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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 continues 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 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.

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 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. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.