I’ll let you into a little secret.

I like doing stuff for other people. For free, though it takes up time and energy and skill and knowledge.

Am I an altruist? No. It’s a great word, one of the best, but I can’t put claim to it. I’m a bit of a miserable bastard who only really likes other people when they can be observed from a safe distance to make sure they‘re friendly. No, what I am is interested. In a lot of random stuff. Everyone’s entitled to random stuff they quietly (or not so quietly) obsess about. Almost everyone (and I add the qualifier because I simply haven’t met everyone) has some.

I once attended a web accessibility seminar led by Christian Heilmann, who was talking about web 2.0, the read/write web experience as opposed to the simply read/read experience. (Yes, web stuff is one of the random things I’m interested in) He was, as I recall, discussing the usage of internet tech support forums. Sharing and collaboration was the future. The future’s bright, and it belongs to people who spend a lot of the money they don’t have on odd books/merchandise/Lego and then pontificate about it to anyone who will listen. And that’s why I like doing some stuff for free. I am the interested nerd, and I enjoy throwing my shoulder to the yoke and giving it a damn good shove.

Consider Wikipedia. It runs on this stuff. It runs on introvert nerd power. Nerds competing with other nerds to see just how much more nerdly-than-thou they can be by updating and re-updating the same page about the twenty-seventh episode of The West Wing. (I have resisted ever getting a Wikipedia login because I suspect that my already closeted existence would quite possibly degenerate into hanging about the site screaming abuse at the screen and correcting single stray apostrophes. So if you‘ve ever read a Wikipedia article and thought “God, this was written by a total dweeb-a-thon who never goes out“ it wasn‘t me, OK? I am the total dweeb-a-thon standing outside the greengrocer‘s sticking a post-it note over the word “potatoe‘s“)

And Wikipedia is fantastic. Ok, no-one needing to perform unskilled emergency brain surgery would be wise to trust the entire accuracy of the place, but if you’ve got a suspicion that the guy who you just saw in Misfits is the father of a guy who once played a corpse on St Elsewhere and didn’t he have three children and a degree in psychotherapy and what the hell is psychotherapy anyway and while you’re there you might as well find out what your amygdala does…Wikipedia is your place. The interested, introverted nerd is your buddy, because he‘s out there with The West Wing on pause so he can prove they gave CJ the wrong wig in episode seven and you can then prove it to your friend. Wikipedia is the biggest pub quiz knowledge base in the world.

And it’s being maintained out of love and obsession. You honestly can’t beat it.