advocacy


No, not the old New England shared space in the center of the village (AKA village green), but a sister project of Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons. This is a place people upload photos with free licences to then be shared across the globe. The main point was to allow for a single repository for all images across all Wikipedias (English, French, German, etc.) that would allow for easy access between this different projects. That way the Germans could more easily find and use images of the US, and vice versa for US based editors and German images. Add the Germans certainly do use our images, such as one from an old house I took. Even the Japanese use it too, as the Hillsboro article has nine images of mine.

Oregon State Capitol Building

My picture of the OSC in Salem that I've seen in many places

But Commons has grown beyond this as site where many people and organizations go to find free content.  Encyclopædia Britannica in their article on Hillsboro uses one of my images, as do some foreigners with WES, and Worldnews.com used a fish image of mine among many other images they have used from Commons. Searching Google has turned up many for me, and many for others on Wikipedia/Commons. Other images include Erratic Rock State Park, Council Crest Park, the Martha Springer Botanical Gardens where someone used this image for talking about gardening, and these folks at the Mall Hall of Fame blog used three of mine and countless others from Wikipedia/Commons. And these are just the ones that have actually given credit, whereas many others fail to credit Wikimedia or the individual photographers. In fact this image of mine I have seen in a variety of places on the web, often without credit, but here the Associated Contentfolks properly attributed the image to me (those folks are also heavy users of Commons images). However, I think I am most proud of getting on OregonLive in the proper manner. Last fall I warned them about using my image of Lattice Semiconductor without proper attribution, and they took it down (would have been easier for them to just add the caption in the story). So its nice to see they learned their lesson.

Now, more importantly, what does this have to do with you? If you looked at some of the images, hopefully you liked some of them, but most are certainly not Pulitzer Prize winners. Some of my images could use some editing, and others filters, and other better lighting. But, hey, I don’t get paid for this. Anyway, Wikipedia gets free images which helps illustrate articles, and I get a sense of satisfaction/ego boost seeing my work around the world. And you can too! So, if you do not already have a Commons account, I encourage you to sign up for one and start uploading your images. If you need ideas for what to take a picture of, here is a list of images already needed. And who knows, maybe in a month or so your picture of a Bigfoot trap might make the front page in Mongolia.

 

 

 

This week, I was interviewed along with several other WikiProject Oregon members for the Wikipedia Signpost, a newsletter for the Wikipedia editing community. Reporter Cryptic C62 asked some thoughtful questions, and gave us a great opportunity to talk about our work and why we think it’s important. We were asked about our outreach efforts outside Wikipedia, our collaboration in person and on this blog, and about possible policy changes like flagged revisions and tightening the reins on anonymous editing.

Read on for the full interview. (Please note, unlike most content on this blog, this interview is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.)

Interview from the Wikipedia Signpost

Here at the WikiProject Report, we generally conduct interviews with one interviewer and one interviewee. In this week’s issue, we bring to a special group discussion with five active members of WikiProject Oregon. For those readers who live outside the United States, Oregon is a US state in the Pacific Northwest region. Although the state has a population density of only 35.6 people per square mile, the project has more than 50 active members and 15 featured articles. Here to discuss the project are PeteforsythAboutmoviesEncMstrSteven Walling, and Esprqii.

1. While many projects have weekly or monthly collaborations on singular articles, most of WikiProject Oregon’s collaborations feature two or more articles. This process has generated at least 29 DYKs and 4 GAs. Why do you use a double collaboration system, and why does it work so well?

EncMstr: I’m not sure how two was chosen, but it works very well. Usually they are complementary—for example a biography and a piece of legislation—so if one article or task is somehow unappealing then the other is likely to be more interesting. (See here for previous collaborations of the week (COTW).) If the number of active members continues to increase, perhaps the right number would be three at once. I doubt the COTW is responsible for the majority of DYKs and GAs—it’s more often something that comes up on the project talk page that strikes a chord with several people. The best examples of this are Johnson Creek (Willamette River) and Cannabis in Oregon.
Esprqii: I think taking a rational approach to the collaborations has been a key part of it. For example, before the weekly collaborations started, we spent a long time rating every single article in the project both in terms of importance and in terms of quality. That left a matrix that showed, for example, which articles were of top importance but were still only stubs. Those were the first articles we collaborated on, and today, if you look at the matrix, there are no articles in that category.
In addition to the rational process, we maintain a wish list of future projects, which inevitably include pet projects of various members of the project. You can’t very well ignore it when your pet has the spotlight! Aboutmovies, who manages the whole collaboration process, has been very crafty about mixing up the rational and the irrational to make it fun, get a lot of people involved, and get a lot of good work done.
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I’ll be on the radio tomorrow morning with Oregon Encyclopedia editor Bill Lang, discussing our respective online encyclopedia projects and how we engage with the people of Oregon.

