Wiki and ‘Depths of Wikipedia’ on Coming of Age Online
As part of our debut issue, Will Gottsegen investigates where the rapper and the writer might intersect, beyond their names.
Photography by Tom Keelan
You might think that Wiki—a staple of New York City’s rap scene for the better part of a decade—and Annie Rauwerda, the burgeoning influencer best known for creating the Instagram account 'Depths of Wikipedia,' wouldn’t have much to talk about. For starters, these two don’t know each other. At all. And while they’ve both taken their names from the same online encyclopedia, it’s only Rauwerda who actually works with Wikipedia day in and day out, mining the site’s obscurest corners for information on everything from Victorian slang terms to the world’s steepest street (for the curious: it’s in New Zealand). What she digs up, both in her free time and during her volunteer hours as a Wikipedia editor, she dutifully screenshots and relays back to her 1.2 million followers. Wiki doesn’t do anything like that; he raps. His declarative flows and penchant for layering off-the-cuff factoids and references into his lyrics earned him the name back in the eighth grade.
And yet these two are guided by a similar ethos. Children of the internet, they grew up with a similar curiosity about the ways we uncover new information online, and the ways in which one’s creative practice can end up mingling with those processes of discovery. Rolling a joint at the shoot for this story, Wiki began reminiscing about an old YouTube video in which the stoner rapper Wiz Khalifa offers up step-by-step instructions on how to master the art of the roll. It turned out nearly everyone in the room had seen the same video—and if you’re between the ages of 23 and 30, you might have seen it too. There’s an entire generational history that comes with simply having been online during a time when anyone could open up the same website and see the same exact thing. In the age of algorithmic feeds, that sense of unanimity has mostly vanished. We’re all still online—we’re just fed different videos, different tweets, different motes of content according to what advertisers and faceless tech conglomerates think we want to see. Would two totally different people find their way to that same viral video today?
Wiki and Rauwerda see the internet for the intractable thing that it is, and yet they both maintain a kind of optimism about the experience of exploring information online. A few weeks after the shoot, we gathered on Zoom for a conversation about their approach to that exploration and the ways it bleeds into their work.
Will: At the shoot, you both independently came up to me and said, “I hope we have something to say to each other.” It became apparent pretty quickly that you do have a shared perspective when it comes to your approach to information online, even in the context of Wikipedia.
WIKI: Yeah, my Wikipedia page. I'm half Irish, half Puerto Rican—but my mom's family, their whole life’s story was that they were a little Italian, I think a quarter. My uncle was mad butthurt that I never mentioned it on Wikipedia, so he went on my Wikipedia—and it turns out that the Italian side was adopted, so they're all Irish anyway—but he went on my Wikipedia and corrected it. And if you read it, you could just tell it's someone mad. Like, “he says that he's Irish and Puerto Rican, but his mom's really Irish Italian!” It actually started like a weird family beef for a little bit, but now we're cool.
Annie: And also that didn't stay up on Wikipedia, because I don't think your uncle had a source besides just being like, “Hey, I'm his uncle.” So it got removed.
Will: Did you find it?
Annie: Yeah. It’s like, “references to his mother being from Ireland or being Irish are wrong, although frequently repeated.”
WIKI: You see how it’s a little spicy? There’s people like trolling, too, and adding weird fake [shit]. But that shit gets edited, obviously.
Annie: I spend a lot of time removing that.
WIKI: Oh, really?
Annie: Yeah. I'm kind of a cop sometimes.
Will: You’re never sympathetic to their agendas?
Annie: You have to follow the rules. You can make a joke on Twitter or something. Wikipedia is the one good place for information. So much of the internet information ecosystem is either unreliable in the way that Twitter is—everyone saying everything all the time—or it's just commercial and paywalled. Online news is often just this barrage of ads. This just feels like it's from another era. It's this one place where you can go for information that's reliable.
WIKI: I was thinking that earlier, too. There's something about how—obviously with Instagram but even with Twitter—it's information, but it’s very ego-based. Whereas on Wikipedia, there's no “me.” It’s an encyclopedia: going to the library and just taking it out, like back in the day. My favorite thing is going from link to link, like, “Yo wait, now I’m over here looking at Moorish Spain.”
Annie: I just feel like when I click a link from the Google homepage, especially because of all the Google ads and search curating, I can't count on it being good. I think there's a lot of good stuff still happening, but the big players are taking up a lot of real estate. And Wikipedia embodies this kind of hacker ethos of, “we're on the internet to work together to make something cool.” Whereas I think today with social media the internet feels a lot more commercial.
WIKI: I was talking to my friends about exactly that—the internet was really just people on there. Now it's so connected to commercialism, profit, or your own brand. At a time it was just like, this is this crazy tool that we can gain information through, without the purpose of putting on for yourself.
Will: Do you feel like that sort of old-school internet curiosity informs your approach to music, too? Is that part of how you got the name?
WIKI: It's because I was always spitting random facts and shit. I've always been into history OD. With a computer, being able to have that tool at your fingertips, being able to just delve in—it's just like anything else. It's like living life. Everything I do is gonna see its way into the music. I think just coming at it with a curiosity and a beginner's mindset, whether it's with the information you're gaining, or with whatever you're doing creatively. But the internet's a tricky place, because there’s so many different agendas and perspectives.
