Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Do Good

A couple of years ago, I shared with you the secret of How to be Knowledgeable. In case you've forgotten: the trick is to use the "random" button on the Wiki! It will help you learn things like:
And so on! But did you know that, in addition to using the Random Article link to become knowledgeable, you can also use it to DO GOOD? It's easy! Perhaps! All you should have to do is go to some random Wiki articles -- and make them better! Thus enhancing the total store of human knowledge! Thus making the world a better place!

Let's try it! Follow along as I make the world a little smarter!

1: Dave Gelperin

On my first outing, I find a fragmentary biography of a living computer guy who does things I only vaguely understand. No worries! I Google the gentleman, and find out a little more about him through the bios at a NASA site and at his own company's website. I port over some uncontroversial-seeming information, tighten up the text a little, and call it good. My first contribution to human knowledge went down easy!

2: The Treaty of Falaise

On my second draw I get a 1174 treaty between England and Scotland. The text is a little bit rough, so I try to polish it up a bit. Then I Google to see if there's any other reputable information out there. I find a few nuggets in a book of Scottish history, and weave them in. Dutifully footnoting, I realize that the Scottish history book was published in 1900. Oops. I hope that it was an "oldie but a goodie," and move on.
Next, I draw the novel "Gone With the Wind." This seems like an awfully high-profile article to be dicking around with, so I try again and get a tiny Polish village. The text is fine, and no other information seems at hand, so I draw again and get an obscure species of pine. I draw AGAIN, and get:
3. Sheila McKechnie

This article on a British homeless advocate is complete and well-written, but has a banner complaining that it lacked references. It doesn't take much effort to find reputable sources to back up all of the major points, in a Guardian and a Times obituary and on the website of the foundation started in her honor. I add the references, but only by dropping in the URLs. In retrospect, I realize I should have listed authors, titles, etc.
Next, I get a minor British actress whose entry is modest and impeccable, undoubtedly made and monitored by her publicity people. I know when I'm not wanted. I poke the link again, and find the less well-groomed entry for:
4. Thomas H. Bayly

This 18th Century Virginia politician's article is written in what looks like 18th Century prose; it was probably copied over from a public domain source. I try to spiff it up a little, and then add in a factoid derived from a Google search: dude has a significant building named after him.

5. David W. Williams

A mess. This article needs me. I find the article for this Los Angeles judge riddled with multiple tags complaining of its lack of references, its poor style, and its possible bias. I am quickly able to determine that the article consists of his New York Times obituary, verbatim, with an extra paragraph from his San Francisco Chronicle obituary cut and pasted onto it. NOT COOL! Plus, there's a competing page with his middle name spelled out, which is just straight biographical data from a register of Federal judges.

I scout around and find a third obituary from the L.A. Times -- the judge's hometown paper -- and get to work. I edit! I trim! I paraphrase! I organize! I meld! I cite, and more thoroughly this time! And somehow, with no previous knowledge of the subject whatsoever, I manage to distill four documents into one that is arguably more authoritative. It certainly feels more authoritative!

[Parenthetically: It's interesting that, writing about a man who died in 2000, I am working close to the threshold of when it is reasonable to use obituaries to edit a Wiki article. If it was an article on someone who died in 2007, for instance, I would have to assume that the writer of the obituary looked at Wikipedia in preparing the article, and a fact-loop would be created capable of destroying the very nature of truth!]

So go ahead! Go out there and do some good! Just don't get hooked.

10 comments:

Elizabeth said...

What is this, then - epistemohashing? Gnosicaching?

Critical Bill said...

And you don't have time for quizzes?

Rebel said...

Shouldn't you be working right now? ;)

margaret said...

Hey Michael, now that you're a Wiki wizard, maybe you can resuscitate my Ma Nao Books profile that I wrote, which was rejected for "lack of prevalence" or something. Well, I never.

Kadonkadonk said...

Humphf. I am already plenty smart.

d said...

this seems like way too much work.

Michael5000 said...

@Elizabeth: Epistimohashing is DEFINITELY what it is! Excellent coinage.

@Critical Bill: Oh, I have enough time for Quizzes. And it's just 18 Days until Wednesday Quiz I:1.

@Reb: Nah.

@Mags: I only improve the Wiki randomly. It's called "epistemohashing."

@Kadonk: We're done with becoming knowledgeable. Now it's all about doing good.

@d: You are correct, sir.

Epistemz Dialektix said...

I think your efforts could produce better knowledge if focused on one single subject that is lacking readily available information just outside the gates of wikipedia.

But then you might lose your audience share which delights in the wide ranging clever delving.

UnwiseOwl said...

Definitely a rewarding experience, Michael. The world is a better place for your labours. Have you tried Wikipedia Adventures, where you follow all the interesting links and map your travels through knowledge? I'd post a link to how it's done, but 1. I don't know how to post the link and 2. I'm sure you're clever enough to work it out for yourself. Give it a try.

On another note, my browser just disallowed my archive trawling your quizzes due to the blocked expression 'XXX' in your thirtieth thursday quiz, who would have thought that there are TWO roman numerals blocked by internet filters?

Ben said...

Michael--time to get back into academia? Sounds like you're itching to correct papers.