Hope you can listen, and call in with questions! Check out producer David Miller’s excellent post introducing the show. And for those out of state, you can listen online (or check the post after the show for an audio archive).

Tomorrow morning:

Friday May 8, 9-10 AM PDT
Oregon Public Broadcasting
91.5 FM in Portland

It’s with regret that I direct your attention to this blog post from ReadWriteWeb (RWW). To sum it up: RWW, one of the 20 most visited blogs on the planet, has been on Wikipedia’s spam blacklist for something approaching a year.

Naturally, RWW founder and editor Richard MacManus was a bit miffed to learn of this. And like any netizen passionate about his work, he took steps to get the error corrected.

But the approach he took went horribly awry.

Apparently, Richard didn’t put much effort into determining what issues were at play. As a result, he began from a fundamentally flawed premise, which any regular Wikipedia editor could have pointed out to him: he confused the blacklist, a technical tool intended to combat the massive quantities of spam that get posted to Wikipedia articles, with Wikipedia’s general policy and guideline relating to verifiability and reliable sources. It’s true that citations to blogs are often discouraged, but that’s not because they’re blogs; it’s because most blogs don’t have a sufficient claim to being accurate and reliable. (Case in point, Richard’s post, which was apparently not run by anyone knowledgeable about Wikipedia.)

In short: there is no Wikipedia policy or guideline that rules out blogs or user-generated content from being cited on Wikipedia. The relevant policy and guideline outline some general considerations, but they make no outright prohibition on blogs.

What’s more, like all of Wikipedia, the guideline is open to influence. It’s ironic that someone who chooses to pontificate about the norms of a Web 2.0 world should fail so spectacularly to understand that constructive suggestions are the best (and often only) way to accomplish change in a community like Wikipedia.

I’m disappointed that the initial post set the stage for a bunch of ill-informed and non-constructive blog comments. I support Richard’s central contention that RWW should be removed from the blacklist, but his form of advocacy is damaging the public’s understanding of Wikipedia, and in my view reflects very poorly on ReadWriteWeb (a site that I generally admire).

Below is a comment I attempted to post in the thread, which hasn’t yet made it through moderation:

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Over the years, I have seen numerous individuals and organizations in the SEO and SEM industry wringing their hands over what to do about Wikipedia. Some have simply ranted about the massive SEO success of the free encyclopedia. Others try some rather underhanded tricks to get their own “Wikipedia page.” (Hint: Want an article to stick around? Ask for one.) Here are three personal observations from a Wikipedian that I think my friends working in this field need to hear…

1. Wikipedia is not a marketing tool. Period. Anything you might do outside that mindset is an unproductive way to approach interaction with the site and its community. The benefits of an article or links can be substantial. But you’re not going to get either if you don’t think of how your actions benefit Wikipedia as an encyclopedia first and foremost. When you edit out of self-interest instead of altruism, you are not only being unethical. You’re being dense by trying to force Wikipedia to become something it’s not. If you can’t think of a way to link to your client or write an article that doesn’t help readers a lot more than it helps you, then don’t do either.

2. Getting angry at Wikipedia is counterproductive. Ranting and raving may feel cathartic, but it’s not going to help your business. Apologies if that seemed completely obvious to the smart people that I know are in this line of work. But you’d be surprised at whom I’ve heard blame their failure on Wikipedia’s success (not impressive to peers or clients), or get muffed when Wikipedia doesn’t respond well to their marketing efforts (see point one).

3. The best way to capitalize on Wikipedia is not to get in Wikipedia. It’s to learn from our successes (and failures), and to use these strategies for your own purposes. Understanding what makes Wikipedia successful and imitating those practices is not hard. Even on an infinitely smaller scale, valuable original content with a sensible internal linking structure will provoke the genuine inbound links you desire. Gleaning the best practices that Wikipedia has (almost entirely by accident) learned, and implementing them in an environment that you control saves you much time and effort, as well as avoiding the potential blow to your reputation if there’s a backlash.

What will not succeed in the long run is trying to leech off us. No amount of manipulating Wikipedia will make up for having a client no one cares about. Our community didn’t set out to dominate search engine results. We set out to write something worth reading. We don’t always fulfill that mission, but we try our damnedest. Do the same, and you’ll probably engender a similar result.

