The genius (and humour) of Wikipedia

Richard Cooke, explaining what makes Wikipedia such a fantastic resource:

Pedantry this powerful is itself a kind of engine, and it is fueled by an enthusiasm that verges on love. Many early critiques of computer-assisted reference works feared a vital human quality would be stripped out in favor of bland fact-speak. That 1974 article in The Atlantic presaged this concern well: “Accuracy, of course, can better be won by a committee armed with computers than by a single intelligence. But while accuracy binds the trust between reader and contributor, eccentricity and elegance and surprise are the singular qualities that make learning an inviting transaction. And they are not qualities we associate with committees.” Yet Wikipedia has eccentricity, elegance, and surprise in abundance, especially in those moments when enthusiasm becomes excess and detail is rendered so finely (and pointlessly) that it becomes beautiful.

That’s where the humour and lightness come in. They’re integral parts of what keeps Wikipedia humming:

This is why the meta side of Wikipedia—the Talk pages, the essay commentaries, the policies—is suffused with nerdy jokes. We’re so used to equating seriousness with importance that this jars at first: It’s hard to square the encapsulation of all human knowledge with a policy called “Don’t be a dick” (since revised to “Don’t be a jerk”). But expressing the directive that way carries a purpose. It’s the same purpose that drives Wikipedians to collect and celebrate the site’s “Lamest edit wars,” which include long-running skirmishes on Freddie Mercury’s ancestry, the provenance of Caesar salad, the proper pronunciation of J. K. Rowling’s surname (“Perhaps it rhymes with ‘Trolling’?”), the wording of certain captions (“Is the cat depicted really smiling?”), and the threshold of notoriety required to appear on a list of fictional badgers.

Wikipedia is a marvel. It’s so comprehensive and so consistent that it’s easy to take for granted. I know I do.

It’s also the foundation of one of my favourite things on the internet: Listen to Wikipedia, which turns edits and sign-ups into music. It’s the sound of people making Wikipedia and it’s beautiful.

© 2019 cory zanoni.