Wikipedia: it’s the best trash fire on the internet. It’s sexist. There’s rampant trolling. You can lose hours of your life falling down a rabbit hole looking for information on that one guy from that movie. And you can learn about anything at all in recorded history, and it’ll probably be mostly true. At Wired, Richard Cooke penned a loving paean to the playground for pedants that’s the closest thing the internet has to a public square.
The site’s innovations have always been cultural rather than computational. It was created using existing technology. This remains the single most underestimated and misunderstood aspect of the project: its emotional architecture. 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.
And because I know it’s the thing you seized on while reading, here is Khanzir’s entry, and here is Khanzir: