Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

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."

see also