Wikipedia, Yacapaca and professional publishing

Publishing a book the traditional way is a team effort. The Chalkface system involves an author, an editor, an illustrator, a proof-reader and a co-ordinator as a minimum. Each of these roles requires an entirely different skill-set, and excellence in each skill is predicated on having a particular personality.

This is one reason that traditional book publishers throw up their (our?) hands in horror when they (we?) see Wikipedia allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to wander in and actually publish content. Don’t they realise that quality cannot be consistently achieved without a team?

Well, actually, the Wikipedians do realise this. And they have their own, very effective, teamwork format. It is not obvious at first glance, because it is entirely informal. Here is an example of how it works.

  • Tom has an idea for an article about, say, recumbent bicycles. He hacks out a potted history, based on his own, largely excellent, memory. He illustrates it with a couple of drawings of his own, and something he found on the internet.
  • Dick is also interested in recumbents, but he’s less of a go-for-it character than Tom. He had always intended to write this article but kept waiting until he was sure he’d got all his sources organised. Now when he reads Tom’s article, what he notices is all the mistakes. So he corrects them, cites the sources correctly, and removes that image because it was somebody else’s copyright.
  • Harry doesn’t care about recumbents at all, but he has a passion for clear language and correct grammar. To him, the article is a splendid opportunity to boldly nail some split infinitives and clean up typos.

Thus, Tom, Dick and Harry progressively lift the quality of the article, each working from his own skill-set, and crucially each driven by his own route to personal satisfaction. Real article history here, for interest.

When I started Yacapaca, I dreamed of applying exactly this model of content creation. I knew that writing good assessment material requires a mix of personalities and skills, and I hoped that if we provided the right platform, the necessary collaborative behaviour would spontaneously emerge.

Until recently, I was getting a bit discouraged about this. The authoring section of Yacapaca still shows many teachers creating and jealously guarding their own materials, generally duplicating existing resources in the process. My faith, I admit, was wavering.

Then, along came this fantastic exchange on one of our authoring message boards. You have to be logged in to see it, so I shall precis. Basically, one teacher is expressing some guilt at modifying the work of others, and experienced members are piling in to reassure him that it is entirely appropriate and really works for them.

Folks have got the Wikipedia message, and are applying it to assessment resources. As usual, it was just my impatience getting in the way.


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