Wikipedia Improvement Initiative 2013

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As part of their subject in hypermedia and markup languages, students chose a Wikipedia article as a pet project. The overall idea was to improve Wikipedia (for instance, expanding on stubs) or to create an article from scratch. As editors, they were responsible for improving the quality (reliability/readability/usability) of their chosen article.

Since their project pages will likely change over time, I won’t link to the actual articles (though they should be easy to find). Instead, here are some quotes from their reflections on being a Wikipedian and on Wikipedia as a system (emphasis mine).

1. On becoming Wikipedia editors

I learned that as an editor you must be careful not to infringe copyright. It is important for an editor to keep by the rules of Wikipedia in order to maintain the integrity of Wikipedia. One of the first things I learned (the hard way) about creating pages is that Wikipedia is NOT the place to write about commercial topics (i.e. advertisements). I also learned that other Wikipedians will criticize, change and possibly delete your work if it does not conform to Wikipedia standards.

Being a Wikipedia editor is hard. As strange and broad a statement that is to make, it’s the truth. Around the end of April, when The Pop Underground was being released, I remember rushing to source all the things I needed to add to my article just to make sure I was the first editor to put up the new information. There is also always a balance between giving all the information possible on a topic and making it condense and concise.

Sad to say however I learned that it is not easy to expand “stubs”, as sometimes there is just not enough information about the subject available, or information about a topic is not easy to find, or worse yet that there is so much disambiguation, that you end up finding a lot of information about things that are not relevant to your article topic.

A feature that I enjoyed as an editor was how easy it is to use templates. One on the templates I used was the feedback template ([[Category:Article Feedback 5 Additional Articles]]) that allows users to give feedback to Wikipedia articles. It is very easy to add references since Wikipedia has built in tools that allows you to fill in a form with the relevant information necessary to create a citation automatically.

I was lucky enough in my article to not experience any editing wars. I think this is something that should be avoided but it is not always possible. If two authors reason differently about the same set of facts, there is no proven way to determine who is right.

Citation is very important, and understandably so, I struggled sometimes to keep myself from making unsupported statements. It is important to carefully consider your changes, someone else worked hard on the article that you’re editing, and approaching it with this understanding makes you more likely to make more helpful changes, and act with sensitivity when writing update summaries, and deleting paragraphs. This sensitivity is essential in my opinion for the community to stay collaborative, if people keep treating each other with respect, the community as a whole will benefit.

During my discourse with the school I learned that they believe that the creator of an article is the owner of that article and is responsible for the maintenance of the article. I had to explain to them that it is an open platform for anyone to create and alter pages and that there is no one owner. As a Wikipedia editor, I think it is important to educate the general public where we can about the nature and goals of Wikipedia. I learned that the Wikipedia community is very helpful and passionate about the quality of articles. Community members made multiple small edits to improve the quality of the article.

I learned that being a Wikipedia editor, a great sense of responsibility and purpose is placed upon the editor. Being a completely open platform, driven only by users, a contributor always has some sense of attachment to work done. It may be emotional, educational, expressive or even just the sense of purpose to contribute knowledge. The attachment to a certain object or subject drives the community to aim to contribute meaningful information. This has lead to most editors using personal time to contribute to something they regards as important or valuable to a greater community, and causing others then to contribute in the same manner. This to me is a wonderful phenomenon, resulting in more than just an encyclopedia , but a community within the system, being users themselves, and the work they contribute.
At first I was a little intimidated by the idea of creating a wiki article, but once I got started I realized that it doesn’t have to feel intimidating at all. I learned that as a Wikipedia editor there was a lot of help and support to help a new editor to do their thing. I did, however, also learn that it is important to write about subjects you are familiar with, especially if you are starting out. But with enough research I could even write an article about “Native American Weaponry”. I also learned that I still have a lot to learn.
I found it very easy to learn how to use the Wikipedia editor and especially to create inter-wiki links. Templates impressed me as I was never aware of them as a Wikipedia user. I was also very impressed with how many resources there are on Wikipedia to help you get started, learn the policies and help you become a successful Wikipedia editor. I was not aware of the Wikipedia Commons where all the media objects are stored and found it very accessible to add existing images into your article with automated “add this image” buttons.
Being a Wikipedia editor is more than just knowing what you are talking about. You need to make sure that you do not make any mistakes when altering someone else’s work. Some editors are vastly competitive, and seem to take ownership of an article very seriously.

I edited an article about gardens in Nepal where I tried to add more links and changed some text; there was also more work that needed to be done with the article like adding citations. The article was originally written appallingly with a lot of ambiguity and bias. My edit attempted to eliminate the bias and I believe I successfully eliminated ambiguity. However, the edit was not accepted. The lesson learned here was that the editor is not always right and in my case almost never.

2. On Wikipedia as a system

I learned a lot about Wikipedia markup language, specifically about linking. I learned that Wikipedia is extremely strict about the content that it contains in terms of copyright infringement. I learned how Wikipedia namespaces work. I learned how to upload files. I learned how to create ‘training’ pages before releasing them into the public namespace. I learned that it can take up to a week for a page to be approved for the public namespace. I learned that images can’t be uploaded for sandbox pages (So the image in my article is not the correct image. I can’t upload the correct image until my page is approved).

