Dipping my toes into Wikipedia

April 7, 2011

I have talked a lot about the inevitability that students and the general public will turn to Wikipedia as a first resort for information about the ancient world.  But I’d never actually edited a Wikipedia entry.  Then @palaeofuturist (Gabriel Bodard) issued a challenge on Twitter:

How about a #classics #wikipedia hack day? Ask every classicist: “What’s the worst thing about classics coverage in wikipedia?” Then fix it!

I’m not sure how to make a lot of classical scholars edit Wikipedia – though I do like the  idea of a workshop in a department to introduce the concept and provide some basic training.  But I am sure how to make myself edit Wikipedia – sign up and do it.

So I did.  The first step is easy – creating an account is painless and requires only a username and password, not even an email address.  I used my real name – I don’t plan to get into any Wikipedia flame wars, I hope!

Since the discovery of an early-period Linear B tablet at Iklaina has been in the news this week, I thought I’d check to see if this new information had yet been added to the Wikipedia entry on Linear B.  The answer was barely – an added-on sentence in the Chronology section, not integrated into the article as a whole.

So, I prepared to edit the entry.

And then I got stuck before I even began, overwhelmed by the infelicities of the article and deciding on what ought to be covered and how it should be covered better – and I am by no means a specialist in Linear B!  THIS is why scholars don’t spend their time improving Wikipedia entries – it’s actually far harder to edit an article built in layers over years by many people than it is to write an article from scratch. And with the possibility that my edits would simply be reverted by possessive former editors of the article (hypothesized as one reason women are less likely to edit Wikipedia than men), I was doubly daunted.

I’m honestly not sure how to go forward.  I’m really interested in the way I’m feeling about this, but not yet able to articulate it well.  Crowdsourcing is complicated, I guess because the people who make up the crowd are complicated.

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