Thursday, September 4, 2008

Nimble wikis.

Here is an interesting example of how prescient wikis can be since information can come from anywhere. It is a NYTimes story about how Sarah Palin's Wikipedia bio suddenly filled out and hinted at her being McCain's running mate before it was announced in the traditional media. It reminds me some of how Wikipedia's entry for Tim Russert was the first to announce his death.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tying up ends: an evaluation and reflection.

It has been about a month since my internship officially ended, but my efforts with the ACMS reference wiki are not over. Staying true to the spirit of wikis, I have decided to continue to contribute in whatever capacity I can. This will likely mean that I will have long dry spells when school work is bearing down on me later this year, but even a few small contributions here and there can add up. I still have some topics I would like to address relating to my internship focus, including more on education, media, and the affiliated government agencies. But I would also like to do more on the side of knowledge creation in Mongolia. Two of my favorite topics that I researched were the poets Renchinii Choinom and Danzan Ravjaa. I would also like to learn more about the functions of prophecy within the knowledge society; there is a book sitting on my desk that keeps calling out for me to read it called Time, Causality and Prophecy in the Mongolian Cultural Region by Rebecca Empsom. I'll also be finishing up Travels of an Alchemist (长春真人西游记) soon too, which is the record of the travels of the Daoist monk Chang Chun as he makes his way to an audience with Chinggis Khan as he is engaged in the Western Campaign.

The one thing that is most clear to me from this internship is that wikis need active members. During the internship I was more or less the only active contributor. This would lead me to wonder about the future of the project and contributed to a feeling of isolation in my efforts. Certainly one of the biggest difficulties for me in this project was that I was working from my study in an anonymous apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. It is hard to feel like you are part of something when you are thousands of miles from the organization you are working for, but it is even harder when your contact with everyone else is minimal. My weekly Skype meetings with Brian definitely helped on this count. I did end up in contact with other people, such as Krystina Matusiak at UW-Milwaukee, however, those contacts were fleeting and sporadic. In the end, I can't really blame anyone for not wanting to spend a prime part of their summer emailing with a guy working on an internship. Often though, the communal aspect of wiki work, an integral part, was seriously lacking during the internship.

It is important to point out that I am not bitter on this point at all, since I realized going in that the project was new and would involve a lot of learning by trying things out. Also, since the end of my internship the wiki has picked up a number of contributors that have expanded the article base greatly. Hopefully I will be able to tap into some of the energy from their contributions and they can help shape mine as I participate in the future.

As I have noted in other posts, it can be difficult dealing with a relatively new technology. I should qualify this since wikis have been around for at least a decade. What I mean is that actually applying the technology has not entirely trickled down to regular people. Sure, almost everyone has heard of Wikipedia and maybe even contributed to it. There is even a significant community of very knowledgeable people out there. And, as many people have touted, wikis are relatively user friendly. But in reality, they do require specialized knowledge in order to make quality documents and it can be difficult to find information on how to go about that. I did find a good textbook that helped me out called Wiki: Web Collaboration, but I found very little worthwhile and unbiased information on how they are being used as reference tools. This is somewhat surprising since the largest wiki in the world is used for reference and "library 2.0" appears to be all the rage in the LIS field right now. People, however, seem more concerned with the authority of Wikipedia (more authoritative than I ever would have thought by the way) and discussing the potential for 2.0 technologies rather than actually putting them to use. There is definitely some uncertainty about where these technologies are going to go. Something that I think information agencies will have to think more about with 2.0 applications is the fact that you have to get people invested enough, not only to do writing and research, but also to learn how to use the application.

In an international venue, such as the one for my internship, this is even more tricky. I recall the experience of some classmates of mine some months back who were working on an outreach project with Kyrgyzstani librarians to help them research 2.0 applications they could use. My classmates cited as their number one frustration with the project the difficulty in getting the librarians in Kyrgyzstan to contribute to the wiki thye set up. Ultimately, it is important to recognize that distance does still impact wiki projects despite the space crunching magic of the Internet. On top of that, language and culture have a huge role to play as well. There were a number of Mongolians I sent emails to either asking for information or to suggest that they contribute to the wiki on an area of their specialization. Very little came of this because: 1) emails are all too easy to ignore, 2) especially if they are in English and you speak Mongolian and 3) why in the world would they waste their time on me and a wiki they have never heard of?

It all comes back to a need for community, which is hard to build, and a degree of altruism on behalf of the contributors.

I would sum up what I learned and my overall experience as follows:


To make information on the Mongolian Knowledge Society more accessible.
I do think that I made worthwhile progress on this issue and that my efforts could be used to significantly help others. I didn't make as much progress as I expected, but then, in retrospect, my expectations were not realistic. Researching, writing, formatting and embedding links for an effective wiki reference article takes a fair amount of time. There can be a lot of detail work that takes longer than some people might expect. Zotero turned out to be a great time saving tool here.

