There’s an extremely, superbly, awesomely good Wikipedia debate podcast at Language Lab Unleashed! It’s not good because it’s so correct (there are a number of misunderstandings, clichés, and analog wine in digital bottles) or insightful (Wikipedians have hashed out most of discussion many times over), but it gives a great cross-section of the ways academic humanists view Wikipedia.
The star of the show is Don Wyatt, chair of History at Middlebury College. He’s a classic curmudgeon, and gives voice to much of what I despise about the culture of the modern academy (a regular topic of my polemics), though he seems like a nice enough guy and it’s a rich and eloquent voice he gives it. Most of the comments coming out of Middlebury have been notably consonant with the wiki way (hence Jimbo’s endorsement of their official policy). But the policy was obviously a compromise, with Wyatt at the far end, viewing Wikipedia as a fundamental flawed endeavor and an unequivocal waste of time for any real scholar.
On the other end, Bryan Alexander and Robert Berkman (you know a geek when you hear one) have a good grasp of Wikipedia’s virtues, real and potential. In the middle is Elizabeth Colantoni, who is running a Wikipedia assignment at Oberlin (shoutout to User:WAvegetarian, apparently the student who inspired the assignment).
One of the best parts starts at around 55:15 (spun off from issues first posed beginning at 46:18), exploring the confluence of philosophy, epistemology, and copyright, with attitudes of today’s academics contrasted with the kids these days (and projecting into the future of the academy, when us kids will be in charge).
In other news, I found a major Wikipedia assignment I hadn’t noticed before: Marx Blog, the class blog of Derek Stanovsky at Appalachian State University, which is being used to write a monumental article/outline on Capital, Volume I.
Via Mills Kelly, I found a very cool site whose concept Wikipedia should steal: Swivel.com. Users upload data sets (in spreadsheets), and the site creates a huge and flexible array of graphs. Multiple data sets can be used to make a single graph, so that it would be easy to create custom graphs for specific articles, with baselines of some sort of general data graphed together with more specific data (e.g., and non-sequiter mash-up of Wikipedia stats with the temperature in Fresno). Kelly describes it as a Flickr for data (in another excellent Digital Campus podcast, though with no mention of Wikipedia this time, except for a plug of Joseph Reagle’s recent plagiarism post). There is a lot of room for improvements in Swivel’s functionality, but the bigger reason Wikipedia needs to steal the concept is that (in my humble opinion) the potential reach of “a Flickr for data” is rather limited unless it’s part of a larger project.