About ten years ago the present author was asked to present a paper on a medieval Christian thinker at an international conference. He began his talk that day by mocking Wikipedia’s treatment of said Christian thinker and got some cheap laughs. Last weekend in a melancholy mood – another decade of his life steamed off like dew on the early morning grass – he returned to the vox on that, admittedly, minor Christian writer and was astounded by how the entry had moved on. The drones that edit Wikipedia have, in the space of a just a few years, put together eight hundred words that would have been worthy of one of those multi-volume encylopedias that publishers sell to academic libraries for thousands of dollars and that no one reads.
This was only the last in a long line of proofs that Wikipedia has grown up. Wikipedia jokes used to appear in the media with striking regularity: the typical story would be that that this or that famous entry had been sabotaged. Now, instead, these stories are far more rarely found: and when they do appear the criticism tends to be of the trusting professional who took up Wikipedia-fed information without double checking. In fact, Wikipedia has started its journey into orbit. Having a Wikipedia entry is now a proof of success, even if all too often the entries in question are written by ‘friends’ or lovers of those who are celebrated. And some doctorates now cite Wikipedia as a serious source of information and do not get failed for doing so.
What changed? Well, the theory behind Wikipedia presupposes the incremental growth of knowledge. Wikipedia is based, in essence, on a horrid Darwinism: the survival of the fittest fact. But more important was the battle between the mergists and the separatists (the crew cuts vs the long-hairs), which saw the victory of the more efficient less interesting mergists: the long-haired separatists were drummed out of town. This was probably for the best and allowed Wikipedia entries to get sharper and more focussed, with some of the more colourful but tendentious facts disappearing. You only have to read the discussion pages to see that the world of Wikipedia is populated not by fact checkers (that would be bearable) but point scorers. The closest I have ever come to legal action was against an anonymous, abusive Wikipedia editor: deep breathing…
So what should lovers of the perverse twenty-first century look out for with Wikipedia. Here are a number of Wikipedia phenomenon that have brought great pleasure and that deserve to be explored more. Any other suggestions: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
1) Wincest. Definition: a media centre (or a lazy blogger…) picks up an unverified fact from Wikipedia only to see see his or her article then referenced by a Wikipedia editor as a fact. Example: ‘Hopkins, are you sure that note two has not been Wincested?’ [Ricardo R. sends this cartoon of Wincest in]
2) Exobiddling (with thanks to the Count). Definition: an overpaid academic or an undergraduate with time to waste creating a fake fact or page, typically because they feel a post-modern moment coming on. Example: ‘But, Mum, Professor Kelly told me my GPA would go down if I didn’t exobiddle.’
3) Osloed (named after the Oslo Report netted by British intelligence at the beginning of WW2, right about everything but from which nothing could be sourced). Definition: a series of unsourced facts in a Wikipedia entry proved right time and time again, but the origin of the information is nowhere in sight. Example: ‘The Wikipedia editors have Osloed me on this! Where are they getting all this from?’
4) Wikitripped. Defintion: to make a gaffe in print or in life on the basis of some unreliable or misunderstood information on Wikipedia. Example: ‘The AFC was Wikitripped when they called the UAE soccer team the Sand *******.
5) Wilking. Definition: using wikipedia for financial ends, for example, stringing together ten references and calling them a book. Example: ‘God alive, I spent twenty-two euros on this pamphlet, and it is all wilked!’