Sunday, October 6, 2013


Do you know how Wikipedia works?

In my quest to make myself useful, and do the one thing I seem able to do adequately (read and write in a quiet room), I joined the untold number of people adding to and editing Wikipedia. It's nearly effortless--I think (not that I remember) you just put in your name, email, a couple of details about you. Then they bring you to a page that tells you how to "start small."

So, rather than going in and starting a treatise on an uncovered subject, they suggest you go to an entry that needs help, say because it was flagged by a reader as "needing clarification" or "needing editing for grammar"  and you go to work. You can save a draft before posting it, but--really--you make the changes and they go right up. Then someone else does the same to your version. Not a lot of what I wrote is left.

The first random article suggested to me for editing was on LGBT rights in Kazakhstan. For the record, they're better than than they were under Soviet rule when you could get 8 years in prison as a man for sodomy (what they inaccurately called pederasty) or the original Kazakhstan charter (where sodomy was referred to as buggery, also punishable by up to 8 years in prison for men). Now gay sex is decriminalized entirely for those over age 18, though there are no specific protections given either, and a lot of prejudice.

Kazakhstan on the globe
That's what I learned through an hour or so of reading through law books on the internet and fixing some problems in the article. It was pretty challenging, actually, trying to be fact-based only. The original article didn't make a lot of sense. I think it was written in Kazakh and then auto-translated into English. That works surprisingly well, but still sounds choppy and odd. Some things seemed like opinions so I took them out. Then someone did the same to me. The current entry is about 1/3 the size of the original, and only a dozen sentences or so. That's typical for a lot of these "mini-branches" off larger topics like LGBT rights in general.

I have found that some people put an enormous amount of detail in their articles, with one primary source after another, relevant pictures, sidebar pieces and alternate viewpoints. They're works of art, really, written by people who have a passion for the subject and a willingness to explain it to others. It's a hugely democratic process, and while skewed with the smaller topics especially, there's staff at Wikipedia that moderates disputes. Even without registering as an editor, you can flag anything there you think warrants review, by a citizen-editor like me (or you), or by a staff member who can help decide what needs fixing or deleting, or what was deleted by an editor that needs to be restored.

There's an article I was looking for that's not there, that in the back of my mind I think I may start writing. Again, you can start with as little as a dozen sentences, and a couple of subheadings. If you use Wikipedia like I do, as the least biased (which is not unbiased, I know, but still) reference shy of a trip to the library for the real-live encyclopedias (which are on disk, actually), then you should think about popping in some time and contributing your expertise, while broadening your world.

Because we're all experts, even when we aren't aware. I happen to know there's no English word called
"happystance." Even though, thinking about it--wouldn't that be nice too?

:) Love, Lisa

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