Monday, November 20, 2006

Doing Something Good

Lion Sculpture, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

The photo relates to nothing in particular, but I took it on my way home tonight as I passed the back of The British Museum on my way to the new Waitrose supermarket in The Brunswick Centre. Having uploaded it, I still like it so here we are.

Today I finally did something which I hope is helpful and I believe is the right thing. I wrote my first Wikipedia entry. I've been fixing little typographical errors and such in other articles for a while but I'd never found an article missing until I came to look up what Wikipedia had to say about one of my favourite graphic designers, Robert Brownjohn. The answer was nothing and this I felt was remiss. So I took matters into my own hands as Wikipedia allows us to do, encouraging those with knowledge to share it. I began making a few notes on Sunday morning and finished refining them into what I hope is a fairly brief, yet cohesive and informative piece. If you want to correct the inevitable remaining typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical SNAFUs and whatnot then it is here. If you spot a mistake, please do the Wikipedian thing and fix it.

It is one of the things that annoys me most about criticism of Wikipedia isthat it is seen as bad because it is editable. Obviously this leaves it open to abuse and yes, Wikipedia is abused and regularly. What is not so widely reported is that is also fixed regularly, and improved and extended regularly. Looking at the log for the page I wrote I notice that someone I have never met, nor am likely ever to meet had spotted a typo and corrected it. Thank you, Malerin, it is appreciated. Wikipedia is not immutable by its very nature, it is fluid and it has errors. It also has some of the most carefully considered content, contributed by people who have a deep and profound knowledge about that which they write and whose aim is to expand this fabulous arena for human experience and thought.

Steven Colbert, with whom I agree regularly, especially in his definition of "truthiness" missed the mark when he went after Wikipedia. He proved it is easy to subvert Wikipedia. This is very obvious. It would be very easy to go into a museum or gallery and change the information boards next to the exhibits. That we don't is because we have respect for these institutions. Wikipedia encourages us to behave like adults not children as the spoon feeding of traditional encyclopaediae would like us to be: unquestioningly accepting what is presented on the printed page as gospel truth. It is not infallible, far from it. The only lesson we may learn from Wikipedia's ease of editing is that we should treat what we read with due caution and check the sources and references. This is what any thinking person has been doing all along with all other printed and broadcast media of course but it is only now that we are finally forced to confront this truth. And of course when one spots an omission about which one has knowledge, Wikipedia makes it easy to contribute.

I really enjoyed writing my entry and now I shall cast about for other areas where the weird collection of knowledge I've accrued over the years might be employed to the benefit of others. It is such a painless task to expand knowledge and help others that if we all did it and looked after the delicate network we build, we might end up with something truly magnificent.

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