Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Test-driving Knol

"Crowd-sourcing" is really, really difficult, and Google has a spotted history with social software.

I took Knol for a test drive to see if it stands a chance of competing with Wikipedia.

Here's the video, if you can't see the embed.

Knol is different from Wikipedia in a lot of ways:

  • The creator of a page can "own" it, approving and rejecting other people's edits

  • There can be more than one page about a topic

  • There are no hard-and-fast rules, just a rating-driven filtering system

  • You can verify your identity (and not just by credit card!)

  • Google has money to burn, so the interface doesn't look like it was designed by an engineering student circa 1974. (It looks like it was designed by an engineering professor who drives a Volvo.)

I was skeptical when Google announced the project last year, but this is pretty impressive (even though it's not all that useful yet).

The biggest flaw is the front page, which is disorganized, lacks a human touch (despite being composed of manually-tagged items) and doesn't convey any sort of comprehensive sweep. Almost all of the spotlighted articles are about depressing medical conditions, which is a big mistake -- it makes it look like knol is a less-organized version of webMD or something.

If Google manages to cultivate a sense of community, Knol actually stands a chance of becoming a small but significant competitor -- which is good, because Wikipedia needs an external kick in the pants to cut through the introspection.

Google jumps into social search

They're testing a service where users can promote and demote search results, and leave comments -- all right inside the google interface.

Here's the techcrunch video:

You don't have to be William Gibson to get a looking-at-the-future quiver. But this is very bad news for Wikia, the startup run by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. They've spent the last year or so trying to build exactly what google just rolled out.

Wikia search had a noble goal -- to open-source bloody websearch, which is central to just about everything -- but they never had a chance against Google; they would have had to hire every PhD, ever. (I've said before that Wikia should concentrate on building communities, which they're great at, not building search engines.)

It's also bad news for Yahoo. It looks like Google is buying Digg -- which is social search in a very general way -- and unlike yahoo, they're willing to integrate their websites with each other.

Is Wikipedia Nuking the Fridge?

The short answer


The medium answer

Not if you want an encyclopedia, but maybe if you want a kaleidoscopic window into the world.

The long answer

About Nuking the Fridge, Newsweek says:
Early in the new "Indiana Jones" sequel, our creaky, 65-year-old hero stumbles onto a nuclear test site, and the warning siren is blaring. Panicked, surrounded by Potemkin houses, he folds himself inside the lead-lined cavity of a refrigerator. Kaboom: the blast sends Indy hurtling across the New Mexico desert, a mushroom cloud rising behind him. He lands and, logic be damned, tumbles out unscathed. The franchise, though, will never recover.


The phrase was born on May 24—two days after the film opened—and it went viral on movie message boards. In barely a month, it has blown through several Web. 2.0 benchmarks: YouTube tributes, "fridge" haikus, merch-hawking Web sites, "Word of the Day" status on "You're expecting [the movie] to be as great as you remembered it," says Beth Russell, creator of, "and after the fridge scene, it was like, 'Oooo-K'." A new legend is born, for all the wrong reasons.

What say Wikipedia?

Well ... nothing.

The Nuking the Fridge article was actually deleted twice -- the meme was so powerful that someone who didn't know about the first deletion created the page again almost immediately. But this type of re-creation is actually against the rules -- instead, you have to propose re-creation at "deletion review" (even though, for the uninitiated, there are no hints that the blank page being edited was ever home to an article in the past). So it was deleted again immediately, without discussion.

How many people weighed in on that first deletion? One. It was "speedy deleted" after a single vote. ("Presumption is this was made up by the author and/or their friends (see author's username).")

One of many ironies here is that "Nuking the Fridge" is still a requested article -- which is to say that sometime after it was deleted, someone saw that the article didn't exist and added it to the collaborative to-do list.

This type of thing happens all the time. On one of my periodic safaris into deletion land, I saw that List of planets in Futurama had just gone under the axe, and I had an admin put a copy of it in my user space.

A couple days later, someone found my copy through the global search engine and wrote me a note:
I noticed you have a very nice article writen about the planets in futurama; would you consider adding it to the futurama articles, either split up as separate articles for each planet or as one big article? I made the "list of planets", which was missing from the link in the Futurama Portal (it was red).
I showed him the deletion vote. He said,
I dont understand -- if so many people voted keep, why did it get deleted? Now a list of planets is in the list of tasks for the Futurama Project. Seems like this is one of those situations where the right hand dosn't know what the left is doing.
Stability is good. Instability is bad.

Feeling like the words you type into wikipedia could be read in 100 years -- that's great. Knowing that an article you write might be deleted even if another wikipedian has specifically requested that article: bad. Rewriting an article without knowing that it's already been written and expunged? Terrible.

Feeling like you have to constantly push back against the deletion tide ... well, that kills kittens (where by kittens, I mean "the stuff that powers wikipedia").

Is there a solution?

I'm working on one, but it's a secret. In the meantime, Wikipedia's newest board member, Ting Chen, seems to be concerned about correcting this problem -- his wikimania talk was called "Keep the Community Open while Wikipedia matures".

Wikipedia Weekly had this to say about the talk:

These things that make wikipedia great, not just in english but in the other languages that he's fluent in, german and chinese -- it was interesting talking about how the "quality drives" that we have are driving us against this kind of open model, and driving us towards saying "well, really, if we're going to have stable versions, we want a highly vetted version we need someone with a phd to do that."

The foundation is also talking about making page-view statistics available for every article. WWeekly, again:

What Eric's talking about, using stats long-term, is not just to think of them as some numbers that you go to the website and pull out, but actually thinking about, longer-term, integrating them into the editing process.

That sounds awesome, and it means, among other things, that people will be confronted with the fact that they're deleting articles that get viewed hundreds of times a week.

For the record, I kind of liked the new movie. Indiana Jones was never realistic, and always had indy escaping in ridiculous ways. You just don't realize 'cause you saw the first movies when you were a kid.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Picture: the "Criticism of Windows Vista" article is slightly longer than the "God" article. See also.

Gut-wrenching Scream And Fall Into Distance (titled "Screams 3; Man, Gut-wrenching Scream And Fall Into Distance" on the compilation Hollywood Edge Premiere Edition, volume 13) is an often-used sound effect.

Like the Wilhelm Scream, it is an inside joke among sound engineers.

The Wilhelm Scream's revival came from Star Wars series sound designer Ben Burtt, who tracked down the original recording (which he found as a studio reel labeled "Man being eaten by alligator").

