Wikipedia has had its detractors when it comes to the great topics of the humanities: history, art and the classics. Some of it is indeed justified.
But what is rarely disputed is that Wikipedia is without peers when it comes to the strongholds of the net roots: tech geekery and pop culture. Just try to find better articles about the creation of Star Trek, the authoritative list of Family Guy characters or a history of South Park memes.
But we’re starting to see this unquestionable dominance, well, questioned.
I’ve pointed out how many dot-com and tech topics (like Pownce and DisplayLink) seem to have lost their studious caretakers in the “encyclopedia that Slashdot built”. These pages have gotten dumped by deletionists, dominated by POV pushers or been missing altogether. This has become fairly regular of late on my blog, in my Twitter feed and the Wikipedia Weekly podcast.
Now, I believe we’re seeing startling holes in Wikipedia’s pop culture dominance.
It began when a friend told me about a new show called “How’s Your News.”
It was on Bittorrent networks as a download, and debuted on February 8 as a new series on MTV with a rather tasteless premise — gather a diverse bunch of mentally challenged reporters (from Down to Williams syndrome) to be roving street reporters, while also rubbing shoulders with celebrities and ambushing them on the Grammy Awards’ red carpet. This is the “brainchild” of South Park creator Matt Stone. Given MTV’s ability to sensationalize Jackasses, Pimping and Sweet Sixteens, it should probably be no surprise putting stumpy, disfigured and badly groomed “special needs” journalists on camera is the next big idea for the cable TV channel that depends on unpredictibility.
But this post isn’t about whether the show is a tasteful exercise or not.
The fact that this was a new MTV show with a controversial premise, and caught the attention of not one but two BoingBoing posts, a review by the venerable Tom Shales of The Washington Post, and a NY Daily News TV review meant this was not an obscure show under the radar.
Far from it.
In fact “How’s Your News” is a TV serialization based on a documentary of the same name, that was profiled by NPR’s This American Life, a show with a massive following, in October 2007.
Given how controversial this potential freak show of a TV program could be, it seemed ripe for a solid NPOV treatment ala Wikipedia’s smart crowd of editors.
There was one problem: there is no article.
Not even a single deleted version, which means no one even tried to start it.
To me, this was a real shocker.
At least in the Pownce case, there was a debate among people who wanted the content, and those who questioned its notability. In this case, no one even cared to start it.
For something that landed right in the “sweet spot” of Wikipedia’s core — pop culture, television show, US market, controversial content, troll-worthy characters — there was nothing at all in Wikipedia. It almost makes you wish the trolls had at least initiated the article’s creation, tasteless jokes and all.
Wikipedia still has the policy that users who aren’t logged in cannot start a new article. So while there are red links from other Wikipedia articles (ie. [[List_of_programs_broadcast_by_MTV]] and [[Arthur Bradford]]) it didn’t lead to [[How's Your News]] being created.
I’m not sure what more to say, other than to ask other Wikipedians what they think this means.
I consider another discovery in December 2008 to be relevant: the article [[Chewbacca Defense]], one of my favorite examples how NPOV can usefully document pop culture memes, was ingloriously merged into [[Chef Aid]]. This was on September 20 2008, without much fanfare, discussion or clear rationale. Just a solo comment in the edit history: “Merged – No opposition on talk page.”
And perhaps that’s Wikipedia’s long term fate as a product of a decimated crowd: a slow march towards being stale and conventional, not out of commission but omission.