The Wiki-Elite

On: October 7, 2010
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About Erik van Bemmelen
I am a student of the New Media Master at the University of Amsterdam. My main academic interests are the new online business models around production, distribution and consumption of culture in general and music in particular. My goal is to make a living out of downloading music.


Sitting in class, I had just created my account on Wikipedia. Within minutes somebody had altered my biography on my personal user page. Luckily, it was the person sitting next to me in class who had successfully fooled me, but that’s not the point here. Imagine someone else being able to alter your biography on Twitter, or your personal information on Facebook. This was a clear welcome to the world of writing for Wikipedia: everything is open, up for debate and traceable by everyone.

After this I started writing a Wikipedia entry on Instant Replay, a small record label from Amsterdam that has been founded earlier this year as a sublabel to the more established Amsterdam label Magnetron Music. I thought that it would be nice to share my ‘knowledge’ with people that are confused about the different aliases of the artists that have released records on both Magnetron Music and Instant Replay. Seeing as some of them like De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig are fairly popular in the Netherlands, I thought there might be some people interested in this. In any case, I didn’t expect the subject to be controversial or unworthy of an entry.

Only minutes after publishing the entry a Wikipedia editor changed a misleading part: I said the label had only released digital music, but I indeed meant to say that the label had only released music digitally. Next to this some other editors and bots changed a couple of things to make it conform to the standard layout. I thought it was going just fine: my entry was becoming better even without any effort from my part. However, only one hour after I had posted it, an user by the name of Davin came along and decided that my entry should be put on the proposed deletion list. The reason: the label is too young to be worthy of a Wikipedia entry, implying that the relevance of the entry would only be proven if the label would survive for a more extended period of time. Of course I pleaded my case on the discussion page, saying that the label is a sublabel of Magnetron Music, which makes it a sublabel of Universal thus not just some new label. Next to this I pointed out that people are involved who are fairly famous. I haven’t got a response yet, so I assume it will be evaluated on my personal judgment day next week. Seeing as the other editors that saw and even contributed to my entry didn’t think it should be deleted, I still have hope.

So what’s happening here? The more experienced and respected Wikipedia editor gets to say if the subject of my entry is relevant enough to be included in this online encyclopedia. There’s a lot to be said for the professionalization and cleansing of Wikipedia, but it can also let Wikipedia get a more narrow scope than it could have. To stay with the example I have used for my entry: I can just as easily upload this information to wiki-like sites that are more focused on music. Discogs is a fine example of a website that resembles Wikipedia in look as well as in user contributions, but lacks the editors saying that your contribution is not relevant.

So if ‘they’ – the contributors of Wikipedia – don’t want it, I’ll just take this content and knowledge somewhere else. This fragmentation of content pushes Wikipedia in a more distinct serious direction. It’s ironic that the encyclopedia that’s by and for users still has a hierarchy. If my entry gets deleted I will definitely feel rejected by these users in specific and Wikipedia in general. What gives this user the right to delete an entry I find relevant? He doesn’t own Wikipedia. It’s supposed to be a free encyclopedia that’s open for everyone, but that’s not the feeling I got from writing my first entry.

In combination with the not overly user friendly system of Wikipedia, lacking templates that would extremely simplify the adding and editing of content by less experienced users, these developments might make this ambitious online encyclopedia ironically enough a work of the elite – just like the traditional encyclopedia was and is. This new Wiki-elite might just spoil the fun and possibilities that Wikipedia gives the user. The regular contributors of Wikipedia have made the choice to make Wikipedia a more professional encyclopedia. They just have to watch that the most fun encyclopedia in existence doesn’t become a little too serious.

Now I’ll just have to wait if the Wiki-elite decides if my entry is worthy of a page on Wikipedia.

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