A Super-Earth is an extrasolar terrestrial planet that is more massive than the Earth, but less than 10 times as massive.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

2 more NYTimes dispatches from Wikimania.

First, A Book With 90,000 Authors, about the German Wikipedia's printed edition.

The Wikipedian, Mathias Schindler, said the credits page runs 27 pages “in a dense layout -– it’s a page full of names, separated by commas.” “I was able to spot my name within half a minute,” Mr. Schindler said. “And I was able to read it without any auxiliary devices.”

Second, A Wikipedian Challenge: Convincing Arabic Speakers to Write in Arabic. There are some interesting comments on this one; scroll to the bottom.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

NYTimes on stable versions, and change in the air

NYT: Wikipedia Tries Approval System to Reduce Vandalism on Pages

Wikipedia is considering a basic change to its editing philosophy to cut down on vandalism. In the process, the online encyclopedia anyone can edit would add a layer of hierarchy and eliminate some of the spontaneity that has made the site, at times, an informal source of news.

It well could bring some law and order to the creative anarchy that has made the site a runaway success but also made it a target for familiar criticism.

The idea, which is called “flagged revisions,” has only been possible in the last few months because of a new extension to the software that runs Wikipedia. It is sure to be a hot topic here at Wikimania 2008, in Alexandria, Egypt, because it promises to enact a goal for “stable versions” of articles that has long been championed by Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales.

An administrator at the German Wikipedia, where the first large-scale experiment is happening, will give a talk Friday on how it’s going.

Was anyone there? How did it go?

Here's an interesting comment from the Times post:

Wikipedia seems to want to pretend that it is some sort of old school Encyclopedia. However Wikipedia is not an old school Encyclopedia, its better than that. It’s a forum where ideas compete in the full light of public scrutiny in the best traditions of free speech.

This culture shift has been underway for a couple years. Wikipedia is trying to change from a set of town squares (hey heavy metal fans, let's all gather at Heavy Metal!), each with its own idiosyncrasies, to a more formal and static reference work.

This isn't surprising -- if you call yourself an encyclopedia, you're going to attract people who want to weed out the "unencyclopedic". But it could have unintended side effects -- at worst, it could undermine the enthusiasm that makes wikipedia tick.

(Here's another Times dispatch from the conference.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Streaming Video from Wikimania sessions doesn't work!


I think this is the first wikimania to have the video up and running, though it's been promised every time before.

Nevermind. For some reason, the library of alexandria has eschewed any of the hundreds of cross-compatible methods of posting video, and has chosen a method that requires Windows Media Player.

And not just any windows media player. The site requires windows media player version 11, the only one that's impossible to run on mac. Thanks.

New Blog Address, same RSS feed

Okay, kids; the changeover is happening sometime soon.

If you're subscribed to, cool. It'll switch over automatically and you won't have to do anything.

If you're subscribed to some feed beginning with blogspot, you should switch to the feedburner version.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

List of fictional films portrayed on the sitcom Seinfeld.

Wikipedians hold a conference in the Great Library of Alexandria

How's that for a headline? Papyrus meets wiki, old meets new, east meets west.

I'm in Michigan, where the weather is hot. But the Wikipedia Weekly just recorded a show direct from the Mediterranean coast.

Here are the best parts, transcribed and remixed. If you like it, go thank the podcasters.

On the Library itself

The location this year for Wikimania is more important than for probably any other Wikimania because of the historic nature of the Library of Alexandria, and the creation of a modern, new library.

Even though the surrounding neighborhood's a little bit run down, the library itself is quite stunning.

Literally, the Alexandria library is right on the water. It's a spectacular view. There's beaches tens of meters away.

In a country of dust-colored buildings, this one round, clearly modern building stands out quite hugely. It looks like a big coin tipped 45 degrees and sunk in the ground. And it has a little lake around it as well, a little fountain lake.

Then when you actually go into the library, it's just amazing, because most of the library is actually underneath the ground. There's seven levels above ground and another seven below ground in a tiered, stepped fashion. The tiering is north-south, so everyone is looking towards the ceiling (as it were) which faces towards the mediterranean.

So the sun comes in through the roof all day, and it's filtered, but it makes a wonderful reading light. It's this huge open space for about four thousand readers. Apparently it's the world's largest individual reading room.

One of the spectacular things about the reading room is that it's actually pretty ecofriendly. All the light in that space is natural, through these gigantic skylights that just pour down several levels. (They actually have a kind of visitor's viewing area with glass in front; you can take pictures and you can see what people are doing there.)

The only electric lights are little standard lights on the individual desks, and little lights within the bookshelves themselves, which light up the spines of the books.

On the library's contents

Unfortunately it hasn't got many books yet because it's quite a new library and it's got a huge capacity. But it's got internet terminals, it's got a little display of the history of printing and a couple of permanent exhibitions.

And it has in there the only mirror of the internet archive in the world. (The original's in california.) There's a 1.5-petabyte rack of computers siting there humming away, storing the internet (and also thousands of hours of american and egyptian television, apparently).

They've also got another thing in there, which I haven't heard of before, which I think is really cool. It's called the cappuccino printer espresso book machine -- I assume because it's single-use; you make one cappuccino at a time. This is a printer that prints books on demand, and it's not just a normal printer, like a photocopier. This binds them; it puts color binding on the top and black and white pieces of paper in the middle. If you have a digital file -- I think you can't bring your own, you have to choose from their selection -- you can choose "that book" and "that size" and it prints it in twenty minutes.

There's only three ten of those in the world, apparently. I can see how, when the technology gets better, in ten, twenty years time, a bookstore will just be this machine, and you say "I want the Great Gatsby" and it prints. It's a really interesting possibility.

One of the Cappuccino examples they've got there lying in the display case is the Wikitravel Cairo and Alexandria booklet, which I'm sure Evan Prodromou would be interested in. (He couldn't make it to this conference, but they were advertising that Wikitravel was going to be featured there.)

On Cultural Melting Pots, 1

It's pretty hot inland but by the water here it's entirely Mediterranean in terms of feel. It's a real difference from Cairo, not just in terms of heat, but the culture as well.

