The collaboratively produced on-line encyclopaedia Wikipedia is becoming an important reference resource for art as well as for its traditional strengths in the sciences and popular culture. To help improve the representation of new media art on Wikipedia, more people who are involved in the field should learn about how Wikipedia works and get involved with editing it. This article is a brief introduction to doing so.
Wikipedia’s organization and culture can present a steep learning curve for even experienced new media art practitioners. Don’t be put off, it’s easy to learn how to work with Wikipedia’s organization once you understand the project’s core concepts and the rationales behind its processes.
Becoming a Wikipedia Editor
The technical side of editing Wikipedia is relatively simple, especially if you have experience of writing for other media or of HTML or BBCode editing. To become a Wikipedia editor just register, log in, set up your user profile and start working on a page. As soon as you click “save”, your work will go live on Wikipedia.
The social side of editing Wikipedia can be much more complex, even if you have experience of writing or editing for academia or the art world. Wikipedia is a large project with well established governance structures and its own peculiar terminology. It is important to learn how Wikipedia works at an organizational and social level as well as a technical level in order to write effectively for it.
There are several well written books on Wikipedia that cover all of the various aspects of editing Wikipedia clearly and in depth. Two that are available freely online are –
You can save immeasurable time and frustration by reading at least one of these before you join in editing Wikipedia. I also recommend practicing editing on articles that are unrelated to new media art to start with so you can get a feel for the editing process as an end in itself.
Wikipedia’s organization and processes have their own concepts and terminology (or jargon). The books linked to above should teach you the terminology and concepts you need to know, but if you encounter an phrase in an article or in a discussion you can always find a reference for it on Wikipedia itself.
The most important concept in editing Wikipedia is “notability“. Notability is Wikipedia’s standard for deciding which topics should be included in an online encyclopaedia. It’s best if you think of it as a strange new quantitative concept that shares only its name with any qualitative concept of notability.
You cannot establish notability in Wikipedia based on personal opinion or unsupported assertion. This would be considered “original research” in Wikipedia’s terminology and rejected. Instead you must establish the notability of your subject by citing multiple reliable third party sources that have in turn found the subject notable enough to comment on.
“Reliable sources” mean established and probably mainstream news or opinion sources such as magazines, journals, or major web sites. “Third party” means not self-published (and not autobiographies).
An additional difficulty when trying to establish notability for any artistic subject, never mind a new media art subject, is that there are no stated notability guidelines for art as there are for music. There should be.
If existing media, books, journals, magazines or the mainstream press cannot provide citations to support the notability of a subject, then it is not notable under Wikipedia’s definition of notability. The solution to this is lies outside of Wikipedia. You will need to write about your subject for reliable sources or to push for other people to do so. This will be of benefit to your subject more generally than just for Wikipedia if they do not already have such coverage.
Conflicts Of Interest
When a subject is suitable for inclusion in Wikipedia, it is important to avoid conflicts of interest. If you are tempted to write or edit an article about yourself or a project or organization you are directly involved with, there is a very simple rule to follow: don’t. This would be a conflict of interests. You can request that such an article be written, and you can contribute links to appropriate sources on its talk page, but you can’t edit it yourself.
Prohibiting conflicts of interest avoids vanity pages, and it avoids censorship. Individuals and corporations can both be tempted to remove negative facts and add positive spin to their Wikipedia articles. As an encyclopaedia, Wikipedia is intended to present a full and balanced view of its subjects. If you have information that you feel could help establish that a subject should be included in Wikipedia, you may be able to contact the editors and provide it, but it must satisfy Wikipedia’s standard for reliable sources (autobiography doesn’t, for example).
What Wikipedia Is Not
As a website Wikipedia can contain far more articles than a traditional printed encyclopaedia, but all of those articles should be encyclopaedic in nature. This means that original criticism, promotional material, reportage and other perfectly valid forms of writing about art have no place in Wikipedia.
As well as such writing not fitting Wikipedia’s stated purpose, Wikipedia is not the most effective way of distributing it. People who are interested in new media art are far more likely to find an audience and get useful input in more appropriate forums. There are many alternative outlets for writing about art, from web sites such as Furtherfield and mailing lists such as Netbehaviour to hosted blogs and Facebook groups. Using a more focused platform or setting up your own resource can be better for promotional purposes as well.
When other editors think that an article does not meet Wikipedia’s notability criteria, they will list it for a deletion review. A deletion review is not a personal attack on the innermost being of the article’s author or subject, it is an opportunity to improve an article for readers by answering the concerns of Wikipedia’s editors. When you have created or edited a page, watch it for deletion review notices so that you can get involved in the process.
The formula for a successful deletion review is simple. Write a well structured article about a notable subject. Then answer any queries with reference to how the article itself satisfies people’s concerns about how it may not follow Wikipedia’s guidelines. If it does not already answer those concerns, edit the article so that it does. If the article cannot be edited to meet Wikipedia’s standards, then harsh though it may seem it should not be on Wikipedia.
It can be difficult to explain precisely how the subject of articles on new media art projects or organizations should be evaluated. Often other editors will evaluate online artworks or pages for community projects simply as web sites and argue that their low Google pagerank means that they are not notable. This is listed as an argument to avoid in Wikipedia’s own guidelines.
Even the longest running and most widely distributed art computing and new media art journals may be unfamiliar or inaccessible to the majority of Wikipedia editors who will vote on whether to delete an article or not. This can create problems for new media artists and galleries as perfectly valid sources may require explanation during a deletion review.
How To Write A Good Wikipedia Article
The formula for a successful Wikipedia article is surprisingly simple. State what the article’s subject is, state why that subject is notable and support this with links to multiple citations from reliable sources, then place the citations at the bottom.
This makes for an article that is informative for Wikipedia’s readers, that is easier for Wikipedia’s editors to review, and that because of this is more likely to remain on Wikipedia.
If you click on Wkipedia’s “Random Article” link you will see that most articles follow this formula (and that those that don’t have most likely drawn the attention of Wikipedia’s editors).
How To Improve The Representation Of New Media Art On Wikipedia
Establishing standards for notability for art and improving the quality of citations for art are tasks that will require involvement in the organization of Wikipedia as well as in the technical side of the editing of individual articles. Organization around a topic on Wikipedia is done through WikiProjects. There isn’t a New Media Art WikiProject (yet), and the Contemporay Art one is moribund. The Visual Arts Wikiproject is very active, and should probably be the starting point for any new-media-art-related developments –
The best argument for keeping an article on Wikipedia is an article structured to quickly make the case that its subject is notable with multiple citations from reliable sources. With a group dedicated to better provision of reliable sources, more articles about new media art topics will satisfy Wikipedia’s standards and be accepted as part of the online encyclopaedia.
And that, galling as it can be when sitting out a deletion review of an article on your gallery or yourself, is the point of editing Wikipedia. For articles to remain on Wikipedia they must satisfy its standards. Those standards exist to make Wikipedia a worthwhile resource for society. New media art should definitely be a part of that resource. It is artistically and socially notable, and we can work to establish this within Wikipedia’s guidelines.