Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Friday, December 28, 2007

No soup for you!

Wikipedia administrator Andrew Lih, a former media professor who is writing a book about the six-year-old venture, has accused it of developing a "soup Nazi culture," referring to the fierce gatekeeper on the television program Seinfeld who tosses out customers if they don't comply with the arbitrary rules at his soup stand.

"The preference now is for excising, deleting, restricting information rather than letting it sit there and grow."


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wow, I just found Urban Dictionary's wikipedia swarm.

My favorites are wikipause (During a phone call or office conversation, a pregnant moment of silence while someone queries Wikipedia, before announcing a previously-unknown piece of information) and wikipedance (The force that resists the importation of knowledge into a wiki, with especial reference to Wikipedia).

There are also terms for intellectual pwnage (wikifuck, wiki-front) and Wikipedia-inspired offline uses (wikifitti).

Plus, of course, the usual outpouring of anger about article deletion that happens anytime wikipedia is discussed in public (wikinazi, wiki nazi, wikifascist, wikibitch).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The "Christmas truce" is a term used to describe several brief unofficial cessations of hostilities that occurred between German and British or French troops in World War I.

The truce began on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols.

The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the "No Man's Land" where small gifts were exchanged — whisky, jam, cigars, chocolate, and the like. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. At one funeral in No Man's Land, soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from the 23rd Psalm.

The truce spread to other areas of the lines, and there are many stories of football matches between the opposing forces. The film Joyeux Noël suggests that letters sent home from both British and German soldiers related that the score was 3-2 in favour of the Germans.

Monday, December 24, 2007

In case you haven't been following it, here's the story on Jimmy Wales's wiki startup, Wikia:

1. Wikia was founded as a Wiki farm where people could start wikis on any topic. The tagline: "building communities". Good stuff. Wikipedia gurus were recruited into the ranks, people who knew how to nurture the fragile wiki stalks into fullgrown gardens.

2. This year Wikia's been attempting to build "human-powered search". Wikia search is apparently launching soon.

Maybe it's my rust belt location talking, but step #2 seems like bubble fever. Wikia is thinking much too big. Like, several orders of magnitude too big. Where's the business sense? This commenter says it well:

Google could add a human factor into pagerank in like 5 seconds. They’ve already started with ratings.

Wikia’s success rests on Wikipedia and the reputation only. They are technically inferior to Google by several orders of magnitude, and this is closed source. The collective knoledge that made mediawiki great is not included.


Of course, Wikia is great at building communities, which Google is terrible at. (Hence my low expectations for Knol.) How much less would it have cost to hire away Mahalo's graphic designer?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Offshore radio refers to the practice of radio broadcasting from ships or fixed maritime structures, usually in international waters.

It's not flawless, but check out this fantastic radio piece from the Globe and Mail:

So wikipedia is less of a digital book and more of an electronic river, always changing around you even as you stand in one spot. The Wikipedia I step in is not the Wikipedia I stand in, to paraphrase the words of a poet who was, at the time, emphatically not writing about Wikipedia.

It's all pretty wonderful, but it's not on a path to perfection...the things that matter most to it in its world are the things that make it happiest -- its wikipedia creature comforts. Things like what it watched on TV last night, its favorite hockey players, the act of pointing out every word in the language that's a portmanteau, or seeing to it that no family guy reference goes undocumented.

...

Let's face it: If anyone ever did create a website that contained the single definitive entry on every topic on earth, wouldn't it be the tiniest bit fascist? I don't think people would like that site at all. As soon as someone put up a site the size of wikipedia that really did have a claim to real authority, the first thing that people would want to do would be subvert it, replace it or change it, and then you'd have wikipedia all over again.

And that's the thing: the holes, omissions, errors, distortions, excesses, absurdities, and lies are the reason wikipedia works, not the things that keep it from working. They'll never get rid of them. But as a result, the rest of us will just keep looking at wikipedia as a shrub that, for some reason, hasn't blossomed into a maple tree yet.

...when you're writing commentary, it always helps to have someone to kick around. Wikipedia really is the perfect target. It's nameless and faceless and hard to offend; it's powerful and ridiculous at the same time; and everyone knows what it is.

But in the spirit of the season, let me say this: we should accept wikipedia for the gigantic, magnificent, mighty shrub that it is.

Because I, for one, wouldn't have it any other way. I read it all the time, and I love it just the way it is. It's a stupendous achievement and a cultural icon.

Merry Christmas, Wikipedia. I look forward to making even more fun of you come the new year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cheer up -- trust coloring is live for all of wikipedia. (If you don't know what trust coloring is, read this.)

Strange things are afoot at the circle-K

The ground is shifting in the wake of last week's scandal. (And the week before's, and the week before that...)

A Wikimedia board member has resigned*, for example, and apparently something totally secret and crazy and unexpected is going to happen.

Florence Devouard, the board's chair, who has her finger solidly on Wikipedia's pulse, says:

I feel there are two paths for the future. Either we keep a board mostly made of community members (elected or appointed), who may not be top-notch professionals, who can do mistakes, such as forgetting to do a background check, such as not being able to do an audit in 1 week, such as not signing the killer-deal with Google, but who can breath and pee wikimedia projects, dedicate their full energy to a project they love, without trying to put their own interest in front. A decentralized organization where chapters will have more room, authority and leadership.

Or we get a board mostly made of big shots, famous, rich, or very skilled (all things potentially beneficial), but who just *do not get it*. A centralized organization, very powerful, but also very top-down.

My heart leans toward the first position of course. But at the same time, I am aware we are now playing in the big room and current board members may not be of sufficient strength to resist the huge wave.


This issue has appeared before, though never in such sharp relief. Danny Wool is looking prophetic, for better or worse. When he ran (and lost) for board, he said:

I believe that the current board should be replaced by a professional board consisting of captains of industry and academia. I believe that these people should have some distance from the projects, so that they can make wise decisions without any conflicts of interest or personal benefit, financial or otherwise. I believe that these type of people exist on our advisory board and in Jimmy's rolodex, and it simply remains to flip them over. Make them the real board, and have an elected, active advisory board derived from the community.


And then there's Knol, Google's new (and unreleased) Wikipedia competitor. More on that later -- for now, Florence is worried:

I do not share the same optimism than [wikipedia founder] Jimbo with regards to Knol. It's Jimbo's duty to project optimism. -Ben I think Knol is probably our biggest threat since the creation of Wikipedia. I really mean the biggest. Maybe not so much the project itself, but the competition it will create, the PR consequences, the financial tsunami, the confusion in people minds (free as in free speech or as in free of charge). Many parties are trying to influence us, to buy us, and conflicts of interest are becoming the rule rather than the exception. There are power struggles on the path.

Rather than spending time bugging the board about whether we did a background check on Carolyn 18 months ago (we did not, period), I'd like the current community to realize that we are currently at a crossroad. The staff will hopefully stabilize and be successful under the leadership of Sue. I trust her to have this strength. But the organization in its whole is currently oscillating. We can try the path of the community, at the risk of being engulfed by the big ones. We can try the path of letting our future in the hands of the big shots, at the risk of loosing what is making us unique.


* Moller was apparently shuffled off to another high position after "resigning".

