Friday, June 19, 2009

Wikipedia junkie

Since I currently have waaaay too much time on my hand being out of school and unemployed, I have taken up many of my hobbies that I've let slide while focusing on school. Mostly I've really dived into history, particularly local history, reading two books I bought about the history of Kent. It's been fun reading them and learning new things. Along with that I've been going around town to take pictures of certain historical sites (when the weather is nice of course) and then uploading them into Wikipedia articles. Most of you know I am a total Wikipedia junkie. I love to read the articles and edit them, but I especially love to start new articles and expand them. On Wikipedia, they keep track of how many edits I've made ever and my total is approaching 3,000. I first registered back in October 2005, though I probably made some anonymous edits before then. That's cool and all, though I know some users that have somewhere around 50,000 edits to their name. That's some serious editing! I tend to edit in spurts; that is, I'll go through a period where I hardly make any edits and then I'll start making a ton of edits, several of which will be large.

Lately I've been working on articles related to the history of Kent mostly and then making edits as needed on other pages. Most of my edits on other pages are cosmetic (like removing large gaps in the text) or organizational like adding subheadings, breaking up paragraphs, or rewriting poorly written sections. The biggest problem on Wikipedia is the inclusion of material that is unsourced or worse, copyrighted. People will just cut and paste large sections of websites or use copyrighted photos and logos and not even think about it. As a result, many articles are less than neutral and too many have erroneous information or outrageous claims. I try to remove stuff like that or find a source to back up a claim. Sometimes the source is biased too, so you have to watch for truly neutral, third-party sources.

If you'd like to see some of the articles I've been working on, here they are. Many, if not all, of the pictures in each article were taken by me at some point and I have pictures in many places on Wikipedia. Here are my most recent projects:
Of course these are hardly all of them, but just the ones I've devoted the most time to lately. On my Wikipedia user page, you can see a list of all the pages I started and a list of many of the articles I have edited. At the bottom of that page is a small sample of images I have submitted. Most of my images, however, are on Wikimedia Commons, a sister project for the storage of public domain images. I have a very short user page there, but visit my gallery instead. It's a few pages long, so be ready! I still need to move several images from Wikipedia to the Commons. It's better there because they can be used in things besides the English language Wikipedia and it's easier to categorize them.

Anyway, I spent much of today editing the article on my high school, Theodore Roosevelt High School. I had spent some time the other day expanding the article's history sections, campus sections, and academics sections, but today I dealt with two editors who were making a mountain out of a molehill. It was insane and part of it was my stubbornness, but most of it was knowing that I did have experience editing on Wikipedia, while these two editors did not. Eventually it got to the point where one editor (who works for Kent Schools) just couldn't take my detailed explanations why I was reverting his edits while the other just started being disruptive. The guy who was a Kent Schools employee had the audacity to say it was my "ego" when he was the one who insisted on making changes that weren't needed or helpful and were trivial at best. True, I could've bowed just as easily and nothing would've come of it, but I had my reasons for standing my ground. It was very bizarre. Finally some experienced editors came and helped me out and gave us all some suggestions. I'm fairly experienced, but I'm not one to dismiss those who have even more experience than me. It's been weird. The Roosevelt article was the very first article I started way back in '05 and I've been the one who's been expanding and editing it almost exclusively since. All of the sudden in this last week there's this barrage of new editors who want to make a whole bunch if changes, hardly any for the better and most of them were trivial changes that didn't need to be made at all. It's nice to see more editors, but when they're all new and they have no idea about Wikipedia guidelines and standards, their excitement usually leads to poor edits that someone else has to fix. And in cases like this, an edit war ensues since the new guy feels like you're just being territorial and doesn't understand why he can't add whatever he wants and you won't let him do it.

I especially love when someone who is directly connected to the article topic (like the school employee today) tries to chime in and act like they have some sort of authority. They think because the article is about their employer, they have more say in what is published and how. Unfortunately for them, the articles are simply about a specific topic; they aren't in any way property or managed by that specific entity (like a school). Wikipedia has a policy against conflict of interest, so people with very close ties (like employees or family members and individuals in the case of biographical articles) have to be careful how much and how they edit. In reality, all editors are at an equal level, but those with very close ties to the subject actually have less say on Wikipedia due to conflict of interest.

When I first started on Wikipedia, I was totally one of those people who thought it was my duty to add whatever I knew to articles, even things that really weren't that important. I would add all sorts of trivial and unsourced information only to have experienced editors eventually remove it. What I learned is that just because I know something, doesn't mean it's important enough to be in an article and if I can't find a reliable source for it, how can anyone verify that what I say is actually true beyond my word? I do my best to only add things with a reliable, third-party source and I'm always checking sources on other people's additions to articles. Too often, a source will be listed that doesn't support the claim it's supposed to, or the source is from a site that isn't reliable (like another wiki-type site or a fan site). It's always fun too to find an article that was written by high school students. They're pretty easy to spot. I usually have to do some major re-writes to give it some structure and variety.

Oh, and for people who think you can't trust anything on Wikipedia, you have to know how to recognize good and bad articles just like with any source. You have to look at how many sources are used in an article and what kinds, which can be found at the end of every article. There are also tags placed on pages by editors to let readers know about problems within an article as well as a ratings system for every article found in the "discussion" tab at the top. Pretty much every article rated "good" and especially "featured" is as good as (if not better than) any article about the topic you will find even in a published encyclopedia. Even the poor articles are many times great places to start as they will have some basic info and useful links to relevant sites.

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