Whilst Egypt is obviously very ancient and has its own very strong culture, ancient and modern, it looks very much towards the Middle East and towards Arabia in its contemporary society, not towards the south, not towards Africa. And Alexandria, here on the coast, looks toward europe to a certain degree as well. So whilst instanbul, for example, is your asia-meets-europe city, cairo seems to be sort of the last bastion of the middle east towards africa. And the country has definitely turned its back upon africa and looks toward the middle east. Alexandria has a bag with a little bit of greek thrown in.

What's fascinating to me about egypt is just the real mix of some greek antiquity with some egyptian antiquity. It's really kind of a blend of all of those things; you see that especially around us here in alexandria.

On Driving in Egypt

The driving is one of the most interesting about here.

I am not from china and therefore am not used to the weaving system they have here, but it's quite civilized weaving. It's not like you're aggressive masochistic weaving that comes from france or italy, and it's not your to hell with it, I'm going to come back again in the next life that you get in india.

It's quite orderly; you can get a flow to it and you can cross the road by just walking steadily and surely. And there's the usual honking of horns, but not aggressively in the I'm coming up behind you, look out where I am way.

On cultural melting pots, 2

I ran into a mongolian IT developer on the plane from China over to Cairo. And after I told him about Wikimania he goes, "Oh, I use wikipedia! what are you guys doing there?"

And I said "There's a conference going on in Alexandria", and he said "Oh, really? Then maybe I'll stop by!" So I might have recruited a mongolian wikipedia on the plane.

Holding a conference that's dedicated to free knowledge under a government that's not

Today there was a release of the leak of the most recently written draft legislation to change the telecommunication laws in Egypt.

One of the problems when this conference was decided to be in Alexandria was that people were saying "Well, shouldn't we be going to countries that are (A) easy to access for the majority of Wikipedians and (B) represent the values that Wikimedia stands for -- openness, freedom of information, digital society, with no criminalization of fredom of information."

Unfortunately, this is the opposite direction that Egypt might be taking. These new laws have been drafted and leaked, saying that apparently Facebook chats, SMS's, and blog posts -- all kinds of new media -- not just old media on tv broadcast and satellite channels, though they're definitely affected as well -- that all of those things can be censored and you could be arrested for producing any kind of information that "undermines the harmony of the state".

That is a very flexible definition. "Harmony of the state" could be defined by the government. The government has been in power here for a long time. They've had the same prime minister president, Ehud Olmert Hosni Mubarak, for a couple of decades at least, and whilst Egypt is one of the more western-facing and open arabic countries, it's definitely not sweden in terms of that.

It's a scary possibility. Of course, this is why it was leaked in the first place.

On Mistaken Identity

Around 8 or 9 in the morning, a few of us came over to the library and were poking around, and just happened to ask some of the guards "We're looking for the Wikimania folks".

And the guards pointed a bunch of us, about eight of us, to this back staff entrance, saying "Oh, please, go in in there." We kind of looked at each other and said, "Okay, we'll go in there."

We walked through the bowels of the staff area, which was nice, and we went through a security check that they just waved us through, and we took an elevator up and we said, wow, this is a pretty posh reception we're getting here.

And we walk down the hall and they show us to a room, and what do we see? We see Jimmy Wales sitting there in a room by himself with this gigantic conference table.

And Jimmy looks at us (and he knows almost all of us from past Wikimanias) and he goes "Hi, guys -- what are you doing here?"

And we said, "We're not sure."

And we saw all these name plaques on the table, which were of board members of the Wikimedia Foundation, and Jimmy says, "Yeah, I'm waiting here for the board to show up for a nine thirty meeting." And we realized that these guards thought we were board members and showed us to where Jimmy was.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Wikipedia's yearly conference starts tomorrow in Alexandria (yes, that Alexandria).

Wikimania is when editors actually get to meet each other face to face. (It's also a more general tech conference, and therefore a magnet for the digital overclass -- I think I saw Cory Doctorow walking around at Boston Wikimania.) But Egypt is far away, so there are fewer English-speakers attending.

I'm not going because I hate conferences. But if you're hungry for coverage:

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Paris Meridian is a meridian line running through the Paris Observatory in Paris, France -- now longitude 2°20′14.025″ east. It was a long-standing rival to Greenwich as the prime meridian of the world, as was the Antwerp meridian in Flanders.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wikipedia Blog goes pro!

I'm getting paid to blog! (No, seriously.)

Wikipedia blog itself won't change at all, except that now it's about SEO! Just kidding.

The one thing that will change is the address, which will be (You can go there now, but it's full of scaffolding and drywall and I'm not sure the toilet works.)

I'm really excited, and not quite sure what to say, so I recorded a video.

The details

Okay. A Seattle company called enotes is hiring a bunch of bloggers to fill out their content. I got an email a couple weeks ago from their development director, Alex Bloomingdale, we hashed out the details, and lo (insert here however many exclamation points you want) : paid blogging.

I get to keep creative control. Enotes' take is that they don't want to kill the goose (and Alex was talking about spreading knowledge as a public service).

But first: thank you to anyone who has ever read this. And especially to phoebe for bringing me onto her book, and Noam Cohen for listening to me rant.

(And to Geoff, who writes great comments, and blogs at Original Research.)

And also, everything on the blog -- all past posts, too -- is now licensed cc attribution 3, which means you can do whatever you want with it.

We're still setting up the new interface, so I'll cross-post to both places for the next few days, but early next week I'll throw the switch, wikip.blogspot will go dark (inactive), and will go live.

Man, this is a disorganized little post. As I said, I'm excited.

There are soooo many possibilities. I'm not getting full-time pay, but I am getting now-I-have-an-excuse-to-follow-through-on-all-these-projects pay. Potential directions:

  • Finding ways to spread information beyond the concentric circles of super-informed insiders that define wikipedia.
  • Posting on a schedule -- video tutorials each friday, or interviews on monday.
  • Splitting out the wikisnips into a sideblog.
  • Doing cool visualizations, writing software ineptly, and carrying the inclusionist banner.
But! I really want to keep the spirit of the blog intact. At the risk of taking myself too seriously, I think of blogging as a little like running a cafe -- an exciting, comfortable cocoon with its own character. This is where we move down the street.

Hy-Brazil is a phantom island which features in many Irish myths. It was said to be cloaked in mist, except for one day each seven years, when it became visible but could still not be reached.

Expeditions left Bristol in 1480 and 1481 to search for it, and a letter written shortly after the return of John Cabot from his expedition in 1497 reports that land found by Cabot had been "discovered in the past by the men from Bristol who found Brasil".