I feel a bit like I'm in the 3rd act of a play. The wikipedian mood is definitely changed for the worse. The sense of boundless possibilities, of wondering what incredible, unimaginably awesome thing wikipedia will have turned into in 10 years, is, if not gone, distinctly muted. (This is bad. That sense of wonder drew lots of people. Hopefully I'm just being pissy.)

A commenter on Kelly's blog says:

For once, I honestly don't care about the politics, maneuvering, backbiting and backstabbing. I just want results.

Where the fuck is our SUL and Stable Versions. The mechanics of Wikipedia has been stagnating for a couple of years now. I hope Erik can get the pumps primed.

An old adage: "any business that isn't growing is failing". I think this applies to wikipedia - if we don't make progress with simple things like reliability, we're doomed to the competition. That progress can be glacial, but it has to be there.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

So apparently Carolyn Doran, the Wikimedia Foundation's chief operating officer from january to june, is a felon.

"Doran's criminal record includes four convictions for driving under the influence, two of check fraud and petty larceny, one hit and run with fatality, and one charge of unlawful wounding for shooting former boyfriend Philip L. Brown in the chest in 1990"


Geoff has more.

There had better be a big fucking shakeup in the next board election.

I know, I know -- the board is overworked. Tough shit. This is beyond unacceptable. Quick question: is it worse for Wikipedia to rake in millions of dollars by running text ads on its search pages, enough money to hire some real administrative help (nevermind programmers), or for the board to be ideologically pure and untainted by the evils of adsense (because god knows google's money has just killed firefox) but so sleep-deprived that they appoint crooks to high positions?

It's becoming increasingly apparent that things cannot go on as they have. More in the next post.

Friday, December 07, 2007

There have been a few minor scandals recently -- allegations of a "secret mailing list" for powerful admins; amassing of "secret evidence" that, like McCarthy's, turns out to be totally unconvincing; some unpleasantness with the CEO of Overstocked.

As usual for this type of thing, it's completely impossible to figure out what's actually going on. If you like, you can read the authoritative decision from on high, which is accurate as far as it goes but utterly mind-numbing; the Register article, which is riveting but heavily slanted, or the comments in this slashdot thread, which are alright at providing some context. This is probably the best coverage so far.

Frankly, you're best off just waiting for some coverage from actual journalists like Andrew Lih or Noam Cohen. (My overriding feeling right now is pissed-off-ness that I've wasted my morning researching this boring, demoralizing story.)

Until then, here are some cliffs notes:

1. Powerful Wikipedians have a bunker mentality, perhaps because they've been stalked.

(Update: Like I said, admins should not be anonymous in the first place. An "anonymous public figure" is an oxymoron that the universe will attempt to correct.)

2. Adminship has become something it was never intended to be (predictably, because people will use the power they're given)

3. There many be unhealthy social forces at work within Wikipedia. There's the potential for a vicious cycle wherein good contributors are driven away and the climate gets worse, but the sky's not falling just yet.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Well, I'm back in michigan, and I never made another videoblog. But in case you're hungering for wikivideo from australia, here's Wikia's Angela Beesley in a surprisingly good interview:



link, for feed readers

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Live from Melbourne

Videoblog from Australia! (I work my way around to Wikipedia eventually.)

I had a hell of a time finding somewhere to upload this so you'd better enjoy it. :P



(Here's the link, if you're reading this as a feed.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Information Age

Back in the early days, the question was

How is wikipedia new? How does its amazing social structure work? How does the Biggest Document Ever get written without an editorial team or clear hierarchy?

But now that Wikipedia's the top google result for half the words in the english language, the question is
How does having Wikipedia at your fingertips change you? How does it change society?


* * *

Huckleberry Finn has been banned various times for various reasons — pretty much continually from when it was published. But at first, it wasn't banned for use of the N-word, or for undermining racist southern norms. It was banned because it used the word ain't — in other words, what shocked people was deviation from linguistic norms.

From 2007 this looks silly, but in the big picture, being shocked at the use of "improper" English serves an important social purpose: it slows the evolution of the English language.* If this seems unimportant, remember that without intervention, languages evolve at a ridiculous, breakneck pace.

Consider hunter-gatherer tribes in the tropics, where they can be totally self-sufficient: if half a tribe splits off, and sets up camp a few miles down the river, its language will be unintelligible to the original tribe within two generations.

Fucking Crazy.

If English evolved that fast, we wouldn't be able to read Twain, let alone Shakespeare. We wouldn't be able to pass down any knowledge at all. Everyone understands, on an instinctual level, how much that would suck — hence the constant debates about the "real" definition of words among everyone except people who've taken linguistics classes.

* * *

Maybe one social purpose of wikipedia is to provide canonical definitions of "unofficial" words and phrases that would otherwise be left to the drifting winds of spoken transmission.

For example: everyone who grew up in the '90s thinks Atlanta's ban on sagging is really strange. It doesn't make sense as enforcement of obscenity laws because Atlanta didn't care in 1998, when everyone and their mother sagged. And it doesn't make sense as evil racial profiling because Atlanta didn't care in 1994, when only black people sagged.

So what changed? Maybe the difference is that politicians can type "sagging" into google and read a wikipedia entry that says "Sagging has its origins in the prohibition of belts among incarcerated inmates, which was emulated as a fashion statement by non-inmates for its tough guy cachet."

Nobody in the '90s knew that was the origin of sagging. They just knew it made you look cool. The definition had drifted far from its origins, but Wikipedia ties it back. 15 years after sagging escaped from prisons, Wikipedia has dredged up the the collective unconscious and made it solid.

* Or maybe not. See the comments -- any linguistics professors in the crowd?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

R.I.P.

"Wiki" gets its name from the "Wiki-wiki" bus at the honolulu airport -- the bus that's being replaced by an automated sidewalk.

Which animals can swim? (And how well?)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

It looks like I'm on a bit of a hiatus -- busy with other stuff. I'll be back eventually.

Monday, November 05, 2007

This is not wikipedia-related, but I just wanted to put it on the record so I can gloat later: in 10 years, all the businessmen will be on macs and all the art students will be running linux.

Friday, November 02, 2007

During World War II, Project Pigeon (or Project Orcon, for "organic control") was American behaviorist B. F. Skinner's attempt to develop a pigeon-guided missile.

The control system involved a lens at the front of the missile projecting an image of the target to a screen inside, while a pigeon trained (by operant conditioning) to recognize the target pecked at it. As long as the pecks remained in the center of the screen, the missile would fly straight, but pecks off-center would cause the screen to tilt, which would then, via a connection to the missile's flight controls, cause the missile to change course. Three pigeons were to control the bomb's direction by majority rule.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Expletive infixation is a process by which an expletive or profanity is inserted into a word, usually for intensification. A simple rule is that the insertion occurs at a syllable boundary, usually just before the primary stressed syllable. Thus, one hears abso-fuckin-lutely rather than *ab-fuckin-solutely.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Once upon a time, you could create a new wikipedia article without even registering. Then, at the beginning of 2006, the clamp went down.

Now Wikipedia's growth seems to be slowing, and Anons will be able to create new articles again, starting Nov. 9. Good news; some fresh air will be nice. But brace yourself for the friends of gays.

Andrew Lih: "I’ve often thought that Wikipedia contains a dynamic similar to evagelical congregations that build on authority by consensus. And I’m glad I’m not the only one that sees it that way." He links to a USA today article.

