Category: Wikipedia

A very short history of Wikipedia

The history of Wikipedia is something that has its own Wikipedia page and why wouldn’t it? The “most popular wiki on the public web in terms of page views” surely rises to level of notability required for Wikipedia entries. If you’re interested in the long history of Wikipedia, I suggest that you check out that page and the talk page. If you’re interested in a short version – read on. If you’d like to read more on the topic consider Joseph Michael Reagle Jr’s Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia and Phoebe Ayers et al’s How Wikipedia Works and How You Can Be a Part of It. The latter has an excellent set of resources like cheat sheets in addition to a great historical narrative that reaches back to the 17th century. The former is a celebratory look at the culture and community of Wikipedia. I’ll also be working on a piece on the topic with Moya Bailey, so watch for that to come.

Here’s a very short primer:

Wikipedia is one instance of a Wiki, a web-based collaborative authoring environment. There are a variety of kinds of wiki software packages, including options for public, enterprise, and personal wikis. All wikis use either a simple markup language or a rich-text editor. Wikipedia uses MediaWiki and the associated markup language; there is also a visual editor available for Wikipedia, providing users with an interface that is more like that in a word document.

While the concept behind Wikipedia is as old as 18th century encyclopedias and discussions of a free knowledge web tool were started in the 1990’s, Wikipedia as such was launched on Monday 15 January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. A not-for-profit enterprise, Wikipedia is largely run and authored by a pool of volunteer editors. The WikiMedia Foundation is a related non-profit that employs staff dedicated to “encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual, educational content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge. The Wikimedia Foundation operates some of the largest collaboratively edited reference projects in the world, including Wikipedia.”

From the beginning, Wales and Sanger explored different notions of authority, credibility, and production – including beginning with Nupedia, an online encyclopedia authored by experts and designed to be rigorously peer-reviewed. That idea fell victim to some very familiar issues around time to completion (think the lag in traditional print publishing!) and limited pools of expertise. A more nimble side or “feeder” project was developed that rapidly overtook Nupedia – Wikipedia.

And so in 2001 the amazingly rapid growth of Wikipedia began. With that growth have come a number of challenges, not the least of which is the remarkably gendered participation in editing. According to the 2013 Gender Gap Revisited study, at least 84% of Wikipedians are male and 60% of editors are between the ages of 17-40, with 40% coming in at 29 years of age or below. This and other inequalities on the site, both in terms of editors (and here) and content have received press attention in the last year. Within the Wikipedia community, efforts like the Wiki Women’s Collaborative and the Teahouse have sought to address some of the issues that give rise to the disparity. Alternative wikis have also appeared, some like the Conservapedia seek to limit the influence of equity efforts and others like World Afropedia aim to address the English and Western-centric quality of English Wikipedia.

Interested in more? Wikipedia in the Classroom Resource List, Feminist Interventions, Be Bold…Skip Review, and Teaching With Wikipedia

Wikipedia in the Classroom: Resource List

You’re teaching with Wikipedia; you’re thinking about teaching with Wikipedia – either way, here’s a list of useful resources. Is there something that you’ve found particularly helpful that I should add here? Let me know and I’ll get it up ASAP.

Wikipedia’s “Welcome to Wikipedia,”  School and University Projects page, “How to Use Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool,” “Education Case Studies,” and “Education Program Handouts.”

Information on Wikipedia’s “Neutral Point of View” and verifiability and citation standards.

My own post on skipping the review process (which is aimed at other audiences).

Adrianne Wadewitz’s Intro to Wikipedia video (1 hour, wonderful, shot at Pitzer College)

Adrianne Wadewitz, Anne Ellen Geller, Jon Beasley-Murray essay “Wiki-hacking: Opening up the academy with Wikipedia”

Liz Losh’s interview of Adrianne Wadewitz on effective teaching with Wikipedia and Losh’s example “warm up” assignment.

Indiana University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning’s “Teaching with Wikipedia”

If you’re planning to do a “edit-a-thon” rather than or as part of a class, the following resources are available:

Wikipedia’s “How to run an edit-a-thon”

Wikipedia Interventions for Feminist Dialogues on Technology

 Academics nationally and internationally are beginning to integrate work on Wikipedia into their courses; it is a great way to get students to think about public writing, the creation of knowledge, citation, and to hone a few digital authoring skills. Many of the faculty teaching  “Feminist Dialogues on Technology” – the FemTechNet Distributed Online Collaborative Course (DOCC) that is running this year – are going to include Wikipedia assignments. Adrianne Wadewitz and I are leading this area of FemTechNet work and we’ve created this list as a way partially representing the ways one can participate in Wikipedia culture and knowledge production – while there is a lot there, it’s not exhaustive. As we continue working, I’ll be putting up additional resources, but it is worth checking out Adrianne’s extensive work in this area – including this: “How to Use Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool” by Liz Losh (interviewing Adrianne).

There are some basic categories of work:

  • Adding information
  • Format/design of information
  • Participating in discussion
  • Policy

Which we can break out into work items:

Create new articles about

Work on existing articles by

  • adding sections,
  • adding information,
  • adding citations,
  • citing sources on feminist topics,
  • citing women’s work on any topic, or
  • citing feminist sources on non-overtly feminist topics (e.g. “history of the novel”).

Clean up existing articles by 

Below are more advanced work items – ones that can be undertaken once an editor has built up some authority and experience.

Adding Images (requires an understanding of copyright issues)

  • find new images to add to Wikimedia Commons – this is a challenging task, especially for historical women
  • find images on Commons to add to Wikipedia articles

Participating in conversations (after established oneself as a memeber)

  • about the structure of the site,
  • deletion discussions,
  • possible violations of the civil code and banning,
  • policy (see the notice boards on the policy items),
  • offering advice about sources etc,
  • or the various Wikiprojects.

