Exploiting the “depths of Wikipedia” on Instagram

Did you know that there is a political party in Switzerland that opposes the use of PowerPoint? That some people think that Avril Lavigne died in 2003 and was replaced by a lookalike? Or that there is a stone in a museum in Taiwan that looks suspiciously like a slice of meat?

Probably not, unless you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people following. @depthsofwikipedia. The Instagram account shares bizarre and surprising snippets from the vast crowdsourced online encyclopedia, including amusing images (a chicken literally crossing a road) and minor story moments (Mitt Romney drives several hours with his dog on top of his car). Some messages are healthy, such as Hatsuyumethe Japanese word for his first dream of the year – while others are not safe for work (eg panda porn).

Annie Rauwerda, 22, started the account at the start of the pandemic, when others were baking sourdough bread and learning to knit. “Everyone was starting projects, and that was my project,” she said.

At the time, she was a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Students are often discouraged from using Wikipedia as a source for their academic work because most of its pages can be edited by anyone and may contain inaccurate information. But for Ms. Rauwerda, the site was always more about entertainment: spending hours clicking on one link after another, getting lost in rabbit holes.

“Wikipedia is the best thing on the internet,” Ms. Rauwerda said in a phone interview. “That’s what the Internet was supposed to be. He has this hacker philosophy of working together and doing something.

At first, only his friends followed the account. But it sparked a wave of attention when Ms Rauwerda posted about influencer Caroline Calloway, who was upset that the Publish featured an old version of his Wikipedia page that said his occupation was “nothing.” Ms Rauwerda apologized and Ms Calloway later boosted the account on her Instagram.

Ms Rauwerda has since extended @depthsofwikipedia to Twitter and TikTok. She sells merchandise (like a coffee mug adorned with an image of the Wikipedia entry for “bisexual lighting”) and hosted a live show in Manhattan, featuring trivia and stand-up comedy.

Her subscribers often feature her Wikipedia pages, but these days it’s hard to find an entry that will impress Ms Rauwerda. “If it’s a fun fact that’s been on Reddit’s front page, I’m definitely not going to repost it,” she said. “For example, there are only 25 airships in the world. I’ve known this for a long time, and it made the rounds on Twitter a few days ago. I was shocked. I was like, ‘Everybody knows that.’

She’s difficult in large part because many of her subscribers rely on @depthsofwikipedia to unearth the internet’s hidden gems.

“I love learning about things, especially those weird photos and things that I could never find on my own,” said Gabe Hockett, 15, a high school student in Minneapolis. He said his favorite posts from the account include “The most unwanted song” and the “Dave Matthews Band Chicago River Incident.”

Jen Fox, 22, said the account’s exchange of positions with her boyfriend is “a special, nerdy love language”. It was also a litmus test for friendships. When Ms. Fox, a copywriter, moved to San Francisco in February, she would mention the account to new people she met. If they were familiar with it, she said, “we would start DMing each other and sharing our favorite posts, which would feel like we were really solidifying a real life friendship.” Ms. Fox even attended a @depthsofwikipedia get-together at a local brewery. “There’s such a community behind it all,” she says.

It’s nothing new for Wikipedia lovers to embrace their passion for the platform. A Facebook group named Club Wikipedia Cool Freaksfounded eight years ago, has nearly 50,000 members who actively exchange links.

Ms. Rauwerda’s account “makes the internet smaller,” said Heather Woods, assistant professor of rhetoric and technology at Kansas State University. “It shortens the rabbit hole phenomenon by providing engaging — or sometimes hilarious — entry points into internet culture.”

Zachary McCune, the brand director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, said @depthsofwikipedia is an extension of the site’s participatory ethos. “It’s a place where Wikipedia comes to life, like an after-hours visit to the best of Wikipedia,” McCune said.

And because Wikipedia has over 55 million articles, having a guide like Ms. Rauwerda is helpful. She hopes visitors to her page will leave with new shared knowledge. “I want you to see something that makes you pause and say, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting,'” Ms Rauwerda said. “Something that makes you rethink the world a bit.”

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