Others claimed to have seen the island, or even landed on it, the last supposed sighting being in 1872. Roderick O’Flaherty in A Chorographical Description of West or H-Iar Connaught (1684) tells us "There is now living, Morogh O'Ley, who immagins he was himself personally on O'Brasil for two days, and saw out of it the iles of Aran, Golamhead, Irrosbeghill, and other places of the west continent he was acquainted with."

On maps, the island was shown as being circular, soon with a central strait or river running east-west across its diameter. Despite the failure of attempts to find it, it appeared regularly on maps lying south west of Galway Bay from 1325 until 1865, by which time it was called Brazil Rock.

Category:Phantom islands

Monday, July 07, 2008

Lists of northernmost and southernmost things on earth.

By the way, what's with the brightly colored houses in greenland? It's like that in svalbard, too. Is it the same reason people like colorful scarves and winterhats (that is, because bright colors make you feel warmer)?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

XKCD on the discovery channel commercial

(This commercial, which I love, and could just as easily be an ad for wikipedia.)

Not only is the comic hilarious, it actually matches the syllables.

James Holman (October 15, 1786 – July 29, 1857), known as the "Blind Traveler," was a British adventurer, author and social observer, best known for his writings on his extensive travels. Not only completely blind but suffering from debilitating pain and limited mobility, he undertook a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented both in their extent of geography and method of "human echolocation".

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Reading Wikipedia on a Mobile phone

If you've got internet access on your cellphone, head to

If you'd prefer to download all of Wikipedia at once. Pocket Wikipedia is "the widest array of material you can fit into 175 MB", packaged up for Windows Mobile (and Linux). "The articles are hand-picked...and the interface is condensed to offer quick searching and indexing on mobile devices."

You can also download "enyclopedia", which is like "Pocket" but several times as large. Handbag Wikipedia, if you will.

But geopedia is by far the coolest option. It actually sniffs out your iPhone's physical location and displays wikipedia articles related to stuff nearby. (I don't know if it works on the newest iPhones.)

(And there are more options.)

Monday, June 30, 2008


Awhile ago, I pointed out that whenever ad agencies turn their talents to the open source movement, they produce incredibly inspiring stuff.

This new commercial for the Discovery Channel could just as easily be a commercial for Wikipedia.

List of world's most expensive single objects.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

1966 Soviet postage stamp commemorating "ten years of antarctic exploration":

There were all sorts of little competitive space-race style projects.

The Kola Superdeep Borehole (KSDB) was the result of a scientific drilling project of the former USSR. The project attempted to drill as deep as possible into the Earth's crust.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Westinghouse Time Capsules were created for 1939 & 1964 World's Fairs. Both are buried 50 feet below New York's Flushing Meadows Park, the site of both world's fairs, the 1965 capsule 10 feet north of the 1938 one.

Both are to be opened at the same time in 6939 AD, five thousand years after the first capsule was sealed. Check out the messages from Einstein et al.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Pornocracy or Rule of the Harlots was a period in the history of the Papacy during the first half of the tenth century.

Warning: not wikipedia-related.

My band (The Afternoon Round) is playing the crossroads festival in ypsilanti this friday (2 p.m.). If you're in the area, you should come see us.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dion McGregor (1922–1994) was a New York City-born songwriter, whose main claim to fame is that he was a voluble dreamer, or somniloquist.

Deletionism by the numbers

Deletionism continues to annoy the public. Plus, they finally know it's called deletionism!

It wouldn't matter to me if it was just about the article being deleted. But it's about more than that, which makes me sad (see kitten).

Let's run the numbers.

Everyone who adds knowledge to wikipedia does so for a reason. The motives might vary (that warm fuzzy feeling of helping humanity? enjoying the sound of one's own fingers on the keyboard?), but let's invent a generalized unit of contributor motivation called a kitten.

1 kitten = the amount of motivation needed to get 1 person to spend 1 minute trying to improve an article

We can say, quite literally, that Wikipedia runs on kittens. In fact, entrepreneurs discover this every day when they try to start a "crowdsourcing" site and nobody shows up.

So, what generates kittens? Foremost, it's the possibility of someone else learning from what you wrote -- not just immediately, but at any time in the future. (This point is vital; I'll come back to it.)

The Heavy Metal umlaut article contains a history section that begins:

The German progressive rock band Amon Düül II (aka Amon Duul II) released their first album in 1969. However, their name came from "Amon, an Egyptian sun god, and Düül, a character from Turkish fiction", so this use of umlauts was not gratuitous. The third part of Yes's progressive rock epic "Starship Trooper" is entitled "Würm" (on The Yes Album, released 1971). However, this again is probably not gratuitous, seemingly coming from the Würm glaciation.
That section is read by about 700 people per day.

Now, how many people will read that section over the entire course of history? It's actually possible to estimate this using calculus. (Even if, like me, you failed that course.)

Imagine that for every day that passes, there's a 1-in-ten-thousand chance that the Heavy Metal Umlaut article will vanish even without getting formally deleted (wikimedia servers might perish in a global thermonuclear war, for example).

Now, if this has already happened, and you have somehow escaped ArthurDent-style, you can key in the data to your portable Hitch Hiker's Guide and come out with something like this:

The area underneath the line is the total number of views. If the article has been around for five years, that's:

5 years x 365 days a year x 700 views a day = 1,277,500 views

That's a lot of kittens. And note that the sooner nuclear war happens, the fewer kittens there are (because who's going to write about umlauts when they should be stocking the fallout shelter?).

Even if you have no way of knowing the exact date the article will be destroyed, only the chance it has of surviving each day, you can still graph the effective number of times the article will be viewed on a particular day in the future.

Even with a 1-in-a-ten-thousand chance of blowing up each day, the article's likely to last the better part of a century!

Just the same way, you can find the total number of times the article's been viewed before a particular day. This is just the area underneath the first graph:

With a 1-in-ten-thousand chance of being destroyed each day, the article will rack up exactly seven million views over its lifetime.

That, my friends, is just a fuckload of kittens.

So what exactly is the point of all this? And did you really fail calculus?

Yes, but nevermind that. The point is that deletionism is very damaging.

This is a story about trees.
I think of the oak beams in the ceiling of College Hall at New College, Oxford. Last century, when the beams needed replacing, carpenters used oak trees that had been planted in 1386 when the dining hall was first built. The 14th-century builder had planted the trees in anticipation of the time, hundreds of years in the future, when the beams would need replacing.
Think about that: what would it be like to live in a climate of such incredible stability? And how many factors allowed the college to survive?
  • It was never expunged by a theocratic regime (political stability).
  • It was never destroyed in a war (geographic location on a rainy island far from napolean and hitler).
  • It was never invaded by marauding wolves (luck?).
If you wanted to graph Oxford University, its daily survival rate would be like 99.99999%.

Stability is a good thing. (There's a reason singapore solved malaria before it could embark on economic growth. Time-sensitivity keeps people poor. If you're worried about dying from malaria, you might just take that 5000% payday loan.)

Stability is also what gets people to write articles for keeps. And even tiny changes in the daily chance of deletion create huge cumulative effects over time.

These videos show the lifetime pageviews of an article, just like before. (The horizontal scale is ten years, instead of a hundred. The first video shows views per day; the second shows total views.)

At the start of the videos, the daily chance of the article vanishing is 1 in 10,000. At the end, it's 1 in 500.

Here are direct links, if you're reading this via feed: 1, 2.

But that's oversimplified!

Well, it's just an illustration. There are all sorts of feedback loops and variations between articles, and the whole thing is far too complex to analyze using the mathematical part of your brain; you need the social part (which is 10 times bigger).

And really, the social part already knows that deletionism sucks. :)

I'd like to thank red bull for making this article possible. If you enjoyed it, and want to help me buy more red bull, you can pre-order our upcoming book, How Wikipedia Works.



Hostile media effect

Escaping the tech ghetto

More about the foundation's experiment in turning middle-aged and elderly people into wikipedians.

Even if some of us were long-time Wikipedia contributors we learned a lot about Wikipedia within the first week:
  • the longer Wikipedians contribute to Wikipedia the more they forget that Wikipedia is a very complex system. Newcomers are overwhelmed by this complexity and often don't know where to start.
  • Wikipedia's help pages are confusing. The printed brochure "Das kleine Wikipedia-Einmaleins" we distributed at the opening (see the picture on the right hand; click on the picture to download the PDF) was much more useful as older people prefer printed material to online material.
I think this is a good time to plug my book, How Wikipedia Works

Sunday, June 15, 2008

An older generation of Wikipedians?

The foundation is starting a program to turn senior citizens into "trainers" who will be able to run their own Wikipedia workshops.

The course will last six weeks. During the first weeks the participants will learn the basics of how to edit Wikipedia articles. In a second phase the participants will collaboratively develop a concept for Wikipedia courses for senior citizens. Subsequently, the participants should be able to act as Wikipedia evangelists and motivate other people of their age to contribute to Wikipedia.
This is a great idea; it's easy to forget how big the gap is between techies and the general public (McCain doesn't know how to use a computer, for example; Peter Jennings submitted his stories on a typewriter until the day he died).

I just hope Wikipedia itself will be welcoming when the seniors actually hit the water. Has anyone tried showing Wikipedia to people over 60? How did they react?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of marine debris in the central North Pacific Ocean. Size estimates vary from an area equivalent to the state of Texas to double that of the continental United States.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Good god, people.

Okay, here's what happened: Someone tried to start a discussion about "all the good things Wikipedia has done for you. Think of all the good times you have had on Wikipedia. Share with us the best memory you have from Wikipedia. Don't be shy!"

It lasted a couple hours before it was deleted for violating the what wikipedia is not ruleset.

Honest to god, fun is what makes the encyclopedia tick. If you're trying to turn contributors into automations, you're cutting wikipedia's feet from under it.

via danny

Writing your first wikipedia article. (How-to guide.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Powerset is another wikipedia-specific search engine an alternate interface for viewing and searching wikipedia (and for filtering it in rudimentary ways). Mea culpa.

Great article about Jimmy Wales in the Economist. (Wales co-founded Wikipedia.)

“I think that reality exists and that it’s knowable,” he says, adding that Wikipedia aims not for truth with a capital T but for consensus. “You go meta,” he says, meaning “beyond” the disputes and to the underlying facts. For instance, when deciding how to describe abortion, “I may not agree that it’s a sin, but I can certainly agree that the pope thinks it’s a sin.” Despite their disagreements, people on both sides of a debate can in many cases reach a consensus on the nature of their dispute, at least. Through this process, says Mr Wales, Wikipedia articles eventually reach a fairly steady state called the “neutral point of view”, or NPOV.

“Wikipedia resolves the postmodern dilemma of truth by ultimately relying on process,” says Gene Koo of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Centre for Internet and Society. “Its process is both open and transparent. The levers of power are not destroyed—Foucault taught us that this is impossible—but simply visible.” To which Mr Wales responds, more simply, that NPOV is a way of saying: “Thanks, but, um, please let’s get back to work.”

NYT: Obama's Wiki Style

Friday, June 06, 2008

We wrote the book on Wikipedia

How Wikipedia Works is being published in August! My co-authors are:

And me? I'm a technical writer & demagogue and also good with Illustrator.

Phoebe has a better understanding of wikipedia's nuts and bolts than anyone, Charles has knowledge of the broad forces inside and outside the project, and I have the ability to work Acoustic Kitty into any screenshot. Between us, we've been with Wikipedia for 47 years and made over five hundred million edits.

I'll be posting information all summer.

But if you pre-order it, you will not only be
  1. receiving an utterly awesome and informative book in the mail — a physical book that you can
    • hold in your two hands,
    • take away from the monitor,
    • read in the bath,
    • tuck into your backpack to impress cute foreign exchange students, but! you will also!...
  2. be supporting Wikipedia Blog, and
  3. making me less broke.
Basically, I'm saying you should buy the book or I will shoot this puppy:



P.S. I won't actually shoot the puppy.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Britannica will not go gentle into that good night. I'm not optimistic about their future — they're modernizing about 5 years too late — but old institutions die hard.

We'll see what happens. I still think Britannica needs to give the public a bigger window into their process and their theories of encyclopedia-building. They are the world's greatest experts at summarizing and encapsulating large bodies of knowledge — sketching Mt. Fuji with one or two penstrokes.

See also. Why are so many monasteries built on cliffs?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wikipedia API for ruby. I stupidly learned ruby instead of python, so this might come in handy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pediaphon is a web app that turns wikipedia articles into mp3s.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Simulated reality is the proposition that reality could be simulated—often computer simulated—to a degree indistinguishable from "true" reality.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The invention of the cat flap is frequently attributed to Isaac Newton.

