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Wiki World

OK, sorry to have been gone so long… a whole month has passed! Sheesh!… up to my eyeballs in a variety of things, especially booking a lot of upcoming appearances. (next Friday March 21 I’ll be reading from After The Deluge at Inside Story Time) More later.

There’s been a flurry of interesting articles about Wikipedia lately. This is particularly interesting to me since one of the things that’s absorbing me these days is the painfully slow creation of a wiki version of Shaping San Francisco (if you want to help, please contact me)… I’ve been thinking and working for a long time on the notion of an open, living archive of San Francisco history. I’m glad I don’t have to answer to the problems besetting Wikipedia, but as we ramp up to our own mini-wiki on local history, we’ll probably face some similar issues.

On one hand there’s the exciting thought that lots of people will contribute their own recollections, memories, and opinions to our shared history. One idea I’m particularly enthusiastic about is having multiple accounts of events that have happened in our own lifetimes. The best example we’ll have of this right away (when we “go public”) is about 5 different versions of the White Night Riot (that links to my account, but there are several others in the current Shaping SF, and more to come). But you can imagine that the sky’s the limit when it comes to parallel stories, often contradicting each other, just as real history is experienced by multiple people with different points of view.


Then there is the likely scenario that as the shapingsf-wiki opens to the public, ideologues of various stripes will plunge in to add their skewed views of local history. Of course this is to be welcomed, but not if the “wacky” versions of various events are the ONLY ones, or if they go out of their way to rewrite or destroy existing or contrary views, etc.

Wikipedia has apparently begun to founder on the rocks of a curious dualism, pitting “inclusionists” vs. “deletionists”. Nicholson Baker has a fun description of this in his NY Review of Books piece “The Charms of Wikipedia.” In it, he talks about how marvelous and weird Wikipedia is, what a curious range of topics appears there, and how addictive it is once you realize you can have an impact on what is retained or what is deleted. Because in the past year or so, a dedicated minority of wikipedians known as “deletionists” have taken it up themselves collectively to massively purge Wikipedia of things they deem not notable. When you delve into what makes something notable vs. not notable, you soon realize that the criteria are as flimsy as many claims for historical factuality can be. The behind-the-scenes wars to include or exclude content from Wikipedia lead to some serious losses of important information, and it’s difficult for me to fathom why anyone would think it worthwhile to be an avid deletionist.

Fortunately in Shaping SF’s version, at least at the outset, we’ll be wildly inclusionist. We want all the stuff people want to put in, as long as it can reasonably claim to be historical, based on real life experiences, and relevant to the city of San Francisco. The Economist also chimed in in their March 8th edition “The battle for Wikipedia’s soul” laying out the odd comparison of Wikipedia’s ample coverage of Pokemon biographies vs. it’s skimpy and poorly written coverage of the men who made the Solidarity Union in Poland… fascinating stuff. Our local rag the SF Weekly got into the fray back in early February too, with an account of a particularly obnoxious and self-important Wikipedian known as Griot. That’s probably my greatest concern, is to have our wiki get bogged down by unpleasant, self-righteous and unbearably persistent creeps… it could take an enormous amount of energy to fend them off, or if we just say ‘fuck it’ and let them do what they want, then the content gets overly shaped by people that we don’t particularly agree with or like… kind of the deletionist problem writ large… But that’s what comes with the territory of a wiki I suppose…

During our fascinating Talk last Wednesday at CounterPULSE on Arab SF, Maher Sabry, an out gay Egyptian filmmaker, spoke about how the Wikipedia entries on Islam and homosexuality have been repeatedly edited to remove references to the well-known tolerance of homosexuality that has existed in much of the Islamic world for a long time (you can hear a podcast of the whole Talk here). He told several other stories of weird and politically charged deletions at Wikipedia, furthering my sense that the content of that sprawling encyclopedia is undergoing something of an ongoing conservative assault.

Of course in the past month I’ve taken a lot of purty photos, so here’s a few to conclude this post, admittedly unrelated to wiki world per se…

Here’s Hugh D’Andrade and Diamond Dave Whittaker standing outside the new digs of our local PirateCat Radio 87.9 FM and on the internet too!

It was my 51st birthday a few days ago and I had a lovely ride across the Golden Gate Bridge with Adriana before having a fancy dinner with my parents, so here’s some shots of all that, including an incredible magnolia tree that was going crazy in Golden Gate Park at Page and Stanyan…

It’s hard to believe with the collapse of the dollar and soaring oil and gold that there’s still a steady stream of junk pouring into the U.S. but while we were on the Golden Gate Bridge at least three ships steamed under laden with more containers of who knows what?…

And as it’s March we get a lot of great sunsets. I rode up to Twin Peaks for the first time in months and caught this amazing sunset… here’s the bizarre Sutro Tower as foreground…

many more photos and urban ruminations in the next post…

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