Philip Roth and Wikipedia

This is old news but rather strange. I’d think that a living person who has an article about themselves in Wikipedia would be a sufficient source on their own biography, but also to explain the inspiration for their work. Had Wikipedia said they couldn’t take his word because they can’t verify he’s real, that might be understandable (to avoid someone else faking his identity) but to say a second source is needed is laughable. And so they deserve the angry criticism they got from Philip Roth.

I have mixed feelings about Wikipedia. As a source I love it, but trying to be part of the “community”, twice, has left a bad taste in my mouth. I like the idea of crowdsourcing but I have little original information to add. So I was content to merely proofread articles I was looking at anyway and make minor corrections. I did this for a while and then one of the editors attacked me for doing, claiming I was nitpicking (huh, fixing typos is a bad thing?!) and violating some policy, and, frankly treated me in an abusive manner. So I said, fine, see you later.

But then I was looking at some article and saw they had no pictures. So I started adding links to my sister’s website. She has a very large website on architecture photography. It’s a hobby for her that has become an obsession (she plans all her vacations around visiting famous buildings and photographing them). Since buildings are public photographing them don’t violate any copyright, but the photographer can claim copyright for their pictures. So naturally my sister’s site said that she was retaining copyright to the photos.

My sister is an academic in another discipline but does an excellent job of organizing the photos (lots of zoom-in details) as well as doing good writing about the building and architectural details. It is a lot of work and has won many awards and gets many hits. Sometimes writers of architecture books wanted to use her photos and she was willing to give permission after some negotiation for modest compensation. So she had a notice to that effect on her site.

But some of the editors at Wikipedia went ballistic about my links to a “commercial” site. HUH? A .edu as a commercial site, no way. My sister was not selling photos but merely claiming the legitimate right that published works can’t use her photos without her permission, hardly a commercial venture. Strangely after my protest this was not a commercial site was brushed aside by the critical editors, some other group of editors got involved in the debate and criticized the other editors. They had their little spat with neither side caring about my views. So, again, see you later was my reaction.

I’ve heard lots of stories about behind-the-scenes stuff at Wikipedia that sounds like some major infighting, but really just turf disputes. So I’m glad most of the articles are there, but the community sounds like a bunch of children to me, with their playground disputes. Fortunately I can consume without having to contribute (although I feel I should contribute, even in my modest way) and thus whatever feuds are going on there are just much ado about nothing to me.


About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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4 Responses to Philip Roth and Wikipedia

  1. I had a similar experience… Several employees of Sorcim got together via email to write a history of the company. Each one of these people had first-hand knowledge of what happened. My article got criticized for not using published reports. Put aside the fact that published reports are often inaccurate, why wouldn’t they embrace an effort from the people involved to write a history of a product that was important in the history of computers??? None of us was trying to sell anything.

    So I said I’d publish the same material on my blog and then use that as a reference on Wikipedia. They said that was OK. Never did it, though. Why waste the time?

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