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 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.

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Comments on “That Weird Compulsion To Put Info On Wikipedia”

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some old guy says:

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?

Stephen Schwendener says:


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.

Mike (profile) says:

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.


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