global English language and words in the news language change and slang

In the news – a new wiki

It seems there’s a new, and somewhat disturbing, wiki on the block – wikileaks.

Apparently a whistle-blowing website where sensitive material can be posted online in such a way as it to be untraceable, wikileaks has come to the nation’s interest amidst news of leaked details about the US military campaign in Afghanistan. (I say ‘apparently’, since I’ve been unable to access the site myself – it keeps timing out, probably due to too much traffic! – and so am basing this on The Guardian‘s coverage of the incident.)

The word wiki, of course, relates to websites that can be added to and modified by users themselves, for example Wikipedia. We also now have  WikiAnswers, WikiMapia and wikibooks. Around the websites themselves, we see wiki communities (groups bound together by use of a wiki), wiki nodes (pages on wikis that describe related wikis), neighbour wikis (containing similar information or appealing to the same audience) and delegate wikis (sort of the next rung down the ladder in the information hierarchy). And then of course there’s wikiality – something which is deemed to be true simply because a lot of people believe it, rather than on the basis of any actual evidence.

In a similar sort of vein, we’ve seen hacktivist for someone who changes or manipulates information on someone else’s website, in order to get their own political views across (based, of course, on hacker), and rumint – intelligence information that comes from unreliable sources, especially rumours. (This latter I find worrying enough, without the thought of it then appearing on the web for any old nutter to act on!)

Whilst I like the basic wiki idea, I do find the latest addition to the stable pretty scary. Apparently, anyone can go onto the site and publish anything – national security information, state secrets – that they believe the public has a right to know. The White House has already condemned the site and accused it of putting the lives of military personnel at risk. The site’s founder defends it, saying the information was old enough to be of only ‘investigative’, rather than ‘operational’ significance, and that information is vetted before being published.

What the correct balance is between ‘need to know’ and ‘right to know’, I’m not sure, but I do go slightly cold at the thought of a random bunch of people sitting round a piece of web editing software making the decision, given that they don’t necessarily have access to all the information. Then again, even with (allegedly) all the information, those making the on-the-ground decisions don’t have the best track record, so maybe it’s not as bad as it seems.

Either way, wiki is proving to be a highly productive word, and its reach is steadily growing. Wikipedia alone lists more than 80 wikis, ranging from aviation safety information (SKYbrary) to ancient Chinese board games (Go). And I’m sure there’s plenty more to come.

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Sharon Creese


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