History Commons Groups

November 30, 2008

Writing Entries for ‘Dummies’

Filed under: community,Mini-Grant Program — Max @ 4:04 pm
Tags: ,

With the prospect of several new contributors coming on board in the next few days or weeks, I’m thinking we need to write a more user-friendly supplement to our style manual. What do you guys think? I’d like to hear what the users think, and hopefully someone who is already a veteran contributor will step up and help me put this together.

Edit: The official page for this guide is here:

Contributors’ Guide

The unofficial but more currently updated page for this guide is here:

Unofficial Version

and has just been updated again.

It will be a week or so before the official page catches up with the unofficial version. Until then, you should visit and comment on the unofficial version. Thanks.

The style manual isn’t easy to find, but it’s here:

http://www.historycommons.org/stylemanual.jsp

It’s got everything you need in it, but it’s somewhat dated and not written in a user-friendly manner. Me, I like the whole “for dummies” concept, with an easier, more informal approach than the style manual. Anything we write would be wholly reliant on the manual as a touchstone and reference guide, but would use a real-world approach that isn’t as forbidding as the style manual itself.

I’m thinking, “If I were a new contributor, I’d like to see something that walks me through the process of writing an entry.” Like a walkthrough of The Legend of Zelda, maybe, though I never played Zelda or much of anything….

Ideas? Responses? Suggestions? Let’s hear about it.

13 Comments »

  1. Hi. Yes! I’ve been attempting to post my first contribution and it has nearly defeated me. I invariably get to the part where I am to cite my source, and a little window pops up to tell me that what they’ve told me to do isn’t enough, because I haven’t yet developed my link properly. By accident, one item went through and I was delivered to a new-source page, with the form to fill out. Is there a link to go there first, please God, so I can generate the ID#?

    I have always hated those null links anyway and would test out my Google research skills on them with some success.

    Now I’m assuming “Reference” and “Source” are equivalents.

    Lastly, when citing from a “Journal,” I’m directed how to insert a date like “October 2001” into the form, but then that damn little window pops up to say a third element is required.

    Comment by Steven Welch — December 1, 2008 @ 7:05 am | Reply

  2. Steven, welcome aboard! We’re very glad to have you as part of the community.

    It can be a maddening process, no doubt. E-mail me and I’ll send you the “Dummies” thing I’m writing up. It’s not complete yet, but it should help you get over this hump. If that doesn’t help, then, one, it needs revamping, and two, I’ll walk you through the process via e-mail.

    purplesage23 AT yahoo DOT com

    I don’t think there’s a way to generate a source without going through the entry creation process. (Someone, am I wrong?) My best suggestion is once you get past the damn little windows and actually create the entry, save it as a draft, go right back in, and copy/paste the source ID into a text file for later use. It’s not the best solution.

    Thanks again, and again, welcome.

    Comment by Max — December 1, 2008 @ 6:58 pm | Reply

  3. Steven, Kevin has posted his own entry guide further upstream. Maybe that will be of use to you as well. If you’d like the rough copy of the one I’m writing, please email me.

    Comment by Max — December 2, 2008 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Max– Well, that was the rub. Cite [[blah, blah | 01/01/2001 ]] on the entry form and you are not allowed to save a draft–so dead end. Since I don’t feel satisfied at that point that I’d completed my job, I’m on the little window’s side.

    I sent along my email and I can’t wait to see your Dummies.

    I was successful in posting one entry five days ago, which is awaiting “verification.” What is that process about?

    Might there not be a little passive/aggressiveness to the software, left over from some earlier standard of access? The message that feels clear to me as a newcomer is I am not to cite anything not already cited.

    From my perspective, one of the most important things to be doing at present is the recovery and saving of the record, including permanent open caches of everything subject to disappearance. I speak of the “mainstream media” sources clearly within the parameters of your mission statement only.

    I would volunteer to do that work, since I don’t know the significance of what I don’t know yet. I created an index page, with a sequential listing of 75 CNN transcripts available online for just September 11th alone, and CNN did not make it easy. The “Reference List for the Complete 9/11 Timeline” has a total of 31 CNN transcripts for all of 2001.

    Obvious efforts were made in the early years after 9/11 to suppress the really juicy anomalous material, and Perry Mason always used contradictions in a person’s story to bring them to the breaking point of confessing. You know–the clutch the pearls moment?

    This is not an unimportant matter. I have been working on an issue involving, what I suspect, are bogus documents manufactured specifically for inclusion on the Complete September 11th Timeline. I make no charge, but my research is available on my blog.

    Comment by Steven Welch — December 2, 2008 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  5. >>I was successful in posting one entry five days ago, which is awaiting “verification.” What is that process about?

