Recently, Caribbean Reads publisher and author Carol Ottley-Mitchell posted an article headlined, ‘Are You Wiki Ready?’
The post touched on the unreliability of some of the content on Wikipedia – its bug being its feature, the fact that anyone can update Wikipedia makes it a dynamic resource but also makes it an unreliable resource (or, at minimum, potentially so). It is for this reason that when coaching students on the use of Wikipedia, when teaching Media Writing or Communications, I’ve encouraged them to check the citations and to make sure that content is verifiable as accurate…while also emphasizing that cutting and pasting Wikipedia content is not researching (it’s plagiarizing which is legal-speak for stealing). But I digress.
Ottley-Mitchell’s post encouraged Caribbean writers to check their Wikipedia entry for accuracy, correcting and/or reporting any inaccuracies.
“Wikipedia is notoriously unreliable, but widely used and so it is important that all artists, (but of course our main concerns at CaribbeanReads are Caribbean artists), make sure they are accurately represented on this platform… And so, while we are not organizing an official ‘wikipedia editathon’ …we encourage Caribbean artists to join with other artists and set aside some time tomorrow to look up your profile on Wikipedia and make sure you are accurately and effectively represented. Also feel free to post here about what you found and what you changed.”
This post noted that “(Caribbean) writers often do not have pages or their pages are incomplete.” This is true (from general observation; I haven’t actually done a count).
I may have mentioned here before, perhaps when politicians in Antigua and Barbuda were giving out IT hardware (laptops and ipads) to students and teachers, that it might be simultaneously important to help shape the way we use the hardware. Encouraging a culture that creates and not merely consumes online content, for instance – and, Wikipedia entries seemed a good place to start, in my view, with research, preparation, and uploading. A version of what I do here on the blog when I profile artistes or create data lists (re published writers from Antigua and Barbuda etc) – which is why the blog has become a resource where people come for Antigua and Barbuda song lyrics, writer listings, media history, artist obits. etc. Needless to say, there’s no evidence that anyone took me up on that (suggestion about ways to encourage students especially to engage with the Internet in more productive ways – creating content not just consuming it).
When I Google Antiguan and Barbudan writers the data base here on Wadadli Pen is at least in the top three, but at the top of the list (not surprisingly) is Wikipedia. Second is Antigua and Barbuda’s largest online platform where my CREATIVE SPACE series is syndicated for just that reason (Antiguanice.com) – sharing an article from a popular US LitHub in which Antiguan and Barbudan writer (me) is mentioned.
Incidentally, the featured images on Google were of three writers and two athletes of international renown who’ve had biographies written and/or co-written biographies about them.
On Wikipedia, the Antigua and Barbuda listing has three sub-categories and two pages – the two pages being for author Jamaica Kincaid (obviously) and Melvin Claxton (?) whom I will definitely have to look in to. But moving on for now to the first of the listed categories, I find five listings – can you guess? – Jamaica Kincaid, Marie Elena John (the only listed novelist – Kincaid is also a novelist but only John is cross-referenced in the Antiguan and Barbudan novelists sub-category), sisters Anne Hart Gilbert and Elizabeth Hart Thwaites, and Zahra Airall (also the only writer listed in the Antigua and Barbuda dramatists and playwrights sub-category): all legit listings but only a fraction of potential legit listings. Some of it is about incomplete listing and/or tagging as there are Antiguan and Barbudan writers (like Ashley Bryan whose parents are from Antigua and Barbuda, and like Althea Prince and Eileen Hall who were born and raised in Antigua and whose families go back generations in Antigua) who can be found on Wikipedia but are only recognized as American writers (or Canadian, in the case of Prince).
Since I’m at Wikipedia, I do one additional search ‘Caribbean Writers’ (re-directed to Caribbean Literature) which has a breakdown by country. Checking ‘Antigua and Barbuda’ (listed as ‘Antigua’ only), I find three names – Jamaica Kincaid, Marie Elena John, and Joanne C. Hillhouse (me – in red – signalling – no page). Here’s the thing, as I explained to Carol in conversation about her original post, the rules per my understanding, and I actually agree with them, are that you shouldn’t create (actually not so much a rule as “strongly discouraged” as it turns out) nor update (“acceptable” under very specific circumstances) a Wikipedia page about yourself.
Carol, who had edited other people’s pages, but not even looked at her own (which I can relate to) actually promoted self-editing (as seen in the original Caribbean Reads post) – Caribbean artistes, she said, are self-promotion shy. My general feeling is this is true (re being self-promotion shy) – it’s something I’ve had to and still work to overcome in order to get the word out about my books as a writer from a small place for whom no one was (is) checking nor making space.
You’ve got to build a brand, all my research told me, when I was fighting to get my first two books (The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight) back in print and trying to find representation for my third book and first full length novel (Oh Gad!). I did so (Google me). But my reason for not building a Wikipedia page for myself is not about that reluctance to self-promote. It’s about my belief that for the platform to be stronger as a resource, an encyclopedia, even one so open about who can contribute and update content, said content should be objectively written by people who deem you a necessary part of the public discourse based on the work you’ve done or the celebrity you’ve earned. Otherwise it’s just …facebook. That doesn’t mean I won’t correct or request corrections if there is ever such a page (as Carol points out, one reason for artistes to engage is to ensure that their page reflects their full accomplishments and does not do them harm with false claims). But as I have no page, it’s not been an issue.
How you choose to engage with Wikipedia is, of course, up to you. I do think I could do more to share some of the content I have researched about Antiguan and Barbudan, and Caribbean writers – but it’s a time issue. Still, I’ll see what I can do – I’ll try to do better. If you’re a writer and you opt to add or edit your own content, Carol and I both emphasize being factual – and, I would add, include (for all our students’ sake) proper citations. And I do hope that our schools, research institutions, librarians, and individuals in the Caribbean will plant as much as they consume online so that our Caribbean landscape (and not just literary arts) can have more of a presence on the information superhighway. Also, so that there is more content from our specific knowing (note I said knowing, emphasizing provable/verifiable data-driven content sharing) available to Caribbean and other researchers (including media and students).
As with all content on Wadadli Pen, unless otherwise indicated, this is written by author and Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse. All rights reserved.