The Encyclopedia of Alabama launches (officially)

09.15.2008 by André Natta · → 20 Comments

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Encyclopedia of Alabama logo - Courtesy of websiteWe always plug our relationship with BhamWiki whenever we can. Today there was an official unveiling of what it would be like if the folks at the Wiki ever got a large grant to help supplement it. The Encyclopedia of Alabama was formally launched by Governor Riley today at the Alabama Humanities Foundation Leadership Summit and Awards Luncheon in Hoover (though the site’s been up and active since February). We’re interested in hearing what you think about it – and thanks to GoodCourage for giving up the head’s up. You can always direct message us via Twitter or any of the other contact methods with news tips and story ideas.

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19 comments
Dystopos
Dystopos

Since the discussion has been started, another distinction has been rolling around in my head today: To the degree that the E of A has enlisted bona fide experts in many topics, they are able to draw conclusions and make judgments that sites like Bhamwiki will never (or should never) present first-hand. My aim with Bhamwiki is to provide well-ordered factual information so neutral that anyone looking at one of our articles, no matter their expertise or bias, will agree that what we have is reasonably correct and comprehensive. That's plenty hard enough for us amateurs without approaching the task of interpretation, even where it might be valuable. In fact, we more often find ourselves struggling to neutralize the biases in our source materials. In the arena of detailed ultra-local topics there are few general-interest peer-reviewed sources available. Lacking those, the sources we find run the gamut from propaganda, advertising, boosterism and commissioned work to slander, rumor, innuendo and everything in between. Expertise has a justly honored place, but you're right. That place probably ain't a wiki.

Dystopos
Dystopos

Since the discussion has been started, another distinction has been rolling around in my head today: To the degree that the E of A has enlisted bona fide experts in many topics, they are able to draw conclusions and make judgments that sites like Bhamwiki will never (or should never) present first-hand. My aim with Bhamwiki is to provide well-ordered factual information so neutral that anyone looking at one of our articles, no matter their expertise or bias, will agree that what we have is reasonably correct and comprehensive. That's plenty hard enough for us amateurs without approaching the task of interpretation, even where it might be valuable. In fact, we more often find ourselves struggling to neutralize the biases in our source materials. In the arena of detailed ultra-local topics there are few general-interest peer-reviewed sources available. Lacking those, the sources we find run the gamut from propaganda, advertising, boosterism and commissioned work to slander, rumor, innuendo and everything in between. Expertise has a justly honored place, but you're right. That place probably ain't a wiki.

Justin
Justin

Blake, Yes, we are constantly reviewing and changing the content, and see that possibility as a huge advantage to publishing on the web versus print. If you have any suggestions, additions, or comments, please direct them to eoa@auburn.edu or editor@encyclopediaofalabama.org. Thanks for the feedback. Justin

Justin
Justin

Blake, Yes, we are constantly reviewing and changing the content, and see that possibility as a huge advantage to publishing on the web versus print. If you have any suggestions, additions, or comments, please direct them to eoa@auburn.edu or editor@encyclopediaofalabama.org. Thanks for the feedback. Justin

Blake
Blake

Justin, Will there be an easy mechanism for submitting articles for review and publication? I would like to see the value of a wiki, people with the knowledge filling voids yet still have the review and oversight of a true encyclopedia. Honestly my judgments yesterday were hasty and I did not take the academic citation aspect into consideration.

Justin
Justin

Hello All, Thanks for your comments, and John, I hope you found the several images you agreed to lend via flickr. Yes, our website is not running a wiki based approach due to the need to keep it aligned to educational standards and also help with fundraising. We do employ a wiki'esk approach when it comes to media, as I have befriended dozens and dozens of people who have contributed photographs from their local communities (just check out the county articles). Also, I do agree our popups leave a lot to be desired, however we did some fieldwork and decided to go with a smaller size on account of many county school have very small screens, and larger popups tended to confuse the audience. As technology advances, so will we. As far as content, we are always commissioning, editing, and loading new materials. We currently have 500+ articles on our site, with a queue of 300+ in some stage of edit. There is also a database of 5000+ article that will be commissioned somewhere along the line. Our staff members are all fans of the Bhamwiki, and agree it is leaps and bounds above most city wiki’s (and also Wikipedia itself) and hope you will continue to develop this content. With our project, we decided to start with the topics of greatest state and nation wide significance, then work down to the micro level. As this happens, I am sure we will be soliciting help from your authors. Many thanks again for the feedback, and thanks to all of you that took the time to contribute media content. Justin

Justin
Justin

Hello All, Thanks for your comments, and John, I hope you found the several images you agreed to lend via flickr. Yes, our website is not running a wiki based approach due to the need to keep it aligned to educational standards and also help with fundraising. We do employ a wiki'esk approach when it comes to media, as I have befriended dozens and dozens of people who have contributed photographs from their local communities (just check out the county articles). Also, I do agree our popups leave a lot to be desired, however we did some fieldwork and decided to go with a smaller size on account of many county school have very small screens, and larger popups tended to confuse the audience. As technology advances, so will we. As far as content, we are always commissioning, editing, and loading new materials. We currently have 500+ articles on our site, with a queue of 300+ in some stage of edit. There is also a database of 5000+ article that will be commissioned somewhere along the line. Our staff members are all fans of the Bhamwiki, and agree it is leaps and bounds above most city wiki’s (and also Wikipedia itself) and hope you will continue to develop this content. With our project, we decided to start with the topics of greatest state and nation wide significance, then work down to the micro level. As this happens, I am sure we will be soliciting help from your authors. Many thanks again for the feedback, and thanks to all of you that took the time to contribute media content. Justin

