In the news
Public Policy Initiative, Houellebecq plagiarism?, Article revisions as book
Colleges get serious about Wikipedia writing skills
An article in Inside Higher Ed ("Wikipedia for credit"), also published in USA Today ("Editing, enhancing Wikipedia becomes project at colleges") reported on the Wikimedia Foundation' Public Policy Initiative, which involves nine college professors across the US who have incorporated into coursework the use of their students' knowledge to make contributions to Wikipedia. (See earlier Signpost coverage: "Introducing the Public Policy Initiative", "Public policy initiative announces advisory board, starts training campus ambassadors", "Public policy initiative announces participating classes", or this week's piece about the project's experiments in assessing the quality of articles.) LiAnna Davis, a Wikimedia spokeswoman, says "we've known for a long time that students are the fuel of Wikipedia.... We feel that there is a place for Wikipedia in the classroom."
Inside Higher Ed quoted one of the participating professors, Rochelle Davis from Georgetown University: "I'm tired of my grad students saying, 'All we ever do is critique and discuss and deconstruct.' So I’m going to make them create something that's not just a thing for me to read; it’s going to go out into the community." She and several other people involved in the project were reported as saying that contributing to Wikipedia might prompt students to be more meticulous than if their work was to be read only by their instructor. The Wikimedia Foundation intends to recruit 15 more professors by the northern spring, and in the longer term to work towards widening the scope of the Initiative beyond the subject of public policy.
Houellebecq defends himself against charges of Wikipedia plagiarism
French writer Michel Houellebecq has reacted to a report by Slate.fr that charged him with plagiarizing Wikipedia in his new novel (see last week's "News and notes"). As reported by The Independent ("I stole from Wikipedia but it's not plagiarism, says Houellebecq"), he "does not deny that he copied technical descriptions from the anonymous compilers of Wikipedia", but defended it as an established literary technique that he had used influenced by authors Jorge Luis Borges and Georges Perec, and rejected the charges as a "skilled insult": "Using a big word like plagiarism... always causes some damage. It will always do lasting damage, like accusations of racism." Slate.fr defended its initial article, only conceding that it should not have put both plagiarism and Houellebecq in its title - two words whose capacity to generate controversy in the literary world it compared to Godwin's law. It also said that despite Houellebecq's apparent "admiration" for Wikipedia, he seemed not to have been aware of its NPOV principle, according to another passage in his novel about the French Wikipedia's article on TV presenter Jean-Pierre Pernaut.
Article revisions made into twelve-volume book set
As noted in The New York Times' "Bits" blog ("The Story Behind a Wikipedia Entry") and other media reports, James Bridle, who founded "Booktwo", a website dedicated to the future of literature and the publishing industry, has made the version history of the Wikipedia article Iraq War (12,000 revisions made between December 2004 and November 2009) into a set of physical books (twelve volume containing almost 7,000 pages). In a blog post ("On Wikipedia, Cultural Patrimony, and Historiography"), Bridle explained that the project was related to his recent talk at the "dConstruct 2010" design conference and said that
- [Wikipedia is] not only a resource for collating all human knowledge, but a framework for understanding how that knowledge came to be and to be understood; what was allowed to stand and what was not; what we agree on, and what we cannot. ...
- And for the first time in history, we’re building a system that, perhaps only for a brief time but certainly for the moment, is capable of recording every single one of those infinitely valuable pieces of information. Everything should have a history button.
In 2006, the web site Baghdadmuseum.org had published a set of three e-books consisting of over a thousand pages from Wikipedia discussions related to the article Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, see Signpost coverage.
- Anthere (Florence Devouard), who in 2004 became one of the first elected Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation and served as its Chair from 2006 to 2008, was interviewed by blogger Haegwan Kim recently. Among other things, she remembered the early years of the organization ("It owned three servers, there was one bank account and I think we owned the domain name Wikipedia.org ... no staff, no office, nothing") and the decision to use fundraising instead of advertising to finance Wikimedia.