Two years ago I made my first edit in Wikipedia … and got hooked. You see, as a young teenager I decided I wanted to write an encyclopedia. I did start one, but didn’t get very far. Life got in the way as I recollect. As with several of my early dreams, however, life has had a way of seeing them realised, almost without my being aware of it, and so to Wikipedia I came.
Like any communities – and Wikipedia is a community – it has its ups and downs. Within a couple of days I had incurred the wrath of the “copyright” patrol. Some young (I could tell from their user page) French Wikipedian slapped a “speedy deletion” notice for copyright infringement on a page one hour after I had created it and while I was still working on it. You see, I had “copied”, with some minor changes, a couple of sentences from a website into a new article I had created. The article was about a conference and these sentences essentially said the conference was held biennially and rotated around the states. There are only so many ways you can say that! As someone who had worked closely with copyright all my career, I didn’t think I’d breached anyone’s creativity in almost-but-not-quite copying those sentences and, anyhow, I was still working on the article. My initial reaction was, I have to admit, a high level of distress. Sitting quietly on my comfy sofa with my laptop on my lap I felt attacked – personally and professionally (in terms of my sense of self). But, I calmed down, decided to react sensibly and got through it: I politely left a message on the tagger’s user page explaining what I was doing and set about enhancing the article. Three hours later the tag was suddenly, and as mysteriously, removed. Phew! I relaxed. But I did learn some things from that experience:
- the Wikipedia quality police are out and about 24/7;
- the best way to react is calmly so that you don’t enflame the situation; and
- there is an “under construction” tag you can put on a new article to tell the police (and other eager editors) to lay off for a while.
All this came back to me as I read David Runciman’s review in the London Review of Books of a book by Andrew Lih called The Wikipedia Revolution. Runciman describes in some detail the way the Wikipedia community works suggesting that it reverses Gresham’s Law which states that “bad money drives out good”. He writes:
One of the remarkable achievements of Wikipedia is to show that on the internet Gresham’s Law can work in reverse: Wikipedia has turned into a relatively reliable source of information on the the widest possible range of subjects because, on the whole, the good drives out the bad.
And how do they do it? Via the police of course! Because the truth of the matter is that my French Wikipedian was simply doing his best to ensure that the high principles of Wikipedia were being upheld. He wasn’t to know I was an honest newbie still feeling my way.
Anyhow, read the article … Runciman says some interesting things and, along the way, does manage to talk a little about the book he is reviewing.