To learn more about digital technology.
I definitely learned a lot about digital technology. As one might expect, most of what I learned was about how to write for Mediawiki. But I would venture a guess that what might be even more important for me to learn from this experience is that actually getting technology to be used in a meaningful way can be tricky. I am fairly certain that Monreference will one day come into its own and be used regularly by Central Asia scholars, but getting there will take a large group effort. Eventually it will be a useful time saving tool, and until then it will need people to feed it their time and energies.

To learn more about Mongolia.
I definitely did that. I ended up with much more information on many topics than I knew what to do with. This internship did reconfirm something I already knew as well about studying Mongolia: not only can answers be hard to find, but you can also easily find conflicting "authoritative" answers. Even something that should be easy to find a solid number for can end up ambiguous. Take, for instance, the population of Mongolia. According to the CIA World Factbook Mongolia's population is 2,996,081. However, a hard to find, but probably more accurate document, the 2007 Mongolian Statistical Yearbook, puts the number at a significantly lower 2,635,200.

And in conclusion . . .

If I had a magic time-swapping machine I would have changed my summer so that I took the class Organization of Information before doing this internship. The theory I learned in the class probably would have helped me to better piece together my entries. Also, some of the technical things we learned might have been helpful. Oh well, here's to wishes and time-swap machines in the future.

As I write this the Monreference wiki is down. I have no idea why. That is just one of the idiosyncrasies of working on an internet project associated with Mongolia, sometimes you are no longer able to communicate. Minor hiccups such as these aside, I think that my experience with ACMS has been a good one. Anyone interested in learning more Mongolia and doing something unique for an internship would be well served to consider them.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Happy Nadaam... soon I'll be gone (but not really)

This has been a good past week. I have had solid momentum going and was able to produce a number of new entries. The problem? I only have a few days left in my internship and I'm getting into a good groove now. I guess that it is not too surprising since all workplaces, digital and otherwise, take some getting used to. What has helped a lot is my Zotero indexed collection. Now that it is pretty well filled in I can use the tags, or a general search, and come up with documents I'm familiar with for references. And I have pretyped wiki-formatted reference data ready to be simply copied and pasted where necessary. If you haven't used Zotero yet, I recommend it, especially if you write anything that needs to be referenced or need to juggle between a lot of sources.

The amount of sources I have been able to find relating to the Mongolian Knowledge Society has been surprising. When I was working on my report for Mongolia last semester at one point I got a little frustrated on how little information I was able to find. Eventually did find a number of good sources, but with this internship I have probably quadrupled that number. This is not to say that they are all great sources, or that some of the NGO project descriptions I've found are dabbling heavily in hyperbole. But I have been able to find many authoritative resources secreted here and there around the web. In fact, often in the past few weeks my problem has been an overabundance of sources leading to twenty or more open browser tabs at a time (not so efficient). It remains true though, that even if this information is out there, it is still hard to come by in a accessible and coherent fashion. Hopefully I have made it a little easier with my wiki entries. A few of them even come up near the top in a Google search!

Newest entries:
Bank of Mongolia
Mobile phones
Mongolian government
-Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (MOECS)
-Mongolian heads of state under communism
-President of Mongolia
Mongolian Telecommunication Company (MTC)
NewCom Group
Non-formal distance education
User:Gossett (I finally got around to filling out my profile)
Wireless Local Loop (WLL)

The government entries are not all related to the Knowledge Society per se, but they snuck in there because I started looking into the ministries involved in education and ended up wanting to give those groups context with some other information on the government. It all still needs a lot of filling out, especially since I get diverted to telecom companies because I wanted to give some background for the mobile phones entry (which led to Wireless Local Loop as well). I even somehow got distracted into editing a Wikipedia entry for one of the Korean joint stakeholders in Skytel (I was bothered by blatantly promotional language). Alas, it's all in the nature of web 2.0 isn't it.

Though my internship is coming to a close I intend to continue to contribute to Monreference for a few reasons. First, I still have more entries on the Knowledge Society waiting to be written (the media being a glaring example of this). Second, I'm invested in the project now. It would be hard to just abandon it at this point. Third, I would like to learn more about Mongolia and this just gives me another reason to continue to do so. And fourth, wikis need active, flesh and bones humans working with them in order to live. I'd like to see this one live. I'll be doing less with it since school will be taking more of my time, but I'll do what I can.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Back from a retreat.

Well, I just finished with a "Reference retreat" here at UW-Madison. It sounds fancier than it is, there is no secluded resort full of white-gloved servants; it's more like a day of presentations and meeting people, which is fine. Unfortunately, much of the stuff didn't have a lot of bearing on what I will be doing any time soon, but it is always good to bear witness to a passionate debate about the future of reference services. It may not be the most exciting thing to a lot of people, but others find the whole thing fascinating. Since there is a lot of discussion about the future of reference services and how technology will play out with it, I thought that there might be some brains I could tap into about wiki development. Alas, though web 2.0 may be a catchword that excites many librarians, most of them are largely mystified by it. My "lunch group" had as their topic wiki technologies, but the participants mostly were using them as consolidated human resource tools and technical quick references for documents previously stored on paper. When I asked if anyone was thinking about turning their HTML subject guides for their libraries into collaborative wikis all I got was blank stares. Oh well. It just goes to reinforce how new this technology is to many. One thing that got repeated over and over though, is that the real challenge behind a wiki is to get people to use it, then contribute to it.

