COVER- Wiki-ville: How the world sees Charlottesville
Right now, the upstart online encyclopedia Wikipedia reports that Archie Hahn died in Charlottesville in 1955. He did, but he also lived here, coached here, took the Cavaliers to 12 state championships in 13 years, and in 1991 was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. But none of that is in Wikipedia– not yet, but there's a good chance it probably will be soon.
Charlottesville's cast of characters and institutions already shows up at least 2,500 times in Wikipedia, and the articles about us grow every day. There are entries on Howie Long and McCormick Observatory– and nearly 2,700 words on Anna "Anastasia" Anderson Manahan. But no one's penned a piece on the Downtown Mall. Yet.
But if energetic Hook readers get busy posting, that will probably change in about two days. Confused?
The Internet explosion in the 1990s brought Hotmail and free drink coasters in the form of those mailbox-jamming discs from AOL, understandably occasioning great enthusiasm far and wide.
In years to come, however, it may well be the 2001 launch of Wikipedia that will be remembered as the first great milestone in the technology-driven democratization of information. The online encyclopedia operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation consistently ranks at the top of Google search results for all but the most unusual queries, and has come to be regarded as the layman's quick reference for just about any topic imaginable.
But get this: its continued viability depends on the competence of average Internet surfers. The word "wiki" is an adaptation of a Hawaiian term for speed that has morphed into an acronym standing for "What I Know Is." The numerous wiki-based sites on the web– of which Wikipedia is by far the most important– all depend on users to generate the content, providing an easily accessible interface for editing page content while viewing it. In other words, anybody can change the content as they see fit.
And it's thriving.
In 2005, Reuters reported that web traffic data compiled by independent analyst Hitwise showed Wikipedia visits spiraling into the stratosphere, beating out both the New York Times and the BBC. Wikimedia's own reports– which are themselves presented in anyone-can-edit format– indicate that it's the most popular reference site on the Internet, bar none.
That's with good reason: in late 2005, Nature magazine compared Wikipedia entries with proprietary, expert-penned counterparts in the Encyclopedia Britannica and found that the margin of error was comparable.
But it's not bulletproof. In May 2005, a Wikipedia user posted a biography of journalist John Seigenthaler implicating him in the assassination of Robert Kennedy; the bogus information remained online over four months before anybody noticed.
More recently, Comedy Central talk show host Stephen Colbert caused havoc in the Wikisphere by encouraging his viewers to create the reality they wanted for themselves by peppering Wikipedia with facts that they wished were true, starting with the claim that the population of African elephants had recently tripled. User "Stephencolbert" was subsequently banned, and the article on "Elephants" will probably remain locked– off limits to further editing– until kingdom come. Most damning of all, though, is the systemic bias caused by the Wikipedia demographic: its users tend to be young, male, and... well, sort of geeky. The article on Linux is twice as long as the one on Darfur.
These flaws recently drove Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger to depart from the Wikimedia Foundation and start the rival Citizendium (that is, a Citizen's Compendium), an alternative upstart which aims to create accountability by assigning articles to a topical expert.
But it's hard to see how that could possibly compete with Wikipedia's sheer breadth of coverage, which has been clocked at anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 new articles a day. So, in a slightly less rash fit of enforcement, the Hook scoured the web to see how well Charlottesville stacks up on Wikipedia– and how well Wikipedia takes stock of us.
In some cases, we found glaring inaccuracies. And that, dear Hook reader, is where you come in. The official Wikipedia governing policies frown on autobiography, though they also grudgingly acknowledge that there is no real way of preventing it beyond logging the editor's IP address and the occasional article lock. Meaning, then, that it's up to you to ensure that the animals, vegetables, and minerals you care about are meaningfully and accurately represented.
Go ahead: log on, look around– but most importantly, interact with what you find. The future of knowledge in the free world depends on it.
"I didn't realize that thing was so up to date," says Bella Morte guitarist Tony Lechmanshi (position?) of his bad's entry.
Gopal Metro and Andy Deane's beautiful black band was born a decade ago and has since carved a home for itself with an enthusiastic following, and finding Charlottesville's favorite dark rockers on the 'Pedia was no surprise given their worldwide reputation in certain social circles.
Their Wikipedia entry is matter-of-fact, including a bland bio and a list of current and former band members, their record label history, and– perhaps most surprisingly– information on their newest album, Bleed The Grey Sky Black. "I didn't realize that thing was so up to date," says guitarist Tony Lechmanski, genuinely impressed. The only part he takes issue with is the stylistic description, which calls the group a "Gothic rock" band who "also incorporate[s] elements of Darkwave, DeathRock, Gothic, industrial, metal, punk, and synthpop."
