“A victory of process over substance…”

I had actually anonymously edited 2-3 Wikipedia pages in the past, but the thing is I just cannot remember the exact pages I edited. One had something to do with the historiography of World War I, and I know another dealt with some past figure in the government of Afghanistan. The funny thing is that that in itself is kind of the simplistic beauty of the site itself.

My process usually goes like this: I am reading a book, and I run across a particular person or event that I either do not recognize or want to know more about. After looking it up on Wikipedia, the book might provide some other bit of information the site it lacking, so I quickly add a sentence or two regarding that particular item.

Even in those rare past instances of editing, the ease of manipulating articles always struck me as unique. In other words, it’s probably more amazing that people do not abuse editing process more than they do, and the number of volunteer editors that remove instances of deliberate sabotage is admirable. In that sense, I was rather surprised when Rosenzweig remarked on the relative accuracy on factual, if not interpretive information. At the same time, it felt good to think that I was maybe adding a small piece of new information to the open web for public consumption, but I never thought twice about desiring acknowledgement.

I had never even bothered to start a wiki account until this assignment. In typical crowdsourcing fashion, I edited some pages on topics I was both knowledgeable and interested in. I provided some factual details to a few names of Germans I was recently reading about: Otto Bräutigam, Eberhard Taubert, and Franz Rademacher.

As Rosensweig mentions, “a historical work without owners and with multiple, anonymous authors is thus almost unimaginable” in the historical professional culture. So it is hard to see the task as anything more than a hobby, however, perhaps I had taken for granted the ease with which I might be able to add facts to the historical narrative, even in the Wikipedia sense. It is even great that the freedom to edit pages “includes not just the ability of anyone to read it (a freedom denied by the scholarly journals in, say, jstor, which requires an expensive institutional subscription) but also—more remarkably—their freedom to use it.”

For an amazing look at Wikipedia during its first six weeks, or first 10,000 contributions.

Ultimately, having seen how far the site has advanced into common usage, I agree with Rosenzweig that “this extraordinary freedom and cooperation make Wikipedia the most important application of the principles of the free and open-source software movement to the world of cultural production.”

“The project is far from perfect — it’s incomplete, inaccurate in places, subject to the systemic biases that come from participation of some authors and not others. But it’s also one of the wonders of the world, and something anyone who studies sociology, politics, or organizational theory should look upon with utter fascination.” –Ethan Zuckerman

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