Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Voyage of the Karluk

Every so often, I have the good fortune to stumble along an online article or reference that really takes advantage of the Internet as a medium. This was exactly the case with the new Wikipedia entry on the Voyage of the Karluk. A few months ago, I noticed that there was an "at work" tag on the article, and that some energetic person known to me only as Brianboulton (I assume that this is his real name, but it hardly matters) was doing the heavy lifting of taking a lowly "stub" article through to "Feature Article," Wikipedia's highest rating. The author clearly knew a thing or two about the sea and ships, and took advantage of the fact that many of the sources made available via Google Books, such as Bob Bartlett's own account of the Karluk, were out of copyright. More impressively, he was able to get illustrations as well as footnotes from this same source, while at the same time dextrously citing more recent books, and carefully footnoting along the way. It's the kind of burst of energy that refreshes one's faith in the largely anonymous, "crowdsourcing" model of such reference works.

As someone who has contributed to Wikipedia and other online reference projects (such as Citizendium), I crossed my fingers that this entry would pass through, and survive, the Scylla of copyright nigglers and the Charybdis of endless editorial tweaking -- and lo! -- it did. So, while the actual HMCS "Karluk" went down to an icy grave, the article sails boldly through its subject, providing a balanced and informative reference entry where before there was only a dark corner with a few half-hearted scraps mingling with rumors and undocumented sources. It's now a feature article, and may someday soon be right there on the Mainpage! Check it out, and if you have a mind, it's not hard to find am unoccupied corner of that vastest and most perilous region of all -- free online reference works -- where you can ply your pen.

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