Truth Vandals?
July 7, 2008 10:16 PM   Subscribe

XKCD mocks Wikipedia's "in popular culture" sections. Wikipedians take the idea seriously. The article ("Wood"). goes on lockdown. But is adding correct, even if useless, information really WikiVandalism?
posted by l33tpolicywonk (70 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If done in bad faith, yes.
posted by decagon at 10:21 PM on July 7, 2008 [4 favorites]

No, hiring the "theologian" Essjay was (self-inflicted) vandalism.
posted by orthogonality at 10:24 PM on July 7, 2008

Can't wait for the WP entry marking where xkcd is taking itself way too seriously.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:24 PM on July 7, 2008

No, hiring the "theologian" Essjay was (self-inflicted) vandalism.

Moreso then hiring an ex-con with a violent past as their COO?
posted by delmoi at 10:28 PM on July 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's probably worth noting that Something Awful did this joke last year.

I'm not completely sure I understand the "I ALSO READ XKCD AND CAN BE FUNNY WATCH ME BE FUNNY IN THE ARTICLE HAHAHA I'M SO FUNNY". It's a vaguely humorous riff on another example of wikipedia's pop culture-based knowledge. Making his comic a reality is foolishness.
posted by graventy at 10:28 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

The strip doesn't say this is vandalism and I would argue that it doesn't imply it; wikipedia notes vandalism following the strip. Certainly the strip implies a uselessness of that sub-head driven by selection bias. Is anyone going to argue that this isn't a problem w/ wiki's generally? If so, good luck with that. I'll read further with skeptical interest.
posted by Dr. Boom at 10:29 PM on July 7, 2008

Metafilter: adding correct, even if useless, information.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 10:30 PM on July 7, 2008 [10 favorites]

HUH-huh. HUH-huh. Wood.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:32 PM on July 7, 2008

The article ("Wood"). goes on lockdown.

Oh, yeah, "Adding a woodstove or fireplace to a home adds ambiance and warmth.[5]" And there's a footnote, so you know it's true.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:33 PM on July 7, 2008 [8 favorites]

The "Dudes already know about wood" comment on the talk page amused me. But possibly because I'm kind of a dork.
posted by rivenwanderer at 10:41 PM on July 7, 2008 [5 favorites]

Every time someone makes a joke about a Wikipedia article the corresponding article gets vandalized. Is this really news to anyone?
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:42 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

A seal walks into a club.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 10:46 PM on July 7, 2008

Citizen: I would argue that this "vandalization" has a distinctly different character because the edits in question are all true. Unlike the whole Colbert thing or however many others, no one's posting deliberately false information (though the talk page goes round-for-round on some of the facts in the XKCD piece.) This is, rather, about "the democratic encyclopedia" being cut back because moderators think a section is useless, not a violation of community standards per se. Whether such restrictions are good or bad, they raise questions about the sustainability of the Wiki philosophy.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:47 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I recently looked up "maven" on Wikipedia and was amused to find the following under "Usage":
In the computerized version of the game Scrabble, the computer player is named Maven.

In Final Fantasy X-2, the leader of the Youth League, Nooj, is titled Meyvn.

In Pokémon Emerald, the Frontier Brain Spenser's title is "Palace Maven".
posted by brundlefly at 10:48 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I find this entire situation hilarious. It happens every month or so, whenever a Wikipedia is mentioned in any notable media source (the funnier, the worse), and l33tpolicywonk's use of "lockdown" just hit the nail on the head in terms of what that mad scramble is like.

I imagine the site as a sprawling nation, dotted with countless small villages. And every so often the Gods look unkindly on one of them and unleash their wrath. Off go the sirens as the puny Wikipedian bureaucrats cower in the talk page, proffering their rules and bylaws in vain, while the more proactive editors desperately petition for a lockdown in order to preserve their precious creations from the chaotic onrushing tsunami of the Internets.

That it happened this time to an article as innocuous as "wood" is just icing on the cake.

And the drama! I can just picture it:

ENSIGN COWARDLY: "Sir, we have multiple bogeys inbound!"

ADMIRAL SHOUTSALOT: "Point of origin?"

ENSIGN COWARDLY: "...xkcd..."

