Sunday, September 23, 2007

 

But there are sometimes good things

My last post was probably too negative, implying that Wikipedia is, despite anyone's most heroic efforts, sliding into a quicksand of factionalism. Like most of humanity, I have a tendency to speak out more often to complain about bad things than to say anything about the good things.

One reason that I continue to contribute material to Wikipedia is in the not unrealistic expectation that my contributions will attract contributions from people who know more than me on the subject. It's not an unrealistic expectation, because it's often happened in the past. One example was, due to the effort Yom and I were devoting to Ethiopain articles at the time, when we received a querry from someone who wanted to write an article about the Sof Omar caves in that country, and after a little encouragement he wrote a nice little article, and supplied some images for it. This author just happened to have taken part in a formal British exploration of those caves in the 1970s, so he was undeniably an expert about what he was writing. (Unfortunately, due to the recent jihad against non-free images, one of the images he contributed with his article was removed because he forgot to include some statement needed to keep it in Wikipedia. I need to ask him to upload once again that image with the necessary legal verbage.)

However, a more recent contribution, one of those which encourages me to continue in my selfless and idealistic quest, was one I discovered last night. When I had originally started the article on Onesimos Nesib, who translated the Bible into the Oromo language, I found a mention of a one Aster Ganno, who is said to have actually done much of the work without receiving any credit for her contributions. I didn't think that I would ever find much about her -- women and their work in the 19th century tend to be poorly documented, and documentation on African women moreso -- so I simply mentioned her name in the article and moved on.

When I reviewed recent changes to the Onesimus Nesib article, I saw that several had been made by an editor who had not created a userpage. Often this is a clue that the person is a troublemaker, intending only to stay on Wikipedia long enough to either vandalize some articles -- or to stuff them with a rant for or against some specific point of view on a subject. Other times this is a clue that the person is new to Wikipedia, or not as familiar with computers as with the subject she/he wants to contribute to. It was the later in this case: Peter Unseth, who had co-authored the article on Aster Ganno for the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, a comprehensive reference work on Ethiopian history and culture, generously donated some of his learning to Wikipedia. As I traced the history of his contributions, I felt as if I were sitting at the same discussion with leading experts on Ethiopian history, clearly the same as auditting a virtual seminar -- and perhaps able to contribute my own opinion to the exchange.

Of course I left a thank-you note on his user talk page. It was a far more encouraging message to him than the two templates about improperly-contributed images left there before me.

Geoff

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