Columns in 30 minutes or less
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Friday, June 6, 2001, 6:00 PM -- About the notion I have here of writing a "30-minute column." This perhaps should not be called "column" because I will not put any great effort into it, I will not think hard about how best to say something, I will not agonize over the best topic, etc. I will simply ramble on about whatever vaguely 'pedia-related topic happens to come to mind. It might not be so bad, though, since "rambling thoughts" often come to my mind in reasonably well-structured arguments and paragraphs. Nevertheless, I think, absolutely shamelessly, that this might be of interest to others as well as myself. So I'm posting this publicly.
To keep myself working on actually-productive stuff as well, I think it is important to keep my writing of this column to 30 minutes per day. This entails, I estimate, 25 minutes of writing and five minutes of editing. I wanted to be a novelist when I was a teenager. I was going to be the Great American Novelist, and so I wrote reams and reams of absolute drivel. One of the things I read, however, in a book called On Becoming a Writer--author's name forgotten--was that it can help one to become a better writer to get up in the morning, and, the very first thing, write for some period of time (fifteen minutes? I forget) without stopping. Well, I'll be stopping now and then, but this will be written in that same spirit.
Why am I doing this, then? Because I find that taking a step back and viewing what you are doing, from time to time (or, it seems, daily for short periods of time!), is a good idea. With projects like Nupedia and Wikipedia, this seems like an excellent idea; often it feels as though we are chugging full steam ahead and failing to check if we're on the right track.
So will this all concern Nupedia and Wikipedia policy? Not necessarily directly. It might concern ancillary issues--in some instances, very ancillary. But there are very many ideas and concerns I have about encyclopedias, and the issues that making encyclopedias raises, that no one ever hears, and that I forget. Let me just list a few topics that come to mind (or have come to mind):
- It is amazing to me how many extremely well-educated people there are in the world, or people, anyway, with expert knowledge of some sort--but very many of them are not in the U.S. and Western Europe. And we don't have many of them in Nupedia and Wikipedia. Why not? Mainly language, I suppose; but only that? No.
- Why is Wikipedia so productive? Is there anything about the cause of Wikipedia's productivity that is certainly prejudicial against high quality? If not, isn't it quite possible for there to be an equally productive, but extremely high-quality encyclopedia?
- Should we even worry about making a higher quality encyclopedia, if (as I've said) Wikipedia caters to the "highest common denominator"? Isn't it possible that Wikipedia, simply by continuing unmolested down its current path, will itself become a very high-quality encyclopedia? There are interesting arguments on both sides.
- What is the relationship between encyclopedia articles and original research articles? We distinguish encyclopedia articles from dictionary definitions for good reason (that's another topic, obviously!); do we distinguish them from research articles for any good reason?
- Consider this as a task for philosophical analysis: "p is an encyclopedia article iff..."
There are many more issues I could raise.
Reply below if you wish, but please don't expect me to reply to you, please! I don't want to be perceived as rude by failing to reply, so I'm warning you in advance.
I would dispute that wikipedia appeals to the highest common denominator. It appeals to those who believe themselves to be in the highest common denominator. Lord knows, I thought I was pretty smart before I came here and I got a whole intellectual can of whoopass opened up on me. Plenty of people show up here thinking they contain some expert knowledge, with varying degrees of humility and/or knowledge of when they are wrong. They may be dispatched after a while, but dealing with the constant inflow of people like this could certainly cause some people with legitimate knowledge to avoid wikipedia (to address another point). --alan d
- If it makes you feel any better, on WikiWiki, everything is wrong. No matter what you say, all you will see is someone disagreeing with you, and everything you say will be disagreed with. Making it worse, me toos are deleted. You get used to it because it's forces you to have an open mind, an enjoyable thing. If you don't, expect serious pain, right down to discrediting you in front of your coworkers. -- SunirShah
BTW, why can't we have a dictionary, as long as its separated somehow?
- Hmm. If we were to import an open source/public domain dictionary into wikipedia, separated by 'dict:', perhaps it'd halt people writing dictionary articles... user:Dragon Dave.