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Wikipedia Blues

I’ve had an interesting dust-up (slang for “polite little fight”), with of all people, the Wikipedia culture.

Sonome Deletion

It’s been aggravating, time-consuming and a big red alert to anyone that wants to contribute to the famous repository.

Not long ago, I decided to try to add a bit of formality and order to the tiny world of alternate keyboards that is my interest.  by writing a series of inter-connected articles. These turned out to be:

Isomorphic Keyboard

Using key layout …

Inventor / promoter

Jammer keyboard & Thummer keyboard


Jim Plamondon

Sonome keyboard

Harmonic Table

Peter Davies (Inventor)

You can see, I hope, the logic behind the approach: describe the instrument and its quirks, then deal with the layout as a thing on its own just as a piano, organ and a harpsichord share the same layout. And lastly, describe the inventor / promoter and what lead him/her to the invention.

Note that world-wide there are probably at least several thousand people that might be interested in the subjects of these articles (some people are just as crazy as me). With them posted in Wikipedia, perhaps a tenth, several hundred of these might stumble in and be informed. So this was my little contribution to the world of knowledge.

Now, the jammer (formerlyThummer) keyboard concept has been out there a fairly long time (5 years!), and is thus richly talked about – Jim Plamondon is a good salesman, with a clear vision that he broadcast far and wide, net-wise.

Conversely, while the sonome invention goes back into prehistory to the first 1991 prototype, the terms sonome and harmonic table has not been widely mooted about, as this inventor is a busy man. There’s nothing wrong with them: but different people used different terms, like melodic table, triad arrangement, Euler's Tonnetz and even the oddly capitalized AXiS (I kid you not). As well, the terms axis and triad, for example, have way too many other possible meanings and associations.

I contacted the interested parties and got everyone to agree on the terms, factoring in things like existing popularity and possible confusion with other uses, settling on the term the current manufacturer favored and the most common web term, Harmonic Table although I was tempted to use the more precise term Harmonic Axis.

I wrote a starter draft of the articles, had people review and enhance them, and when I felt it was solid, went live on Wikipedia. Once live in Wikipedia, interest increased, and a bunch more edits ensued. After a month it all stabilized. I personally noticed that various blog postings took a leap up in the terminology used – everyone was using the same terms, and all seemed more informed. 

“Hey! That took piles of time but was worthwhile” was my concluding thought. I began to ponder extending the Wikipedia articles to cover other alternate keyboards, and to perhaps tidy up the whole micro-area of knowledge a bit at a time. All was good.

The Notability Shark circles

It all started with the biography. An instrument, an invention, does not stand just by itself. It is invented by someone, and if the instrument becomes widely popular, say in 30 years, I thought it would be useful to have a little article on the guy who started it all, an investment in prosperity so to speak. After all, it’s a tad harder to ask someone to annotate and correct a biography after they are dead, right?, especially someone who is quiet and busy.

But, being quiet translates into not appearing much in the media.

I have nominated Peter Davies (Inventor) an article that you created, for deletion.

So began a visit to the Twilight Zone, I argued, I whined, I called in help to improve the article, and found lots of interesting things about Mr. Davies – did you know he has built guitars for a who’s who of the British guitar elite? That he advised Monika (Jimi Hendrix’s fiancée) on taking care of Jimi’s guitar “Black Beauty” – and has the thank-you note to prove it?  That the Wikipedia article on the Black Beauty is therefore way incomplete?  Interesting stuff, in a micro-way. Read the gory details of the fight here: Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Peter_Davies_(inventor)

All to no avail: “No reliable sources found to establish notability of an individual.”

Poof.  The article was gone.    

But I could certainly see their point, and I had saved the article, and if, perchance, the sonome becomes wildly popular, it could be put back. I moved on.

The sharks return

The next day, it began again. Now Two articles were under review: sonome keyboard and the related Harmonic Table key layout. I argued much harder this time: I contacted many people. The inventor and the manufacturers contacted more people. Arguments were made by sonome users, researchers, composers, that the articles were, by heavens, useful and clarifying!  

Nope. Useful does not equate to notable: Poof went the sonome article. (see note below **), I awaited the circling to begin, this time around my remaining little articles.

Poof went too, the other articles and work that I would have done to Wikipedia in this small sense. Before, I was mildly surprised that there were so few wiki articles on alternate instruments and micro-tonality.  Now, alas, I know why.

Now too, do I understand the warnings given to me about the futility of posting in Wikipedia, which I tried to dispel with careful research and accurate review. Alas, simple scholarship and utility is not grounds for inclusion in Wikipedia. 

The moral: don’t count on Wikipedia for useful micro-information. Their "garbage-collection" algorithm needs work.

Articles deleted from Wikipedia because they are "Not Notable"

Of course, I did save copies of these articles, here are their links.

Peter_Davies_(inventor) (saved copy) &  Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Peter_Davies_(inventor)

Sonome_keyboard (saved copy) & Articles_for_deletion/Sonome_keyboard  

These remain:

Jammer_keyboard  and the Thummer_keyboard

Wicki-Hayden_note_layout and the Harmonic_table_note_layout ** - eventually it was decided this was notable.

Jim_Plamondon - It took some digging, but there was enough material on Jim to protect the article.


Wikipedia has an ongoing Biographies of Living People (BLP) problem (of the erroneous, libelous and frivolous kind) that they need to police. The Seigenthaler Scandal was apparently the trigger that began Wikipedia’s prey-on-the-small policy. They instituted a cleanup that has apparently gone a bit beyond scope.

To mind comes Thorstein Veblen’s 1899 classic, The Theory of the Leisure Class. Veblen noted that human society sorts and discriminates among people and things long past the point where such actions have practical value, and that these “invidious distinctions” serve to create status hierarchies. I concur with Timothy Noah that Wikipedia culture is evolving to let some topics in and exclude other not because doing so is necessary nor useful to people using Wikipedia, but because doing so is part of our basic drives.

To Wikipedians: be wary of removing accurate and potentially-useful information from the permanent record based on the subjective notion of “Notability”. Jeff Atwood put it well: “The fatal flaw of deletionism is the mindset of deciding what someone else should find interesting.

**Update - A Wikipedian editor apparently found the Harmonic Table article interesting, or at least not meriting deletion, since he/she removed the 'article being considered for deletion' notice, then another one added good information about Euler's Tonnetz. No fins have been sighted lately; perhaps I was a bit harsh. Time will tell. 

*** update+ I've decided to give my self more credibility in the wiki community, by doing little edits here and there, when I notice an error. That, plus a rich article in this website on sonomes and their inventor, could do the trick. MSG.