Monday, 7 February 2011
Wicked Wiki – a remembrance of things past
I remember exactly how I came across Wikipedia, that great internet phenomena, for the first time. It was 2005; I had just seen Capote, a movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, based on an incident in the life of Truman Capote, the American writer. I needed to find out more about this fascinating man, the author of In Cold Blood. Having nothing to hand (the only edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica we have at home was published in 1911!) I turned to the internet. There it was, not just an article on the writer but a whole universe of free information on every conceivable subject.
Founded by Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia, an offshoot of Nupedia, has just passed its tenth birthday. Unlike its parent it’s based on a totally novel approach – it can be edited by literally anyone, experts and amateurs alike; one does not even have to be a registered user.
There are both benefits and drawbacks here; benefits in that a vast range of knowledge is brought to bear and articles can be updated by the minute; drawbacks in that it attracts saboteurs, trolls and – possibly worse than either - know it alls who know nothing. Articles all too often become battle-grounds, particularly in the more contentious historical subjects. It has been said time and again though it still merits repetition: Wikipedia is a good point of departure but a bad terminus.
Intrigued by the novelty of the whole thing, I started to contribute anonymously in a small way before registering in the autumn of 2006, taking the identity of Clio, the Greek muse of history. Although I edited some pages, and contributed a few original articles of my own, basically just for fun, I quickly got tired of some of the geeks and dickheads I came across. So I then switched my attention almost exclusively to answering questions on the reference desk, a place where my view could be challenged but not edited. This is how I introduced myself on my user page;
Who am I? No fancy colours, no designs, no mission statements (and definitely no user boxes!), just a few simple facts. My name, part of it anyway, is Anastasia (not the grand duchess, though both my mother and my boyfriend claim I act like one). I was born in June 1986. I am English, conservative and patriotic. I love history, politics, literature, philosophy and travel. I have been fortunate to have covered a good bit of the globe, in one capacity or another, and hope to catch up with most of the rest over the next few years.
My prime function here on Wikipedia is to answer questions, chiefly on the Humanities Desk, when I am able, and within the limits of my intellectual competence. I enjoy good company, both men and women, but I have a great problem in tolerating fools. This has been my chief weakness. Apart from that I am practically perfect in every way!
Why Clio? Because Clio, daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, is the muse of history and heroic poetry, and has been my ever present mentor since I was a very little girl.
It was fun. I got to know lots of other users quite well by simple interactions, a spot of cut and thrust, people I came to admire. I got to know Retarius, a user from Perth in Australia , the first to introduce me to the blogosphere. Lots of people were very kind to me, giving me a range of Wiki awards for my contributions, all proudly displayed on the page of Clio the Muse. I also attracted my first online stalker, an obsessive individual who followed my every step, even going so far as to try to track me down in real life!
I finally abandoned ship in the spring of 2008, not because of this but principally owing to academic demands. But more - I was starting to get bored. I do get bored so easily, always looking onwards to some fresh and more interesting challenge. I’m now here, on my personal blog, though for how much longer I can’t be sure; nothing is forever.
I still use Wikipedia; it continues to be an excellent source for quick referencing. It’s a brave and bold initiative and although, at the grand old age of ten, it’s beginning to look just a tad ‘middle aged’ it still has a lot to offer, always provided one is on guard. Happy birthday Wikipedia, Wales’ Great White Internet Whale!