Archive for the ‘wikis’ category

OneWebDay: Like Earth Day, But. . .No, Not Like Earth Day

18, September, 2008

It’s hard to know what to make of OneWebDay, an initiative that promotes itself as “an environmental movement for the Internet ecosystem.” It appears to be a one-day awareness-raising event devoted to keeping this former Defense Department project free from government surveillance, commercial malfeasance and anti-democratic social stratification.

Plenty to like, from where I sit.

OneWebDay is Monday, September 22, exactly six months from Earth Day–one half an an earthly orbit of the sun, the yin to the vernal equinox’s yang. (Very cerebral, if a bit creepily astrological.)

The OWD site, oddly, can use a lot of work–usability experts or WordPress programmers may want to volunteer some time for the effort, sort of like a geek squad Habitat for Humanity project.

But anyway, what should you do to participate in OWD on Monday?

The site has some pretty good ideas. I paraphrase:

Eschew Internet Explorer. Quote: “…use a standards-compliant Web browser like Firefox or Opera. They’re free, faster, and more protective of your privacy.”

Go on a virus hunt on your own computer–not only to save yourself headaches, but because what happens on your computer doesn’t stay there.

Donate a computer. “You can donate a new $100 laptop to children in impoverished countries, or donate your used computer to Goodwill or a school.”

The only really bad ideas on the list are editing a Wikipedia entry and donating to the Wikimedia Foundation.

I have previously inveighed about how the public costs of Wikipedia outweigh the public benefits–about how the scattered errors and regular acts of mischief on Wikipedia, combined with its ubiquity and dominance of search results, create a clear and present danger to the world.

So I’ll just say this: If you choose to observe OneWebDay by supporting either of those projects, my own 501(c)3 group, “Wikipedia Must Be Stopped,” will vandalize Sarah Palin’s entry again.

Trust me. You don’t want to provoke us.


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Anti-Social Media: McCainpedia

19, May, 2008

The new McCainpedia is a landmark in the history of digital media. It exploits public familiarity with a hip new communication form (in this case, wikis, which are used for group content creation and editing) and then aggressively misapplies it. This launch ranks alongside the first time a newspaper published a reporter’s blog posts in print, or when a TV news program first put faux-clickable icons on the TV screens.

The McCainpedia, published by the Democratic National Committee’s Research, Communications, and Internet teams, presents a nastyfun collection of material about McCain’s alleged flip-flops, misreadings of history, contradictions, bad ideas, inexplicable votes, curious associations and so on. Great reading, all of it, and I’m sure some portion of the material is factual.

But the McCainPedia is a wiki in lockdown. People can’t edit, question, add or remove stuff. It’s an example of anti-social media. It’s Potemkin Village 2.0. The wisdom-of-the-few. Solosourcing. Citizen journalism without the citizens. It’s Democratic but not democratic.

McCainpedia

I don’t want to suggest this isn’t a wise or effective digital communication tactic. It’s a great way to consolidate party-approved rhetoric and create a catchbasin for those looking to sip some DNC bile. I’m guessing it’ll get major SEO mojo and will pop up when people conduct searches for things like “Keating Five” and “in Iraq 100 years”.

Despite its brassy exploitation of a new form of social media, McCain is another Obama poli-tech victory. So far, McCain’s digital efforts seem like those of grammar school kids learning HTML. The e-Bama efforts, by contrast, seem to be the work of college sophomores with lousy grades but perfect SATs who spend all night in the computer lab writing programs that screw with the administration. Obama’s digital team is giving McCain’s folks a wedgie every day. We’ll see if Obama continues to lead in the digital derby as the race continues.

But for me, this all raises a more interesting question. Would it even be possible to create a real wiki that collected facts–facts!–regarding the key issues and the candidates’ positions?

Oh, I know there are formally assembled and authored documents that attempt to do this. But that’s traditional one-way publishing.