File uploads are [also] very stringently patrolled, with uploads only being allowed to a user after ten user edits, hence why I wasn’t the one to upload The Pop Underground’s album art, as I did not have ten edits to my name at the time. File uploads and referencing are done not via direct upload, but by a file namespace reference, which, I feel, may confuse new users, as it certainly confused me. File upload dialogues and forms, however, are very well done, with Wikipedia covering every copyright base and informing uploaders well about the various legal issues, as well as use cases, of the files they wish to upload.

What I learned about Wikipedia as a hypermedia system was that it was very similar to HTML in the sense that it also made use of tags (e.g. ). As a hypermedia system it had a good sense of navigation especially between articles and their own edit and talk pages. So it was easy to find out a lot about a single article’s history and structure. I found it very informative with its collaborative aspect, as pages would have notes left by editors informing users about the page’s status and any problems that the page may contain. This gave me a more collaborative sense as it was more obvious that people were indirectly communicating to each other and outside users. So it created a sense of not only inviting editors to help fix pages, but also people who were regular Wikipedia users who might actually be able to help.

Wikipedia content can very easily be edited by anyone. A feature of Wikipedia that I also found to be very interesting is how it records and stores every single modification that a user makes. Wikipedia as a hypermedia system is very powerful. It allows for the creation of very simple links between Wikipedia articles by simply enclosing terms in square brackets.

Adding images and other media to your page is still a cumbersome process at this moment, but taking into consideration the various copyright precautions in place it is justifiable. I think wikipedia gives the author enough tools to create a well formatted document. The reusability of references also makes it easy to reference highly academic  articles.

The markup language used in Wikipedia is easy, and optimized for use by authors who may not necessarily have knowledge about html. The help section that stretches over the edit space when editing is really helpful, and it seems that it is context aware, providing most useful help in the situation. It was surprising to find though that external links are so different from internal links, I would have expected links to be consistent in this regard. The ease of adding citation and internal links were pleasantly surprising, and a great optimization for something that is supposed to function as a collaborative encyclopedia.

I learned that Wikipedia allows for deep linking of both internal and external content. This increases the richness of the article. Wikipedia has disambiguation pages to allow users to distinguish between articles with the same name (e.g. the maroon colour and the Maroon people.) Links can be annotated with information to aid understanding and highlight the relevance of the link in the context that it has been used in.

[Although] it is an easy authoring tool for beginners, more advanced tasks may prove problematic. There are a few system responses indicating faulty syntax, or possible improvements, but mainly provide a solution in a complex manner to rookie users . Mostly solutions are presented within the hypersystem, using hypermedia to explain how a solution is to be applied, but this can be difficult to understand if the user is not already used to, or knowledgeable within the hypersystem, leading to more confusion. The fact that the complete system is marked up in hypermedia (user page, talk page, etc), and anybody can edit any part of it, makes it difficult to comprehend to a user who does not understand the functioning behind a hypermedia system.
Wikipedia is even bigger than I thought it to be. In trying to find a page that does not yet exist on the English Wikipedia, I stumbled upon other languages Wikipedias and was impressed with the many languages there are available. I did however learn that in languages other than English, there is still a lot of work to be done by Wikipedia editors before they will be on the same standard as the English Wikipedia. I thought Wikipedia is very successful in the way it functions as a hypermedia system with the ease in which editors can link between articles and also providing for external linking.
I experienced first hand how large Wikipedia really is and what an impressive system it is. When you look at Wikipedia from a reader’s point of view, you only see all the information that contributors have created and each article just looks like a plain document with some links to other documents. But when you start using Wikipedia as a contributor, you realise how impressive Wikipedia, and the tools that you can use to create articles, really are. I was also very impressed with how many help articles there are for new contributors and how many advanced articles there are for more experienced contributors.
Wikipedia is currently overflowing with information. This is wonderful, since it means that you can get information pertaining to just about anything you would like to know about. It does create a bit of an information overflow however. Various articles describing seemingly similar content pop up with nearly unnoticeable differences in subject matter. I found this a bit confusing at times, and it appears that other authors feel the same way.
I found that people create link to anything they can within an article, I also did it in an article I edited and in the article I wrote. When I first encountered it, I thought it was haphazard and had no meaning or bearing on the page I was on. However, I have learned that the linking creates a richly connected network of articles which have link and relationships with one another. It is these links that improve navigation through Wikipedia. I found myself jumping from article to article without typing a search query but by using the links within the articles.
Wikipedia doesn’t seem to be an adaptive hypermedia system though since very little adaption seems to take place and very little user modelling, if any at all, takes place for people without Wikipedia accounts. However Wikipedia has proven to be a very powerful hypermedia system with a lot more information than traditional encyclopaedias and its hypermedia linking is effective for both searching and browsing between related concepts than traditional encyclopaedia.
User created templates, which are globally changeable through the pages that use them, take care of repetitive tasks and on top of that the user doesn’t have to make use of all the items.
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