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Wikipedia, sources, machinima

An interesting post in Alexander Knorr's Xirdalium blog ties issues around accepted uses of source material in Wikipedia to my own work in the history of machinima. So I can't resist posting an excerpt here:

In the debate it was also voiced, that "fan-sites are hardly suitable source material for an encyclopedia." I disagree, because "an-sites" do offer a variety of material of different provenance. There e.g. is "Zigzagging Through A Strange Universe" by Anthony Bailey of Quake-done-Quick (QdQ) fame (see snaking and strafejumping). The article originally was published as an editorial at Planet Quake on 12 October 1997 and tells the story of QdQ, the discovery of trickjumping being possible, and ultimately a part of the story of the machinima-phenomenon's emergence. Stanford historian of science and technology Henry E. Lowood deems this editorial so reliable a source that he cites it extensively in his articles "Real-time performance: Machinima and game studies" (2005, iDMa 2(1): 10-17) and "High-performance play: The making of machinima" (2006, see delayed access). But then of course Bailey's article in a way is a primary source, written by someone who not only was there, but was an integral part of the ongoings. Nevertheless I take a sensible editorial like Bailey's to be a more reliable source than a quick write-up in some glossy magazine at the newspaper kiosk. In the case of the information given by Bailey we now do not have a problem with Wikipedia policy anymore, because Lowood used said information and wrote two beautiful articles which can be safely cited and nobody will deny their reliability.

This blog post raises a number of interesting issues about historical research and web archaeology. The fundamental issue (at least in the paragraph cited) has to do with the Wikipedia's unique position in covering the recent history of web technologies and new media, along with related popular culture. Even when one is nervous about citing Wikipedia, what do you do when it's the only source in town? Alexander suggests tracing from Wikipedia to primary sources or other articles cited there, which in fact conforms to a common use of encyclopedia references. But what to do when these trails lead only to forums and fansites? My suggestion to students and in my own work has been to differentiate between primary sources (the author did it) and secondary sources (the author says that somebody else did it), and Alexander takes a similar position. But these questions do raise issues about research on "consumer-created content." It seems we are dependent on consumer-created sources, as well.


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