Lakeside

I do not remember who said – perhaps Jimmy Wales somewhere – that of all the— Well, here is that other story….

The weirdest thing I ever got invited to was a gaggle of Wikipedia editors, or the half-dozen who escaped lockdown, and after a trimmed-down schedule – other talks cancelled – took a truncated convention to the Aronsborgs, a conference hotel attractive in its location – leafy grounds etc. – just a kilometre from Lake Mälaren. You can find it on the map. I couldn’t see what I was going to report on, bar a cabal of middle-aged men who did PowerPoint not too well, and got in an awful lot of intricacy in sharing latest thoughts on markup, and how best to fact-check.

Explosive stuff came in the coffee break, when – suitably distanced, a kind of Love in the Time of Cholera, but none of us masked or gloved – I was shown what keyboard sport these Wikis got up to, though not before the three, the triumvirate, a trio of speakers vying for leadership, bombarded with their résumés, in an indecent scramble after top billing in my scratchpad.

Take Baron Scarpia, or the name he went by when doing his bit on Wikipedia. No, he had never been a chief of police, but of all Italian opera Tosca was his favourite. ‘What are you then?’ I asked. All I got for answer was: ‘I do stuff. I’m no baritone.’ He was not native to but lived in Baltimore, having done high school in West Virginia. He didn’t say where he’d got his doctorates. He joined Wikipedia in 2007, and was on his fifth, sixth account, as he never remembered passwords. Think of all those Scarpias, listless in the dim recesses of encyclocyberia, emasculated for want of a login key. He’d been editing for all that time, and now he’d reached heady heights: ‘I’m an administrator.’

Please, one hand clapping.

Now to BluFuse. BluFuse is a deletionist, as administrator apportioning his best quality time to new-page patrol and clean-up, keen-eyed for spam, PR, political spin, pimping and self-aggrandisement. I see from my notes I had him down as a Cromwell in the God-given fight against trade practices, or those carried on in the hallowed encyclosphere of public information. ‘I mean, I hold to the gold standard of verifiability. More coffee, Sophie?’ Yes, that is my name. But could a blenched-looking BluFuse compete with Mortimer Slim (and yes, that was his name), from Bucks in England, with a degree in engineering and a career in IT (systems calls and recursion, he said), who then gave it up in the depths of a cold English February when he got involved in pantomime, and took it far enough that he bought shares in the Playhouse, Ashley-on-Stair, where he does his Widow Twankey. He is also a Morris dancer, and trustee of the Market Town Market Square Foundation, which takes up more of his time on sunny afternoons.

What was the point of all this? I got the nib-end of their editorial machismo when, that social distancing relaxed perilously, I was given sample of one hapless latecomer to the Wikipedia biosphere. Half after VN, he called himself Jonnie Gradepoint, and had his one and only full contribution to the Wales Tower of Babel splattered over by these three senior eds – the Baron Scarpia, BluFuse, and the nämdigerred Mortimer Slim (an old-world schoolmarm and stickler for pronunciation). Gradepoint had made the mistake of posting up an article on the critic, all-round littérateur, and noted political biographer Finlake Swale, and was slapped down immediately, when 1) he hadn’t supplied copyright info re the PNG portrait heading up the article, 2) he’d included content written like an ad, and 3) as author he appeared to have a close association with his subject (conflict of interest). Who knows what other stuff Gradepoint and Swale hatched up between them in a world made media circus.

Gradepoint perpetrated the further crime of attempting to edit out these blunt remarks, only to note their reappearance in a yellowed, exclamation-pointed boxout at the head of Swale’s page. In desperation I understand Gradepoint made open appeal to the Wikipedia editing community, more or less saying I’m happy for you to rewrite, and was told that also was problematic, an insult in fact, given that any contribution to Wikipedia is always ‘open for editing’. Petitions, invitations, requests for help in clean-up are therefore supererogatory. I was shown the page, and the slap-downs, and surprised my three learned goops when I did not add to their chortling. I felt rather sorry for Gradepoint. ‘Will send you my copy,’ I said, ‘when I’ve written it up.’

Sophie Gilfillan is a freelance journalist and sometime reviewer for CentreHouse Press.

[sophiegilfillan at centrehousepress dot co dot uk]