Presentation to Oregon Encyclopedia editors

On Friday, I was one of three Wikipedia editors to make a presentation to the editors-in-chief of the Oregon Encyclopedia. About two months in the making (see my previous posts), this was a valuable opportunity to learn more about what they hope to accomplish, and to present the strengths of the Wikipedia project and, especially, of WikiProject Oregon. Everybody in the room shared an interest in providing better information about Oregon to a wider audience, and discussing our differing approaches led to some interesting conversation.

We addressed several subject: Jason got us started with some discussion of the differences between Wikipedia and wiki software, and an exploration of the software and technology. I then talked about the community aspects of Wikipedia, and the opportunity to work with other editors to expand our knowledge of Oregon history as we collaborate on improving articles. Steven wrapped up by delving into some of the things that make Wikipedia unique – the procedures for evaluating articles, making decisions, etc. We had some time left for questions and discussion.

We spoke to professors Bill Lang, Ulrich Hardt, and Linda Tamura.

My general sense is that we were well-received, but that they simply don’t see much benefit in any potential collaboration. As general advocacy of wikis and Wikipedia, I think our presentation was a success; they seemed genuinely interested in how we operate and what we produce. But I’m not enormously hopeful that there’s much interest in seeking ways to assist one another’s projects. Most telling, I think, is this: we (Wikipedia editors) strove to highlight the similarities in our aims, while the comments coming back (from Oregon Encyclopedia editors) mostly served to highlight the differences.

I am very excited about their project, which has already produced useful articles. Their academic experience and resources will surely be essential ingredients in producing content that is well beyond the capability of Wikipedia. But I have a concern: Oregon Encyclopedia’s stated goal is to get participation from numerous Oregonians. But it does not appear they are well-positioned, or even resolute in their desire, to truly solicit broad input.

At Wikipedia, it’s our unequivocal intent to draw as many people into the process as possible. If the Oregon Encyclopedia makes a big public splash with their desire to involve the public, but then fails to do so in a convincing way, I think that will be damaging to the future of dispersed encyclopedia creation. If people try to participate in any such project, it’s my hope that they have a positive experience, and feel that they have contributed in a meaningful way; that, above all, will dispose people to contribute to similar projects in the future.

Early in the brainstorming for this, we came up with a list of possible ways our projects could work together. Below, I’ll review each one. This will be the basis for a followup letter, and I’ll report back on this blog if there are any further developments.

  • Oregon Encyclopedia could use a wiki-based writing/editing process

Not likely. It seems they are well into their technical implementation, and are committed to using PSU’s tech department to set up their infrastructure.

They are very clear in their mandate to retain full copyright over the material they produce, and have not shown interest in making exceptions.

  • They could relax their requirement that materials be entirely original, allowing the inclusion and improvement of articles that are published on Wikipedia (under a free license)

Again, originality is a core principle in their project.

  • Oregon Encyclopedia will be putting a heavy emphasis on conducting public events, and reaching out to hard-to-reach communities. We should volunteer to plan and/or help lead some of those meetings. We should also request that they include Wikipedia in their presentations, and help participants understand why they might want to work on Wikipedia in addition to Oregon Encyclopedia.

Not discussed in detail. They seemed a bit ambivalent about how much public input they want to seek, which is a departure from my previous understanding. I do believe that if Wikipedia comes up in their meetings, at minimum, they will be able to discuss our work with more familiarity and respect than before.

  • Wikipedia has an article on Oregon Encyclopedia. We should also find a way to prominently note its existence on Portal:Oregon as the site evolves, as a service to readers. We should request that the Oregon Encyclopedia site link to, and provide a brief description of, Portal:Oregon and Wikipedia in general. (Highlighting the differences, of course, would be appropriate in this context.)

Not discussed, but something we should mention in followup correspondence.

  • The Oregon Historical Society lots of documents and photographs that could help Wikipedia. Can they make their library more accessible to Wikipedia editors in some way?

This audience was from PSU, not OHS. They may, however, be able to help in this respect; we should make an explicit request in our followup correspondence.


2 Responses to “Presentation to Oregon Encyclopedia editors”

  1. Great job on the presentation! It’s a first step in a long process, so don’t be discouraged. They may need wikipedians yet!

  2. I’m not surprised at the interest you received from PSU, my alma mater. They were supporters of the 2006 and 2007 Recent Changes Camp conferences.


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