    Verification is actually peer review, wherein other contributors read over submitted work, check it for errors and validity, and either pass it up the pipeline or kick it back for further work. It is at the heart of our identity as a source of reliable information.

    >>Might there not be a little passive/aggressiveness to the software, left over from some earlier standard of access? The message that feels clear to me as a newcomer is I am not to cite anything not already cited.

    LOL, you’re right, the way it’s written is very cold and mechanistic. My “Dummies” page is anything but; if anything, it errs on the side of breezy.

    >>From my perspective, one of the most important things to be doing at present is the recovery and saving of the record, including permanent open caches of everything subject to disappearance. I speak of the “mainstream media” sources clearly within the parameters of your mission statement only. I would volunteer to do that work, since I don’t know the significance of what I don’t know yet.

    If you want to do that, it would be terrific. We absolutely need some sort of “information cache” of original source material. I don’t have anywhere near the storage needed to keep up with the source material I cite on my creaky old computer. Let’s talk.

    >>Obvious efforts were made in the early years after 9/11 to suppress the really juicy anomalous material, and Perry Mason always used contradictions in a person’s story to bring them to the breaking point of confessing. You know–the clutch the pearls moment? This is not an unimportant matter. I have been working on an issue involving, what I suspect, are bogus documents manufactured specifically for inclusion on the Complete September 11th Timeline. I make no charge, but my research is available on my blog.

    This is an area I know nothing about. Paul and Kevin would be your go-to people on this subject.

    Comment by Max — December 2, 2008 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

  6. The entry processes isn’t maddening—it is deadening, and your instructions for “Inputting source information” clearly omit any step which will bring up an input field, as stated in the paragraph below

    (iii) The source is not already in the database
    First select the source type. Is it a media article, interview, executive department document, court document, what? Then input the mandatory information into the bolded fields.

    I ask only how to bring up the data input field for a new source/reference for The Complete 9/11 Timeline.

    Comment by Steven Welch — December 2, 2008 @ 8:50 pm | Reply

  7. Steven, check your e-mail.

    Comment by Max — December 2, 2008 @ 8:58 pm | Reply

  8. Max–I’ve followed your instructions to “Put the entriesdummies.html file in a folder, create a subfolder entitled “images,” and put the images in the images folder.” Your document now opens in a web browser, but was there an implication that the images would open within the document itself? Because they don’t–and I’d be willing to switch back and forth between the two but your text doesn’t reference the image names and the colloquial style becomes a hindrance. So the process breaks down here for me.

    A point of interest to me was the information, “You can’t get to the Categories tab until you’ve posted, I believe, 50 entries in a particular timeline.” Since I believe this tab refers to an ability to link at greater depths, you seem to be saying a contributor’s first 50 posts are not only expected to be substandard–but required to be so. In my experience, web software this sophisticated allows for little buttons to appear and disappear on a web page at the will of an administrator, and while you admit to firewalling features from newcomers, you say something as basic and fundamental as a tab to a form for inputing new reference source data is not to be. So be it.

    You also write, “Until you become an editor (the next step up the ladder), you won’t be able to see entries once they’re in Content Edit or above. This is the heart of our “peer review” process. Editors for the Commons — Derek, Paul, Kevin, Matt, me, a couple of others — look over the submitted entries. If everything looks good, the entry goes to the next level, where someone else looks it over. If there’s a perceived problem, the entry is rejected, which sounds awful. Really, all it means is that there’s a change that needs to be made, so the entry is sent back into Draft for you to fix. Get used to it now: you will have entries rejected. We all have entries rejected.”

    What is the level of review above that of Paul Thompson? I have always revered his name as the person who most deserves credit for the establishment and maintenance of a remarkable resource. Am I misplacing my credit?

    The question I asked myself before I began was, is the contribution important enough to stand-alone as an entry, or does it support an existing entry? Finding nothing comparably extant, and since the item is a specific reference to the timeliness of a participant’s knowledge, which doesn’t require an analysis of its applicability, or the tone it is presented in. It is what it is. You think it valid or not. So, I submitted,

    “9:40 (about) – CBS News President Andrew Heyward Calls the Early Show Control Room with First News of the Pentagon” At about 9:40, Friedman says, “I get a call from [CBS News President] Andrew Heyward–‘You better look up, [at the monitors in the control room] because we think something may have hit the Pentagon.'”

    I think it fascinating that the president of a news organization would be the one to break the story to a control room. The information comes from the horse’s mouth, published in a highly credible and unbiased outlet, the American Journalism Review. Frankly, I’m surprised to find it up to me to have to submit such basic timeline information this late in the game.

    But in any event, I thought of a way to try and at least get past first base, if only to experience the next obstacle. I could fill out the new-entry form and just use an ID# I’d acquired by going randomly into the edit function of any existing entry. I might then be able to “save a draft,” as you first suggested I do, and then backtrack into a new source data entry window. But why am I being asked to defeat the purposes of the code?

