Friday, March 16, 2007


Writing articles, another strategy

Reading Sage Ross's post "A day in the Wiki life", I was reminded of the strategy I've used in the last few days to contribute content to Wikipedia. It's something that is not exactly intuitive, was difficult to do well in the early days (although this was used as the basis for a large number of Wikipedia articles), but I think this strategy needs to be done more often.

Quite simply described, I'm taking a standard reference work (most recently, I was using Zohary and Hopf's Domestication of plants in the Old World., third edition for this), taking what the book says about the origin of a given crop (say, Emmer or Watermelon), and adding it to the specific article. This is different from the usual manner I believe many editors follow, which is subject-centered, by being source-centered.

This is how so much material was imported from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica and other works in the public domain. Unfortunately, the way we did this is that now many of these articles have unsourced statements or facts that a reader might assume all came from that source. I learned from this mistake: all of my contributions are referenced -- although perhaps not in the best way.

I think in some ways this strategy is better for Wikipedia, because this helps to smooth out the uneven depth of coverage in articles -- a problem which plagues the project. Further, adding material in this way is less controversial than adding it in a subject-centric manner, because it avoids needing to deal with those people who insist on impressing their own idiosyncratic points of view upon the article -- at least so far. And in the end, the person consulting Wikipedia doesn't know how the information got there.

One drawback is the endemic problem of uneven style, which this strategy may aggravate. I do make an effort to fix this when I encounter it and when I have the time -- yet sometimes there are style problems that cannot be easily overcome. Another is that now that I've talked about it, I'll probably start adding content following yet another strategy.

Still another is that there are about 40 woredas in Ethiopia needing articles, drafts for them in various levels of completeness are sitting on my computer's hard drive, and I feel guilty for not finishing that project.


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That's what I've been doing with my students this semester. They have to read the sources for the course, and as one of the TAs, I get to come up with short writing assignments for them, so I have them scour Wikipedia pages related to the sources and plug in relevant info.
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