Thursday, September 21, 2006

Whither Wikipedia?

I guess it's official. I'm a computer nerd. Now, don't let my new title fool you - just because I'm a computer nerd does not mean that I have the faintest idea how computers work (or, perhaps more importantly, why they don't work). I don't know the difference between Delphi, Perl or Java (isn't the latter slang for coffee?), and I certainly don't know why the letter "W" follows the letter "Q" on a keyboard. But I took the first step toward being a computer nerd by creating a blog. I took the plunge tonight by creating a Wikipedia entry. But even that didn't make me cross the threshold from being an everyday nerd to a computer nerd. What cinched it, was that I enjoyed it.

I followed the advice of my professor, Bill Turkel, and created an entry that related to my field of research: technology. Personally, I am more interested in the history of technology, and if I can be even more abstract, to the history of thought of technology, or what I am calling, the intellectual history of technology. But how can I ever propose to study that, if I can't even describe what technology is?

Enter Wikipedia.

My first exercise in defining a term. Online. For anyone to read. It's an exciting, but altogether discomforting venture, because I know that my hard work can be (more likely, will be) deleted and re-written by some anonymous drifter out there in cyberspace. If I knew how to virtually shake my fist, I would. For now, I'll settle on physically shaking my fist at the screen.

If I don't like the changes to my entry, then maybe I can focus on the soon-to-arrive, democratically sounding, Citizendium, which promises to be Wikipedia's newest challenger. Its goal is to "create a responsible community and a good global citizen" by creating a trustworthy online resource and reference site. Its basics are similar to Wikipedia in that anyone can create or edit an existing entry, but it departs from the Wikipedian philosophy by having each entry monitored by specialists who will have to publicly state their credentials.

It will be interesting to see if a Wikipedia-style website that boasts increased editorial control will have an impact on the way Internet sites are evaluated in historical research. I also can't help but wonder if people who want to submit an entry to Citizendium will chafe under editorial restrictions and revert back to Wikipedia's free-flowing narratives. Or perhaps this new website will be to Wikipedia what Google was to Yahoo!. Who knows? As Niels Bohr once commented, "prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future."


Blogger laurenburger said...

Hi, Tea. I had never heard of Citizendium. Thanks for pointing it out. I like how it hopes to be "the flagship of a new set of responsibly-managed free knowledge products." I really hate to admit it, because it makes me feel super conservative, but (in both our digital history, and in my public history class), I keep coming back to a sense that we need some kind of expert body to manage all of this open source knowledge we keep compiling online. Ugh, see, I sound like an old, crusty grandma in saying that! But, really, I agree with the project description that the use of peoples' real names will work to create a responsible community.

2:05 PM  
Blogger nquiroga said...

October / 2006

We are interested in learning more about history blogs and in finding ways to promote them. To aid in this effort, we are circulating a small questionnaire and will make the results available in Tapera (in Spanish) and in Digital History Hacks (in English). If you wish to participate, please return the questionnaire to
Thank you very much.

William Turkel - Digital History Hacks - Digital History Hacks
Nicolás Quiroga – Tapera –

First post (mm/dd/Y):

1. Which history-related blogs do you visit most frequently? (1-5)
2. What factors do you think are involved in your choice of blogs to read? (For example: quality of information, writing, institution, author profile, rankings, entertainment value...)
3. What factors characterize your own blog? Which are most important?
4. Have you changed the objectives of your blog since you created it?

6:26 AM  

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