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.