RE: WIKIPEDIA

Subject: RE: WIKIPEDIA
From: "Tim J. Slager" <TSlager -at- isdcorporation -dot- com>
To: RÃdacteur en chef <editorialstandards -at- gmail -dot- com>, "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com >> TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2011 15:12:16 -0500

Good news providers and reporters do not use Wikipedia--or any encyclopedia--as an authoritative source. Encyclopedias play an effective role summarizing or explaining topics. But even in high school (long before Wikipedia, or even the web for that matter) we were taught not to depend on an encyclopedia as a source.

I suspect Wikipedia lags behind Britannica in editorial quality, but it compares favorably in accuracy and exceeds it by far in breadth.

And yes, I have edited articles. They are mostly too far off the beaten path to invite much twiddling from those young "geeky ones."

tims

-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+tslager=isdcorporation -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com [mailto:techwr-l-bounces+tslager=isdcorporation -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf Of RÃdacteur en chef
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2011 2:28 PM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com >> TECHWR-L
Subject: WIKIPEDIA

Does Wikipedia count as technical writing?
If not, stop reading here, and Admin can spank me (no permission
needed, just sayin'...)

If so, well, a recent newspaper article warned women, and men of sensibility,
that Wikipedia - used more and more, by more and more people (and reporters)
as an authoritative reference - is being written largely by 25-year-old males.

This is problematic for many reasons, but here are two:

- 25-year old men are lacking in life experience in general, and the
geeky ones
who are most likely to sit at computers for endless hours [re-]writing
Wikipedia
pages are least likely to have wide educational and experiential backgrounds.
Certainly, they don't have a woman's perspective on any topic.

- many (most) of them are not very good writers

The first is a problem because they don't even know they HAVE biases,
let alone where those biases fit in the various spectra and axes. And the
people most likely to edit their submissions are other young, narrowly
educated geeks. Yeah, all that "history" in all those war games you've
played for years is real and accurate and complete...

The second is a problem because reasonably good writers (who also
have wide and deep experience in many cases) are discouraged from
writing submissions, because of what will happen to their work.

As an example, I basically wrote-the-book on skydiving/parachuting
in Wikipedia, early this century. Some of the middle section is still
recognizably my writing. But somebody - or several successive
somebodies - did some necessary updating of the first section and
other sections, and made the writing choppy, childish and ugly.
They also introduced some editorial compression - as if space were
a consideration - that brought factual inaccuracies and reduced
clarity.

Early material that I wrote about libertarians and libertarianism
has been totally obliterated and, depending on what day I
revisit, has lost much in the translation.

I've often recognized different writing styles within single Wikipedia
pages on other topics, but I'm reminded how spotty and irregular
the standards can be.

If the newspaper article is right about the demographic description
of the average Wikipedia writer/contributor, then much is explained.
But these days, chances are the author cadged her article from ...
Wikipedia.

I can see a Wiki becoming legitimately authoritative on hard
technical subjects, but I'm not so sure about anything to do
with culture, history, or anything that has a subjective component,
or where anybody's livelihood (or profit margin) is at stake.

An example of the latter would be cases where large companies
[no names, but they live in Redmond] employ significant staffs
to re-write Wikipedia pages to suit the corporate take on any
given topic, and then to keep watch and prevent repairs from
being made. All the dedicated amateurs in the world aren't
going to beat a paid staff that works night and day and has
programming staff to assist in their watching and "correcting"
duties... as well as resources to make their contributions
appear to come from different people all over the world.

Of course, even if a Wikipedia page is relatively accurate,
and reasonably free of bias, there's the likelihood that many
people will never see it. If they happen to be using the
wrong search engine (rhymes with ping), they might be served
a cached version that says what the engine owners want
it to say, rather than what the real wiki page says most
of the time.

Do other list members post and edit Wikipedia pages?
How successful are you at maintaining editorial consistency
and accuracy of content - or do you bother to go back
and police your submissions?

Probably your contributions to (say) Wikipedia might not
be a good item for your resume. The prospective employer
might visit on the day when the 25-year-old male "contributor",
with an ax(e) to grind, has just "improved" the content.

</kevin>
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References:
WIKIPEDIA: From: RÃdacteur en chef

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