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Last night at about 10:30, I told an exhausted and bedward-bound Terry I’d be coming to join her in bed very soon. I hadn’t realized when I said it that I was lying: by “very soon,” I apparently meant “shortly after 1 a.m.” I stayed up more than two hours longer than I’d intended because I was fervently feeding my newest addiction: I think I’ve become a Wikipediholic. [1]

I can’t seem to stop editing articles, or looking at my watchlist of recent updates to the articles I’ve touched, or searching for poorly written or poorly organized articles to improve. I’ll fix tense, I’ll fix spelling, I’ll remove speculation, I’ll clarify, I’ll reformat. I’ve even joined my first WikiProject: it’s about comic books, which I’m sure comes as no surprise to anyone reading these words.

I’ve been using the Wikipedia as a research resource for a couple of years, but I’d done very little article editing until recently; I wasn’t sure I could consider myself enough of an authority on any subjects to feel justified in contributing. My personality is such that I always tend to doubt myself, to wonder if what I think I know is true [2] — and I certainly don’t want to put incorrect information on the site, both because I don’t want to disseminate falsehoods and because I don’t want someone to correct me later and think me a raging dumbass.

But I decided I could safely contribute my vast stores of knowledge when I realized that there exist a great many people who clearly don’t share my belief that one should know what one is talking about before one contributes to the Wikipedia. And then I realized that the words thrown up by those people usually need some serious editing.

This practice of editing articles ties directly into one of the things I’ve always felt was one of my strengths: I’m frequenly better at improving something that’s been done poorly than starting something from scratch. As good a writer as I feel like I am, in some ways I’m an even better editor, and that’s a skill so much of the Wikipedia dearly needs. (I’m not as good an editor as my wife, of course… but then, very few are.) There’s also the fact that I’m nearly OCD with my fussing over things like formatting and structure [3], and so many of the users who add text to the Wikipedia don’t seem to care about those aspects of the articles at all.

It’s proving to be something of a learning experience and an adjustment for me, this whole egalitarian concept of the Wikipedia being a truly collaborative project, one where my words count for no more than anyone else’s. While I have no problem editing the hell out of someone else’s work (for I am, but of course, far smarter than they, no matter who the “they” in question may be), I don’t like being edited myself — even when the edits results in stronger work. It’s an ego thing. As much as I’d dearly love to, I can’t lock an article and say “Now that I have touched these words, no one else need do so ever again.” I change things, people change some things back or make others more to their liking, and I have to learn to be okay with that process.

I know I’ll be fine with it, of course; subjugating my ego for the greater good has never been all that much of a problem for me, no matter how much it might rankle at first. This is the thing, though, the thing that makes swallowing my pride a little easier: I feel like I’m contributing something — and I don’t just mean contributing to the Wikipedia itself, but contributing to the greater cultural conversation, even if that something so far isn’t all that big. In some small way, I’m helping to Get Information Out There. Anything I write here on Do or Do Not gets read by, at most, seventy or so people right now; anything I add to the Wikipedia (even if it’s not directly attributed to me) has the potental to be read by millions. That’s a pretty damn good feeling.

[1] Silly me, I thought I’d coined that word, but of course I didn’t — it seems there’s a great many of us Wikipediholics out there.

[2] This same particular form of self-doubt causes me not to speak up in group conversation and almost never to engage in debate.

[3] I’m so bad about worrying over formatting that I’m not allowed to write using Microsoft Word anymore because I’ll spend more time tweaking the fonts and styles than I will actually, y’know, writing.

Written by Allen

July 13th, 2006 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Web

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