Why I use Wikipedia to follow major news events like the Samoa earthquake and tsunami

It’s worth taking a look at the Wikipedia entry regarding yesterday’s earthquake and resulting tsunami in the south Pacific.
As some people know, I am in awe of Wikipedia and its underlying technology, culture, community and practices. (That’s another post for another day.)

This post, however, is just a suggestion: Watch that entry throughout the day for a display of a new form of journalism in which the invisible hands of editors are turning a flood of incoming data into what will become, over time, the most visited page on the internet regarding this event.

If you forget what you think you know about Wikipedia and study this entry, you’ll see a resource in which every fact is cited by a link to its source (gee, what I’d give for such citation in a typical AP story). You will see news writing that eschews narrative and anecdote for timeline and statistics.

And talk about link-jounalism. A story like this, one that involves facts about geology and geography and science and politics, presents the need to link to resources found on all corners of the internet. Because Wikipedia is built on such links, nearly every sentence on the entry has multiple links to other entries on Wikipedia. And in the “Reference section (where citation links appear)” and the “External links” section, you’ll already find dozens of links to news stories, aid organizations and local resources.

Because the Wikipedia (and Mediawiki) community of extension and template developers have been practicing their craft for so long, there are pre-existing tables and charts (and processes and practices for their usage) that as soon as the event occurred, a page appeared that is recognizable to those who have ever seen a page that chronicles a similar event.

Less than 24-hours later, the entry has been translated into nine different languages (and counting).

The entry is written for someone who is desperate to get information in real-time — it has an exhaustive list of out-bound links to news-sources that will likely be edited out later — as well as future historians, writers, researchers, students and others who will be seeking information about the event in years to come.

There is so much to learn from this entry on Wikipedia.

Most major news-oriented websites have spent years trying to replicate online what story-telling is in print or broadcast. Even blogs do that.

During that same time, Wikipedia has shown us a different way — perhaps one that points to a better way for the web.

I promise: There’s so much more to Wikipedia than you can ever imagine.

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  • RuthAnnHarnisch

    Jimmy Wales and Rebecca Handler of the Wikimedia Foundation stopped by the office last week to pitch me on upping my contribution tenfold.
    Rex, you made a much better case for increased funding than they did!
    I will forward this post to them so they can use it in their fundraising materials. It makes such a good case for support.
    (Most people don't know Wikipedia is nonprofit, most of the work is done by passionate, dedicated, UNPAID volunteers, and that it is the contributions of the public that support this astounding enterprise.)
    So, Rex, how much are YOU going to give to the Wikimedia Foundation this year?

  • http://gravitationalpull.net/wp/ ampressman

    I'm embarrassed to admit that I never thought of going to Wikipedia for news on a developing current event but it is amazing.

    Rex, how do you think this plays into the debate about aggregation sites “stealing” traffic or mojo or whatever from media sites and thereby exacerbating the decline and fall of journalism? Because from what I'm reading on Wikipedia, I'm not feeling a great need to click through to the underlying sources. The entry is, in many ways, more useful and comprehensive than the story in my morning paper. But, the entry couldn't really exist and evolve like this in real-time without those media sites, no?

    It's also interesting to peek at the history page for the wikipedia entry on the earthquake. It looks like just a few people (well, maybe a dozen) are doing most of the additions and edits. And while some are active wikipedian, others look like this is the the first or one of the first entries they've ever helped with.

  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    Writing this post reminded me to do just that. Thanks for “outing” me. By the way, we miss you in Nashville. Ever come back to town?

  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    History is a good place to look to learn that most posts are the work of a few people. In reality (this is my longer post) each entry on Wikipedia should be thought of as an individual website with its own community. Also, another tab to click on to learn about the “back channel” is the discussion tab. The “discussion” part of Wikipedia is about to undergo a radical overhaul with the introduction of “liquid threads” that make that page work more like a forum. Stay tuned.

  • RuthAnnHarnisch

    I do. I'm still active in the nonprofit community.
    I'd love to see a few hundred of my closest Middle Tennessee friends at the Power of the Purse luncheon in April, 2010 where Jennifer Buffett will be the keynote speaker. She and I are members of Women Moving Millions and we're hoping to encourage some Nashville area women to join us!

  • http://rob.orangejack.com Rob Williams

    My wife is a Virginia Tech alum and we were overseas when the massacre happened on campus. I was online at the time and found the best site to monitor for updates was Wikipedia. I tried CNN and some of the other news outlets, but Wikipedia kept it clean and easy to follow. Flipped over to the discussion tab to get more insights as well. We were really appreciative of it.

  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    Before you all trip over yourselves upping your financial donations to the Wikimedia Foundation's big sham, you might wish to enlighten yourself with a few reasons why you should be cautious before donating anything to that operation.

    http://mywikibiz.com/Top_10_Reasons_Not_to_Dona

    I hope you'll read it with an open mind, then act to demand governance reforms of the Foundation before you give them another dime.