ADMIRAL SHOUTSALOT: "Wales in heaven... what's the target?"

ENSIGN COWARDLY: *scrambles for a printout* "Um... uh... ee-en d-dot w-w-wikipedia dot org s-s-slash w-wiki slash..."

ADMIRAL SHOUTSALOT: *snatches the page* "Wood! A hard, fibrous, lignified structural tissue produced as secondary xylem in the stems of woody plants! Those poor bastards... alright people, this is not a sandbox! I want article E-N dot-wikipedia dot org slash wiki slash Wood into full lockdown NOW."
posted by Rhaomi at 10:51 PM on July 7, 2008 [48 favorites]

But the section was useless, and furthermore don't have citations.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:56 PM on July 7, 2008


Wikipedia is getting almost as stuffy as Britannica.
posted by Avenger at 11:01 PM on July 7, 2008 [7 favorites]

I had a premonition that there would be an XKCD post today... weird!
posted by sunshinesky at 11:02 PM on July 7, 2008

File this under: XKCD shooting fish in a barrel
posted by spock at 11:12 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Moderators: Unlock this article at once, so that it may be amended to cite critical Popular Culture reference in xkcd.

posted by secret about box at 11:15 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

But is adding correct, even if useless, information really WikiVandalism?

Vandalism may not be the right word, but if the content is not useful, then it's entirely reasonable to lock the page to prevent 10,000 Internet comedians making the same joke, and the subsequent 10,000 reverts. Community project, community rules; WP deletes correct content of higher value than repeats of a webcomic's joke every day.

Of course, there are some well documented problems with the way the community is run, but their methods of setting and enforcing style is reasonable and largely transparent. See one of their portal sites and all the thousands of Wikipedia: policy and Talk articles linked therein.

WP is supposed to be an encyclopedia, not just a collection of all possible correct data, regardless of value.
posted by theclaw at 11:44 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I just learned that alt-right arrow is not the same as right arrow-alt.
posted by ryoshu at 11:57 PM on July 7, 2008

Wikipedians are still better than IMDBians.

Biography for


He was born the same year as another actor guy

He is known for playing a different character in every movie except sequels

Appeared in two films where characters from another era dress in period clothing

When he smiles, the corners of his mouth turn up

Ate too many Twinkies at summer camp when he was a kid and refuses to eat them now

Has a trademark forehead
posted by katillathehun at 11:57 PM on July 7, 2008 [27 favorites]

I love that xkcd gets posted to the front page on a regular basis, reminds me to browse thru the new stuff. Does Virgina creeper really make a passable rope substitute?
posted by Mitheral at 11:59 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

The "in popular culture" section is a good way to keep that crap from spreading into the rest of the article. They just need to let readers toggle that section off.

But Wikipedia is for when the answer doesn't matter. To learn the truth about something that matters, start with the library. They even have real encyclopedias there.
posted by pracowity at 12:05 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

So... the latest graffiti is this clean graffiti stuff where folks "clean" words or images into dirty city surfaces. A lot of it is fairly benign but I saw some and I thought about some random and pleasant wall whose standard unobtrusive layer of grime was defaced with an advertisement.

Your question answers itself: useless information is bad. There is little to no interest in an encyclopedic listing of facts about wood at the level of so-and-so is given a wooden stick in such and such show.

Anyway I'm sleepy and not having any great thoughts as to what a legitimate "in popular culture" section would look like for wood or what makes the existing "in popular culture" sections appropriate so I'll just second decagon: intent is important.
posted by Wood at 12:09 AM on July 8, 2008

WP is supposed to be an encyclopedia, not just a collection of all possible correct data, regardless of value.

I will believe this once it stops listing every single Simpsons episode.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:40 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

At some point an encyclopedia stops being a reservoir of all information, and becomes a reservoir of all useful or relevant or not-commonly-known information. A useful encyclopedia does not contain everything. It contains everything that is worth referencing. There is a very small but incredibly significant difference.