Oh wow. This is pretty fucking cool.

Live anonymous edits to wikipepdia on a google map in realtime. The map jumps over to the new location every time there's an edit.

Seriously, it's that *singing angels* moment, like having your finger on the beating heart of the world.

Somebody in the United Arab Emirates just added some local history on a town in India. What's going on:

1. A huge proportion of the english-speakers in the world are from Indiacite, so their edits will show up in a random sample.

2. Dubai draws most of its construction workforce from india and south asia. It's around 11 a.m. there now, but I have no idea how one of the workers got access to a computer. Maybe someone's helping him out? (Or maybe the edit really came from india and the geolocator was wrong.)

Worth noting:

[This is not] a statistically representative sample of wikipedia edits...There are many biases introduced. We only see anonymous edits. We only see edits from IP addresses that could be located. If the location found is very generic (such as European Union), then it is not visualized at all. Hopefully WikiPediaVision still captures a general sense of what people are thinking about all over the world.


Still, WikiPediaVision helped me rescue an article posted from somewhere in north india.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cybog Spaz

The idea that "Wikipedia is a brain extension" has been around awhile, and XKCD writes about it all the time—





Now a NYTimes editorialist loves offloading mental tasks onto technology:

Memory? I’ve externalized it. I am one of those baby boomers who are making this the “It’s on the Tip of My Tongue Decade.” But now I no longer need to have a memory, for I have Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia. Now if I need to know some fact about the world, I tap a few keys and reap the blessings of the external mind.

Personal information? I’ve externalized it. I’m no longer clear on where I end and my BlackBerry begins. When I want to look up my passwords or contact my friends I just hit a name on my directory. I read in a piece by Clive Thompson in Wired that a third of the people under 30 can’t remember their own phone number. Their smartphones are smart, so they don’t need to be. Today’s young people are forgoing memory before they even have a chance to lose it.


This is actually a very old trend. In the early roman republic, messages were sent by telling a story to the messenger, who'd remember it and tell it back at his destination: before writing was common, people had crazy powers of memorization—they could put away megabytes of epic poetry without much effort, etc. Tribes on the northern outskirts of the republic warned their students not to learn to write because it would impair their ability to remember—if you store your thoughts on the outside (on paper), you get worse at storing them on the inside.

About a year ago, Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) said, "Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it." I took offense at the time, but she has a point: plugging in is a trade-off, like it's always been.

What if a catastrophe had stranded astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin on the surface of the Moon? In Event of a Moon Disaster was a speech intended to be read by President Nixon if disaster had struck during the Apollo 11 landing.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.


Happy halloween.

The silly AfD is trending almost unanimously toward Keep.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

An AI Winter is a collapse in the perception of artificial intelligence research. The term was coined by analogy with the relentless spiral of a nuclear winter: a chain reaction of pessimism in the AI community, followed by pessimism in the press, followed by a severe cutback in funding, followed by the end of serious research.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fatal hilarity is death as a result of laughter.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I've started a discussion forum about wiki-related matters. For now, anyone can post, even if you're not registered.

Typical breakfasts around the world

via

Mel's Hole is the name given to a geographic anomaly that is said to have been discovered near Ellensburg, Washington, on land belonging to local resident Mel Waters. According to Waters, the hole has paranormal properties, including an infinite depth and the ability to restore dead animals to life.

Like I said, the New York Times is one of a handful of newspapers that get wikipedia right. Now the Times has a blog-style Wikipedia topic page, complete with RSS feed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

(Previous egypt coverage)

Jimmy Wales says:

I don't think it is a political event, except in the broad sense that Wikipedia itself is "political" in terms of being a statement that every thoughtful and kind individual has a fundamental human right to participate in the creation of knowledge...I doubt very much if this event alone will bring about any positive changes in Egypt or anywhere else. But I am certain that Wikipedia itself is already making positive changes all over the world, and this event supports Wikipedia.


A little bird told me that Jimmy's been focusing a lot more lately on Wikia (his wiki business) and less on Wikipedia. Fine. But look at all the minefields he can diffuse! His ceaseless positive vibes have guided wikipedia through many a rough passage.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Leopard (Apple's newest OS upgrade) comes out at the end of the month -- and with it, Apple's wiki software. Gruber says it's "one of the best web apps I’ve ever seen — and by far the best web app I’ve seen from Apple — including an amazing web-based WYSIWYG editor."

Unfortunately, it only runs on Apple's own web server (yes, Apple sells servers), which nobody uses.

But this will be a great opportunity for everyone else to steal Apple's features -- wiki software is at the moment firmly ensconced in geek land, which is a problem because a wiki's usefulness depends directly on its ability to attract people. Apple, remember, is the company that brought you variable-width computer fonts -- nobody even thought of using a font that doesn't look like this before apple dragged the engineers kicking and screaming into broader society.

More apple coverage

This week's WikiWorld comic is really funny.

Good newspapers, bad research, and the failure of market capitalism

Yet another badly researched newspaper article about Wikipedia, this time in The Age.

"Submission of new articles is slowing to a trickle"

Actually, new article creation is up 25% since the beginning of the year. Total editing is down 17% in the same period -- after climbing an exponential curve for several years. Hardly a trickle.

The mistake wouldn't be such a big deal if it wasn't the keystone of the article (the headline is "Delete generation rips encyclopedia apart"). Tellingly, The Age is owned by Fairfax Media, which is a publicly traded company -- which means that The Age's shareholders demand relentlessly increasing profits -- a 20% margin is a common floor for papers.

The New York Times (and other non-public papers) only needs to make around 5 percent. So the Times can afford to do actual research, while the Age apparently can't.

Note to media owners: cutting so many corners that your journalism becomes detached from reality isn't "smart business" -- it's wringing the name value out of your properties until they stop being relevant.

Q: What do the New York Times, NPR, the BBC, and Wikipedia have in common?

A: They all inspire fanatical loyalty.

A: They've all run stories about Wikipedia that are actually accurate.

A: They all have people on the ground in Iraq. (Unlike the Age, the Telegraph, and -- dare I say it -- Fox News.)

A: None of them has to answer to shareholders.

Geoff has much more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The newest discussion about Wikimania, Egypt, and LGBT safety is (finally) shedding more light than heat. Highlights:

What I would like to see, however, are some statistics, not anecdotes, on the real risk GLBT visitors* to Egypt will face. If those aren't forthcoming, then I don't think further discussion will be particularly useful
[...]
As a gay man I must be aware of my surroundings and act accordingly; while I'm openly gay to all my friends, family, coworkers, schoolmates and neighbors (and all of you) I feel that walking down the street of a small town in Alabama or Utah while holding my partner's hand would be needlessly asking for trouble. Yep, that's not fair. But that is how things are.

Advancing GLBT rights by provoking bigots is not why I travel to places. So yeah, I compromise in certain situations in order to reduce my chances of getting harassed or bashed. Looks like the same will be true for Alexandria. I'm not going to lose sleep over that or cancel my plans to attend Wikimania 2008 with my partner. Like traveling anywhere, certain precautions will need to be followed and some knowledge (dare I say respect with a small 'r') of local social norms is needed.


[...]

