William Beutler on Wikipedia

Archive for the ‘Citations’ Category

#1Lib1Ref and Adventures in Practical Encyclopedia-Building

Tagged as , ,
on January 24, 2017 at 11:09 am

Wikipedia_Library_owlThe Wikipedian has long been of the opinion, perhaps controversial on Wikipedia, that it is a mistake to think that it can recruit the entire world to become Wikipedia editors. Yet this is the premise upon which so many aspects of Wikipedia’s platform are based.

Start with the fact that anyone can edit (almost) any page at any time. This was Wikipedia’s brilliant original insight, and there is no doubt it made Wikipedia what it is today. But along with scholars and other knowledge-loving contributors comes the riff raff. The calculation is that the value of good editors attracted by Wikipedia’s open-editing policy will outweigh the vandals and troublemakers. On one hand, it is an article of faith not rigorously tested. On the other hand, Wikipedia’s mere existence is proof that the bet is generally sound.

All of which is preamble to praise Wikipedia’s #1Lib1Ref project, now in its second year, for taking what is to my mind a more sensible approach to building Wikipedia’s editorship: targeting persons and professions that already have more in common with Wikipedia than they might realize, in this case librarians. Whereas the official Wikimedia vision statement calls for “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge”, the #1Lib#1Ref tagline suggests “a world where every librarian added one more reference to Wikipedia.”

This is great! As much as The Wikipedian strongly supports the big-picture goal of the vision statement, the fact is asking “every” person to contribute “all” things is no place to begin. But asking a very specific type of person to make just one contribution actually turns out to be massively more powerful because it is vastly more effective.

Speaking anecdotally, the greatest hurdle to becoming a Wikipedia contributor is figuring out how to make that very first edit.[1]The second greatest hurdle is getting that person to figure out what to do next, but that is for another day. Encouraging the determination to give it a try, and creating a simple set of steps to help them get there, will do a lot more than the sum of all lofty rhetoric.

#1Lib#1Ref runs January 15 to February 3, and you can learn more about it via The Wikipedia Library. If you decide to get involved, you should also consider posting with the obvious hashtag on Twitter or another social platform of your choice. Oh, and if you don’t get to it before February 3, I’m sure they’ll be happy to have you join in after the fact.

P.S. You have no idea how hard it was to write this without making either a Bob Marley or U2 reference. If you now have one song or the other stuck in your head, you are most welcome.

The Wikipedia Library logo by User:Heatherawalls, licensed under Creative Commons.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The second greatest hurdle is getting that person to figure out what to do next, but that is for another day.

From the Mixed-Up Files…

Tagged as , , , , , , , , , ,
on September 29, 2010 at 8:04 pm

WBEZ in Chicago is probably best known for being home to the long-running radio series This American Life. But one of their most innovative offerings is an online video series first aired in April 2009 called The Wikipedia Files.

The idea is simple: WBEZ hosts interview entertainment celebrities by reading portions of the Wikipedia articles about them, simply to fact-check the articles within. More often than not, the articles are accurate enough, but they certainly have caught some interesting errors.

I think it’s an ingenious idea, and I hope that other media organizations follow, especially on other subjects. One of the biggest complaints about Wikipedia is that it’s difficult to tell what’s true and what is not. Although contributors are encouraged to add citations, the fact is many do not. In many cases, people add things they know, or think they know, and either cannot find a source or never bother to look one up. Some details may have originated on blogs, most of which Wikipedia generally does not consider to be reliable. This is all the more serious on articles about living persons, which Wikipedia takes more seriously than in other genres. The Wikipedia Files offers editors the chance to verify certain facts at the source, and to establish facts that were not previously known.

In one recent example, WBEZ’s Justin Kaufmann sat down with Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, one half of acclaimed American hip hop duo OutKast, now promoting his also-acclaimed solo debut, “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty”. Here is Big Boi with Kaufmann:

Big Boi fact-checks his Wikipedia page from WBEZ on Vimeo.

And in fact, at least one fix did come of the interview. On July 20, the same day it was posted, an anonymous, to date one-time editor from Akron, Ohio made the following correction about how he started pursuing music and his early relationship with André “3000” Benjamin:


Alas, this editor did not add a citation to go along with it (so I just did). Otherwise, who’s to know where to go and verify the information contained? This points to the fact that adding citations to Wikipedia is harder than it should be—but you can’t hold that against WBEZ.