Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Thoughts on the NDFNZ wikipedia panel

Last week I was on an NDFNZ wikipedia panel with Courtney Johnston, Sara Barham and Mike Dickison. Having reflected a little and watched the youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3b8X2SQO1UA I've got some comments to make (or to repeat, as the case may be).

Many people, including apparently including Courtney, seemed to get the most enjoyment out of writing the ‘body text’ of articles. This is fine, because the body text (the core textual content of the article) is the core of what the encyclopaedia is about. If you can’t be bothered with wikiprojects, categories, infoboxes, common names and wikidata, you’re not alone and there’s no reason you need to delve into them to any extent. If you start an article with body text and references that’s fine; other people will to a greater or less extent do that work for you over time. If you’re starting a non-trivial number of similar articles, get yourself a prototype which does most of the stuff for you (I still use https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Stuartyeates/sandbox/academicbio which I wrote for doing New Zealand women academics). If you need a prototype like this, feel free to ask me.

If you have a list of things (people, public art works, exhibitions) in some machine readable format (Excel, CSV, etc) it’s pretty straightforward to turn them into a table like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_New_Zealand/Requested_articles/Craft#Proposed_artists or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enjoy_Public_Art_Gallery Send me your data and what kind of direction you want to take it.

If you have a random thing that you think needs a Wikipedia article, add to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_New_Zealand/Requested_articles  if you have a hundred things that you think need articles, start a subpage, a la https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_New_Zealand/Requested_articles/Craft and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_New_Zealand/Requested_articles/New_Zealand_academic_biographies both completed projects of mine.

Sara mentioned that they were thinking of getting subject matter experts to contribute to relevant wikipedia articles. In theory this is a great idea and some famous subject matter experts contributed to Britannica, so this is well-established ground. However, there have been some recent wikipedia failures particularly in the sciences. People used to ground-breaking writing may have difficulty switching to a genre where no original ideas are permitted and everything needs to be balanced and referenced.

Preparing for the event, I created a list of things the awesome Dowse team could do as follow-ups to they craft artists work, but we never got to that in the session, so I've listed them here:
  1. [[List of public art in Lower Hutt]] Since public art is out of copyright, someone could spend a couple of weeks taking photos of all the public art and creating a table with clickable thumbnail, name, artist, date, notes and GPS coordinates. Could probably steal some logic from somewhere to make the table convertible to a set of points inside a GPS for a tour.
  2. Publish from their archives a complete list of every exhibition ever held at the Dowse since founding. Each exhibition is a shout-out to the artists involved and the list can be used to check for potentially missing wikipedia articles.
  3. Digitise and release photos taken at exhibition openings, capturing the people, fashion and feeling of those era. The hard part of this, of course, is labelling the people.
  4. Reach out to their broader community to use the Dowse blog to publish community-written obituaries and similar content (i.e. encourage the generation of quality secondary sources).
  5. Engage with your local artists and politicians by taking pictures at Dowse events, uploading them to commons and adding them to the subjects’ wikipedia articles—have attending a Dowse exhibition opening being the easiest way for locals to get a new wikipedia image.
I've not listed the 'digitise the collections' option, since at the end of the day, the value of this (to wikipedia) declines over time (because there are more and more alternative sources) and the price of putting them online declines. I'd much rather people tried new innovative things when they had the agility and leadership that lets them do it, because that's how the community as a whole moves forward.

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