term outcome.

Motivation

Deciding article-format and content debates, via talk-pages, requires a lot of time, and often the same debate re-surfaces, again and again. A layout would act like an "Article Expert in a Box": as capturing expert knowledge about priorities for a subject. Typically, a debate becomes so long-winded that it gets moved to a talk-archive, and 6 months later, new people, unaware, begin rewriting the carefully-chosen text. Article-format decisions need to be stated in a "/layout" talk-subpage, so that new users will understand why an article has been structured in a certain manner, as avoiding some particular details or controversial issues. A system of documented layouts, if used to set precedents, could be used to clearly resolve disputes and shorten future debates about similar topics, in other articles. Troublemakers often revel in "creative re-interpretations" of subjects to explain why they don't think readers need those facts, regardless of "your view of important" by their twisting of the subject. Instead, a set of extremely precise layouts, per article, or per topic, would halt weaseling of value interpretations. Consequently, layouts would pinpoint specific, no-nonsense content which would limit a troublesome user's removal of "inconvenient" facts.

In a more stable environment, a future decision could be made by "looking at the format of prior article xx" however, because articles can be rewritten in a few hours, Wikipedia has been unable to use other article-formats as dependable, solid precedents to resolve future debates. Instead, now, the "/layout" decided for any article would remain, even when the article is modified, and such layout pages could provide many solid precedents needed for future decisions.

People who thrive on gaming-the-system, by rewriting "unpleasant" facts or exaggerating trivia, would be more easily stopped, by reminding them to follow the article layouts.

Since the concept is analogous to blueprints, the cost can be limited, but only if people avoid over-complicating the layouts: it won't require an "architect" or "draftsman" to write the text or tables in a layout page. However, there should be "Guides to writing layouts" to focus on keeping them simple, as needed. Otherwise, a layout could become more complex than the actual article.

NOTE 1: This proposal improves stability of articles & templates.
NOTE 2: This proposal has techniques to improve Quality control.
NOTE 3: This proposal reduces "brain drain" when article experts leave.

Potential costs

Additional work for editors

Some extra effort would be needed to write and formalize layouts, but by using page categories, the various layouts could be grouped, as related to each category, to simplify future comparisons of decisions.

Response: Once enough core layouts had been decided, then less time, and fewer revisions, would be needed to settle a similar issue in the future. Older layouts could be copied, as general blueprints, to curtail the enormous rehashing and endless re-debating of how to structure and prioritize article contents.

New editors could be discouraged

Another lot of rules could intimidate new users and discourage them from participating.

Response: Having a short summary of the most important issues related to an article should be less intimidating than the current system, of pages all over the place which are hard to find. For example: the key data could be listed, linking major sources (rather than expect new users to read every source); unusual typesetting could link to a style-guide section (rather than assume new users had memorized the guide); a layout page could include a short "to-do" list (giving new users an overview) with some to-do tasks directly wikilinked to related #topic discussions on the talk-page.

Layout pages could complicate interwiki views

The terminology about such pages could be confusing when working on some other-language Wikipedias.

Response: The exact term chosen to store "layout page" data should probably be a rare, unique word (as unique as "Blog"), and such rarity could allow using the word in many other languages. Some possibilities:
  • "wlog" (a wiki-log of an article)
  • "xlog" (an expert-log of an article)
  • "exlog" (an external-log for an article)
The prefix "ex-" comes from the Latin word ex (meaning "out of"), so it could be considered the "external log" outside an article page. Again, a word could be chosen for nearly universal use (unique as "blog") where many interwiki links would all use the same word. Currently, the word "Template" has become numerous translated words, adding to interwiki confusion (German: "Vorlage", Swedish: "Mall", etc.). Hence, a unique new word (such as "xlog") would help introduce the concept faster, across the interwiki links. For explanations, the common word (perhaps "xlog") could be explained by translated phrases, such as being a "layout page" translated into German as "Layout-Seite" (or "an expert-log" as "ein Experten-Protokoll"). However, for interwiki links, the technical word (perhaps "wlog") could be almost universal.

Examples

For generic layout skeleton, see below: #Generic example.

To better understand the complex issues involved in writing articles, I am using a major error (from 19 June 2010) in the English Wikipedia article "House of Fabergé". That article covered the complex evolution of the family name becoming "Faberge" then the accented firm name "Fabergé" in Russia, plus a spinoff firm in Paris, then the brand-name firms which made other products. Bottomline: in all that complexity, the article stated (on 19 June 2010) that the House of Fabergé was founded in 1842 by Carl Fabergé who wasn't even born yet. Instead, the founder was unaccented father Gustav Faberge. Guarding intro sections, to have correct facts, is a good use of "/layout" pages, to pinpoint the major issues to summarize in the intro. Also, a layout page could warn about common mistakes, which well-meaning editors might quickly re-add in a quick update of an article. Perhaps Carl Fabergé is so famous, warn users to beware thinking he founded the firm started by his father. A similar common mistake, about the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, is thinking the community of "Pensacola Beach" is the beach shoreline at Pensacola, Florida: it is NOT; it is 2 bridges away on an island at the Gulf of Mexico. Such obviously confusing issues need to be emphasized in a layout page, along with overall format, and other priorities about the content of the page. Anyway, back to the example. The layout page for "House of Fabergé" should probably contain the whole intro, as verified text, for comparison with future changes to the article. Warn users, even though the wording might vary, the basic facts need to be the same, and note how (on 19 June 2010), the article had claimed the son founded Fabergé in 1842 when he wasn't born. So now, the Layout involves the issues listed below.


