Science Fiction writers want out of Wikipedia

My views on Wikipedia are pretty well known in some circles. I wouldn’t trust Wikipedia’s content if my life depended on it — the “facts” change with every contribution. I do still occasionally make some small contributions to Wikipedia but with each subsequent watering down of the content I lose more and more interest. The Tolkien Canon article was heavily edited last Fall so as to introduce significant biased (and completely false) information. There is no official Tolkien canon.

Science Fiction author Kathryn Cramer feels that the SF writing community needs to get out of Wikipedia. David Slusher (the guy who used to do the “Reality Break” radio spots in the 1990s) sort of agrees with her on some points but is not yet ready to make a full break from Wikipedia.

I should refrain from criticizing him on that issue, I suppose.

In a recent interview, SF author Dennis McKiernan suggests a very small fraction of the SFWA’s members actually support themselves by writing. I am not a member of the SFWA and have on occasion found myself disagreeing with them over some esoteric publishing issues.

SFWA folks take a very dim point of view toward self-published authors (and there are plenty of years’ experience behind that point of view). My own first book was self-published, but it in fact REpublished articles for which I had already been paid (that is, I wrote them under contract and the rights reverted to me). My first book also sold very well for a self-published volume, undoubtedly because I had an established audience.

My point in bringing this up is that I hear a sharp tinge of irony ringing through the halls of SF literary egotism. For years you had to earn editorial review in order to stand with the giants of SF literature, and that seemed reasonable to so many people. But now Wikipedia has changed the rules of inclusion to essentially exclude any and all experts in a field of knowledge from contributing to its ever-evolving articles on every topic (including author bios).

The SFWA community has been hit where it hurts the most because, frankly, most of its members don’t qualify (by Wikipedia standards) as “notable” people. Merely being published through editorial review is not good enough for inclusion in Wikipedia. You have to do something notable, although the rules for notability are rather convoluted. So the Great Includers have struck down the egos of the Great Ecluders and said, “Thou shalt not tell us about thy friends and professional acquaintences, yea, even though we shall say something about them ourselves”.

Who vets your work is really no longer important because the Internet has undone the traditional publishing world. 12,000 journalism professionals lost their jobs in 2008. Quite a few well-established newspapers have either folded or are being sold off. Most have had to reduce their staffs because they never bothered to develop an Internet-based revenue stream.

Today’s news is being reported by bloggers, television news networks, and anyone with a Web site and enough time to take a video camera down to the scene of the local crime or disaster. Even soldiers are reporting on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan some of the time. Self-produced journalism has created hundreds if not thousands of paying jobs for people who can provide enough content.

Self-published fiction has been floating around the Internet for years. Most of it is badly written chaff. A lot of it is fan fiction, which cannot be copyrighted or legally distributed because it’s violating trademarks and copyrights. But alongside the fan fiction is a mountain of self-published fiction that was either rejected by traditional New York editors or never seen by them — and if you ask any SFWA member what they think of all that content they will guardedly say something like, “It should be editorially reviewed.”

The problem is that Wikipedia has proven that self-publication and self-review are good enough for the masses (with a little help from search engines like Ask and Google, who ensure that people find Wikipedia’s constantly changing “facts” rather than “less trustworthy” static pages written by experts). Traditional publishing is not just crumbling before the Internet, it’s being swept away faster than people can document the dramas.

Frankly, I do agree with Kramer’s call for an alternative to Wikipedia when it comes to author bios. Even if the Wikipedia community could accept that SFWA membership established some sort of notability, it would tire itself out trying to confirm who was a member of SFWA, when, and for how long (or why). It would be better, I think, for the reputable sources of information to expand their archives so as to provide the information that Wikipedians simply cannot be trusted to provide.

I say that as someone who has not fully, 100% given up on Wikipedia despite the moronic nonsense it continues to publish every day. I’ll gladly support a better resource as soon as one comes along.

SF-Fandom is a fan-run moderated Web discussion community devoted to science fiction, fantasy, history, and mythology. Founded in 2001, SF-Fandom is part of the Xenite.Org Network of science fiction and fantasy Web sites.


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