Confessions of a Former Wiki Vandal

3 Oct

Wikipedia takes its vandalism pretty seriously, as it should! I mean, what sort of monster would deliberately compromise the integrity of a global information sharing machine such as Wikipedia? Well, if the title of this post did not already give it away, I must confess that in the tussle and tumble of youthful passions, I found myself at times submitting to various irrepressible and ill-conceived urges… You see, I worked an office job that permitted time and access to a forum that demonstrated great respect for witty wiki vandalism. We did not advocate the propagation of misinformation, but rather, enjoyed “colouring” Wikipedia pages in the hopes that someone, somewhere, would serendipitously arrive at a recently edited page, and enjoy a momentary laugh or two. For example, I once spent a considerable amount of time carefully scattering “likes” and “totallys” throughout the Wikipedia entry on valley girls. My vandalism never lasted long, and I was always surprised and amazed at how quickly the Wikiteam cleaned up the mess. Looking back, I feel bad for wasting their time, but I cannot emphasize enough that never did we act with malice in our hearts. I still chuckle when I think about how the notable residents entry for Kirkland Lake once highlighted the 0.25$ pop machine outside the grocery store (I have been told it is quite a popular part of town). But all this is behind me. I am wiser, less bored, and a librarian-in-training; my time is to be spent learning about and contributing to wikis. Enough of this preamble.

As a relatively new user of wikis, I found Lee LeFever’s video, “Wikis in Plain English,” to be a great starting point. It was useful for me to conceptualize the wiki editing process as a three-step method: accessing an article, editing, and then saving. In my experience with Wikipedia, it can also be useful to try writing and editing with their sandbox feature, which basically generates a test page prior to the official publication. I liked the way LeFever emphasized the group work potential of wikis, and I was inspired to create a wiki for our LIS 9763 group project. The wiki is called Group Project Fun Times!, and it is open to the public until we start using it. I have not made many pages as it is still a work in progress, but I though that a general “Ideas” page was a good start, in addition to a meeting agenda page and a few others.

After watching the video, I had the urge to look at a few wikis, and with a quick Google search I stumbled upon Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki almost immediately prior to reading Meredith Farkas’ “Using Wikis to Create Online Communities.” I did not look into the creator of the wiki, so I was surprised to see that I was reading an article by the creator of Library Success. (I was also surprised to read that wiki is derived from a Hawaiian word!) When I read Farkas’ opinion that “at their least, [wikis] are spaces for quick and easy collaborative work,” I thought of all the failed and unused wikis out there. I really admire Farkas’ optimism about wikis and their potential within communities, but I am concerned with the amount of time needed by librarians to monitor such a site, considering that it would have to be open to many people in the community. Is there room in a public library’s budget for such human labour? On another note, I found it interesting when Farkas wrote that “it can be difficult for people to get used to the idea of a website that anyone is allowed to add to or edit … the notion of private property is so deeply embedded in our society that it’s difficult to imagine going onto someone else’s website and changing things…” Although there is a distinction between private property and privacy, this got me thinking about how our privacy settings help protect our private (online) property. The notion of privacy seems to come up a lot when discussing social media, but I never considered it from a wiki perspective. The wiki, to me, feels very open and social, like living in a huge loft with many, many relatives. Can privacy exist in such a space? How about the notion of authorship? What happens to intellectual property when an entire community can edit posts, review edits, and even delete entire pages? I do not have any answers to these questions, but the more I think about them, the more questions arise: if a community concerned with equal access to a wiki provides everyone with the same permission to edit posts, what happens if one individual claims some sort of authority and begins editing and deleting pages left and right? Does such an action justify being dismissed from the wiki community?

Okay — too many questions in a row. Back to Farkas. I found a post on her blog where she lists her number one wiki-related observation to be the following: “a wiki should have a specific purpose.” For Wikipedia, that single purpose was to collect all information onto one enormous web site (Multivac, anyone?), but since I began my wiki research for this class, I have found many great small-scale single purpose wikis… which I will list in a future post because there is more to discuss on this week’s readings.

I found Maish Nichani’s blog post entitled “Planning and Sustaining Wiki-Based Collaboration Projects” to be useful in conceptualizing a framework for establishing a wiki policy. It seems that a planning, using, and sustaining model might be applicable to other forms of social media, as well. One of the comments below the blog entry simply states: “Planning is good. Too much planning without action is bad. No planning is worse.” Perhaps some libraries are apprehensive to spending a lot of time planning for a wiki, but to simply jump onto a social media bandwagon for fear of being left behind should not be an option. Wikis are great collaborative tools, and I do not think they are another social media fad. However, libraries should learn from Carol McGeehon’s case study, “A Wiki Way of Communication” and integrate workshops and training from day one of a librarian’s new job. McGeehon’s wiki seemed to encompass many different aspects of an employee’s life at a library, and I believe that this was partly responsible for its success. By incorporating the wiki into drafting and sign-up procedures, library employees were able to experience the wiki from different perspectives, allowing the wiki’s versatility to shine.

To conclude this post, I have chosen to share a recent Wikipedia edit. No, I did not have to resist the urge to vandalize the Eggs Benedict page, since I am over that, remember? But I did add a few legitimate variations.

P.S.: Still having trouble understanding why I would want to be a friendly wiki vandal? Perhaps for the same reason that the fake pronunciation expert posts videos on YouTube.

P.P.S.: I have to say, Chad (the Biz Wiki creator) is library-famous! He has been mentioned multiple times in my Open Source Software for Libraries course, in addition to Farkas’ article.

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One Response to “Confessions of a Former Wiki Vandal”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Some Cool Wikis, and One Uncool Wiki « Pam 2.0 - October 4, 2011

    […] my previous post on wikis, I mentioned that I would share a few links to wikis that I found while researching for this […]

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