Defining Open Authority

An attempt to illustrate, define, & discuss the intersection between museum
authority & participatory digital culture. | Ask me about museums & Wikipedia.

Posts tagged "wikipedia"

1 year ago 4 notes publications history historians open authority wikipedia



Recently Dominic McDevitt-Parks and I had the exciting opportunity to co-author an article for the American Historical Association’s newsmagazine, Perspectives on History, as part of the special 50th anniversary edition on the future of the discipline.  The piece builds on AHA President William Cronon’s February 2012 article, “Scholarly Authority in a Wikified World,” which did much to increase the positive perception of Wikipedia among historians.  We aim to set forth a vision for the profession in which scholars actively engage with the volunteer Wikipedia community. While many academics may still be wary of Wikipedia, we believe that the encyclopedia and its community are not a threat to scholarly authority, but rather an asset.


Read “Historians in Wikipedia: Building an Open, Collaborative History,” on the GLAM-Wiki US blog or on the AHA site.

Recently Dominic McDevitt-Parks and I had the exciting opportunity to co-author an article for the American Historical Association’s newsmagazine, Perspectives on History, as part of the special 50th anniversary edition on the future of the discipline.  The piece builds on AHA President William Cronon’s February 2012 article, “Scholarly Authority in a Wikified World,” which did much to increase the positive perception of Wikipedia among historians.  We aim to set forth a vision for the profession in which scholars actively engage with the volunteer Wikipedia community. While many academics may still be wary of Wikipedia, we believe that the encyclopedia and its community are not a threat to scholarly authority, but rather an asset.

Read “Historians in Wikipedia: Building an Open, Collaborative History,” on the GLAM-Wiki US blog or on the AHA site.

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2 years ago 5 notes Wikipedia history authority experts digital history

Wikipedia & the history field

Trevor Owens and his “History in the Digital Age” students have a fantastic discussion going over on dighist.org. I have a bit of a reaction to this so I’m going to blog instead of “merely” leave a comment. :)

Read the post, “Wikipedia and Its Place in the Field of History.

There are a million directions I can go with this and I don’t really know where to start, so I’ll break it up into some bullet points.

  1. Can History Be Open Source?: As a historian/educator turned museum professional/Wikipedian/open source advocate, Roy Rosenzweig’s “Can History be Open Source?” has served as the foundation of my current career path and inspiration for me in my research and my perspective on my field. It is what gave me the faith to move forward with this crazy world of cultural heritage and Wikipedia. After reading it I thought, “OK. There’s something to this… and I think I can make it work.” And now here I am, the US Cultural Partnerships Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation and an emerging museum professional working in the largest children’s museum in the world… oh yea, and still a historian and educator at heart. Thanks Roy, for the inspiration.
  2. GLAM-WIKI: I appreciate that Trevor pointed out in the comments just how far the cultural sector has come in adopting Wikipedia since Rosenzweig’s article was written. I’ve been amazed to see how the GLAM-WIKI initiative has grown around the world. Our goal is to work with cultural organizations to share heritage, resources, and expertise on a digital and globally-accessible platform. But this is just the first step. So far this has involved a lot of image donations & basic metadata content. We need to go deeper and begin to share the contextualized (published) expertise that’s hiding in the filing cabinets of cultural organizations. That’s my goal for the future. And historians have a place in that future.
  3. The role of the expert in Wikipedia: I am always interested to hear historians discussing their role in contributing to Wikipedia (or, often, perceived lack thereof). For instance, the statement was made, “I don’t think incorporating academic thinking or writing into [Wikipedia] would satisfy scholars or the general public.” I disagree. In my opinion (and in the opinion of many within the Wikipedia community), there is a strong need for experts within Wikipedia, historians included. When experts point to Wikipedia’s fallacies and claim, “there are mistakes, this subject is lacking, etc.”, the Wikipedia community often remarks [[sofixit]]! (Really, [[sofixit]] is a thing.) Wikimedia is working hard on making it easier for anyone to edit Wikipedia, and experts more than anyone understand the need for citations. Rather than complaining about Wikipedia, we really do need the experts to join in. We’re good to go on the big, obvious stuff. There will always be need for help on the little details.
  4. Neutrality: It was stated that Wikipedia is the antithesis of proper history. I can see this point, but will have to argue it. Wikipedia will always be better if multiple points of view are presented. This is where the academic history will serve an incredibly important purpose within Wikipedia. Published academic articles should be incorporated into Wikipedia articles, not as fact, but as separate interpretations of that topic. This gives it the nuance needed to continually improve Wikipedia. And as new interpretations arise, they can be added. Wikipedia is in fact a living, breathing historiography of our ongoing perspectives on any given topic (just look at any article’s discussion page and History tab!) 
  5. "The non-historical community would not widely accept accessible, online historiographical information." If I’m understanding this statement in context, it’s saying that there’s not necessarily a need for publicly accessible academic publications. You’re getting this open-web-advocate’s feathers all ruffled with this one (and remember, I’m a historian by trade!) I’d say this is absolutely not true. There will always be use for scholarly, historical publications and these should certainly be made publicly accessible, if for no other reason that to allow them to be integrated into the wider narrative within Wikipedia as a citation. If they’re hidden behind a pay wall, a Wikipedian will not be able to find these new insights to incorporate them (as an additional interpretation) into that topic’s Wikipedia article. Why are we researching if not to disperse our findings?
  6. Wikipedia, shared authority, and collective intelligence in action. I’m currently researching the role of Wikipedia in the shifting perception of “authority” in the digital museum. In order to make sense of my thoughts, I’ve coined the term “open authority,” as in, there is a place for the respected authority of the museum, and there is a need to be open in sharing this authority and incorporating new perspectives into the broader narrative. Wikipedia is an incredible platform for bringing together the insights of experts, hobbyists, cultural organizations, and community members. Discussions take place on the talk pages and a neutral interpretation of the topic is presented in the article, with appropriate third party sources. Every article is only as good as its contributors. So contribute! Embrace the openness and let Wikipedia do what it does best - to bring together and share knowledge on a global scale. 

