Thursday, January 20, 2011

V for Wikipedia

Those who have been quizzing for a little over a decade may remember how difficult it once was to set questions for a quiz. One had to go digging into books, re-establish friendships with newspapers (even the Times of India), interrogate every multimedia frequency to pass through your TV's cathode ray tube, and generally mope around looking for visuals and audio and ideas.

Then came the full wonders of the World Wide Web, and in particular the fourth and most important W: Wikipedia. Random Articles, Featured Articles, and Did You Know... came to our collective aid. Thousands of encyclopaedic minions, eager to show off their deep knowledge of the infinitesmal, rescued quizzes from lapsing into questions about George Bernard Shaw, The Beatles and (sometimes) Heisenberg's grave(s). (As Niranjan would put it, they left us 'encyclo-piidith'.)

But like atomic weapons in the hands of Harry S or 24x7 TV in the hands of Rakhi S, some of us knew not what to do with the power at our mouse-tips. We began filling up powerpoint slides (another technology aid given fresh meaning and purpose by trivia-nerds) with lengthy wikipedia article pages, sometimes omitting to even remove every "citation needed" and reference superscript[citation needed]. But still, we could do a quiz the next day.

We also began asking extensive questions about Wikipedia itself: its name, its logo, its mis-rendered devanaagarii 'vi', and in recent times, the number of hairs on Jimmy Wales's donation banner. These questions elicited tremendous applause and envy from participants, and thus the vicious cycle prospered.

It's been 10 years and Wikipedia has enriched our life immeasurably. Now everyone could ask a question, however bad, and everyone had knowledge at their fingertips. You didn't need to go to a neighbour's house and meet the Eureka-Forbes-esque friendly travelling World Book set salesman, or pore deep into volumes I-K of the Encyclopedia Britannica just to get to an encyclopaedia or even scramble to hide your beloved Manorama Yearbook.

These are some of the things we love about Wikipedia. That it represents an alternative spend of our cognitive surplus (as Clay Shirky puts it), a net positive addition to the world, to let us show off our most beloved pieces of knowledge, to read and learn and discover in an instant. We also think this is something worth supporting, in gratitude to everything that we've taken.

Which is why the BCQC is happy to have made a small donation to Wikipedia late last year, as part of its fund-raising campaign (or, perhaps we just wanted mugshots of large, sad, Americans with British provincial names removed from the top of our browsers at the earliest). The gesture is perhaps more token than substantial, but as a group whose principal aim is to promote quizzing in the world around us, it was among the nicest (and easiest) ways to say thank you.

Thank you, Wikipedia.

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