ASCII by Jason Scott

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Personals: Wikipedia Critic Seeks Like-Minded Author for Laughs, Adventure —

Somewhere on my trusty newsreader came one of a hundred mentions of the new Wikia-supported search site run by my favorite person in the whole wide schoolyard, Jimbo Wales. I don’t know how it’s going to work. I don’t care.

This mention, however, was special. It came through a mention on BoingBoing, a site I had a great relationship with but which has gone a tad downhill. I’m still a faithful reader, of course, since one good nugget out of a hundred is still a good nugget. I’m the sort of fellow who is willing to jam through a megabyte of text to verify that a sysop’s software implemented XMODEM but not XMODEM-CRC. So I can handle the signal-to-borscht ratio.

Summary: I think Mark Frauenfelder‘s a great guy, think David Pescovitz is a competent and clever geek writer, think “Joel” and “John” are rounding errors, and think that Frauenfelder made a deal with the devil and brought in Xeni and Cory and turned it into something quite noisy but full of systemic issues that turn a galaxy of audience off.

Anyway, BoingBoing nut-taps aside, Cory Doctorow‘s story on this whole “Wikia has a new search engine coming out” event had a rather disconcerting final line:

(Disclosure: Jimmy Wales and I are writing a book together about a related subject.)


You have to be kidding me. I’ve seen some pretty crazy team-ups before, but somehow just visualizing what could arrive on the shores of the Internet Beach thrown from such a crazy boat just freaks me out. The thing is that I know, based on Cory’s work, that it’ll certainly be readable. Big words and odd phrasing, that’s not Cory’s style. Clear-cut chop-phrases are the order of the day, accompanied by the steampunk endless hammering of his special dozen themes knocking across the face of the reader until, ultimately, even a bowl of cornflakes wearing a corsage would physically summon the ability to say “OK! I GET IT!”

The idea that Cory Doctorow (the chef of informational fast-food) and Jimbo Wales (the two-faced boy-king of web 2.0) would be collaborating on a book makes my eyes water. What unholy scripture, full of slick and overreaching conclusions, will be loosed upon the world? Will I have to spend my browsing days sifting through a new generation of never-knew-IE-before-5.0 college students cutting and pasting from this thing’s CC-licensed maw as they try and win arguments and discussions? Is whatever cover art this thing gets blighted with show up in the margins of all my regular hangouts? Will I regret writing this entry at all?

Anyway, the point is is that about a year ago I had the pleasure of speaking in London about Wikipedia, and got some nice feedback from a few in attendance. Among these were Ted Nelson, he of Xanadu and tilting merrily at windmills because sometimes you gotta admit, that windmill’s a motherfucker. Ted and I talked then and a few times later, and he was positive I should write a book.

I deferred because I felt like writing a book in which all I do is point out what has gone spectacularly wrong with Wikipedia would be needlessly time consuming, take me off of other projects, brand me forever whatever horrifying crown people have nailed to Seth Finkelstein, and generally derail my life. So I’ve kind of set that one aside.

But no more!

If you’re an author, someone who likes to write, someone who always wanted to make a book but don’t have something burning inside you to do so, now’s your huge goddamn chance. Jason Scott, freelance Wikipedia critic at large, is saying he’ll collaborate with you on a book. He doesn’t want top billing, hell, he doesn’t want much of the cash. He wants to put out a book. No idea what the title will be, but we’ll figure that out while we’re hanging out in Las Vegas or Harvard Yard or wherever the hell we hang out.

I prefer to work vocally; I hate sitting and writing this stuff, and although I’ve done an extensive amount of it, I’d rather craft stuff in voice, have it recorded and transcribed (not by you, that’d be lame) and then we turn the thing into a book. A fun huge book that people will rip apart but maybe, just maybe, one which will be the one these never-saw-IE-4.0 college kids will cut and paste from when going up against the kids with the Wales-Doctorow cut and pastes. You’ll be an arms dealer, except you’ll be trading in debate weapons.

Plus you get to talk with me a lot. I’m fucking fascinating, like watching a Cadillac Eldorado slowly tipping over the side of a parking garage three stories up from a crowded pool. This is going to be interesting, you think. It’s like that with me.

So how about it, competent and communicative hyperwriter? Want to break your teeth in a new kind of bagel? I’m your guy. Wikipedia: it’s a forest of opportunity. Let’s burn it down. You bring the gas.

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  1. Michael Kohne says:

    You know, on a Jimbo/Cory team-up, I only have to say: Eh, whatever.

    A book by you? It would definitely be worth picking up. If nothing else the digressions should be amusing as all get out.

  2. At times, I’ve thought of writing a book about all my thoughts and experiences in net.activism.

    I just remind myself that nobody would read it 🙁 (to a good approximation).

    The reactionary anti-“Web 2.0” market is already cornered by Andr3w K33n. The problem with skepticism is that it’s not marketed.

  3. Shii says:

    I would love to write something like this. I’ve even begun to plan something similar myself:

    I despise a poorly-crafted argument (i.e., “Cult of the Amateur”) and I would love to take a much more comprehensive and thoughtful look at Wikipedia, especially with the rationalizing influence of someone else with a large amount of experience with Internet communities. Let me know.

  4. Fred Blasdel says:

    Part of my visceral reaction to Cory’s egotistical weirdness is that all of his fiction is about him too — he is always the main character.

    What’s bizarre about the way he makes his protagonists exaggerations of himself is that he amplifies the absolute worst parts of himself in them: They’re super-paranoid, passive-aggressive, kneejerk, abusive, self-promoting asshats – somehow even more than he is in real life.

    Even the other characters in the books he writes hate ‘him’.

    Jimbo Wales outdoes even Cory Doctorow with stuff like the debacle over his birthdate — there’s a Borgesian metafictional element to it when your ego is wrought in the guts of The sum of Human Knowledge…

  5. I think people don’t “get” what Wales is doing with the birthday. As I understand it, he was born on one day, but his birth certificate, in error, says another day. He then makes a fuss over this discrepancy. I don’t know if it’s clever marketing (give journalists a human-interest tidbit, and they’ll latch onto it instead of asking questions about $14 million dollars in venture capital), or simply his way of making a comment on official sources, or something else. But I think there’s is something to it rather than sheer perversity.

  6. cassiel says:

    I’d love to burn down WP. };->
    But unfortunately I don’t like to write a book for the same reasons like Jason’s either. It’s already hard work to ignore WP day by day and there are more important things to do. And writing books is an anachronism like WP itself. And as we say in German: “Es ist schwer gegen einen großen Misthaufen anzustinken”. If WP was highly flamable it would be only a matter of time when we could watch it going up in flames by its own.

    I think this WP activism is just longing for attention. (German) News items about WP are decreasing. People do care less about it. WP is getting boring. And maybe that’s the 3rd best that can happen to WP beside totally ignoring and burning down.

  7. Jim Leonard says:

    The older I get, the less time I have to spend on things that other people are already obsessing over. I figure there’s enough internal conflict and bickering at WP already, so I give it very little thought.

    I wasn’t giving WP a wide berth until an article I wrote several hour’s worth of material for (CGA, if you’re curious) was challenged with the idiotic “no original research” tag. That blows my mind. If I put the exact same text on my personal webpage, THEN it’s accepted? Huh? I don’t have the free time these days to waste a few hours of effort only to have it chunked, so I don’t bother any more.

  8. Eric says:

    I started writing a comment here, but it got kind of long, so I just posted it to my site instead. Here’s the link:

    Anyway, this sounds like a cool project. I’d love to be involved!