That Weird Compulsion To Put Info On Wikipedia
from the can't-resist dept
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.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.
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.