This week we were tasked with editing an existing Wikipedia article or creating a new one altogether…I went with the former.
To quote Roy Rosenzweig again, Wikipedia undergoes some 100,000 edits a day, which means that trying to work on a particularly popular article might not be the best strategy. So instead I turned to a topic that I knew a bit about but had found that most other people didn’t: The Hollywood Ten.
Now who were these people you ask? Well, great question and Wikipedia now has the answer.
But essentially, they were a group of ten Hollywood (go figure) figures, primarily screenwriters, who were part of the first wave of the Hollywood Red Scare. They were subpoenaed for being a part of the Communist Party and defended themselves with the First Amendment. It didn’t work. They received fines and a one-year jail sentence.
Now, I chose this topic because there was very little written about them on Wikipedia. They have a section within the lengthier Hollywood Blacklist article, but even this consisted only of a list of their names and two sentences about the book Lester Cole wrote. There’s also a page about a 1950 documentary made of them, but even that is sketchy at best. They are at least the featured photo on the Blacklist page, so that’s something, no?
My ability to edit this article and to contribute my own knowledge about this topic is what is so great about Wikipedia and crowdsourcing in general.
Now is this topic still woefully inadequate? Of course.
I could write an entire page on these individuals and their story and maybe one day I will, but for now, at least people can gain a better understanding of who they were and why they were different from the rest of the Hollywood Blacklist.
Wikipedia follows Paul Ford’s advice about crowdsourcing: “don’t just consult them, but give them tools to consult amongst themselves.”
And boy does Wikipedia make that easy. To edit a page, you just create an account and have at it. The trickiest part is citing sources because of the format you need to use, which might discourage some people from creating proper citations.
If they could find a way to make writing citations as easy as linking to other Wikipedia pages then there would be no excuse for people not to include these.
What I liked most about this assignment was that it reinforce the notion that if you find something new, find out some great piece of information, you should share it. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy blog post or become a best-selling book, just a quick couple of lines on a website and now anyone can read it.
Wikipedia is great because it’s free, easily accessible, and there’s so much to see. So while it may not be as good as reading a scholarly monograph that dives deeply into a specific topic, Wikipedia’s breadth and its searchability means that you can learn almost anything. I have stumbled on many a Jeopardy answer thanks to my perusal of seemingly random articles and really, what is knowledge but a chance to make you look smarter?