Longstanding dissatisfaction over Wikipedia's deletion process came to a head last week after Wikipedia:Votes for deletion (commonly known as VfD) was itself briefly deleted, sparking renewed discussion of possible reforms to the system. The incident also disrupted general editing for a few minutes as the database recovered from the shock.
The immediate impetus for these events came from a disagreement over how Tony Sidaway handled the closing of a number of VfD debates. A request for comment was started by Aaron Brenneman and Ambi (the latter incidentally quit Wikipedia this week as a result of general dissatisfaction). The complaint, which prompted a vigorous debate, focused particularly on VfDs for which Sidaway had not deleted the article in question, even though there were few if any users voting "keep" (votes to merge or redirect were typically also present).
Sidaway responded that he was choosing the most conservative option available and leaving future solutions up to later editors, as the deletion policy says, "If in doubt, don't delete!" Also, he pointed out that when dealing with options other than deletion, such as a merge or transwiki, the administrator closing the discussion is not required to implement these steps, particularly when a consensus for them is not clear. Others pointed out that votes other than "delete" implicitly favor keeping the article in some form, even if only as a redirect.
A number of people indicated that while they might have reached different results in closing the same VfDs, the judgments being made were within Sidaway's discretion. The discussion also turned to the merits of the deletion system in general, with Kelly Martin arguing that "the entire VFD process is harmful to Wikipedia and should be discontinued immediately."
This sentiment found its way elsewhere as well, as David Gerard posted a message to the wikien-l mailing list calling VfD "completely pathological". As a postscript, he added the following:
Ed Poor responded in agreement and, taking the "motion" seriously said, "I'm tempted to just Be Bold and just go ahead and delete vfd." To everyone's surprise he did so at 19:43 (UTC), and although the action was soon reversed by ABCD at 20:05 (UTC), the effect of VfD's lengthy page history and many links created some problems. With thousands of page revisions being archived and then un-archived, this caused some temporary database update lag, which automatically locked out edits for some users for a few minutes while the system recovered from the effects.
A number of people applauded Poor's boldness and echoed similar frustrations about VfD. Others were more critical as indicated by a request for comment started regarding this action. A poll to see whether people agreed with the action is running 4-to-1 against, with a number of people refusing to participate because they felt there hadn't been enough discussion and any vote was premature. However, most of those opposing the move conceded that VfD has serious problems, but argued that a workable alternative was needed before getting rid of the current system.
Efforts to brainstorm solutions to the situation produced a plethora of suggestions, which are collected at Wikipedia:Deletion reform. Proposals include: software changes to make blank pages show up as red links, so that blanking a page can substitute for deletion, an idea dubbed "pure wiki deletion"; using the article rating feature (which is not yet ready to be activated) to determine which articles should be removed (Wikipedia:Version System sketch); and the possibility of splitting VfD up into various categories, for which Visviva has proposed a deletion sorting project modeled on the stub sorting project. In the meantime, VfD has resumed its normal operation while possible reforms are being discussed.
The aftermath of these events also produced some additional fallout in other areas. In an extension of the debate that started it all, Tony Sidaway got into a dispute with Carnildo after the latter tried to reopen some of the VfD listings he had closed. Since he considered this to be vandalism, Sidaway blocked Carnildo for 3 hours over the issue, prompting Cyrius to intervene and unblock Carnildo, then block Sidaway for 24 hours. After further communication, Cyrius reversed this block and the matter was hashed out on the administrators' noticeboard.
Also, the request for comment regarding Ed Poor's deletion of VfD was itself briefly deleted and led to a request for arbitration. Poor contended that the page should be deleted according to procedure because it had not been properly certified; Kim Bruning later argued the same thing. The attempts to delete it were quickly reversed, however, and a brief discussion on Votes for undeletion indicated that a number of people wanted the discussion preserved. A request for arbitration was also made, although the parties have since discussed the matter privately and indicated that they would attempt to pursue mediation. Poor has already conceded that the deleted discussion "was serving a higher purpose" and restored it to its original location.