A Year After Financial Crisis, Museum Launches "Recessipedia" to Avoid a Repeat

Museum of American Finance Calls for Participation from Wall Street to Main Street

September 30, 2009

Contact:
Kristin Aguilera, Communications Director
Museum of American Finance
212-908-4695
kaguilera@moaf.org

NEW YORK – September 30, 2009 - The Museum of American Finance today launched Recessipedia, a wiki designed to tap the wisdom of crowds from Wall Street to Main Street to learn the causes of the financial crisis. Modeled on Wikipedia, Recessipedia's articles can be created, written and edited by anyone. But unlike Wikipedia, the Museum's wiki has a distinct goal of investigating past events. The wiki also collects first-person accounts, and welcomes people and organizations to contribute their own points of view about what happened leading up to and during the crisis.

“People still argue over what caused the Great Depression,” said David Cowen, president of the Museum of American Finance. “But what if we had recorded the personal accounts of every person who had a role in the financial system? We might have been able to distill the Depression’s precise causes and the moment-by-moment way it unfolded, drawing lessons from which future crises could be avoided. Our hope is that Recessipedia can perform that function in the decades to come.”

Recessipedia is built in the academic tradition of cataloguing first-person accounts of historical events, similar to oral history projects, recognizing that the biases and errors inherent in such efforts can be of significant value to future generations. Its opening to the public in beta form follows a three-month “alpha” stage where the wiki’s technology was assembled and tested and seed content was written.

Makovsky + Company, one of the nation’s leading independent public relations and investor relations firms, conceived of Recessipedia and developed it along with the Museum of American Finance as a way to use social media to advance the Museum’s mission of educating and engaging the public in financial history.

Recessipedia has two components: “Articles” and “Personal Stories:”

Articles
The articles section is built on the Wikimedia foundation’s open source code, enabling anyone who has read or contributed to Wikipedia to be instantly familiar with its format and features. While the wiki’s content in this area will evolve over time, each entry will relate to the recession with the goal of understanding its roots, building a chronology of events, exploring the effects of these events on people, markets, society and industry, and covering the efforts made to recover from the crisis.

Recognizing that many of the key moments over the past few years have not been and can never be documented by third-party sources, but that such information will help guide historians in the future, Recessipedia welcomes the insertion of information for which no backup is available. As with many crowd-sourced efforts, it will be up to the community to decide, through collaborative editing, numerical ratings, and commentaries in the discussion area, the validity and importance of each statement. When irreconcilable differences over past events arise, the Museum’s goal is to enable all points of view to be expressed.

“One of the challenges of studying history is getting to the bottom of what happened during key moments such as this,” said Leena Akhtar, the Museum’s Exhibits and Archives Director. “Even when you have video recording, transcripts and hundreds of witnesses to an event, multiple points of view and sharp differences of opinion will appear. We expect it to be no different on Recessipedia.”

Personal Stories
The personal stories section takes a unique approach to recording first-person accounts of history. Once a contributor signs in, creating a username that will be associated with the entry but not requiring proof of identity, a series of questions are presented. These include a numerical grade on how severely the person was affected by the recession, identifying what part of life was most affected by the recession (home value, employment, stress, etc.) and asking what lessons were learned from dealing with the recession. Finally, the individual is asked to contribute his or her story about the past few years. This combination of standardized and free-form information capture is a new historical research methodology, and will help researchers in the future analyze the mass of data Recessipedia is expected to generate.

An Editors Board, consisting of volunteers who have worked with the Museum over the past few years, has been assembled to address grievances, enforce the wiki’s rules of conduct and train additional volunteers to handle the growing body of work. Over the past few months, these volunteers have worked to generate hundreds of articles and “stub” pieces that the public is now invited to add on to. In the coming year, and throughout the public beta process, they will work to expand, amend and improve Recessipedia’s guidelines as its community grows. Its members are:

1. David Adler, economic journalist and author of Snap Judgment: When to Trust Your Instincts, When to Ignore Them, and How to Avoid Making Big Mistakes with Your Money (Financial Times Press, 2009).

2. Michael A. Martorelli, CFA, a director at Fairmount Partners in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and an adjunct associate professor of finance at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

3. Gregory DL Morris, principal of Enterprise & Industry Historic Research, and a veteran journalist and historian.

4. Robert E. Wright, the Nef Family Chair of Political Economy at Augustana College. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and the editor or co-editor of 21 volumes, including most recently Bailouts: Public Money, Private Profit (Columbia University Press/SSRC, 2009).

“As awful as the recession has been, we’re fortunate that it’s come at a time when the technology exists that can help us avoid its repetition,” said David Rosen, group vice president, Makovsky + Company. “The more information we have, the better the lessons we’ll be able to learn. People should consider their entry into Recessipedia as a down payment on a more secure financial future.”

Additional information on Recessipedia:
• Like Wikipedia, all the content on the site is distributed under a Creative Commons license, allowing anyone to copy and share its materials provided attribution is given to the Recessipedia.
• As part of an effort to collect and not influence individuals’ recollections about past events, the Museum plans to take as “hands off” an approach as possible in arbitrating the content of articles. This is particularly key given that the debates themselves over what went wrong in the crisis will be of value to historians.
• A full user guide can be read here
• The site's legal disclaimer can be read here

About the Museum of American Finance
The Museum of American Finance, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is the nation’s only public museum dedicated to finance, entrepreneurship and the open market system. With its extensive collection of financial documents and objects, its seminars and educational programming, its publication and oral history program, the Museum portrays the breadth and richness of American financial and economic history. For more information, visit www.moaf.org.

About Makovsky + Company
Founded in 1979, Makovsky + Company (www.makovsky.com) is one of the nation’s leading independent global public relations and investor relations consultancies, focused in financial services, professional services, health, technology, branding/interactive and investor relations. The firm attributes its success to its original vision: that the Power of Specialized Thinking™ is the best way to build reputation, sales and fair valuation for a client. Based in New York City, the firm has agency partners in 25 countries and in 37 U.S. cities through IPREX, the third largest worldwide public relations agency partnership, of which Makovsky is a founder.