from the wheels-within-wheels dept
One of the central questions the Wikipedia community grapples with is: What exactly is Wikipedia trying to achieve? For example, does it aspire to be a total encyclopedia of everything? What is the appropriate level of detail?
As might be expected in a community made up of volunteers, feelings run high over these apparently dry questions of philosophy. Just as there are free software and open source factions that work together for a common cause, but eternally snipe at each other over details, so the Wikipedia community harbors two groups that agree to disagree on what is the proper scope for the project: the deletionists and the inclusionists. Here's what Wikipedia itself has to say on them:
"Deletionists" are proponents of selective coverage and removal of articles seen as unnecessary or highly substandard. Deletionist viewpoints are commonly motivated by a desire that Wikipedia be focused on and cover significant topics – along with the desire to place a firm cap upon proliferation of promotional use (seen as abuse of the website), trivia, and articles which are of no general interest, lack suitable source material for high quality coverage, or are too short or otherwise unacceptably poor in quality.
One particular area where the limits of inclusionism and deletionism are tested is local information. Should Wikipedia strive to provide the same level of detail about local information as it does about global facts? If so, how?
"Inclusionists" are proponents of broad retention, including retention of "harmless" articles and articles otherwise deemed substandard to allow for future improvement. Inclusionist viewpoints are commonly motivated by a desire to keep Wikipedia broad in coverage with a much lower entry barrier for topics covered – along with the belief in that it is impossible to tell what knowledge might be "useful" or productive, that content often starts poor and is improved if time is allowed, that there is effectively no incremental cost of coverage, that arbitrary lines in the sand are unhelpful and may prove divisive, and that goodwill requires avoiding arbitrary deletion of others' work. Some extend this to include allowing a wider range of sources such as notable blogs and other websites.
Maybe Wikipedia has found a way to do so without overloading the main encyclopedia: create a mini-Wikipedia devoted entirely to one location – in this case Monmouthpedia, about the Welsh town of Monmouth:
Monmouthpedia will be the first Wikipedia project to cover a whole town, creating articles on interesting and notable places, people, artifacts, flora, fauna and other things in Monmouth in as many languages as possible including Welsh.
There are a number of interesting facets to this project. The first is the direct involvement of local people. By limiting the range of the entries to one location it might prove easier to motivate new contributors – a perennial concern for the larger Wikipedia – and allow them to capture key aspects of a place they know well.
We are very keen for local people to be involved in what ever way they would like. Computer skills are not that important, it’s the interest and the willingness to be involved, suggesting and writing articles, taking and donating photos and recommending good reference materials. If you speak another language it would be a great place to practice your writing skills and learn new vocabulary and grammar. There are a lot of opportunities for community involvement including teaching and learning of I.T skills, local history, natural history, languages and people of different ages working together.
The amount, detail and quality of the information we could create is amazing. The Council for British Archaeology has designated Monmouth as the 7th best town in Britain. Knowledge gives us context, it allows us to appreciate our surroundings more, Monmouth may be first place in the world to offer its tourist information in up to 270 languages.
Monmouthpedia will use QRpedia codes, a type of bar code a smartphone can read through its camera that takes you to a Wikipedia article in your language. QR codes are extremely useful, physical signs have no way of displaying the same amount of information and in a potentially huge number of languages.
Articles will have coordinates (geotags) to allow a virtual tour of the town using the Wikipedia layer on Google Streetview, Google Maps and will be available in augmented reality software including Layar.
The use of QR codes in physical signage around the town will add a new directionality to the links between Monmouthpedia and the town it describes. Similarly, the geotags in the articles will allow text and images linked to geographical locations to be loaded automatically as people walk around with suitable apps on their smartphones. Obviously, once in place, that localized QR-coded infrastructure could also be exploited by other, quite different smartphone programs, to produce fascinating geo-informational mashups.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Monmouthpedia is that it creates a kind of fractal Wikipedia. That's important because if it functions well, it sets a precedent for a new, nested kind of Wikipedia whose entries can sometimes drop down a level to an entirely new Wikipedia-like resource about a specific topic. Maybe the ultimate test of Monmouthpedia's success will be when people start creating wikis about those same "places, people, artifacts, flora, fauna and other things" that will soon fill its pages – an Inception-like Wikipedia within a Wikipedia within a Wikipedia.
Update: see this comment from a Wikipedian involved with the project for some clarifications.