3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

February 15, 2008 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on February 15, 2008.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. And you can pay via PayPal, on the FYI France homepage:


Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us




Wikipedia in French, explored


It is a starting-place for research, only, like any encyclopedia... And it can be incomplete and uneven and at-times-eccentric to the point of being quirky, although again like any encyclopedia... It offers great "pictures"...

More importantly, though, Wikipédia is becoming the premier research "starting-point", the first resort, on French subjects: for students and researchers of all types, on both sides of the Manche, both sides of the Atlantique, elsewhere -- just ask them... Why? Because it is right there on the laptop or even on the handheld: that is "access"!

But what is the "quality" to be obtained thereby: the breadth, the depth, the accuracy? Well, that is changing: all reference resources change over time, but unlike the others Wikipédia is changing very rapidly, and it seems always to be getting better.


A few Wikipédia examples:

* Jean Bodin -- This Wikipédia article currently offers several concise screens' worth of information, on the 16th c. savant.

One learns, instantly and easily, who Bodin was and where he "fits" -- that he was a contemporary of Montaigne and Nostradamus -- that his ideas had something to do with "sovereignty", also with "sorcery"... Instant links are provided, to other Wikipédia articles on these topics, and to other websites, and famous quotes and bibliography are included. It's all in French, but links to similar -- perhaps done worse, perhaps done better -- are provided too, to other Wikipedia "Bodin" articles in 18 other languages!

That last is extraordinary, I think: it reminds me of the old "polyglot" bibles, which squeezed only 4 languages in.

So, if the professor, of law or politics or international relations -- anywhere, including in France -- teased the class today by announcing that next week's lecture will be about "Jean Bodin", and if you can't remember much, or really have no idea... Well, it's easy: out comes the omnipresent wifi-enabled laptop, and this excellent Wikipédia starting-point conveniently appears.

No, don't "cite" Wikipédia in your thèse d'état... But then you wouldn't cite a printed encyclopedia, either -- one which you laboriously have dug out of a far-off library reading-room. Both simply are research starting-points: one just happens to be a lot more convenient, nowadays, and with its links far more supple, than the other.


A second example:

* Révolution française -- The Senior Partner's spouse is on his way to a tony Paris "cocktail"... He has texted you desperately from his limo that his French is OK but he can't remember how "The Mountain" figured in their revolution, or exactly what its adherents were called, "and someone is sure to ask!"... He is an insecure and anxious type, and She is not along this time to reassure him...

The Wikipédia article on his topic, which he can reach and read easily en route, on his own handheld, can advise him: "Quand les Montagnards arrivent au pouvoir, la République connaît des périls extrèmes..." etc. -- and as "Montagnards" is linked he not only learns the exact French term he sought but also he can point & click to an article providing great detail about the group... this to a limo crawling through Paris traffic... via an intermediary -- you -- who might be located currently on a bus in San Francisco, or beneath a tree in Tasmania...

It is a Brave New Information World... but at least Wikipédia is here, to help the francophone part of it, anyway...


A few more instances:

* glaucome -- Linked from the article in English... the French Wikipédia article not only provides the subtly-different French spelling of the principal term, it also offers reminders of ancillary terminology and faux amis -- "humeur aqueuse", "la pression intra-oculaire", "corps ciliare" -- useful review for one's own limo-, or maybe taxi-, ride to that professional conference out at La Défense.

* Lyon -- Suppose it's a student paper on Roman Gaul... The Wikipédia article: ah, "Lugdunum" -- link to an enormous detailed article on the old Roman capital, rigorously annotated and copiously linked. Sheer magic, those Internet links... Illustrated, with full bibliography: the inquisitive student's research dream.

* and, finally here, chaologie -- oops no, faux ami alert!, Wikipédia says that should be "chaos quantique" -- let's see... Again, the Wikipédia article appears to be very complete: an introduction, starting-point only, but who among us honestly can say we'd need no such overview / introduction to such a subject, particularly to its French aspects and terminology, if we were asked to "report on" or "attend a conference regarding" same?


All this is introduced by a well-designed and interesting homepage --

-- which explains how the specifically-French Wikipedia site is constructed, and offers characteristically-French resources for plowing through it -- "portails thématiques", "image du jour", etc.


The general Wikipedia effort has developed into one of the world's outstanding digital library resources. To date there are over 2,218,000 articles in its version in English alone; plus over 705,000 in German, 468,000 in Polish, 466,000 in Japanese, 410,000 in Italian -- and such Wikipedia versions are offered now in over 250 languages.

The range of quality in the articles can be enormous: from very bad to extremely good, again like other reference resources... But in Wikipedia's case there is one outstanding difference: the good articles can be really good, and the bad articles constantly -- 24/7 in a continuous and truly-globalized effort -- are getting better and better.

This last is a key to Wikipedia, as it is to so many online digital library undertakings: change -- Wikipedia is dynamic, constantly-changing -- this can be unsettling, to someone seeking immutability, permanence, in their "authoritative" reference resources -- but it is how Wikipedia grows, so rapidly and so enormously, and it is how it gets better and better.

Other reference resources by comparison are immutable, literally: they just stand there, still, until their next publication date, which may be years away. That can be a good thing but also a bad thing, just like Wikipedia's changeability...

To anyone interested in information science -- interested in digital libraries -- perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Wikipedia effort is its tranparency: the minute history and ongoing log of the design and development of each article may be viewed by any registered member, on the article's "historique" and "discussion" tab pages -- to register simply click the link in the upper right corner of any page, "Créer un compte".

The Wikipedia in French -- "Wikipédia: l'encyclopédie libre" --

-- currently offers over 621,459 articles, available from nearly anywhere, 24/7, on your nearest laptop or iPhone, with nice pictures and active links, plus links to same-topic articles in nearly any language.


Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

Sent from my iPhone -- "The Revolution will be handheld..."






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Document maintained by: Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us
Last update: February 29, 2008