Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Responses to Lanier's "Digital Maoism" critique.

Neither proponents nor detractors of hive mind rhetoric have much interesting to say about Wikipedia itself, because both groups ignore the details. As Fernanda Viegas's work shows, Wikipedia isn't an experiment in anonymous collectivist creation; it is a specific form of production, with its own bureaucratic logic and processes for maintaining editorial control.
--Clay Shirky

There's no doubt that online aggregators such as Digg, Reddit, and popurls can seem faceless to the point of being soulless. However, the irony of his critique is that Wikipedia is very much the opposite of these aggregator sites. Instead of algorithmically aggregating content, Wikipedia depends on writers settling their differences on an individual level. Nothing is created or posted automatically — and it shows...Take the talk page for "denotational semantics". In a textbook this recondite computer science concept may sound set in stone, but it comes to life when you read a sharp argument between an MIT professor and other experts over exactly what should be in the article.
--Fernanda Viegas & Martin Wattenberg

Making a million-entry encyclopedia out of photons, philosophy and peer-pressure would be impossible before the Internet's "collectivism." Wikipedia is a noble experiment in defining a protocol for organizing the individual efforts of disparate authors with conflicting agendas. Even better, it has a meta-framework — its GNU copyright license — that allows anyone else to take all that stuff and use part or all of Wikipedia to seed different approaches to the problem.

Wikipedia's voice is by no means bland, either. If you suffice yourself with the actual Wikipedia entries, they can be a little papery, sure. But that's like reading a mailing-list by examining nothing but the headers. Wikipedia entries are nothing but the emergent effect of all the angry thrashing going on below the surface.

No, if you want to really navigate the truth via Wikipedia, you have to dig into those "history" and "discuss" pages hanging off of every entry.


True, reading Wikipedia is a media literacy exercise. You need to acquire new skill-sets to parse out the palimpsest. That's what makes is genuinely novel.
-- Cory Doctorow

Friday, June 09, 2006

Alternative spellings of "the"

Wikipedia gets a new interface. (Sort of.)

Googlepedia is a firefox extention that displays wikipedia articles on google search result pages.

I know -- been there, done that. But googlepedia is both a useful tool and a herald of exciting stuff to come. It's a new animal -- a true mashup -- for two reasons:

1. It gracefully resolves the differences between wikipedia and google queries (for example, "pictures of trees" returns google results, but not wikipedia results) by using the "feeling lucky" function (and some code that I haven't looked into).

2. It doesn't just display a wikipedia article on the google search results page -- it changes the links in that sidebar article so that instead of pointing to "wikipedia proper" (that is, the frame for Wikipedia content that is, those links now create new google searches (which, of course, display new wikipedia articles).

A point so important I'll say it again:, the page with arial text and a white background, is just a frame, a container, an interface. What's important are the words that make up the encyclopedia, and because the project is open source*, those words are Libre in the old cool cyberhacker "information wants to be free!" sense: they can be filtered, tweaked, nudged through various contexts, used in uncountable ways.

Googlepedia was concieved as an addon to google, but -- the way it really works -- it's also a completely new interface to wikipedia, adding (as the 2.0 cats say) rich new functionality.


Some stuff I want to see in the next couple years:

1. A similarly well-implemented mashup of Wikipedia and Everything2, with some version of softlinks built in (add new softlinks the the bottom of the wikipedia article?). It would be great to, alongside a detailed WPedia subway summary, see some off-the-cuff Subway wit, or to find Eating something other than the Sun's energy for the first time affixed below the Nuclear power article. (Might revive E2, too.)

2. An independently-run flash WPedia interface (with the works -- color-coding to indicate stable and unstable phrases; animations; etc.). But that's for another post.

* More specifically, because the purpose of the wikimedia foundation isn't to increase pageviews/ad revenue at

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Really interesting comparison of the cultural differences between the English and German wikipedias.

New Scientist on the Semantic Mediawiki.

(I've been on a bit of a break from blogging; I'll be sporadic for the next week or so.)