The point of this discussion isn't to determine whether Egypt has a good human rights record or not. It doesn't have a good human rights record and that shouldn't stop us going there (we should not punish Egyptians for their government).

What some of us seem to be concerned about is whether non-Egyptians visiting Alexandria for the conference are in any danger. From everything I've read (imprisonment of non-Egyptian homosexuals, use of entrapment by the police, torturing homosexuals in custody and trying homosexuals using tribunals set up to combat terrorism), we cannot say with certainty that Wikimedians will be safe in Egypt.


[...]

What you express makes sense, and there is a huge difference between simply being gay and involving oneself in gay activism, and I suspect thay no small amount of activism is involved in the example prosecutions. If you believes that the citizens of a country that you are visiting do not have all the rights that they should have it is grossly irresponsible to spend a one-week visit there agitating for those rights. After the week you may fly away home without problems, and even with the blessing and the thanks of the authorities for whom you have exposed someone that they were watching. The people you wanted to help are put in greater danger. I have no basis for saying that this would in fact happen in Egypt; it's one's beliefs that it could happen that should guide one's behaviour.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Building the World, Piece By Piece

There's a reason the logo is a globe:



Wikipedia is a worldwide project with a bajillion language versions and members everywhere. But the English wikipedia is the flagship (partly because it was first, partly because half the world speaks English as a second language), which means most of the contributors are in the former British Empire -- the U.S., India, etc.

Next summer's Wikimania conference will be in Alexandria -- yes, that Alexandria; think "great library" (and questionable political regime).

This Egypt choice is part of wikipedia's most important goal: uniting the world under a benevolent dogma of free knowledge. If "anyone can edit" is a radical thought in Washington, imagine what it sounds like in Beijing. (Well, you don't have to imagine; Wikipedia lost a protracted fight to seep through the Great Firewall.)

The globalist approach raises social issues, too -- for example, LGBT wikipedians (there are a lot of us) can't share Egyptian hotel rooms* (and will have to stomach a government that's friendly to all tourists, but routinely imprisons its own gay population). Jimmy Wales stemmed the outcry by promising a keynote about "free knowledge and human rights".

Andrew Lih says:

The choice of whether to boycott or engage has been a tough one. It happens with the Olympics, on trade, on technology transfer, and choosing conference venues. Given the international makeup of the Wikipedia community you’re not going to get consensus. When we chose Boston two years ago, there were folks who were upset because of the US’s foray into Iraq and the harsh requirements for visas.

Jimmy Wales has noted this, and has chosen “engagement” as his stance.


For those who can't make it to Alexandria, there's going to be a springtime wikimedia conference in Atlanta, and other satellite conferences in places like the Netherlands.

* Update: Oops -- they can share hotel rooms, just not singles.

Monday, October 15, 2007

FYI: Wikipedia's growth is slowing down: "since the beginning of the year the rate of editing articles has declined 17% and new account registrations are down 25%".

Specimens of the gray rabbitbrush shrub growing in Bayo Canyon, near Los Alamos, New Mexico, exhibit a concentration of radioactive strontium-90 three hundred thousand times higher than a normal plant. Their roots reach into a closed nuclear waste treatment area, mistaking strontium for calcium due to its similar chemical properties. The radioactive shrubs are "indistinguishable from other shrubs without a Geiger counter."

Megatsunami
see also

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Who Writes Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is large; it contains multitudes.

Is it mostly written by the general public? By a hard core with 4000 members? Well, both and neither. Obsessed volunteers add more apiece, and do the most copyediting, but there aren't very many of them, compared with, you know, the whole world (or wikipedia's readership, whichever is smaller). Specifics are hard to come by, and studies contradict each other.

The most recent study is clever: it doesn't consider each Wikipedia edit to be equal (fungible, an increment to be counted) like previous studies did. The authors got special WMF access (that is, decent statistics) and figured out exactly how many times each contribution to wikipedia was actually viewed by wiki readers:

We introduce the notion of the impact of an edit, measured by the number of times the edited version is viewed. Using several datasets, including recent logs of all article views, we show that an overwhelming majority of the viewed words were written by frequent editors and that this majority is increasing.

As a proxy for the value contributed by an edit, we use the persistent word view (PWV), the number of times any given word introduced by an edit is viewed. [My emphasis.] PWV builds on the notion of an article view: each time an article is viewed, each of its words is also viewed.

Two key insights drive this metric. First, authors who write content that is read often are empirically providing value to the community. Second, if a contribution is viewed many times without being changed or deleted, it is likely to be a valuable.


When they say overwhelming, they mean it.



The graph (annotated by me :P) shows that:

Editors who edit many times dominate what people see when they visit Wikipedia. The top 10% of editors by number of edits contributed 86% of the PWVs, and top 0.1% contributed 44% – nearly half! The domination of these very top contributors is increasing over time. [That makes sense, because a stable, well-liked edit keeps getting veiwed and therefore racking up PWVs as the years go by. -WikipediaBlog] Of the top 10 contributors of PWVs, nine had made well over 10,000 edits. However, only three of these users were also in the top 50 ranked by number of edits. The number one PWV contributor, Maveric149, contributed 0.5% of all PWVs, having edited 41,000 times on 18,000 articles. Among the top PWV contributors, WhisperToMe(#8) is highest ranked by number of edits: he is #13 on that list, having edited 74,000 times on 27,000 articles.


Also:

...we found essentially no correlation between [number of] views and [number of] edits


Heh.

The Signpost has more coverage

Monday, October 08, 2007

Citizendium (an expert-friendly wikipedia competitor) now has 3000 articles.
Wikipedia Blog's citizendium coverage.

Citizendium -- still a very young wiki -- has been adding new articles even more slowly than Wikipedia did in its own early days. But Sanger points out that "number of articles" isn't the best metric: Citizendium's articles are much longer than early Wikipedia's were.

Alexa has the reality check: traffic is level, trending down. It could swoop back up once Citizendium gets larger.

The Richat Structure, a prominent circular feature in the Sahara desert of Mauritania near Ouadane, has attracted attention since the earliest space missions because it forms a conspicuous bull's-eye in the otherwise rather featureless expanse of the desert. Be sure to click the images

Huge piles of salt

Complete list of nude/erotic images on Wikipedia. You know, for research.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Lessig, in a rather inspiring video:



Link, if you're reading this in a feed.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mary Tofts (born c. 1701) was a maidservant from Godalming, England, who in 1726 became the subject of considerable controversy when she hoaxed doctors into believing that she had given birth to at least sixteen rabbits.

Erik Moller is on the wikimedia board; his blog has been pretty interesting lately.

For starters, LiquidThreads is sort of a cross between a wiki and a discussion forum. And why is Wikipedia a natural ally of the rest of the open-source movement, anyway?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

If you're pissed off at Apple, you could buy a Wikipedia Think Free poster. Proceeds benefit the Foundation. (And I did the graphic design.)

Atmospheric beasts (also sky beasts or sky critters) are organisms which could hypothetically exist within the atmosphere of Earth or other planets. These could fly (or float) without wings as they weigh less than air. See also: Extremophile, Astrobiology.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Aokigahara(青木ヶ原), also called the Sea of Trees, is a forest at the base of Mount Fuji. The caverns found in this forest are rocky and ice-covered, even during summertime. It is an old forest haunted by many legends of monsters, ghosts, and goblins, which add to its sinister reputation.

