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Book Review: How Wikipedia Works – And How You Can Be Part a of It by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yates

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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.

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About MaryKay

  • http://www.thepolitikos.com Heloise

    I was on a blog when the news of “wiki” 7 or 8 years ago when the birth of Wike was posted by a woman who said she was a friend of the guy who created it. And asking the members (a middle class educated yahoo group) for contributions.

    She told us of the origin of the word. I have been a user from wiki’s advent. I actually tried editing stuff on their but either someone had beat me to the update or one addition was rejected because they said they thought it was plaigarized. Thus ended my stint with wiki, it’s sticki you can’t just put any thing and you GOTTA be fast to get there before someone else does the update as in the case of Tim Russert. I also checked recently to see if my moniker was yet added to Wiki I guess it’s too soon :)

    And if you check the sources on many of my articles I use them a lot. It’s a good source to be sure.

    Thanks for article.

    Heloise

  • http://www.mywikibiz.com Gregory Kohs

    I’ll bet a dollar to your dime that the “reliability of Wikipedia” that was supposedly “addressed fully” in the book, was not fully addressed.

    If your conclusion is that the world has been improved by Wikipedia and other “free culture” efforts, then I’m confident that this book found its target market (the shallow and gullible) in the reviewer.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Charles_Matthews Charles Matthews

    I’m one of the authors. Thanks for the nice review. (Hi, Gregory! We must stop meeting like this. How is everything in Kohserville? Did you read the book yet? It is online, you know.) Chapter 2 and Chapter 12 were basically much harder to write than the rest, so I’m glad Mary has highlighted some things from those parts of the book.

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Heloise – Thanks for your comments!

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Gregory, it looks like you have an axe to grind against Wikipedia. I would have gone into more depth regarding the reliability issue, but I was writing a book review, not a site review. However, this issue is found on page 12, and then on pages 51-55, and again on 117-119. And that’s just what I pulled from my notes.

    And yes, I stand by the belief that “the world has been improved by Wikipedia and other ‘free culture’ efforts.” The fact that information is continually becoming more accessible to anyone with Internet access is a good thing.That makes me neither shallow nor gullible. Human nature has not changed all that much, has it? Some people will sit slack-jawed in front of their TV network news, believing everything that appears in front of them. Others will take in the same information, and still seek additional sources. I am in the latter category.

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Charles, Thank you for stopping by. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, writing the review was not as easy as I thought! Thanks for the support and good luck to you.