February 13, 2008

Student Starts Wiki Site for C.U.

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Cornell, like many universities, has a page on Wikipedia.org; in fact about 100 pages on the site have information about Cornell. Tyler Garzo ’08 thought Cornell needed more, so for his independent study project he created CUWiki.org, a site that runs on Wikipedia’s software, but contains only Cornell-specific information.
According to the site, its purpose is to “create a collective knowledge base of information about Cornell which doesn’t necessarily belong in the larger Wikipedia.”
“CUWiki’s goal is to address the smaller items of interest about Cornell — classes, departments, dorms, professors, clubs, rumors, legends and fast developing news — which may not be notable enough to be included on Wikipedia,” Garzo said.
He cited a page on Denice Cassaro, assistant director for community center programs, as a perfect example of something that would not work on Wikipedia, but would fit well in CUWiki.
Currently CUWiki has around 45 completed articles on topics ranging from Big Red Bucks to Red Rover. There are another 25 articles in progress, in addition to Garzo’s suggested 13 articles.
“CUWiki is a way of dispersing information the University doesn’t like to talk about, like the Hydraulics lab in the gorge. Now there is more information in a centralized location about topics like that,” Garzo said.
CUWiki has no relationship to the University which according to Garzo is a good thing, because there are topics and opinions expressed on the website that Cornell might not want to be directly associated with.
The design of CUWiki resembles Wikipedia, with a few minor tweaks. As on Wikipedia, anyone can update an article or add a Cornell-relevant article. Garzo then investigates the validity of the article, or as much as he can be­tween classes and work, he said.
Garzo’s biggest concern with having people editing the articles is avoiding internet spammers who post bad links on CUWiki, and many other websites available for editing.
“Google respects CUWiki, because it is linked to from the Cornell Chronicle and a couple other good pages. Spammers follow Google respected sites to increase their Google ranking. The more links on the world wide web of their website, the more popular it may come. Then they can get the advertising money,” Garzo said.
Currently Garzo’s only protection feature against spammers is to modify the site so that only registered users can modify it, but so far this is only a practice for pages more prone to spamming than CUWiki.
Garzo, a biology major, has designed a few websites for Cornell, and has only informal training with website design, so the independent study aimed to increase his knowledge.
“The independent study focused on a few important aspects of the Mediawiki software which runs behind Wikipedia and CUWiki. There are a lot of modifications that can be made to the software so it can handle more complicated tasks,” Garzo said.
Garzo invests $49 a month in CUWiki for a host server to go along with the free media Wiki software. He believes this is an investment into the freedom of centralized information.
Prof. Graeme Bailey, computer science, was Garzo’s advisor on CUWiki. At the beginning of the project he said his main job was encouraging Garzo.
Bailey’s encouragement provided a beneficial environment for Garzo, who went above and beyond Bailey’s expectations.
“The project could be thought of as a ‘toy environment’ where you build a prototype and it would be okay, but Tyler built something which is actually being used,” Bailey said. “Not only is it being used but it codes very well.”
Bailey said that Garzo started out with CUWiki to learn something, but that he did much more than learn something.
“Tyler did all the work. He did everything. If all independent studies were that independent and that self directed that would be marvelous,” Bailey said.
Garzo’s project began last March and was mostly complete in May.
“It was available from the start, but now most of the kinks are straightened out so it can work regularly,” Garzo said.
Garzo hopes that his site will increase in size as people add more and more pages to CUWiki. Additionally he looks to find other interested people to help administer the site, which takes up more and more time as people visit CUWiki.