Friday, March 11, 2005

Uncyclopedia: The Anti-Wiki 

A satirical parody of Wikipedia, this free encyclopedia of politically incorrect non-information is equally wikified.

But satire is not as clear or as culturally agreed-upon a standard as the practical truths of the reference book. Interestingly, then, I note that, where Wikipedia "works" by gradually diverging on some sort of universal, shared truth-of-the-times, there is no such single pinnacle of order waiting for its sinister cousin the Uncyclopedia. The wildly divergent mandate -- a form of "must be funny" chaos, not order -- with which the cyberbastions are charged in the Uncyclopedia does not lend itself to consistency or stability, not in time, and not in space.

The ramifications are fascinating. What could/will a humor wiki end up being, even/especially one with parodic premise? Will the answer relate to the ways in which the community which finds humor on the web is by now broad and often fragmented into subsections, and/or the fact that the wiki concept is beginning to be open to all such groups, from highbrow to low, and even the mildly technovirginal? Will it tell us, finally, what humor is, and how it works for us, and why?

Indeed, though stillwaters notes that the site currently "has a ridiculously American college-liberal slant," there is no reason to expect the site will always slant in that way. Instead, I imagine one of an almost infinite set of possibilities, including:

  • This resource makes the cultural rounds, appearing gradually through various sites and spam. As new groups find out about Uncyclopedia, they come in en masse with new fervor, redefine the site in their own brand of humor, then move on.


  • A single community or typography colonizes the site, and manages to become entrenched enough that no one else ever bothers to visit long enough to make a difference in the community. In this scenario, the site might not retain exactly its current slant, but it would become commidified, and might or might not garner mass appeal.


  • Some version of the above will happen, but since some groups are more interested in some topics than others, various nodes of humor types may form. In this culture-with-subcultures model, for example, British subject matter may take on a decidedly British form of humorous delivery; similarly, Star Trek pages and Firefly pages will be equally geeky in their hilarity, but not in the exact same flavor.


  • None of the above -- the vandalism inherent in being silly/funny, coupled with the fact that the site has no practical purpose (as Wikipedia does) and thus need not be protected, will result in a site which is utterly destroyed most of the time.


  • Something entirely different but, in hindsight, equally obvious happens.

The more I think about it, the more I want to write this thesis. What would/could we learn from a host of other similar collaborative cybercontentbuilding exercises on a global scale, cyberanthropology experiments all, from hazy-subjected collabora-blogs (What is love?) to wiki newspapers for local communities (what happened?)? What can an anarchic wiki-premise tell us, and about whom? Anyone looking for a PhD candidate?

(via stillwaters)

[Update 9:31. For now, with the blush still on the rose and but a few entries up, Uncyclopedia is totally addictive. Feel free to check out one of my own pitiful entries, though by the time you get there, it may not look like that anymore, if you know what I mean. ]

posted by boyhowdy | 8:05 PM |

Comments:
My thoughts:

http://stillwatersca.blogspot.com/2005/03/more-thoughts-on-uncyclopedia.html
 
That would be an interesting thesis, but the general trend seems to be that well, not all people are equally funny.
 
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Interesting thoughts on Uncyclopedia. In most ways the site is more like an internet forum than an information resource: humor is intrinsically individual, not emprically justifiable as are the more factual articles on Wikipedia. The articles on Uncyclopedia are more like the individual opinions expressed on forums than like science articles. Therefore I 'spect the site will follow the same sort of evolutionary pattern one sees on the Halfbakery or the Landover Baptist Forum.

These of course are very heavily influenced by the administrators. The administrators form an entrenched cultural oligarchy, and have de facto veto power over what the rest of the users post. However, the admins do take user comments and attitudes to heart. So there is a social feedback loop -- heck, it's the samed darned feedback mechanism that operates in, say, a public school, a business office, or in a symphony ensemble. Or a troop of baboons, eh?

...Well, maybe baboons are a level down on sophistication from Uncyclopedia.

But: I would expect Uncyclopedia to move toward a stable middle ground. There will always be high-school and college level humor, but there will also be a stable endoskeleton of more sophisticated, more self-aware articles. I predict this because as the admin group continues in its job it will collectively gain greater objectivity, greater artistic maturity, and greater appreciation for well-written humor.

(Stress on collectively. Admins come and go, but the phenomenon of a heritable cultural outlook is common enough to be predictable -- the newly inducted admins will tend to absorb the prevailing admin culture rapidly, and to perpetuate it.)

This is not a bad thing, it is in fact a profoundly human social pattern. Similar social patterns probably boosted the Renaissance as well as playing a part in the rise of Fascism. Once you get the ball rolling, the sh*t rolls downhill. So to speak.
 
Just stay away from the Bureaucracy and you will probably stay happy and enjoy your thought trail.
 
I've been with Uncyclopedia roughly since One-Eyed-jack posted his comment, and I've noticed alot of changes along the way. With more and more users joining and contributing to uncyclopedia, there is now a very broad range of humor that is cabable of appealing to a wide audience.

I believe the oldest uncyclopedia administrator is in his mid 40's and is an administrator on wikipedia as well. I, the youngest admin, am 14 (although i pretend to be 15, so don't tell anybody.) Several countries and completely different regions of the world are represented in the uncyclopedia hierarchy, which is a refelction of dozens of languages uncyclopedia has been translated into.

Although uncyclopedia will never be the likes of wikipedia, or other large-scale wikis, it will always be there for a quick laugh, or an easy outlet for your creative soul. I am confident that as long as uncyclopedia stays true to it's roots, and maintains it's utmost quality, thatit will continue to grow and prosper just as any other site would.
 
I agree with Tompkins. We are steadaly growing. Of the outcomes that stillwaters suggested, I would say that the 3rd and 4th are the most realisitic now.
 
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