In this space, I’ll occasionally explore topics proposed by readers. This question recently came up in my online chat.
I’d really like to have a Wikipedia page, but no one has created one for me. Is it kosher to make one for myself?
It is technologically possible for you to make one for yourself.
Do you see how I have politely non-answered this question?
Anyone can create a Wikipedia user account and write an article, on any topic whatsoever. Wikipedia, however, would prefer that topic not be “Myself.” It’s right there, clearly stated in their terms of service. Wikipedia entries are like wedding showers. The bride shouldn’t organize her own, and she shouldn’t wheedle her immediate relatives into doing it for her, either. If one is deserved, then it should appear organically, or through the entrapment of an innocent bridesmaid.
So, is one deserved? (The article, not the shower. Let’s stop talking about weddings.)Dunno.
Have you been elected to an office, made a scientific discovery, written a best-seller, overthrown a small country, starred in an “E! True Hollywood” story, been paid to play sports, been paid to run a big company, been jailed for misrunning that company, or found yourself in the crosshairs of a cultural moment that is representative of your life and times and the very fabric of society? Has enough been written about you that you could cite and link to reputable sources, the way Wikipedia requires?
This is a nudging way of saying: If you belonged there, you would probably already be there.
Social media has trained us all to become curators of our own lives. That’s what Facebook’s timeline is for, and that’s what Pinterest excels at — chronicling dates, organizing personalities. It’s all very “Baby’s First Step: Now, for Grown-Ups.”
It was only a matter of time before it came to this, to regular people feeling that their existence could be validated only with the existence of an encyclopedia entry. If a tree fell and no one tweeted about it, did it really — oh, never mind.
On the one hand, why shouldn’t everybody have a Wikipedia page? Unlike a dead-tree reference volume, there’s no pressing space limit online. Wikipedia has become the database not only for historical figures but for errant pop-culture tumbleweeds. The site is cluttered with entries you’ll probably never read — “Saved by the Bell: The New Class” — but would be pleased to find if you went looking for them.
On the other hand, you are not “Saved by the Bell,” new class or old. You, like most of us, probably do not need to be preserved for posterity, beyond a personal Posterous account. The spirit of encyclopedias has always been to catalogue what is already important, not to create importance for something obscure.
The biggest reason to avoid a Wikipedia entry is that once you finally achieve one, it stops being your own. You might have created it, but everyone else can edit it. The resulting product isn’t going to be a celebration of you, it’s going to be a clinical analysis of your failures as well as your triumphs.
Or worse, it will be deleted. Wikipedia notes that most vanity entries are removed within minutes of their posting by diligent editors. It’s one thing to debate now whether you are worth a Wikipedia entry. It’s another thing to be informed later, under no uncertain terms, that you’re not.
Feeling vexed or perplexed by life online? E-mail hessem@ washpost.com with a question, or visit the Web Hostess weekly chat, Wednesdays at 2 p.m.