Wikipedia, the Oscars, and Juxta

Like millions of other people, Kate and I watched the Oscars this week. As Daniel Day-Lewis walked towards the stage to accept his Academy Award for Best Actor, the voiceover informed us that he was the first male actor to win the award three times. Wondering what the first two awards were for, we turned where everyone in the twenty-first century turns: Wikipedia. Kate had the page open before Day-Lewis was more than a few sentences into his speech, and of course we learned the answer to our question (My Left Foot [1989] and There Will Be Blood [2007], if you’re wondering). But Wikipedia also told us what we’d just learned from the announcer: that Day-Lewis was the first male actor to win the award three times. That’s right: Day-Lewis’s Wikipedia page was updated almost before he began his speech.

I’ve shared this anecdote with a few people, and many others have had similar Wikipedia experiences (often with celebrity deaths). Information moves quickly. But since I’m working on an article about Wikipedia — specifically, about an assignment in my Romanticism class — I wanted to use this opportunity to test juxtacommons, a web-based collation tool, currently in beta. Developed by NINES, Juxta allows you to compare multiple versions (“witnesses”) of the same text, and visualize the differences between them (you can do this on Wikipedia too, but only two at a time). About a year ago, as a NINES fellow, I wrote about using Juxta to compare different versions of the Wikipedia entry for Digital Humanities. At that time Juxta was desktop-only and I entered the data by hand, but the new online version has the capability built into it: you just select the versions of the Wikipedia page you want to compare. It’s very user-friendly.

What’s more, Juxta Commons also lets you embed the collation directly into WordPress. The heat map below compares the first 15 edits following the Academy Award announcement (15 is the max Juxta can handle at one time). All occurred within 8 minutes. Note the absence of changes in the citations (which Wikipedia supposedly requires).

If you’ve never used Juxta before, the blue highlighting represents the difference from the “base text,” in this case the most recent version. The darker the highlighting, the more this version differs from the others. We can also view the comparison from the other direction, setting the base text to be the version of the page right before the announcement:

If you view the comparison in Juxta Commons (here), you can get into the data even more: you can compare versions side by side, choose different base texts, or see it in a histogram.

Juxta is a powerful tool, and while it was created for literary uses (early examples compared versions of poems by Rossetti and Tennyson), it’s since found new audiences: another NINES fellow, Emma Schlosser, looks at the Wikipedia page for the Benghazi attacks; Dana Wheeles, project manager for NINES, has compared versions of itunes and Instagram terms of service; and Juxta has even been used on Broadway, to compare versions of Tennessee Williams’ “Masks Outrageous and Austere.”

So, do you have different versions of a written document you’d like to compare? Or are you interested in tracking versions of Wikipedia pages? Juxta Commons is for you. And check back here for more about using Wikipedia as an assignment.


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