14 Oct 2006

How I hacked wikipedia

originally uploaded by utilly.
I read a book the other day about brickmaking in North Wales. As a potter/geek, I was delighted to find reference to hacking in a ceramics history book. The author had already said that without bricks there wouldn't have been steam engines, blast furnaces. It also talked about the role of bricks in the construction of mineshafts.

It all seemed pretty obvious once I had read it, but I had managed to get to the age of 39 with a MA in Ceramics before I realised how little i knew about such an important strand of Ceramics/Industrial/Engineering history.

Then I started thinking about why I didn't know that. My guess is that brickmaking lacked the 'drama' of iron smelting, the mystery of 'mining' and the sheer 'drama' of the steam engine to engineering afectionados. Crafts people would have seen it the crude rough end of the industry (when does something stop being a craft and begin to be an idustry?). As for art, look at the outcry over Carl Andre's pile o'bricks at the Tate. It's still used as a shorthand for the absurdity of modern scultpture.

The amiguity of the place of ceramics in engineering history kind of mirrors the ambiguity of the modern usage of the term hacker. My prefered usage of the term in the computing context is someone skilled. To create multiple hacks of bricks, outdoors in the early brickyards, in a climate prone to rain required skill and patience. Hack too high, and bricks stick or crumble under the weight. Protect too well from the elements and they dry slowly, leave exposed and risk rain damage.

But, the real reason I decided to 'hack' Wikipedia is because I think it's an awsome project and I wanted to look behind the scenes. B's next season of Cast-On is going to have an open source - open knowlege theme. We went back and forth quite a bit on whether to set up our own wiki or whether we should get knitters (and any other crafters that might be listeners) contributing to Wikipedia, but in the end it was a no brainer. We want to encourage knitters to flesh out the knitting stub in Wikipedia, but before we go down that path, we have to 'road test' it.

I am impressed that within 37 minutes of my article on A hack being uploaded, it was 'wikified', tidied up by Catharine Munro , a dedicated idealist, wikipedian and amongst other things... artist and knitter. I have a good feeling about this...

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