Wikipedia and Human Rights

Early in N-Map’s formative stages, I had planned on setting up a human rights law wiki.  The idea was to create a practice-oriented collaborative tool to help public interest lawyers around the world share information, advice, strategies, and arguments more effectively.  The wiki would centralize the information in a more user-friendly way than does the gargantuan top-down behemoths, Lexis and Westlaw.

Hmm.  As I write this, it still sounds like a pretty good idea.  It still might happen.  However, my recent explorations of Wikipedia have changed my thinking about how to best make use of the scarce time that lawyers have to contribute to social media.

It turns out the Wikipedia’s content on human rights and human rights law is in pretty bad shape, and needs a lot of improvement.  The content writers at Wikipedia’s Human Rights Project have done a great job of starting debate on the topics, but the entire field could stand a great deal of improvement.  Given that Wikipedia has become the world’s leading source of encyclopedic information (over 9 million views of the English language edition per hour, as of January 2010), I thought that it would be a far better use of our community’s time to improve the wiki that everyone is already reading instead of starting from scratch.

Thus, the nascent N-Map Wikipedia Project.

The task is daunting.  As many of you now, Wikipedia has split itself into a variety of subject groupings, called WikiProjects.  Each of those projects has a listing of articles relevant to their subject area, ranked in importance (i.e., top, high, mid, low).  Each of these articles is given a quality rating from Wikipedia’s universal quality scale.   For normal articles, this scale starts at a “stub,” then moves to a “start,” followed by C, B, “Good,” A, and then Featured Article, or “FA.”  Every article of any importance should strive for at least “A,” if not FA status.  Articles are periodically reassessed to determine if their quality has changed.

The Human Rights WikiProject identifies 39 top importance articles, and 340 high importance articles.  Of the top importance articles, there are no FA or A rated articles, and just 4 “Good” rated articles.  That is appalling.  The majority are C and below.  Of the high importance articles, all but one are B or below.

More details below the fold — if you don’t have time to read on but are interested in joining an effort to improve Wikipedia’s human rights content (and thus the world’s knowledge of human rights law and history), please email me.

Here is one glaring example: the entry on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.  It’s a mess — no citations, extremely short with not much detail, and an incoherent opening that contains a tautology: “Economic, social and cultural rights (ESC) are socio-economic human rights, distinct from civil and political rights.”  The article on Civil and Political Rights is equally bare-bones, though it slightly better written.  They are ranked “start” and “stub” class respectively.  Even the entry on Human Rights itself is pretty weak, though for different reasons — it is long, sprawling, and poorly organized.

There are some good articles that can be used as a reference point.  For example, the entry on the International Criminal Court, is quite good, though it could still use a lot more detail.  The entry on the ICESCR is much better than that for ESC Rights themselves, but still can’t escape the tautology problem.

There is a huge amount to do.  Take a look at the lists of top importance articles and high importance articles, and let me know if you are interested in starting to work on this.

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