“Man, I need to sort out a website.”
“What platform will you use?”
WordPress I imagine. I don’t know about the template. Hah, I could set set up a wiki, use that as a home page-”
“-oh my god, that’s the best idea in the world!”

Page of Quintin's notebook

Quinns accidentally stumbled upon the best project idea I’ve heard in a long time today. Debating how to go about building a new site for himself he mentioned the Wiki as a format, and we immediately started talking about building an autobiography through an evolving wiki.

I tended towards the impossibly ambitious here, immediately thinking out the ramifications of autobiography as pure context: I’m wearing a blue hoodie from American Apparel, so the autobiowiki would include all of the information Wikipedia might use about Dov Charney or Legalize LA. You could build an entire life around someone, shedding light on nothing but context and seeing what shape of narrative you might discover.

Quinns preferred a more narrativist approach, which is what he scribbled down in the photo above, and I have to admit it’s probably the more entertaining: decide the essential elements of a life you might want to start entries around (History, Relationships, Employment, Projects) and create stubs for any facets of those that come to mind. The spend time on secondary elements (Influences, Education, Achievements and Place within Popular Culture) while approaching Friends to compile their own entries. The trick is to ensure that all of these broad and conflicting categories are written entirely within reference to the figure of the autobiowiki (Me, as far as this discussion goes), distinguishing the information from the encyclopedic aspirations of Wikipedia but still keeping free of the Encyclopedia Dramatica lurches towards humour.

Either method would work. Either method would be valid. Either method could also stand to exist without ever having an explicit entry about the subject of the wiki. A world constructed around a person, in which the central figure becomes shaped from the context explored by the reader. Imagine the impression you might get of someone over time reading only their own perception of the education establishments they attended, perceptions that could range between anywhere from a stub to an entire network of hyperlinks through the course of a year. Think of how many dead ends you might encounter with a person, how many questions you might have.

It is, frankly an impossible task, and one that could only be measured as successful if you chose to limit the time period you worked on it for: “I will make this the creative project of one year of my life, leaving a document at the close of it that would necessarily be imperfect.” The appeal of creating a permanently malleable archive of the self is, frankly, too terrifying.

Although you could, at the close of your participation, open the access to it: a free-for-all chance to alter one’s self-perception.

5 thoughts on “Autobiowiki

  1. As a staunch supporter of rambling and infinite projects that trail off into half finished stub articles and clouds of guff, I think this would be great fun, if somewhat headachey.

  2. I find this idea very interesting. I don’t know why you would need to limit the length of time on the project as much as you’d need to limit how much you shepherded it. It would take a lot of work to build, but once you got the big building blocks out of the way, it would go more or less on autopilot as long as your friends kept up their end.

    Think about it: your current trip encompasses a lot, but the person you stayed with in NYC (her name has slipped my mind at the moment) would be writing part of it, Quinns would be adding in, McKelvie and Gillen could contribute a bit, and so on. Your own contributions wouldn’t be too much greater than your blog already has been, in that context. So who’s brave enough to give it a try?

  3. Sarah – Thanks, and totally with you on the headache

    Jesse – I was thinking about that, how much of a collaborative process you could make this thing, seeding enough through the basic site before opening it up to selected contributors. It would certainly change the nature of the headache, turning the instigator (and, let’s be honest, I’m reasonably obsessional about the concept of autobiography, so I really mean Me) into a curator of voices on a life. You’d also be able to filter through the entries to establish new stub articles and new hyperlinks.

    In fact, hyperlinking is where it falls flat as a collaboration. Another factor also makes the process somewhat uneven: How many people do I know from my current life vs how many people do I know from my primary school life? Would the disparity of that spread change the emphasis of the content? Naturally. But even then the idea of someone’s childhood as presented by their friends from later life is a fascinating thing in itself.

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