Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Wading into the Wiki World

Since I first discovered Wikipedia about a year ago, I've been fascinated with the whole concept. If you aren't already familiar with it, you should be. Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia maintained using the concept of a "wiki", which is to say that it is maintained by anybody and everybody. Articles in Wikipedia may be written, edited, or corrected by anyone who feels like they have something to contribute. Unlike a conventional encyclopedia, no particular authorities are sought out to write or review articles. On this surface, this may sound like a recipe for disaster, for all sorts of quackery and unsupported claims to be put forth. In practice, in turns out to be quite effective. (A peer-reviewed comparison of Wikipedia with Encyclopedia Britannica conducted by Nature magazine on 42 science topics found the same number of major errors in both encyclopedias, and a moderately smaller number of minor errors in Britannica.) What makes it work is the ease of update, allowing it to immediately be corrected, plus what amounts to worldwide peer review. The more people who use it, the more people will be interested in maintaining it. (It's now in the Top 50 most visited websites.)

It occurred to me that this concept could be very useful for genealogists. At its best, genealogy is a collaborative endeavor, with multiple researchers looking into overlapping areas of interest, and double-checking one another's assertions. There is much room for such review. When one looks at the vast amount of family tree information posted on the Internet, one soon realizes how much of it is poorly researched, with legends and jumped conclusions being propagated too easily. That's where a wiki could really help. Turns out a number of people have had a similar notion, and I've already found several sites doing genealogy wikis. Just to get my feet wet, I figured I should give one of them a try. I've spent many late nights the last few weeks putting together my first Gen-Wiki page, on my very interesting ancestor, Captain William H. Dobbs, privateer and patriot. Do check it out, and if you happen to see any corrections that need made or new information to add, please feel free to do so. That's what a wiki is all about!

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