tin August 22nd, 2007 Share This

Just came from the press launch of Vibal Publishing’s latest project at Milky Way Cafe (Makati City) Thanks to Ms. Rio Brigino and Mr. Gus Vibal for the invite. It was a fun and well-attended launch.

I’ve always been a fan of In fact, Read Or Die will be conducting a literary/reading challenge around their 100 Novels releases (after the Book Fair). Richard Grimaldo–the head of the site development team-just informed me that the entire Blair and Robertson collection has been digitized, which is just–wow. Of course there are the usual pitfalls to and misgivings about digitizing important historical papers and literary works. I have my qualms–shared by a great deal of people–about Google Open Reader and Google’s seeming determination to digitize every single library in the planet. I’ll talk about this some other time. However, in the Philippines, where archives aren’t exactly the most accessible places, even in the context of scholarly research, a website which serves public documents to the public in a fairly straightforward and democratic manner deserves some serious love. The National Library has an e-text section in its website but one will have to pay–using a prepaid card, of all things–to access the contents. There was a time when I was in rather desperate need of a good copy of Severino Reyes’ “Walang Sugat.” It wasn’t available in Project Gutenberg and the only place where I could find it indexed and archived was in–guess where–the National Library e-text website. It apparently cost P400 to download. I would have gone for it but it turns out that the interface would not accept credit card payments. One would have to buy a prepaid card in the National Library and then use it to download one’s selected content. Which sort of defeats the purpose of an e-text website, since the reason why I visited it was precisely because I did not have the time to drop by the actual library. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of the National Library and am this close to creating a Friends group or something (okay, RoD people, don’t start lynching me yet) if there isn’t one already, but that was a really low point, you know? No love.

Anyway. Mr. Grimaldo, if you’re reading this, please take it as a not-so-subtle hint to start hosting zarzuela texts with a vengeance.

Right, so the Wikipilipinas launch. I heard about it from the Vibal staff when there was still an ongoing debate about the whys and wherefores of renaming it. Quibbles with naming aside, I was interested in the concept since, while I was aware that there was a Wikipedia Philippines portal, I hadn’t seen a comprehensive site using Wikipedia technology to talk about anything and everything Filipino. I wanted to see how the endeavor would turn out. And lo and behold.

Gus Vibal crafted a pretty good and systematic walkthrough. He discussed the history of the wiki, its guiding vision and paradigms, and, yes, talked about what differentiates it from Wikipedia Philippines. I’m posting the official press release in When Mr. Vibal used the term ‘portmanteau’–which is how Wikipedia also defines its own origins–to discuss the etymology of the wiki’s name, he emphasized the exclusive orientation of Wikipilipinas towards ‘anything Filipino.’ That is, while Wikipedia Philippines implied that it was merely part of a greater movement towards building the world’s biggest collaborative encyclopedia, Wikipilipinas is explicitly its own beast. Wikipilipinas is an ‘online encyclopedia, a directory, a collection of lists, a nexus for different Filipino communities, a collaborative platform, a knowledge revolution.’

I’ve been reading blog threads which criticized the hodge-podge nature of Wikipilipinas. Is it an almanac? Then it should stick to being an almanac. Is it a gossip column? Then it should stick to being a gossip column. Is it a fan page for ten-year olds besotted with Pinoy Big Brother cast members? Then, by heaven, it should leave well enough alone. Wikipilipinas not only imports entries from Wikipedia willy-nilly and–in some cases–without proper attribution, it also–to compound its sins–does away with what sustains Wikipedia through the hazards of an open source project, and one as huge, diverse and contentious as it is. It disclaims the canonical ‘neutral point of view’ necessary in establishing perhaps the only standard for judgment which decides the fate of fledgling Wikipedia entries. Gus Vibal said as much himself during the press launch when he referred to human knowledge as the product of the ‘prism of our minds.’ There are angles to every story, every narrative, every event, and privileging one angle over another only reflects the all too human quality of tilting the world to accommodate it to the limits of our vision.

