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Our love/hate relationship with Wikipedia

By Paul McNamara on Sun, 12/03/06 - 9:47am.

We see again in this morning's Washington Post yet another example of why Wikipedia inspires such an overarching rainbow of emotions, from wonderment, appreciation and even awe to skepticism, disdain and distrust.

I've added my share of skepticism and distrust, but I'd be less than candid if I didn't acknowledge that I use Wikipedia in my work on a fairly regular (if guarded) basis. Put me down for some appreciation, too.

But today's rainbow color is bemusement as the Post paints a somewhat snickering portrait of the process by which Wikipedians determine whether or not any given entry meets the online encyclopedia's "notability guidelines.”

The lead anecdote involves a Canadian "thrash folk” band called "The Shiny Diamonds” whose Wikipedia entry was judged wanting in the notability department, sparking this reaction from its singer: "I urge whatever Internet-snob wiki-geeks who deem our band 'non-notable' to look at their own lives. The Internet is about sharing and the point of Wikipedia is that there's room for everything."

Not on Wikipedia there isn't, even though "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” recently surpassed 1.5 million English entries. Someone has to keep out the riff-raff for Wikipedia to be taken seriously and remain useful. Recognize anyone it this Post description from the Post?

"So who are these editors, the nameless sages who can bestow or withhold the cachet of Wikidom as they please? In Wiki terminology -- and this is a realm piled high with terminology -- these editors are called "administrators" and they get their jobs after being nominated and voted in by the great mass of Wikipedia contributors. (Fairness and diligence and a track record for good writing and editorial decisions earn you the nod.) There are just over 1,000 administrators at any one time, and none of them are paid. Generally, they are men in their 20s or 30s with jobs in the computer field. … It's also safe to assume these are people with a lot of time on their hands.”

The writer just couldn't resist that last little line, and while it certainly sounds like the type of thing that might have flowed off of my own fingers on another day, I'm not so sure the snarkiness is warranted in this case. Go take a look at the types of entries these wiki editors are slogging through in order to maintain a minimum standard of "notability.”

Here are a few examples from the most recent list of candidates for deletion: Impact Pro Wresting and Geekbrief and Fantasy Wargaming and the Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien. There are hundreds more at any given moment.

I can see why the job needs to be done … and I am darn glad I don't have to do it.

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