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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual Paperback – Feb 4 2008
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About the Author
John Broughton has been a registered editor at Wikipedia since August 2005, with more than 15,000 edits by the time he wrote this book. His biggest Wikipedia endeavor was to build the Editor's index to Wikipedia (just type that in the "search" box at the left of any Wikipedia page). This index lists every important reference page on Wikipedia, as well as hundreds of off-Wikipedia Web pages with useful information and tools for Wikipedia editors. John's first experience with programming computers was in a 1969 National Science Foundation program. Since then, he's held various computer-related management positions in the headquarters of a U.S. Army Reserve division, worked in internal audit departments as a Certified Information Systems Auditor, and was the Campus Y2K Coordinator at U.C. Berkeley. A Certified Management Accountant, John has B.S. in Mathematical Sciences from Johns Hopkins University; an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University; an M.S. in Education from the University of Southern California; and a Masters in Public Policy from the University of California at Berkeley.
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More importantly, in my view, is the model it represents in human collaboration efforts, this one in creating a repository of knowledge, but applicable more broadly to other efforts. Besides merely creating enormously useful things, the collaborative efforts result in a community of people and groups which has its own intrinsic values. Imagine thousands of volunteers committing their personal time and effort into a nonhierarchical, consensus-based collaboration having as its selfless main purpose the improvement of human society. Socialism at its best! It seems to me that the model may be useful in areas of politics, management and administration, education, and other social endeavors.. The Open-Source software movement, predating Wikipedia, operates in much the same way. Perhaps the earliest example of this collaborative model was the developmental years of the Internet.
As a casual user of Wikipedia, I had no idea of the nature of the Wikipedia project (and its sister projects - Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikispecies, Wikinews, and Wikiversity - and no doubt others yet to come) until I read "Wikipedia: the Missing Manual," by John Broughton. He is an experienced Wikipedia editor with over 15,000 edits to his credit and is the creator of the "Editor's Index to Wikipedia" which lists every reference page on Wikipedia as well as other off site pages with information useful for serious Wikipedia editors. "Wikipedia: the Missing Manual" is an extremely thorough guide to creating and editing Wikipedia articles. The book is intended to help train new writers and editors and to improve the skills and knowledge of existing participants.
Broughton encourages people to join the Wikipedia community of researchers, fact checkers, and proofreaders. This community seems to be made up of committed, skilled, and serious people who take great pride in the project. There is little organizational hierarchy involved and a minimum of formal participatory rules, but a large set of informal mores and practices which help maintain production, efficiency, civility, and quality. There is always a need for more articles, although of the thousands created every day, nearly one half of them are deleted within 24 hours by attentive editors for a number of reasons explained in the book.
The book starts with an introduction to the basic principles of the Wikipedia project involving notability, credibility, balance, consensus, and good faith and moves quickly into the process of registering with Wikipedia, setting up a user account, and starting out practicing writing, previewing, and saving edits.
In six parts and 21 chapters, the book covers how to document sources, set up an editor's account, and personal workspaces, create new articles, use page histories, monitor changes, and dealing with vandalism and spam. It explains the value of collaborating with other editors and participants in creating and editing articles and in special Wiki Projects and other group efforts. There are several chapters describing how to deal with the inevitable conflict between editors and explains the Wikipedia editing mores of civility, ethics, legality (mostly copyright issues), and efficiency. He explains why editors disagree, in what ways, and how they resolve disputes. He also provides guidance on how disputes can be avoided in the first place.
Separate chapters of the book detail how to work with article pages and sections, tables, lists, markups and links, images and media, and categories. There are descriptions of what makes a good article and what doesn't and there are step-by-step tutorials on creating better articles and being systematic about good editing practices. A most interesting feature of Wikipedia is its large collection of free-to-use images, videos, sound clips, and other media in the Wikipedia Media Commons area which is available for article use and for non-Wikipedia use by anyone for any purpose.
The presentation is thorough and articulate. It covers basic and advanced editing skills. Broughton frequently notes keyword search items and tips to be more productive and efficient. The community norms demand attentive and educated participants. Experience with coding is appreciated. The book has plenty of screenshots illustrating the discussions of Wikipedia features. Most of the sections contain Notes and Tips which provide more detailed explanations of features and an experienced editor's perspective to the prospective new editor as to how and why to do things. Broughton is (perhaps unintentionally) inspiring about participating in the Wikipedia editor community.
