Now that we have investigated the roots of hypermedia and open historical document systems, I would like to turn to a contemporary technology, the Wiki. It is a communally editable webpage driven by a server-side database that further complicates the idea of closure in narrative production. The Wiki is a dynamic archive, open to revision by the community authorized to edit it. The reason why I am considering the Wiki almost in another category is that it fits into multiple categories; it is hyperlinked, social, time-based, and it reconfigures the archive dynamically over time. Although the Wiki is mutable, it tracks revisions by author, date, etc., thereby visualizing flow. It also has a hyperlinking schema reminiscent of the Macintosh HyperCard. And it develops content in ways that are largely bottom-up and dialogic (community) rather than top-down (institutional). It is therefore important in terms of the direction of transmission between media and audience, which is part of my idea of the vector. But what is most germane here is the indeterminate nature of the closure of the document.
Although Douglas argues that reading hypertexts uncovers a lack of narrative closure, the lack of authorial closure complicates the matter even further. In the cases of Grammaton and The Unknown, each has a central author and is constructed as static web pages that are updated by that author. In a Wiki another phenomenon occurs that looks similar to that of the waveform of a bell. When a Wiki-media article with a sizeable community is posted, the process is that the text is reviewed by a number of editors and admins. and then, if it is not removed, it goes through an intense period of correction. The discussion about the topic then attenuates over time, although new authors or current events may “strike the bell” again, setting off the process of normalization once more. The document is never closed, and the potential for change continues to exist, although over time it becomes less likely. Furthermore, the possibility exists for references in Wikis to link to dynamic documents, creating the potential for an Indra’s Web of cross-dependencies. This is one reason why Wikipedia often stresses links to print media. This reveals the dialectic between the static and the dynamic, and where the current tolerance for solipsism and communal limits for openness lies.
What forms of art are possible in dynamic community-based social document environments? One form is that of the conceptual project, Kildall, Stern, et al.’s Wikipedia Art project [Kildall, Stern, 2009]. Wikipedia Art was conceived as a simple social intervention into the online social resource Wikipedia in the spirit of the Surrealist exquisite corpse. It was created as a self-referential article proposed by Kildall and Stern, and placed by critic and Wikipedia co-admin Jon Coffelt, who kept other community admins at bay until the project attained a tenuous existence on the site. Wikipedia Art set out to question the permeability or potential for subversion of the boundaries of the Wikipedia community and its social protocols. Because of the social dynamic of the piece, the narrative shifted from what was originally a conceptual strategic position to a performative tactical one, as the most important aspect of the work became records of interactions on Wikipedia, like the deletion debate.
The events of the deletion debate unfolded roughly as follows. Certain administrators ran interference for the project while the Wikipedia community argued about Wikipedia Art’s deletion on the discussion page. Arguments about the conceptual merits of the piece were weighed alongside the violations of Wikipedia standards, like solipsistic references. 15 hours later, an 18-year-old admin named “Werdna” removed the entry [Owens, 2009]. While the debate raged, artists and collaborators found arcane rules for community conduct, like the “Snowball’s Chance in Hell” and “Don’t Feed the Trolls” rules. The first refers to whether the entry has a “Snowball’s Chance in Hell” of remaining on Wikipedia, and the other to not letting “trolls”, “griefers” or other intentional irritants get any attention for their activities. In an institutional setting, such protocols would be differently worded, if they existed at all. The difference in institutional or corporate social protocols (policies) with those of grass-roots communities (e.g. forum rules), define the shape of their respective cultures, which is expressed in the form of their cultural production, narrative, literary, or aesthetic.
In the months after its removal, online communities like Rhizome.org and the “blogosphere” took up the issue of the project’s inclusion. After its demise, the new article was called the “Wikipedia Art Controversy”, creating a new set of discussions. This provoked Wikipedia Foundation founder, Jimmy Wales, to call Kildall and Stern, “a group of trolls” i.e., disruptive individuals in the social media milieu [Owens, 2009].
What is evident from this is that in networked environments and their communities, there are sensitivities in the ongoing negotiations between literature, art, context, and intentionality in projects that use open forms. In many ways, our exposition of spatial form and indeterminacy is a progression from Grammatron’s singular hypertext to The Unknown’s oeuvre, to Wikipedia Art’s complex set of texts (the http://wikipediaart.org site), the two articles, and then the social narratives that performatively emerged around the work. The challenge with this progression is that the correlation between complexity, indeterminacy, and diffuseness of thought creates incoherence unless one uses indices and maps or other methods of making the shape of structures/correlations in large sets of data more “tangible”. This will be covered in the Flow section, but next we will consider the travel from author to audience in online environments, or the vector.