On that profound note, I’ll stop for now. If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on “open authority,” you can read my definition via the New Media Consortium’s MIDEA blog: "Defining Open Authority in Museums."

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2 years ago 16 notes Wikipedia museums GLAMWIKI future of museums neutrality

Now that Wikipedia is perfect...

Please read the above link prior to reading my admittedly defensive reply below : ).

——————

So, as someone who is at once an emerging museum professional (and technologist) and a Wikipedian…

While I absolutely agree with all of Jasper’s points, (in fact they have me very excited!) I do have to make the very obvious observation that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and that is very different from a museum. This basic definition (Wikipedia as an encyclopedia) is the reason that Wikipedia falters in all three of the characteristics that Jasper mentions (brevity, humor, and passion). Though I can’t fault him for choosing Wikipedia to frame his points - it’s a great way to illustrate what makes museums special - they have the power to NOT just be an encyclopedia. They should not be! They should take advantage of the fact that they can be brief, passionate, and humorous, in a world that craves these characteristics. Wikipedia still has a very important role to play — as a space to present information as neutrally as possible after discussing all points of view on the talk page (and within a global community.) Museums, in fact, have the power to not be neutral. While many still strive for neutrality, isn’t it those museums that aren’t that are all the more intriguing? Embrace that. (Hey Jasper - I’d love a post on this point… #4 perhaps?? Lack of neutrality?)

All three of these things (brevity, humor, and passion) are extremely important for museums. That doesn’t mean that Wikipedia is bad in comparison because it lacks them. And I’m not meaning to imply that Jasper is saying Wikipedia is bad, but the very act of comparing the two makes Wikipedia look dim, sad, and irrelevant. This is of course not so. Wikipedia is exciting because of its power to build knowledge collaboratively and its ability to spread and share knowledge on a global scale. One day, it may just be one of the last places to find neutral information, and so be it. 

When it comes to the sometimes painfully long articles, I do want to point out something that Jimmy Wales mentioned on his visit to The Children’s Museum this past September. He explained that as Wikipedia has grown, it has started to become inaccessible to children and families - something that he hoped a partnership with the Children’s Museum might begin to fix. He suggested that we have a renewed effort to fix the [[Lead]] (or introductory) sections of every article so that they really do reflect the most basic information in a concise way. This is the goal already, but it needs to become the focus. So… it’s a mandate :), and one that we’re working on.

