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The Wikipedia FAQK

by Lore Sjöberg



What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a new paradigm in human discourse. It’s a place where anyone with a browser can go, pick a subject that interests them, and without even logging in, start an argument. In fact, Wikipedia is the largest and most comprehensive collection of arguments in human history, incorporating spats and vendettas on subjects ranging from Suleiman the Magnificent to Dan the Automator. As an unexpected side effect of being the perfect argument space, it’s also a pretty good place to find information about all the characters from Battlestar: Galactica.

Why do people talk about Wikipedia so much?

Wikipedia is such a powerful argument engine that it actually leaks out to the rest of the web, spontaneously forming meta-arguments about itself on any open message board.

Yes, but what is there to argue about?

Well, Wikipedia exists in a state of quantum significance flux. It’s simultaneously a shining, flawless collection of incontrovertible information, and a debased pile of meaningless words thrown together by uneducated lemurs with political agendas. It simply cannot exist in any state between these two extremes. You can test this yourself by expressing a reasonable opinion about the site in any public space. Whatever words you type, they will be interpreted by readers as supporting one of these two opposing views.

What should I know if I want to contribute to an argument nexus (or “article”) on Wikipedia?

It will help to familiarize yourself with some of the common terms used on Wikipedia:

  • meat puppet: A person who disagrees with you.
  • non-notable: A subject you’re not interested in.
  • vandalism: An edit you didn’t make.
  • neutral point of view: Your point of view.
  • consensus: A mythical state of utopian human evolution. Many scholars of Wikipedian theology theorize that if consensus is ever reached, Wikipedia will spontaneously disappear.

Is it true that anyone can contribute?

Sure, Wikipedia is absolutely open to absolutely anyone contributing to absolutely anything! As long as you haven’t been banned, or the article you’re contributing to hasn’t been locked, or there isn’t a group of people waiting to delete anything you write, or you don’t make the same change more than three times in one day, or the subject of the article hasn’t decided to send scary lawyer letters to Wikipedia, or you haven’t pissed Jimbo Wales off real bad. It’s all about freedom.

But why should I contribute to an article? I’m no expert.

That’s fine. The Wikipedia philosophy can be summed up thusly: “Experts are scum.” For some reason people who spend 40 years learning everything they can about, say, the Peloponnesian War — and indeed, advancing the body of human knowledge — get all pissy when their contributions are edited away by Randy in Boise who heard somewhere that sword-wielding skeletons were involved. And they get downright irate when asked politely to engage in discourse with Randy until the sword-skeleton theory can be incorporated into the article without passing judgment.

What’s this is I hear about Wikipedia saying some guy shot Kennedy?

That was actually a misunderstanding. The person who was accused of murdering Kennedy didn’t realize that it’s his job to monitor his own Wikipedia entry at all times and fix mistakes. By not doing so, by allowing his entry to contain libelous information, he was in essence accusing himself of murdering Kennedy. The Wikipedia board of directors is hoping that the courts will accept this as a confession and convict him of assassination. At that point, his Wikipedia entry will be 100 percent true, proving that the system works.

An article about me is up for deletion! What can I do to keep this from happening?

Well, you could try building a strong case using documented evidence from outside Wikipedia to bring people around to your well-researched and well-founded point of view, but honestly your best bet is to get a role on Battlestar: Galactica.


This commentary appeared originally on the Wired website. It is re-posted here with permission of the author.

Image credit: Flickr/ketrin1407 ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

7 comments to The Wikipedia FAQK

  • Trampolinist

    The image credit is not to “ketrin1407” on flickr. This is as thoughtless as the shit you accuse Wikipedia of constantly (and rightly). For example, you talk about flickr-washing on commons, well this is a public domain analog of that.

    The image is a poor repro of ‘The Cockfight’, Jean-Léon Gérôme. And it doesn’t need license recognition at all, being a work from 1846.


    BTW, what’s a FAQK? Another problem.

  • An oldie but goodie originally published in Wired magazine in 2006 (as one of Lore Sjöberg’s Alt Text columns). It’s amazing that not much has changed. Just like Lore Sjöberg’s Wikipedia page, which is really crappy.

    Lore’s recent work can be found at Bad Gods.

    FAQK = “Frequently Asked Questions, Kevin” and is a Sjöberg-ism.

    • Written in 2006? How sad that it is still relevant. Good writing.

      Painted in 1846? Not much has changed there either. The Wikipedian roosters are still pecking each other to death, girls without pubic hairs are still not getting involved and callow teenagers really dig it. Awful painting.

      Well done Wikipediocracy.

  • ketrin1407

    The cockfight painting is indeed by Gérôme and it’s taken from from my Flickr pages. Technically it’s public domain, but I’m the one who scanned it, cleaned it up and posted it so I totally deserve credit.

    On the other hand, Flickr is such a piece of crap these days that I don’t mind this site stealing bandwidth from it.

  • What is it called when we’re having an argument about the argument we’re currently having?


  • Walker T Gossipfest

    Re: the need to incorporate skeletons having fought in the Greek Wars, it should be noted that the Great Jimbo is often behind such madcap notions. I spent a great deal of time patiently arguing with him on the patent irrelevance and absurdity of including some fringe (not mainstream conspiracy, but widely agreed by nearly all present editors to be extremely wrong and fringe to the point of nuts) theories about who Shakespeare really was and why he did (or did not) write all those plays ‘himself’. All of the editors but one extremely silly person were arguing that the fringe material be deleted. Along comes His Walesness to insist that it be properly reasoned and argued but IN. The fact that it cannot be properly reasoned and argued is apparently irrelevant to the Libertarian in the Sky. (Or the WikiBunker.) Jimbo clearly regarded his urgings on the topic as final and a quick check just now has confirmed that the material is still in the article in question, despite multiple attempts by more serious editors (some of whom do come across clearly as extremely knowledgeable scholars in Shakespearian studies) to delete them.

    I believe the true motto of the Trickipedia should be ‘quantity, not quality’. That is patently where Mr Wales is coming from.

  • […] yourself, lamprey-like, to their flanks. Add your comments to support them in Wikipedia’s incessant debates. Be obsequious, but don’t overdo it, or you may arouse their suspicion. In time, you will […]