One of the activities that I really enjoy is writing for Wikipedia. I have learned a lot about how Wikipedia works since I got actively involved as a writer about 6 months ago. Wikipedia is a village and there are as many different roles in Wikipedia as there are tasks in a village. Some people fact check. Some people control vandalism. Some people correct spelling and punctuation. What I enjoy doing is in-depth research on one person. I like to find someone, an artist, a politician, a former Peace Corps Director, or an Oklahoman, that I like and am interested in learning more about and write their biography from scratch.
First I think of someone I would like to write about, then I go to Wikipedia and see if there is a story started about them already but a story that is incomplete. What I like is to find a story that is just getting started. When I go to an article on Wikipedia about someone known best by a small group, and I find only a few sentences written down, then I know I have struck gold. That's the story I want to write.
But finding the right article to write is only a start. To actually write an article I have a process that includes going onto Google, finding out everything I can about a person and putting it all in a database, letting the narrative structure emerge, writing an outline, and filling in the story with information and citations as I go. It's a methodology that can be followed iteratively to construct a narrative. I call it structured history or structured narrative, it's the same thing really.
Last Thursday night I found out that being a Wikipedia biographer has its perks. A few months ago, I decided to write the biography of one of my favorite singers, Marie Daulne of Zap Mama. Here is what her Wikipedia article looked like when I started working on it. I finished the bio and the only thing I was really missing was a good photo to go with the bio. Of course on Wikipedia, you are not allowed to use copyrighted photos so the best bet is to go to Flickr and see if there is a good photo someone has taken and put into the Creative Commons. Failing that the only other alternative is to wait until you see the artist next time in concert and take a photo yourself and put it into the creative commons.
On November 1, Marie Daulne came to Baltimore and appeared at the 8x10 club, so my wife and I attended the show, had a great time, and took some great photos of her and the group to use with the Wikipedia article about her. After the show we went backstage and introduced ourselves to Daulne. I told her that I was at least partially her biographer. "How so," she asked. I asked her if she ever surfed the internet and she said yes. I asked her if she knew what Wikipedia was and she said yes. "Well, I am the person who has written a lot of your biography on Wikipedia," I said.
She was quite pleased to meet me because she knew that the article had recently been improved and here is how it looks after I worked on it. She was very appreciative of the work on Wikipedia for both her own biography and the group bio for Zap Mama. She said that a lot of people go to Wikipedia to find out more about her and that Wikipedia generates a lot of sales for her music and that she appreciates having something on Wikipedia that reflects well on her work.
I asked if we could take a photo together (not for Wikipedia but for my personal blog) and we took several with me and several more with my wife. She asked for my email address and said that she would have her manager be in touch with me after she finishes her tour to provide me with some additional print material that has not appeared on the internet to consider incorporating into her article. She is also going to consider having one or more of her press photos added to the Creative Commons so it can be used on web sites like Wikipedia without running into copyright problems. She knew all about intellectual property laws and how they affect the way she makes a living as a musician. I guess every artist does these days. Good for them. What an exciting encounter. Here are some additional photos I took of Zap Mama at their show in Baltimore that I am putting into the Creative Commons for non-commercial use.
She is going to be appearing tonight in DC at the 930, a nice club in a refurbished warehouse in DC. Anyway it was fun to talk to Marie Daulne, realize that she is very aware of the internet in her business model, and it was a nice feeling to know that the work that people do on an article in Wikipedia is often appreciated by the person it was written about.