As someone who quite literally makes a living by piloting projects that incorporate Wikipedia into museums, you’ll have to forgive my defensive stance.  I believe that museums do a great job at being museums (but can always do better, especially using many of Jasper’s great suggestions throughout his blog.) I also believe that Wikipedia does a great job at being a free and open encyclopedia (but can always do better, which is what I am trying to help with every single day.)  In my job, I bring the museum content to Wikipedia, and I help think of ways to incorporate Wikipedia into the museum. There is a place for both, I think. One can compliment the other. Trying to compare the two… well it’s apples and oranges.

Oh and for your reading pleasure: [[What Wikipedia is Not]] (courtesy of Wikipedians)

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2 years ago 6 notes Wikipedia sopa neutrality open web tech

Wikipedia: The Neutrality Paradox?

Yesterday, in the height of excitement preparing for the Wikipedia Blackout, I had the opportunity to simply be proud about being a part of something bigger. But today, now that the Blackout has (of course) attracted attention, it has turned into a defense of Wikipedia’s principles.

I’m going to specifically address the points brought up by Nick Poole, CEO of the UK-based Collections Trust, this morning on Twitter. Here is our exchange thus far:

@NickPoole1: #Wikipedia on blackout - ‘Our articles are neutral, our existence is not’ - undermines entire principle of neutrality. 
@HstryQT: Not true, Nick. Wikipedia is built on the principles of the open web & that must be protected. No openness = no wiki neutrality
@NickPoole1: If u act like a body corporate, then u are de facto not neutral. Who is the ‘we’ in the #Wikipedia article? U can’t close a commons
@HstryQT: Yet, we did. The community closed the commons in order to save the commons. Guess we’re redefining things. @mpedson take note.

The quote he is referring to is from Kat Walsh, a Wikimedia Foundation board member who I personally know to be brilliant and whose voice of reason I’ve come to highly appreciate.


"Why is the Wikipedia Blackout a good thing?" Quite simply, it’s good because it clearly and pragmatically illustrates the impact that this legislation would have, not only in the US but on a global scale. It is using a worldwide platform to advocate for the open web and the associated culture that made Wikipedia possible. As the quintessential collaborative community that came out of the open source movement, it only makes sense for Wikipedia to make this stand. Wikipedia’s volunteers continue to maintain the principles of freely and openly sharing knowledge. Usually we are doing this in little ways. But today we have the chance to show just why the open web is so, so very important.

"The Blackout undermines Wikipedia’s principles of neutrality." There are many others who agree with this statement, in fact the Wikipedia community itself debated it heavily. (The very fact that Wikipedians debated this actually illustrates my point further; see below.) It is shortsighted to say that Wikipedia’s advocacy undermines its principles of neutrality. Kat’s quote in fact is the most concise and clear statement revoking this argument: “Our articles are neutral, our existence is not.” But I’ll tease this out for the sake of dissenters.

The community never claims to be neutral. Those who understand the history of Wikipedia and the open source movement will understand that the community itself is in no way neutral in regards to our views on the importance of the open web. The very act of being a “movement” (which is how Wikipedia proudly defines itself) implies that we feel strongly about our views on freely and openly sharing knowledge. We make no claims to be neutral on the subject. So why then should it mean that our advocacy is undermining our principles? This is absolutely not so. We are in fact defending our principles and doing our best to ensure that the open web thrives. As one of the largest and oldest communities devoted to this cause, it would be odd for us to not make a stand.

The articles aim to be neutral. The principles of neutrality within Wikipedia can easily be misunderstood by those outside of the community. Once again, as Kat explained, “Our articles are neutral, our existence is not.” Neutrality is indeed a pillar within Wikipedia and describes a standard that we strive to achieve for the encyclopedia. Neutrality is a goal for the product, not the community. And can I also note - the Wikipedia community itself will always have argued whatever point you’re trying to make over and over (and over and over). You can find these discussions which we transparently have out in the open for all to see. We aim for our articles to be neutral, that doesn’t mean the community is.

"Who is the ‘we’ in the Wikipedia article?": “We” is whoever wants to contribute to the conversation. One becomes a part of the community simply by taking part in the discussion on the talk page. When consensus is reached about how to best illustrate a topic in a neutral manner and with the best sources, it is presented in that article. If you do not feel that something is neutral in an article, join in and say as much! Help us make it better.

"You can’t close a commons." And that’s what makes the Wikipedia Blackout so unprecedented. The commons chose to shut down the commons to save the commons. Has this ever happened before? Likely not. But in this case, we actually did close a commons because the community chose to do so. This may mark a redefinition of what a commons is, or more specifically what a commons is capable of. While it might err from the usual definitions, I think it’s worth looking to Wikipedia, the original commons, in setting this new precedent.

