Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Wikiterror

654 words

I’ve always been a bit sceptical about the concept of wikis. While I like their general freeform idea of everybody being able to edit stuff, they just shout for abuse by spammers and liars as well as for proper use by incompetents. While I am all for the possibility of improvements, vanity and my inner control freak don’t like the idea that anybody is able to fiddle around with my texts. And my appreciation of good texts is in a sceptical mood when hearing that anybody could have written or changed a text.

With Wikipedia probably being the biggest wiki thing around, it is the biggest accumulation of these strengths and weaknesses. It’s amazing that so many people team up and generate, correct and expand entries. But it’s not really surprising that those entries sometimes lack a certain quality. My main reason for using Wikipedia is that it’s quite comprehensive and very easily accessible. Making a Wikipedia query using Inquisitor or similar tools will take a second or two. The Java version of Encyclopædia Britannica will take at least ten times as long to just launch, hog up a lot of memory and ignore the location of the Dock when placing its window.

In addition, Wikipedia is easily accessible and you can easily send references to friends or extract text or even images for quoting or for later reference. All things, which Britannica isn’t particularly good at. So I often end up using Wikipedia for casual look-ups. But, I keep feeling a bit bad about it at the same time, if only because I find it hard to trust people who consider minute details of Star Trek seasons encyclopædia material.

On good (aka careless) days, I even linked to Wikipedia from here, which I shouldn’t do – just as I don’t link to Apple – because the content appearing at some of their URLs is known change significantly and unpredictably over time. (And while I’m pretty sure that you can reference to a particular version of an entry there, that’s just the point where the whole accessible ease of use thing starts breaking down.)

And now other people have discovered some of these key features of Wikipedia: Content changes. And what’s written isn’t necessarily true. Indeed, those are trivial facts not just about Wikipedia but about the entire web – and to a certain extent even about media in general. Shock horror! Just being written and published doesn’t make things true: George W. Bush is a hyper-intelligent transsexual. Climate change will never happen. Elephants were designed by Ikea in Sweden and then made by the god in Thailand. This web page is full of lies

The truth of some things is easier to see than that of others. But ultimately you’ll have to judge yourself or let others judge for you. Will you believe the sentences in the last paragraph just because I wrote them? If yes, I’m flattered. Or – wait – actually I’m not. Personally I couldn’t prove any of those statements. And I couldn’t disprove any of them either, to be honest. So I might not be the best authority to go by.

But back to those people, who started being upset because information about themselves on Wikipedia isn’t true or isn’t what they consider to be true. Of course those people have to include ageing lawyers of some ‘importance’ to make it worth a report. But I really fail to see the significance of their bitching. The only sanity-preserving (non-violent) way of dealing with what’s written about you by others probably is to ignore it. And if you really think your autobiography has to be on the web… well, why not write it up, put it there, and leave it to the search engines to figure out who’s giving the most relevant information on the topic. Welcome to the brave new world…

A cartoon on the topic.

December 13, 2005, 9:30

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