Creative Commons is being sued!

If you're not a geek, here's some background:

By default, anything anyone writes is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved to the author. If it weren't for alternative licenses that let authors release some rights back to the public, Wikipedia would be completely impossible (so would Linux).

This sounds boring, but Creative Commons is actually tremendously important because it writes and produces these licenses. Wikipedia predates Creative Commons and doesn't use its licenses. It uses the GFD License instead, which was originally intended for software documentation and is craptastic in several ways but impossible to get rid of at this point.

Alright, the geeks can start reading again.


Update, 2007-10-9: The rest of this post is a bit of a stretch -- which is to say, I've changed my mind about the conclusion. It's preserved below, but just for history.




You might have heard part of this story already, but to recap:

1. Virgin Australia found an an ordinary, charming snapshot on Flickr. The photo used a creative commons license that allowed commercial use.

2. Virgin cropped and colored that photo into a kind-of-insulting, borderline-racist cell phone advertisement.

3. Without ever contacting the 15-year-old girl in the snapshot, Virgin put the ad up on billboards across Australia.

4. ProfitGet sued!

Which is all well and good. But now the girl's family is suing Creative Commons, too, for "not adequately informing" people what "license this photo for commecrial use" means.

Aside from the sheer communitarian spirit involved in suing a cash-strapped nonprofit organization that has taken unparalleled pains to make legal language useful and comprehensible to ordinary people, there's also some small possibility that a negative ruling could affect Wikipedia—and, really, anyone else who's trying to fix our grungy copyright system by making an end-run around it.

So thank you, Virgin, for being such complete jackasses that you've possibly (though this is still unlikely) set back an entire global collaborative intellectual movement.

Nono, really—thank you. From all of us.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Silver Arrow is a ghost train that (according to an urban legend) haunts the Stockholm Metro.

If you want to save imperiled articles, join the Article Rescue Squadron! (You can also help transfer deleted articles to the Annex, which will find a good home for them.)

I've been talking about wikisociology and linking to cool articles for a couple years now. Posts are grouped by category in the lefthand sidebar -- for example, wikisnips are links to articles and gadgets are mostly wiki-related web tools. (Plus, each category has its own rss feed.)

You can also use the search box in the upper left. Typing "San Francisco" brings up this post about burritos.

If you're just looking for a motherlode of great stuff, check wikipedia's list of unusual articles. And for information about how to cite wikipedia, see here.

(If you're wondering, this is the L.A.Times article, and Lih has the reaction roundup.)

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Bloody Benders were a family of serial killers who owned a small general store and inn in Labette County, Kansas from 1872 to 1873.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The 8 Most Needlessly Detailed Wikipedia Entries. Like most of the new stuff at Cracked magazine, this is pretty funny.

(Of course, being funny doesn't make it literally true. As usual, the comments sections are buzzing with people pissed off about articles being deleted.)

In trust coloring news, Erik Moeller says:

We have provided Luca with the kind of live feed that we normally only give to companies to do his research in real time, and right now he’s working to process a full dump of the English Wikipedia. I have suggested that we could then offer a MediaWiki “tab” that could show the articles with trust coloring overlay.

Initially this could be something that editors add by modifying their user JavaScript, like navigation popups and countless other tools. The trust coloring itself would run on Luca’s servers (but inside a MonoBook skin).

After my conversations with Jim Giles this was condensed into “incorporated into Wikipedia” in the New Scientist article, which is an error (we’re going to send a correction on Monday).


In other words (if you remember that minor brouhaha) the foundation seems to be doing everything just right -- they're in touch with the decentralized nature of the web, the idea of mashups, etc. Awesome.

Also, Kelly Martin is porting mediawiki to java. (Server-side java, presumably -- not the craptastic client-side stuff.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

So how many continents are there, again?

The 7-continent model is usually taught in most English-speaking countries, China, and most of Europe. The 6-continent combined-Eurasia model is preferred by the geographic community, Russia, Eastern Europe, and Japan. The 6-continent combined-America model is taught in Latin America, the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Iran, Greece and some other parts of Europe.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dancing mania is a phenomenon that occurred primarily in mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries, in which groups of people would dance through the streets of towns or cities, sometimes foaming at the mouth or speaking in tongues, until they collapsed from exhaustion.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Top-down: not how we roll.

There are some big software changes coming: Flagged Revisions and Auto-Trust.

Flagged revisions will make it possible to improve the quality of heavily-trafficked articles until they're super-reliable and well-written. Hopefully. (Sighted versions and quality versions are two possible paths.)

Auto-trust (which is a name I just made up) will give you more information about the reliability of each individual word in an article. Hopefully.

The Wikiquality brainstorming page is a place for figuring out how to implement this stuff without killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

* * *

It's kind of a delicate time, but a few jarring notes have sounded -- for example, a major British paper published a rather terrifying "scoop" that Wikipedia would basically stop being a wiki.

The piece is wrong. But Andrew Lih has some real concerns about how the changes are being pushed through:

What raises my concern is that this wiki page, created for "brainstorming", was made available just days before the New Scientist article was published, and it seems the publication has taken it as gospel as to what will happen. I’m not aware of how many people have seen or vetted this idea.


Another UK paper has published an article with a similar air of inevitability (minus the scary errors, this time), which makes Lih more convincing.

Is the Foundation intentionally cultivating this air of inevitability? It's been a year and a half since jimmy announced that stable versions were coming soon -- and that if they didn't happen, wikipedia had some serious problems. Have the powers at the foundation gotten sick of watching the community sit on its hands about this topic? I know I have. But ideally, top-down isn't how things should work around here.

* * *

In other news, the Wikimedia Foundation is moving its offices to San Francisco from Florida.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thais use two systems for telling the time: the 24-hour clock and the traditional Thai six hour clock.

Hey, cool. I just found out that my city has a pretty active community wiki.

Sleepwalking murder

The daily telegraph (the most popular newspaper broadsheet (thanks, martin) in britain) has run a completely incorrect article about wikipedia. Here's the lede:

Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia compiled by computer users, is to stop people from editing entries after a series of questionable updates cast a shadow over its accuracy and reliability.

Ordinary users will no longer be able to edit information and to see those changes appear instantly on the screen.

Under plans being considered they will have to submit changes to a team of “trusted editors” who would then decide whether to update the entries.


This is, of course, complete nonsense. Possibly the telegraph is referring to the "stable version" plan, which an actual journalist has written about here: "English readers are likely to continue to see the latest version of an entry, with a page that has been certified as vandalism-free by trusted editors available via a link." (The article also talks about how the trust metric is being integrated with mediawiki. Cool.)

I wouldn't be quite this pissed off if I hadn't taken the trouble to write a very long comment on the article page, which the telegraph decided not to approve for posting. Update: They've posted it. I think it was just a delay.

I got used to seeing incorrect stories about wikipedia a couple years ago. But at this point, the largest paper in britain should be getting this sort of thing right. If you want to ask for a correction, contact readrel@telegraph.co.uk.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On September 17th, Jimmy Wales starts an article about a famous restaurant.

2 hours later, somebody tags the article -- not for deletion, but for speedy deletion, calling it spam.

