Saturday, November 04, 2006


Writing articles

Last night I found my notes of Jimbo Wales' keynote speech at this summer's Wikimania. I had forgotten his declared offensive to reduce the number of new articles (he used the phrase "the long tail") and increase the quality of the existing articles. Then again, I've been busy working on writing articles on each one of the woredas -- local districts -- of Ethiopia, & maybe my forgetfulness was intential.

The challenge that the "long tail" poses -- the phrase is a buzz word for all of the items or products that aren't the biggest sellers or most visible topics -- is that one person's trivia is another person's critical information. Not one Ethiopian woreda may ever be important enough to be included as one of Wikipedia's core articles -- but then, I doubt any single US county will ever be that important either, & Wikipedia currently has an article on each & every one of them.

And honestly, I am working on these articles because if I don't do it, it's very likely that no one else will write them, & even more likely that the few that are written won't be well written. And I've already seen evidence that by writing these short, admittedly incomplete accounts on these obscure administrative units are already attracting attention from other, more informed people. One person wrote an article about the woreda he grew up in, making an obvious attempt to follow the pattern I had set forth, which has been his entire contribution to the project. This is a phenomenon that Aaron Swatrz described: many contributions to Wikipedia are made to a small number of articles by someone only interested in a narrow subject, & whose interest in Wikipedia is complete once their contirbution is complete.

The cliche "herding cats" comes to mind. After all, people contribute the material to Wikipedia that they are interested in. Yet anyone who bothers to observe just how cats actually behave knows that they can be trained: this is how the mother cat teaches her kittens how to hunt and kill prey. And I have heard stories of people (who obviously have a great deal of patience) teaching their cats to play fetch -- or to use the toilet. A one-time contributor to Wikipedia won't read the extensive policy before making an edit -- but she or he will take the time to study how articles are written & follow examples.


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