5.09.2006

Let's Wiki the Workshop!

Hey gang. I've been using Wikipedia a lot lately, and if you haven't been paying attention, it's no longer a nerdy, crappy, dubious affair. It has now become sophisticated enough, big enough, and old enough to be a seriously interesting and valuable knowledge-acquisition tool, and I don't think it's hyperbole to say it may end up becoming one of the great info-dissemination landmarks in human history.

It will soon replace Google as a quick way to find mini-research facts ("What year was the lightbulb invented?"), but more than that, it's going to eventually be an indispensible tool in any and every kind of research -- far more than print encyclopedias ever were. If you hang out with it for a few days (as a lot of you probably already have), I think you'll get a sense of that.

Anyway, I was thinking it'd be a fun project if we put our collective megalith brain power, writing skills, and tendentious tendencies to work and cooperate on getting the Iowa Writers' Workshop article in better shape. As it is now, there's a short intro followed by an interminable list of former faculty and "notable graduates". I think that stuff is relevant, but there's a lot that's more relevant and interesting, and much of it is known by us.

I realize there might be some tinge of arrogance or partisanship if we IWW grads write 'the book' on the Workshop ourselves, but it really doesn't matter. What matters as far as Wikipedia is concerned is that we get as much of the relevant, neutral facts and history on there as we can, and people can argue late about what parts are hometown dogma. In one sense, we're experts on the subject -- and together I think we could put together a pretty fine article for cyber-posterity.

The side bonus is that people who don't have much exposure to Wikipedia can get familiar with it. As I alluded to earlier, it's not going to be a nerdy subculture much longer. It's going to be a fundamental life resource. ISYN. So gettin' hip to it can't hurt.

Brief primer for you ignints: 'wiki' was conceived as a technology in the spirit of Open Source, and allowed communities to freely collaborate on the creation and editing of web pages. Early wiki stuff was cool because you could live-edit some web page somewhere without messing around with its HTML. Groups used it to brainstorm, to plan projects, to keep lists, etc. You just pressed the EDIT button on the page and typed stuff into an interface not unlike the one this blog uses.

Wikipedia is the same way. Anyone can edit ANY page on the site at ANY time, even anonymous users, and even the most frequently viewed and important pages. There is a very smart system that keeps track of every edit the page gets, so that, for instance, if a vandal deleted the entirety of the U.S. History article, the next person could just revert it to the previous version. You can see the entire history of edits of a given page at any time, scrolling through it one-by-one if you want to. Each edit shows who made it, too, unless it was anonymous, in which case the editor's IP address is shown.

Each article (and there are 1.1 million of them and counting) also has a 'Talk' page, where users can discuss and/or debate and/or argue about which edits are good and which suck. This democratic and egalitarian approach turns out to result in some very high-quality articles, and for that reason is pretty amazing considering the whole thing runs on donated time.

Anyway, there's a lot more to it than that. If you want a real intro, go here.

Cool, lemme know whatchall think.

6 comments:

chad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
chad said...

It's a great idea. I've been doing some freelance work that had me doing research on everything from Navajo code talkers to abolitionist schools. It is to the point where typing "Navajo" into Google basically gets you a bunch of links for headdress refrigerator magnets. The company I worked for wasn't all that keen on me using that as a resource, but I think that will change. In any case it was an excellent guide to facts that could be checked elsewhere. This is interesting too.

http://news.com.com/Study+Wikipedia+as+accurate+as+Britannica/2100-1038_3-5997332.html

Sorry, hyperlinking is beyond my powers. In terms of errors, they are right there.

PJKM said...

Plunge - you are so perky: who can say no to you?

the plunge said...

Perky? That's hideously emasculating. What am I, Katie Couric?

bihari said...

How about inspiring, Plunge? Rabble-rousing? An Alexander the Great of the computer? Oh no, wait, that last conjures images of Colin Farrell in a blond wig, than which nothing is more emasculating. Let's just say you're no Katie, and leave it at that.

Anyway, before PJKM got us running in circles, as is her wont, I was going to comment that I've just discovered Wikipedia and am passionately in love with it. My next novel is going to be one big Wiki footnote--and did you know, if you type in a year, you get its calendar? So excellent for writing novels set in the past!

Michael said...

FWIW, I just created an entry for Prairie Lights. It's right on the edge of Wikipedia-worthiness, I think, but folks who know it better might be able to add more noteworthy stuff.

Alternatively, attending Grinnell might have just given me a bizarrely inflated idea of the store's importance. Ignore it, and the article will likely go away.