    Comment by Steven Welch — December 3, 2008 @ 1:01 am | Reply

  9. Steven, I appreciate your perseverance in staying with the process. Responding to some of your specifics:

    In the file I sent you, I gave you the wrong instructions as to creating the subfolder for the “Entries for Dummies” document. I apologize for the error. I sent you an e-mail correcting the error several hours before you posted your latest comment. I hope you have received that e-mail by now.

    More generally, I was very clear in saying that the document was rough and unfinished. Your comment alerts me to the need for image captioning and ID tags in the HTML. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. As far as my “colloquial style” being a “hindrance,” I’m not sure where to go with that. You did not find Kevin’s matter-of-fact presentation useful, and you don’t find my more conversational presentation useful. I don’t know what to offer you from here. I am also left to wonder why you chose to respond to the e-mails I sent you in the public comments of this blog. I have not made the “Entries for Dummies” walkthrough available for anyone else, not even my History Commons colleagues, because it isn’t ready yet. I sent it to you in an attempt to provide you with some timely assistance, with the understanding that the document was in no way finished. I did not anticipate having to defend it in a public forum before it was completed. But since you chose to engage me publicly, I will respond in kind. I would appreciate it if further exchanges about the document could take place via e-mail, at least until the document is ready for public consumption, and thusly allowing any other interested readers to view the document in question. Once it’s up and available, I will be glad to pick it to pieces in front of the entire readership.

    It distresses me to read, “Since I believe this tab refers to an ability to link at greater depths, you seem to be saying a contributor’s first 50 posts are not only expected to be substandard–but required to be so.” This is absolutely not the case. The ability to add categories is not a “basic and fundamental” part of creating and publishing entries, but rather a secondary feature that is not necessary to the creation and publication of top-flight material. To conclude that you are “required” to submit “substandard” material is a serious misjudgment. The system indeed “firewalls features” from newcomers–I don’t “admit” it, I state it outright–and for good reason, as those features allow more intrusive access to the Commons database. The more a contributor contributes to the Commons, and the more trust and responsibility that contributor earns, the more access he or she will earn.

    You ask, “What is the level of review above that of Paul Thompson? I have always revered his name as the person who most deserves credit for the establishment and maintenance of a remarkable resource. Am I misplacing my credit?”

    Not entirely. I have a great respect and liking for Paul. He has been the most visible of the History Commons contributors, one of the most prolific, and one of the most knowledgeable, especially on the topic of the 9/11 attacks and their surrounding issues. He is also the person who spent much time editing my entries, answering my questions, directing my early efforts, and helping me gain an understanding of how the Commons works. I owe him a great debt of gratitude. But the Commons is a group effort. Neither Paul nor any single other person serves as the “final arbiter” of content. We do not have a single gatekeeper in the sense you imply. The Commons is, by name, definition, and practice, a communal entity.

    You write, “The question I asked myself before I began was, is the contribution important enough to stand-alone as an entry, or does it support an existing entry?”

    Ideally, everything supports other existing entries. By inserting an entry such as your Heyward piece into the 911 Timeline, you add that information to the aggregate whole. Better, you could possibly find related material in the timeline (or in other timelines) that you could link to, creating more connections with other material. I have no problems with the content or the structure of your entry as you’ve reprinted it here, nor with your source. As for this: “Frankly, I’m surprised to find it up to me to have to submit such basic timeline information this late in the game,” we are all aware that there are large gaps in the information schema we are constantly constructing. You found one and began to plug that gap. I appreciate it.

    “But in any event, I thought of a way to try and at least get past first base, if only to experience the next obstacle. I could fill out the new-entry form and just use an ID# I’d acquired by going randomly into the edit function of any existing entry. I might then be able to “save a draft,” as you first suggested I do, and then backtrack into a new source data entry window. But why am I being asked to defeat the purposes of the code?”

    Please do not do this. You would be defeating the structure of the Commons by “spoofing” the system into accepting an erroneous source for your entry. It would be better for you to learn and implement the proper procedure of source creation. I can walk you through the initial procedure step by step if you like, via e-mail exchange. Or you can send me the entry and I can post it for you, notating the procedure as I go. (I could even log in as you and post it, so it would show up under your name and not mine, but that would require you giving me your password. That would be your call, I would not make such a request.)

    Again, thank you for continuing to work with the process. It can be frustrating, especially at the beginning of the learning curve. I look forward to assisting you in becoming a productive (and less frustrated) member of the Commons.

