A Wiki Noob

On: October 30, 2009
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About Kimberley Spreeuwenberg
Currently I am a Master student of New Media at the UvA. In 2007 I graduated in Graphic Design at ArtEZ, Arnhem. During the study at ArtEZ I was introduced to some ‘grande’ theorists, like McLuhan and Manovich. After working as a graphic designer for one year I decided to expand my knowledge of the media I use as a professional designer and the way these media influence society. My interests in media are very broad, but I am especially focused on Internet and Internet culture. At this time I still work as a graphic designer. In my assignments I combine low and high technology tools (analogue and digital techniques). Visit my site!


Posting a new entry on Wikipedia is not very difficult, but keeping it online is an impossible mission. These were the first lines of this post when I started writing it a couple of weeks ago. By now I changed my mind… I did it! I have a post on Wikipedia!

My Experience
I started my first entry by searching for a term – ‘Arie Altena’, a Dutch media theorist – that was not posted on the Dutch Wikipedia yet. Here, I got the opportunity to make a new page for that particular search term. “You may create the page “Arie Altena”, but consider checking the search results below to see whether it is already covered.” [1] After checking the history of Wikipedia on entries related to Arie Altena and checking (most of) Wikipedia’s conventions I started writing my entry.

I wrote a short lemma, a biography and added some external links. At this stage it is important to know how to create headers, links to other Wikipedia pages, or external links that are following Wikipedia’s rules. I found this easy to learn by looking at the code of entries that are already posted on Wikipedia. After adding links and appropriate headers I posted my entry. Unfortunately after a few hours my entry was nominated for deletion by one of Wikipedia’s Dutch moderators. A ‘NE’, or Not Encyclopaedic, sign appeared at the top of my entry. The moderator explained that my entry was not appropriate for Wikipedia “in the current form”. Somewhere else I found that NE means that the entry is not important enough for an encyclopaedia.

NE sign

The moderators pointed out to me that I should read the conventions and try to change my entry according to these conventions. This implied that the content of my entry could be Encyclopaedic as long as it matches Wikipedia’s policies. But later they also mentioned that the importance of my entry was not clear enough. I found this rather vague, but eventually I decided to change my entry so it could hopefully stay online, and prove the importance of Arie Altena. I had two weeks to do so.

I found it strange that the moderators only pointed out to me that my entry was (NE) and that there were no people helping me with editing my page. They did not really explain what was wrong with my entry. They only recommended that I read the conventions. Which I already did, at least I thought I did… After some searching I found out that there are several places where you can find conventions and that there is even a special page for bibliographies. [2] This complex network of conventions, tips and Wikipedia terms makes it difficult for a newbie to keep an entry online. It felt like I had to proof that I was ‘wiki worthy’. (I should mention here that the strictness of moderators seems to defer between different languages.)

Finally I changed some lines and added a selective bibliography to point out the importance of Arie Altena’s writings. In the discussion page of my entry I pointed out to the moderators that I changed my entry and I also contested the importance of Arie Altena. Unfortunately I did not get any response to my efforts and the NE sign did not disappear. I gave it a rest and kind of forgot about it. But a week ago I bumped into my post again and found out that it was still online after the two-week deadline! There were even people, and bots that edited my page! And, to my big surprise a moderator deleted the NE sign! Now I officially have a Wikipedia post. The whole world (Dutch speaking off course) can now read about Arie Altena. This is great, but I’m especially enthusiastic about this Wikipedia experience from a user perspective.

Changes by other user

Wikipedia is a strange and complex network. It is seen as a website that illustrates concepts like ‘Pro-Am’ [3] and “collective intelligence” [4]. As I found out this wisdom is – to a certain extend– controlled by a group of moderators who decide what is NE worthy and what not. This seems to be a good method to keep out vandalism, but it can also work as a mild form of censorship. It for instance did not become very clear to me why my entry was not encyclopaedic and why eventually it was allowed to stay online. My changes to the post were very minor.

Another interesting assumption is the idea of NE. What defines ‘encyclopaedic’ in a digital environment in the first place? In contrast to printed encyclopaedias there are no limits on costs or physical limits on the amount of entries. So why be so selective of what to add and what not? Truthfulness is off course a very important issue within Wikipedia, but as my Arie Altena entry showed it was not so much about the truthfulness of the post as about ‘encyclopaedia worthiness’.

P.D. Magnus points out that we should not compare Wikipedia to regular encyclopaedias at all.

“First, Wikipedia is more readily accessed. General encyclopedias compete with books; once I am already going to a bookshelf or the library, the incremental cost of checking a weightier source is relatively small. Wikipedia only directly competes with other on-line resources. (…) Second, we are often led to the Wikipedia even if we do not start there. For many topics, the Wikipedia entry will be on the first page of web search hits. Even if I avoid visiting the Wikipedia directly, I will still encounter content from it. The content of Wikipedia is under a GNU Free Documentation License, and so may be freely reproduced. (…) Third, Wikipedia has a breadth that general encyclopedias do not. For example, it has a brief entry for the Polish philosopher Kazimierz Twardowski; Britannica has none. Because Wikipedia receives new contributions all the time, it also has more information about popular culture and current events than a traditional encyclopedia.” [5]

In my opinion his last point is what makes Wikipedia worthwhile. It gives us an opportunity to entre knowledge about topics that are important to us right now, and not only knowledge that is interesting enough to be saved for our offspring. [6] Unfortunately, the (Dutch) Wikipedia moderators make it rather difficult to do this. But from my own experience I can say: It’s worth the effort!

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special%3ASearch&search=Arie+Altena&go=Go
[2] http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Standaardvorm_voor_biografie%C3%ABn
[3] Bruns, Axel. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage (2008) p. 1-7
[4] Flew, Terry, New Media: an Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2008 p. 64
[5] P.D. Magnus. “Epistemology and the Wikipedia” August 8, 2006
[6] http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Terminologie_op_Wikipedia

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