However, author Charles R. Gibson, writing about the life of Newton in 1921, recorded that "To this day students at Cambridge are told how there were two holes cut in the door of Newton's chamber: one hole, much larger than the other, for the use of his cat, the smaller one for the convenience of the kitten", but states that this goes in the face of "...a letter written by Newton's assistant [who] gives us the following information, which is direct evidence and not mere hearsay. `He kept neither dog nor cat in his chamber...'"


I was talking to someone about Wikipedia today in person, which I rarely do. And I realized:

I love wikipedia and am constantly intrigued by it. But I really don't give a shit about the Wikimedia Foundation. They only have a limited impact on the nuts and bolts, anyway.

Partly because of the name of this blog, I'd always sort of felt obligated to cover the internal politics -- I wanted it to at least be theoretically possible for someone to get all their w'pedia information from right here (yessir).

Well, screw that. The politics is boring and depressing. It's all the unpleasantness of real life socializing without any of the warm fuzziness.

Remember that study showing that people were more likely to misinterpret email messages, and more likely to ascribe negative emotions to the authors? Something happens with text communication -- the mirror neurons get turned off; the natural social instincts get muted. And when that effect happens at every node of the community web, when a whole bunch of hyperverbal encyclopedists are only connected to each other via letters on screens, things get unmoored. (How else to explain the rise of wikipedia review?)

Anyway. I'm done covering the foundation. My next post will be about generating rock album covers that never existed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No real PR problems

Tony Sidaway says:

Actually I run a small rss news aggregator that focuses on news about Wikipedia. In my experience our press is overwhelmingly positive. [Emphasis added -- and yeah, tony's right. I've been reading the google news alerts for a couple years. -Ben] Even the gossipier stuff seems to make a much bigger splash within the community and on its peripheries than it does outside--exactly the reverse of my expectations.

Most of the debate outside Wikipedia circles, in the mainstream press, focuses on the reliability of Wikipedia and its appropriateness for various uses. Those are very appropriate topics for debate and we should take it as a huge compliment that a project built completely by untrained volunteers is regarded as comparable in any way to the works of highly educated specialists. We shouldn't lose sight of that utterly remarkable and unexpected achievement.

The fact that we're criticised (and often rightly so) isn't surprising. The fact that we receive so little criticism and have had so few problems, given the open parameters and huge scope of the project, is one of the most amazing facts of Wikipedia's existence. Wikipedia doesn't have any significant PR problems at present.

All the ins and outs of the wikinews/moller thing -- about fifty kilobytes so far. That's the mailing list I know :P

Mike Godwin: "The Foundation has no interest in preventing Wikinews from publishing a story critical of WMF. If you are under the impression the stories were censored because they were critical of WMF, then you have your facts wrong."

So, the idea is that this was a run-of-the-mill libelous article removed* like other libelous articles have been, and for the same reason -- fear of being sued.

But in this case, the person doing the suing would have to be foundation employee Erik Moller, right? I find it unlikely that he'd sue the foundation for failing to hush up wikinews. I freely admit not understanding how lawyers think, though.

* With some ambiguous degree of community involvement. And hey, as long as we're running with this broad a definition, isn't it libel to accuse the article's authors of libel?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

You don't fuck with wikinews

Score one for information wants to be free.

Basically, the foundation swatted down Wikinews' editorial independence, killing a story about a foundation bigwig's attitudes toward porn. (This isn't going to endear them to the press.)

(Update: It may be more complex than that. Here's the wikinews discussion; decide for yourself.)

You haven't heard of Wikinews, but they take themselves seriously -- they've interviewed heads of state, etc. Godwin should have known better.

That said, I don't want to take too much joy in wikinews's oldstyle prickliness, just because it sort of sucks to have this kind of infighting between wikiorgans. To be honest, I miss Jimmy having a bigger role; he'd have been able to smooth this over.

(Is the foundation trying to push erik out quietly? I'd sort of hoped they were. If they're not...seriously, guys. Your loyalty is admirable as a personal trait. But erik — forget what I think about him — is a millstone around the foundation's neck. His presence makes it a million times harder to address ways to make wikipedia kid-friendly, ways to get it in classrooms, etc. To address anything, really. Wikipedia runs on good vibes. They're its fuel. That's why Jimmy has been an effective leader, and why Moller throws a spanner in the works.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

One planet, under wikipedia

Google Maps displays geographic Wikipedia articles now!

The map is marked with Ws representing wikipedia articles. The location of each W is determined by the latitute/longitude coordinates on the wiki page.

It's kind of amazing how thoroughly wikipedia has colonized the world. In general, whenever I see an incredibly detailed, obscure wikipedia article, it sort of reminds me of how explorers must have felt when they found almost every corner of the earth inhabited. Wow. There are people here, too?

The problem with this particular application is that some Ws are big and some are small -- and the size seems to depend on the precision of the geotagging. My hometown is tagged superprecisely (down to hundredths of an arcsecond ), which means it's tiny on the map. This building in my hometown is the only W you see when you're zoomed out.

Or maybe that's because the building is tagged in "cityscale" units? Does anyone know?

Update: Google seems to be following Wikipedia's own guidelines, which say (rather imprecisely) that locations should be tagged with a degree of precision appropriate to their size. (Thanks, Pete.)

Previously in mapped wikis...

(Meanwhile, Yahoo maps continues not to integrate with Flickr. Hello? Jerry? Nobody in the public knows about the flickr map. Are you trying to make your company irrelevant? Do you guys have any sort of framework for adding onto applications? Will I see font tags if I view the source?)

Monday, May 12, 2008

This year's Wikimania conference is in Egypt (Alexandria, chosen for the poetic symmetry between Wikipedia and the Great Library). The less poetically inclined were worried about muslim extremism, and the foundation bought a custom security analysis.

The results are in. (Paging past the terrifying stock photography...) Aha. The actual findings:

  1. Don't worry too much; Alexandria is a very safe city. "Holding a conference there should not pose any significant threat to Wikimedia Foundation members attending the conference."
  2. But keep a low profile (i.e. don't rent a Benz?) because Wikimania will draw international attention.
  3. And stay out of the Sinai.

Sounds alright.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

That elusive spark

A methodist pastor says the Church should take lessons from Wikipedia, particularly when creating new ministries.

Of course, lots of people have said that. The "wikipedia model" is easier observed than applied -- you've got to have that animating spark*, or everything collapses.

