Wikipedia LogoThe connections that artists and everyday users can make to the early days of net art are seen in many of the aspects of modern social media tools. Wikipediafirst started in January 2001 by Jimmy Wales as collaborative online encyclopedia (Bruns 103). Its aim was slightly altered from the traditional view of an encyclopedia since rather than representing one set of accepted knowledge, it came from multiple representations of knowledge (Bruns 103). The idea behind Wikipedia was to act as an open tool where volunteers and everyday users could come and contribute to a reference source on the Internet. Pages about any and all topics were created, read and edited. The idea of maintaining verifiability could be upheld because every user was an editor, and mistakes could be hinder by the numerous numbers of viewers. Wikipedia was not the first creation of its kind. In March 2000, Wales created Nupedia, which was anNupedia online encyclopedia resource where experts created entries. It failed within its three years of existence was the fact that it relied on a peer review by scholars who volunteered their time. Nupedia hoped to be a substitute for the traditionally printed encyclopedia. What the founders did not see was the opportunity for a wider involvement by the public (Bruns 105). When Wikipedia was created, it was not necessarily an emergence of a new tool but rather a collection of already existing Web communities. These Web communities were specialized and had fans and experts in these topics who shared their knowledge. What Wikipedia was able to do was capture all the information available on the Web about all topics in a central location. Wales believed that Wikipedia could succeed because of its system of checks and balances. Wales stated in 2001 “There’s a simple way to tell if it’s any good. Find an entry on something you know something about. Odds are it’ll hold up pretty well—you’ll probably even learn something new” (Bruns 106).

Wikipedia offers its users the ability to examine and compare previous edits of the same page so that users can evaluate the quality of work of their predecessors, thus continuing a communal evaluation (Bruns 107). Henry Jenkins stated in his book, Convergence Culture, “The Wikipedia community, at its best, functions as a self-correcting adhocracy. Any knowledge that gets posted can and most likely will be revised and corrected by other readers” (255). The content that is developed on Wikipedia provides a direct relationship between the content creation on the actual Web site and through the discussion done during the creation process. This communication is visible through the discussion boards. With this understanding in mind, Wikipedia can is seen as a continuous open document that can be and will be changed at any moment. In many ways, the idea of Wikipedia reflects Davis’ work and his idea of having continuous and open interaction among viewers and users. The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, while not an encyclopedia, could be viewed as an open source project where any user could come and create, read and edit the Web site. These words could also simply describe the purpose of Wikipedia.

While the idea of having an open reference source open to the public to edit and use is the foundation of Wikipedia, the Web site has encountered many critics and issues along the way. Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University said in 2005, “Wikipedia is not a product, it is a system. …Like democracy, it is messier than planned system at any given point in time, but it is not just self-healing, it is self-improving” (Shirky 1). Wikipedia may always look somewhat chaotic and disheveled but there is a method to the madness. Its ever-changing atmosphere and self-made nature are large factors that differentiate Wikipedia from other traditional encyclopedias. A main strength of Wikipedia is its ability, because of its endless list of editors, to include non-conventional data. This data is information that has been ignored by traditional print editions because of their lack of relevance to the print’s guidelines. With Wikipedia, users who are fanatical about numerous topics that could range from Tolkien’s Middle Earth to the fictional language Klingoni can share their accurate knowledge to the world (Bruns 122). This ability by Wikipedia helps to reinforce its importance to the user by including and supporting the importance of these topics for the user.  Regardless of the topic, whether conventional or not, the information on Wikipedia asks only one thing from its users: verifiability.

Wikipedia requires that all entries be based upon reputable resources. This has caused criticism because in many ways, the ability to find information on the Web, has made some question what reputable actually means.  Because of this, and the constant ability for anyone to edit any page at any moment, Wikipedia constantly has to deal with vandalism (Bruns 121).

