Average Joe makes a wiki


Author: Tina Gasperson

Joe Brooks is your average 23-year-old capitalist and sick freak (a.k.a., fan of conservative radio talk show host Glenn Beck). He’s not a geek, but he believes free software is a “great way to create software that the average Joe can use.” Brooks proved that point recently, after becoming disgruntled with Wikipedia administrators who kept reverting posts made by Brooks and other Beck fans at the popular community encyclopedia Web site. Brooks, an open source neophyte, downloaded Mediawiki software, configured it, and started his own site called Glennpedia.

Brooks lives in Des Moines, Iowa, works for Wells Fargo doing data entry, and is a devoted Beck fan. Brooks and other Beck fan club members were upset with the cool reception given them on Wikipedia as they attempted to correct what they felt were mistakes in Beck’s page. “[We] began to feel unwelcome on Glenn Beck’s Wikipedia entry,” he says. “There were people getting banned from editing the articles. For example, it had misspelled Tania Beck’s name. We know her name isn’t spelled Tanya.” The entry’s history log shows a spate of revisions back and forth between Beck’s advocates and those who questioned the neutrality of their content. It was this conflict that led to the creation of Glennpedia.

Wikipedia’s rules state that all articles should be written from a neutral point of view. Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales says this policy is “absolute and non-negotiable.” Because of this policy, Wikipedia admins continuously police entries and remove statements they judge to be biased. The debate continues at the Wikipedia Beck entry as to what constitutes neutrality. About the entry, Beck was quoted as saying, “I think it’s more accurate than the bio that is on my own Web site…. [It definitely has additional] brand new facts.”

Brooks says it dawned on him that the people maintaining Beck’s entry probably didn’t even listen to the radio show, so he decided to start a wiki that would operate under his rules and would be maintained by Beck’s fans. Brooks downloaded the software and installed it himself. “I’m familiar with installing WordPress, so I used that experience when tackling the [Mediawiki] install. From what I remember, the process is a little bit different because you need to set permissions for different folders. I used my FTP program to set the correct permissions. Since Glennpedia was born out of the Glenn Beck Wikipedia entry, I felt that the site needed to be built with Mediawiki and hold the same principles,” he says. “Anyone can edit the site and all of its articles. While most anti-Glenn Beck edits might be removed, we are willing to allow reasonable and factual comments in.”

Glennpedia opened for business on October 3 of last year, and since then the site has recorded almost 100,000 page views, 3,000 page edits, and, says Brooks, about 230 pages of “legitimate content,” or actual original articles. The rest are holding pages for topics that will be fleshed out whenever users post related subject-matter, discussions, and history logs.

Brooks calls himself a “normal person on the outside of open source. I completely support the world of open source, but I’m a capitalist at heart. If someone wants to sell a product they developed then they should.”

Upon finding out that it is an accepted practice to charge money for open source software, he says, “I’m not an expert in the verbiage or exact definitions. As an outsider I’ve always felt that open source is like an invitation from the original authors to view, edit and, re-release programs, code, thoughts, etc. If I’m paying the author a fee for viewing, editing, or re-releasing the product then it’s not really ‘open,’ is it?”

That may be a controversial opinion from someone who says he is an outsider, but arguably Brooks is a member of the community just because he uses free software. At the least, Glennpedia is more proof that your average capitalist Joe can make good use of open source software without have been indoctrinated to the open source software philosophy.