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MEI Online: General Minerals Engineering: Latest News: October 4th 2005


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:: MetWiki: An Online Collaborative Metallurgy Encyclopedia

Have you dreamed that your knowledge and experience benefit other engineers around the world? MetWiki (www.metwiki.org) may just be the project for you. It's a great place to share your technical skills, while helping to create a valuable, free resource that is available to anyone in the world. This is great!

MetWiki's goal is nothing less than to create a better reference text than has been or could be created on paper. This may seem like a lofty goal, and it may never be attained. However, there are already many articles of comparable depth and quality, and since space is not a limitation online, there are many articles on topics that single books don't have room for.

Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) is an incredibly successful open encylopedia on line. Its success inspired MetWiki. Paying a visit to this site is highly recommended for those interested in understanding MetWikis vision.

Like Wikipedia, the MetWiki web site is a "wiki", a site whose pages anyone can edit. This is done by browsing to a particular page, and clicking a link called "Edit This Page". This brings up a web form with the contents of the page in it. You can make any additions, corrections or even deletions you like, and then click on a "Save" button, which makes your changes visible to anyone else. This way, everyone is on equal footing, and can make any changes to an article that they see fit.

Although no special syntax is required in order to be productive, there are a few special text sequences that add to the richness of the page. For instance, enclosing a word in two sets of square brackets, like this [[Filtration]] creates a link from the current page to the article entitled "Filtration". Articles are generally linked to related articles, which makes it easy for encyclopedia users to broaden their knowledge on a topic. Other characters can be typed to create lists and tables, to add images or Greek letters, and many other features. Those writers familiar with HTML syntax can also use that to mark up a page.

For technical writers wishing to practice their craft, MetWiki is an ideal place to spend some time. Every part of the writing process can be practiced: writing outlines for larger topics, writing new articles from scratch, editing articles for style, copyediting articles for spelling or grammar errors, and even discussing content with other writers. Every page is associated with a "Talk" page, in which contributors often coordinate the writing or ask for clarifications about a given article.

Often one can receive feedback from other users within minutes of posting an article. The key is to take criticism constructively and to forget the concept of ownership of the text. One of the key philosophies of the site is to "be bold in updating pages." Everyone is encouraged to take responsibility for any text, in any article that could use improving. This constant refinement leads to high-quality text in a surprisingly short period of time.

Several special pages on MetWiki contain lists of pages, including "Most Wanted" (articles that are linked to by other pages, but do not yet exist), "Orphans" (pages that exist, but are not yet linked to), "Most popular" (pages that have been viewed the most times) and "Stub Articles" (very short pages that could use expanding). These lists are helpful for contributors who need help finding a place to start. A stub article could be expanded, or a wanted page could be created. Links to other pages show up in different colors depending on whether or not the page exists.

New articles can be written on any topic related to metallurgy. As this is written, five articles on the "Recent Changes" list are: Bacterial Oxidation, Tailings, Bayer Process and Coal. If you need an idea for something to write, try writing an article on an operation you know public information about, a page on equipment control philosophy, or some laboratory testing procedures. With MetWiki, you never have to face a blank page, since you can always contribute to something started by someone else.

Articles must be written from the "Neutral Point of View," which means that the writing must be impersonal and non-biased. For those writers wishing to state personal opinions on issues, a personal page in the People section is available. Many controversial issues are written about, however all major theories can be presented, and writers do not draw conclusions about matters of opinion.

Some people are skeptical that the wiki process actually works at all. Two of the biggest objections include the possibility of vandalism, and the possibility of incorrect information. It certainly is possible that pages can be vandalized, since any Internet user can edit them. However, the system keeps old versions of the pages, so if vandalism is detected, another user can simply revert to an older version of the page. There is a list of "Recent Changes", or most-recently edited pages, which many users habitually scan. The second objection is a little more substantive, but is still not a critical problem. As more and more people read a page, there is a greater chance of an error being detected. Since correcting errors can be done very quickly, the general accuracy of pages increases over time.

The web site itself is owned by Transmin, an extractive metallurgy consultancy, although they do not own the information, due to the open licensing of the content. It's their goal to raise its profile to the point that it can run by an independent entity. One of the most important factors is to ensure that who ever controls MetWiki leaves it 100% free and open on the internet.

The best part about MetWiki is that it is growing all the time, both in quality and quantity. A positive feedback cycle helps to ensure that MetWiki continues to improve: as more articles get written, more people come to the site. A certain percentage of those people will contribute to articles, or create new ones.

It should be noted that all material added to MetWiki is released under the GNU Free Documentation License, which gives other people the right to copy, distribute and modify the information. All writing is done on a volunteer, uncredited basis.

If you happen to be looking for a quick and powerful way of contributing some of your knowledge to the greater good, head over to www.metwiki.org and write an article or two. See you there!




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