Welcome to the World of Wiki

12 Dec 1947, Los Angeles, California, USA --- Cited for Contempt.  Los Angeles:  Nine of Ten Hollywood writers, directors, and producers cited for contempt of Congress, await fingerprinting in the U.S. Marshall's Office after they surrendered.  They are (left to right), Robert Scott, Edward Dmytryk, Samuel Ornitz, Lester Cole, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Alvah Bessie, John Lawson, and Ring Lardner, Jr.  Dalton Trumbo is scheduled to appear shortly.  These are the men who refused to state whether or not they are Communists when questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington recently. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Photograph of the Hollywood Ten as they wait to be fingerprinted. Courtesy of the all magical Wikipedia.

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.

My edited Wikipedia article about the Hollywood Ten.

My edited Wikipedia article about the Hollywood Ten.

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?

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3 thoughts on “Welcome to the World of Wiki

  1. I agree, editing Wikipedia couldn’t be easier! However, the most important part, for historians that is, is citation and that is the most difficult part to editing a Wikipedia page. When I saw that I would need to add code (even such limited code) I panicked and thought, “I don’t know how to write in computer codes!! Maybe I shouldn’t be editing Wikipedia.” If only adding citation was little more straight-forward I think more people would attempt to cite their sources. What if Wikipedia had a “Dublin Core” for citations and used a form and boxes to enter the required data. This would also ensure that each new edited entry would have the same types of information for citations.
    100% cited material on Wikipedia will never happen, but encouraging professionals to add and edit Wikipedia will certainly help the quality and the content of Wikipedia’s entries. I also agree with you, if you learn something new, you should share it!

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    • I think the citation format would eventually be easy enough to master, but it takes some time. Dublin Core could simplify it or maybe make it more complicated if people don’t grasp that system either.

      It’d be great to see complete cited material like you mentioned, but as you say, of course that’s never going to happen. I think as easy as it was to edit a page and even as easy as adding citations was, if we could find a way to make it look a little less threatening, then maybe some people will be more willing to share.

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      • Hi Anna,
        Thanks for the comments on the citation format for Wikipedia. As much as I would like the citation process to be more standardized, unfortunately, I think I would deter potential editors, rather than encourage more editing. I think you are right to say that if Wikipedia editing appeared less threatening, more people would be willing to edit. If Wikipedia used in-text numbering or another citation method that didn’t use scary-looking codes, non-tech people like myself wouldn’t feel so intimidated.

        Like

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