Conclusion? The real shortcoming of these two industries is not that they are filled with nefarious or lazy people. It’s that the laundry list of  “tricks”  for gaming Wikipedia has obfuscated the fact that a little honest work is the easiest way to get the results you want, both inside and outside Wikipedia. Perhaps it’s time you did some.

Building the schedule at RecentChangesCamp 2008

Building the schedule at RecentChangesCamp 2008

In the McCarthy era, American citizens were jailed for the crime of being “collaborators” or “informers.”

Today, even multi-million dollar companies are tripping over themselves trying to figure out how to foster better collaboration and manage information more effectively.

How times have changed! (Hat tip to Jeremiah for the metaphor.)

Wiki technology and culture is at the core of how our society is making that transition. Many of us form and join new communities on a regular basis, using wikis and other collaborative Internet tools.

But what’s a community without handshakes, shared meals, beer and wine, or a spontaneous game of catch?

The international wiki community gathers once a year for an “unconference” called RecentChangesCamp. It’s free. That has two meanings: it costs no money and it liberates your soul.

If you’re part of the evolving world of online collaboration, we need you at the 2009 RecentChangesCamp. We need you to lead a discussion, or participate in one. Or to set up the table with nametags or clean up a spilled drink. We’re finding better ways to collaborate online, and to do that, we need to get together in person once in a while!

RecentChangesCamp will be held at Portland (Oregon) State University, the weekend of February 20–22. Or come early if you want, and get those synapses warmed up at Ignite Portland!

Sign up on our wiki (based on the innovative Wagn software). Or view (or edit!) our online invitation. But above all — COME ON DOWN!!

Thanks to AboutUs, WikiHow, and Portland State University for their generous contributions to make this conference possible!

As you probably know, the Wikimedia Foundation hosts several wiki-based projects in addition to the wildly popular Wikipedia. None of them (with the possible exception of Commons, a free media repository) has an editing community that’s nearly as active as Wikipedia; however, there’s high-quality work going on all over the place.

One of my personal favorites is Wikisource. This site serves as a repository for historical documents. Unlike the other projects, Wikisource editors don’t create content, but instead gather it from existing sources, and update its formatting to make it more web-friendly. Why is this such a good thing? Well, let me give you an example:

My biggest project on Wikisource, currently underway, has been “wikifying” the Oregon Constitution. Wikipedia editor Athelwulf has set a high standard for making a clear presentation of this foundational document.

The Constitution is, of course, online on a couple of different State web sites; but it’s presented in ways that scream “best of the web, circa 1995.” The formatting makes it very difficult to read lists; there are few if any web links to clarify concepts, or indicate which ballot measures approve certain amendments; and numerous other problems make it much less useful than it should be.

But no matter. With Wikisource—and because the Constitution is in the public domain, owned by the people of Oregon—it’s in our power to build a better resource. In time, I hope this will set the standard for the state’s presentation of this vital document. Or if not, perhaps Wikisource will become a core resource for law students, legislative aides, historians, and others all over the state.

Like what you see? Please help us finish the project! Article I (the Bill of Rights) is more or less complete, but most of the others still need a lot of work.

In part one on this topic, I spoke ecstatically about how Wikipedia, in our quest to be more user friendly, could find some inspiration in SocialText’s ability for both WYSIWYG and wiki text editing of a document. Upon further exploration, I’ve found that a few other enterprise wiki software providers, such as Atlassian’s Confluence platform, include dual Rich Text/Wiki Text editing modes. Wikia is also testing a new Rich Text editor of their own, but it is pure WYSIWYG, rather than an optional mode one can choose in the editing window. which, as Angela has kindly pointed out in the comments, also has optional rich text or wiki text editing capability .

But whether it’s SocialText, Wikia or Atlassian, the larger point still stands.

MediaWiki development has done a fabulous job of scaling to meet the crushing demand of some of the biggest wiki communities in the world. A rich ecosystem of useful extensions has sprung up as well, much like the garden of delights to be found among Firefox add-ons.

But the one area that enterprise development has outstripped MediaWiki is in catering to those who need a dead simple wiki. (In all fairness, MediaWiki does have a WYSIWYG extension, but I personally find it to be unsatisfactory, and it is rarely used.)

Why is the enterprise so much better at producing wikis for the neophyte? Because their customers absolutely demand it.

When you’re dealing with a company full of people who almost never step outside the box of Microsoft Office and email, just introducing the idea of a collaborative workspace is like pulling teeth. If there is any real technical hurdle at all, then you can expect your product to fall flat.

I am a drunken cheerleader for commons-based peer production wherever it appears. But within the wiki community, ease of use is the one realm where the profit motive has admittedly produced better results. I say we take it as an opportunity to recognize the success of others, so that we may duplicate it.

