Archive for April 2009

The Fragmentation of Information in Wikipedia

30 April 2009

(A preliminary analysis, with reference to Spanish Wikipedia’s multiple offerings on the Spanish Civil War / la Guerra Civil Española)

In the Spanish version of Wikipedia (which currently covers a wide range of 467,000 entries; the ‘senior’ English Wikipedia claims 2,859,000 items), there are multiple separate entries on the core subject, Spanish Civil War (Guerra Civil Española), an international encyclopedia topic which has been widely discussed for over 70 years and which, according to some estimates, has inspired 12,000 books and pamphlets in many languages.

The widely dispersed multiplicity of Wikipedia entries on many subjects is at least partly due to Wikipedia’s own intricate rules, prohibitions and recommendations and its faithful Users’ successful or unsuccessful adherence to them. For example, in specific advice to new wikipedian contributors, Wikipedia’s strong preference for short articles is stressed and an optimal length of 32 KB (i.e. about 1,000 words, or 2 and a half pages) is recommended. Another cause of data fragmentation is a process which Wikipedia itself terms ‘ forks’ or ‘forking’. This splitting of a topic into various entries (with different titles) is the subject of a set of basic labyrinthine Wikipedia rules and analyses (in its English version) which are intended to demarcate the difference between a “Content fork” (two articles on one topic, particularly in cases of disagreements or similar difficulties among contributors and ‘referees’), which Wikipedia strictly forbids, and a POV (Point of View) Fork, which it recommends, notably cases separating Critical aspects from the Topic itself, as is often the case in topics where a set of political, religious or spiritual beliefs and activities is offered in one entry and any criticism of these beliefs and activities, or a description of the relevant Organisation, is relegated to a separate (and often alphabetically distant) entry. However, in addition to this sort of approved dilution of major (or controversial) topics, many unrecommended content forks also occur on Wikipedia, and remain there, without being deleted or fused with other major aspects, as Wikipedia expressly stipulates. (See WP:CFORK and WP:POVFORK.) A collateral consequence of these anomalies is that, to be more realistic, Wikipedia’s statistics for its total entries should be adjusted to take this bloating factor into account.

A further problem is that, unless in this medium which offers instant direct hyperlinks, very comprehensive linkage is provided between fragmented segments of information on a core topic, the encyclopedia reader will not have easy access to enough of these ‘forks’. This is precisely what seems to have occurred in the case of the multiple Spanish entries for the Civil War. Here the informational value of the sum of knowledge contributed is compromised by the inadequate number of links between an accumulation of well over one hundred related entries, especially between the major ones, often of the ‘Point of View’ type (for example, Terror Rojo en España, Represión franquista, Bando nacional (Nationalist), Bando republicano).

The rest of this brief article will present evidence gleaned from a survey of the information offered by the Spanish Wikipedia in relation to a very prominent and complex topic: ‘la Guerra Civil Española’

List of Articles

Guerra Civil Española

This general article should be the longest and principal one, with adequate references and Hyperlinks to relevant related Wikipedia entries. Unfortunately, official action has been taken to freeze or mummify it in a ‘protected’ form, presumably to guard against the risk of vandalism, perhaps in the wake of the recent strong debates in Spain relating to ‘revisionism’ on the subject of the War, the participants, the antecedents and aftermath. Therefore, in protected entries, Wikipedia’s celebrated openness to all contributors is suspended, until the protection is lifted by the ‘burócratas’(trusted supervisors). In this case, it means that no changes can be made to improve the inadequate links to other articles and that the inexplicably inadequate ‘Bibliography’ of 5 items (only one of which is a major one) lowers the value of the entry and its use to readers. (The existence of this pathetic Bibliography in an otherwise lengthy and informative article is an interesting example of the weaker aspects of the otherwise fabulous Wikipedia project, which insists so strongly on the backing of reputable sources and one or two other problematical criteria.)

The diversity of many other segments and the presence and absence of direct links within the ‘Guerra Civil Española’ topic form the body of this article.

Francisco Franco

From the list of links offered above and below, the only ones given are: ‘Franquismo’ and ‘Simbología del Franquismo’.

Dictadura de Francisco Franco


Terror Rojo en España (Red Terror in Spain)
This includes a section on ‘Terror Blanco y Rojo’ and a few paragraphs in English, from Antony Beevor and Stanley Payne, probably from the English Wikipedia entry: ‘White Terror in Spain’.

Valle de los Caídos
(An unbalanced entry, with no links.)

Personajes relevantes de la Guerra Civil Española

Simbología del franquismo

Cronología de la Guerra Civil Española

Bando nacional (The Nationalist Side, i.e. The Franco Uprising)
Brief. Links to: ‘Guerra Civil Española’ and ‘Nacionalismo español’.

