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Today I depart for Wikimania, the annual international user conference for the Wikimedia family of projects. I don’t know if there will be wifi on my flight, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ll be reading some Wikipedia articles anyway.

Packed in my carry-on is a glossy red paperback courtesy PediaPress, a really fascinating new publisher that prints books using wiki content. The team at PediaPress was kind enough to send me a book created from English Wikipedia articles.

Creating Your Wiki Book

Being a wiki enthusiast and editor myself, this was a book about Wikipedia, made up of Wikipedia articles. Pretty meta, right? If reading about Wikipedia or other wikis isn’t your thing, PediaPress has an extensive catalog filled with arts, culture, history and every other kind of reference.

For my bet though, the most interesting part of PediaPress is the ability to create your own custom book made up of whatever Wikipedia articles are important to you. Using the Book Creator tool, you can curate your own wiki book.

The Future of Publishing

This sort of personalized content is easy to get online but is less common in the print world. I think that what PediaPress is doing with . These inexpensive, easily modified books created from wiki content have potential applications more serious than amusing book nerds like me.

I certainly know educators who would love to hand their students a textbook they’ve custom tailored to fit the desired curriculum. Like all Wikimedia content, these books also show great promise in areas where either there are no traditional textbook publishers or where they are too expensive.

The PediaPress book is as nice as any paperback I ever bought locally or online, and is actually pretty meaty at more than 300 pages. The book arrived in good shape and is a pleasure to read, especially for those (like myself) that have held out against the e-book reader phenomenon. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a good book in your hand.

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.

 

 

 

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!

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.

Third part in a III part series. As in the last one.

High quality content on Wikipedia generally refers to content that has had some sort of peer review process and determined to be of high quality. These are mainly the Good Articles (GA) and Featured Content. GA content can only be articles, while the Featured status can be bestowed on articles (FA), lists (FL), pictures (FP), as well as sounds, topics, and portals. FA is the highest level of quality on Wikipedia and these articles are featured on Wikipedia’s Main Page. GA is the lowest end of the high quality articles, but still a worthy accomplishment.

At the beginning of 2008 WikiProject Oregon had about 15 GA class articles; at the end it was 45. This is a nice 300% increase, and a much higher increase than the 40% increase in the number of articles, so not only was there a raw increase, but the ratio also increased. For FA and FL content we went from 6 at the beginning of 2008 to 14 at the end, and increase of 8 (6 FA, 2 FL). This was a 233% increase, again well ahead of the overall increase in articles. And so far this year we have added 3 more FAs, which puts us on a pace to just beat the 2008 numbers.

Overall in high quality content we went from 21 to 59, or a 280% increase. Not bad, and with a similar increase this year we should break the 100 mark by the end of the year.

Part II of a three part series. As Pete mentioned in his comments to Part I, WikiProject Oregon also witnessed a good size increase in the number of articles within the project. We went from just over 5000 articles to a bit over 7000. I think that is a 40% increase. Now many of these roughly 2000 new articles were created by those involved in the project, but most were not. Many come from random people signing up and starting an article on their favorite band, a historic building in town, or their local politician. These all add up. Plus, I personally went through incoming links to the Oregon article and found likely 200 articles that have existed for some time, but were missed at some point. Which brings up the what links here feature. If you were not aware of this, along the left side of the screen in the “toolbox” is a tool that allows you to see all the existing Wikipedia articles/pages that link to the article (even works for red links). It is a great way to discover additional information about the topic.

To close, even though Wikipedia’s article growth has slowed significantly, we hope to keep a brisk pace at WikiProject Oregon.

The power of trivia exists in many ways on Wikipedia. One way, trivia about obscure topics, is something Wikipedia is well known for with articles about various cartoon characters and the like. Another way is via trivia within articles about standard topics such as information about some celebrity eating at a cafe in Small Town, USA. This type of trivia is discouraged, often deleted, and often gets re-added later. But we’re trying to write an encyclopedia, so technically it shouldn’t be in the pedia.

Another, and encouraged form or trivia, is through the Did You Know program that encourages article creation and massive expansion with the reward of featuring the article on Wikipedia’s main page. Trivia is encouraged via the “hook” that is usually an interesting (i.e. trivial) bit from the article. Although a spot on the main page is not in the class of honors such as a Nobel Prize, it is a nice reward, and leads to many extra page views for the article. For instance the Alvin T. Smith House in Forest Grove was featured last March and received 5,000 hits the day it was featured on the main page, which is a bit more than the 5-10 per day it usually gets.

Last year, WikiProject Oregon had 153 DYKs, or just under one every two days. That’s pretty good, and a decent increase from 2007. This year, my hope is we can get it to once every other day, or about 183. Right now, through 18 days we 10, so we are on pace.

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