Reflection on the Wiki Assignment

I chose to write my wiki article on the Boise sesquicentennial happening this year. The sesquicentennial is something that I have been involved with while working for the City of Boise’s Department of Arts & History, and I feel like the commemoration is an important piece of public history at work. The sesquicentennial, or Boise 150, commemoration has made substantial efforts to engage and involve the community through various and creative ways; including a special Boise 150 storefront, grant programs, the Sesqui-Speaks series, and special exhibitions. The Department of Arts & History, through the sesquicentennial is also creating legacy pieces such as the Share Your Story Program, a commemorative book, and the commemorative CD. I have learned quite a bit about how public history can function while working on the sesquicentennial commemoration. I believe that when we look back at the sesquicentennial, Boiseans will consider it an important milestone for the city, especially considering the huge amounts of growth the city is currently experiencing. I thought it was important to include this information on the Boise Wiki, since it is Boise specific. However, as far as Wikipedia, I don’t think the editors would agree that Boise’s sesquicentennial is an important thing to acknowledge. Therefore, on the Wikipedia page I only made a small edit.

This assignment was not entirely enjoyable for me. In comparing the two sites, (the Boise Wiki and Wikipedia) the Boise Wiki was very simple and straightforward. Following the prompts to edit or create a page is easily understood, and I feel that almost anyone with basic computer knowledge could contribute successfully to the Boise Wiki. The Boise Wiki, I feel is also a good way to build community involvement and knowledge. The Boise Wiki does not purport itself to be the expert on all things the way Wikipedia does, which makes it a non-threatening venue to contribute to. I like the fact that the Boise Wiki is community based with community contributors lends to that fact that is less intimidating to edit than Wikipedia. Community users may also feel they have more valuable information to contribute on a local wiki as opposed to the world-wide Wikipedia.

Wikipedia on the other hand is intimidating to edit, and not as simple as contributing to the Boise Wiki. On Wikipedia, even searching for help can be intimidating and onerous. In fact, all of the help links I tried proved entirely unhelpful and lent to even more confusion on my part. It is understandable that only a handful of people would want to contribute to Wikipedia, and that those people that do contribute have a fairly advanced understanding of technology and code. On top of the anxiety of simply figuring out how to edit, there is no guarantee that your edits will stay up on the page; and you may have to answer to the dreaded Wikipedia editors. As we learned from the articles we read in class, the editors can be condescending, vague, and inflexible.

After this experience and after reading about Wikipedia and discussing it in class my opinion of the online encyclopedia has soured. “Truth” on Wikipedia, is defined by Wikipedia editors through a series of rigid and non-flexible criteria. I feel that scholars shouldn’t waste time trying to contribute to Wikipedia or arguing with Wikipedia’s editors. It is my hope that Wikipedia, because of its practices, will not sustain itself and will be replaced by a more concise, peer-reviewed, and academic online encyclopedia. Perhaps, an online encyclopedia could be created that compiles different “truths” and ideas so readers can make up their own minds about a topic instead of relying on Wikipedia editors.

This assignment has confirmed many things for me, including the need for public historians to focus their energy outside of Wikipedia, and outside of traditional ways of disseminating knowledge. Many people use Wikipedia as a quick reference, and they accept the information as valid. Public historians should seek to spark conversations and provide opportunities for people to ask more questions, not just look up little bits of information. With scholars abandoning sites like Wikipedia, I hope that people will begin to see the online encyclopedia as an obsolete and archaic way to view the world. Instead, I hope to see a shift towards asking questions, not only to find answers, but to create dialogue, understanding, and a continued interest in learning about the world.

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