Here’s a little something I want all of you to try. Try changing the text of this sentence on this page:
“Byakuren Hijiri is a Buddhist nun and a human ally to yōkais.”
In particular, change the word “nun” to “monk.”
You can’t do it. Can you?
Of course not. This is a blog, not a wiki. Only I can change it. On this touhou.wikia.com wiki, however, what I just asked you to do is just what happened when I edited the page for a certain character to make it say that Byakuren Hijiri is a Buddhist nun. Someone came along and changed all instances of the word “nun” back to “monk.”
By the way, this is Byakuren Hijiri:
If you think this is a monk, then you need to run, not walk, to the nearest optometrist. On second thought, if your eyesight is that bad, don’t run. You might run into a lamppost on the way.
The only reason the “community” for that wiki insists on calling this character a “monk” is because she’s listed as such in the original translations from Japanese, translations done by someone with a poor grasp of English, so poor that they don’t realize that only males can be monks. Apparently, this “community” is so proud of their inferior writing skills that they don’t want an English MA recipient like me making them look stupid. (Well, they need no help from me there.) Disgusted, I ordered my account with the wikia site cancelled.
Wikis: Anyone can edit them … no matter how dreadful their grasp of grammar, punctuation, capitalization or usage is, and no matter how little fact-checking they actually did before writing. This is why university professors refuse to accept Wikipedia articles as sources for academic papers, and I can’t say I blame them. While wiki articles are useful when they cite sources, it’s those sources, not the wiki itself, that end up being used in the bibliographies of academic papers.
While anyone can edit a wiki, not everyone has the writing skills to make good text. Good grammar, punctuation, capitalization and usage is necessary to make a text flow along smoothly. Many times have I had to read and reread a sentence due to a comma missing where one should’ve been added. Comma splices are another common sight on the Internet, and not just in YouTube viewer comments either. They’re in wikis, the very sources that many people rely on for factual information. And just because someone who knows how to write properly came along and tidied up a wiki page doesn’t mean someone else can’t come along and put the errors back in again, as they did in the aforementioned wiki page.
Furthermore, because anyone can edit them, it’s not too hard for someone to deliberately put in wrong information or add defaced, gory or pornographic pictures to these pages as a joke. There’s even a term for this behavior: vandalism. Even I have indulged in vandalism on occasions, I must admit, adding inverted text to the Wikipedia article on dyslexia this one time. (·əɔuəıʇɐd əɯos puɐ dɐɯ ɹəʇɔɐɹɐɥɔ əpoɔıun ɐ sı pəəu noʎ ɿɿɐ) It was fun, I must also admit. Wikis such as Wikipedia are such ripe targets for such jokes because they’ve come to be perceived as jokes.
From this, it’s clear to me that we should abandon wikis as a means of providing information. Not to say that wikis are completely useless. Encyclopedia Dramatica and Uncyclopedia are wonderful wiki sites, throwing all pretense of neutrality and seriousness out the window. Neither site takes itself seriously. They exist for sheer entertainment. They’re both jokes, and they know it.
Stores of factual information, however, must be held to a higher standard than that. They must have professional writers, editors and researchers. On the other hand, few people interested in Touhou Project are well-seasoned writers, and it would be good for amateur writers to at least have some way of providing information about things their subculture cares about. For this, I have an idea for a compromise.
An encyclopedic site should have two sections. The first section is where amateur writers can write a draft of an article for something they’re interested in, such as Byakuren above for a Touhou Project site. There’ll be a very limited criterion of “notability” for articles: namely that if anyone out there cares about the subject, it’s notable. There are four important differences, however, from a wiki:
- It’s written into a more user-friendly editing window commonly used with blogs, as a lot of people despise the wiki interface.
- The draft article bears a disclaimer that it’s an amateur draft and should not be relied on for academic purposes as a source. It may be marked as such by using a loud background color such as yellow.
- Once posted, readers can’t edit the draft article, but they can propose edits in a form underneath.
- Most importantly, this section is merely a temporary repository.
From there, the professionals go to work. They take each article that appears in the draft section and give it a thorough editing and researching, making sure the writing mechanics are up to par and researching the facts to make sure they’re all true. Once that’s done, the draft article is removed from the first section, and the refined article is given a permanent place in the second section: the main section.
Let’s say, for example, someone writes an article about Byakuren calling her a “monk.” The article stays in the first section until its turn to be professionally edited comes. The editor, a professional, will, for example, clearly note the wrongness of the word “monk” and change it to “
nun magician.” When the article arrives in the permanent section, it will correctly indicate that Byakuren is a nun magician. The original writer, if they insist on it saying that Byakuren is a “monk,” can propose changes in a comments-like section at the bottom of the article, but they can’t change the text. Only the professionals can do that, and if doing so is against their better judgement, they won’t. (Strikeouts are relevant to Update II below.)
Anyone can write for this free (except for ISP monthly fees) online encyclopedia, … but only the professionals can edit it.
Once it reaches the second section, the finished article will have the credibility of being well-written and well-researched and thus be usable for academic research. (I know some of you are wondering who’d use an article about a Japanese vertical scrolling game for academic research, but you never know.) Another clear advantage is that the information will look far more presentable and thus give readers a clearer picture about the article topic. It makes your personal interests look more respectable.
After all, who wants to read about your interests in an article that looks like garbage?
I just found out that there’s an offshoot webiste of Wikipedia called Citizendium, started by ex-Wikipedian Larry Sanger with the intent on having a more professional moderation staff. Unfortunately, they still allow anyone to edit pages. In other words, it’s still a wiki, subject to the same fatal flaw as all other wikis. And the presence of sexist pronoun usage in the FAQ indicates that their editors need to work on their skills a bit more.
I just checked the Wikipedia article on Tōhō Project, and it instead indicates that Byakuren Hijiri is a magician, nowhere saying anything about her being a nun or, even worse, a monk. While all wikis are prone to providing wrong information due to their “anyone can edit” nature, Wikipedians at least are more thorough in their fact-checking than most other wikians. That and Buddhist nuns and monks shave their heads and wear drab clothes, so I’m far more inclined to accept Byakuren, who wears flashy clothes and sports a colorful mane of hair, as a magician than as a nun … and certainly more than as a monk!
Checking Byakuren’s page at touhou.wikia.com, by the way, I noticed the page went back to saying that she’s a “monk,” and another Tōhō Project related wiki, en.touhouwiki.net, bears the same error. One amateur editor for the latter wiki actually defends the mistake by claiming that the original sources list her as a “monk,” even though the “Monk” page on that same wiki clearly states that women (and thus also Byakuren) can’t be monks. A far better solution would be to indicate that Byakuren is erroneously indicated as a monk in the official sources so that even if the “official” writers in Japan look like complete boobs, you still come out smelling like roses as a writer.
At least I gotta give Wikipedians credit for trying their best to not make fools of themselves.