Why fix something that isn’t broken? Wikipedia vs. Citizendium

October 1, 2007

xkcd's take on WikipediaI understand that the Wikipedia has its problems, but I consistently find it to be one of the most thorough and quickest way to get information, further I love how transparent that information. You can read the arguments about the content on the given page and evaluate its credibility.

For the sake of argument, last week was the first time I had heard about the Jena 6 case. I heard a discussion of the incident on NPR on the way home from work. Once I got home I wanted to know more about the incident, but I found most of the news coverage to be thin, and it often repeated the same few details. Lucky for me the Wikipedia was right at hand. Take a look at how great this article is on the topic, spend some time considering how through the page is, and how many news pieces it links to. One of the most interesting points in the discussion for me is when various Wikipedians begin discussing the credibility of statements from NPR. All reporting, and all encyclopedia pieces represent a point of view, it is impossible for us offer a completely objective account (it is quite telling that the Wikipedia page on objectivity is in need of a expert on the subject), so isn’t it ideal to have a conversation about the decisions in a article upfront and avaliable to any readers. If you have a problem with a Wikipedia article, bring it to the discussion page. Furthermore, consider the value of this history page for historians of the future trying to unpack the meaning of such and incident. (If you have time to read through the entire discussion page on the jena 6 it is well worth it.)

So we return to my title. The Wikipedia has been unbelievably successful. It already has systems in place to limit vandalism, so why is the Citizendium trying to fix something that just does not seem to be broken?


Video Games In The Classroom: A look at Super Smart Games

September 23, 2007

Before coming to the Center for History and New Media I worked on the planing committee for the Games Learning and Society Conference, an annual conference on the role of video games in teaching and learning. For my project I am thinking about bringing my interests in games and education together with my background in history to create a web portal for teachers looking for games to integrate into their classroom. By walking through the educational games site Super Smart Games I can unpack some of the features that I think would more effectively position a site toward integrating games in the classroom.

Super Smart games offers reviews of educational games for Teachers, Students and Parents. Site visitors browse through various categories to find reviews of games dealing with different subjects, and do simple searches that search through the entire collection of game reviews. Visitors can then comment on the reviews but it looks like they cannot post their own reviews. (Thanks to Elle Sanders from Super Smart Games for correcting me, visitors can write reviews, see Elle’s comments below) Sadly the site does not offer any ways for visitors to do advanced searches through the games. For example teachers cannot search via state standards, the time it requires to play a game, the age level of students, or specify only free web games, games free to download, or commercial games. The site also does not interface with existing Teacher social networks like Teacher’s Ade.

My fundamental problem with the site is that it is really more of a game review site than a games site. If it were a game site it would connect visitors to games. While reviews are useful they are ultimately of secondary importance. If you are looking for reviews of games from an educational perspective, then this is a good spot, but I think this is a relatively shallow apreciation for what the web can do. For the sake of comparison consider the non-education games site Kongegrate. This site aims at gamers and game developers. One of the stated goals is that at any moment a visitor should be no more than a few clicks away from actually playing a game. Kongregate (warning this is a fantastically addictive site) offers a much more robust way to interact with games. Some of these features would transfer to a site dedicated to teachers, some of them wouldn’t, but all of the design choices clearly mirror the needs of the gamers and developers.

instead of reading about games at Kongegrate you get to play them and interact with a community built around those games. It would be interesting to consider if it would be possible to do something for teachers. Extract the things most meaningful to them and offer those features alongside the games. In my next post I will explore a use case for the kind of site I am imagining.

A More Scientific Aproach To Comics

September 17, 2007

banner1.pngWhile not exactly a historical website The Periodic Table of Comic Books is an interesting web resource which has historical value. Designed by a chemists at the University of Kentucky The Periodic Table of Comic Books allows visitors to see how elements have been used and in some cases abused by American comic books.

Be forewarned, the website is not attractive. There are a few typos and the repeating background is quite atrocious, but still I think the idea is ingenious!

The site offers the viewer an image of the periodic table of elements. When you click on any element you jump to a page offering small multiples of images excerpted from pages of comics that mention that element. The resource immediately suggests new avenues for thinking about the popular perceptions of the history of science.


When you look at the small multiples it is clear that these chemists get comics in a way that the Library and Archives of Canada does not. Instead of offering tiny images of full pages from the comics viewers are given little piece of the action in the thumbnails. The bibliographic information is still present but the presentation respects the artifact being presented.

For whatever reason the site does not appear to have a database back-end. Instead each page for each comic seems to have been individually added to the collection. While taking advantage of the non-hierarchical basis of the web page format the site does not take what would seem to be the natural next step and run the site from a database of comics and elements. I would hazard to guess that this is due to lineage issues. It is entirely possible that the site has retained its initial structure from 1996.

Old Media New in New Media Skins:

September 15, 2007

As an oft compelling blog notes, Comic Books are Interesting Except When They are Not Interesting, and there is no shortage of both interesting and uninteresting sites presenting the history of comics on the web. For my review I will be discussing two different approaches to presenting comics and their history. The first site, Beyond the Funnies: The History of Comics in English Canada and Quebec “explores the history of the graphic-narrative medium in Canada”. You can see a image of the home-page below.

beyond-the-funnies.pngThe site presents a engaging attempt to use the style of comics to present the history of comics. However it ends up looking a bit too busy for my taste. When you look at the header it is just too busy. What do you think the viewer is supposed to focus on? For me the three outlined pieces of text at the top of the header image are just too much. “About This Site” “Comics Gallery” and “Create Your Own Comic” just don’t fit into the style of the head image, I would like to see them either better integrated into the image or pulled out with the five text links at the top of the page.

On the side of the page, the site navigation through speech balloons works much better for me. Here we an see them repurposing the style of comics into the format of their page. I found myself immediately understanding both the reference and that these were links to navigate through the site and that makes for good design.page_text.png

When you click the “Introduction” link from the header, the link I felt most clearly denoted where I should start moving through the site, (It is the big bright and pushed to the top left of the screen) I could clearly see the site take on another traditional form, the historical paper. You can see the title, the page is dominated by text, leaving very small images, and footnotes hyperlinked to the bibliography at the bottom of each page. While I understand that there is quite a bit of value in publishing books online, it would seem that if a project, like this one, is “born digital” it would make a lot of sense to lose the trappings of the academic paper and embrace links, and in the case of the history of comics bigger images.

comics_gallery.pngThe site does offer a comics gallery, where viewers can engage with the books themselves more. But the page is de-emphasized, one of those small links that seems out of place at the top of the header. And even still when we get to 10 comics they offer us the images are still tiny. Completely overshadowed by their bibliographic information.

Instead of embracing the possibilities of the database structure of new media, by say offering visitors to search through comics the site models itself on a academic paper (understandably there is a rats nest of rights issues here but imagine a comic books site modeled off something like BYU’s Time Archive for comics) What do we gain from this being on the web as opposed to published in paper? As I see it not too much.

While the site is interesting, and believe me much more well organized and useful than a series of other amateur sites on the history of comics it is ultimately old media in a new skin, somewhat missing the point for the possibilities of the new medium. Nonetheless a solid attempt from 2002 and of-course we must thank them for not using Comic Sans in the main body.