Wikipedians are disagreeable trolls (and ugly with it)


The last bit of the title is journalistic licence, but “disagreeable trolls” is a reasonable paraphrasing of the way in which a team of Israeli researchers describe those strange creatures who contribute to an online encyclopaedia which provides endlessly recyclable material for jaded TV comedians and other broadcast nonentities.

Social psychologist Yair Amichai-Hamburger and his colleagues at the Sammy Ofer School of Communication in Herzliya gave a personality test to 69 wikifolk, and, just as the researchers expected, the results show that these guardians of the wikibits are more comfortable in cyberspace than the real world. They also score low for “agreeableness” and “openness to new ideas”. Amichai-Hamburger speculates that wikipedians prefer living online as they struggle to express themselves in social situations.

My use of Wikipedia is limited mostly to science, and in my professional writing I have frequently recommended Wikipedia pages as reliable and informative introductions to complex science and engineering topics. I have never contributed to the Wikipedia website itself, but I have in the past had an interest in projects aimed at specialist groups which are based on the wiki framework. The technology is particularly suitable for textbooks where the material must be updated often in response to research advances.

Wikipedia can be a very useful resource. But should one instinctively trust technical information published in book form over that posted online? With learned journals increasingly going online, and drafts of research papers published and openly reviewed on sites such as, the answer in the case of science at least must be no.

Useful though the online encyclopaedia may be, those who immerse themselves in wikidom should, for the sake of their sanity and personal growth, ensure that they get out and engage with the world they write about and textually iterate at often interminable length.