Posted tagged ‘Wikipedia’

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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The Web 2.D’0h! Roundup

5, September, 2008

Another look at the menace, mediocrity and occasional magnificence around the world of social media.

Architects of the Doomed User Experience

Navigation Arts–a Washington, D.C.-area design firm best known for its work for defense contractors, trade associations and government agencies–has helped relaunch the Charlotte Observer’s website. A leader in usability and enterprise websites, Navigations Arts has produced. . .

. . .a site nearly indistinguishable from its peers that have stuck stubbornly with the newspaper-with-multimedia-and-nervously-managed-user-interaction model that has proven so incapable of producing sufficient revenues for newspaper publishers across the country.

To paraphrase the sounds of the season: Is this the change we need?

  • For community features the Observer it has deployed Pluck, the popular off-the-shelf 2.0-in-a-box application suite.
  • It uses the two-layer drop-down navigation you can find on any custom WordPress template worth $75.
  • It makes the misstep of labeling video as video [“hey, lookit, Marge, they got movin’ pictures on this website!] instead of according to the underlying content.

Worst of all, the site also ubiquitously highlights the sad, sweet, desperate “subscribe and get miles” link that demonstrates a profound, perhaps fatal misunderstanding of how news companies need to operate in a digital world.

Note to the Observer’s Dept. of Clue Procurement: It’s not about selling newspapers any more.

Imagine Henry Ford selling the Model T with an ad that says, “Buy the car and we’ll give you discount on a horse too!”

A Look Behind the Curtain of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is supposedly all about “transparency,” allowing users to see who’s been authoring and reauthoring Wikipedia pages. In practice, exploring this information is like reading source code for a mortgage disclosure document.

The Palo Alto Research Center has debuted WikiDashboard, the beta version of a tool designed to help you visualize who’s been up to what on the back end of those Wikipedia entries. It’s the newest of several tools that take up this task.

Here’s an image identifying the most prolific authors of the Wikipedia entry of John McCain.

Click on their names and see what they contributed to the entry, how much they contributed and what they’ve added to other content around Pediaville.

n.b.: Would all Wikipediasts stop using that term “disambiguation”? It’s a smug, exclusive word that says to the world: We’re wonky digitalinfogeeks. Join our club or stay the hell out. Makes you wonder just how committed the architects of this project are to creating an encyclopedia “by and for” the people.

And finally, Our Regular Sighting of the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse ™:

Have you spotted other middling, memorable or malignant examples of social media webbery? Please share the wealth and leave links in the comment section below.

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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.


[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.”