[Air-l] editing wikipedia

Gilles Frydman gfrydman at acor.org
Tue Feb 27 03:57:35 PST 2007

On Feb 27, 2007, at 5:28 AM, Barry Wellman wrote:

> I have been actively involved with Wikipedia for about 6 months,  
> and have
> found it a good experience. I have been surprised by the accuracy  
> of the
> articles (in general), the comprehensiveness of the articles (EB would
> never do one on Bronx gangs of the 1950s-1960s), and the activity of
> people in monitoring vandalism, sillyness, and fixing bad formats,  
> etc.

Thank You! I believe that regular users of Wikipedia mostly agree  
with you.
The "collective wisdom" demonstrated in Wikipedia is not an empty  
term. In fact we will soon start a project based on wikis used to  
improve the quality of "state-of-the-art peer-reviewed" medical  
information statements.

> It's an interesting mixture of hierarchy and anarchy.
> However, I do agree that editing procedures are cumbersome once you  
> want
> to put in formatting, references, etc. Moreover, it's hard (for me) to
> find the guides for what to do, and when I do, the guides (as for
> Referencing) are not as clearly written as I'd like. We need  
> _Wikipedia
> for Dummies_!

Editing procedures for accurate references is cumbersome due to the  
nature of  the mediawiki code (the underlying code used by  
Wikipedia). Proper referencing in Wikipedia can only be done through  
one of the specialized parsing files, mostly Cite.php. That file adds  
2 parser hooks to Mediawiki (<ref> and <references>, working together  
to create properly referenced footnotes). Unfortunately Cite.php is  
not part of the standard setup of wikis using Mediawiki and both its  
documentation and implementation are not trivial. The code (wikitext)  
needed by you, the wiki editors, to create references is VERY  
cryptic, making standardized referencing a tedious process.
> Having said that, the standard Wikipedia response would be  
> something like,
> "Stop complaining. Fix it yourself." Wish I could, but I have  
> neither the
> expertise nor the time.

I believe that the only rational solution is the development of a  
standardized web interface used to produce properly formatted  
references that can then be added to the wikipedia entry. If someone  
with a very good knowledge of proper referencing is interested in  
this project, we could definitely develop such an interface in a  
short time and I would gladly make it an open service to the academic  

To see an example of Cite.php in action, you can go to http://lo- 

> This may be Wikiblasphemy, but I wonder if a core paid staff of clear
> technical writers would be useful for preparing such key help tasks.

Creating clear language documentation for all the Mediawiki  
extensions is very time consuming!
You are talking about documenting the mutiple layers of code using  
hybrid programming languages. For every added feature of mediawiki  
you add one additional layer of obfuscation, making it almost  
impossible to create easy to use documentation of the feature.  
Wikipedia with all the bells and whistles is like a programing  
language tower of Babel :-)

Gilles Frydman

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