Contributing to Wikipedia: Getting Deep

Writing is much more a part of system administration than most people acknowledge. A good writer will be more likely to produce quality documentation and presentations and other documents.

Writing for Wikipedia can be one method that you can use to improve your writing (by seeing other’s writing, and by getting reviews from others). However, contributing to Wikipedia is also a way to give back to the community, a way to show appreciation for what Wikipedia provides.

The most obvious is to just edit any article that needs it, and to improve its wording and spelling. However, there are techniques that are not as obvious in which you can participate in the growth of Wikipedia.

First, there is the Wikipedia Community Portal – a sort of single point of entry for contributing to Wikipedia. This should be a starting point for anyone "going deep" into Wikipedia contributions.

One can also join a Wikipedia Patrol. Wikipedia patrols watch over a certain type of Wikipedia page for problems and assist in making pages better.

For example, one join the Recent Changes Patrol, watching the Recent Changes page (reloading every so many seconds for instance) for new edits, and check any that appear to need closer examination: edits that are from IP addresses, or that have no comments – or edits that come from users that are making a lot of edits rapidly.

One could also join the Random Page Patrol, selecting a random page to improve.

Another thing to do is to join a Wikipedia WikiProject. For instance, there is the Wikiproject Circus – which is focused on improving pages about circuses. (By the way – you really should visit the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, sometime…)

Contributing – and improving your writing and others – is not limited to Wikipedia: you can add your abilities to Wikipedia’s sister projects:

Add your voice to Wikipedia!

You can also work on similar sites that are not directly related to Wikipedia – such as WikiHow (how-to manuals) or others – but Wikipedia and its related sites are probably better because of their respectability, their focus towards writing (articles, etc) and their wide audiences.

About Blogging – and Journalism

There is a very interesting article over at the Columbia Journalism Review about how U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was misquoted, and the diversity of reactions by the various media outlets (including old school and new school) that had to correct their words.

What makes this even more interesting is the article by Mike Masnick over at TechDirt: he views blogging as a conversation between the blogger and the readers. This caught my attention, since I have a strong interest in journalism in general, including blogging.

I’ve often thought about this – correcting articles – and what the style of my corrections should be. Unlike Mike in his article, I view this endeavor (and others like it) as a form of journalism: thus, small edits will crop up in my articles from time to time. Large edits (or additions) warrant an appropriate journalistic notification: I use the word “Update” (in bold) to expand an already written article.

To me, the conversation is about the article and takes place in the comments – which conversation has proven valuable more than once. I view each article as a journalistic piece and try to fix any errors as they show up without a lot of fuss (except for giving thanks to whoever might have pointed an error out).

Sparking new ideas

When you are look for new ideas – for writing, for presentations – here are some ways to go about it.

One good way is to brainstorm – write down things to write about. Don’t stop to judge the ideas, good or bad – just let it flow at a rapid pace onto the page. I like to use what is called “junior legal” (8 in. by 5 in.) on a clipboard of the same size.

After writing down all the ideas that come to you, then you can sift and winnow what you’ve written. Don’t reject out of hand any idea; see if there isn’t a kernel of a possibility in it.

You can also use a mindmap during some of this process. A mindmap is like an outline in radial form that starts with a center topic (though this description is woefully inadequate). Don’t just make bubbles and connect them (which seems to be common to computer mindmaps); make connectors in different sizes, colors, styles – make the mindmap a work of art that expresses how each item affects you.

This may generate quite a few good ideas to start writing about. (Guess I’ll get started….)