Just to be clear, the Wikimedia Foundation did not make this decision, the community did. The Wikimedia Foundation assisted in the technical aspects of implementing the Blackout, but only after thorough, heated, and ongoing debate among the Wikipedia community itself. In the end, the Wikimedia board could not make the call, the founder Jimmy Wales could not make the call, nor could the Executive Director Sue Gardner make the call - three respected administrators moderated the discussion and declared when consensus was reached. This was a huge decision for the Wikipedia community, and one which I’m very proud to have been a part.

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2 years ago 1 note Wikipedia tech sopa


I’m always proud to be a Wikipedian, but even more so today.
When the White House came out against SOPA, I was proud to have been part of the cited petition against it. When the House shelved the bill, I was proud that (perhaps) my passionate email to my Congressman meant something. And when Wikipedia reached consensus about a full, global blackout, I was proud to have been a part of the discussion. It’s the first time in my 28 years that I feel like democracy has worked (…but maybe it’s just that it takes a crazy-ass bill like SOPA to make one feel empowered. ;)

I’m always proud to be a Wikipedian, but even more so today.

When the White House came out against SOPA, I was proud to have been part of the cited petition against it. When the House shelved the bill, I was proud that (perhaps) my passionate email to my Congressman meant something. And when Wikipedia reached consensus about a full, global blackout, I was proud to have been a part of the discussion. It’s the first time in my 28 years that I feel like democracy has worked (…but maybe it’s just that it takes a crazy-ass bill like SOPA to make one feel empowered. ;)

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2 years ago 11 notes Wikipedia museums open web technology authority

Defining Open Authority in Museums

In which I attempt to distill my thesis into less than 600 words. Please do share your thoughts in the comments section (on the NMC blog itself.) I’d love to hear them!

From “Defining Open Authority in Museums” via the New Media Consortium:

As part of my museum studies MA, I have been researching the potential of Wikipedia as a platform for museums to encourage accessibility and community dialogue. My research happened to coincide with an incredibly inspiring discussion about authority among museum professionals, which led me to propose a new model for authority in museums: open authority.

What is open authority?  That’s a good question, which I can begin to explain by describing the parallel theories that frame my research.  These theories are actually mirroring metaphors:  The Temple and the Forum in the museum field and The Cathedral and the Bazaar in the open web community.  In 1971, Duncan F. Cameron posited that the museum should be both a temple and a forum — an authoritative space and a place for dialogue that coexist within a museum but remain separate.  In 1997, Eric S. Raymond wrote The Cathedral and the Bazaar as a comparison between top-down software development and open source software development that is available for all to adapt and improve, with Linux as the quintessential example. The important conclusion is that, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” I believe that the future of museum authority lies in bringing these two metaphors together.

I see open authority as the coming together of museum authority with the principles of the open web. In other words, open authority is a mixing of institutional expertise with the discussions, experiences, and insights of broad audiences. Opening up authority within a global platform can increase points of view and establish a more complete representation of knowledge.  Just as “with more eyes all bugs are shallow,” cultural interpretation will only improve with diverse participation.

What does open authority look like?  Projects across various disciplines have experimented with sharing levels of authority with museum audiences.  The recently published Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World is a great overview of where the history field stands, and offers enlightening case studies ranging from digital participation, oral history initiatives, and community curation.

Wikipedia is just one of many platforms that can be better utilized to encourage open authority in museums. In fact it can be seen as both a “temple” (the main article) and a “bazaar” (the talk page.) The article talk page is a true digital forum where collective knowledge is brought together within a broad, global discussion. Adding curatorial expertise to this discussion will further enrich the information that is ultimately presented on the published article.  In fact, the Wikipedia articles themselves can be viewed as a sort of authority in flux, where the best version of the moment is presented for view while details are continually negotiated behind the scenes.  In this “temple” it is understood that no narrative is definitive, neutrality is the goal but bias is inherent, and interpretation is continuously improved through an abundance of perspectives. Might this be the new authority we need to embrace?

This is one vision of what open authority may look like, but there are many others out there. I’ve found that sometimes it takes defining something to see its potential.  I’d love to hear your ideas and examples of open authority in museums, from what can be done today to what we have to look forward to in the future.

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