"I always have a hard time hearing how people describe our music," Lechmanski sighs. "When the band first started, it was a Goth band. Over the years, it's expanded so much, and there very much are dark elements, but I'm not sure it's fair to say 'They're a Goth band.'"
While Wikipedia does acknowledge the growth, part of Lechmanski wishes the Goth label weren't the most overbearing thing in the description: "It's just hard because it keeps us so pigeonholed," he says. Worse yet, Wikipedia is a worldwide resource, so it could keep them pigeonholed all over the world!
"It's dead accurate, because it's taken from material I wrote," says Live Arts artistic director John Gibson.
Live Arts started as a small but driven cadre of theater buffs tucked into a dark hole on Market Street, but the 2003 move into the spacious purple building across the Downtown Mall signaled its coming of age as a local cultural institution, respected by its constituents– and funded accordingly.
The Wikipedia take on the matter is surprisingly thorough, even delving into the specific people involved in the organization's birth. There's a good reason for that– the content is drawn directly from Live Arts literature, specifically a document called "A Brief History of Live Arts" originally intended for internal use.
"It's dead accurate, because it's taken from material I wrote," says artistic director John Gibson. The document has had several iterations spanning the various stages of the organization– and, Gibson admits, it's long overdue for an update. But surprisingly, Wikipedia includes the most recent version, including information about the new facilities.
Gibson doesn't have much beef: "It has, as far as I can tell, a single error," he says. "Our downstage theater has 200 seats, not 175."
All it takes is a couple of keystrokes to fix that, John.
***The Cavalier Daily***
Wikimedia editors could be accused of failing miserably were they to omit the University entirely; they don't, but they also weren't expected to go the extra mile and include an in-depth history of the independent student newspaper housed in the basement of Newcomb Hall. Editor-in-chief Michael Slaven wasn't at all surprised to find himself there, since he had prompted his staff to create the article in the first place.
"Having it out there in a wiki format is a good opportunity to collect its history and have people who worked at the Cav Daily in the past contribute to knowledge about it," he says. "We turn over every year, and I'm constantly being told things about the history of the newspaper that I didn't know."
He hopes the wiki will help: "I have never spoken to a person who worked for the Cavalier Daily before 1954 or 1955. If there happens to be anybody out there who knows anything about the paper and can add anything about the first 60 years, it would be good for everybody. The stuff that happened since the '60s is a lot more detailed than the stuff that happened before then," he says.
He also has reason to be careful: the recent fiasco in which Cav Daily comics by student cartoonist Grant Woolard poking fun at Jesus and Mary were lambasted by conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly opens up the possibility for Colbertesque Wikipedia article vandalism by right-wing sympathizers. Since the Cav Daily somehow manages to find itself a controversy or two nearly every semester, it could be a recurring concern.
But that just brings out the carnivorous appetite for current events that landed Slaven in the editor's chair in the first place: "Wikipedia is a great place to add current stuff like that," he says.
screencapture of CD issue?
"That thing is supposed to be an encyclopedia, and I suppose it sounds, if not encyclopedic, at least factual," says WNRN GM Mike Friend.
Wikipedia sums up WNRN in terms of frequencies and formats, without a sympathetic word from its many Charlottesville listeners. Then again, maybe that's for the best in a quasi-encyclopedic format. The last paragraph lists a number of staffers and on-air personalities, some of whom general manager Mike Friend reports are no longer with the station. He takes issue with the description of the coverage area: "WNRN's primary coverage area on 91.9 FM has an unusually long range for a class A station, covering over 60 miles away from the south and east," says the wiki.
"That's the part that's stupid," snarls Friend. "What the terrain giveth, the terrain taketh away. We're really high relative to south and east. Obviously, he forgets that it goes only 20 miles to the west." Similarly, a description of the station's plans to expand into Harrisonburg is obviously outdated: that translator went live in July. Ultimately, Friend is pleased– "That thing is supposed to be an encyclopedia, and I suppose it sounds, if not encyclopedic, at least factual," he says– but the pragmatist in him isn't really excited.
"I can't say for certain that it's never done anything for us, but to my knowledge we don't have any listener contributors or commercial underwriters because of Wikipedia," he laughs.
***The Amtrak Station***
Charlottesville's second-most hyped transportation hub may be hidden in a perpetual dust cloud and separated from reality by a pothole-riddled parking lot, but that didn't stop it from rising up from beneath the Main Street bridge and demanding a spot in the information age's current coolest destination.
