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wikiality also Wikiality

noun [countable/uncountable]

something which is considered to be true because the majority of people agree on it, rather than because of real facts

'Colbert praised Wikipedia for "wikiality", the reality that exists if you make something up and enough people agree with you – it becomes reality.'

Newsvine.com 1st August 2006

'The world's chimpanzee population is falling.'
'Brighton's most frequently-ordered restaurant dish is fish and chips.'
'The M25 is carrying five times more traffic than anticipated.'

We all hear and read so-called facts like these, and nine times out of ten, unless we're particularly prone to scepticism, we simply accept them as a reality. We wouldn't usually stop to question their validity – let's face it, most of us haven't got the time! And so it seems that these 'truths' sit easily in our minds simply by virtue of being mentioned by enough people. But take a minute to consider this: are they reality or wikiality?

in principle anyone has the opportunity to make something become a 'fact', simply by tapping a keyboard

The expression wikiality has recently been coined to describe a reality that is determined by general consensus of opinion, rather than by cold, hard, facts. In other words, if enough people say something is true, then it is true.

Of course the concept underlying wikiality is nothing new. But it has been made all the more significant in an age where written information is so easily accessed and disseminated via the Internet. What's more, people have the opportunity to modify that information through the medium of the wiki, a web page that can be edited collaboratively. Though websites like Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, are an invaluable resource for everyone, they also run the risk of giving us false information. A by-product of open access means that in principle anyone has the opportunity to make something become a 'fact', simply by tapping a keyboard and entering it on the relevant page.

Background – wikiality

The expression wikiality is a blend of the words wiki and reality. It was coined in July 2006 by US comedian Stephen Colbert, who featured it in his satirical news commentary programme The Colbert Report. Linking with his earlier coinage truthiness (the quality of stating facts that you believe or want to be true), Colbert threw the spotlight on Wikipedia, asserting that '…any user can change any entry, and if enough other users agree with them, it becomes true'. The logical consequence is 'truth by consensus', or, as he calls it, wikiality. The spoof online encyclopedia wikiality.com is a parody of Wikipedia, describing itself as 'The Encyclopedia of Truthiness'.

The word wiki, still itself very new, has proved very productive in our increasingly web-centered world. Other recent derivatives include wikification, the process of turning a website into a wiki, which has a related verb wikify, and wikinovel, a collaborative piece of fiction, whose co-writers are described as wikinovelists.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 13th November 2007.

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