I really have very little to say about the phenomenon known as lonelygirl15, except to point you to a few good articles, and this excellent video. I’m not sure how much sense the video will make if you haven’t been following along, but I think reading one article and watching one or two videos is more than enough to get the point. For god’s sake, don’t get sucked in!
And while the fact that nobody believes lonelygirl15 is real seems to support the argument I made in an earlier post about “the user elite,” I hasten to add a link calling into question some of the points made there.
When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site — the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it’s the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.
And when you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Writing an encyclopedia is hard. To do anywhere near a decent job, you have to know a great deal of information about an incredibly wide variety of subjects. Writing so much text is difficult, but doing all the background research seems impossible.
On the other hand, everyone has a bunch of obscure things that, for one reason or another, they’ve come to know well. So they share them, clicking the edit link and adding a paragraph or two to Wikipedia. At the same time, a small number of people have become particularly involved in Wikipedia itself, learning its policies and special syntax, and spending their time tweaking the contributions of everybody else.
Other encyclopedias work similarly, just on a much smaller scale…
The long and the short of it is that creating good content is hard! That’s why there will always be an important place for professional-amateurs on the web (people with professional training creating free content, or editing other people’s content). At the same time the barriers to entry and participation have been lowered so that many more people can participate in the conversation — and it turns out that just about everyone has some area of expertise that can make them into a professional-amateur if they want to participate in the conversation. They may not stick around as long, or say as much, but the door is open … Lonelygirl15 may be a hoax, but all (or at least most) of the people making tribute or response videos to her are not.
UPDATE: Lonelygirl15’s creators break their silence.
UPDATE: The end of the story?