Apr 16, 2009

Wikinography Part 3: Wiki-terms

As this was my first serious foray into Wikipedia, imagine my surprise when I found that I already had a title: wikignome. It was not so much a personal title reserved for myself alone, but more of a class that I belonged to. Wikignoming humorously refers to the authorship of edits perceived to be of an auxiliary (though not insignificant) nature. This kind of activity usually entails formatting, rephrasing or grammar corrections. Due to the minor nature of most of these edits, wikignomes usually do not need to participate in discussion over them. This lack of an active role in debate makes themselves and their part less obvious, which leads to their perceived relationship as tiny elusive beings.

Wikipedia is brimming with this kind of unique and abstruse terminology. After contacting one user, Alastair, he immediately told me that ‘on some level I find Wikipedia to be the ultimate social networking site for the incurably nerdy... however obscure one's interests, there's a real chance one can find others that share them’. I chuckled at this. Not infrequently have I fancied myself a bit of a nerd, which is why I feel no compunction in stating that nerds love jargon.

The most initially intimidating phrases are prefaced by ‘WP’, which I came to find indicates that the entire phrase forms a Wikipedian consensus or guideline. I would also come to discover that this does not, however, imply a stern or even formal subject, such as in the particularly odd example of ‘WP:Beans’. In this case ‘Beans’ refers to the phrase, ‘Don’t stick beans up your nose’, which is a way of saying, ‘Don’t give someone with a naive and adventurous mind any ideas’. The philosophy is derived from a parable about a mother leaving her son at home:

The little boy's mother was off to market. She worried about her boy, who was always up to some mischief. She sternly admonished him, "Be good. Don't get into trouble. Don't eat all the cabbage. Don't spill all the milk. Don't throw stones at the cow. Don't fall down the well." The boy had done all of these things on other market days. Hoping to head off new trouble, she added, "And don't stuff beans up your nose!" This was a new idea for the boy, who promptly tried it out.

Apr 7, 2009

Wikinography Part 2: Wiki - A brief definition

A wiki is a ‘contained’ site of associated web pages the entire contents of which is produced by its users. In contrast to many semi-interactive online mediums, such as blogging, wikis do not merely ‘allow comment’—which is more along the lines of a post-facto adjunction. Wikis instead encourage, in fact their existence relies upon, construction via active participation as a wiki has no content, no author, besides that supplied by its visitors turned editors . Also characteristic of wikis is the ‘association of pages’. This association is accomplished through ‘linking’, and like any weblink, these links exist on one page and point to another page. But wikis are first and foremost concerned with internal linking; links from within user content to other user content. Links to other locations besides those ‘contained’ within the wiki itself (‘external links’) do exist, but appear far less frequently and have specific regulated purposes.

As its portmanteau namesake implies (combining ‘wiki’ with ‘encyclopedia’), Wikipedia is a wiki with the goal of constructing an online encyclopedia.[1] It is by no means the only wiki, and in fact intentions for and varieties of wiki abound, but at the same time it has become the concept’s iconic example. Those who are conceptually unfamiliar with the idea of a wiki are commonly nonetheless aware of Wikipedia, and in many cases Wikipedia has become a descriptive noun; ‘Is that the Star Wars wikipedia?’.


1. The term wiki is actually originally taken from a Hawaiin word for ‘fast’.

Apr 4, 2009

Wikinography Part 1: Open Sails, At World’s End

So I was assigned an ethnography last quarter, and I decided to make it the online variety. It was an interesting and enlightening experience, although I think I can take a little break from Wikipedia now. I broke the paper up into small, easily digestible morsels, which is perfect for a blog format. I'll be posting it in bits over the next couple weeks. All of the parts combined are basically what my final paper for the class looked like. Enjoy. – DC

There I was, the mouse in my hand as dangerous as any time bomb. I was but a few clicks away from launching ship into the vast recesses of the Wikipedian underbelly. For years I had used Wikipedia idly, mostly in passing as a reference on subjects of straightforward curiosity. But even my use of Wikipedia as an idle reference goes so far back that I can scarcely recall a time I was completely unaware of its existence. I’m nothing exceptional: This is how engrained Wikipedia has become in the lives of many youths. But my relationship with Wikipedia was about to change; concealed beneath the relatively pristine surface of Wikipedia lay the apparatus of an expansive computer-mediated social world, one replete with jargon, unique practices and new imaginings of digital relationship.

In the course of my ethnography I would speak to several editors on Wikipedia while simultaneously taking part in some minor Wikipedia editing myself. Like me, most of the editors I spoke to had initially become aware of Wikipedia as a resource without contributing their owns edits. Even after becoming aware of their ability to contribute, most editors conveyed to me that they had forgone editing for some time thereafter. Unlike me, by the time I spoke to each of these editors, they had become abundantly successful on the English Wikipedia (if not translingually successful). Though it is not an official term on Wikipedia, I use the term ‘prolific editor’, without any hard and fast criteria, to refer to currently active editors with a hefty edit count, in many cases on significant articles.