XKCD was pointing this out, and at the same time noting that all things in the universe also have a Joss Whedon tie in. It's far worse than Kevin Bacon, really. One degree of separation. We just don't need to know it.
posted by Xoebe at 12:49 AM on July 8, 2008

I gather that the term for this is "fancruft".
posted by Class Goat at 12:53 AM on July 8, 2008

...and XKCD readers grow even more obnoxious.
posted by loiseau at 12:54 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Issues of truthiness aside, it's pretty cut-and-dried from a security perspective - it's a denial-of-service attack. "Pranks" that bring online resources down by exploiting loopholes - of any sort, including ones in the terms of service - tend to be looked at askance by ISP abuse departments, and open up burgeoning webcomic empires to retaliatory lawsuits and/or law enforcement investigations.

In short, pretty dumb of the XKCD readers, and left Munroe completely at the mercy of the Wikipedia Foundation to take the "criticism" with grace and due consideration... which they ultimately will.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:57 AM on July 8, 2008

What service is xkcd denying, though? Worst case, WP has to wait a couple days and then revert, adding back in any useful stuff that got added with the flood. XKCD is hardly going to overload WP's server.
posted by hattifattener at 1:03 AM on July 8, 2008

Wikipedia is getting almost as stuffy as Britannica.

Dunno about you, but every time I correct something with a biro in my Britannica, the whole internet doesn't come screaming into my house shouting "NPOV! NPOV!".
posted by imperium at 1:12 AM on July 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

The Simpsons' fence is actually wooden? Gosh.
posted by Phanx at 1:19 AM on July 8, 2008

FWIW, this Wikipedian thinks Procawity's suggestion to make the "in popular culture" section visibility optional a great one. Those sections usually are eyesores.
posted by Harald74 at 1:31 AM on July 8, 2008

Erm. There are many reasons to conclude that Wikipedia is dumb. This? This is not one of those reasons.
posted by ubernostrum at 2:11 AM on July 8, 2008

Wikipedia is more useful than xkcd is funny.

Hell, Wikipedia's more useful than Google.
posted by ryanrs at 2:21 AM on July 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

See if xkcd was cool, they would make a comic where every use got diffrent wikipedia vandalism suggestions, say by using the using the Dada Engine.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:23 AM on July 8, 2008

The Simpsons' fence is actually wooden?

No, it's not. The Simpsons don't even have a fence.
See WP:WAF#Real-world perspective.
posted by ryanrs at 2:31 AM on July 8, 2008

The point about "In Popular Culture" sections is well-taken, but not as funny as, say, Wikipedia's own list of lamest edit wars.

Miss Kitty Fantastico
Edit war over whether it is appropriate for the text "some demons" to link to the article "Evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet."

posted by msalt at 2:42 AM on July 8, 2008

* In episode 7 of Firefly, Jaynestown, Jayne is given a wooden Rain stick by a villager.

wasnt it actually episode 7 "Our Mrs. Reynolds"? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Alpha Cluster (talk • contribs) 00:12, 8 July 2008 (UTC)

No, it was episode 6, "Our Mrs. Reynolds" —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:42, 8 July 2008 (UTC)

Irony-levels overload!!!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:29 AM on July 8, 2008

This thread was done after the first comment.
posted by DU at 4:18 AM on July 8, 2008

With all these In Popular Culture sections on Wikipedia, the site is really showing itself to be Popularist. They need to get some In Unpopular Culture sections up in order to equal things out and keep to their egalitarian mission. For example, in the Wood article, they could link to a picture of my now-departed Uncle Walter, which was taken in the late seventies. In the picture, he sits alone on a ratty folding chair in a field. He's wearing a beer hat (left side Tab, right side Old Milwaukee, 'natch) and his nose is covered in that zinc cream that never really stopped him from getting sunburnt. In one hand he holds a hotdog. In the other, he holds a pinwheel. His clothing consists of a ratty wifebeater (which is either yellow due to his, uh, unfortunate hygiene or the age of the picture), a speedo, and what looks like tap shoes. He is smiling at the camera, showing incongruously white teeth.

The stick on the pinwheel is made of wood. Also, sadly for Uncle Walter and everyone who saw this picture up at my grandparents' house, he was also sporting wood.

