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wiki and me

by the stormy present Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 06:00:46 AM EST

The NY Times Magazine this week has a long article on Wikipedia that I thought was really interesting, even though it didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know.

It starts off with your standard "so-and-so spent all day refining and editing a page on a breaking story and then the next day went back to his junior year of high school."  Yeah, yeah.  And yet... it's still an interesting article.

Wikipedia's goal is to make the sum of human knowledge available to everyone on the planet at no cost. Depending on your lights, it is either one of the noblest experiments of the Internet age or a nightmare embodiment of relativism and the withering of intellectual standards.

Love it or hate it, though, its success is past denying -- 6.8 million registered users worldwide, at last count, and 1.8 million separate articles in the English-language Wikipedia alone -- and that success has borne an interesting side effect. Just as the Internet has accelerated most incarnations of what we mean by the word "information," so it has sped up what we mean when we employ the very term "encyclopedia." For centuries, an encyclopedia was synonymous with a fixed, archival idea about the retrievability of information from the past. But Wikipedia's notion of the past has enlarged to include things that haven't even stopped happening yet. Increasingly, it has become a go-to source not just for reference material but for real-time breaking news -- to the point where, following the mass murder at Virginia Tech, one newspaper in Virginia praised Wikipedia as a crucial source of detailed information.

By popular demand, DoDo's been working on a wiki macro for ET, which I think will be quite useful.

The NYTM story got me thinking, though... how do you use wiki?

For me, it depends on what I'm looking for.  There are issues I know a lot about, and for those Wikipedia isn't much help.  I might glance at the page out of curiosity, but it's not usually terribly helpful, and sometimes I find the information really lacking or woefully out-of-date.  (I know, I know, I could improve it myself, but do I have the time to write encyclopedia entries?  No.)

Then there are things I know next to nothing about, and for those I will often pull up a Wiki page to give me some idea of what someone else is talking about.  In that case, Wikipedia is my first and, usually, last stop.

Most often, it's stuff I know something about but want more information.  In that case, the Wiki page might be a starting point, but it's rarely where I stop.  I might use it to figure out how to refine my search terms, or to point toward primary sources that will tell me more.

But if I'm diarying something or commenting here and need a quick link, it's easy shorthand.  Authoritative?  Not always, and if I'm writing on a controversial subject here at ET I'll try not to default to Wikipedia to back me up; I look for more.

So that's using Wikipedia... what about editing and adding to the content?  I myself have rarely actually edited a Wiki article.  I don't have tons of spare time, and I tend to spend most of the spare time I do have here at ET.  I made my first Wiki edit a few months ago, when I found a page with a list of things, and I immediately recognized that one of the list items didn't belong.  Hmmm, someone should delete that, I thought.  And then I thought of Migeru's past admonishments to other ET-ers who've complained about mistakes on Wiki, and I decided to fix it myself.  One, two, three.  It was easy.  I left a note saying what I'd done, and that was it.

So that's my new way of dealing with Wiki.  I don't feel like I've got the time to troll the pages looking for things to improve, but I'll fix mistakes if I see them.

So that's me.  How do you use Wiki?  Anybody here a regular Wikipedia editor?  How well does the free encyclopedia handle the subjects you know well?  And what do you think it all means?

One final quote from the NYT Magazine article, food for thought:

Wikipedia may not exactly be a font of truth, but it does go against the current of what has happened to the notion of truth. The easy global dissemination of, well, everything has generated a D.I.Y. culture of proud subjectivity, a culture that has spread even to relatively traditional forms like television -- as in the ascent of advocates like Lou Dobbs or Bill O'Reilly, whose appeal lies precisely in their subjectivity even as they name-check "neutrality" to cover all sorts of journalistic sins. But the Wikipedians, most of them born in the information age, have tasked themselves with weeding that subjectivity not just out of one another's discourse but also out of their own. They may not be able to do any actual reporting from their bedrooms or dorm rooms or hotel rooms, but they can police bias, and they do it with a passion that's no less impressive for its occasional excess of piety. Who taught them this? It's a mystery; but they are teaching it to one another.

So... how many active Wikipedians do we have here, anyway?  And if anybody has further thoughts on the macro, speak now.  (Not that I can do anything about it, since I seem to be rather bad at macro-creation....)
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 06:04:53 AM EST
Hmmm, going back to that older diary, it seems that the macro is done.

I'm going to try it:   History of Algeria


by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 06:13:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]

((wil [en] History of Algeria))
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 06:18:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wass an active wikipedian while I was a student, until the end of 2004. Between not being able to post through my work's firewall and becoming an active ETer, I'm now just a wikipedia user.

Having been an active wikipedian I tend to trust my judgement on when an article is "good".

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 06:15:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But how do you judge what's "good," especially on a subject you're not really well-versed in?  I trust my judgment too, but it's kind of hard for me to describe how I actually make that judgment.  Rigorous sourcing is a start, but there are other factors that are a little harder for me to articulate, for some reason.  There's apparently a bit of a know it when I see it thing at work there.

I also occasionally sense in myself a bit of a Third-person effect , in that I trust myself to be able to recognize a less-than-good article, but I'm not convinced that random Other People could necessarily do the same.  Which, I suppose, might be what drives some people to revise the encyclopedia?

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 07:57:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have to say that nowadays the standard is much, much higher than back when I was active since most articles now have extensive footnotes and links to sources.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 08:31:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, that's definitely true.  A few years ago I would have been very cautious about citing wikipedia as a reliable source at all, but it has certainly improved.  The emphasis on footnoting and sourcing (and flagging articles that lack it) has helped a lot.  Still, I do tend to triangulate and check with other sources.  It can be an excellent jumping-off point for further research, though.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 09:13:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I also tend to use wikipedia a lot to confirm, correct, or sharpen my memory of facts, sequences of events, etc. And when wikipedia doesn't say what I expected I tend to spend some time researching the issue further, both in the larger cluster of related wikipedia articles, and other sources. Which could be the topic of another diary: "Google and me".

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 08:52:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I edit sporadically ( User:NordicStorm ), but it's mostly smaller stuff. As I was writing my diary on the Icelandic elections a few months ago, I found myself doing some edits to the relevant articles on Wikipedia, heh.
As for using Wikipedia as a source, I used it indirectly for some info on GUIs for my Masters Thesis, in that I went and looked for the sources the relevant articles used, and used the sources directly if they were any good.
But yeah, on here I cite Wikipedia frequently, at least when I'm reasonably sure what I'm citing is factually accurate.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 06:30:50 AM EST
I do it just like you, plus the reminder stuff Migeru mentioned.

I had some attempts at writing more extensive stuff. The English page on History of Hungary bears a heavy mark of my writing from the time I wrote the March 15 diary last year, though I abandoned the thing when I reached the level when I 'realised' I am not a qualified historian... Some football and railway articles also ear my handwriting. There were several pages on something in the US where I corrected a "world's biggest/oldest/longest/fastest" claim.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 10:33:57 AM EST
Is Wikipedia down for anybody right now?  I can't get in suddenly.  Not through a proxy server, either, so I know it's not just the Egyptian govt experimenting with blocking stuff again.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 at 11:01:06 AM EST
There was a wide-spread routing problem...should be OK now.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 at 11:26:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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