Thursday 15 December 2011

Co-construction of Wikipedia

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to do some Wiki training and become a Wikipedia editor, thanks Emma Buckler of the soon to end MLA.  Arts Council England takes over museums and libraries responsibilities, while The National Archives 'assumes responsibility for providing strategic leadership to the archives sector and advising government on its development.'  A curious arrangement leading to more unanswered questions over the future of libraries and museums.  But that's for another blog.

There are, in fact, many thousands of wikis, but the English part of Wikipedia is what we were interested in.  Love it or hate it, it is the biggest, and most widely used encyclopedia in the world, with over 20 million articles and growing at an incredible rate. Andy Mabbett, our trainer, outlined just what makes Wikipedia:

  • is [only] an on-line encyclopedia
  • strives to be balanced and impartial
  • is free content
  • editors should be nice to each other
  • no firm rules
These are the five pillars of Wikipedia, although I'd argue #5 shouldn't really be there - maybe I can edit it out of Wikipedia?  As quickly as possible Andy moved us onto editing our own content - not an easy task as writing entries is a little clumsy, and knowledge of .html is helpful.

Once we started, I was surprised how stringent Wikipedia is.  I had thought to train primary children to enter their own entries about people they thought were important.  It might yet be possible, but may take longer as the pillars suggest entries need to be 'notable' - to be notable you should cite at least three 'reputable' sources, and ensure you are being 'impartial'.  It is frowned upon to reference to your own blogs or write about yourself or your own organisation.  You also need to have some understanding of copyright and permission to use photos and other material.  Plagarism, unsurprisingly, is a big no no.

What also became clear is just how many people are out there apparently spending large portions of their day prowling wikipedia, as both vandals and vigilantes.  There is even a 'random article' button you are encouraged to hit and check articles existing in Wiki, in any spare moment you have.

One trainee had not completed all her citations before saving to wiki.  Within five minutes the entry was being deleted by another editor somewhere in the ether, before it had even been completed.  Another trainee received a slapped wrist, again from a wikieditor out there, for too closely copying material from another source.  By the end of the day we also had a case of 'Geohacking' happen and resolved by another wikieditor: The googlemaps link to a nearby heritage site was sending the Wiki user to a webpage about a strip joint in Birmingham.  

What I think is most surprising, and promising for the future, is how quickly volunteer editors picked up on all the above problems and corrected them - an indicator of the quality of entries and editors.  I can see why more serious academics are increasingly using wikis in a similar way to the more specialist journals which are increasingly on-line too.  Instead of peer review only, wikis open up your article for review and editing to a far greater number of people who will have many different specialisms and knowledge.  Wikipedia and the other associated wikis opens up serious academic articles to a far larger audience instantly, with free content openly available to develop ideas for the good of all.

My first entry was co-construction  of learning -  considering what wikipedia represents, a bit of a shocker no one had thought to put this one in.


  1. Thanks for the write-up, Marcus, and for your participation on the day, and your contribution to Wikipedia. Just a couple of points:

    You don't need to know any HTML to edit Wikipedia. Wikipedia has its own markup, which is simpler than HTML, but you can make simple prose edits without even knowing any of that.

    The stripclub link was on Google Maps, which directs its visitors to the nearest known business; nothing to do with Wikipedia.

    Your point about the overly aggressive response to incomplete articles by new editors is well made, though, and a bunch of us are working on Wikipedia to address that and make the environment more welcoming.

  2. Thanks Andy, for training and comments - you gave an excellent introduction Wikipedia, and I am in touch with a school who are interested in making wikipedia entries with their pupils and may require some training - I hope to be in touch with you soon talk about that. The wikipedia community is welcoming and looking forward to editting more in future.