My girl was correct about Wiki Media, Wikipedia, Wikia, and all things Wiki. She warned me not to trust it, and not to rely on it too much. I might continue to take a peek into Wiki world for a bit of information that can help me solve a crossword clue, determine the place of birth of a historical figure, or recap the past best-in-show winners of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. But a general rule needs to ne followed - step away from the Wikipedia, and pick up a book or magazine. Or better still, write something original, and fact-check using other resources.
And I have to say that my dad was correct to warn me about Wikipedia, although not explicitly. He warned me not to get seduced by epistemology. I think he was trying to tell me that the philosophical study of human knowledge is worthy, and becoming a smart skeptic is noble. But actually believing that human knowledge can centralized and bottled is a dangerous idea. Isn't that what Wikipedia is about? Co-founder Jimbo Wales was pretty clear where he stands when he said:
Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.
It's not that Wikipedia is not an accurate source of information. Over 80% of the information in Wiki is accurate in the audits and studies I have seen. Its top-down, authoritarian style of site maintenance is not democratic, but a fascinating look at how people who devote large amounts of their time to the site gain political and editorial power. It's what Wikipedia co-founder Jimbo Wales calls the 80-20 rule, 20% of Wikipedia's daily users control 80% of its content.
But in this post, I argue that Wikipedia is not all it is cracked-up to be. Case in point - who really benefits from Wiki? Cui bono? Is it you, or co-founder Jimbo Wales?
What's Wikipedia's real purpose? We can't be certain of its ultimate goal, but in just seven years, it has made Jimbo a millionaire and has gotten him laid more often.
Now it doesn't concern me who he is, or who he's boinking. But over the weekend, juicy news arrived that Mr. Wales' had a romantic relationship (however brief) with Rachel Marsden. Yes, THAT Rachel Marsden. The Canadian wingnut, Rachel Marsden, who stalked a former boyfriend, and briefly did a stint on a sexed-up Fox News late-night talk show called Red Eye. She was a co-host on the show, before her 'erratic behavior' got her fired last year. She was also the woman in the middle of the rather famous 1997 Simon Frasier University sexual harassment scandal, which revealed serious flaws in the University's harassment review process, ultimately forcing the University President to resign.
So what happened? This is how nutty our still-small Internet universe is:
Ms. Marsden contacted Jimbo Wales to complain that her biography on Wikipedia was constantly being attacked and defamed. Jimbo, being instantly enthralled that this right-wing babe was contacting him, struck-up a friendship. Phone calls and e-mails led to hot text messaging, which eventually led to a weekend of sex in a DC hotel. When they began to see each other is not confirmed, but seems to have happened soon after Mr. Wales and his wife separated (and his public statement emphasizes that). But interestingly, the story was broken by Valleywag, which is owned by Gawker media. Marsden told Gawker that she went out with Wales while in Georgetown (date unconfirmed). Both Marsden and Wales have spoken about their brief relationship, and apparently took little care to protect their AOL instant messages from the vacuum cleaner known as Google. But that didn't matter. When Jimbo publicly dumped Rachel last week, and used 'conflict of interest' as his justification, she leaked the IM's all over the net, and called him on his conflict-of-interest bullshit.
It's entertaining as hell. Where to begin? If you want to keep your sex life private, um, don't talk to the media about it, or dump your lover on a Wikipedia posting. But that's easy for me to say.
Let's see how the geeky administrators at Wikimedia talked about the relationship amongst themselves last fall. That's highly entertaining - seeing the volunteer serfs talking about their master's private life, since it intruded on their editing work and got the Rachel Marsden page locked in a bureaucratic, fact-checking review.
As Always, Sadly, No! and its commentators summarize it better than I ever could.
And Cliff aks the really big question: Why do men continue to fall for Rachel Marsden?
Why do guys still date Rachel Marsden, knowing the relationship will likely end in tears, court action and news stories where they're running to a car with their coat over their heads?
Figure it out guys, nobody, no matter how questionably hot, is worth waking up with a boiled bunny in your bed. At this point she has enough shell-shocked Ex's to form their own support group.
So to recap what I learned today:
1. Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia, but like many free things, you get what you pay for. In this case, it is an almost secret society that holds onto editorial power and act as gatekeepers and bureaucrats inside a giant black box. Sean Percival is right. They might as well write the damn thing in doublespeak. The fact that Mr. Wales is a big Lost fan strengthens my point, as Doughty Pantload would say.
2. Wikipedia might be a dot-org, a non-profit foundation that accepts donations. But now the truth is coming out that Mr. Wales (and perhaps others) have been skimming the revenue. I'm sure we haven't heard the last of that story.
3. Rachel Marsden is one dangerous woman. Sure, getting seduced by her must be "volcanic" at first. But then it so quickly turns to tears. Just ask Mr. Wales. His IM's are all over the net. And Rachel is selling a t-shirt and a sweater he left behind on eBay. His credibility has been severely damaged.
There always was a Wikipedia backlash. Maybe the backlash is going mainstream? And be sure to hear more about Ms. Marsden. Considering her history, we will be receiving another story involving her in a few months. It could be sooner. Her last sighting before this was at last month's CPAC conference.