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  • This is what the Wikipedia article about Greeley Park looked like when it was created on Sunday, Jan. 8.
  • This is what the Wikipedia article about Greeley Park looked like Friday afternoon, almost six days after it was created. The material was entirely added and edited by volunteers, many of whom remained anonymous.
Sunday, January 16, 2011

More than a dozen people help out with Telegraph’s Wikipedia project

Gene Porter has lived near Greeley Park for 30 years, while Sterling Ericsson has never seen it.

In fact, Ericsson has never even seen New Hampshire.

On the other hand, Ericsson, a college freshman, has spent hundreds of hours in recent years editing the online encyclopedia known as Wikipedia, while Porter, a retired engineer, never even thought of doing so until last week.

So, what do these two have in common?

The Wikipedia article about Greeley Park, of course.

Porter and Ericsson are among more than a dozen people who edited the article in the last week after it was created by The Telegraph as a way to mark Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary, which was Saturday.

In the process, they gave a demonstration of the way one of the Internet’s weirdest creations – “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit” – has grown to become a gigantic source of often valuable information, despite the fact that all the work is done by a few hundred disorganized volunteers who are scattered around the globe and come and go at will.

The volunteers include this reporter, who has fiddled around with the nonprofit Wikipedia since 2003, but who never, ever expected it to become a huge and useful resource.

“When one Googles for random subjects, usually a Wikipedia article or two shows up, so I’m familiar with its existence. But I’ve never been motivated to edit it before now,” said Porter, 74, who once worked for Sanders Associates and is now a national-security consultant.

The motivation came when Porter read last Sunday about the project, in which The Telegraph created a bare-bones article, saying only “Greeley Park is in Nashua,” and asked readers to improve it.

(Wikipedia is so comprehensive that the project almost foundered because we had trouble finding a Nashua-related article that didn’t already exist.)

Down at Texas A&M University, Ericsson was motivated to participate when he saw a mention of The Telegraph project in a Wikipedia newsletter called the Signpost.

A longtime Wikipedia enthusiast – he spends about three hours a day on the site – Ericsson is always looking for articles to help with.

“When I checked, it already had a paragraph and I was impressed, considering it was only a day after you announced it,” he said in a telephone interview.

With no personal knowledge to add, Ericsson went to the online source Google Books, with its scanned-in images of millions of texts. There, he found the history book “Nashua in Time and Place,” which he used to add details about the park’s founding.

Despite the wonders of the Internet, Ericsson admits that being 1,500 miles away is something of a handicap in his efforts.

“I wish I was in Nashua,” he said. “There are probably a lot of local books that could provide more information.”

Thanks to Porter and Ericsson, as well as folks with Wikipedia names such as “Banana04131” and “Old Man of the Mountain reloaded,” by Friday afternoon, the article had grown to almost 900 words with two pictures: a 1920 postcard of the main building and a modern photo of the howitzer.

The article mentions the Fairytale Festival and other events held in the park, has a reference to John McCain using the park to announce his presidential candidacy in 1999, and even has five footnoted references.

It also includes so much detail about the park history that it helps clear up one of the most common mistakes people make: Despite its name, the park has no connection to that famous New Hampshire native, Horace Greeley.

If it helps squash that frequent misconception, Wikipedia will have proved its value once again.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-5831 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com.