Monday, February 19, 2007

Wikipedia: It's Messy, but It Works

Between the snow cancelling more than half of Monkeyboy's schooldays this past week and a visit from my folks, I haven't had a lot of time for blogging.

But another distraction from blogging has been even more time-consuming. My time at the computer console when I'm not at work has been consumed working on helping to clean up two entries on Wikipedia.

After writing this post, I set out, as a Wikipedia newcomer, to bring some balance to the entry for Shlomo Carlebach on the Internet encyclopedia. I was successful, but it took some work.

You can see the numerous iterations I had to go through by checking out the entry's:
  • history page (look at the entries from February 4th through February 7th) and

  • discussion page (look at the entries from the one entitled "External links to allegations of abuse, again" through the end of the page).

I then took a look at the entry for The Awareness Center (TAC), a sometimes-controversial organization that aims to expose and correct sexual abuse within the Jewish community, especially abuse by communal leaders.

Like the Carlebach page, this page included no balance. It read like a puff piece, listing TAC's own view of itself, but none of the countervailing criticism of its tactics that are common knowledge in the Jewish community.

On the Carlebach page, I faced opposition from Wikipedians opposed to sullying the late songwriter's reputation. But at least all that happened was that another author and I kept amending each other's work until a more senior editor brokered a compromise.

But on The Awareness Center's discussion page, I found myself being accused of supporting a notorious sexual predator. The supporters of TAC routinely take the position that any criticism of the Center is equal to support for rapists and child molesters.

The most salient points are made from the entry entitled "Editing Attempts by David in DC [...]" through to the bottom of the page. Check it out.

(The part inside the brackets is a libel that once read "and others who are supporters of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni." Gafni is the worst kind of sexual predator, comparable to the Catholic priests who have only recently gotten their comeuppance after decades of abuse. He's currently a fugitive from rape charges in Israel.)

In contrast to the Carlebach page, where a compromise was brokered that balanced the article and left it open, like almost all Wikipedia entries, to further editing by anyone on the Internet, Wikipedia has had to lock into place a balanced article on TAC, while more senior Wikipedians try to sort out the competing edits without having to cope with hourly re-edits by rabid TAC supporters.

All this tumult over trying to bring balance to an entry for an organization whose goals (if not always whose tactics) I basically support.

It left me muttering "G-d save me from my allies; my opponents I can deal with myself."

But, in the midst of all the edits and reversions and name-calling and appeals for calm, reasoned discourse, I've caught the Wikipedia bug.

The idea of an open-source encyclopedia --- written, edited and maintained by thousands of volunteers --- is beguiling. Wikipedia has an elaborate set of norms and rules, and its own quirky culture, all of which I'm still learning. But I've seen how a volunteer can easily be sucked into it. I'm inordinately proud of what I've accomplished there on two entries where I know something about the topic.

Go to it and look up something you know about. I'll bet you, too, find trying your hand at editing an encyclopedia entry to make it more complete or more balanced to be both fun and empowering.

No comments: