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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Tomorrow (July 30), the article on Portland’s Forest Park will be featured on Wikipedia’s main page. Though many of us have worked on this article over the years, its status as a “Featured Article” is a testament to some tremendous work by WikiProject Oregon member Finetooth. Finetooth has produced a number of high-quality Oregon articles, mostly about rivers and watersheds. Take a look for a thorough examination of one of Portland’s great natural areas!

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 always interesting to talk to people who don’t really know anything about Wikipedia and mention that I am a frequent contributor to Wikipedia. People tend to give me a look that they usually reserve for Masons or members of the Trilateral Commission, and then they ask/comment: “Isn’t that always inaccurate?” That one I can pretty much shoot down thanks to other posters on this blog, but the next one is a bit tougher: “Why do you edit Wikipedia?”

I usually stammer off something about how I like delving into history and information, but I decided to really think about it: how did I start editing Wikipedia? To find out, I had to dig deep into my edit history. This is a bit like digging into my junior high journal (no, I didn’t really have one, and besides, I burned it), but here goes.

I actually remember my first edit pretty well. (You never forget your first time…) One of my neighbors at the time was future NBA player Kevin Love. In the summer of 2006, he was still in high school and had just announced he would be playing college basketball at UCLA. One afternoon, I checked out his Wikipedia article and immediately spotted an irritating (to me) grammatical error.

I probably checked the page several times waiting for someone to fix it before it dawned on me that I was supposed to fix it myself. So, at 3:38 on August 7, 2006, I signed up for a Wikipedia account; and then after what I remember as being 10 minutes of excruciating worry that I was surely doing it all wrong, made my first edit.

I expected someone to object, but no one seemed to mind. And it only took me another six weeks to be brave enough make another edit, this time to aging NFL star Morten Andersen. (I had seen his first NFL game back in 1982 and now he was the oldest player in the NFL, so I felt some kinship to him.)  Since he was on the verge of breaking the NFL scoring record, it led me to edit a variety of other related articles. I think I was hooked at this point.

From sports, it was an easy leap into another passion of mine, politics. With an election coming up, in the fall of 2006, I started looking into Oregon-related politics articles. I was surprised to note that so many Oregon politicians didn’t have Wikipedia entries, so in October, in my next big step of development, I created my first article from scratch, for former Congressman Jim Bunn. He never even sent me a card. Oh well.

After the Bunn article, I started getting more involved with Wikipedia. Why were there so many uncompleted articles about Oregon Congresspeople? (or as we call ‘em in the WP:ORE community, ODGs: “Old Dead Guys/Gals”) And this is really where it clicked for me: this was a contribution I could make. On the day before election day 2006, I joined WikiProject Oregon and began systematically running down the missing ODGs. I also took a fancy to creating articles for members of the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame (and sometimes both at the same time).

Along the way, I read stories of incredible perserverance and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, uncovered strange sex scandals, learned about mysterious drownings and defenestrations, and basically was amazed to discover that I had never heard about this stuff before, and moreover, it seemed that no one else had either.

So…why do I edit Wikipedia? To me, it’s not the epic articles about Barack Obama or the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens; those are great, but there is so much easily accessible information elsewhere about those topicsthat Wikipedia will only ever scratch the surface.

Wikipedia is exciting because it can go deeper than that. Former Oregon governor Tom McCall would never rate an article in Encyclopedia Britannica, and is unlikely to even get a mention in any study of environmental cleanup, but his impact is clear. Wikipedia can fill this gap. The strange case of the Oregon Congressional election between Andrew Thayer and George Shiel is unknown to virtually everyone, but is a fascinating story of political intrigue.

As newspapers disappear and more and more of our information becomes online and ephemeral, it will become lost; and moreover, easily changed and “corrected.” Pete Forsyth told me the story of an online article that was challenged and then corrected without comment; how much more of our news will be lost in this way? The correction is part of the story!

With the ability to explore article history, unlike your junior high journal, information cannot be lost. Wikipedia can be a place to store information that should not be lost to the world. I hope more people take up the challenge.

WikiWednesday in September

WikiWednesday last September

I’m proud to be able to announce that we’ve got something slightly different in mind for the May installment of the Portland WikiWednesday.

In little less than a week, we’ll be serving up a short presentation and panel on the research techniques journalists and bloggers (or anyone really) can use to get the most out of Wikipedia.

Often maligned and misunderstood, Wikipedia is nonetheless a body of knowledge that can be a rich resource if used properly. I’ll be giving the introductory presentation myself, with a half hour to answer such questions as…

  • Can journalists avoid compromising standards and still use Wikipedia?
  • How can you find exactly what you’re looking for out of 2.8 million articles?
  • What clues can you look for to assess the veracity of articles and individual facts?

Afterwords, a panel of both Wikipedians and journalists will delve in to their experience with the site, and answer your questions about the nitty-gritty of working with Wikipedia in your research. On this panel will be:

  • Myself (Steven Walling), a Wikipedia adminstrator with years of experience and over 30,000 edits.
  • Pete Forsyth, a Wikipedia administrator with a special expertise concerning Oregon articles in particular, and a key instigator of WikiProject Oregon’s organizing and outreach.
  • Abraham Hyatt, former managing editor at Oregon Business magazine.
  • Dan Cook, former editor of the Portland Business Journal.

This is a little more structured than most WikiWednesdays, but the spirit remains the same. Whether you’re familiar with wikis or just one of the billions of people who use Wikipedia regularly, this should be an interesting and information look at research with the largest encyclopedia in history.

If you go

Where: AboutUs, 107 SE Washington, suite #520 (map)
When: Wednesday May 6th, 5:30pm-7:30pm
Cost: Free (as always!)
More: Calagator and Upcoming

It’s easy to forget just how old Wikipedia is, compared to many of the free culture organizations on the Web. One looming example of this has always been our use of the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).
VoteYes!
Founded before Creative Commons, the GFDL was the only copyleft license that even came close to making our work free for others in a way that fit our mission.

But it’s never been a perfect fit. Far from it, in fact.

Clauses such as the invariant sections rule and the burden of printing both the full text of the license and a list of authors have seriously handicapped past efforts to republish works of Wikimedia projects. The GFDL is not really to be faulted for this, since it’s written with software documentation in mind, not an encyclopedia with thousands of authors.

But there’s a solution on the horizon. With the advent of Version 1.3 of the GFDL, we can now legally transition to the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. But the choice to move to Creative Commons rests not with our non-profit, the Wikimedia Foundation. It rests with the people who have licensed their contributions: namely, you. If you’ve got more than 25 edits to a Wikimedia project before the 15th of March, please make your voice heard by voting!

More information:

Amber Case gettin' stylish at the Ignite Portland after-party/RecentChangesCamp pre-party

 

Amber Case gettin' stylish at the Ignite Portland after-party/RecentChangesCamp pre-party

 

The smartest wiki folk in all the land have descended on Portland! RecentChangesCamp 2009, an annual “open spaces” conference about online collaboration tools and communities, is currently underway at Portland State University. If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by! The conference runs through mid-day Sunday; check the site linked above for all the details. Here are a few photos.

 

Geoff Burling, Cary Bass, Pete Forsyth, and Phoebe Ayers discuss the future of Wikipedia

Geoff Burling, Cary Bass, Pete Forsyth, and Phoebe Ayers discuss the future of Wikipedia

 

RecentChangesCamp is underway!

RecentChangesCamp is underway!

 

The Writing on the Wall

The Writing on the Wall

 

We have folks from all over: Wikipedia, Connectipedia,sponsors Wikihow and AboutUs, Fandom Wiki, and numerous other wiki communities.

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!

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