I'm fond of Wikipedia. It does a pretty good job of harnessing collective intelligence, and it's a good starting point for research into most topics, particularly technological or esoteric subjects. Is it perfect? No. But it's no less perfect than any other encyclopedia and it's certainly unrivaled in scope. It's also free.
Given my attitude toward Wikipedia and how I use it, when a controversy over one of its entries surfaces in the news, I usually scan it, yawn, then move on. That is, unless it's a story about how Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales dumped his girlfriend, former Fox News personality Rachel Marsden, via a Wikipedia post.
Beyond the story's tawdry appeal—and I readily admit I find it tawdry and, thus, appealing—what really attracts me to it is puzzling out what point Wales was trying to make by handling his personal affair in this way. I mean, he had to know what he was doing. He is, after all, the most visible and vocal proponent of freely distributed knowledge and had to realize that anything he posts will be scrutinized. The alternative is that Wales, like some latter-day Victor Frankenstein, does not truly understand the power of the creature he wrought.
In any case, I think it's great that an encyclopedia entry generated so much buzz, thus displaying Wikipedia's power as a news distribution tool, something no other encyclopedia can boast. And if you want more on this story, go to
- the original Valleywag report.
- Valleywag's follow-up, in which Marsden released "sexy" IMs between her and Wales. Best reader comment: "Can anyone edit this conversation?" (My reaction: Google-killing search engine? Really, Jimmy? I think that plane already sailed.)
- Jimmy Wales' response to the media coverage on his blog. A statement so nice, he posted it twice.
- a Times of London story about Marsden's eBay auction of some of Wales' clothes.
- the Wikipedia page on Wales. Check the history.
- the Wikipedia page on Marsden. Ditto.