The next revision removed the tag, and the current article looks good, but jesus. Speedy deletion is the quick guillotine intended for articles on which there can be no debate, articles that are unambiguously junk. If this is the type of treatment Jimmy Wales gets...



Addendum: it's healthy for wales not to be treated like a monarch. But he does get cut more slack than regular users.
Addendum 2: It looks like the story's more complex. Geoffrey Burling has the details.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A day in the life of an article. And the followup:

I waited a few days for the deletion storm to pass and attention to wander, then as quickly as I could I restored the history and trimmed out the advertising speak myself. The article has sat completely unmolested since then, apparently a perfectly fine article on a perfectly fine subject. It took me _four minutes_ to fix it up nicely according to the timestamps. There must be umpteen thousands of such articles sitting in the deleted versions bin, probably never to be rescued. It's very disheartening.

Oh noes!

The mainstream media has beaten me to the punch -- the WaPo mentioned WikiDashboard, "a quick way to find the most active editors of an article". I knew about it! I swear! I just didn't post about it in time!

Here's a fuller explanation.

The Washington Post on Wikipedia's interplay with the 2008 presidential campaign. They've got the wikipedia culture down pretty well, too.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What with the Ignore all Rules explanation and the Editors matter essay, it looks like there's momentum in the right direction.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Globus Cassus is a utopian project for the transformation of Planet Earth into a much bigger, hollow, artificial world with an ecosphere on its inner surface.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The first programmable robot and drum machine, circa 1206 a.d.

Via Timeline of the most important human inventions. (Spoiler: everything before the 16th century was invented in china or n. africa.)

War Plan Red was a military document outlining a hypothetical war between the United States and the British Empire (the "Red" forces). It was developed by the United States Army during the mid 1920s, and was officially withdrawn in 1939, when it and others like it were replaced by the five "Rainbow" plans created to deal with the Axis threat.

The war was intended to be a continental war, waged primarily on North American territory between the United States and the British Empire. The assumption was that Canada would represent the ideal geographic forum through which the British could wage war against the United States.

Defence Scheme No. 1 was a plan created by Canadian Director of Military Operations and Intelligence Col. James "Buster" Sutherland Brown, for a Canadian counter-invasion of the United States.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The glass harmonica is a type of musical instrument that uses a series of glass bowls or goblets graduated in size to produce musical tones by means of friction, making it a crystallophone. Note that despite being played with wet fingers, the sound is produced by the glass, so the glass harmonica is not a hydraulophone even if played completely submerged in water.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

David Phillips (pudding)

2 millionth wikipedia article

Apparently, it's El Hormiguero

The mailing list says:

Apparently, the 2,000,000th article in en-wp is El Hormiguero, on a Spanish comedy and science TV show. (This is not yet officially confirmed by WMF, and seems to be under a bit of bickering.)

We should get them to do a skit about Wikipedia for one of their shows, and then release it under a free license permitting reuse and derivative works... then we can set up a kiosk with a television monitor playing that show in a continuous loop (with English subtitles) along with other Wikipedia/Wikimedia stuff (like a speech by Jimbo), and put it in the Jordanhill railway station, thus combining the 1,000,000th and 2,000,000th topics in a place that Wikipedians can make pilgrimages to.

A premature obituary occurs when someone's death is reported while they are still alive. List of premature obituaries.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mods and Rockers

MIT news: "Residents of Italy's capital will glimpse the future of urban mapmaking next month with the launch of "Wiki City Rome," a project developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that uses data from cellphones and other wireless technology to illustrate the city's pulse in real time."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wikigroaning is funny and/or embarrassing depending on your outlook, but is it a problem? I agree that the serious articles should be better, but in these comparisons there seems to be an implicit theory that the fan topics are somehow sucking the life out of the serious ones.

But really, do we want somebody obsessed about [[Optimus Prime]] to spend a lot of time on [[Prime number]]? And even if we wanted them to, would they do it and do it well? I don't think so.

From what I've seen, the fan stuff is not a particularly big maintenance burden. Maybe I've missed it, but I don't see a lot of vandalism, a lot of dispute resolution, or a lot of AN/I requests over the stuff. So it seems like the net cost of keeping it is relatively small. And I see two big benefits that come from it.

First is that the more editors we have involved in Wikipedia, the better. People identify with things they've contributed to. That gives us all sorts of positive effects, including less vandalism, more donations, more person-to-person promotion, and more public support.

William Pietri, on the mailing list

Monday, September 03, 2007

Google Wiki is going to launch soon -- or rather, google is re-launching jotspot as part of google apps.

As far as interface geekry, I'm more excited about Apple's wiki software -- but that's just going to run on Leopard Server. Does anyone use apple servers apart from apple itself? It's like sun office.

6 secret languages

A cryptolect is a secret language used only by members of a group, often used to conceal the meaning from those outside the group.

Here's the SIX SECRETIST LANGUAGES! (Kidding. I figured lists are good for traffic.)

1. Thieves' cant was a secret language which was formerly used by thieves, beggars and hustlers of various kinds in Great Britain and to a lesser extent in other English-speaking countries. The classic, colourful argot is now mostly obsolete, and is largely relegated to the realm of literature and fantasy role-playing, although individual terms continue to be used in the criminal subcultures of both Britain and the U.S.

2. Shelta is a language spoken by parts of the Irish Traveller people. It has been suggested that the word "Shelta" itself derives from the Irish word "siúlta", meaning "of walking". This refers to the nomadic lifestyle of the Travellers, and the fact that they were commonly called "the Walking People".

3. Carny. Note: Though these terms are traditionally part of Carnival jargon, it is an ever changing form of communication and in large part designed to be impossible to understand by an outsider. Thus, as words are assimilated into the culture at large, they lose their function and are replaced by other more obscure or insular terms.

4. Barallete is employed by the traditional knife-sharpeners and umbrella holders (afiadores e paragüeiros) of the Galician province of Ourense. (Yes, those words are real.)

5. Klezmer-loshn (Yiddish: Musician's Tongue) is an extinct derivative of the Yiddish language. It was used by travelling Jewish musicians, known as klezmorim (klezmers), in Eastern Europe prior to the 20th Century.

6. Leet (written as 31337, 1337, and l33t), is used primarily on the Internet, but becoming increasingly common in many online video games. It uses various combinations of alphanumerics to replace proper letters.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Wikirage lists the Wikipedia articles with the most edits per unique editor over various periods of time.

Apparently,

enwp.org/whatever
redirects to
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/whatever
. Good to know.

Monday, August 27, 2007


The colonization of Venus, Earth's nearest planetary neighbour, has been a subject of much speculation and many works of science fiction since before and after the dawn of spaceflight. With the discovery of Venus' hostile surface environment, attention has largely shifted towards the colonization of the Moon and the colonization of Mars. Recently, however, papers have surfaced on the feasibility of colonizing Venus beginning from the less hostile cloud-tops, making surface exploration in the beginning unnecessary.

Landis has proposed aerostat habitats followed by floating cities, based on the concept that breathable air (21:79 Oxygen-Nitrogen mixture) is a lifting gas in the dense Venusian atmosphere, with about half the lifting power that helium has on Earth. This would allow breathable air domes to lift a colony in addition to their own weight. Alternatively two-part domes could contain a lifting gas like hydrogen or helium (extractable from the atmosphere) to allow a higher mass density.

