That Weird Compulsion To Put Info On Wikipedia

from the can't-resist dept

With all the questions zipping around about whether or not Wikipedia is "good" or "bad," one thing that often gets lost in the shuffle is the question of why people contribute to Wikipedia. Toronto's Globe and Mail has a fascinating column written by, Ivor Tossell, the guy who edited the Wikipedia page about Meet the Press to add in the fact that Tim Russert died. This isn't the guy who got fired for editing Tim Russert's Wikipedia page, but someone who went to the Meet the Press website soon afterwards and noticed that it hadn't yet been updated.

What's most fascinating is that he's not sure why he edited it, but he felt compelled to. It wasn't so much to make sure that the public was properly informed -- but more for personal gratification: the fact that he was "the first" to get there and notice it. As he says, "it was more like the primal instinct that makes people shout "First!" on online forums, a recognition of the improbable act of stumbling across a special place at just the right time." In other words, it's not about some grand social consciousness or need to participate -- but for wholely selfish reasons: to be able to say that he was the guy who did it. To make him feel special.
What is it about breaking news that can turn bemused onlookers into frothing fan-boys? The ability to edit Wikipedia should have lost its thrill by now. People having been fraudulently offing each other on Wikipedia for ages; the comic Sinbad appeared on the public radar for the first time in years when he had to insist that his Wikipedia page exaggerated reports of his own demise. A British Web magazine called B3ta.com ran a competition last year to see whose virtual celebrity assassination would last the longest on Wikipedia. But those were just diversions.

The action is in writing history as it happens. As Noam Cohen of the Times observed, Wikipedia guarantees its readers a large audience. There's no shortage of ways to publish things online, most of which will start with readerships of precisely zero. The Internet gives everybody the power to be ignored. But editing a Wikipedia page that's at the heart of a breaking news story will affect thousands upon thousands of readers.
So, despite all those who claim that those who give up their "free" labor are being exploited, or even those who suggest that such endeavors are "communist," it appears that it really comes back to your basic capitalist instincts: self-interest rules the day. If there's a personal benefit, no matter how silly, for someone to feel like they were the first to provide the info, it will get provided.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 1:34pm

    First!

    Is it any different than newspapers wanting to get the scoop?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 2:06pm

    Pretty much the same reason people write blogs then.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Mike, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 2:49pm

    Attention. Recognition.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    some old guy, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 2:56pm

    How can it even be patentable anyways?

    How you can you patent a stent? They have been in use for hundreds of years to keep caves and tunnels from collapsing. What... so adding "in the body" makes something "new and innovative" now? Is that like how adding "over the internet" or "on a computer" suddenly makes an ancient idea patentable?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    some old guy, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 2:56pm

    Re: How can it even be patentable anyways?

    oh great... posted on wrong topic.. man, I'm really doing good today. /sigh

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    cvpunk, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 3:19pm

    Re: Re: How can it even be patentable anyways?

    senility setting in? :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    PR NY, Jun 28th, 2008 @ 7:14am

    Social Bookmarking sites

    Why do people submit breaking news to social bookmarking sites?

    Sometimes it is the desire to get a homepage and recognition - but other times it is passion about a news item or subject that you want to share with as many people as possible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 28th, 2008 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: How can it even be patentable anyways?

    How do you guys even do this? dont you go to a page about wikipedia, and then read the article, and then click reply, and then enter your reply? How do you even get to the wrong page?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Noah Peters, Jun 28th, 2008 @ 6:14pm

    It's not a weird compulsion, it's simply getting even.

    The people who usually add breaking news are usually people who have something against the person and/or organisation in question. A lot of people who edit Wikipedia do so for nefarious reasons. It's become a propaganda tool.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    oregonnerd, Jun 29th, 2008 @ 8:34pm

    That Weird Compulsion...

    Mike, you don't really mean that if there is absolutely no reason for someone to do it and it takes any effort, it probably won't happen, do you? "It" of course being stuff that requires pesky things like logons and so forth. Why, that wouldn't make any sense at all. Whodathunk?
    --Glenn

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    oregonnerd, Jun 29th, 2008 @ 8:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: How can it even be patentable anyways?

    What? Who are you guys, anyway? And what is this place? Oh my god. I made it. I'm in cyber world.
    ...
    --Glenn

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Stephen Schwendener, Jun 29th, 2008 @ 9:53pm

    Actually..

    This "techdirt" su

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Stephen Schwendener, Jun 29th, 2008 @ 9:54pm

    Actually..

    This "techdirt" sucked. And I am sorry to say but most of the time your website loads too slow. Also let us not talk about communist or capitalist ideas here because this is all irrelevant.

    I've written wikipedia pages because it helps others. Who cares if some jerkoff, aka male ejaculate, wanted to be the first one to write about someones death. Anyone can edit this pages that is why it is so risky to do so.

    What it comes down to is that if no one else but the wikimedia foundation edited wikipedia pages then the site would not be 1/100000000 of what it is today.

    Wikipedia is a big deal. I'm sorry techdirt.. your not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Mike (profile), Jun 29th, 2008 @ 10:35pm

    Re: Actually..

    And I am sorry to say but most of the time your website loads too slow

    Really? Can you provide some more details? We try to make sure it loads quickly.

    As for the rest of your comment, I think you missed the point. I wasn't saying anything *bad* about Wikipedia. I was actually saying something *good* about Wikipedia.

    Before you slam us for saying something we didn't say, perhaps read what we actually wrote.

    Thanks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    paintballbob, Jul 7th, 2008 @ 10:50am

    Re: Actually..

    your "comment" su

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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