My 9/26/10 Missoulian column
What kind of documented history of a historical event exists on the Internet, when facts and accounts of that event are constantly changing? And what about when websites that document the history of the event are constantly changing, too?
James Bridle has been looking into that. He’s got a website called BookTwo.org. He founded the site and writes out of a frustration on the failure of trade publishing to engage with new media and technology.
What he sees as a crossroads of new media and technology and publishing is Wikipedia, the free, user contributed encyclopedia. Wikipedia has seen explosive growth, growing to more than 3.5 million articles since beginning in 2001, due to the fact that anyone can add and edit any article.
Wikipedia is publishing for everyone, inaccuracies and editorial battles included.
As an exercise in new media and old publishing, earlier this month Bridle printed out a chunk of Wikipedia into a set of books. Bridle turned the Wikipedia article titled The Iraq War into hardcover. He printed out the entire article, with all the changes, all 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages, in 12 volumes.
Rather than calling it static history in the form of a printed book (that he says the publishing industry is tied to), he calls it an exercise in historiography, the process of history. He photographed the books and wrote about the project at BookTwo.org.
Included in the book is one particular edit: Someone once erased the entire article and appended their own, very short article, stating that “Saddam Hussein was a –.” That’s history, too, he says.
But that article on Wikipedia – The Iraq War – has already changed hundreds of times since he printed the set of books. And he acknowledges that, but sees it as the proof of the process of history.
I’d say that if Wikipedia is an exercise in new historiography, it might be best to leave it on the Web. It’s an interesting exercise to print a book from Wikipedia; the exercise calls into question books, authorship and authority on a subject in the age of the Internet.
But his exercise also calls into question the value of a constantly changing resource such as Wikipedia on the subject of history. What are the valuable details of history? Who is an authority? And who gets to decide?
Next week: Citizendium, a Wikipedia with authority.
This week in Mac Q & A: Protecting Your Files With File Vault