Every time a Wikipedia article is deleted, a kitten dies

Wikipedia is the ultimate social network. One's contributions to the encyclopedia convey a full spectrum of interests, goals, desires, and level of honesty (or lack thereof). Minor details speak volumes; they are more revealing than a gallery of photographs, more meaningful than your favorite color, more intimate than dirty socks.

...

What really delineates our ability to meaningfully communicate and form social bonds? Common interests in art, music, and books all play a role, as do cultural similarities. They are limited in scope, only defining the surface of our interactions. Tilting the rudders of our interpersonal discourse, though, are the most minor, infinitesimal details -- an order of magnitude more prescient than your race or political affiliation.


I don't know about all that -- but the main idea is that wikipedia really should be the center of something much bigger. (A good start would be a page where people can discuss the topic itself, not just its article.)

This is why, every time someone deletes an article because it's not notable, it feels like somehow, somewhere, there was a great disturbance in the force, like a kitten was put through the blender. Information can be moved, damnit. It should be flowing outward from wikipedia to somewhere else (somewhere more everything2-ish*).

Do you hear this, WP deletionists? It's the general public. They don't like it when their hard work is painted over with white-out. (Or sealed up in an unadvertised lockbox, which amounts to the same thing.) Use the annex.


* Print this one out and read it. Some of the most beautiful stuff I've ever encountered is on e2.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Jedi census phenomenon was a grassroots movement in 2001 for citizens in a few English-speaking countries to record their religion as "Jedi" or "Jedi Knight" on the national census.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

If wikipedia were printed out, this is how big it would be. (Though I don't think the size of the binding is accounted for.) see also

While we're at it, Colbert's Wikiscanner commentary blows Olbermann's out of the water.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007



The wikiscanner coverage is still flowing fast. Keith Olbermann had a misguided take, for example:



It's not his fault.* The media coverage around this has been deeply mediocre. With the exception, as usual, of the NYTimes piece (and here's their Wikipedia feed), nobody reported two essential facts:

  1. Contentious wikipedia articles are edited every hour of the day. Anonymous edits are always suspect. Any edit that looks unproductive (like deleting an entire section without comment) gets reverted immediately -- as, indeed, these edits were.

    This side of the story would have required some actual reporting (digging to see how the edits influenced the later article), and reporting means boots on the ground, which means payroll.

  2. "Anonymous" wikipedia contributors are actually the only editors that aren't allowed to be anonymous. As soon as you choose a WP username, your IP address stops being shown.


Sure, those aren't the most important elements of the story. But not including them anywhere in the article? Pull up your socks.

* Note to Olbermann: Edward R. Murrow was a journalist, not an anchor.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A cat piano or Katzenklavier (German) is a hypothetical musical instrument consisting of a line of cats fixed in place with their tails stretched out underneath a keyboard. Nails would be placed under the keys, causing the cats to cry out in pain when a key was pressed. The cats would be arranged according to the natural tone of their voices.

The instrument was described by German physician Johann Christian Reil (1759-1813) for the purpose of treating patients who had lost the ability to focus their attention. Reil believed that if they were forced to see and listen to this instrument, it would inevitably capture their attention and they would be cured (Richards, 1998).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

Jeanne Louise Calment (February 21, 1875 – August 4, 1997) reached the longest confirmed lifespan in history at 122 years and 164 days. Her husband died in 1942, after he ate a dessert prepared with spoiled cherries.

In 1965, aged 90, with no living heirs, Jeanne Calment signed a deal, common in France, to sell her condominium apartment en viager to lawyer François Raffray. Raffray, then aged 47, agreed to pay a monthly sum until she died, an agreement sometimes called a "reverse mortgage". At the time of the deal the value of the apartment was equal to ten years of payments. Unfortunately for Raffray, not only did Calment survive more than thirty years, but Raffray died of cancer in December 1995, at the age of 77, leaving his widow to continue the payments.

She said that at age 14, she met Vincent van Gogh in her father's shop, later describing him as "dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable." She also reported attending the 1885 funeral of Victor Hugo.

Jeanne Calment's remarkable health presaged her later record. At age 85, she took up fencing. At 100, she was still riding a bicycle.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I'm trying my hand at a wikipedia videoblog.



(Or here , if it doesn't show in the feed.)

The sailing stones are a geological phenomenon found in Racetrack Playa, Death Valley. The stones slowly move across the surface of the playa, leaving a track as they go, without human or animal intervention.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wikipedia Scanner "offers users a searchable database that ties millions of anonymous Wikipedia edits to organizations where those edits apparently originated, by cross-referencing the edits with data on who owns the associated block of internet IP addresses." (Of course, it only shows edits by users without accounts.)

Via Wired, who also have a page where you can vote on the most egregious wikipedia spin/fraud.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Ulam Spiral is a simple method of graphing the prime numbers that reveals a pattern which has never been fully explained. It was discovered by the mathematician Stanisław Ulam in 1963, while doodling on scratch paper at a scientific meeting.

The NYTimes seems to be making a leap into blogging. Here's their Wikipedia-tagged posts, for future reference.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Yet another NYTimes piece from wikimania. (These are all by columnist Noam Cohen.)

NYTimes on Wikimania, Chinese censorship, and other things. The collapse of mainland chinese wikipedia participation is pretty depressing. At Boston wikimania, there was nobody more enthusiastic than the handful of mainland chinese people; they were absolutely thrilled to be there.



Ancient world maps.

The De Virga world map was made around 1411. (And re-discovered in a second-hand bookshop in 1911. And stolen during an auction in 1932, and never recovered.)

It gives a fairly accurate shape of Africa, at a time when the continent had not yet been rounded by European explorers. The source of such cartographic information is unknown, although it could be Muslim traders, or possibly Chinese cartographers under Admiral Zheng He.

Zheng He was a Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat, fleet admiral, and eunuch who from 1405 to 1433 made voyages across the Indian ocean and to the coast of Africa. His voyages and the subsequent possible abandonment (as some have argued) of maritime exploration by the Chinese emperors have become symbolic in the space advocacy community of the success and cancellation of the Apollo Program.

Chinese exploration.

llywrch: "Keep in mind that one goal of every committed Wikipedian is the desire to recruit more knowledgable and productive members. I believe that lot of the apparently minor edits Admins make are to further this goal."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Another wikimania dispatch from the NYTimes. When is the times going to start tagging its articles, not just its "blog posts"?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dunbar's number, which is 150, represents a theoretical maximum number of individuals with whom a set of people can maintain a social relationship.

The Great Stink was a time in the summer of 1858 during which the smell of untreated sewage almost overwhelmed people in central London.

Wikipedia needs a better API. If there's one reason you should give the foundation your money, this is it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Who adds real content to Wikipedia, not just correcting typos and wikification?

Answer:

Only 12% of edits create fresh content. Of these 12%...
  • 0% were made by admins

  • 69% were registered users.

  • 31% were created by anon users, or non-logged in users.

...and only 52% were by people who had a user page.

For great wikimania coverage, get thee to Wikipedia Weekly.

