NEW YORK (Reuters) - They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. But these days, it seems you haven’t really made it unless you have that most prized of status symbols — your very own page on Wikipedia.
“It’s something of an honor,” said journalist Howard Altman of being added to the world’s largest online encyclopedia. “I actually had somebody say to me at a baseball game that I was the first person he knew on Wikipedia ... it was pretty cool.”
Steve Knight, an American musician whose biography was created only several days ago, said, “I appreciate being considered a notable person ... This is pretty exciting.”
Unlike popular networking sites MySpace and Facebook, Wikipedia doesn’t allow people to post profiles of themselves.
Instead, Wikipedia entries are earned.
“If someone is notable or successful in their field, they’ll end up in Wikipedia,” Jim Wales, the 41-year-old who founded Wikipedia in January 2001, said in an interview.
Altman ended up in Wikipedia because of his claim to fame six years ago for reporting on an American numerologist, John Patrick Ennis, thought to have predicted a large number of major events, including the 9/11 attacks. “I gained a following all over the world because of that ... I think that’s why I got on Wikipedia,” Altman, 47, said.
Knight’s Wikipedia entry says he is “best known as the keyboardist for Mountain, a rock band of the early 1970s” and notes that the 72-year-old who now lives in Woodstock, New York, and serves on Woodstock’s Town Board.
The number of individuals profiled on the site is growing rapidly. As of late September there were 224,785 biographies of living people on the site, up from 177,512 in January and 93,392 in January 2006.
And those biographies get read. Wikipedia is the eighth most-visited U.S. destination on the Internet with 52.8 million unique visitors in September, according to comScore Media Metrix. Worldwide it attracted 210.8 million visitors.
But the thrill of being included comes with a price.
Anybody can write an entry on the site, or update and edit an existing one. Each entry has pointers to a “history” page, where previous versions are stored, and a “discussion” page, where contributors can haggle over changes or whether the article or biography should be kept or dumped.
“It can be an unpleasant experience if ... it gets deleted because the (community) decides you aren’t important enough,” said Wales.
Chelsea Kate Isaacs — a budding actress and model who earned top dollar as a hand model between the ages of 11 and 12 — knows the pleasure and pain of Wikipedia.
Last week someone created an entry calling the 19-year-old “1998’s most desirable hand model in the United States and Canada.” Isaacs told Reuters last week she was shocked to see her life on Wikipedia. “It’s absolutely shocking but the information (on me) is accurate. I have no clue who did this.”
“I guess I do have a fan club out there,” Isaacs said.
But then after just a few days, contributors to Wikipedia dumped Isaacs’ page.
“That’s so sad!” Isaacs said on Monday about her eviction. “I kind of liked the idea of being on Wikipedia.”
The site is governed by three basic policies: Entries should not include any original research; facts must be verifiable via a published and reputable source; and all entries should be written from a neutral point of view.
Wikipedia isn’t without its critics. Because anyone can edit it, documents are vulnerable to endless mistakes.
But a series of incidents has led to changes, including Wales appointing a small group of administrators to serve as chief watchdogs who can delete articles or protect them from further changes and block certain users from editing.
“What’s on there about me is highly accurate,” said Knight. “I don’t want to be taken down. Who does? I hope the people who loved me before Wikipedia will still love me if I am taken off.”