History, historiography and Wikipedia

The Iraq War: Wikipedia Historiography

I’ve been doing some talking and thinking about post-digital recently. A big part of this involves how our
everyday lives have been – and are being – shaped by exposure to online networks and how this
immersion in networks of practice permeates into our real-world thinking.

Usually this is best revealed through our behaviour
and expectations, but colleague and friend Chris Applegate pointed me towards this
awe-inspiring blog post
by James Bridle that seems to neatly invert the notion of post-digital by
re-imagining a very digital product through a very non-digital channel.

Specifically, the James has published in book-form the entire series of edits made to the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War across a five year period from December 2004 to November 2009 – from invasion/liberation to retreat/victory. 

The series totals 12 volumes and incorporates a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages. It's truly awesome.

This idea absolutely inspired me. It sets out and makes tangible the idea of history not as a fixed entity of knowledge for knowing, but as a historiography; a
fluid discourse; a body of knowledge in flux.

Ex-Cluetrainee and Berkman Center Fellow,
David Weinberger, in his book Everything is Miscellaneous, terms this process social
the blogger in question, James Bridle, puts it more eloquently when he states that Wikipedia is:

"not only a resource for collating all
human knowledge, but a framework for understanding how that knowledge came to
be and to be understood; what was allowed to stand and what was not; what we
agree on, and what we cannot.

I cannot agree more.

Call it what you will, the sooner we – and particularly those in positions of authority, influence and power – can recognise and accept that the representation and manifestation of knowledge and
power is a dynamic, fluid, process that yields meaning and suggests outcomes that change over time, the sooner contemporary society will

Wikichains – great idea if it leverages the power of networks

Screen shot 2009-12-07 at 18.25.29

I discovered WikiChains today, a rather intriguing and potentially amazing website.

The project is put together by Dr Mark Graham from Oxford University’s Internet Institute and would appear to be a not-fpr-profit enterprise (calling on volunteers to help create content) – although this isn’t stated explicitly.

WikiChains aims to use crowd-sourced data to shine a light on the production chain of products we use in our everyday lives by tracing and highlighting the origins of these products and exposing the ‘reality’ of its journey from raw material to home.

In it’s own words, the site:

encourage ethical consumption and transparency in commodity chains. … The core activities of WikiChains will involve the setting-up and maintenance of a wiki website. This website will encourage Internet users from around the world to upload text, images, sounds, and videos of any node on any commodity chain.  … The hope is that ultimately a large enough body of data will be assembled to allow consumers to find out information about the chains of all mass produced commodities.

This is no small claim and so far, while the total number of articles seems to be low (thetre;sno root inde that I can find) the range is broad, spanning Thai silk through to Morrocan Soapbar.

But I can’t help wondering why – given the intellectual prowess of its founders – they persist in thinking that the site will somehow slowly grow itself.

True, some outreach might help to increase the number of entries on the site but I can’t help thinking: this should be a WikiMedia Fundation project.

Our strategic advice for clients in the social space is always don’t try to build a new community. Instead, see what your networks are already doing, join in and empower them to improve their effectiveness in achieving shared outcomes.

Leveraging the WikiMedia and Wikipedia community seems a no brainer given the sheer volume of information that already exists (some of which is no doubt going to replicated by WikiChains) and the collective action already undertaken by the Wikipedia contributors to further knowledge creation.

It’ll be interesting to watch WikiChains develop (the have their organisational development plan on the site) and see in which direction the project grows.