But could a real, honest-to-god, publicly authored and maintained wiki possibly provide a level-headed and factual look at the things people really should know before they vote? How could such a wiki not be immediately overrun by stooges, tools, creeps, flamers, neo-National Socialists, nutroot populists, chindrizzle party hacks and blind raging lunatics?

Which is to say, to open the question even more broadly, is the pure wiki format applicable to content areas about which members of the public have extraordinarily strong feelings? And matter so much to the future of the public?

[A tip o’ the fez to TechPresident for bringing this to my attention.]

Pulling Wikipedia’s Plug, cont’d.

30, April, 2008

Last week’s entry about Wikipedia–titled with characteristic subtlety “Wikipedia: Time to Pull the Plug“– resulted in the expected crapspatter in wikiville. But since nobody has created a fake Wikipedia bio of me featuring a photo of Curly Howard, I think I’ve emerged largely unharmed.

But I wanted to call attention to a reader comment which makes an excellent point my item did not–that, while both discussion forums and wikis are both 2.0 media types that give users a voice, they are very different products that produce very different types of information. Forums assemble individual voices on a topic. Wikipedia assembles collective knowledge from a group. Point taken.

The comment, from a guy named Greg, makes another point about the limits of the Wikipedia project. I think it’s a useful extention about the nature, and future, of Wikipedia.

So: At the risk of going so media-meta that I disappear into the back side of a Mobius strip, I print the comment, and my response to it, below.

The comment from Greg

I am something of a wikipedia apologist, but I think you are missing a key difference between the goals of wikipedia and support forums (if not the success of said goals). Wikipedia tries to be a generic and unbaised report on a topic backed up with citations from more credible sources. Whereas in a forum, an individual is forced to figure out which “opinion” is best for him or her to use. Yes a forum may have citations from more credible sources, but there is no guidelines or ideology to encourage it. So, two different beasts, no one inherently better than the other.

Of course wikipedia isn’t the the best place for any research past scratching the surface, there is no doubt of that. It’s a starting point at best, and everyone would do well to remember it. One should be checking the citations for detail. But alas, the ideas of primary, secondary, and tertiary research are being lost. You can certainly lay a bit of blame at wikipedia’s feet by not being more clear in its mission, but there are other forces at play as well.

One other thing wikipedia is not is a resource for, and that’s finding other websites related to a topic. The goal as I understand it is to facilitate finding other supposedly more credible and pointed bits of information. To find whole sites… that’s google’s job.–Greg

My response

Thanks much for your good comment. You’re absolutely right that forums and wikis (including Wikipedia) are two very different beasts roaming the odd landscape of 2.0land. We should not expect the same–or even more than a slice of “reality,” whatever that means–from both media types.

Your points about the limitations of Wikipedia–that it’s not great for researching beyond the surface, that it’s at best a starting point, that one should check citations etc.–are good to hear.

I will have to go back and look (in Wikipedia, maybe. Ahem) and compare this to what I recall to be the original claims and intent for the project. I recall an article, I believe in Wired, featuring Mssr. Wales, who spoke in quite utopian terms about the power and magnitude of the project and its vast potential for creating a well informed citizenry. Certainly I’ve read that since, and hear versions of it from folks who participate earnestly in the project. I don’t often hear the caveats you speak of very often from people who support the project.

All of which leads to a question that has been dogging me: whether it’s simply a case that (like any good 2.0 project) once turned over to creators and the audience, Wikipedia has become far different from what anybody anticipated.

For worse or better (I argue the former, others will argue that latter) Wikipedia commands center stage of the encyclopedic information universe right now. I’m beginning to wonder whether, given the flaws I mentioned in my piece and you cite in your comment, whether a big, visible disclaimer should appear on page one, or at the top of every entry. There is an acknowledgment of its limitations on various “about” pages, but I’m guessing Wikipedia’s metrics show that a tiny proportion of users spend much time with those pages.