It really makes us wonder what the hell Gram was wearing when she took that picture.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:18 AM on July 8, 2008 [8 favorites]

Quick, XQUZYPHYR, add that to the Wikipedia entry on cake before it gets locked down.
posted by Spatch at 5:30 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Surely Wikipedia's unusual focus is exactly what makes it so interesting. Whereas encyclopedias are usually constructed on the basis of what a team of academics think you ought to have information on, Wikipedia acts as a kind of referendum on what the internet public actually care about. The length of an article tends to be a good indicator of how popular a thing is. For example, the article on Scrooge McDuck is longer than any article on Scottish politicians, longer than the section on William Wallace, longer than the section on Rabbie Burns, longer, indeed, than the article on actual ducks. Look me in the eye and tell me that's not awesome.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:53 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wikipedia really should be called Notapedia because most arguments boil down to notability. Which is not surprising since the whole reason Wikipedia is popular is because with the Internet suddenly there is nearly unlimited information available at an instant search and we want to know quickly what is important/relevant (notable). The problem is and always will be disagreement over what is notable.

Now, take this to a different level - in 100 years, what we collectively found notable in the first decade of the 21st century will be really useful and fascinating information for historians building a picture of what life was like in our era. There are thousands of biographies of George Washington and that article will likely fade into the background, but there are not many articles on The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Thus the notability battles are two sided depending if you have a mind-set that can think long term like a historian.
posted by stbalbach at 6:04 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

The fun part of Wikipedia lies in seeing what you can slip under the radar. After watching on TV how orcas sadistically kill their prey, Jerk of the sea was created, and 8 months later sits happily waiting for people to find it.

Sadly, I imagine someone reading MeFi will destroy my work.
posted by explosion at 6:33 AM on July 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Metafilter: XKCD mocks. Wikipedia takes it seriously. Metafilter snarks and argues.
posted by jefflowrey at 6:39 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed finding this terribly bitter entry on the children's game Seven-Up.
posted by loiseau at 6:40 AM on July 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

There should be a lifetime ban for any popular culture or trivia entries in the wikipedia. Its just bored nerds adding anime, manga, and star trek references to everything. Stick to the anime section kids.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2008

I would just like to thank msalt for linking to Wikipedia's 'lamest edit wars' page. I had never heard of this page before and already my life has been improved.

Is cauliflower nutritious? Does specifying what parts are usable violate NPOV?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:41 AM on July 8, 2008

Wikipedians are still better than IMDBians.

I read the best inane IMDB trivia ever yesterday. It was "[actor] was best friends with [other actor], 19XX-19XX." The very timeframe of their best friends status had been documented. I really hope someone was making it up as a joke, but I doubt it.
posted by Tehanu at 7:48 AM on July 8, 2008

Whoa. That edit wars link is pretty awesome.

Charles Darwin

Is sharing a birthday with Abraham Lincoln important enough to include in the Charles Darwin article, or is it a bit of trivia that has no place in an encyclopedia? As of 4 February 2005, there has been an eight week-long revert war over a single sentence. There have been two polls on the Darwin Talk pages, one request for a debate, one WP:RFC, one WP:RFM, one WP:RFAr denied, and a Charles Darwin-Lincoln dispute arbitration case. The discussions at Talk:Charles Darwin/Lincoln and LincolnArchive01, plus the arbitration pages amount to some 30,000 words, which is about the length of a short Agatha Christie novel. Trivia: Agatha Christie was born on the same day as Frank Martin.

It's not at all what I expected under that name, and that cranky ending is pretty good.
posted by Tehanu at 8:06 AM on July 8, 2008

I'm going with "petty vandals" and "minor dickishness" myself.
posted by Artw at 8:16 AM on July 8, 2008

The xkcd cartoon is great though.
posted by Artw at 8:16 AM on July 8, 2008

I thought this joke section was a bit better than the "Wood" edits, even though it is still just repeating a joke from the comic. Apparently from the talk page they are only leaving it up until tonight, though.
posted by umrain at 8:58 AM on July 8, 2008

But Wikipedia is for when the answer doesn't matter. To learn the truth about something that matters, start with the library.

