May 14, 2009

Wikinography Part 5: Wikilove

I first realized it one afternoon during an extended session on Wikipedia. Sniffing regularly, I sat wrapped in blankets to deter my sickness as my eyes strained to look through the vivid pages of both prolific and neophyte wikieditors. Somewhere amongst the polychromatics on my screen, it dawned on me that user pages are not just spaces for self-identification. They are also the place on Wikipedia where other users recognize and enumerate the contributions of their fellow editors. In the course of this usage, user pages have come to represent the most consistent and varied site of digital object construction that I have ever encountered. This digitization occurs predominately in the form of ‘wikilove’.

Broadly speaking, wikilove is the philosophy of kindness and non-enmity on Wikipedia. In order to share wikiove, Wikipedians are instructed to be polite, conscientious, and to ‘assume good faith’.[3]

The most prominent practice of wikilove is the construction and deployment of ‘digital objects’. Rather than being completely original concepts imagined wholly in the space of the internet, digital objects tend to be real world objects that have been ported into the digital space. Though their meaning and function differ from their flesh-world counterparts, these objects are not meant to lose or overcome their ‘real world’ connotations, at least not completely. Rather they seem to be selected in part because of such connotations.

As I took a meandering look over various users and their talk pages, I came across many examples. Cookies seemed to be the most frequent artifact of wikilove, and I encountered other examples including kittens, ‘relaxing tea’, and fried chicken. This category of wikilove is relatively unqualified; users do not need to ‘earn’ them, but instead are encouraged to give them freely and without reserve.

Qualified or semi-qualified ‘barnstars’ deserve an entirely separate mention. Another digital object with a real world counterpart, barnstars are meant to indicate accomplishment, and come in the largest variety of any single imagined internet object I’ve ever seen. The Epic barnstar, the Chemistry barnstar, barnstar of life, university barnstar, technology, music, lesbian gay bi transexual barnstar–Harry Potter, Belrusian, the list went on and on. Each of these barnstars was a form of accolade, a signifier of accomplishment and due respect inferred upon an editor by their peers.

At first I found myself wondering what the purpose of all this might be. Though I felt I understood how wikilove functioned, it was not immediately apparent to me why the role these items played was necessary.

3. Good faith in the context of wikipedia means ‘honesty’ or ‘benevolence’. In theory, good faith is a shared assumption amongst editors that each of them are attempting to be constructive, and that editors differ only in their point of view. In contrast, bad faith would be motivated simply to be malicious, spiteful or disruptive.


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