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[citation needed]

Posted by Joshua Glenn  January 2, 2008 03:34 PM

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Matt Mechtley, of Tempe, Arizona, is a fan of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that allows users to post and edit articles. He's also into culture jamming, a term coined by the prankster band Negativland to describe parodic defacements of billboards -- and which has come to mean any sabotage/subversion of "media," from advertisements to newspaper boxes. On January 1, he announced a thought-provoking prank that combines these two passions.

"One of my favorite quirks about [Wikipedia]," Mechtley writes on his blog, Biphenyl, "are the little [citation needed] tags that users can place in an article, indicating that a dubious claim needs a reference." Mechtley decided that he'd like to slap [citation needed] tags onto real-world ads, signs, even graffiti that make what he regards as dubious claims. So he printed up 250 8-by-2-inch stickers, and handed them out to friends -- who used some of them, and handed the rest out to others. He also provides an image of the sticker for downloading, at Biphenyl; and he's using the photo-sharing site Flickr to document the results, which are tagged "citationneeded" and "wikiffiti."

Photos by Flickr user Bekathwia

It's amusing to see Wikipedia's [citation needed] tag on a graffiti-ed warning about "peak oil" -- the point after which the rate of global petroleum production will supposedly enter its terminal decline; it's even funnier to see a Palm Centro smartphone ad promising "a more social life" get stickered. Which gives me an idea. You know those ads for Sony's "Reader Digital Book" plastered all over the MBTA, the ones that say "Sexier than a librarian"? Somebody get me a sticker!


Via Boing Boing. Sony ad via Jessamyn West.

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4 comments so far...
  1. A fine idea, if a bit primly twee. Even better than Lynne Truss picketing movie theaters with an apostrophe.

    Billboard-sized ones would be fun.

    Posted by Lissa Harris January 2, 08 11:29 PM
  1. Thanks, Lissa! Always good to hear from one of Boston's finest journalists.

    Posted by Josh Glenn January 3, 08 08:25 AM
  1. Thanks for the mention of those horrid Sony ads and the stickered 'improvement' they cry out for. They caused a minor kerfuffle in library blog-land back in the fall when they blanketed South Station (and other national transit centers) and I thought (hoped) that that would be the end of it. But, nooooo, now the next edition of tag lines ('..your librarian may vary...') annoys my ride home from work. Sony's commentary on the subject isn't heartening: http://news.sel.sony.com/electronicsblog/?p=23 You'd think, since they are trying to sell reading that they'd pick a different demographic to alienate. But putting one's dollars where one's mouth is can be.... I won't be buying any Sony products any time soon.

    Posted by Erika T., Librarian in Somerville January 8, 08 12:38 PM
  1. Aw, Josh, I love you too.

    Oh, and congrats on getting comments up in this b----. Bravo, bravo.

    Posted by Lissa Harris January 11, 08 02:57 PM
About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

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Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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