Monday, March 12, 2007

All Hail Wikia

Do you worry about the death of the book, the death of the book store, or even the end of reading in our hi-tech, wi-fi world?

Do you count the number of laptops vs. the number of books open on tables when you go to a café?

Do you read blogs and weep when you see total lack of capitalization or punctuation, writing that appears to have no structure or telos beyond simple blurting of impressions and feelings, or token bits of text humbly serving to introduce whatever piece of embedded video is taking center stage?

Me, too.

But let's not panic too soon. There are still a lot of people out there who care about writing, and a lot of people who want to read — yes, read, really read! So where can those writers put their work, and where can readers go to find it? If you poke around Google and and Technorati and whatnot, searching for "hyperfiction" or "on-line publishing" or "e-book," you'll find some good stuff; same with blogs and personal websites. Of course, there will be a lot of trial and error necessary, a lot of sifting through sites and pieces of no interest to you before you find what you really want.

This has been the case with pretty much every type of Internet content: it takes a while before someone centralizes, organizes, indexes it enough to make it really useful. Remember life before Google? (Nooooooo!)

Someday there will be an organized, indexed on-line resource for creative writing of all kinds. A library, if you will, that everyone can contribute to — and that is subject to some form of quality control regarding literacy, clarity, accuracy (when that is an issue), etc.

Enter Wikia, latest brainchild of Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia. (Cue angels singing. Ah, Wikipedia, how I do love you!) Among other things, Wikia is emerging as a central repository for several interesting forms of on-line creative writing. Like Wikipedia, it is editable and records the history and discussion of edits; hopefully this will keep standards high as has been the case with Wikipedia.

Wikia's creative-writing/fiction component is called Novelas, The Free Library. It has sections for novels, novelas, short stories, interactive fiction, scripts, poetry and fan-fic, plus discussion forums, lists of guilds (collaborative projects) and other resources. It's an amazing, tantalizing, inspiring site that has huge potential for helping writers and readers find each other.

Another interesting Wikia category is Alternate History. Listed by POD (point of departure), each entry describes a fictional event that changes the course of history. Some cool PODs on the list: 850 A.D. – Instead of discovering gunpowder, the Chinese discover explosives, leading the world into an early space age. 1209 – The Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars of Languedoc is a failure, eventually making vegetarianism in Europe stronger (POD for Vegetarian World). 1846 – Zachary Taylor killed in beginning of Mexican-American War, as are other military figures, such as Ulysses S. Grant during the course of the botched war, leading to an American defeat. 1997 — American Vice-President Al Gore is killed when Air Force Two, his official plane, crashes in California. This is the POD that kicks off the President Gary [Condit] timeline, which is fascinating to read and to imagine.

And finally, perhaps my favorite Wikia item (though it's so hard to choose!) is the Uncyclopedia, which describes itself as "an encyclopedia full of misinformation and utter lies." Kind of a cross between Wikipedia and The Onion, it features satirical "news" items as well as biographical, historical, and other "information." It revels in its freedom from the constraints of fair and accurate reporting, and tends to indulge in pokes and jabs at "the so-called experts at Wikipedia," while sustaining the best characteristics of its progenitor — intelligent design and techie Darwinism in perfect harmony.

Or maybe I should just admit I love it because of the mascot (see right).

"Sauron, our lord and mistress."

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