Jay Rosen talks about the idea of explainers.
People say they use Wikipedia as the source of explainers. I realize I do too. Now the question is this -- is Wikipedia the best we can do? Because what it does is necessary.
For example, in my previous piece, I wanted to link to an explainer about woodwinds. If there was a good one, I wouldn't have to say anything more, which as a writer I appreciate. As a reader I appreciate it too. The link is much better than a one or two sentence inline summary. Maybe I'll find the topic very interesting and want to explore it in more than a passing way. So a link to a good explainer is a great deal. Esp if it presents the information in a tiered way. First the two-sentence explainer. Then a little deeper. Then finally full depth.
When I saw the Wikipedia page on woodwinds, I thought to myself that we can do much better than this.
The most important thing about woodwinds, imho, that you need to say right up front in a clear and visual way, is there are two families of woodwinds, flutes and reed instruments. That way if you know your instruments but not the classes, you've got everything you absolutely need to know what the term means. At least that's what I was looking for from the explainer.
I would like to see that communicated both in words and in an illustration with pictures of all the instruments, in a format that could be clipped and pasted into my story (with a link back to the article of course).
The value of Wikipedia is they've got an editorial system that millions of people use, and a process that gets some remarkably good reference information in one place where you need it. But the presentation lacks something, and honestly, their vetting process lets some pretty egregious stuff through. And unless you're committed to constant online bickering, you can't easily add your knowledge to the base.