From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

In A Teapot: Wiki While You Work

I’ve had wiki stuff on the brain for the last couple of weeks. It started off when someone on the Carl Brandon Society mailing list pointed out that there isn’t a lot of information about people of color in SF and their works on Wikipedia. Major works by major authors either had stub articles or no articles at all, and there was a lot of work to be done in general. Many of us agreed, and a few set about attempting to correct this mistake by adding information.

This was bound to start some drama, even if just a little. Wikipedia is supposed to be a community effort, an encyclopedia where anyone can edit. But any sane person who has spent time there knows that for every article or category that’s ignored, there are there others lorded over by petty tyrants on a power trip. There are also a not insignificant number of people who are ignorant about race and actively hostile to non-whites. I discovered just a tiny slice of this mere hours after creating an account there, and not much has happened in the meantime to dissuade me from that initial impression.

Not that there are any greater number of prejudiced people on Wikipedia than there are in general, but the most vocal of them affect what pages and categories stay on the site and other important items of Wikipedia policy. They rear their ugly heads a lot on pages concerning African-Americans and other folks of the African Diaspora, and it’s rarely a pretty sight.

The Carl Brandon wiki-ers ran into this pretty soon after they started heavily editing, when a category they created–People of Color in SF–was nominated for deletion because:

Everyone has a skin colour it is an irrelevancy. …what on earth does it have to do with their fictional output. It maybe a subject of the work but that is different from the colour of the author.

Eventually this person got their wish and the category went bye-bye. This led to Carl Brandon members renewing their interest in having a CBS wiki, just as has an FSFWiki. I think this is a great idea for many reasons, not the least of which is the nastiness one often experiences on Wikipedia. That nastiness has a few things at its core. One being that some people have serious power issues and play them out in whatever venue allows them to–Wikipedia is an easy fiefdom to conquer, if one has the time and no life. Another being that American culture, the culture which many people contributing to the English language Wikipedia are steeped in, often devalues the contributions of women and minorities, but does so in a backhanded way: by claiming that their contributions shouldn’t be called out on the basis of race or gender or nationality, but instead thrown in with the “mainstream”, which just happens to be overwhelmingly populated by white males.

Hello, history, you seem to be repeating yourself!

The FeministSF and Carl Brandon wikis will probably not be as well known or have as much Google juice as Wikipedia, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be an excellent resource of information, and it doesn’t mean that they won’t influence what is considered notable and important on Wikipedia, should people decide to transfer what they find on these specialized wikis to the general one. But in order for either of these wikis to be good resources, they need data. Wikis get their data from people on the Internet. The community, if you will. This means you.

The Carl Brandon wiki isn’t up yet–right now it’s just an idea and a desire. But it won’t be long. The FSFWiki is up and there’s already a lot of information on it. Go there, search for your favorite female SF writers and see if they have an article. If not, make one. If it’s a stub, expand it. Search for books by female authors, or topics surrounding feminist SF. My current project is keeping the list of works and women eligible for 2009 awards updated. Help me out!

And if you have an account on Wikipedia (or even if you don’t), go poke around over there and improve some articles. Gozer knows we need more people there who care about disseminating information more than they care about being the King of Wikis.

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7 Responses »

  1. If you have any data on editors please pop over to the SF Editors wiki. I’m sure Anne would be delighted to hear from you.

  2. Ugh, Wiki Kings. I tried to add some information to the D&D page about the marketing push towards women players that’s coming with D&D 4.0, but overzealous editors over there quickly wiped it. Apparently there’s nothing noteworthy about the first officially 4th edition book being written by a woman, about women, and marketed to women…

  3. I’m starting to feel like we need to make WikiProjects in order for thing to be considered “notable”. because, yeah, just because some man doesn’t find it notable doesn’t mean that it’s not. We need to get Laura Quilter to help!

  4. … Hear, hear. Although I like to think that the FSFwiki is feminist and anti-racist and definitely would NOT delete these kinds of categories.

    … i should probably apologize. i did not get in on the “categories for discussion” discussion on this one because i knew, from the start, that its deletion was a foregone conclusion. Between structural reasons that would make it difficult to work, and the privileged cluelessness that has led to the deletion of categories like “African American scientists” — I couldn’t do it again. I will ping you offline, though, and talk about how to topic-ify things such that, while the most hardened clueless editors will still not Get It, other folks will. I’ve just been on a minor wikibreak from wikipedia.

    Notice that I think that it is still important to work with Wikipedia despite its flaws and the cluelessness of some/many editors. This is for two reasons: One, for better or worse, wikipedia is currently the “wiki of record” and I therefore believe that engagement with it is as important as doing separate projects. Two, believe it or not, I have seen editors change their opinions and learn and grow. Including myself.


  5. okay – another note about strategy for commenters here: If you want to bulletproof content, there are a few ways:

    First, you need cites and references. The more mainstream the better. And the more they directly and primarily discuss the topic of the information you are trying to insert, the better. So, for instance, an article in the NYT primarily about women game designers that prominently discusses D&D as an example would be perfect.

    Second, fans are the most zealous protectors on wikipedia, and also, unfortunately, among the most hidebound and cliquish. I say that as a fan, of course! Thus they will in fact police “their” articles rigorously to eliminate what they find irrelevant. Cites like I discuss above can help. Also, if you see one person exhibiting this behavior to a ridiculous extreme, you can cite to [[WP:OWN]] — no ownership of an article — and there are lots of policies and procedures to help you if something is truly inappropriate.

    But a lot of what happens isn’t “inappropriate”, per se; it’s a judgment call, or within the realm of normal discourse and debate in today’s society. If what you’re trying to add is argued with as trivial or off-topic or “undue weight”, even though you have a cite, I would suggest that the thing to do is to find, or create, a better and more hospitable home for that content. For instance, there is probably an article about “game designers” — e.g., the history & status of that particular occupation. If there’s not, there should be. Demographics about the field are inarguably appropriate. We should ultimately get an article about “women game designers” or “women in gaming” — there are plenty of cites to support such an article.

    Finally, if you have issues like this, please ping me on my wikipedia talk page. I will not necessarily agree with your approach, but I promise to work with you on it. If it’s truly appropriate for wikipedia & is just being stonewalled, or needs a different strategy, we’ll figure it out.

    User:Lquilter (User talk:Lquilter)


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