Help create and sustain the community

  • welcome and work with new members (TeaHouse),
  • identify and address vandalism,
  • work to build consensus by participating in talk conversations,
  • vote for various high-level positions, or
  • serve on one of the various administrative committees.

Be Bold! Create a Wikipedia Page and Skip the Review

I’ve had the pleasure of talking with new editors (I, myself, am relatively new) about Wikipedia editing, both at our WikiStorm event at THATCamp Feminisms this spring and via social media. In my academic circles, which includes a number of medieval and early modern scholars, it’s become pretty popular to edit pages. We have a lot of knowledge to contribute and I’m delighted to see so many people adding to Wikipedia.

One issue that has come up repeatedly is the review process – you can create a new article and submit it for review, which takes an agonizingly long time given the backlog. Or, you can follow the Wikipedia advice to “Be Bold” and just publish that article right away.

This post offers a step by step guide on how to publish, rather than submitting your article to queue of dispair. You can also find much of this information on Wikipedia’s own pages on the topic.

First step – log into your Wikipedia account. Don’t have one? Create one!

To demonstrate the process, I first needed to decide what I’d be writing on. I’m an early modern literature and history of science scholar and I focus on creating Wikipedia pages that provide information on women writers in both literature and natural philosophy (early sciences). So I was looking for an early modern/18th century writer who did not yet have an entry. A simple search of Wikipedia using the authors list at the Women Writers Project revealed that there were no existing articles on either of Margaret Holford, or her daughter, also named Margaret Holford.Image

Knowing that there are no existing pages, I then clicked on the red link circled in the image below to create a new page.


Which brought up the following screen, where I was able to create the new page:Image

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 2.28.24 PM

Now, you can edit here, but it’s worth using your user Sandbox to draft, revise, and even receive feedback on your new page creations. Rather than make the page, live, here, I had already drafted it in my user Sandbox. The first image to the right here is my empty Sandbox, then below it is the draft in progress. You can (and should!) use the preview function to see how your pages look along the way.

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 3.08.57 PM

Among the benefits of using the Sandbox is that you can revise your content, formatting, and citations at length. You can save the draft and come back later, when you’ve finally gotten your hands on that critical book, without risking having uncited material on the live page. Once you’ve refined your content to your satisfaction, you can then copy and past the entire field into the Create page.

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 3.13.30 PM

What I’m doing here in the image on the right is copying and pasting the content from my Sandbox into the Create page. Note that above the image line there is a preview of the page and then, if I scroll down, there is a Save/Preview button.

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 3.13.40 PM

Hit Save and Voilà! A page on Margaret Holford (the Elder) exists!

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 3.13.57 PM

Now,  this is really short page – I really should have more quality content here, but I wanted to get a demo up fast. So I need to flesh out the content further. Beyond that, the usual next steps for me are to link this page to any relevant existing pages, including those of Margaret’s family. I’ll also likely want to create a page for Margaret the younger and to connect the two pages. But both of those items are work for another day.

Learning about “notability” and thinking print dependence

I’m a new wikipedia editor. If I make it past the fourth day, I will have reached the status of “Established Editor” – apparently most people don’t make it that long. I feel a little bit like Atreyu approaching the Southern Oracle in The Neverending Story.


I hope I don’t get zapped and I have a sense that there is something a bit mysterious about this test.

But a couple of things are currently tumbling around in my head about what I’ve learned thus far.

The first is just how conservative Wikipedia is as a knowledge structure. As a “tertiary” resource, an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is designed to depend on the printed word for its authority. If it isn’t in print, it’s going to be hard to have robust citations of the sort that Wikipedia demands. It’s not about truth, it’s about what can be cited.

Of course, there are problems here, especially as a group of us begin to tackle issues of inclusivity by improving or adding pages by and about women and people of color. These are often the very same groups whose histories, voices, and art have not made it into print. There the claim is often that it isn’t profitable, and the driving force of market forces is part of what the “free” space of Wikipedia is supposed to push against. Of course, we recognize that there is a lot that isn’t “free” about Wikipedia, but I had not recognized that as a “tertiary” structure, Wikipedia may reproduce many of the same market effects that we’ve long seen in print. While twitter this evening brought the notion of oral citation into the conversation, I know very little about it and will have to search further.

This issue of print dependence comes to a head in Wikipedia’s policy regarding “notablity” which is remarkably literal in privileging that which has been “noted” by means of being printed. It seems strange in our current context that what is “worthy of notice” remains so intricately tied to what has been printed. I’m sure someone has done some great work on this, but I’m just coming to it and I’m a bit flabbergasted. Given that the Wikipedia standard is to write for a global audience (a laudable goal in many ways), the bar is quite high for what can be argued to be “notable,” and I worry that the work of women, people of color, queer and trans people, and those of lower economic class fall right through the sieve. What’s worse, as the economics of print become even more untenable, the problem is going to get worse, not better.

While the Wikipedia folks seem to think this is not necessarily problem, noting that “If the subject has not been covered outside of Wikipedia, no amount of improvements to the Wikipedia content will suddenly make the subject notable,” I think we have a knowledge transmission structure that is worth spending a fair amount of time thinking about. This is a topic of much debate, I’m learning, which seems right to me. We should be taking an interest in how we build and disseminate knowledge.

Now this post was prompted by the suggestion that an ongoing twitter conversation could be more robust in comments, so bring on the comments. I hope they’ll teach this newbie more about a subject she could clearly get engrossed in.