Bando republicano (The Republican Side, i.e. The variegated Supporters of the Left-wing Republican Government)
Equally brief. Links to: ‘G.C.E.’ and ‘Revolución española de 1936’.

Ofensiva de Cataluña

Guerra Civil Española en el País Vasco (… in the Basque Country)

There is also a considerable number of articles (short and long) on the war, battles in other different regions of Spain, atrocities, victims, etc.

Wikipedia entries published during the current vigorous debate in Spain, since 2004

Since 2000, many revisionist books and some replies have been published in Spain (some of them are bestsellers) on different aspects of the Spanish Civil War, whose 70th anniversary was greatly celebrated by both ‘sides’ – and others – in 2006. Moreover, in the 2004 elections, the Socialist Party and its allies dramatically defeated the ruling nationalist conservative Partido Popular, a slightly ironic replay of 1934, two years before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Ley de memoria histórica de España
Old controversial claims have finally been promoted in this new law. Links: ‘Franquismo’, ‘Guerra Civil Española’ and ‘Víctimas de la Guerra Civil Española’.

Represión política en España
Published in August 2006 (apparently by Professor Ángel Luis Alfaro, one of the few wikipedians who do not hide behind a pseudonym). Links to: ‘Guerra Civil Española’ and ‘Franquismo’.

A part of this historical entry covers the Civil War. The Bibliography is brief, but interesting. A few items should be added. Unlike many other entries, this one offers many useful links to entries dealing with important topics of the Civil War.

Víctimas de la Guerra Civil Española
First published on 23 October 2005 by User ‘Nemo’. Links to all of the following:
Guerra Civil Española
Revolución social española de 1936
Depuración del Magisterio español tras la Guerra Civil Española
Causa General
Anexo:Mortalidad en la Guerra Civil Española, por inscripción en juzgados
Víctimas de la Guerra Civil en Navarra
Víctimas de la persecución religiosa durante la Guerra Civil Española
Masacre de Badajoz
Matanzas de Paracuellos
Crímenes del túnel de la muerte de Usera
Las checas
Víctimas de la Guerra Civil en Cantabria
Masacre de la carretera Málaga-Almería
Las Trece Rosas
Niños de Rusia
Represión política en España
Represión franquista
Exilio republicano

Víctimas de la persecución religiosa durante la Guerra Civil Española
Links to: ‘G.C.E.’ and ‘Revolución española de 1936’.

Depuración del Magisterio español tras la Guerra Civil Española
A long essay on an alleged Francoist postwar injustice, published on 29 January 2007 by an anonymous non-User. No links are given.

Causa General

An investigation into crimes committed during the “Red” occupation of Spain, ordered by Franco in 1940. A short stub, posted on 5 February 2008.

Represión franquista
First published on 13 September 2008. Its counterpart in the English Wikipedia is ‘White Terror (Spain)’ but this version is briefer. It offers a link with ‘Represión política en Espana’ but, because of the contents of ‘Terror Rojo…’ (see above), this entry appears to be superfluous and therefore in need of deletion.

Categoriás y Anexos

These general ‘Categories’ and ‘Appendices’ offer links to further lists of entries, or to specific details relevant to the main topic: the Civil War in Spain. Among the latter is the following very recent item:

Anexo:Imputados en el auto de 16 de octubre de 2008 del Juzgado Central de Instrucción nº 005 de la Audiencia Nacional

This presents a list of 35 deceased top Francoist officials (including the ‘Caudillo’ himself) who were declared to be no longer legally responsible for illegal detention and crimes against humanity during the Civil War and Postwar periods.

The following Appendix is a painstaking gathering of data on Civil War deaths as recorded in Municipal Registries.
Anexo:Mortalidad en la Guerra Civil Española, por inscripción en juzgados

It was first published by User ‘Jorab’ on 20 November 2007. This Basque ‘wikipedista’ is an example of those dedicated individual contributors of data who supply the major part of Wikipedia information (in all languages), with a total of 9939 contributions to his credit – most of them on similar detailed aspects of the Spanish Civil War in his region. (All statistical details like Users’  numbers of contributions, dates, etc., as well as the contributions themselves, are carefully recorded, updated and are instantly available from the Wikipedia system.)

Categoría:Guerra Civil Española
Another reference list of articles on the War.

Another list of articles about Francoism.

Categoría:Batallas de la Guerra Civil Española
34 separate articles.

Categoría:Víctimas de la represión en la zona republicana
Articles on individual victims or groups of victims in the Republican Government zones.

Categoría:Víctimas de la represión en la zona franquista
Articles on individual victims or groups of victims of the Franco-held zones.

The above list may be of some use as a reading guide for the subject under examination, but it would have been more appropriate if Wikipedia had devised a better way of presenting its major or multi-faceted topics. As can easily be appreciated, the content of the above articles is encyclopedic in quantity but the Wikipedia way of arranging it and presenting it to Internet readers needs further refining.