Superb Wikipedia podcast; Ideas for Wikipedia to steal

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: 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.

Digital Campus podcast: “Wikipedia: Friend or Foe”

GMU’s Center for History and New Media has a new podcast that launched a week and a half ago: Digital Campus.

It’s “A biweekly discussion of how digital media and technology are affecting learning, teaching, and scholarship at colleges, universities, libraries, and museums”, and the first episode is on Wikipedia.

The intro music is worth listening to. After that, I recommend skipping to 17:33, when the Wikipedia discussion begins.

What you would be skipping includes:

  • Vague speculation about Windows Vista
  • Banter about the value and limitations of Google Docs
  • Hand-wringing about a recently granted overly broad patent for Blackboard Inc.

Wikipedia topics include:

  • Mills Kelly explaining why he is using Wikipedia as the “textbook” for his Western Civ course this semester
  • The similarity between constructing knowledge on Wikipedia an in scholarly venues, as revealed by those pages “hidden” behind the articles
  • How Citizendium’s name is crappy, and how in the end scholars are going to have to “roll up their sleeves and just get involved with the main Wikipedia” to set things straight
  • How scholars write for themselves and their peers too often, when they should be engaged with and teaching their students about the “enthusiast communities” like Wikipedia
  • What Wikipedia could do better to work with the professional community
  • “Specialized wikis for specialized topics in specialized communities” and the ways Wikipedia (and it’s pitfalls) may overshadow the wiki technologies
  • Friend-or-foe conclusion: “sometimes unreliable, sometimes stands you up, but good friend”

Overall, it’s pretty good.

(via T. Mills Kelly at edwired)