(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Like some of my classmates, I have had a number of serious questions about the arbitrariness of our Wikisource annotations. Based on the lack of definitive guidelines that Wikisource offers to contributors, it is pretty safe to suggest there’s a level of guess work involved in annotating. Like Michelle discussed in her blog post, it is difficult to determine if we as contributors have included enough information in our annotations or if we’ve even annotated the right type of information. How can we know for sure that our contributions to an annotated Wikisource text are enough? This is especially complicated by the lack of completion involved in Wikisource.

As students of literature, many of us have come to understand the book as an object with definitive limits. There is a start, there is an ending, and the book has clear boundaries. Once a book is published it cannot change – it exists as an object incapable of variation (unless subsequent editions are published).

But Wikisource doesn’t offer us this satisfactory sense of completion. Miso’s discussion of this topic in her earlier blog post really stirred up some questions for me. Our annotations for Wikisource can never exist as a point of definitive completion – they can be constantly changed, edited, updated, and even removed by the greater powers within Wikisource. So how can we ever be satisfied with our work if its never fully finished? Will we ever think of our work as complete? Or will we always feel a need to go back and edit our work since it does exist in a state of unsure completion?

The idea behind Wikisource is that the editing stage continues online allowing for numerous people to contribute to a work. This means multiple people can offer their own annotations to one document, that so long as they remain “objective” will help expand the work. Each contributor can use their knowledge and skills to offer more critical information to the annotations, expanding the viewers’ understanding of the text as a cultural artifact (one that offers insight to the period the work was created in). However, with the social edition existing in an uncompleted state, we can never claim that annotations are done. We can never suggest the work is finished, and if the work is not finished, then can we truly claim to have presented a secure edition of the text as a cultural artifact? After all, part of the editing stage does imply that work from some contributors can be removed, and perhaps vital information will be taken down due to the issues of “objective” versus “interpretive” annotations that Wikisource doesn’t seem to offer a firm definition of.

If the book exists as a cultural artifact that we can use to understand society and the past, then is the printed book a better form of publishing? Should we value completion and finality over the expansive potential of the social edition? I’m not sure, but I do know that is feels much more satisfying to print off an assignment and acknowledge its tangible state as complete than it does to hit the “publish” button on WordPress or the “save page” button on Wikisource.

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