Just as, several years ago, I started hearing about Google and quickly began using it on a daily basis, the word about Wikipedia has spread in a similar way. Like Google, it is now ubiquitous. I recently warned Bec, who is teaching Orwell’s 1984 this year, to carefully read the Wikipedia entry, as she would undoubtedly come across the very same words in students’ essays. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s sure to.
The viral nature of Wiki is fascinating, and it deserves an entry all to itself. I read an impressive article a while ago – I don’t remember where – about the evolution of the definition of ‘abortion’. By virtue of the ‘hive mind’ approach, and despite my immediate suspicion that it would have been a mess, what came out of the process was a very good, clear article.
I was impressed with founder Jimmy Wales on his recent appearance in Australia. The tabloids (both print and otherwise) attempted to catch him out with several gotcha stories. Ellen Fanning’s was the most transparent, when she demanded to know why Wikipedia had her as (Powderfinger singer) Bernard Fanning’s sister. Wales patiently explained to her how Wikipedia works and the error was corrected in minutes. She ended up looking self-promoting and a bit of a goose.
Even though the accuracy of Wikipedia is often defended by its contributors, I note that this is in regard to science and technical articles only. Even a quick review of humanities articles reveals that the quality is often less than ideal. I think those of us with some knowledge or expertise in the area should make it a conscious priority to contribute where we can, especially since Wikipedia is fast becoming the first port of call for information by students.
Lately I’ve been amusing myself editing and substantially expanding the article on photographer Wolfgang Sievers. I just barely know what I’m doing as far as the html code goes, but I’m finding that some nice person is watching the article and fixing up some of my errors as I go.
In the early nineties I lived with my uncle who was the photography critic for The Age at the time. He reviewed the major retrospective of Sievers’ work at the NGV, and Wolfgang made contact with him. Presently, we were asked over to his house in Sandringham for breakfast and to give our opinion of a new ABC TV documentary that Wolfgang was a little anxious about. Already in awe, I was astonished into silence when he mentioned that his very good friends Helmut Newton and June (known as ‘Alice Springs’) had been round the previous week for tea.
At the end of our amazing morning, Wolfgang mentioned that he was about to go into the darkroom to print some of his old negatives, and would Greg like to choose one for himself? We were in his attic studio and we were looking at a whole wall of folders containing carefully filed proofs of almost every negative he had ever exposed.
In an act of generosity I still find hard to credit, Wolfgang asked if I (a very lowly photography student) would like to choose one for myself? The floor opened up under me and for the rest of our time there, I found it difficult to concentrate.
The photograph has hung on my wall ever since, surviving even a burglary, when they cleared off with almost everything else I owned.
So writing an article on this great man was an honour for me, and I hope I have the details of his life correct. As more comes to hand, I will add more. I especially want to see some of his extraordinary images up there, as soon as I come to grips with how it all works.
To my surprise, I opened The Age on Saturday, to see a large photograph of Wolfgang, now in his nineties, and the news that an archive of several hundred photographs, worth up to AUS$1 million, will be sold to raise money for justice and civil liberties causes.
"There's a funny little word called compassion. It's the sort of thing that the present Government hasn't heard about, but that is what drives me on, because I had a most fortunate and wonderful life and I think it's bloody well my job to pay back for that."
Sulphuric acid plant, Electrolytic Industries, Risdon, Hobart, 1959