Is this–oh dreaded word–subjectivity? Perhaps it’s the source of the true difference between Wikipedia and Wikipilipinas. I don’t think that Wikipilipinas is so much culture-bound as culturally fallible. One is reminded that the encyclopedia is a project of the Enlightenment. In fact, the first encyclopedia–masterminded by the ultra-rationalist philosophe Denis Diderot–was not overtly called an encyclopedia at all, but a dictionnaire. Its twenty-eight volumes claimed to lay bare the workings of the known world. But more than elucidating the intimate relationship between technology and culture, science and the arts, the Dictionnaire was first and foremost a treatise on the truth–supposed or otherwise–of human affairs.

Wikipedia lives up to this tradition, but locates the mechanisms of the world it purports to describe and classify in the ‘participatory’ and ‘collaborative’ relations between its hundreds of thousands of contributors and, by extension, what and who they represent. Some might call this a postmodern phenomenon, but I think it simply points to an astonishingly organic and shared awareness of just how big the world we live in is. In this melee of voices which definitely cannot be contained in twenty-eight volumes, questions of truth, objectivity and selectivity inevitably arise. The colonials on the other side of the ocean will not sit quietly by in order to be itemized. But then Wikipedia is not a redemptive project. Its primary undertaking, purpose, and concern is human civilization, and what can or cannot be included in its sweep. The cast list of Pinoy Big Brother would qualify as detritus in this equation, a potsherd in a village of towering monuments which are perpetually under construction.

I think Gus Vibal was right on when he referred to Wikipilipinas as a ‘universalist’ encyclopedia and not a ‘prescriptivist’ one. One might ask, how could it possibly be universalist when it centers around the Philippines? Unless there’s something we don’t know about Copernicus. The knowledge revolution Mr. Vibal wants to start with Wikipilipinas doesn’t–in essence–have anything to do with the introduction of a democratic platform for Filipinos the world over to share and expound their knowledge on equal footing with academics and professionals. The Internet is a big enough platform. I think there’s something very, well, romantic, almost medieval, in Wikipilipinas. The list of descriptive terms Mr. Vibal used when introducing the wiki was as sonorous and miscellaneous as a 16th century magical tract. Universality was never the guiding principle of the French encyclopedists, despite their claim of writing everything there is to know about the world they live in. What they were ultimately after was system or, failing that, episteme. Wikipilipinas strikes me as the online version of an omnium gatherum, and from the most unlikely sources. It’s a motley and captivating assortment of ideas, facts and factoids, emotions, dissertations, and agonized biographies. Gus Vibal talked about building family trees using the wiki alongside posting media news, mythological directories, and the latest scientific findings, say, in Filipino metereology. Some schoolteachers might disapprove (in which case please visit instead) but I can see my parents–even my notoriously hard-nosed father–just gobbling everything up. Gus Vibal mentioned the site as being conducive to original research and I thought, well, I can’t wait.

Naturally I was fascinated, but then you have to understand that I’m coming from the perspective of a universalist–with a fateful attraction to farrago and footnotes–myself. Gus Vibal pulled up a list of the top twenty shows ‘of all time’ in Philippine TV and the people seated next to me started laughing softly to themselves, perhaps remembering long-ago afternoons waiting in breathless anticipation for the next episode of “Balintataw.” In the context of Wikipedia, which one usually enters in the spirit of fact-finding and/or fact-checking, hitting Wikipilipinas at 2AM to see what fellow Filipinos are up to would seem to be rather anti-climactic, mundane. Not very revolutionary at all. However, truth is not just the bare assertion of one sui generis fact over another. As Hannah Arendt said, for truth to endure, first, it must be told as a story. It’s the ground we walk on and the sky we look up to as we orient ourselves to the world. Recapitulating knowledge and memory in the guise of triviality and top ten lists and half-true ethnographies and bloody family histories may not seem very scientific or balanced, but I think–and the people laughing about “Balintataw” would agree with me–it makes for a rather beautiful story

Having said all that, for a more pragmatic discussion of the entire issue, please read this article by Wikipedia Philippines contributor Nino Gonzalez. And now excuse me as I go create an account and update that list of heartbreaking drama shows of all time.

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University Update - Mike Huckabee - Wikipilipinas writes on August 22nd, 2007

[…] Clark Wikipilipinas » This Summary is from an article posted at Read Or Die Weblog on Wednesday, August 22, 2007 […]

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