Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Nicholson Baker Looks at Wikipedia

A while ago I posted a link about Wikipedia. My interest in Wikipedia actually touches more on my professional life than on my blogger life, but given how important it has become in the general culture I indulged.

The current edition of the New York Review of Books has a very engaging article by Nicholson Baker on Wikipedia. Turns out someone wrote a 477 page book on how to write for Wikipedia, for sale at $29.99, or cheaper at Amazon. If the subject of how the Internet is changing some aspects of human society interests you - it is, tho since it won't change human nature you need to be careful not to get carried away- then Baker's review is definitely worth the time.

Then I went to Wikipedia to find out who this Nicholson Baker is. Wikipedia being what it is, the article on him already contains reference to his NYRB article on Wikipedia. There I learned that Baker is the author of a New Yorker article of the mid 1990s about how librarians in their race to digitize their catalogs were destroying culture. (Unfortunately not online). I was an archivist at the time, proudly of the vanguard of the race to digitize, but I was so impressed by his article that I had copies made and disseminated to many of my colleagues; I can remember much of it to this day.

The one real blooper in this Wikipedia article, and it's a whale of a blooper, is that he seems quite unaware of the more than 100 non-English versions; since the English version comprises well below half of the entire project, this is something of a problem. The questions of who writes what, in which languages, and what different language versions tell about the same items, are fascinating. (I have at times used at least 5 different versions in attempts to figure out what I couldn't learn from single articles in one language).

Anyway, the man writes engagingly, I don't always agree with him, and I figured his article to be worth a link. Somehow I didn't get to it until this morning, when I read about a far greater argument that I have with him - but that will wait for the next post. Gotta go do some real work...

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