EXAMPLE of Layout text:

  • Carl Fabergé is famous, but father Gustav Faberge started the firm in 1842.
  • Article uses spelling variant "jewellery" (not "jewelry").
  • Intro text as verification:
The House of Fabergé (variously pronounced, usually fabairzhay) (Russian: Дом Фаберже) is a jewellery firm founded in 1842 in St Petersburg, Imperial Russia, by Gustav Faberge, as the accented name "Fabergé" and followed by his son Peter Carl Fabergé, until the firm was nationalised by the Bolsheviks in 1918. The firm has been famous for designing elaborate jewel-encrusted Fabergé eggs for the Russian Tsars and a range of other work of high quality and intricate details. In 1924, Carl's son Alexander with half-brother Eugéne opened Fabergé et Cie in Paris, making similar jewellery items, but adding the city to their rival firm's trademark as "FABERGÉ, PARIS". In 1937, the brand name "Fabergé" was sold and then re-sold in 1964 to cosmetics company Rayette Inc, which changed its name to Rayette-Fabergé Inc. As the name was resold more times, Fabergé (cosmetics) companies (such as Fabergé Inc.) launched clothing lines, the cologne Brut (became best-selling cologne at the time), the perfume Babe, hair products, and produced films. [ 2 July 2010 ]

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Notice how the example (above), uses plain text to document the layout issues. Just as Wikipedia articles convey many facts by using plain text, the layout pages can be mostly text (plus tables) and do not need to require actual "blueprint" diagrams or charts.

When people edit the article ("House of Fabergé"), and the main facts no longer agree with the layout page, then the layout has caught the problems which formerly escaped detection, for months or years undetected. A layout page could also list various "fact-checked" revisions (diff-links) over the past years, in case there was a period of creative hacking which caused the article to wax bizarre for several months. Numerous articles involve several confusing aspects which need to be explained (to the next set of editors who come along), and the "/layout" page is an excellent place to highlight those main concerns, while the talk-page can wander through a myriad of debates about less critical details.

If people wonder, "Gee, what do we put on this article's layout page?" then perhaps start by re-reading, scanning, all the prior archived talk-page entries to gleen and condense the most critical issues that other editors should beware (if only they had time, and sacrificed time, to re-read all past discussions). Otherwise, just update the layout pages, as the biggest issues become apparent, through experience with complaints. It doesn't take an expert, just people willing to imagine the problems and collect some brief notes on the "/layout" page as advice to future editors. Consider the alternative: an important enwiki article about the history of jewellers ("House of Fabergé") was extremely wrong for 13 days (from 19 June 2010), in a way which a layout page could have easily revealed.

Generic example

Based on the concerns raised in #Examples (above), perhaps a more generic (generalized) example should be shown. The following abbreviated, skeleton layout, provides a more abstract view of what a layout page could contain, listing the headings of each section:


GENERIC EXAMPLE of Layout text:

Common confusions
  • Carl Fabergé is famous, but father Gustav Faberge started the firm in 1842.
  • Common misspellings: Farbergé (Far*), jewelery (one "l")
Issues avoided
  • Beware Russian Revolution: limited to 1 phrase, because attracts debates if longer text.
  • Beware Rasputin theories: hiding messages in eggs is crackpot idea not mainstream.
Writing style
  • British English; plus terms from fine art; variant "jewellery" (not "jewelry")
Verified intro text
(...copy intro text here...)
Merge/split of articles
  • Text about trademark "Fabergé" may fit better in another article.
Key concepts
  • Founded: 1842 (a few sources say "1824" as reversed typo of "42")
  • At least 8 organizations have used trademark "Fabergé": House of Fabergé; Fabergé et Cie (Paris 1924); ...
Minor concepts
(...list minor concepts here...)
Redirections
  • Titles redirected here: Fabergé, Faberge.
Other concerns
(...list concerns here...)
To-do list
  • Describe 5 major traits of Fabergé style to explain "intricate details" of jewellery.

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Other bold-headers can be added into the total layout, as needed. Notice, again, how the example (above), uses plain text to document the layout issues. Just as Wikipedia articles convey facts by plain text, the layout pages can be mostly text (plus tables) without actual "blueprint" diagrams or charts.

Community Discussion

Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Create layouts to focus articles.

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