Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Soil WikiProject

This year I have been participating with the Soil WikiProject. Working with a small group of Wikipedians interested in the earth sciences has been a fulfilling learning experience. The first order of business was to organize a comfortable directory structure on which to hang soil-related articles. I especially like the common sense way agricultural soil science and environmental soil science are treated as branches of edaphology, separating edaphic subjects from the pedology articles. It works particularly well in Wikipedia, where various aspects of soil science are informally laid claim to by other subject categories. For example, pedology has a prominent place in the physical geography directory structure : before the project the whole of soil science was treated as a derivative science of geography (and agronomy and geology and so forth).

From the above, you may think the articles are being rewritten strictly from a soil science point of view. They are not - the directory structure is intended to group similar subjects, not to narrow the perspective. The importance of an open perspective in Wikipedia is among the more difficult aspects for scientists to process when they begin editing. In my opinion, this is why most scientists seem drawn to contributing narrow subject matter. That's a fine place to start, but the more general subject matter is where the traffic is, where the effort is most appreciated, and where the collaborative wiki process works most efficiently. I'll expand on why this is important to soil scientists in future posts.

The project has about 400 soil-related articles to work on. Another 50-plus article subjects have been identified as needed, mostly involving pedology. The effort could use another pedologist or two. A good place for U.S. soil scientists to start is to check out the list of state soils. If your state is like most, that article remains to be written

With so many articles, part of the effort has been to concentrate on a short list of articles most important to the project. Along these lines, the soil article recently came through an extensive article improvement campaign. The article had the benefit of editorial review after it was proposed as a featured article. While it did not achieve this status, it certainly accorded itself well. This bodes well for future improvements in soil-related articles at Wikipedia.

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