Wikiversity:What shall we do with Wikipedia?/Expert commentaries

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"The Commentaries [on the Laws of England] were influential largely because they were in fact readable, and because they met a need. The work is as much an apologia for the legal system of the time as it is an explanation; even when the law was obscure, Blackstone sought to make it seem rational, just, and inevitable that things should be how they were."

This page describes a proposal for a new resource type on Wikiversity. Please join the discussion of this proposal.

What is an expert commentary?[edit]

An expert commentary is a commentary on a Wikipedia article (or a part thereof) by an expert in the area. It is a piece of writing with an article-level standard and style. It is placed on Wikiversity primarily as a means of expert retention, because Wikiversity's style of resource development is more merciful to expert contributions than Wikipedia.

The context of an expert commentary[edit]

An expert commentary is not a free-standing educational resource in its own right, but has a close relationship to a particular outside resource (encyclopedia article on Wikipedia). In this sense, Wikiversity is directly facilitating the work of Wikipedia in the same way that Wikimedia Commons does. Wikimedia Commons does not (primarily) offer a self-standing set of resources - the images become useful mainly through their integration into sister projects. Likewise, the expert commentary is only primarily useful in the context of its sister project relatives. However in the course of time, the image collection on Wikimedia Commons has become a valuable internet entity in its own right, and the expert commentary resource type on Wikiversity might go through a similar development.

Who are expert commentaries for?[edit]

The opportunity to write an expert commentary is primarily aimed at Wikipedians, and would be offered (in a way not yet worked out) to Wikipedians as a part of their work at Wikipedia. The target audience is not primarily existing Wikiversity users.

What kind of content does an expert commentary have?[edit]

The word "commentary" is intended to cover a very wide field of meaning. It may be a summary, expansion, interpretation, addition or any other text which an expert, fuelled by detailed knowledge of an area, feels impelled to add to a Wikipedia article. NB: Wikipedians already have their talk pages for discussions of articles, so a commentary is not a discussion. It is a more formal and coherent kind of contribution.

The need for expert commentaries[edit]

Experts need forks, because they usually disagree.
If you have been to the top of the mountain, you tend to see more - but from a particular point-of-view.

Experts constantly add their uniquely useful expertise to articles on Wikipedia. Because Wikipedia does not allow forking, any subsequent editor is obliged to spoil the expert contribution. The quality improvement of a Wikipedia article is not linear - it is bumpy. An expert may be followed by amateurs, fools and vandals of varying degrees, followed by an expert who disagrees with the first one. Generally quality tends to move upwards, but at the cost of the loss of many valuable contributions during a stormy process. While this process is good for Wikipedia and good for people using Wikipedia for reference, it is an unpleasant and even degrading experience for experts.

Experts also fall tend to foul of Wikipedia's strict interpretation of NPOV and policy against original research. Experts are, undoubtedly, qualified to make statements which adopt a point-of-view and which may be original. These statements are a form of knowledge which is educational, and which should be collected and shared with humanity. However such statements are usually re-written, watered down or deleted from Wikipedia for policy reasons.

Expert commentaries are not just something needed by the experts themselves, to satisfy their personal intellectual needs. There is also a wider human need here on the part of all of mankind. There needs to be a Wikimedia project which acts as a repository of wisdom in a wider sense than a mere encyclopedia.

Why is Wikiversity the right place for this?[edit]

  1. Wikiversity permits forking. This is a big selling point for experts who hate having their hard-written contributions written over on Wikipedia. The general practice on Wikiversity is to give great respect to previous editors' edits/pages and create new pages with similar titles (called "forking") when writing a similar project. Forking is not allowed on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia ban on forking leads to edit wars between experts and suppression/loss of high quality contributions.
  2. Wikiversity allows experts and academics a greater leeway with regard to the expression of a point-of-view. People who know a lot about a subject ("experts") possess valuable knowledge which needs collecting and sharing with mankind, but experts tend, more than others, to form opinions or adopt points-of-view. This makes it difficult for them to participate on Wikipedia.

See also:

Formal criteria for an expert commentary[edit]

  1. Title: the expert commentary has the same title (on WV) as the equivalent page on Wikipedia. In the case of pre-existing resources on WV with the same name, a kind of disambiguation list should be created. In the case where a WP page has more than one expert commentary, the main WV equivalent page should be a list of the commentaries, and the commentaries should be out into subpages.
  2. Interwiki links: the WV pages should link back to WP using the standard Template:Wikipedia box. The Wikipedia article should have a special inline reference - something like this (with hyperlinks added):
    Expert commentaries: Wikiversity has expert commentaries on this topic or section.
  3. An expert commentary should stay on topic, the topic being the content of the equivalent Wikipedia article. If it strays off-topic, it could become a different kind of learning resource. Such an evolution might be welcome.
  4. We need to think about how policies (such as NPOV and verifiability) attach to commentaries. We would be hosting them on Wikiversity precisely because they are out-of-scope on Wikipedia. But while we want to preserve valuable or "expert" commentaries, we don't want to encourage charlatanism. An expert may have a point-of-view, but the style should be academic/professional and the resource should be properly informed.

The expert commentary in the light of Wikiversity history[edit]

How radical a change is this for Wikiversity?[edit]

At the time of writing, the first initiative to exhaustively catalogue all naturally-occurring resource types on Wikiversity was drawing to an end, and about 26 top-level resource types (e.g. lessons, quizzes, reading groups, activities, assignments, papers) had been identified, many of which had subtypes (e.g. blogs were categorised as a subtype of essay).

The "expert commentary" suggestion needs to be seen in this light. It is a 27th top-level resource type, alongside the existing 26 (the exact numbers will change anyway, because they constantly do). In other words, there is no suggestion here that the "core philosophy" (if there is one) of Wikiversity is being changed. We are adding a mere single further ingredient to a fruit salad which already contains dozens of ingredients.

On the other hand, there is a sense in which this suggestion is more radical. Like the project Wikiversity:What shall we do with Wikipedia?, this resource type subtly shifts Wikiversity's stance towards its sister projects. It moves the focus away from the Wikibooks parent project and towards Wikipedia. This does not mean that everything will revolve around Wikipedia in future. It adds to what is currently being done and thought.

Future consequences[edit]

One of the future consequences which should be borne in mind are side effects. The expert commentary resource type, if welcomed and properly supported by Wikipedia, will raise awareness of Wikiversity and its multiple uses among Wikipedians. While Wikipedian experts may initially be attracted here by the promise of less cruel editing of their hard-written texts, during their stay they may come across other possible uses of Wikiversity and shift their editing interests. The expert commentary is, to a small and subsidiary extent, a form of marketing for Wikiversity. The audience targetted by this market is precisely the audience we need: not just any Wikipedia contributor, but precisely those with higher ability levels, such as academic and professional trainers who really know their fields well.

Do we already have expert commentaries on Wikiversity?[edit]

Probably. It's just that nobody has ever set out to find or catalogue them. About 6000 pages would need investigating to find some.

Related material on Wikipedia[edit]

See also[edit]