Friday, October 30, 2009

Making an entry: Wikipedia has cast me into the same category as Basingstoke Road, writes Becky Hogge.(REBOOT)(Column).

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It was a crushing verdict: "Becky Hogge is a journalist of no particular fame or distinction." My ultimate judge was Rajah, an expert on many things, including Cuban judo champions, the Irish indie-pop band The Thrills and the various staff writers and bit-part actors in Seinfeld. My jury was made up of the hundreds of Wikipedians who police entries to the online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit.

It all started with a little joke here in these pages. Faithful readers might remember an NS column, published this summer, in which I set out to celebrate the ability of the web to capitalise on the vanity of its users and their willingness to contribute content or code just for the thrill of online recognition. My vehicle was my own virtual self-obsession--my penchant for Googling my name daily, seeking in the innards of the blogosphere a fleeting sense of self-worth. And I moaned about not having an entry in Wikipedia.

Well, one reader took up the challenge and created a skeleton entry for me the very day he read my article. For the benefit of that reader, I can confirm that I came across the Wikipedia page for Becky Hogge during a regular session of self-Googling, and was delighted. I continued to monitor the page over the weeks, choosing not to edit it myself: to do so would be considered irreligious by many, though notable exceptions include the blogger and digital-rights campaigner Cory Doctorow, whose Wikipedia handle is often to be spotted mingling with those of his biographers in the edit history for his entry.

I watched as automated crawlers realised that no other article linked to my entry, and marked it for human inspection. The humans questioned "the importance of the subject matter" and begged anyone familiar with it to expand on it, or at least discuss its significance with users. Finally, at some point this past week, Rajah gave his verdict.

I have now entered the category of "topics of unclear importance". Neighbours in this ghetto include Basingstoke Road, leading from the M4 to Whitley Street in Reading; Beck's Prime, a restaurant chain in Houston, Texas; Beth Liebling, first wife of the Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder; and--to what would be my father's great distress, if my father had a clue what Wikipedia was--the Bill Bailey Skiffle group.

Reader, I am not bitter. Jaron Lanier warned of Wikipedia's Maoist collectivism in a recent essay entitled "The Hive Mind", having discovered that no matter how many times he changed his Wikipedia entry, it would revert to describing him as a film director. I make no such bold claims; in fact, as someone accustomed to working in an industry that routinely rejects all but the familiar or renowned, I found Wikipedia's judicial process refreshingly thorough. But perhaps that's because I know it won't be long before I really deserve my own entry. As a relatively new statesman once said: "I'll be back."

Named Works: Wikipedia (Reference work) Political aspects; Wikipedia (Reference work) Services

Source Citation
"Making an entry: Wikipedia has cast me into the same category as Basingstoke Road, writes Becky Hogge." New Statesman [1996] 18 Sept. 2006: 52. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Oct. 2009. .

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