How do you start to explain a site like AquaPedia? How to add to it? Why it even exists?

When introducing students to this database as part of course project, we usually start with a familiar wiki and a familiar topic. Most of the students we work with are based out of universities in the Boston area. The Charles River is a familiar waterway in the region, and it has an extensive page on WikiPedia:

a screenshot of the Charles River entry on Wikipedia

a screenshot of the Charles River entry on Wikipedia

It is an extensive article of about 3000 words that covers environmental, geographical and historical aspects of this river.

It didn’t always look like this. The page’s very first edit (which you can find by selecting “View History” while looking at the Charles River Entry) was made on November 17th, 2002.

This is all the content of the page on it’s first day: “A river separating Cambridge Massachusetts from Boston Massachusetts.”

Somewhere between then and now, dozens of users (human and machine) have made hundreds of edits that have turned a factual statement into a much richer piece of knowledge.

Multiple perspectives are needed to describe, clarify and understand complex problems, like those that involve water. While a platform like WikiPedia is great for sharing objective facts that have been verified through multiple sources, we needed a different way to facilitate sharing case studies about water. We wanted to build something that would allow the cases to be connected by themes, types of stakeholders, or questions about management and even values that are embedded in the problem or resolution. We wanted a place where incomplete knowledge could be shared, with the hope that more information could be added in the future. We wanted a place where different perspectives on the same problem could be shared in the same space, and where cases could be updated with new content as they unfolded or were re-visited.

Adding to an AquaPedia case should be thought of as adding revisions to an ongoing draft document, and as a way to share knowledge not only about a specific case, but how sharing knowledge about one case can help others who have similar questions about different problems that have occurred or are unfolding in other places. From that understanding—using the best knowledge available to draft a case about a complex water problem to share that knowledge with others who may be interested not only in that case, but also in cases that have similarities to your case—is where editing AquaPedia starts.




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