An experiment in Wikiology

I marvel at Wikipedia. There is hardly a day when I don’t go and check their site, looking up some concept, often mathematical, sometimes financial, or finding out about any other question I happen to be asking myself, about Joachim Pateniers or the bodhisattva.

In the beginning, I would only fix the typos I was coming across. Until one fateful day I got so frustrated that there was no entry for “amortizing loan” that I chose to write it up myself. The dynamics of that collective project appeal to me. I remember a science-fiction story about planet Earth being threatened by some menace from outer-space and every puny little soul that the human race counts aggregating into a single giant one. Wikipedia is a venture of that type.

What pricked my ears initially was when googling one time my own name I noticed that an entry had been created for me in the French Wikipedia. The article was skillfully written, having borrowed material from both my website and the blurb on one of my books. I looked up the author, suspecting that one of my children had been carried away by overzealous filial piety but no: not even a friend or an acquaintance, no one I knew even remotely. The person in question had authored several other entries, all about arcane technical topics like “interferential pigment” or “micro-encapsulation.” Nothing indeed I could really relate to; I felt honored though to be the only human being whom my unknown creator had cared to write about. By now there are two entries, one in English and one in French and they live their own idiosyncratic little lives: people touch them up and chat to each other about the wisdom of their touch-ups.
I was reading recently about a project of a book under a Wiki format. I checked it out and was disappointed to see it was hardly more than painting by numbers: chapter titles were already there, and sub-chapter titles had been cast in iron with blanks just waiting to be filled in. I found the whole concept disingenuous: it seemed like the publisher was trying to pinch a book out of simple-minded aspiring authors while sparing himself the trouble and costs of having to pay any writer royalties. That led me to wonder what a true experiment in Wikiology would look like. Giving it some thoughts I believe I have come up with a plausible case. Here it is.


I own that painting. I had a hunch about who had painted it. A year ago or so, I approached the gallery representing that artist. They said they would present her with the slide. Some time later they e-mailed me back; she had seen it and, no: it wasn’t hers. I was back to square one. The experiment in Wikiology is the following: I start an entry for the painting that will be updated with your comments to this blog as they come in. Major and minor progress will be versioned as, for instance, “Dolls 2.3.” There will be a prize for the winner, i.e. the person making a convincing case for authorship and date. A final hint: the back of the canvas as well as a piece of attached newspaper suggest the work was painted within the 1955 to 1965 time frame. Good luck to all!

Dolls 0.0
[Dolls] (32” x 37”) was painted by [X] in [19XX]. Born in [19XX] in [XXX], [X] studied fine arts at [XXX] under the masterful direction of [Y]….