Wikipedia Improvement Initiative 2013


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.

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Beating the drum for DRM?

I finished marking some PUB310 semester tests. In one of the questions, I ask students to suggest criteria that would influence their choice of ebook vendor. A criterion that is often used is the use of digital rights management (DRM) – or at least, the option of providing DRM for titles. According to the memorandum, this statement is part of an acceptable answer.

Given my personal feelings about DRM in general (feelings that are often compounded by Steam), this criterion worries me – especially when presented as a quick solution for  protecting intellectual property. Frankly, I want them to realise that selecting DRM as a default option without considering the effects of that choice is a very bad thing.

In Beating the drum for DRM?, Appazoogle’s Leah Thompson summarises discussions for and against the use of DRM. Leah shows how the Triangle of Fraud – a model used to investigate accounting fraud – can be used to consider the relationship between DRM and piracy. One of the components of this triangle is rationalization: ‘I already own the book version.’ ‘It’s not worth as much as they’re trying to charge.” The other two, pressure (high prices) and opportunity (cheap bandwidth), might imply that lowering prices can play as great a role as reducing opportunities to pirate (such as litigation or access restrictions).


A makeover for the public library

Libraries that lend out toys, bikes and plant seeds! Keira Lyons from Appazoogle presents cases of libraries doing things differently in an article that considers makeovers for public libraries.

I’m a geek, but love books first and foremost (# 2)


This is the second in a series of posts [1][2][3] that explain just how much I love reading, especially books. I’m a technologist, a digital media consumer, a gamer — but first and foremost, a reader. I often feel the need to justify this love, being involved in an industry that’s undergoing great changes – and being, to some, a representative of the great Disruption.

Ogre No-Grr: Practical Childhood Lexicography

Cover of Ogre, Ogre, the fifth book in the Xanth series by Piers Anthony

The first series of books [of which I exhausted our library’s supply] was the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. In this narrative universe, Ogres are so stupid that they can only speak in simple rhyme.

In Ogre, Ogre [Xanth Series #5], we encounter Smash the Ogre whose human ancestry tempers him slightly.

I had no idea how to pronounce “Ogre”. To me, it was the “-ogger” in “hogger”. At some stage in the story, Smash expresses his peaceful intentions towards a stranger by saying: “Ogre, no grr”. This discovery was delightful because it was a fundamental lesson in language for me, conveyed through rhyme.

This was the same kind of lesson I learned when I recalled the sound a donkey makes from an Asterix and Obelix book.

Also, to a 9 year-old still learning English, Piers used a lot of ‘big words’ in his books. I recall having the Afrikaans-English translating dictionary close to me all the time while reading his books.

Thinking about this makes me want to find out when, exactly, I borrowed the books from our library. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if my old public library still had that on record?

OpenLibrary and Overdrive for Libraries in South Africa

Update: I was made to understand that the policy I quoted is because Overdrive uses the Adobe Content Server to distribute its ebooks. I think I’m going to have to speak to actual academic libraries that use Overdrive to clarify this.

We’re having a meeting with an Overdrive representative here in South Africa this week. Overdrive started offering ebook services to public libraries in the US and is now is targeting higher education.

It’s gratifying to see that South Africa is part of their distribution platform, but there are a two things that already concern me.

1) Devices assigned to a single patron

From Overdrive’s terms of use:

You may not download Digital Content to any school media center or library Device or any other school-issued Device that allows for access by multiple users. Digital Content may be used on school-issued Devices that are issued to students under a one-to-one device program where each Device is assigned for the exclusive use by a single student.

What’s a school-issued device in this case? Any PC on University grounds, or only PCs in the library? We expect students to want to borrow ebooks on their personal devices – mobile phones, ereaders, media tablets. Can they only read Overdrive-delivered content on devices owned by the library? Does the library have to assign a reading device to each patron in order to comply with these terms?

What does access by multiple users imply? Library PCs – and most campus PCs located in computer laboratories – can be used by anyone. The only restriction is that you have to be a registered library patron / registered for a module that requires laboratory access.

2) Kindle lending – when will it be here?

Overdrive announced the ability for patrons to borrow books on their Kindles. However, this is only available in US public libraries. Assuming that Overdrive is able to serve content relevant to an academic library, when will our Kindle patrons be able to make use of this service?

Alternative to Overdrive: Open Library

Ria Groenewald mentioned the Open Library to me. It’s one of the Internet Archive’s projects (another is the Wayback Machine – check what the University of Pretoria’s web page looked like in 1997).

I’m impressed. Their premise is to provide a web page for every book ever published.

Reading through the F.A.Q., I discovered the following:

We plan to connect with a distributed lending system via the Internet Archive’s new BookServer. Stay tuned.

Here’s a presentation on BookServer, and here’s a more detailed discussion about what BookServer is.

I’m a big Google fan (Gmail has transformed email for me and my postgraduate students really liked Google Docs), but I found this quote from Chelsea’s essay very relevant to the book industry:

While it may be easy to assume that Google doesn’t have a competitor in the sphere of digitizing and cataloguing books online, BookServer is coming up fast and has many assets that Google lacks: admirable goals, transparency, and partnerships and alliances.

I also read up more about borrowing from the Open Library:

The easiest way to find books to borrow is to jump straight to the Lending Library subject page which shows works which have editions that are available through either OverDrive or the Internet Archive. We generate links through to WorldCat for many of our books to help find a physical copy near you.

So OpenLibrary isn’t an alternative to Overdrive, really. It uses Overdrive as one of its content platforms.

I’d seriously advise libraries to become familiar with both services.