  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    I am very aware of the anti-Wikipedia crowds. And I've written on this blog about valid reasons to criticize Wikipedia. I don't need conspiracy theorists and followers of certain cults to attempt to convince me that anything as successful as Wikipedia must be evil.

  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    That's a rather dim-witted response, Rex. I began as, and continue to be, a big believer in the potential that resides within the Wikipedia project. My research and experience, though, has informed me that the Wikimedia Foundation's leadership (note, not “Wikipedia”) is comprised of some individuals who have demonstrated very poor governance practices. I won't go into details here, as they are readily available in the mainstream and non-traditional media, if you're willing to look for them. However, I suspect that you are unwilling to learn more about these individuals and their more disgraceful characteristics. There is a delicious irony in your using the word “cult” to describe a critic of the Wikimedia Foundation's financial and governance practices. I'm really not a kook, but you're welcome to hold that opinion of me if it comforts your worldview. I hold a director-level position within a Fortune 100 company, and I serve on the boards of two different non-profit corporations.

  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    Perhaps if you weren't commenting annonymously, I could take you more seriously. And, first warning, this is my blog: You can call me dim-witted anyplace else you like, but not here.

  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    Rex, I would have figured that someone who is “very aware of anti-Wikipedia crowds” would be aware of “thekohser”, as my avatar was named (a simple Google search on the name would have removed all doubt of anonymity). But, regardless, I’ve updated my Disqus profile to reveal myself in all my middle-aged glory. I didn’t call YOU dim-witted, I labeled your RESPONSE as such. You’re the one who started throwing labels on people, calling them “conspiracy theorists” and “cult followers”. I think you’re perfect for Wikipedia culture, Rex. Enjoy your encyclopedia. Don’t worry that it only takes about $1.4 million to physically run, despite a projected budget of $10 million for 2010. Let your conscience roam free, unfettered by facts.

  • http://nonbovine-ruminations.blogspot.com kmartin

    Wikipedia does a good job covering natural disasters. This is because there's generally nobody out there rooting for the tsunami, so there's not going to be an war over whether it was “great” or “terrible” that 1500 people (or however many it is in any given situation) died.

    The same is not true of most of the articles on Wikipedia. For most news events there are going to be disparate interpretations of events that involve deeply held political views, and whenever that happens Wikipedia is anything but a useful resource; instead, it turns into a shouting match between combatants.

    Also, please note that the Wikimedia Foundation does not consider the editors of Wikipedia to be “volunteers”. They are, in fact, customers, and treated as such. Jimmy will sometimes claim that they're “volunteers” in order to convince people to donate money, but internally the Foundation treats them as, at best, annoyances.

    Liquid threads have been “coming” on Wikipedia for four years. Don't hold your breath on that.

  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    Before you all trip over yourselves upping your financial donations to the Wikimedia Foundation's big sham, you might wish to enlighten yourself with a few reasons why you should be cautious before donating anything to that operation.

    http://mywikibiz.com/Top_10_Reasons_Not_to_Dona

    I hope you'll read it with an open mind, then act to demand governance reforms of the Foundation before you give them another dime.

  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    I am very aware of the anti-Wikipedia crowds. And I've written on this blog about valid reasons to criticize Wikipedia. I don't need conspiracy theorists and followers of certain cults to attempt to convince me that anything as successful as Wikipedia must be evil.

  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    That's a rather dim-witted response, Rex. I began as, and continue to be, a big believer in the potential that resides within the Wikipedia project. My research and experience, though, has informed me that the Wikimedia Foundation's leadership (note, not “Wikipedia”) is comprised of some individuals who have demonstrated very poor governance practices. I won't go into details here, as they are readily available in the mainstream and non-traditional media, if you're willing to look for them. However, I suspect that you are unwilling to learn more about these individuals and their more disgraceful characteristics. There is a delicious irony in your using the word “cult” to describe a critic of the Wikimedia Foundation's financial and governance practices. I'm really not a kook, but you're welcome to hold that opinion of me if it comforts your worldview. I hold a director-level position within a Fortune 100 company, and I serve on the boards of two different non-profit corporations.

  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    Perhaps if you weren't commenting annonymously, I could take you more seriously. And, first warning, this is my blog: You can call me dim-witted anyplace else you like, but not here.

  • http://nonbovine-ruminations.blogspot.com kmartin

    Wikipedia does a good job covering natural disasters. This is because there's generally nobody out there rooting for the tsunami, so there's not going to be an war over whether it was “great” or “terrible” that 1500 people (or however many it is in any given situation) died.

    The same is not true of most of the articles on Wikipedia. For most news events there are going to be disparate interpretations of events that involve deeply held political views, and whenever that happens Wikipedia is anything but a useful resource; instead, it turns into a shouting match between combatants.

    Also, please note that the Wikimedia Foundation does not consider the editors of Wikipedia to be “volunteers”. They are, in fact, customers, and treated as such. Jimmy will sometimes claim that they're “volunteers” in order to convince people to donate money, but internally the Foundation treats them as, at best, annoyances.

    Liquid threads have been “coming” on Wikipedia for four years. Don't hold your breath on that.

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