Ticket agent Garland Harper is as surprised as we are to find it, and even more astounded to learn that it includes so much historical information. Wikipedia outlines the history of Central Virginia's more important railway line, and Harper compares it with the information plastered across the station walls by the Albemarle Historical Society, finding no errors. So who do they have to thank?
"There's this guy with a web page trying to document every piece of Amtrak history," muses Garland; only in a wiki could this level of neurotic enthusiasm be collected and indexed for the greater good.
"Boy, there are all kinds of inaccuracies in there," says Hogwaller Jamie Dyer after glancing at his entry.
***The Hogwaller Ramblers***
After several decades as the town's favorite roots music, it's high time the Hogs got themselves a bit more of a web presence. Wikipedia pegs their style as "Bluegrock" and even goes so far as to call frontman Jamie Dyer a "local hero," although he claims he views the matter with "amused dismay."
"Boy, there are all kinds of inaccuracies in there," the hero says. He notes that the Wikipedian responsible for his entry didn't seem to realize that the stockyards in Hogwaller are still around. "But you Hogwaller is getting gentrified because they have a Blimpie's down there now," he adds.
The wiki also names fellow local hero Sandy Gray as an original member, which Dyer says isn't the case. "I'm the only remaining original member," he says. "As many people have gone through my band, I think it's a reflection of what an as*hole I can be."
Everything seems pretty accurate," says West Lawn resident Kate Daughdrill, "but I don't think it does the Lawn justice."
Further bolstering Wikipedia's admirable coverage of UVA is a separate article devoted entirely to the Lawn– and what's more, Wiktionary even has an entry for the word "Academical!" The part that's actually green is dismissed simply as "a large, terraced grassy court" to make more room for a discussion about the allotment of the rooms and buildings flanking it.
Kudos to the Wikipedians for staying on the ball with more recent developments regarding the South Lawn construction project and the annual Lighting of the Lawn, a Christmassy ceremony that takes place every December.
"Everything seems pretty accurate," says West Lawn resident Kate Daughdrill, "but I don't think it does the Lawn justice at all. I think the Lawn is a much more magical place than this entry makes it out to be."
Daughdrill specifically laments the dearth of good pictures: the sole snapshot is one dated 1914 showing the Rotunda blanketed by snow. "But I guess we do have the power to make those changes," she concedes.
That's right, Kate. We'd also like to point out that there's nary a word about the lack of convenient toilets, a situation that's rumored to force Lawn residents to resort to peeing in their sinks. For now.
The concept of long distance telephony has been all but lost in the cell phone age, but we still love you, 434, we promise. If occasionally reppin' you on baseball caps isn't proof enough, check this out– you have your own Wikipedia page, gleefully recalling the fervor with which you were greeted in 2001 when we excitedly split you from the old and busted 804. Sure, we had to dig a little bit, since the year 434 A.D. comes up first in a search, but we did our best here.
The directory assistance operator we called for comment, on the other hand, was a little less thrilled: "I'm sorry, sir, I really don't think this is something I can help you with," she said. "I'm just a directory assistance operator. You call me with something specific, and I try to help you based on the information you give me, okay? Thank you."
She hung up on us. But don't let her get you down.
Roebuck is the only participant in our survey so far who can boast two completely separate Wikipedia pages– one for his 1980s rock band, The Deal, and one with his biography. Truth be told, though, both pages hover on the many years the Deal spent in limbo while on the cusp of success, though his personal page also acknowledges his more recent brighter days playing in Big Circle with Charlie Pastorfield and Rusty Speidel (neither of whom have their own pages yet– how's that for a call to arms, guys?)
Roebuck notices suspicious parallels between his Wikibio and the content from the All Music Guide, a proprietary and closed online database of bands and records. "A lot of the Wikipedia content is from that," he notes. "I don't know who put it in there. It could have been a friend. Anybody could have done it, so it was accurate."
Guess he missed the part pegging the completion date for the Deal's album Brave New World as 1897.
"The redundancy bothered me," says Moses Dada, aka Lucky Supremo. "It's like, 'Okay, just say it once and let it go.'"
First profiled in the Hook in January 2005, Moses Dada's alter ego Lucky Supremo didn't let the fact that she and Dada were of different genders affect her beauty pageant bids. Wikipedia lists some of the pageants she's won in the past couple of years (though Dada does tell us that it's missing some of the action) alongside a picture for the whole wiki world to enjoy.
