The reason I find the War of 1812 amusing as an example is simply because to me (an
Australian) it's a completely unimportant subject. I am neither British nor American
and it all occurred on the other side of the world to me; why should I know or care? Yet
the American War of Independence (same parties a few years earlier) is important to
Australian history because it caused Britain to decide to establish an Australian
Importance is very much subjective. It might well be that wars in which America
participated are well-covered in Wikipedia but surely there were lots of other wars that
aren't well-covered but are important to their region's history? And no doubt many
readers of Wikipedia have no interest in wars at all and believe Seinfeld episodes and
Britney Spears are important topics. Who is to be the arbiter of what is
"important"? It seems to me that so long as someone finds a topic interesting
and has a few sources to draw on, they might as well write a Wikipedia article about it.
If one person thinks the topic is interesting enough to invest the effort, odds on someone
else will find it of interest. I write primarily local history material on WP and am often
surprised at how often others join in with contributions to articles I have started. The
reality is that stubs do get expanded and redlinks do lead to the creation of new articles
even on topics that I would freely acknowledge are not the world's most important
topics but nonetheless clearly of interest to some folk. And where there are writers for a
topic, I believe there must also be readers.
So that is why I disagree with your comment about WP being for the benefit of a few
thousand editors and indifferent to what the public wants/needs. I'm not one of the
top 10000 editors. I'm just a reader of Wikipedia who one day started editing bits and
pieces about the suburb I live in and my involvement grew very slowly from there.
Isn't that the story for most WP editors? Editors are the "public"; they are
not selected or certified in any way. WP makes it possible for any one to make small
contributions which is far easier for the public to do than the previous model of needing
to publish an entire book on the subject, which obviously requires a far greater expertise
and thus far less representative of what the public wants/needs.
As far as I can see most of the top 10000 editors appear to be making a lot of of their
contributions in terms of administration and quality control (eg fighting vandalism)
rather than in content. I think the "long tail" of (good faith) editors are
mostly contributing content on a range of topics that I believe will continue to grow. I
believe that once a WYSIWYG editor for WP becomes available we will see a growth in the
long tail of editors and the topics they write on because I think wiki markup is a barrier
for many people currently under-represented in the demographics of WP editors.
I agree WP has moved into a new phase different from its earliest years and probably its
policies and processes might need to change to reflect that. For example, it's fine to
"be bold" with a stub, but woe betide the newbie editor that decides to be bold
with a well-developed article whose current words may have been carefully crafted to
capture the right nuances to keep all the warring factions happy. Personally I believe
mature articles need more of a curated approach to incorporate new material contributed by
anyone but where the edits are done by more experienced editors of that topic. Not that
they should be "gatekeepers" but that the material be added in the right place
and in a way that reflects prior agreements in relation to reflecting differing
viewpoints. I think the WP policy on mature articles should be "be careful not to
break what's already there".
Sent from my iPad
On 29/10/2012, at 12:19 AM, Richard Jensen <rjensen(a)uic.edu> wrote:
I was the one who raised the 1812 example in the
context of Wikipedia's coverage of military history; see Richard Jensen,
"Military History on the Electronic Frontier: Wikipedia Fights the War of 1812,"
''The Journal of Military History'' 76#4 (October 2012): 523-556; the
page proofs (with some typos) are online at
My argument is that Wikipedia is written by and for the benefit of a few thousand editors
-- what the readers or the general public wants or thinks or uses is largely irrelevant.
The growth then depends on the need to recruit new editors --
using the details from the 1812 article I suggest that fewer and fewer new editors are
actually interested. (I also looked at other major articles on WWI, WWII, the American
Civil War & others and found the same pattern.)
Look at it demographically: apart from teenage boys coming of age, the population of
computer-literate people who are ignorant of Wikipedia is very small indeed in 2012. That
was not true in 2005 when lots of editors joined up and did a lot of work on important
So I think that military history at Wikipedia is pretty well saturated. That does not
mean there are not more possible topics (we have about 130,000 articles (including stubs)
now and major libraries will own maybe 100,000+ full length books on military topics). I
suggest that new editors need to have an attractive new niche that is not now well
covered. I suggest that they will have a very hard time finding such a niche that allows
for the excitement of new writing about important topics. (such as took place in back in
2005-2007). Personally I greatly enjoyed writing about George Washington and Ulysses
Grant and Napoleon--that's why I'm here. I would have trouble explaining to
someone why they should write up general #1001, #1002, #1103 ... let alone colonel
#10,001, 10,002, 10,003 ....
User:Rjensen email rjensen(a)uic.edu
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