Not so long ago, I gave a scathing review of the Citizendium, Wikipedia-co-founder Larry Sangers expert-guided alternative. I still don’t believe in the project, but I’ve given quite a bit of thought as to why I don’t believe in it.
I love Wikipedia. Everything about it, even how Wikipedia refuses to censor images of Muhammed in the face of very angry people. I genuinely believe that with Wikipedia, we have a shot at bringing enlightenment to the world in a sweeping, world-changing way. In fact, I love Wikipedia so much that whenever someone tries to challenge the project, I’m immediately skeptical and negative towards the would-be usurpers. Then again, I occasionally visit both Wookieepedia and Memory Alpha, the Star Wars and Star Trek wikis. There simply exists content that doesn’t fit into an encyclopedia, content that, instead fits into either of the aforementioned wikis. Irony. Flip-flopping. Hypocrisy. I should know better.
Wikipedia is not the be-all, end-all wiki. It’s certainly a good shot at an end-all online-encyclopedia. It’s quite possibly even the best thing to happen to the Internet since Al Gore. But it will never have room for a dedicated article on Anbo-jyutsu. Clearly, we need places like Memory Alpha and Wookieepedia.
Redundancy is everywhere. It’s evident in movies, music, books, wikis, cars, governments, ideas and toilets. Possibly more things. Redundancy is here to stay: why not embrace it? The wiki is just a tool that can be used to edit pages collectively, usually in a meritocracy. The result, in my experience, is a better quality of pages, and a depth of content not seen in many other website setups.
Wikipedia is a wiki, but it’s an encyclopedia first. You can’t browse Wikipedia without encountering a myriad of badges and boilerplates: “Article may contain original research”, “Citation needed”, “Neutrality disputed”. These badges are inventions of Wikipedia, the purpose being to ensure that people work towards encyclopedic content. Rules are in place, and there is a very definite and accurate definition of what Wikipedia is not. Sadly (or not?), Anbo-jyutsu doesn’t make that cut. Incidentally, that leaves room for Wookieepedia and Memory Alpha. And Citizendium?
There’s the matter of community support. Clearly, Star * cultural phenomenons can garner dedicated followers yearning for text written in the realm that exists outside the limits of an encyclopedia. But what exactly, short of being pop culture, does it require for a wiki to gain a following? Does it need a poetic raison d’etre? A design that doesn’t look exactly like Wikipedias? Maybe it just needs a critical mass of content indexed by Google to get the proverbial Sisyphean rock to the top of the mountain? Maybe people that aren’t part of our little Club of the Initiated won’t care whether the content comes from Wookieepedia, Wikipedia or even Citizendium, as long as it holds answers to their questions.
Maybe the real problem isn’t that of wiki reduncancy. Maybe the problem is Wikipedias: how do we keep ourselves encyclopedic?