After I had already agreed to read and review How Wikipedia Works, I found myself second guessing my request, and by extension, the purpose of HWW. Do they really need a book? The site’s navigation is intuitive. You can find nearly everything you’re looking for and much more, the site does not really need a dead tree companion.
Well, yes and no. Wikipedia.org is easy to use and full of information. Those as stand-alone facts should be enough. But yet the site and this book have more to offer than I realized. And not to assume everyone knows this, “wiki” refers to server software or sites that are collaborative; anyone can create, contribute, and edit, and without using a Web browser. Wiki-wiki is Hawaiian for “fast.”
And a confession I’m not too proud to make, when I first started stumbling across search hits that pointed me to Wikipedia, I mistakenly thought that I was at a Wicca based website. Hey, what can I say, “Wicca – wiki”… I was naïve. But regardless of the original misconception, I kept finding what I was looking for, and would come back again and again.
Now, about the book, How Wikipedia Works is written in a helpful and accessible style similar to a “Dummies” or “Idiot’s Guide” publication. Without laying out the detailed contents here, the book is basically structured with the following sections: History, Searching, Editing (which includes writing original content), Wikipedia’s Community, and Other Projects. Standard stuff, but what when you delve into the pages, you keep finding tidbits about Wikipedia you probably wouldn’t have found on the site – unless you knew where to look.
For one thing, Wikipedia is all about lists. (Writers love lists!) You’ve probably seen examples of lists on the site. But you may not have known that you can find one list of all lists by simply entering [WP:FL] (FL means “Featured List”) in the search box. And throughout HWW there are constant references to other Wikipedia shortcuts, many beginning with the WP and colon designation. [WP: ] Also, many of these references with the WP prefix give a behind-the-scenes look at Wikipedia’s inner workings, mostly editorial issues, but they are interesting. For example; entering [WP: Dead Horse] brings you to an article titled “Drop the Stick and Back Slowly Away from the Horse Carcass.” (I strongly encourage all to read this one, it’s applicable to many Web arenas, not just Wikipedia!)
It’s these sorts of nuggets that make HWW a good read. Another tip is the ability to access an outline of Roget’s Thesaurus. [WP: Outline of Roget’s Thesaurus] Quite mind-blowing, actually once you are on the page. And, it’s yet another jackpot for writers too.
Also, as mentioned earlier, HWW has a large section for editing and writing of articles. But how do you know what has not been written? Try [WP: RA], this will give you a full list of the site’s Requested Articles.
For me, the selling feature would be the History section. It highlights what HWW, and No Starch Press seem to be striving for, to take some of the mystery out of “The Internet.” Of course I can make my way through the world just fine without knowing what GNU stands for, but I do feel just a little better having a handle on what some of these terms mean.
Much has been said about the reliability of Wikipedia*. But in this age of Internet 2.0, we find the pervasive success of grassroots organizations taking a legitimate hold on not just the Internet, but on the way society does things all around. Concepts like “citizen journalism” and “new media” represent the way of the future, not necessarily replacing standard print, radio, or television, but standing firmly and rightfully alongside these media outlets.
*This is addressed fully in the book.