Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wikipedia...

I make a desultory effort on Saturdays to provide a link to something you can do--not merely read about. The Advocate this morning provides the perfect opportunity to highlight Wikipedia, the citizen-edited, online, encyclopedia. An article in this morning's newspaper offers an overview of the project from the standpoint of South Louisiana authors of Wikipedia articles. They've done a great job cleaning up misconceptions about our region and making accurate information about their special areas of knowledge available to all.

The message for today is: So can you. We all have knowledge to share and Wikipedia provides a disciplined, peer-reviewed way to do so. After all, if you enjoy the knowledge available on the web it would seem fair to contribute to the wealth.

But first some background.... From the introductory paragraphs:
Louisianians contributing to Wikipedia, at http://www.wikipedia.org, are helping to clear up misconceptions about often-stereotyped Louisiana culture.

“I thought the articles were lacking in accurate information, so I decided to revise them using source material I was familiar with,” said Shane K. Bernard, a Wikipedia contributor who has edited many of the articles about southern Louisiana.

The article goes on to interview Bernard and other regional writers.

The Wikipedia's ambition is reminescent of the original French Encyclopedists. Their
Encyclop├ędie is often viewed as the purest expression of Enlightenment ideals: they wanted to make available all of the world's knowledge in a rational, accessible form—and in doing so invented a new literary form, the encyclopedia, and a new, collaborative review method of writing and editing works too large for any single person. They were clear about wanting to change the way that people think--and arguably their new device for ordering and validating vast amounts of information did much to make their model of the scientific attitude widespread among a newly literate public.

Wikipedia can be understood as the logical extension of the attitude and intents of the original Encyclop├ędie in an era where the most accessible forms of knowledge and the most powerful collaborative tools are mediated, not by the printing press, but by the internet. What is interesting—and controversial—about the project is that it lets literally anyone contribute. Your work is screened for quality—by other contributors, but you are not screened for certifications. A local Swamp Pop enthusiast can change an entry last edited by a person holding a doctorate in musicology who wrote his dissertation on the roots of the genre. Of course, the professional will keep a close eye on the entry, editing it to make sure it remains accurate. Online discussions among the "wikipeidia community" iron out disagreements and the very public nature of the edits tends to push regular users to only make edits that they can easily defend. The traditions and values of the online community

The result has been (at least in my judgment) an astonishingly good, if not perfect encyclopedia with a breadth that could not be achieved in any other way. It stands as vindication of the idea that a large community can do very good and complex work relying only on self-organization and self-governance. There is no centralized "quality control" and yet it all works quite well.


But back to today's idea: You can participant. If you do a lousy job you'll get edited out. If you do a good one it'll be kept—and you'll know you've made a contribution.

If you're interested in doing something like this review how the swamp pop entry got put together. It's a nice little example. Click over to the current Swamp Pop page. Near the top of the page click on the tab that says "History." This page allows you to compare any two versions of the article by clicking on the radio buttons to the left of each entry. Go to the bottom of the page and click on the date of the first "edit" {
14 August 2004}. You'll see a short "stub" entry. The current sophisticated version grew from that seed by small additions and corrections.

Take a look a the community portal. You'll see that there are plenty of available tasks. You can become a community member by simply creating an account and doing something.

Have fun and contribute to the web!

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