Birmingham’s own special ‘Wikipedia’ Bhamwiki turns 12 years old

Bhamwiki Birmingham
Bhamwiki Birmingham
John Morse, founder and publisher of Bhamwiki

On this day, March 15, 2006, twelve years ago, local architect John Morse founded Bhamwiki, the online encyclopedic resource for anyone curious about Birmingham, Alabama and the region around it.

Author and publisher of Birmingham’s own wikipedia style website, Morse has curated over 13,000 entries – an extraordinary feat.

To celebrate the 12th Anniversary of Bhamwiki, Bham Now asked Morse a series of questions about how he came up with the idea of Bhamwiki, his favorite stories and its future.

Screenshot of Bhamwiki’s homepage
Bham Now: Tell us how you came up with the idea of Bhamwiki?

Morse: I’d been interested in Birmingham’s uniqueness and its history most of my life. My mom influenced me by taking us to local museums and points of interest during AEA week and by making a point to take photographs of buildings she heard would be torn down. When I came back to the city after graduating college I got involved in online encyclopedia projects like Douglas Adams’ H2G2  and Jimbo Wales’ (BS at AU, MS at UA) Wikipedia.

After a while I realized that a wiki-based encyclopedia would be a great way to record and organize information about Birmingham. It turns out that my interests were “too local” for Wikipedia’s wide-reaching scope, so, with the help of a friend I set up a parallel site just for Birmingham. The wiki framework allows new information to be put online and cross-referenced as it grows. There are no deadlines or re-launches, and It can all be corrected and updated when necessary. So for 12 years I’ve been gradually collecting information to “plug in” to the wiki, which has grown to become, I think, a pretty solid resource.

I had imagined that it would be hard to contain all the interest from potential editors, so I kept registration under my control. My fears were unfounded, though, and despite hundreds of applicants, I’ve only had real help from a handful of highly-motivated collaborators, along with a head start from being able to adapt Wikipedia’s Creative Commons-licensed work where appropriate. Most of the site is my own work.

Thunder on the Mountain Vulcan Fourth of July Birmingham AL
via Vulcan Park & Museum
Bham Now: What are your favorite entries?

Morse: My favorite entries are the ones that are on interesting subjects, and where I feel like I’ve been able to assemble good, detailed references that are otherwise difficult or impossible to find online. The article on Vulcan is an example of a comprehensive and very detailed entry. The article on explorer and inventor Donald Beatty is an example of something I find fascinating that few people have heard of . The newest most-interesting topic I’ve learned about is the electric wagon invented in Birmingham by John Lansden. Some other notable entries include:

Lyric Theatre
Birmingham Campaign
Hazel Farris

Another area in which I feel Bhamwiki is valuable is in providing a documented resource for topics on which there is considerable public discussion , sometimes without a lot of concern for facts. To that end I’ve been documenting homicides.  I’ve researched how and why the Terminal Station was demolished. Why the Alabama football team claims so many championships.  And I’ve tried to keep up well-referenced summaries of recent political scandals.

Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now
Bham Now: What changes (good & bad) have you seen in Bham over the past 12 years?

Morse: Public interest in Birmingham, specifically in downtown Birmingham, has increased enormously in the past twelve years. When I started Bhamwiki, projects like Railroad Park, the Lyric’s restoration, a downtown baseball stadium and a network of walking trails were distant pipe dreams. Kudos to the visionaries who pursued those developments and to the generation of young artists and designers who are building up the city’s image and brand.

Birmingham, Railroad Park, BHM26.2
Railroad Park.

I don’t know of any area where Birmingham has really changed for the worse in twelve years, but I do see indications that with all the excitement and apparent growth, its easy to overlook the reality that Birmingham is still overwhelmingly poor, undereducated and ill-served by new boutiques and breweries. How we address those issues will define whether we’ve become a good city or not over the coming years.

Bham Now: What are some of the Bhamwiki “stats” – entries and visits?

Morse: We currently have 13,010 entries, ranging from Aaatix to ZYP. I don’t use Google analytics, but Mediawiki credits Bhamwiki with 57,764,547 “visits” since it debuted, which would equate to an average of more than 400,000 visits per month. I believe that figure is grossly inflated by search engine crawlers and other “pings” on the database, so it’s hard to say how many actual visitors I get. I’m hopeful and have every reason to believe that people can find it when they need it.

Kelly Ingram Park.
Bham Now: Compare Bhamwiki to other cities

Morse: I haven’t done a survey recently of other city wikis. From what I’ve seen, the concept is more popular in Germany than anywhere else. In the US, Davis, California seems to have by far the largest city wiki, but it’s not so much intended as an encyclopedia as it is a community bulletin board. Rochester, New York has a large wiki, as well. Many similar projects have been launched and become inactive. As far as I know, Bhamwiki is one of the largest city wikis, and in all likelihood the best, in the United States.

Bham Now: Prediction for the next 12 years in Bham?

Morse: I’ll shy away from any big predictions, except to say that I plan for Bhamwiki to be even bigger and better in 2030.

Bookmark Bhamwiki

A genuine Birmingham treasure, Bhamwiki is the go to site for everything, Birmingham, Alabama. Bookmark it today, and congrats John Morse and Bhamwiki on your 12th anniversary!

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.