With that frame of mind, I’d love to hear what your favorite usability features from enterprise wikis are, and how they might help Wikipedia.

Several weeks ago, the Wikimedia Foundation announced they had received a sizable grant to make the MediaWiki software Wikipedia and other sites use friendlier to edit. Whether it was being in a open frame of mind or just serendipity, I’ve discovered what I think is a perfect example of how we can open the door to less-technical writers.

Recently, I joined some members of the larger wiki community (something we like to call the Wiki Ohana) on a project for which we are using SocialText — who were the first to build an enterprise wiki platform — to organize the group effort.

Since other than a 14-day free trial, SocialText isn’t free software, I’d heard of their latest release (SocialText 3.0, launched in September), but hadn’t explored it until now. Despite some big improvements, it didn’t seem like anything light years ahead of other wiki providers. Until I actually gave editing a go, that is.

The central goal with the grant money is “a series of improvements to the MediaWiki interface” with a focus on “hiding complex elements of the user interface from people who don’t use them” (from the Foundation’s Q&A). Though the identification of the most common barriers to entry for Wikipedia editors will be determined through user testing, it is commonly understood to mean complex template and citation markup, as well as the possibility of WYSIWYG editing.

Below is the initial edit view for SocialText users. It looks like a fairly standard WYSIWYG editor the call Rich Text mode.

picture-22

But click the Wiki Text button to the right of Rich Text, and with a single action you have toggled to a fully featured view of the page’s underlying wiki markup. It wasn’t an instantaneous change from one view to the other, but this simple feature was fairly miraculous an effect for someone used to an “either/or” world of markup vs. WYSIWYG. The two options in edit mode have essentially solved the problem of catering to all experience levels.

picture-32

Also important to note is that that the Wiki Text editing mode wasn’t designed only with master editors in mind. Clicking the Edit Tips button pops up a concise, useful syntax list that can serve as either a short introduction or a refresher course on the SocialText markup language. Hiding the inumberable markup guide buttons that clutter the MediaWiki edit window is almost certainly one of the goals we have for the grant project.

My problem with hiding complexity and using pure WYSIWYG has always been that it makes editing easier for newbies, but cuts more advanced users off at the knees in terms of true power and flexibility. This was the one factor that stood in the back of my mind while reading the news of the grant. Turning a cold shoulder to the community of veteran editors that have made Wikipedia a success is the worst conceivable outcome to any sweeping changes to MediaWiki.

Seeing SocialText 3.0 has dispelled my fear that ease of use and power/flexibility was necessarily a 1:1 trade-off. Here’s hoping that the Foundation and the new developers they hire take a page from SocialText in their attempt to make editing more accessible to the general public, while continuing to enable veteran editors.

Wikipedia now covers all Oregon state senators!

WikiProject Oregon just hit an exciting milestone: with Esprqii’s recent addition of a brief biography of Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson, Wikipedia now has an article on every current member of the Oregon State Senate. Some have just the basics (we call them “stubs”), but others offer a pretty good introduction to the senator’s personal background and career, carefully sourced to the legislature’s web site and newspaper coverage.

We’ve been working harder than ever in the last year, and have lots to show for it. On the political front, we now have a solid overview of the upcoming Oregon state elections, and a summary of the events and legislation of the most recent legislative sessions.

Longtime project leader Aboutmovies has been running the Collaboration of the Week program for well over a year now, giving us a great excuse to focus our energies and build content together.

The federal Works Progress Administration built this stone structure near Balch Creek in the 1930s. The city maintained it as a public restroom until 1962.

The federal Works Progress Administration built this stone structure near Balch Creek in the 1930s. The city maintained it as a public restroom until 1962.

The unassuming Finetooth has been quietly churning out Feature-quality articles on Portland area streams and watersheds, setting a high bar for the entire Wikipedia community on this type of article. See the articles on Johnson Creek and Balch Creek for some of his better work; some day soon, hopefully, we’ll add the Columbia River article (which is visited over 25,000 times in a month) to that list.

New contributors keep joining our ranks, too. Tedder has done excellent work on the Gerding Theater article, and Tesscass is always quick to get the ball rolling on our collaboration projects.

There’s so much good work going on these days, that it’s impossible to extend enough recognition here. Katr67, EncMstr, Steven Walling, Cirt, Zaui, and many others continue to chip away at our project of expanding Wikipedia’s coverage of Oregon-related topics…and the results are really starting to shine. Want a good overview of what we have to offer? Be sure to check out the Oregon portal!

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