However, it's really redundant and repetitive over and over again, listing several of Lucky's achievements twice. "The redundancy bothered me," says Dada. "It's like, 'Okay, just say it once and let it go.'" He also wants to correct one of the competitions because of the ramifications it holds for what he does: "There's no title called 'Miss Gay Glamour Queen International,'" he says. "It's not a gay title, it's a female illusion title. Female illusion is not a gay thing."
Oh, stop groaning, you knew we had to mention it. Rounding up our survey is this complement to readthehook.com and the 24/7 breaking news blog at thehook.net, giving the Hook a web presence trifecta that even manages to infect Wikipedia with our dorky little downtown webcam. (Now all we need is a podcast. Oh, wait, we have that, too.)
So far, Wikipedia seems to think highly of the Hook by alluding to our powerhouse performance at the 2006 Virginia Press Association awards. But, hey, we notice that some of the edits were made by a user named "hawesinsky." Doesn't that bear a striking resemblance to one of our editors? Hmmmm.....
SIDEBAR- La belle France: How her Wikipedians see us
Charlottesville is known for many things: TJ, UVA, and the scenic Rivanna River. But what about Robert Mosolgo? Readers of the French edition of Wikipedia may get a curious picture of us. Consider this, the entire text of the French entry about our town in mid-September (translated):
"Charlottesville is an American city located in the county of Albemarle, in the state of Virginia. According to the census of 2003, it counts 39,162 inhabitants. It is on the Rivanna River, a tributary of the James River. It was founded in 1762. It is the seat of prestigious University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson lived there until his death in his residence called Monticello.
"The writer and well-known philosopher Robert Mosolgo lived there until 1989. He wrote his principal treatise, 'Study in Wavelength' during his stay. The city is twinned with Besançon (France)."
Qu'est-ce que c'est? Who the heck is Robert Mosolgo, and why haven't we learned about his treatise 'til now?
We Googled "mosolgo" with "philosopher" and again with the French spelling "philosophe." But beyond that wikipedia entry, we could find no matches.
Well, it turns out that Charlottesville really does have a Robert Mosolgo. He's a high-school student– who can explain everything.
"I found myself at a French-imersion summer camp with nothing to do," Mosolgo explains. "I spent a lot of time surfing Wikipedia before I realized I should add to it. First, I created an article about a local band, The Extraordinaires. When someone asked what I was doing, I told her, 'Writing the Wikipedia.' She was suprised, because she didn't know that it was user-created either."
Mosolgo says he added the part about the imaginary philosophical career because he heard that the obscurity of many philosophers means that such entries don't immediately get edited. He says he did, however, intend to remove it, but forgot. What what that about his magnum opus, Study in Wavelength?
"Unfortunately, there's no good story behind the title," he says. "It was just something that sounded like modern obscure philosophy."
Epilogue: Mosolgo returned himself to obscurity on September 23.
SIDEBAR- Mix it up
What happens when you mix Wikipedia + Google + Charlottesville? You get 2,530 hits in 0.82 seconds. Excluding the non-English results, which just repeat these anyway, the following are the Wiki pages that pop up first.
USS_Charlottesville_(PF-25) – a Tacoma-class frigate launched in 1943 and after WWII lent to the Japanese who renamed it the Matsu.
Jefferson-Eppes_Trophy - goes to the winner of the FSU-UVA game
WVAW-LP - one of the new TV stations
Tour_de_Trump - a bike race that came through here in 1989 & 1990
Tim_Reynolds - guitarist famous for duos with Dave
Charles_Keck - sculptor of the Stonewall Jackson memorial
WAHU-CA - Fox 21 TV station
Cardinal_and_Hoosier_State - a couple of Amtrak routes
The_Deal_(80's) - power-pop band that almost made it big
Venue_Songs_DVD/CD - an album by They Might Be Giants
Coran_Capshaw - a local citzen
James_Callender - the journalist who broke the Sally Hemings story in 1802
Mark_Roebuck - rocker in the Deal (see above)
Greg_Howard - musician who plays the Chapman stick
Sarah_White - musician
User:Jarsonic - administrative
Wikipedia: Requests_for_adminship/ABCD - administrative
It's_Academic - high school quiz show
Jeffrey_Mishlove - parapsychologist who wrote an article in a locally published book
TheCompoundWord - UVA satire mag
Jesse_R._Pitts - late UVA prof
Carmel_Schrire - Rutgers prof published locally
Wikipedia:Mediation_Cabal/Cases/12_12_2005_Was_Jefferson_a_Mason - administrative
Wikipedia:WikiProject_Virginia/Article_requests - administrative
Twin_Oaks - Louisa's only commune
Andreas_Holzinger - doesn't have his own entry yet
Archie_Hahn - Athlete/author (1880 - 1955)