Wikipedia's spark is the idea of building a central repository for all knowledge, a repository that's free free free, and that's as neutral a reflection of reality as possible. These are ideals that people will sacrifice for. They'll research at the library; they'll clean up vandalism (or feel bad enough to not vandalize); they'll code late into the night.

In other words, Wikipedia works because it's inherently utopian. Religion is inherently utopian, too. If ever there was another place the wikipedia model could be applied, this is it.

* and other stuff too, of course

Friday, May 09, 2008

Marketing, damnit!

The ideas behind the open source movement are very powerful.

How powerful?

So powerful that if a competent marketing team -- people who ordinarily churn out boring beer commercials -- are asked instead to create a commercial for Linux or Wikipedia, they can make something mindblowingly inspiring without breaking stride.

That doesn't happen very often because open source projects are broke. But when it does happen, you get stuff like this 2003 ad:

link, if you can't see the embed

After watching that, I want to marry the open source movement and have its children. This is the kind of power your typical corporation has to shape public perception; usually it's spent trying to get you to increase your detergent consumption.

Now some Texas design students have created a mock ad campaign for Wikipedia, complete with magazine ads, a T-shirt, posters, etc. It so utterly fucking rocks.

The artistic vision:

"Many people tend to view Wikipedia as an unreliable source of information because anyone can edit entries on the website.

Our concept was to present an everyday person as an "expert" on a specific subject in order to show that whether the information comes from a university professor or from an avid gamer, it is still reliable.

Each piece shows a straight view of each persona and a mind map of their thought process. We felt this approach humanizes the experience of Wikipedia."


Andrew Lih hits all the bases on the Moller affair -- and will presumably do a kick-ass radio show tomorrow. llywrch has also left some illuminating comments, both here and at Andrew's blog.

I avoided talking about the PR consequences of keeping Moeller on the staff, and about his essays, because I wanted to stick to stuff that can't be argued about.

Suffice it to say that I think the grounds for dismissing Erik are overwhelming even without considering PR. With PR, the board would have to be raving mad to keep him on. So I'm a little taken aback by some comments suggesting he should stay.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ohio Country

I ripped Concharto a new one on tuesday, both here and via email.

Now they've actually taken some of my advice! Cool. (Hiding the sidebar improves things about a thousandfold.)

The end of Erik Möller (and of the mailing lists?)

I don't read danny wool's blog anymore. But nobody else is talking about an incredibly troubling image and some correspondingly troubling writing posted by wikimedia foundation bigwig Erik Möller.

By nobody, I mean nobody. Moller is one of the most powerful people in the foundation (or was, until this happened), but there's been no mention of this whatsoever on the very busy mailing lists -- total, deafening silence. Impossible silence, actually.

Say it with me: "When you censor discussion forums, people stop using them." This is not China; there are other outlets. (In this case, traffic flows to Danny Wool, which is probably not what the list moderator intended.)

(Update: apparently the Foundation list is not being moderated. Color me surprised.)

This whole episode makes me sick at heart about many things, including the foundation's ability to choose good leadership. I think I'm going to take a short wikivacation.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Hypergraphia, Pyromania, Pyrophilia, Trichotillomania. (Chorus! ♬We didn't start the fire... ♫)

Via this category, via whoever reached this blog by searching for "Pyrophilia wiki". They probably just wanted to find the wikipedia article, but I'd really prefer to believe they were looking for a pyrophilia-themed wiki.

Best name for a logical fallacy ever.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Concharto is a geographic wiki for documenting historical events -- think wikimapia times ten.

It also has a pretty noble goal:

When Leo Tolstoy wrote “War and Peace” in the 1860’s, he sprinkled it with whole chapters of rants against the historians of the day. His complaint was that they viewed history solely as a progression of major events precipitated by “great men”. Instead, he argued, history is a much more complicated progression of cause and effect driven by small events. In one of his more philosophical moments, he proposed applying the scientific method to history, asserting that a complete understanding of an event could be obtained by slicing that event into smaller and smaller pieces, in exactly the same way that a math student performs integral calculus.

While not actually creating a calculus of history, Concharto does attempt to slice history into smaller pieces.

But the interface is confusing and cumbersome in the extreme. It's built on top of google maps, and inherits its interface elements in all of their general-purpose bulk. No, no, no, no, no. You want something that looks like this.

As things stand, the interface imposes so much cognitive drag that the application (which should be awesome, and has plenty of functionality) isn't very fun at all. Here's hoping it improves over time.

(hat tip for the russia map)

Erik Moeller is the Wikimedia Foundation's deputy director and possibly its most powerful member (alongside Sue Gardner, the grownup in residence).

Wikipedia Weekly talked to him last week, but Erik is a fastidiously thorough politician, which makes him a rather boring interview subject. I sat through the whole 40 minutes so you don't have to.

The takeaway: the Foundation seems to be finding its legs. It's paying cheap-ish rent in San Fran, reaching out to the general public (insofar as that exists in silicon valley), and hoping eventually to be known as the Red Cross of information. I'm actually impressed with the way things seem to be going, organizationally. Now get us a stats machine.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I was wondering why Clay Shirky's talk about Wikipedia -- among other things -- has been blowing up the blogosphere. (Because it's fucking brilliant, that's why. Though I don't buy all of it.)

Not wikipedia-related:

If you're curious about the controversies surrounding China -- if you're chinese and think the western public is gullible and uninformed, or vice versa, here's a good article.

Friday, April 25, 2008

You really don't know about China.

Update: This post deserves a fuller explanation.

Reading a list of Chinese regions, I realized why so many Chinese might be pissed off at the west for focusing on Tibet.

So I made a graph. Look for Tibet.

That's right: Tibet has only 3 million people. (The U.S. is on the right, for comparison.) There are probably hundreds of problems in China that affect as many people as what's happened in Tibet, but get next to no attention in the West.

There are two other things that strike you:

1. Social dynamics within China might be unique -- there's nowhere else with as many people who share a language and culture (more or less). Ideas could propagate differently. We'll have to readjust our thinking to get a grasp on what's happening.

2. There's a whole huge-ass part of the world -- comparable to Europe and the U.S. put together (that's without counting the people in dire poverty) churning out culture and architecture and whatever else, which I know next to nothing about, relatively speaking.

I like that; it's exciting.

I've been following the current wave of chinese nationalism through wikipedian Andrew Lih, and I hesitated posting this because I thought it might be seen as promoting that nationalism (which is just about as stupid as the Freedom Fries stuff preceding the american invasion of iraq).

