Happy Birthday Wikipedia!

It's been 10 years since the Wikipedia was started, although according the the folklore I know it was not on the 15th but on the 16th of January in 2001 that the first article was put up on the Internet:

This is not a real article, and the color suggests that the article on the United States is already there, but it is fun in that it shows some of the problems we have overcome in the Wikipedia. Articles used to have to be in CamlCase, that is, have at least 2 capital letters in them with at least one small one in between.

This is the official first surviving entry because the first software didn't do a great job of keeping revisions around. But since Wikipedia says that this is the first article, we'll leave it at that.

My first article? Well, we have to take a good step back to a summer I spent in the late 70s with my folks near Washington, D.C. The 'burb they lived in was boooooring, so I would get up early, ride with my Dad into town, cruise around and be back at his office at closing time. Hanging out at DuPont Circle I was in this bookstore that had a copy of Ted Nelson's dual-book Dream Machines/Computer Lib. (I just googled and saw that my first edition copy is worth upwards of 300$, great investment!)

Hypertext. Chunks of text with references to other texts. Machines mapping our minds. It blew my mind, as did Nelson's "Literary Machines" that I got a few years later. These ideas were crazy - I was programming on large time-sharing machines we could glimpse through the glass windows. But I loved the ideas. I had started messing with the Internet at college in 1975, when a pal and I sat at a teletype one night and managed to get a computer in Stanford to request us to log in. We couldn't guess the login, but the idea that we were sitting in San Diego and the machine in Stanford was wild.

I was messing with computer networks (X.25 and all that) when I joined a global company in the early 80s, and when I went back to university for a doctorate we had a communal email address for the research group.

Fast forward to the early 2000s, I've been playing with hypertext on all sorts of platforms: Gopher, Mosaic and the WWW, web-based instruction. And I get a pot of money to develop an online course on hypermedia. One of the chapters is about possible uses for hypermedia, and one of them is quaintly about the possibility of doing online dictionaries and encyclopedia. One of my researchers found a link for the Wikipedia in 2003, we linked it in as an example.

In February 2004 I was in the States and had time to seriously surf around snarfing the unsecured WiFi a neighbor of my brother had around. I started a one sentence article on the mathematician Toralf Skolem, because I had been working with skolemizations during my dissertation. I found a list of needed articles, picked off a German (Klaus Reiner Röhl) and translated a bit I found on the web about him. The next day Angela (I am so honored!) wikified it.

I grew bolder, and decided to register. But what should I call myself? I'm a respectable professor in my day job, so it would be a good idea to not use my real name until I see if this thing is a respectable thing to be associated with. As a student I had used the pseudonym "Devious Wisewoman", so I CamlCased it to WiseWoman and began my career as a registered Wikipedian.

I got really brave and wrote an article about the Swedish money exchange company Forex. I edited the article on the Queen of Denmark, researched and started an article on the Danish author Thit Jensen, and added some information about the Olympic history of handball. I was sooo proud of my contribution to the world of knowledge.

When I got back to Germany I proudly showed my colleagues what I had done - and was enraged. Someone had edited my Forex article! They had messed around with it! Rewritten all sorts of stuff and added stuff. And I had to admit - it was better than mine was.

I started an article on my birthplace, Renfrew, which I translated into German in 2008 with the help of JCornelius at a Wikipedia Stammtisch meeting. I don' actually remember the first Stammtisch meeting I went to, but I remember the place: the c-base. This hacker's den felt so comfortable with all the strange furniture and historic computing equipment. Meeting other Wikipedians, people who did all sorts of things in Real Life, was fascinating.

I went to the meeting in 2005 for founding the Wikimedia Verein at the TU Berlin. I was interested in what they were doing, but was trying to be anonymous. I sat in the back and had some fascinating conversations with my neighbors, but avoided saying who I was. That didn't help much - the first coffee break I was warmly welcomed by Eric Müller, a former student of mine. So I gave up the attempt at being anonymous, signed the register in my real name, and spoke with that Wales guy. I wanted to get him to come spend a semester at my school as a guest professor. But German Rules got in the way, there was no way we could get it sorted out, more's the pity.

So am I an "author" for the Wikipedia, as journalists kept asking me at the birthday party bash last night in Berlin? Sure. But I'm not just responsible for one particular area. I do what interests me. I explained that I'm more often than not just a Sichter these days, checking anonymous edits for vandalism. I got accused of being a censor by a student who was there with his buddy, hoping there would be free food (there wasn't much, a glass of bubbly and a piece of birthday cake and some pretzels was the size of it, but Henriette warned us not to expect food, so that was all right).

What do I do, really? I bitch at things. I fix typos. I get mad when I see that ANOTHER woman is only listed in the English Wikipedia and not in the German one and in a fit of energy translate the article about Auguste Holmés.  I read the mailing list and occasionally write, usually about something that really irritates me.

But on the whole, I'm really glad that the Wikipedia is there, and that it has "arrived", as Kurt Janson put it last night. We are now mainstream, but we are also Wikipedians, a bunch of people of all ages from all walks of life that for some reason enjoy doing what they do for the Wikipedia. It was fun seeing so many last night I hadn't seen in a long time. I stayed up far too late, shocking the resident teenagers that Mom would be dragging home from a club at 2 am.

Happy Birthday, Wikipedia! And may the German Wikipedia learn to find articles on women, children, and aspects of rural life to be noteworthy enough to have their own articles and not be deleted or subsumed under the male lemma.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

...would you be surprised that it occured to "someone" 15 seconds ago to translate a German entry to English ?!?