I love Wikipedia. Its abundant hyperlinks make it easy to indulge any fleeting, tangential interests, and its network of articles is so dense that you can reach any Wikipedia page from another just by “hyperlink-hopping.” I wish there was a word for the pleasure of having 20+ tabs open while going down hyperlink-driven internet wormholes.
When I think about ways the internet has raised me, I like to think that spending so much time on Wikipedia helped me become more curious and see the world in a more interconnected way.
This deep dive by WIRED on Wikipedia ties those attributes to the grander ideal of the internet:
Like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, it broadcasts user-generated content. Unlike them, it makes its product de-personified, collaborative, and for the general good. More than an encyclopedia, Wikipedia has become a community, a library, a constitution, an experiment, a political manifesto—the closest thing there is to an online public square. It is one of the few remaining places that retains the faintly utopian glow of the early World Wide Web. A free encyclopedia encompassing the whole of human knowledge, written almost entirely by unpaid volunteers: Can you believe that was the one that worked?
It has its problems, but Wikipedia does often feel like the last bastion of good info on the internet. You can find in-depth coverage of nearly any topic quickly and without ads, paywalls, upsells, or fluff.
That’s not necessarily the case for fan-made “Wikis”1 , which depart from Wikipedia’s strict moderation and objectivity processes. But without Wikipedia’s guardrails, fans can document their obsessions and niche knowledge more freely. The long runtimes and lore in TV shows and franchises have so much character and world info that they deserve their own dedicated Wikis.
In that sense, offshoots like fan wikis continue Wikipedia’s spirit of specialized self-indulgence:
[…] Wikipedia is built on the personal interests and idiosyncrasies of its contributors; in fact, without getting gooey, you could even say it is built on love. Editors' passions can drive the site deep into inconsequential territory—exhaustive detailing of dozens of different kinds of embroidery software, lists dedicated to bespectacled baseball players, a brief but moving biographical sketch of Khanzir, the only pig in Afghanistan. No knowledge is truly useless, but at its best, Wikipedia weds this ranging interest to the kind of pertinence where Larry David's “Pretty, pretty good!” is given as an example of rhetorical epizeuxis. At these moments, it can feel like one of the few parts of the internet that is improving.
There's a necessary tension between moderation and public interactivity, and it's interesting to see how different executions of this balance on Wikipedia variants can allow for new web subcultures to thrive.