In the New York Review of Books, James Gleick recounts the tale of Wikipedia’s “American women novelists” category:
There is consternation at Wikipedia over the discovery that hundreds of novelists who happen to be female were being systematically removed from the category “American novelists” and assigned to the category “American women novelists.” Amanda Filipacchi, whom I will call an American novelist despite her having been born in Paris, set off a furor with an opinion piece on the New York Times website last week. Browsing on Wikipedia, she had suddenly noticed that women were vanishing from “American novelists” — starting, it seemed, in alphabetical order.
[. . .]
At Wikipedia, all hell broke loose. (Let’s pause here to flag the phrase, “at Wikipedia.” Wikipedia is a notional place only. It is not situated in a sleek California corporate campus, like Google in Mountain View or Apple in Cupertino, but instead distributed across cyberspace.)
These kinds of debates are usually bruited and argued on Wikipedia’s “Talk” pages, which are set aside for discussion by editors. After the Filipacchi article, Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s cofounder, created a new entry on his personal Talk page under the bold-face heading, “WTF?” Wales does not give orders or directly cause things to happen. He is more of a noninterventionist god. He is often referred to simply as Founder (capital F) or Jimbo. Anyway, he wrote:
My first instinct is that surely these stories are wrong in some important way. Can someone update me on where I can read the community conversation about this? Did it happen? How did it happen?
Heated argument broke out on a page set aside for discussion of changes to Wikipedia categories. Categories are a big deal. They are an important way to group articles; some people use them to navigate or browse. Categories provide structure for a web of knowledge — not a tree, because a category can have multiple parents, as well as multiple children. Wikipedia lists 4,325 Container categories, from “Accordionists by nationality” to “Zoos in the United States.” There are Disambiguation categories, Eponymous categories — named, for example, after railway lines like Norway’s Flåm Line, or after robots (there are two: Optimus Prime and R2-D2) — and at least 11,000 Hidden categories, meant for administration and therefore invisible to readers. A typical hidden category is “Wikipedia:Categories for discussion,” containing thousands of pages of logged discussions about the suitabilities of various categories. Meta enough for you?