Annie: Wikipedia really relies on journalists, because all the content is stuff that was originally reported in the media. And sometimes that's problematic—there's a lot more articles about males than females, for example, which is a reflection of media coverage, especially from a century past. But also I feel skeptical about what I read in the media: there’s a whole list called “reliable sources,” they very meticulously analyze the errors that publications have. And so there's a lot of sources that I read just for fun, like Vice, that aren't recommended on Wikipedia just because they've had so many blatant errors.
Will: Wow, Rolling Stone is blacklisted on here.
Annie: Only some of the Rolling Stone stuff.
Will: Do you feel like a lack of trust in what we read online is making us less curious?
Annie: You just have to be aware that some stuff isn't true. I feel like anytime I have a rabbit hole, I'm also opening other tabs to see if it's legit at all. People turn to Twitter and Reddit to talk about, like, “Hey, this came from a source that's reputable, but Is this even legit? Where are their sources?” There's a lot of people online that are taking it into their own hands to watch the watchdogs.
WIKI: Reddit is crazy.
Annie: People get really obsessive. Same with Wikipedia editing, I feel like it’s the same type of people. In terms of other platforms, I feel like youtubers do a good job of sourcing interesting stuff, but I don't really trust stuff that I see on YouTube unless I can fact check it. I don’t really go on 4chan—it deletes itself all the time.
Will: I remember being told, as a kid, that I should watch what I post because the internet is forever. It feels like we’re learning that that’s not really the case, now.
Annie: It’s kind of stunning, sometimes, how much stuff changes in 10 or 15 years. There’s all sorts of stuff that has basically disappeared.
WIKI: A bunch of my YouTube videos got deleted, my music videos. I was so stressed. But it was all these songs that came out in like 2015, and they were maybe about to get a million views. All the old comments from everyone…
Will: It’s all part of the history.
Annie: The guy who started the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle, in the ‘90s he proposed an alternative to the World Wide Web, “WAIS”—a version of the internet where you had a record of every change. I think about that sometimes. How different would it be if we had a record of every change? Sometimes institutions update their websites in ways that are shady, removing stuff from their mission statement or whatever. And we don't always notice when that happens.
Will: Why do self-described internet archivists—and Wikipedia editors—perform all this labor for free?
Annie: I feel like Wikipedia is like one of the rare places where you're not working for the man. I feel like Wikipedia editors, if there were a for-profit version of Wikipedia, they wouldn't go there, because all they care about is the mission.
But nobody has a good answer, we just get obsessed. It makes you feel powerful sometimes, as well. You can be a 15 year old with a laptop, and you can be making these important decisions about whether to classify something as, like, a “battle” or an “invasion.” The decisions you're making really do affect the world. There's something kind of attractive about making an impact from your bedroom. There’s a lot of people with autism that edit, and those are a lot of the people that do the most repetitive, really boring stuff—it’s often people that just really like routine and rules.
WIKI It’s like that old way of the internet. Someone that makes the most fried YouTube videos, but doesn’t have any following—they continue doing it. It’s like, why do we do anything? The internet has become such a part of our reality. In our generation, there’s always gonna be that connection, however we’re experiencing it.
Will: We experience it so differently, too, through algorithms.
WIKI: The algorithm is crazy, man. They be knowing. They already know what you’re thinking—but now they’re forcing me to keep thinking this.
Will: We’re all online, we’re all on the same sites, but we’re seeing totally different feeds. Back in the day, you went to YouTube.com and every kid saw the same viral videos. We have these digital touchstones we remember because we all saw them at the same time. Kids today might not all be landing on the same videos.
WIKI: Then, it was really interconnected. But now, in a way, you can be in your own little corner of the internet. I see that so much. I could be on some real New York hip-hop algorithm’d out Instagram, and I’m like “Woah, this is the most viral shit! You didn’t see this?” And someone that’s not on that will be like, “What are you talking about?”
Annie: With the filter bubbles between conservative people and liberal people, it’s just different realities. It’s interesting to see the few times where you really have to interact with people, in elections, or even media sometimes. On social media, if you do run into someone that's a little bit out of your circle, it's sometimes a little bit startling to see how bad people are at talking.
Will: Do you still feel happy when you log on?
Annie: I do, but I feel like I’m the only one. I love it. You can make it your own, you can unfollow all the people you don’t like. You can find respite from the algorithm, you just have to try a little bit.
WIKI: For me, I get stuck in Instagram and all that shit. I kind of miss just going on YouTube—the internet. The phone, app shit, I don’t like. Personally. I might delete that shit low-key. I think that’s different. It’s like anything, there’s the good side of it and the negative side of it.
Annie: It’s just what you do with it. When I’m uploading as much as I’m downloading, that’s where the internet feels fun and collaborative and pro-social. When I’m just consuming relentlessly, that’s where I cut myself off for a little while.
WIKI: It’s a tool. The craziest tool in the world.