    Comment by Max — December 3, 2008 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

  10. Max– Sorry to have not stayed absolutely current regarding your second email, which did indeed arrive an hour and three quarters before I posted here, but I would have been switching between studying your document, its separate image file, and composing a reply here at the time, with no trigger to check my email. But this illustrates why I try and keep linear communications to just one place. Learning is a two-way street, as is obvious in our case, and best done, in my opinion, in the clarity of public scrutiny, then our process could be of service to others. In good faith, I shouldn’t think you’d have to “defend” your draft tutorial anymore than I have to “defend” my lack of cognition of it. For the record, I’m not interested in proceeding with any privileged materials that I might mishandle in this fashion again.

    In any event, I did rename the file as directed without any luck in getting the images to remeld within the document. Might it be because I placed the containing file on my desktop, and it needs to be deeper into my hard drive for that to occur?

    But the certain passive/aggressiveness I mentioned previously is apparent now in your remarks, “I don’t know what to offer you from here,” followed by a “I can walk you through the initial procedure step by step if you like, via e-mail exchange.”

    This is exacerbated by your suggestion for taking my model entry and posting it for me. May I remind you that that entry was successfully uploaded to the History Commons where it has awaited verification for five days, and since I am precluded from this stage of the “peer” review, “languished” would be the actual term that comes to this sub-peer’s mind. The most encouraging thing you could offer me would be some forward motion on my inaugural contribution.

    I am deflated that you use 127 words to not answer my question, what “level” of review is above that of Paul Thompson’s, more, for you use 74 words to misinterpret my use of the term “entry.” Has a proper taxonomy internal to the History Commons been done yet? Else wise, how can you attempt to order such an extensive body of knowledge when you use terms like “source” and “reference” interchangeably?

    I have asked only for the ability to contribute a “basic and fundamental” entry on the Complete 9/11 Timeline, without “more intrusive access to the Commons database,” but perhaps I could do a better job of shadowing the Commons on my own blog without wasting any more of your time.

    Comment by Steven Welch — December 4, 2008 @ 3:39 pm | Reply

  11. Steven,

    Yeah, the first few entries can be a real pain. In devising the interface and object schema behind it, it was no simple task finding the right balance between getting as much data as possible and making it as easy as possible for people to submit a single entry. Newbies wants simplicity, but once they get into it, they want to be able to provide as much information and meta information as possible. Moreover they want a zillion ways to organize, group, slice, and dice the data once its in. There’s definitely room for improvement, but we are waiting for another round of funding before we can do the next development iteration.

    So let me try to answer a few of the questions you asked. It’s a common misconception that Paul runs the site. He doesn’t. What he is, is the site’s most prolific and well-known contributor, with a timeline that has attracted far more attention than any other and that has served as the basis for one book, a 9/11 documentary, and has been a significant source of information for countless other works. Paul limits himself to documenting all things related to 9/11, but he does not work in any capacity for the Center for Grassroots Oversight, the organization that operates the History Commons project.

    That said, here’s how the review process currently works:

    A contributor signs up. Once they contribute a number of entries, they can request to be a “content editor”, “copy editor”, or manage a project. Content editors verify the accuracy of what is reported in the entry. The copy editor just makes sure the entry adheres to the style guide. Once an entry has gone through this process, the entry is considered gold and can be accessed via a search of the database by any visitor to the website. Whether or not the entry is included in the timeline to which it was submitted is decided by the manager of the timeline. That’s the review process in a nutshell. It may be changed in a future release, but that’s how it will remain for the foreseeable future.

    The reason someone can’t add a category to an entry is because classification is an art and requires a good understanding of the whole timeline. A new contributor who has not submitted a lot of entries or who has not read the timeline s/he is submitting to, has a higher probability of linking an entry to the wrong category than someone who has a several entries under their belt. So when a new contributor submits an entry, it is the timeline manager who assigns the category.

    If you have any suggestions or comments on the interface, review process, etc, feel free to click the “contact” link on the History Commons website and send us a message.

    Comment by Derek — December 4, 2008 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

  12. Steven, I’m in the process of turning the still-incomplete help guide into a PDF file. It will be free for you or anyone else on request. As for your entry, I have corrected it and sent it on through the review process.

    Comment by Max — December 4, 2008 @ 10:22 pm | Reply

  13. Better yet, I’ve uploaded the help guide to my old site space for the time being. When I make changes, I’ll just upload the new versions.

    http://www.iraqtimeline.com/entriesdummies.html

    Please remember, it is NOT finished yet. But feel free to comment at will. I welcome constructive criticism and critiquing.

    (Note: The Iraq Timeline site is archived and hasn’t been updated since mid-2007. I just use the site as a host for other stuff now. None of the material on that site, aside from the help entry, has any connection to the History Commons. It is old, sometimes badly sourced, and generally out of date.)

    Comment by Max — December 4, 2008 @ 10:52 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: