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Submission + - Wikipedia: the Missing Manual

jsuda writes: Wikipedia, the free access online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, is a remarkable achievement. Started only in 2001, it now comprises over 9 million articles is written in over 250 languages, and is the first choice for reference material for millions of Internet users. Despite criticisms by some for the variable quality of its material, the value of the contributions of tens of thousands of unpaid volunteers is enormous, not only in notable and verified content accessible to the vast majority of the worlds population in their native languages, but in the opportunity for everyone to contribute to this repository of knowledge in his or her own way (subject to the review and editing of others just like themselves.)

More importantly, in my view, is the model it represents in human collaboration efforts, this one in creating a repository of knowledge, but applicable more broadly to other efforts. Besides merely creating enormously useful things, the collaborative efforts result in a community of people and groups which has its own intrinsic values. Imagine thousands of volunteers committing their personal time and effort into a nonhierarchical, consensus-based collaboration having as its selfless main purpose the improvement of human society. Socialism at its best! It seems to me that the model may be useful in areas of politics, management and administration, education, and other social endeavors.. The Open-Source software movement, predating Wikipedia, operates in much the same way. Perhaps the earliest example of this collaborative model was the developmental years of the Internet.

As a casual user of Wikipedia, I had no idea of the nature of the Wikipedia project (and its sister projects Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikispecies, Wikinews, and Wikiversity and no doubt others yet to come) until I read Wikipedia: the Missing Manual, by John Broughton. He is an experienced Wikipedia editor with over 15,000 edits to his credit and is the creator of the Editors Index to Wikipedia which lists every reference page on Wikipedia as well as other off site pages with information useful for serious Wikipedia editors. Wikipedia: the Missing Manual is an extremely thorough guide to creating and editing Wikipedia articles. The book is intended to help train new writers and editors and to improve the skills and knowledge of existing participants.

Broughton encourages people to join the Wikipedia community of researchers, fact checkers, and proofreaders. This community seems to be made up of committed, skilled, and serious people who take great pride in the project. There is little organizational hierarchy involved and a minimum of formal participatory rules, but a large set of informal mores and practices which help maintain production, efficiency, civility, and quality. There is always a need for more articles, although of the thousands created every day, nearly one half of them are deleted within 24 hours by attentive editors for a number of reasons explained in the book.

The book starts with an introduction to the basic principles of the Wikipedia project involving notability, credibility, balance, consensus, and good faith and moves quickly into the process of registering with Wikipedia, setting up a user account, and starting out practicing writing, previewing, and saving edits.

In six parts and 21 chapters, the book covers how to document sources, set up an editors account, and personal workspaces, create new articles, use page histories, monitor changes, and dealing with vandalism and spam. It explains the value of collaborating with other editors and participants in creating and editing articles and in special Wiki Projects and other group efforts. There are several chapters describing how to deal with the inevitable conflict between editors and explains the Wikipedia editing mores of civility, ethics, legality (mostly copyright issues), and efficiency. He explains why editors disagree, in what ways, and how they resolve disputes. He also provides guidance on how disputes can be avoided in the first place.

Separate chapters of the book detail how to work with article pages and sections, tables, lists, markups and links, images and media, and categories. There are descriptions of what makes a good article and what doesnt and there are step-by-step tutorials on creating better articles and being systematic about good editing practices. A most interesting feature of Wikipedia is its large collection of free-to-use images, videos, sound clips, and other media in the Wikipedia Media Commons area which is available for article use and for non-Wikipedia use by anyone for any purpose.

Advanced topics include customizing your user account via preferences and skins and using JavaScript and templates to facilitate efficiency. There is a short 20 page appendix for those people content with being mere users of Wikipedia and learning how to get the most out of it. More involved users will benefit from Appendix C which itemizes the huge amount of Wikipedia help, reference, coaching, and other educational sources especially valuable for those determined to become better editors or higher-level participants like administrators of Wikipedia.

The presentation is thorough and articulate. It covers basic and advanced editing skills. Broughton frequently notes keyword search items and tips to be more productive and efficient. The community norms demand attentive and educated participants. Experience with coding is appreciated. The book has plenty of screenshots illustrating the discussions of Wikipedia features. Most of the sections contain Notes and Tips which provide more detailed explanations of features and an experienced editors perspective to the prospective new editor as to how and why to do things. Broughton is (perhaps unintentionally) inspiring about participating in the Wikipedia editor community.

Although the book deserves great credit for its content and its tone a few problems with the layout and design detract a bit. The layout is dense with graphics a bit too tightly packed in with the text. Captions at the bottom of grayscale illustrations occasionally refer to nonexistent color clues resulting in some confusion. The density seems to reflect the nature of Wikipedia editing itself, which can be very involved. But, rewarding.

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Wikipedia: the Missing Manual

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