Should you use Wikipedia when doing research?

The News Literacy Project, a U.S. organization devoted to middle-and high school students evaluate the various kinds of information they encounter,  just released a seven minute video about Wikipedia. It features two librarians, addressing whether and how to incorporate Wikipedia into research, and — relatedly — how the site is produced. Excellent overview & introduction for all levels.

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Wikipedia’s support page

Most users of Wikipedia aren’t aware that Wikipedia, like other online services, has a support staff. Granted, it is an all-volunteer staff and it can sometimes take months to get an answer to your question because of the backlog that often exists. But it’s a free service, and no one will try to upsell you to Wikipedia’s premium version. Many who’ve used the service have been quite satisfied with the results.

That said, there are complicating matters and some ethical issues involved that will be discussed in a subsequent blog post. In this post I’d like to focus on how you can access the Wikipedia support system. The following screencast is designed to do just that.

Once you’ve submitted your email request, it is entered in a support ticket system (often referred to by Wikipedians as “OTRS,” the name of the software used to run the system.) Your ticket will eventually be processed by a Wikipedia volunteer. All subsequent communication will be via email between you and the volunteer who, with any luck, will help you with your request.

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Steward elections

My friend Chris, who is an occasional — but not obsessive — Wikipedian,​ recently noted how challenging it can be to track the various elections and so forth in the Wikipedia world. This was, I think, a very astute observation in a discussion that began around “Gamergate,” a particularly controversial case being heard by the English Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee. Much like the politics of government entities, the politics of Wikipedia can be very hard to understand, if you’re not deeply enmeshed in the relevant day-to-day activities…or even if you are! But many people — perhaps all of us — have a stake in the healthy functioning of Wikipedia, so it’s important to engage with these processes.

So, let’s look at a current example. Yesterday, an election for “stewards” began; it will be open until February 28, which gives you some time to get up to speed. Continue reading

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Not for sale: Administrative services

In Part 1 of this blog series on Wikipedia ethics, I explored the general principles that guide our work, and how we advise our clients in Wikipedia engagement; and I gave a bunch of links to our past writings, and various relevant web pages. Today, I’ll explore how I handle my responsibilities as a Wikipedia administrator, as relates to my paid work with Wiki Strategies. Continue reading

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Using Wikipedia in an unknown language

There are Wikipedia sites in hundreds of languages. Are you ever interested in the contents of an article in a language you don’t know? Or want to reach somebody who works in a language you don’t know? This simple trick will make it much easier to find your way around:

(The video below is embedded from YouTube; if you prefer to view the video on Commons, here’s the link.)

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A Wikipedia portrait anchors a sports star’s place in history

LeGarrette Blount, as photographed in 2009 by Alex McDougall.

LeGarrette Blount, as a Duck, 2009 . Photo: Alex McDougall, CC BY-SA 3.0

Back in 2009, the Oregon Ducks’ star running back (college football) was suspended for most of the season, following a post-game flare-up in the nationally televised season opener. With rumors and hyperbole flying all over the Internet, I decided to work on his Wikipedia bio; it’s a good way to keep fact distinct from fantasy. It was exciting to see the bio attract nearly 19,000 hits in one day — but I didn’t start my work until the next day, when the numbers started to decline.

But this week, that same running back — LeGarrette Blount — is on his way to his first Super Bowl, now in his second stint with the New England Patriots. Just yesterday, his article had nearly 21,000 hits. I decided to revisit the article, which had gone through the “Good Article” peer review process more than five years ago, to see what remains.

The first thing I notice is that others have added the details of Blount’s career with five NFL teams, and provided detailed statistics, with numerous references. This is not surprising; sports fans can be meticulous Wikipedia editors, and love to document the exploits of their favorite teams and players. But the quality does seem higher than many sports biographies. It’s pleasing to see that every section has at least one citation, if not more; most of them appear to be to high quality sources, and are well formatted. This seems to be common with articles that have gone through a peer review process; Wikipedians hold new additions to a higher standard than on other Wikipedia articles, and take care to preserve the article’s quality.

In particular, though, I was interested in the photo I used to illustrate the article.

Continue reading

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The ethics of Wikipedia work, part 1: review

One of our core values at Wiki Strategies is dealing with Wikipedia (and the collaborative Internet in general) in a way that is responsible and ethical. Wikipedia is a project that requires neutral presentation of factual material. Conflicts of interest are inevitable; they can be managed ethically, but it takes a clear focus on transparency and respect, as well as technical knowledge of the policies and functioning of Wikipedia. We guide our clients in maintaining an ethical approach, and we are diligent and explicit in maintaining an ethical approach ourselves.

In this, the first of a short series of blog posts, I’m collecting links to highly relevant pages on Wikipedia, and my own past writing. Wikipedia and Wikimedia are vast, complex, and relatively new in the world; new ideas and situations arise frequently, often with unique ethical dimensions. Continue reading

Posted in navel gazing, Statements of Ethics, Terms of Use, wiki, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedian in Residence | Leave a comment

Video: how to categorize files with Cat-a-lot

A colleague, Eugene Eric Kim, has increasingly been uploading freely licensed photos to Wikimedia Commons. Excellent!

The more you get involved with Commons, the more you’ll probably want to move files into categories; and if you’re working with more than one or two files at a time, you’ll probably get tired of manually entering category information.

An excellent tool for file categorization is Cat-a-lot. So I made this short video, to demonstrate how to get started with it. (The video below is embedded from YouTube; if you prefer to view the video on Commons, here’s the link.)

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Original inspiration: Dick Forsyth, 1929-2014

Dick Forsyth in his early 80s.

Dick Forsyth in his early 80s. photo gallery
Photo (c) Brandy Hug, 2012

If you’re lucky, you have a caring and inspiring father in your life. I was double lucky. I had two.

On November 26, Dick Forsyth (“Dad” to me) died after a couple hard years of one health problem after another. His last day was peaceful, and I was able to spend it with him, along with my mother, stepsister, and — by phone — stepbrother and many others. We were, I think, able to ease his passing; to help him keep his mind on the love and beauty he built around himself for 85 years, and not so much on the pain of a failing body, or the fear of the unknown.

Dad married Mom when I was three. He legally adopted me, and then made all the right moves that enabled me to enjoy a deep connection with my birth father, Jon Boudreau (“Jonni” to me; we first met when I was seven; he died over a decade ago).

What I’d like to talk about here, though, is his influence on my work, which — as I am now realizing more fully — had a deep and lasting impact. He shaped how I approach technology, collaboration, knowledge, and empathy. In the past, I’ve been struck by our differences. But now, the common threads stand out more clearly. Continue reading

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COLT paper released under free license

Dr. Robert Cummings and I published the paper COLT: A Proposed Center for Open Teaching and Learning in the proceedings of the 2011 WikiSym conference, published by ACM. We hold the copyright, and we release it under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license (CC By 3.0). Attribution should read “Dr. Robert E. Cummings and Pete Forsyth”; links to our profiles (Forsyth, Cummings) are appreciated but not required.

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