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The Charms of Wikipedia

March 11th, 2008 by christo

This blog has featured links to a number of articles about the phenomenal success of the online public encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  Recent revelations about the formative role of an inner elite of editors and the public tribulations of the site’s founder, Jimmy Wales  have forced users to take a more nuanced view of Wikipedia, but it is still the first destination for fact checking or finding out more about any topic that comes to mind.  Hence, the great pleasure of finding that Nicholson Baker has written about Wikipedia.  One of the great obsessives of contemporary American letters, Nicholson Baker devoted an entire book to the subject of a box of matches and taught himself golf in an unsuccessful attempt to emulate the writing style of  his great hero, John Updike.  There is simply no one better to mine the social complexities of Wikipedia and to understand the intensity of the battles between editors, vandals and polemicists.  Not surprisingly, Baker found himself drawn into becoming a contributor, starting with small edits on the "bovine somatropin" page and tinkering with the plot synopsis of Sleepless in Seattle.  Soon developing a full blown Wikipedia dependency, Baker ventured deeper into the project  by joining the battle between "inclusionists", who believe that applying strict editorial criteria will dampen contributors’ enthusiasm for the project, and "deletionists" who argue that Wikipedia should be more cautious and selective about its entries.  Naturally , Baker’s sympathies were with the "inclusionists"  and he found himself becoming one of those people who endeavour to save articles from deletion by zealous editors who tag them as "non-notable":

 I  found press citations and argued for keeping the Jitterbug telephone, a large-keyed cell phone with a soft earpiece for elder callers; and Vladimir Narbut, a minor Russian Acmeist poet whose second book, Halleluia, was confiscated by the police; and Sara Mednick, a San Diego neuroscientist and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life; and Pyro Boy, a minor celebrity who turns himself into a human firecracker on stage. I took up the cause of the Arifs, a Cyprio-Turkish crime family based in London (on LexisNexis I found that the Irish Daily Mirror called them "Britain’s No. 1 Crime Family"); and Card Football, a pokerlike football simulation game; and Paul Karason, a suspender-wearing guy whose face turned blue from drinking colloidal silver; and Jim Cara, a guitar restorer and modem-using music collaborationist who badly injured his head in a ski-flying competition; and writer Owen King, son of Stephen King; and Whitley Neill Gin, flavored with South African botanicals; and Whirled News Tonight, a Chicago improv troupe; and Michelle Leonard, a European songwriter, co-writer of a recent glam hit called "Love Songs (They Kill Me)."

Read the whole essay in the New York Times Book Review.  It’s a gem!