Monday, May 18, 2009

Help improve Wikipedia

Do you use Wikipedia as a reference site? Do you find that there are times when you look something up and find a short "stub" article? Would you like Wikipedia to be better?

Wikipedia is a volunteer effort. There are people who spend a lot of time on Wikipedia trying to improve it. Unfortunately they can spend a lot of their time doing very trivial changes such as correcting typographical errors, spelling mistakes, and rewording clumsy grammar because these are important things to fix and while, each one only takes a small amount of time, collectively they take a long time because there are so many of them.

As an ordinary user of Wikipedia you can easily take over some of this load. When you are browsing Wikipedia and you notice a small error, hit the edit button and fiix it. For example, in the last sentence I wrote "fiix" rather than "fix". If this was Wikipedia you could simply fix it. It's only a tiny change, but there are so many people visiting Wikipedia on a regular basis that if everyone who visited fixed them they'd soon be gone.

The only thing to watch out for is, despite what you were taught at school, English doesn't have a standard spelling, it has several. British spelling is different to American spelling and Canadian spelling is different to both in significant ways. New Zealand, Australia, India and Singapore are all close to British spelling but all have slight regional differences of their own. Wikipedia can't make up its mind which form of English should be used; the rule is whichever form of English is first used in an article should be retained. So resist the temptation to change labour to labor or aluminum to aluminium.

After typos, the other thing that really needs doing is fixing the dreaded disambiguation page. When a word has two (or more) meanings or several people share the same name and you go to the page for them you come to a "disambiguation page", a page that (hopefully) points you to the right article. This is great when entering Wikipedia, but if you are reading a page on computers and click on a link for Apple, you expect to reach a page on Apple computers, not a page giving you a choice of the fruit, computers, etc. When you find you've followed an internal link to one of these pages, click the back button, fix the link so it bypasses the disambiguation page and you've just improved Wikipedia.

As the old Scots saying goes, "A wheen o' mickles mak's a muckle" (Many small items add up to a large thing).

Remember, it wasn't a single raindrop that carved the USA's Grand Canyon, it was the collective action of uncountable billions of raindrops that carved it, but each one helped.

Originally published on Qondio