April 1, 2008, 12:29 PM ET
Wikipedia for Non-'Notables'
Give them your tired, your poor, your unknown masses yearning to be famous. Biographicon, a new start-up based out of San Jose, is a sort of Wikipedia for unknown people, mixed in with a splash of Facebook.
While some scholars and other critics have pooh-poohed Wikipedia’s low standards for article content—anyone can add or edit an entry, leading to some wrong and potentially defamatory information—it does have at least one stringent community-enforced standard. That is the “notability” guideline, which mandates that subjects must be “worthy of notice” whose factoids can be cross-checked against independent secondary sources. Many an article about a self-aggrandizing but unknown Wikipedian has been pulled for failing to meet this requirement.
Enter Biographicon, “Everyone’s biography.” This site allows visitors to post biographies (or autobiographies) about the little people. To get its start a few weeks ago, co-founder and CEO Ethan Herdrick said the company copied about 100,000 Wikipedia bios of “notables.” But the site is slowly but surely building up a base of users who are filling in biographical bits about themselves and their friends, family, and neighbors. Right now some portion of its 9,391 unique users have created an additional 1,653 profiles. Visitors to the site can also add social-networking-like connections between entries. These open-ended connections may be genealogical, professional, or just wishful. A user can connect himself to Elvis, for example, as a bandmate or just an admirer.
One reason why many Wikipedians support the “notability” requirement is that well-known subjects will attract eyeballs and edits from enough disinterested (or oppositely interested) parties to theoretically inch articles toward the truth. So how can Biographicon control for the fact that few knowledgeable visitors can make sure information is accurate?
Mr. Hedrick says the company is working on creating an algorithm that recognizes patterns in false or defamatory content, and that the site has started listing the IP addresses of anonymous posters. He also hopes the site will be self-policing, like Wikipedia. Perhaps wary of sites like Juicy Campus, Biographicon’s user guidelines humbly ask visitors to “Be good.” The site’s guidelines instruct visitors to “stick with neutral or positive information.” (Juicy Campus prohibits “defamatory” content in its terms and conditions.)
Of course, one man’s “neutral” is another man’s “negative,” especially when it comes to controversial issues like sexual orientation. What do you think? Do you think the usefulness of a crowd-sourced site for non-notables outweighs the downsides?—Catherine Rampell