Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Birth of the blues

We all have to start somewhere, and on Wikipedia I started with Henry James. If you follow the link to the article, you might notice the little star in the upper right-hand corner. This denotes a "featured article," which means the HJ entry is supposedly one of Wikipedia's best. You can decide that for yourselves.

I made my first edits to the article, and to Wikipedia in general, in February, 2005. I made the edits anonymously because I'm such a shy, retiring type. That's an alleged joke, of course. In fact, at the time I'm not sure that I even knew about creating an account under my real name. It just seemed so weird that I could edit the article and see my changes immediately. How does this encyclopedia work, anyway?

The earliest edit under my user name, a.k.a. my real name, occurred on March 10, 2005 at 14:13 WP time, which is five or six hours ahead of my local time. It was this note on the talk page of the Henry James article, where I bashfully confessed to having made recent edits to the entry anonymously. I continued editing mostly anonymously for the next several months. Finally, about the start of 2006, I decided to edit all the time under my real name, unless I forgot to login.

Besides the James article itself, I wrote or revised dozens of articles about his novels, tales and nonfiction. If anybody on WP noticed me much, which was difficult as long as I stayed anonymous, they probably thought I was a harmless HJ-obsessed nerd. They were right.

Henry James ain't exactly the most controversial subject, though his sex life (or lack thereof) has attracted plenty of speculation. So my debut on Wikipedia was relatively low-key. Which is probably the best way to slip into any Net community.

After a while, I started to branch out: other literature, baseball, TV, business, pop culture...you can read all about it on my user page. Two-and-a-half years and about thirteen thousand edits later (including the anonymous edits) I'm still at it. One thing I've tried not to branch into very much is the huffing and puffing on WP's policy and dispute pages.

I keep track of how many edits I make outside the encyclopedia's actual entries. If I find myself dallying too much on other pages, I pull myself back to what most people read Wikipedia for, those interesting little things called articles. Though I admit that I've been active on several articles that are Wikipedia-related.

One more note on the Henry James entry: I finally pulled the article up to the coveted "featured article" status I mentioned above. The process went pretty smoothly compared to what many other articles endure to get FA status. But it was still a genuine pain, as I had to listen to various reasonable and unreasonable suggestions for improvement. I'm mostly a reasonable guy (chuckle) and I eventually pushed the entry through.

I'm thinking of running the gauntlet again with the article on James' biographer, Leon Edel. But that will have to wait until I find enough time to improve the article substantially. And until I summon enough courage to face the FA inquisitors one more time.

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