Starting with Wikipedia, even for something that matters, is fine, as the references listed therein are often useful. The error lies not in starting but in stopping with Wikipedia.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:00 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

[kicks himself for not instantly realizing this would happen when he read the xkcd comic yesterday]
posted by straight at 9:25 AM on July 8, 2008

It was funnier when Get Fuzzy did it. "Fourple platinum" indeed.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:29 AM on July 8, 2008

Wikipedia is getting almost as stuffy as Britannica.

posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:38 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

My favorite moment from the discussion :

- As a note, the episode shoul be Our Mrs Reynolds, not Jayestown. :) Camajsterek (talk) 07:24, 7 July 2008 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

-squeeze in- its jaynestown, not jayestown. inaccuracies like this ruin WP ;) --Echosmoke (talk) 20:43, 7 July 2008 (UTC)

- Ooh, your powers of deduction are exceptional. I can't allow you to waste them here when there are so many crimes going unsolved at this very moment. Go, go, for the good of the city. --CBG —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:45, 7 July 2008 (UTC)
posted by Billegible at 9:42 AM on July 8, 2008

The Internet is just so damned insufferable sometimes.
posted by m0nm0n at 9:57 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wikipedia is where D&D rules lawyers go to die.

I have to admit that the xkcd comic made me laugh even if it isn't very original; Anybody who spends any time at all looking at wikipedia knows that the "in popular culture" sections are usually downright embarrassing. I'm embarrassed for wikipedia, I'm embarrassed for whoever wrote the section, and I'm embarrassed for me for reading it.
posted by Justinian at 10:16 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

OMG! I forgot this Wikithrash!

I think this picture [of a sectioned orange] is unflattering if not disgusting. Who would want to eat an orange after seeing that picture? I honestly wouldn't be surprised if it were inserted by somebody in the apple industry (known to be unscrupulous) or somebody with an extreme dislike of oranges.

And then it gets much better.
posted by msalt at 10:49 AM on July 8, 2008

Speaking as a wikipedian, wikipedia is only "taking this seriously" the same way a tree takes cutting off a leaf seriously. It has been noted, and joked about. The humor certainly isn't lost, wikipedians *love* xkcd and post and discuss pretty much every comic about wikipedia. That said, many wikipedians are at least a little doubtful of the "in popular culture" section, or at least think it's silly, which it is, but it's fun. Wikipedia takes the long view a lot, [[Wood]] won't be locked forever, better to have additions when 95% of them aren't because of a web comic, right?
posted by rhyax at 11:24 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

msalt, on that same page a bit lower there's a note from the gay cabal that's pretty good:

Official statement from the gay cabal, if there was one, which there isn't: There is no gay cabal. At all. There is no, I repeat no, massive conspiracy of hundreds of editors across several continents scheming via talkpage and hidden IRC channel (which if it existed, which it doesn't, would called #evilgaycabal, and the password to it would be "Mariah!") to carefully construct Wikipedia articles in such a manner that innocent young recruits children reading them will suddenly be possessed of an urge to wear pink (or flannel) and watch Queer as Folk (or The L Word) five times in a row before our crack Faery teams swoop down on them and carry them off to our perverted nests high up in the Brokeback Mountains for unnatural instruction in lisping and DIY. No conspiracy at all. And there is no "gay cabal". In fact, the words gay cabal don't exist. You're imagining it. And yes we would revelling in the article right now if we existed, which we don't. Well done Gran, if he existed, which he doesn't. All hail Xenu!(if he was real, but he really, REALLY isn't). Signed (or not), Dev920, Supreme Mugwump, if there was such a position, but there's not, of the Wikipedian Gay Lobby ™, if there was one, which there isn't. But if there was, would we tell you? 22:53, 28 July 2007 (UTC)
posted by Tehanu at 11:29 AM on July 8, 2008

The Simpsons Did It First
posted by mrgrimm at 6:46 PM on July 8, 2008

Okay, I must mention that I am still laughing after discovering that the defecation article has a note stating that "This article may require cleanup."

I don't care what this says about me.
posted by loiseau at 12:37 AM on July 10, 2008

Been there, done that.
posted by mikeh at 7:12 AM on July 10, 2008

« Older Here he stands. He could not do otherwise. God...   |   Wallbot is watching you... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments