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!


  1. Golly, I have no recollection at all of my first encounter with Wikipedia. I don't think I have ever deliberately aimed a search at it - just picked it as a good choice from the options of a google search.

    I think the project has been a major success, with some interesting peculiarities. As a science-minded artist, I don't really believe anything I cannot test for myself, so I am disinclined to accept any reference as absolute truth. Wikipedia seems to present itself quite differently from traditional encyclopedias in this regard and that must be a good thing given the gullibility of many people.

    Only 10! I can barely wait for what surprises the next decade will bring.

  2. i think like you in some way i get bored sometimes of the same thing when is in the same way always but i keep doing what i love and add new things, art, literature, cinema, painting, sports, politic, philosophy, culture, etc. I change the place but keep with things that I love. I like write and read interesting things. I like internet for that reason, you can read new things from normal people, sometimes special but "anonymous". I like wikipedia. It is great information of many matters but I used with books and other references. Cleo is a nice nickname, i like your presentation, go right in the point. Keep writing, is fun read what you think, you are smart, keep the emotion of the challenge, writing is a challenge, an art. A kiss. Mario.

  3. Calvin, I just Googled Truman Capote and Wikipedia was the first entry to pop up. It was their method of hyper-linking within the context of the article that drew me deeper and deeper into endless cross-referencing. I was simply seduced into the maze!

  4. Mario, you are very kind. Writing is a kind of reflex for me, like breathing, something I will always do in some manner or another.

  5. Anthony, it's so sweet of you to say so.

  6. Yes, the Wiki's are languishing sans Clio...but Blogworld has gained a star. You can carry this diary on into whatever the next evolution will be. Make sure you back it all up on disks! It would be a catastrophe to lose so much good writing if Blogger dies overnight. I was recently stripped of most of my favourite links by the collapse of the Blogrollig site and it greatly vexeth me!

  7. Excellent. I am forwarding to my grand daughter who is looking for ideas for a paper on the Egyptian events of late. By the way, why do you Brits have so many hyphenated names?

  8. Your wiki-history is like a parallel of mine. It seems to me that we both discovered the project at more or less the same time - and at the same age -, got excited due to it being a total novelty and eventually got somewhat bored of it. My interests go through 'stages'. The fact that I discovered the internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit during the 'anarchist'-me stage undoubtedly contributed to the initial excitement :)

    Certainly, know-it-alls who know nothing, morons with political agendas and idiots in general are a problem in the English Wikipedia, since they are numerous, are very annoying and time-consuming. Non-English Wikipedias, however, suffer from a bigger and uglier problem, which is that they aren't really 'free'. In fact, most of them are tighly-controlled by a small bureaucracy of zealots and are used to spread propaganda. In my opinion, the only serious Wikipedia is the English language one (maybe the German one can be labelled as such too, or maybe even the Japanese one, which I can't tell since I can't read Japanese), and the only one actually useful.

    Although I'm not as active as I used to be, I still enjoy reading and occasionally fixing minor errors there.

  9. Retarius, that's very knd of you, my old Wiki friend. :-)

  10. Actually, James, the double-barrels are a minority; we're just more outspoken. :-)

  11. Duot, that's very interesting; thanks so much. I still read but I don't edit, though I have raised issues on the talk pages of articles. Did I know you on Wikipedia?

  12. Answer a comment by Duot, wikipedia in spanish is great!, I use it and I can say with knowledge, maybe can have propaganda like some people say geeks are in mass in the english version but it is not the general rule in spanish, it is the exception, i like english version too I think is very good and thank you to this people who do it for free, in spanish is the same, but if you are really serious in any kind of job you must use the books.

  13. I went to your Wikipedia page. I was reminded of Yeats' 'Leda & the Swan.' I use Wikipedia myself now and then, sometimes edit blatant errors, contend abuse. Your contributions are staggering. You are about time. One of the chosen few who have made me less unsure without the so-thought necessity of their physical presence whether anyone ever understood my oracles. Here's a poem of my own describing suchlike 'Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles'. Mine:


    The people around me
    Seem to speak
    A totally alien tongue
    That Wavelength
    Whereby I was connected to them
    Has entered another dimension
    Either my language has become obsolete
    Or their definitions have changed
    Their grammars do not contain
    The glossaries of the paths
    Upon which my words take me
    I am dumb to the sanctity of words and cannot hold converse

    But with the solitude of walls or my own shadow
    I am terrified of the moment
    When I will entirely dissolve and disappear into myself
    Having forgotten that Frequency
    Upon which I used to soliloquise
    And am left repeating to myself
    "May Day, May Day"

    © Rehan Qayoom, May 1997.

  14. a nice experience! i agree wiki is "good departure and a bad terminus".
    no, i don't think you would get tire of your personal blogging. but let's see:-)