Andre
Andre

I was hoping you'd provide a comment or two to this one, John. It's great to have your perspective while perhaps letting others know just what goes into it. Maybe you might even pick up one or two more contributors... Well, maybe :-)

Andre Natta
Andre Natta

I was hoping you'd provide a comment or two to this one, John. It's great to have your perspective while perhaps letting others know just what goes into it. Maybe you might even pick up one or two more contributors... Well, maybe :-)

John
John

As the founder of Bhamwiki, I have a few thoughts to add. First, I'm REALLY glad the the Encyclopedia of Alabama project was launched because there is a great value in making information accessible and so much interesting stuff about Alabama is being neglected in archives and out-of-print books where the people searching for it have little hope of finding it. I know I've already used articles from the E of A beta to improve some of Bhamwiki's articles. I hope someday that it rises to the quality of the Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/) or the New Georgia Encyclopedia (http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/) Second, I don't think Bhamwiki would be that much different if we had $7 million in funding. It would certainly be getting bigger faster with more features and portals, but it would be following more or less the same course. I'd personally have a newer car, I expect. As for the reliability of a wiki, I've attempted to partially address the issue on our site by asking for published references to be cited and by restricting editing to registered users who agree to our content policy. We certainly have our share of errors (and many egregious omissions), but I can say we're always working to get better. In my opinion, the quality, accuracy and use of references in the average Bhamwiki article is distinctly superior to the average articles found in most "City Wikis" out there. When an authority is needed, we can't be the last word, but hopefully we can give people some context and point to the references that are authoritative (and occasionally even correct those). I mentioned "City Wikis" above. There's a growing group of them, perhaps paralleling the shift to "ultra-local" online news sources. I'm proud to note that, at least according to the statistics kept by the Omaha Wiki and Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_wiki), Bhamwiki is one of the largest such sites in the world. As new ones seem to be launched every day, I hope we continue to grow and remain at the forefront of what I believe is a valuable public service.

John
John

As the founder of Bhamwiki, I have a few thoughts to add. First, I'm REALLY glad the the Encyclopedia of Alabama project was launched because there is a great value in making information accessible and so much interesting stuff about Alabama is being neglected in archives and out-of-print books where the people searching for it have little hope of finding it. I know I've already used articles from the E of A beta to improve some of Bhamwiki's articles. I hope someday that it rises to the quality of the Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/) or the New Georgia Encyclopedia (http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/) Second, I don't think Bhamwiki would be that much different if we had $7 million in funding. It would certainly be getting bigger faster with more features and portals, but it would be following more or less the same course. I'd personally have a newer car, I expect. As for the reliability of a wiki, I've attempted to partially address the issue on our site by asking for published references to be cited and by restricting editing to registered users who agree to our content policy. We certainly have our share of errors (and many egregious omissions), but I can say we're always working to get better. In my opinion, the quality, accuracy and use of references in the average Bhamwiki article is distinctly superior to the average articles found in most "City Wikis" out there. When an authority is needed, we can't be the last word, but hopefully we can give people some context and point to the references that are authoritative (and occasionally even correct those). I mentioned "City Wikis" above. There's a growing group of them, perhaps paralleling the shift to "ultra-local" online news sources. I'm proud to note that, at least according to the statistics kept by the Omaha Wiki and Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_wiki), Bhamwiki is one of the largest such sites in the world. As new ones seem to be launched every day, I hope we continue to grow and remain at the forefront of what I believe is a valuable public service.

Bhamdining
Bhamdining

As a freelance writer, I was approached about researching and writing an article for this project. I felt the amount of compensation was not nearly enough for the amount of research work involved.

Bhamdining
Bhamdining

As a freelance writer, I was approached about researching and writing an article for this project. I felt the amount of compensation was not nearly enough for the amount of research work involved.

Andre
Andre

I think I'd have to agree with you re: the reason why they didn't use a wiki, drew. I think the amount of information may have something to do with the amount of people working on the project and how much vetting of the info is being done. But, you never know...

Andre Natta
Andre Natta

I think I'd have to agree with you re: the reason why they didn't use a wiki, drew. I think the amount of information may have something to do with the amount of people working on the project and how much vetting of the info is being done. But, you never know...

drew
drew

I could be wrong, but I think it was not done with a wiki because it is going to be used as classroom material. Wikis don't always have the best credibility when it comes to educational material. As for present day info, I can only assume (hope) that they are in the process of catching up. I think my biggest concerns are that the design is not overly inviting and the very cool images associated with some of the articles are very low resolution. It is kind of a tease to see the clickable thumbnails of the historic pictures and then the "full-size" is only a little bigger than the thumbnail.

drew
drew

I could be wrong, but I think it was not done with a wiki because it is going to be used as classroom material. Wikis don't always have the best credibility when it comes to educational material. As for present day info, I can only assume (hope) that they are in the process of catching up. I think my biggest concerns are that the design is not overly inviting and the very cool images associated with some of the articles are very low resolution. It is kind of a tease to see the clickable thumbnails of the historic pictures and then the "full-size" is only a little bigger than the thumbnail.

Andre
Andre

Since no one seems to be willing to share their thoughts on the site, but they're DMing them to me via Twitter, I'll see if I can't synthesize. Folks seem to be concerned that the site appears incomplete, particularly present day information. They also are wondering why the encyclopedia wasn't done using a wiki. Both interesting observations - anyone else want to add to it?

Andre Natta
Andre Natta

Since no one seems to be willing to share their thoughts on the site, but they're DMing them to me via Twitter, I'll see if I can't synthesize. Folks seem to be concerned that the site appears incomplete, particularly present day information. They also are wondering why the encyclopedia wasn't done using a wiki. Both interesting observations - anyone else want to add to it?