Bhamwiki:Press

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Bhamwiki:Press collects press coverage of Bhamwiki and the Project to Document the Birmingham District.

2006-11-25

"Online encyclopedia focuses on Magic City: BhamWiki a wealth of local information"
(Saturday, November 25, 2006)
ERIN STOCK, News staff writer

"An online encyclopedia intended to be a resource on the Magic City has published more than 1,400 articles on topics from the Alabama Theatre to Mary Anderson, the Birmingham native who invented windshield wipers.

BhamWiki.com launched earlier this year when a 33-year-old architecture intern with a fascination for the city decided to start a wiki, or open-source online encyclopedia. As with the popular Wikipedia, anyone can create, edit and post submissions on the site.

The effort to index and share information on Birmingham is an example of how people increasingly turn to technology and the Internet to document the city's past and present. Sites about railroads, professional sports teams and post-World War II Birmingham have popped up.

Al.com, the Alabama Internet portal in which The Birmingham News participates, offers guides to 30 metro Birmingham communities. The guides provide links to news and information on the communities and provide public-participation forums.

Compared with topical Web sites, BhamWiki has a broader scope and, in theory, a broader base of contributors.

Founder John Morse said he started the site because Wikipedia was so vast. "You couldn't write about a gas station or that guy who sweeps sidewalks," said Morse, who also created the Magic City Flickr Group, a photo-sharing site with about 6,300 photos of Birmingham and 250 users.

So far, five people actively edit BhamWiki, and dozens more have registered, Morse said.

One of the users is Steve Driskell, a Decatur High School student who has written a few articles on the site. The 17-year-old is a self-proclaimed "useless facts freak." But he also said knowledge about a region is useful in bolstering state pride, which is partly why he likes BhamWiki.

"Most people don't know that Birmingham is one of the biggest banking centers in the country, that Rickwood Field is currently the oldest operating baseball stadium in the country, that the (Riverchase) Galleria has the largest skylight on Earth," he said.

Working on the site is a way to learn more about his family history and more about the city in general, said Lee, who is related to the third mayor of Birmingham, William Morris.

City's reputation:

Birmingham also seems to have a reputation to restore, said Russell Wells, who started a Web site called Birmingham Rewound with author and editor Tim Hollis. Wells said he receives 50 to 60 e-mails a week from people about their nostalgic site, which largely focuses on the city after World War II.

"I think some of it might be rooted in the fact that Birmingham has had a perpetual black eye for the past 40 years," Russell said. "Birmingham is a great city, and people like to read good things about Birmingham."

On BhamWiki, users compile information on the city from news sources, books and even Wikipedia. The articles range in depth from more than 1,000 words with several sources to "stubs," which are short articles in need of expansion.

"We've got room for almost anything. There's nothing we're finished with at all," Morse said. "My picture of it is that it's always something that gets better."

Issues of reliability:

But as with any wiki, Morse admits information on BhamWiki is not always reliable. He encourages people to think of it as a reliable resource but not the final authority.

As Raymond [Mohl?], a UAB history professor, puts it, "It can be useful if it's a beginning point for deeper research with more authentic, reliable materials."

Mark Ausbeck, who helped Horse set up the Web site, said he foresees its indexing information that's otherwise hard to get.

"I think eventually this will be a good single source for public domain information that you'd have to go to public archives to access," he said. "Now you can get it in one place."

The wiki has some safeguards, such as a policy on citing verifiable sources and a copyright policy. Because edits are not all that frequent, Morse is able to scan them for anything that appears controversial, he said. Eventually, if BhamWiki grows, that won't be possible or necessary with the help of multiple editors' eyes, he said.

Morse would like to see the site grow, but he has not done much to publicize it. He said he mostly hopes it serves a need for users, and he thinks it will.

"It has the potential to outlive me as something that's growing and always relevant."

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