A clearer statement of limits and approptiate uses would be a public service. It would enhance transparency. I hope these are principles to which the contributors to Wikipedia remain committed.–Craig Stoltz

Wikipedia: Time to Pull the Plug

24, April, 2008

There are many good reasons to deplore Wikipedia, not the least of which is its authors’ cultish smuggery about the righteousness of their cause and the rightness of their content.

Of course there is also its internecine complexity of processes. The documentation tracing the petty bitchery about an entry is often longer than the entry that is produced. The international collectivist negotiation over matters of “fact” is beginning to remind me of the United Nations, but without the fancy New York headquarters.

A recent post by e-health blogger John Grohol left me steaming anew about the nature of the entire enterprise.

The piece details a series of exchanges between a Wikipedia editor and Gilles Frydman, head of the non-profit cancer support community ACOR. The issue was the collective’s refusal to permit links to health-related support groups.

The post includes only one side of the story, and that filtered through the articulate vitriol of Grohol. So I can’t vouch for the details of the exchange. But it is accurate that Wikipedia does not permit links to support groups. [See relevant policy excerpt at end of entry.] On reflection, this astonishes me:

1. Wikipedia is designed to harness the collective intelligence of many individuals, an example of the the classic web 2.0 “wisdom of the crowds.”

2. Online support forums are designed to harness the collective intelligence of many individuals, the classic web 2.0 “wisdom of the crowds.”

Wikipedia leverages the wisdom of the crowds one way. Online support forums do so another way. But Wikipedia won’t assign value to the other–in fact as a matter of policy it pointedly excludes it. Which is to say: The power of the many is a powerful force to disseminate knowledge–except when it’s not.

The hypocrisy is remarkable. To cite just one sad example: The Wikipedia entry on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig/Stephen Hawking disease) is workmanlike. It includes references to mainstream groups like the ALS Foundation. It even includes, god help us, a link to that font of scientific dispassion, the Ride for Life.

But it is utterly silent on the powerful ALS community of PatientsLikeMe, an unusually ambitious patient (and provider) experience- and data-sharing site. To say it serves folks who need to know about ALS far better than Wikipedia–and that it offers a greater amount of authoritative current knowledge–is to understate.

Yet Wikipedia excludes it because it is an online support group, not because it is unworthy. Wikipedia has decided–for expedience? for ideological reasons? for self-interest?–to exclude information not on the merits of an individual source but due to its information class.

It’s a sort of info-bigotry, an attempt to exclude a minority deemed less worthy based entirely on class, not merits. And Wikipedia is itself part of a larger class, web 2.0, which itself suffers similar discrimination!

If we are to exclude one style of responsibly gathering collective wisdom, should we exclude them all? Or–here’s an idea–maybe we should judge individual sources on their merits.

The trouble is, so many people around the world link to Wikipedia, it rides at the top of nearly every topic search results page. This only increases its use and ubiquity, if not hegemony. Its decisions to include and exclude data are magnified across the information universe.

I’m wondering if it’s time for concerned web citizens to stop linking to Wikipedia. If this were to catch on, it would have the effect of diminishing its ubiquity, allowing it to recede to its proper role: a useful but limited, and often deeply flawed, source of information. Just like an online support group, only bigger, and with a chip on its shoulder.

I know, of course, that this is trying to sweep back the sea with a broom. To draw on that U.N. metaphor, maybe it’s time for a different kind of collective action: Wikipedia out of the web. The web out of Wikipedia.

See a continuing conversation about the role of social media in health at this recent post at The Health Care Blog.

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[Wikipedia linking policy on support groups. Note the sniff of condescension implicit in the second paragraph. And note how the Awareness and Fundraising Events sections in its medical articles clearly violate this policy!:]

“Wikipedia’s external links policy and the specific guidelines for medicine-related articles do not permit the inclusion of external links to non-encyclopedic material, particularly including: patient support groups, personal experience/survivor stories, internet chat boards, e-mail discussion groups, recruiters for clinical trials, healthcare providers, fundraisers, or similar pages.

“Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not an advertising opportunity or a support group for patients or their families. Please do not re-insert links that do not conform to the standard rules.”

The 2.D’oh! Weekly Round-Up, Vol. VI

31, August, 2007

Time for our weekly look at recent missteps, mischief and meaty meals in 2.Otown:

Religious devotion to Web video  

To continue yesterday’s jeremiad on my continued skepticism about Web video, check out this excellent entry from PBS’s new-media-guy-at-large Mark Glaser. His Media Shift column explores some more obscure applications of Web video including–I swear I am not making this up–a beta site named JewTube.

And while’s we’re discussing video, take a look at a sharp comment to yesterday’s Video Is Hideo post, in which Smoothspan discusses how video can accommodate different information acquistion styles in addition to, um, mine. His comment links to a longer blog entry of his.

Mommy, Make It Stop

A provocative entry on a Web site for U.K. journalists explores the question whether some yet undeveloped text-to-speech technology could, by delivering news reports by iPod, render print extinct. You can listen to a podcast of the column, by a reporter named Colin Crummy, here.

Oh, wait, no you can’t, there isn’t a podcast for the column. That link above lets you subscribe to the print edition of the journalism magazine. 

 Yes, but how is this different from Google?

A startup called LivingMemory is devoted to gathering comprehensive personal data about yourself and your loved ones, so it’s available on one set of Web servers forever, even after death.

And finally, our Noted Without Comment Feature

Dutch Royal Couple Edited Own Wikipedia Entry

Wikitravel: Leave Home Without It

3, July, 2007

There are plenty of good reasons to be skeptical about the Webby Awards. One is the crowning of  Wikitravel as the top travel site at the latest winners ceremony, held a couple of weeks ago. From what I can tell, the site got the tiara because it is a wiki, not because it’s any good. It’s not.

Wikitravel is yet another iteration of Wikipedia, the ubiquitous experiment in global content creation that is responsible for, among other important developments, a worldwide rash of errors in student papers. Wikis are mutiplying wiki-wiki (“quick” or “quickly” in Hawaiian. Ahem) in the 2.0 garden. We will know the End of Days is upon us when there is a Web 2.0 Wiki. (Actually, I tried to find one, and could only come up with this entry on Web 2.0 in Wikipedia. Say, is that a locust on my screen?) 

With knowledgable potential authors living in or near the places people want to travel, this wiki could be a powerful proof of the crowdsourcing concept.

Alas. Every time Ivisit Wikitravel, I’m struck by what a lousy travel guide it is.  Stick your finger on a map (or don’t; there’s no graphical navigation for this global infosource) and the place you’re pointing to is likely better served by a guidebook from one of those 1.0 throwbacks Lonely Planet, Fodor’s or Michelin–or, to cut to the toughest truth, by brief consult with  Brother Google. Much of the material on Wikitravel sounds like it comes from a travel brochure or tourism authority handout (it may have) rather than from a chorus of knowing, clear-eyed locals and veteran visitors determined to plank out the truth. Two random examples: The entries for Cleveland and Barcelona.

The winner of the People’s Choice Webby in the travel category is one of my personal favorites, Tripadvisor. Sure, it’s full of commercial clutter and a mess to navigate, but the message boards are full of frank, detailed, occasionally brutal testimony from fellow travelers, often with digital photos to prove it. (To be fair, Wikitravel has WikitravelExtra, but it’s a rickety social networky add-on that feels like a talented high school kid’s Web design project.)

When I’m planning a trip, I visit Tripadvisor.

I cannot imagine why I’d visit Wikitravel.

I will not launch into either my wiki- or Webby-bashing jeremiads here. But back to the point: By rewarding form over substance–or, worse, voguish style over user value–the Webocracy demonstrates again that it misses the point of 2.0: Forget about the user and you’re dead.