My Mom thinks I’m notable

My Wikipedia bio recently survived a deletion nomination. Which means I remain “notable” for the moment. But even if I’ve passed muster at Wikipedia, Mathieu O’Neil writing for Le Monde Diplomatique notes my relative unnotability:

For example, why are relatively junior North American communication professors, Alex Halavais and Jason Mittell, featured in Wikipedia? Whereas more “prominent” academics such as Susan Herring and Steve Jones are not, even though they have published numerous influential books and papers, and are editors of leading academic journals in the field of new media.

I’ll leave aside, for the moment, the fact that by mentioning me, he’s further enshrined my “notability.”

First, let me say that this conflates two issues. The first is notability: neither Steve Jones nor Susan Herring have been deleted from the encyclopedia. At no time has Wikipedia determined that they are not notable and that I am. If that had occurred, it would be a travesty. The second is inclusion: until now, no one has taken the time to add either of these important scholars to the encyclopedia. This is a problem with Wikipedia: although both scholars no doubt have both students and fans (and maybe even students who are fans!), maybe there have not been many Wikipedians among them.

As it is, my fan base has hardly done much with my page. While I have, for periods of time, been noted as a member of NAMBLA (yes, I was thrilled by that) on that page, no one has been kind enough to note that I have new book out, or that I am super-awesome. I’ve stuck with the no-self-editing guideline, which I’ll note that a prominent colleague has not.

Am I notable? Well, as O’Neil argues, it’s a very fuzzy line, but I think a glance through the professorial notability guidelines suggests that prominence outside of academia is one of the key features for inclusion. Of course, I’m biased, but I think I’m notable enough for Wikipedia. But DJ lotu5 thinks she is, too. What makes me notable?

Well, frankly it’s not my academic production or “impact,” it’s my mass media appeal. It’s not that I’ve published a few academic articles, or a couple of scholarly books–who hasn’t? It’s that I’ve been considered an expert by the some of the big-name news outlets; it’s because my name shows up a lot in a Google News search.

The real questions then are two. First, does a reporter’s selection of someone reflect that person’s expertise. One hopes it does at least a little. I like to think I know a bit about the net. But it’s also a matter of whether the person is reachable–I make myself available to reporters. And whether you can explain complex matters in ways that are not particularly jargon-filled or involved; or less charitably, if you talk in sound-bites.

Wikipedia has always effectively put off issues of quality and inclusion by saying: if you can cite it, you’re golden. So the real question may be: what’s wrong with mainstream media’s view of notability? And why doesn’t my sister, who has way more Google News hits than I do, have her own Wikipedia bio?

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  1. Posted 5/6/2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Alex – I think the reason we’re both considered worthy of inclusion is less the Google News count as much as the fact that a number of those hits come from discussions about Wikipedia. Bottom line: the hive mind of Wikipedia likes to validate those of us who validate it. So it’s a form of digital log-rolling…

    Yours in Wikipedian Bad Objecthood,

  2. Mathieu O'Neil
    Posted 5/7/2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Hi guys – first, I’ve beem neaning to apologize for a while for referring to you as “relatively junior” – it was just a way of making a point… What I was trying to say is closely related to what Jason says above… you both had nice things to say about WP / sort of treated WP like it was a big deal… this helped to make you “notable”.

  3. Posted 5/7/2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately the Google News count will never help me to notability…my name is just too common. Those (few) occassions that I am mentioned are swamped by all those other David Stuarts.

    Giving credence to a Google News count also biases Wikipedia’s selection of academics to blogger…after all, these days many journalists are googling academic experts for comments, and the bloggers rise to the top.

  4. Posted 5/18/2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    You may have more cohesive classes for 501, you may have more memorable, but I’ll bet you will never have another one edit your Wikipedia entry to falsely name you a NAMBLA member to prove a point for that evening’s class discussion.

    Probably for the best, all things considered, but c’est la guerre. James got his degree so I suppose the warranty has expired on direct retribution. :)

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