The internet is teeming with information. Sort of. Thanks to things like blogs, Wikipedia and even plain MSM news sites, everything that has happened since the mid-1990s is covered in minute, sometimes anal detail. But anything that happened before then? It’s almost as if it’s neo-prehistoric.
In a way you can understand the lack of information from before the 1990s on the web. After all, the web didn’t exist until 1989. But the meticulous recording of events since the invention of the web is dizzying. It’s good in some ways, but sometimes I come across a piece of useless information that makes me think, “Really, what is the point of that? Who thought it was worth their while to put this on the internet?”
A home for a large proportion of this useless information is Wikipedia. I should point out that I am generally in favour of Wikipedia as a quick and easy way to plug embarrassing gaps in your knowledge. And I think a lot of the criticisms some people make of Wikipedia are quite wide of the mark.
Wikipedia churns out astonishingly mind-bending articles like 0.999…, Architecture of Windows NT and Equipartition theorem. But Wikipedia also contains masses of articles concerning contemporary popular culture.
I do not at all mind Wikipedia carrying such articles (I read many of them myself), but it has to be said that the quality decreases pretty rapidly. Sometimes I read something in Wikipedia and can’t believe that I actually spent time reading it.
This evening I was innocently reading up on Bonde do Rolê because I have just bought their album, With Lasers. Overall it is an adequate encyclopedia entry. It delivers the facts in a fairly straight manner. But from the middle of nowhere, some way through the article, I was bombarded with this:
Rodrigo Gorky [is] the DJ/producer who, when combined with the powers of MC Marina Ribatski and MC/producer Pedro D’eyrot, create the hellish firestorm of beats and thunderous bass that is…Bonde do Rolê.
Someone has been reading too much music journalism. As if describing something as a “hellish firestorm of beats and thunderous bass” on a website that is meant to be a reasonably reliable source of reasonably impartial information wasn’t bad enough, they go and add an ellipsis to signify mock suspense. Do they think Wikipedia is just one long cheesy film trailer? It is such an irritating sentence. I would understand if somebody wrote it for the NME, but not Wikipedia.
But it is not the fawning that annoys me the most about pop culture articles on Wikipedia. It is a sometimes unbelievably anal focus on inconsequential information. Take this section from the article about Fonejacker.
The end of the show [Fonejacker’s Christmas Message] displayed Fonejacker: Coming April 2007 – Don’t Pick Up The Phone.
In March, a teaser trailer started to air on Channel 4 and E4, which consisted of clips of the pilot put together into a thirty second advert, ending with e4.com/fonejacker, which redirected users to the Fonejacker MySpace page. . However, for undisclosed reasons, the show was put on hold, and wasn’t aired in April. After this, a rumour spread that the show would start on June 7, 2007, but this also proved to be incorrect. Whilst fans thought there was no hope for the show, new trailers aired in June which saw the Fonejacker in his own flat performing various calls, and a television tuned into the news reporting “new sightings of the Fonejacker”. The advert ended with the catchphrase Don’t Pick Up The Phone and finished with the same E4 website. This was followed a couple of days after by a newer alternative advert.
This is a paragraph and a bit entirely dedicated to the different dates that the first proper series of Fonejacker was supposed to start. It is really just an incredibly long-winded way of saying, “The first series was delayed by a couple of months.” I mean, really. Big deal!
It’s just topped off by the phrase “fans thought there was no hope for the show”. I have images of some socially inept Fonejacker fan rushing to update Wikipedia with “useful information” about the latest teaser trail or even plain hearsay about possible transmission dates about a television series that he feared for the life of.
Then there are the articles which clunkily add news into an article with absolutely no regard given to the overall flow of the article. The following paragraph appears at the end of a section about the 2007 season in the article about Felipe Massa:
On 24 August 2007, Felipe Massa stated that he is a fan of Fenerbahçe  . Massa said: “Zico was idol of my childhood, Roberto Carlos is my best friend. I am a Fenerbahçe fan, because it is just like Brazilian team. I love Turkey, as I won my first championship in Turkey, it has special value for me.”
The whole paragraph is spew-worthy trivia which is placed in a section about Felipe Massa’s 2007 season. I don’t mind the inclusion of information like this, but it should be in a separate ‘Trivia’ section. It is jarring to be reading about Felipe Massa’s on-track events in one sentence and about his footballer pals in the next.
And don’t get me started on the sometimes cringeworthy articles about Boards of Canada. Just check out this one about Old Tunes which reports happenings on a messageboard as though it was as serious a situation as Watergate.
The thing is, though, I can understand why people put such information in Wikipedia pages, and even that there might be demand for such information. I would be interested in this kind of information if it was about a topic that I was really interested in. But it does make some Wikipedia articles look rather ragged and untidy, with a sometimes obsessive focus on inconsequential details.
I know I could edit the articles myself, but it would probably be fruitless. I don’t want to risk upsetting the obsessive Fonejacker fan. Besides, it would probably be reverted back anyway. Plus, I think the information is of value. Just, maybe not on Wikipedia.
Wouldn’t it be good if there was a Fanpedia? A wiki site where people are allowed to be disgustingly obsessed with the minutiae of their hobbies. This could leave Wikipedia to focus on information that has proved to be important over a period of time.
I guess Wikimedia would not be too keen to provide a ‘Fanpedia’ service. I wonder who would actually be prepared to fund one? Then we might find out the real value of this trivial information is not so great after all.