Although the book deserves great credit for its content and its tone a few problems with the layout and design detract a bit. The layout is dense with graphics a bit too tightly packed in with the text. Captions at the bottom of grayscale illustrations occasionally refer to nonexistent color clues resulting in some confusion. The density seems to reflect the nature of Wikipedia editing itself, which can be very involved. But, rewarding.
Part 1 - Editing, Creating, and Maintaining Articles: Editing for the First Time; Documenting Your Sources; Setting Up Your Account and Personal Workspace; Creating a New Article; Who Did What - Page Histories and Reverting; Monitoring Changes; Dealing with Vandalism and Spam
Part 2 - Collaborating with Other Editors: Communicating with your Fellow Editors; WikiProjects and Other Group Efforts; Resolving Content Disputes; Handling Incivility and Personal Attacks; Lending Other Editors a Hand
Part 3 - Formatting and Illustrating Articles: Article Sections and Tables of Contents; Creating Lists and Tables; Adding Images
Part 4 - Building A Stronger Encyclopedia: Getting Readers to the Right Article - Naming, Redirects, and Disambiguation; Categorizing Articles; Better Articles - A Systematic Approach; Deleting Existing Articles
Part 6 - Appendixes: A Tour of the Wikipedia Page; Reader's Guide to Wikipedia; Learning More; Index
Broughton doesn't spend much time with a fluffy introduction to Wikipedia and all the benefits and drawbacks of the site. He just dives right in to how to use it. You learn the markup language, as well as the formal way a Wikipedia article is laid out in terms of headers, footnotes, etc. Meanwhile, he's also introducing you to the "rules" of Wikipedia that you'll need to know in order to be an effective contributor. Concepts such as "neutral point of view", "conflict of interest", "notability", and many others are essential to understand so that you don't end up getting locked out of the site before you even get started. One thing I didn't know about were all the shortcut paths to get to certain topics. For instance, typing WP:COI takes you automatically to the Conflict of Interest page so that you can find out how to handle that situation. Couple all his technical "how to" information with his knowledge of the Wikipedia culture, and you have a book that is an essential read for someone planning on adding content.
Another element you get out of this book is the understanding of how wikis work (or how they *should* work). If you're starting a wiki of your own, it's best to learn from someone who has been there and done that. Since Wikipedia is the best known example of a large-scale wiki implementation, you can use this book to understand what features you'll need as well as what controls you'll have to have in place to make it all work properly. After I finish this review, I'm mailing my copy off to someone who is in charge of a community wiki effort for a software firm. I have no doubt that this will help them gain a better understanding of what and where things are going...
If you are at all involved in the world of wikis, this book should be on your short list of titles to get.
Let me state that: 1. I love my Kindle and 2. I liked the book and plan to buy its printed version. But, the Kindle version is useless. This is not because of its contents but because of its images. The book, being a computer "how to", has a lot of pictures mostly screen captures. These pictures are an essential part of the book and are referred to by the text. Unfortunately they are illegible. This make the whole book useless.
For example, contributing an article can be easy if you have reliable sources to back up your information or it can be more difficult if not. The book's first part talks about creating (and editing) articles, along with setting up an account.There are also chapters about documenting your sources and what to do if your article gets "vandalized" or "spammed." Unfortunately with any large online endeavor, these threats are always present. Another problem online of course is dealing with personal attacks, one of the topics covered in Part II. I like the author's philosophy about this. They say when you read comments you feel are an attack, best to walk away for a few hours and then come back and comment. I've been in that situation many times myself in a variety of forums and I totally agree. This also holds true in resolving content disputes.
The book also covers formatting and illustrating articles and gives some handy tips about doing so. For example, insuring your article is not too wordy or that the Table of Contents for the article is not too long. If either of them are too long, you may consider splitting the article into two separate ones. And finally, there are chapters about properly categorizing articles, deleting articles if necessary and also customizing Wikipedia.
All in all, this is a great book to learn about the many facets of Wikipedia.
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