From (Print) Encyclopedia to (Digital) Wiki
According to Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert the purpose of an encyclopedia in the 18th century was ‘to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to the people with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come’. Encyclopedias have existed for around 2,000 years; the oldest is in fact a classical text, Naturalis Historia, written ca 77 CE by Pliny the Elder.
Following the (recent) digitalization of raw data, new, digital forms of encyclopedia have emerged. In our very own, digital era, a Wiki is a wider, electronic encyclopedia that is open to contributions and edits by interesting parties. It contains concept analyses, images, media, and so on, and it is freely available, thus making the creation, recording, and dissemination of knowledge a democratised process, open to everyone who wishes to contribute.
A Sprint for Digital Classicists
For us, Digital Classicists, scholars and students interested in the application of humanities computing to research in the ancient and Byzantine worlds, the Digital Classicist Wiki is composed and edited by a hub for scholars and students. This wiki collects guidelines and suggestions of major technical issues, and catalogues digital projects and tools of relevance to classicists. The wiki also lists events, bibliographies and publications (print and electronic), and other developments in the field. A discussion group serves as grist for a list of FAQs. As members of the community provide answers and other suggestions, some of these may evolve into independent wiki articles providing work-in-progress guidelines and reports. The scope of the Wiki follows the interests and expertise of collaborators, in general, and of the editors, in particular. The Digital Classicist is hosted by the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, and the Stoa Consortium, University of Kentucky.
So how did we end up editing this massive piece of work? On Tuesday July 1, 2014 and around 16:00 GMT (or 17:00 CET) a group of interested parties gathered up in several digital platforms. The idea was that most of the action will take place in the DigiClass chatroom on IRC, our very own channel called #digiclass. Alongside the traditional chat window, there was also a Skype voice call to get us started and discuss approaches before editing. On the side, we had a GoogleDoc where people simultaneously added what they thought should be improved or created. I was very excited to interact with old members and new. It was a fun break during my mini trip to the Netherlands, and as it proved, very focused on the general attitude of the Digital Classicists team; knowledge is open to everyone who wishes to learn and can be the outcome of a joyful collaborative process.
The Technology Factor
As a researcher of digital history, and I suppose most information system scholars would agree, technology is never neutral in the process of ‘making’. The magic of the Wiki consists on the fact that it is a rather simple platform that can be easily tweaked. All users were invited to edit any page to create new pages within the wiki Web site, using only a regular web browser without any extra add-ons. Wiki makes page link creation easy by showing whether an intended target page exists or not. A wiki enables communities to write documents collaboratively, using a simple markup language and a web browser. A single page in a wiki website is referred to as a wiki page, while the entire collection of pages, which are usually well interconnected by hyperlinks, is ‘the wiki’. A wiki is essentially a database for creating, browsing, and searching through information. A wiki allows non-linear, evolving, complex and networked text, argument and interaction. Edits can be made in real time and appear almost instantly online. This can facilitate abuse of the system. Private wiki servers (such as the Digital Classicist one) require user identification to edit pages, thus making the process somewhat mildly controlled. Most importantly, as researchers of the digital we understood in practice that a wiki is not a carefully crafted site for casual visitors. Instead, it seeks to involve the visitor in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the Web site landscape.
Where Technology Shapes the Future of Humanities
In terms of Human resources some with little involvement in the Digital Classicist community before this, got themselves involved in several tasks including correcting pages, suggesting new projects, adding pages to the wiki, helping others with information and background, approaching project-owners and leaders in order to suggest adding or improving information. Collaboration, a practice usually reserved for science scholars, made the process easier and intellectually stimulating. Moreover, within these overt cyber-spaces of ubiquitous interaction one could identify a strong sense of productive diversity within our own scholarly community; it was visible both in the IRC chat channel as well as over skype. Several different accents and spellings, British, American English, and several continental scholars were gathering up to expand this incredibly fast-pacing process. There was a need to address research projects, categories, and tools found in non-english speaking academic cultures. As a consequence of this multivocal procedure, more interesting questions arose, not lest methodological. ‘What projects are defined as digital, really’, ‘Isn’t everything a database?’ ‘What is a prototype?’. ‘Shouldn’t there be a special category for dissertations, or visualisations?’. The beauty of collaboration in all its glory, plus expanding our horizons with technology! And so much fun!
MediaWiki recorded almost 250 changes made in the 1st of July 2014!
The best news, however is that this, first ever wiki sprint was not the last. In the words of the Organisers, Gabriel Boddard and Simon Mahony,
‘We have recently started a programme of short intensive work-sprints to
improve the content of the Digital Classicist Wiki
(http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/). A small group of us this week made
about 250 edits in a couple of hours in the afternoon, and added dozens
of new projects, tools, and other information pages.
We would like to invite other members of the Digital Classicist community to
join us for future “sprints” of this kind, which will be held on the
first Tuesday of every month, at 16h00 London time (usually =17:00
Central Europe; =11:00 Eastern US).
To take part in a sprint:
1. Join us in the DigiClass chatroom (instructions at
<http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/DigiClass_IRC_Channel>) during the
scheduled slot, and we’ll decide what to do there;
2. You will need an account on the Wiki–if you don’t already have one,
please email one of the admins to be invited;
3. You do not need to have taken part before, or to come along every
month; occasional contributors are most welcome!’
The next few sprints are scheduled for:
* August 5th
* September 2nd
* October 7th
* November 4th
* December 2nd
Please, do join us, whenever you can!