Bertha Palmer

Bertha Palmer

Joy had no trouble adding the following information about Bertha Palmer, wife of the well-known land developer, Potter Palmer, to a Wikipedia article: Potter Palmer made provision in his will that a large sum of money should go to whoever next married Bertha. When asked why he would be so generous to his own replacement, he replied, “Because he’ll need it.”

In a few months Wikipedia is launching a new user-friendly interface to make it easier to edit and contribute articles. Wikipedia hopes to lure back the thousands of contributors who have dropped out as the encyclopedia’s rules grew more complex. The change is in reaction to some horrendous entries. In 2005, for example, John Seigenthaler Sr., a noted journalist, was said to be one of John F. Kennedy’s assassins.

Anyone can go to Wikipedia and add an article or edit one, but your contributions may be deleted by the higher-ups or “deletionists” as they are sometimes called. The key to getting something to stick is having lots of sources for your material. You can find an article on the history of Pez dispensers, for example, because lots of articles have been written about them. But you won’t find one on Adolphe Saint-Valry, a close friend of author Victor Hugo. As John Broughton, author of two books on Wikipedia, noted: “If a tree falls in the forest, and no mainstream media source writes about it, then as far as Wikipedia is concerned, the tree didn’t exist.”

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