NYTimes dispatch from Wikimania

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Taipei Times is pumping out wiki coverage. Here's something interesting:

The sharp divide between producers and consumers of knowledge began only about 300 years ago, when book printers secured royal protection for their trade in the face of piracy in a rapidly expanding literary market. The legacy of their success, copyright law, continues to impede attempts to render cyberspace a free marketplace of ideas. Before, there were fewer readers and writers, but they were the same people, and had relatively direct access to each other's work.

Indeed, a much smaller, slower and more fragmented version of the Wikipedia community came into existence with the rise of universities in 12th and 13th century Europe.

The large ornamental codices of the early Middle Ages gave way to portable "handbooks" designed for the lighter touch of a quill pen. However, the pages of these books continued to be made of animal hide, which could easily be written over. This often made it difficult to attribute authorship, because a text might consist of a copied lecture in which the copyist's comments were inserted and then perhaps altered as the book passed to other hands.

Wikipedia has remedied many of those technical problems. Any change to an entry automatically generates a historical trace, so entries can be read as what medieval scholars call a "palimpsest," a text that has been successively overwritten. Moreover, "talk pages" provide ample opportunity to discuss actual and possible changes. While Wikipedians do not need to pass around copies of their text -- everyone owns a virtual copy -- Wikipedia 's content policy remains deeply medieval in spirit.

Wikimania (the yearly wiki conference) is starting today in Taiwan. Google it for the main page -- but for the flavor of what it's really like, try the photos. (Wikipedia weekly has good audio coverage, too.)

So there's England. And Britain, and Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. And the British Isles. And what's the difference between all these, again?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

When the Going turns Surreal, only Criminals will own Librarians

When I had encountered this story long ago, the allegation was far less exotic: that "Slim Virgin" was the screen name of one Linda Mack, an eccentric college student who lost someone close to her (either a family member or a friend) on the Lockaby air plane crash, and volunteered a lot of her time and energy into finding the people responsible.

If that is in fact true, then it explains a lot about why she wants to remain anonymous, and why other people are willing to stifle discussion on the topic: she's been put through more than enough shit already.
Besides, so what if she is a female version of James Bond? As long as she doesn't resort to some black ops tactics to resolve disputes (even if that is the only way to settle them), is it a problem? Maybe she can draw on that experience to improve some articles.

However, as Kelly Martin and others have pointed out, the way this has been handled has only made things worse: removing material from article histories only creates more controversy, not less. A simple denial is all that is needed to handle this surreal rumor. ... I don't agree with Tlogmer that requiring Administrators to furnish (or use) their real names would solve problems like this. For example, I happen to share the same name as a car dealer in Australia.

Bonus: When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

Abir is an ancient Israelite martial art. Scroll down for pictures of bearded guys with swords.

Being jewish (but, I hasten to add, not in favor of Israel's policies or any sort of secret agent), I think this is pretty cool. There's really nothing like finding out that your ethnicity has its own kung-fu.

Admins should not be anonymous



SlimVirgin update. I feel like I should be typing this kind of post in a darkened new york apartment with furious clicks and dings, chainsmoking, and sending out a telegram -- yes ! a telegram ! -- to my editor before the morning presses start.

So, Dear Reader, on the Q.T....

Kelly Martin smells a rat.
The exact details of the rumors that are spreading like wildfire now may not be accurate, but I'd be totally unsurprised to find out that SlimVirgin is somehow connected to the the Flight 103 bombings. Why else would she have all of her edits to such topics disappeared?...SlimVirgin, a little advice: the only way out of this situation is to abandon your account. This drama will surround you indefinitely; the only way for it to end is for you to start completely fresh with a new one. You won't be able to suppress all discussion of this indefinitely, and the more you try the more people will be convinced of the truth of the allegations. You've made this bed; now you must sleep in it.


And J.W. (Wales, that is) has commented on the lists:
In this particular case, due to some really spectacular nonsense, this is being treated as evidence that a private person who has been badly harassed by stalkers and lunatics is... a former spy? Please.

Many editors at Wikipedia have been involved in dealing with extraordinarily crazy people. Some of these people are dangerous in real life. Some of them have made direct physical threats. Others have made phone calls to people's employers. Others have done some homemade self-styled "investigative journalism" that any rational and kind person would see as being what it really is: abusive stalking.

I fully support the right of the Wikipedia community to protect itself from those kinds of lunatics by giving support to those who need to maintain their privacy.


I'm going to come out and say that Wikipedia administrators should not be anonymous. Editors, sure. Admins? Absolutely not. Their real names should be listed. Not admins on the Chinese language Wikipedia, of course, or anywhere there's politcal repression. But elsewhere, the police can protect you from crazy people. My name, phone number and address have been online for 5 years, and (to my disappointment) I've yet to attract a stalker.

Admins have tremendous influence within Wikipedia. They were originally intended to be enlightened, ideologically neutral "janitors" whose powers were used only to conduct tasks too tedious for ordinary editors. But where software endows power, no man can take it away. Or, rather more specifically, when the deletion process is a "consensus", not a vote, and admins are the only people who get to decide when a consensus has been reached and push the big red button, guess who has disproportionate sway?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

There's been a lot of fuss about Slimvirgin's identity. (Israeli spy! Secret covert operative!) Milos Rancic injects a much-needed dose of reality.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

But how do you know if it's accurate?



Alright, this is the most awesome thing I have seen in a very long time.

People have been talking for years (at least, I have) about color-coding words in Wikipedia articles based on how long they've survived unchanged. You could see at a glance what had lasted hundreds of revisions, and what had just been added.

Other people have been talking for years about some sort of reputation system -- you could vote on whether an article was reliable, or whether a user was. There are all sorts of problems with this kind of thinking, but I won't get into them because they've just been made moot: *

We present a content-driven reputation system for Wikipedia authors. In our system, authors gain reputation when the edits they perform to Wikipedia articles are preserved by subsequent authors, and they lose reputation when their edits are rolled back or undone in short order. Thus, author reputation is computed solely on the basis of content evolution; user-to-user comments or ratings are not used. The author reputation we compute could be used to flag new contributions from low-reputation authors, or it could be used to allow only authors with high reputation to contribute to controversial or critical pages. A reputation system for the Wikipedia could also provide an incentive for high-quality contributions.

We have implemented the proposed system, and we have used it to analyze the entire Italian and French Wikipedias, consisting of a total of 691,551 pages and 5,587,523 revisions. Our results show that our notion of reputation has good predictive value: changes performed by low-reputation authors have a significantly larger than average probability of having poor quality, as judged by human observers, and of being later undone, as measured by our algorithms.


And I haven't even gotten to the good part.

The same people developed a color-coding system based on their new trust metric. Text contributed by authors with a high content-driven reputation looks normal (black on white); text contributed by authors with a low reputation has an orange background (of varying shades).

Here's the demo.



Be sure to click "random page" a few times and page through the article histories.

(Damn. Now I want to go to Wikimania. Anyone want to buy me a ticket to Taipei?)

A note to the UCSC Wiki Team, who created this: even if your proposal doesn't get implemented on the Wikipedia servers (because of community opposition, or lack of resources), you can still implement it yourself (on wikipedia content, yes) via greasemonkey, or a firefox extention, or a web-based mashup, or whatever.




* Update: Well, not completely moot. Any automated reputation system can be gamed, and here are a few cantankerous side effects this one might have. That's one reason it may be a better idea to roll it out as an add-on than on the Wikipedia servers themselves.