Vandalism on Wikipedia is perpetuated through incorrect edits or entries created with false information. A prime example of this is in the biography of journalist John Seignethaler Sr., whose page was falsified with the claim that he had been implicated in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy (Bruns 124). Incorrect information could be made readily available to the public and without a constant vigilance over the page, malicious or

John McCain's Wikipedia page vandalized after 2009 election lost

John McCain's Wikipedia page vandalized after 2009 election lost

 disruptive information could be included. Wales has called these disruptors by the names of “edit warriors,” “point-of-view warriors,” and “revert warriors” (Bruns 140). In many ways, these “warriors” create situations that are similar to the work JODI did in the mid 1990s. While, some warriors act on the sole mission of maliciousness, others act in a way to evoke thought and emotion among those that encounter the page. The disruption of the truth, or sometimes the questioning of the truth, through Wikipedia, can cause users to feel as if they are being personally invaded—much like how OSS/**** affected its users. Since Wikipedia has a system to ward off these “attacks” through its 400 administrators who “can delete articles, protect pages, and block IP address” and more people above them called bureaucrats, stewards and superelites, who can make direct changes to the software and database, most of these infringements are caught (Bruns 141).


However, there are times when the users do not agree with a removal or deletion of a Wikipedia page by the administrators. Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern provide a very recent example of this through Wikipedia Art onwikipedia-artFebruary 14, 2009. Wikipedia Art was created as art that could be made and composed through Wikipedia—thus being art that anyone could edit (Wikipedia Art). Because it was setup as a conventional Wikipedia page, Kildall and Stern had to ensure that it would meet the standards of verifiability of Wikipedia. The art was suppose to be completely interactive and collaborative—somewhat like Davis’ work but with more constraints. Kildall and Stern said “Any changes to the art had to be publish on, and cited from, ‘credible’ external sources: interviews, blogs or articles in ‘trustworthy’ media institutions” (Wikipedia Art). The artwork (or the page simply) would change and evolve by others writing and talking about it. However, Wikipedia administrators and some community members felt that the page was too controversial and not fitting in the structure of encyclopedia. The page was flagged and removed after 15 hours of its creation. What stemmed from the page was a continued discussion and debate of its place on Wikipedia. This outcome, in its essence, still fulfilled Kildall and Stern’s aim because it still developed through discussion, except not on a Wikipedia page. The discussion, however, was heated and thorough, even after the page’s demise. Wikipedia Art was suppose to be viewed as a performative utterance where artists, writers, editors could join and construct, transform, destruct or resurrect the artwork. Stern and Kildall said, “Like knowledge and like art, Wikipedia Art is always already variable” (Wikipedia).

Daniel Rigal, a Wikipedia administrator, responded to a Wikipedia discussion board about the deletion of the Wikipedia Art page by stating that the attempt to use Wikipedia as an art platform is not encyclopedic. He argued that the page could never be encyclopedic because it would constantly cite itself because it was an original work created on a Wikipedia page. Patrick Lichty, a digital intermedia artist, argued against Rigal’s assertion that Wikipedia Art has no place on an encyclopedia by stating, “In the online work of art, there is a gravity that remains with the author, even in the piece of net art, but in Wikimedia/Wikipedia Art, the work becomes solely a locus initiated by agents, and left for intervention” (Lichty 1). Lichty questions whether Wikipedia could be made into art. He believes that it could, and that it could be seen as a networked conceptualism. Wikipedia administrators and users continued to argue that they did not disagree with the merits of the artwork, but that it would have been more fitting on another Web host. However, among the one hundred comments made on the discussion board, many argued that it could be seen as disruptive art, and could fit on Wikipedia. Lichty continued to argue that the assertion that Wikipedia is open and editable to anyone makes it a possible art platform. He likened the debate to the Surrealists and how their art, in essence, was purely disruptive or unexpected (Lichty 1). The discussion has spread to Facebook, the blogosphere and even in academic circles through posts on the Institute for Distributed Creativity. The debate on openness and purpose is ever evident through Wikipedia and continues to evolve over time, with many of its standards and problems founded in early net art. 


~ by netart2web on 04/28/2009.

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