My biggest new contribution is an entry for Education, though a few areas under education could still use some filling out, especially with the non-formal distance education I mentioned earlier. That one will get its own entry though. A complementary entry is Institutions of Higher Education Listing. I also started an entry for the Asian Development Bank, since they are behind many education and development initiatives in Mongolia, and have emailed the representative in Mongolia to see if they are interested in contributing more information.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mongolian Riots

The recent elections in Ulaanbataar have brought rioting with five dead, a number of injured, and the ruling party's building has been burned down. It appears that some cultural institutions have been damaged as well, it will be good to see the extent of the damage when everything settles.

For a lowdown on what's going on check out Brian White's This Month in Mongolian Studies blog.

To better understand the role of mining on Mongolia's economy, check out this NYTimes clip.

Some other sources:

Open Society Story: Day two of the emergency state (2008-07-03).

Al Jazeera's coverage on Youtube.

Al Jazeera's article that explains how mining issues, poverty, corruption, and environmental concerns have played into unrest in Mongolia.

AP footage.

BBC coverage.

NY Times story.

Poets + Libraries = Something good

My newest entries:

Renchinii Choinom
Danzan Ravjaa
and Information Content

This last week was good in the sense that I worked with two topics that I particularly care about: poetry and libraries. The two poets listed above, Renchinii Choinom and Danzan Ravjaa, just sort of came out of the blue for me while I was looking for information on other things. I figured I shouldn't pass up the opportunity to help the world know more about these two, especially since it appears that it is next to impossible to find much of their work in translation.

Danzan Ravjaa is quite an interesting figure to learn about since he led such a crazy life. He went from being a poor singing boy begging with his father to a literary monk who established, quite possibly, the first public school in Mongolia-- in addition to monasteries and a public theater. He was considered extremely principled and is still appreciated today for his poetry. He also wrote an operetta that apparently takes almost a month to perform and is ten volumes long. And surprisingly, to me anyhow, he belonged to a branch of Buddhism that allowed monks to drink and have sex (he was apparently fond of both). He had a suspicious death, probably by poisoning. After his death his collection of manuscripts and relics (his own writing among them) continued his life's odd journey. When the communists took over and started gutting monasteries a family of "Curators," with a lineage that going back to a friend of Danzan Ravjaa's, buried the items in numerous crates in the mountains. Only in the early nineties were some of them excavated and put on display. The British Library's Endangered Archives Programme sponsored the creation of a digital image collection of unique documents from this cache.

I also got a hold of Krystyna Matusiak, a digital librarian at UW-Milwaukee. She took part in a newspaper digitization project in Mongolia also funded by the Endangered Archives Programme and has given me some more information on the elusive Mongolian Press Institute, which will be helpful. Look for an article on her experience in Ulaanbataar in a fall issue of Serials Librarian.

Working on the "Libraries" entry has been good as well, since I keep coming up with new information. I think that it is probably the longest article so far, and it might be a good idea to split it up into separate headings for the different kinds of libraries. I'm still curious about libraries outside of Ulaanbataar, though, if they do exist, clearly they are not substantial.

I came across two web 2.0 resources that may be useful down the road. A Library and Information Science Wiki and the Facebook Library 2.0 Interest Group.

Currently reading: Travels of an Alchemist by Chang Chun, recorded by Li Chi-chang, translated by Arthur Waley. It is an account of a famous Daoist master, Chang Chun's, overland trek from Shandong Province to the Hindu Kush to meet with Chinggis Khan.

Continuing with the human side of the knowledge society I plan to put in entries relating to education this week. Some already exist from another contributor, though they focus largely on education for those with disabilities. I look forward to finding out more about the government's Non-formal Distance Education program, especially considering the unique challenges it faces in Mongolia.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Series of Connections

So, my progress has not been nearly as good as I expected or hoped. I've been giving a lot of thought to my approach to composing entries. As you can see in previous posts I've already changed my mind in one respect: going from a "starting with one master entry on the Knowledge Society that branches out to smaller articles approach" to a "smaller articles that will build up to the master entry approach." Now I have also decided, since it is starting to happen anyhow, that one of the most effective approaches will be to work on multiple entries concurrently. If I establish a network of basic articles that roughly cover the topics I intend to write about I should be able to save time citing sources, especially using the tag and search features on Zotero (where I am compiling my sources). Besides, I figure that even the most rudimentary of entries is more likely to invite other author's contributions when the project goes "live".

My work to this point has given me a new appreciation for the amount of effort, and collective time, that must be behind well-written (and referenced) Wikipedia articles. I suppose browsing their history can give you a similar idea. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it appears that the most effective contributions to wiki resources are ongoing and long-term.

I've offered myself up for adoption on Wikipedia. It is a program that pairs experienced users with those who have less. I'm hoping to find someone with helpful article development tips.

My newest entries:
Internet service providers
Landline phones
Fiber-optic connections