But then I remembered that this blog is inaccessible in the chinese mainland (last I heard, a couple years ago). :P

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wikipedia takes manhattan: a photographic scavenger hunt for places around our city needing photos for their Wikipedia articles. Looks like it went pretty well.


Is anyone else seeing predictive autocompletion in the Wikipedia search field?

Update: head techie Brion Vibber has the scoop. This is pretty big news -- most people have no idea how vast wikipedia is, and now the dropdown is a little window into that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Warning: not Wikipedia-related.

My band, the Afternoon Round, at one of our first shows.

The recording levels are way off, but I think it rocks pretty hard. We're playing at the Heidelburg in Ann Arbor on thursday. There's some more melodic stuff on the myspace.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

WikiXMLDB provides a way of querying Wikipedia with XQuery.

With all the benefits that Wikipedia promises, it is not easy to use it off-the-shelf in applications. While Wikipedia is available for download in an XML format, individual articles are formatted in a proprietary wiki format. So the most interesting uses of Wikipedia in applications are still locked behind the access troubles.

Here is where WikiXMLDB comes to the rescue. We have parsed the entire English Wikipedia content into XML representation (its total size is about 21GB), loaded it into Sedna and provided a query interface to it. Now you can dissect individual articles, rip out abstracts, sections, links, infoboxes and other components. Or you can combine pieces of existing documents into new XML documents and convert them to web pages with XSLT for example. And you can do it all using the standard W3C XQuery Language. So finally you can start enriching your content with data from Wikipedia and unlock its power for your applications.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Was Tolkien's wizard Gandalf based on Gundulf of Rochester? "In 1078 King William used Gundulf's skill in the construction of the White Tower: the keep of the Tower of London."

Tea culture is defined by the way tea is made and consumed, by the way the people interact with tea, and by the aesthetics surrounding tea drinking.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

English America* has "John Doe". What are informal names for unknown or unspecified persons in other countries/regions?

* You pedants

Lieutenant-General Sir Manley Power (1773 – July 7, 1826)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hey, now there's an official wikipedia-related blog -- the Wikimedia blog, run by the foundation itself (and not affiliated with this blog, which is unofficial).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Unsheathing the sword revealed an untarnished blade, despite the tomb being soaked in underground water for over two thousand years. A simple test conducted by the archaeologists showed that the blade could still easily cut a stack of twenty pieces of paper.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I picked the name "Wikipedia Blog" back in 2005 because it seemed like the best possible name for a blog about wikipedia.

But it's kind of constraining. I've started a new blog to talk about other things; it's at the obama site, so it'll be political. The first post is called Why "change" isn't just a word on a podium.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The bathing machine was a device, popular in the 19th century, which was intended to allow people to wade in the ocean at beaches without violating Victorian notions of modesty. Bathing machines were in the form of roofed and walled wooden carts which would be rolled into the sea. Some had solid wooden walls; others had canvas walls over a wooden frame.

via reddit

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wikipedia Weekly roundup

Update: Erik Moller responds in the comments -- they're in the process of getting a donated statistics server.

Like I said, the podcast is on a roll.

Episode 43.

Skip the belated discussion on Jimmy's shenanigans -- it's mostly there because they feel obligated to cover it. Start at the 20-minute mark, instead, and don't miss the wii metaphor at 42:11.

(I also got namedropped; hurrah.)

Episode 44.

Stable versions are finally implemented in software! (They're late, they were promised to us in 2006.)

What are stable versions? Well. Unlike a traditional piece of writing, a Wikipedia article is never finished. Over time mistakes get removed, but they also get inserted; writing sometimes gets better, but it doesn't always stay better.

Stable versions are particular revisions of an article that are marked as superior. You'll be able to read a stable version and trust that the very text you're reading has been vetted, that someone didn't add "leona is gay!" five seconds before you opened the page.

Plus, stylistic edits will stick! Right now, you can go through a whole article and shoehorn it into a tight, structured, beautifully clear piece of writing. I used to spend hours doing that. But after a couple months of heavy editing -- people appending facts willy-nilly -- the article always descends back into the murk. It gets more accurate, but waaaaaay less readable. Theoretically, stable versions will fix this problem by inserting periodic finish lines.

Anyway, stable versions are coded into software, but there are a lot of kinks to be worked out before they're actually rolled out. (Social kinks, not technical ones.) In social software, interface decisions are political decisions, so we've got to tread carefully.

The other interesting thing in the podcast: discussion about the million-dollar donation wikipedia just got. It's a fucking godsend. No more need for advertising. (It's sort of funny that five minutes of talking to a rich guy pays off more than years of painstaking debate. Interesting times we're living in.)

But Andrew Lih's also got a dead-on analysis of where the foundation is going wrong. It should be spending its energy trying to keep the community healthy, but it doesn't even have tools for monitoring the community's health.

One of the biggest things that we've had problems with currently is statistics -- I mean, we haven't had good english-langauge statistics since 2006, which is absolutely unforgivable given the way things are going on now.

If we have one million dollars a year, a good chunk of that should be dedicated to finding out what's going on in the community. Is it healthy? Are these projects sustainable? Identifying places of weakness, of strength, and strategizing over that.

We don't need twenty staff members to do that. We do need a statistics server. We do need CPU power, memory, and computing power to do that. And that's something that has been ignored for at least 2 years now, and that's something we really need to do, but we don't have that on the radar screen of the foundation right now.


The dump of the entire english language database is 133 gigabytes! Which means just downloading takes a long time, and to uncompress it, to process it, you need a computer with tons of memory, and we're not talking like 4 gigs or 8 gigs; we're talking multiple tens of gigabytes just to load it into memory, and that's something we just don't have but I think is extremely important.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Wikimedia receives 3-year, $3,000,000 grant. That's a large fraction of the budget (and it's from the alfred p sloan foundation, in case you're worried).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some tech kids from the university of edinburgh sent me a link to wiki-answers, their wikipedia search engine.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

There's a lot of exciting stuff going down at open wikiblogplanet (an aggregator for blogs about wikipedia).

Friday, March 28, 2008

A solar furnace is a structure used to harness the rays of the sun in order to produce high temperatures. This is achieved by using a curved mirror (or an array of mirrors) acting as a parabolic reflector to concentrate light (Insolation) on to a focal point. The temperature at the focal point may reach up to 3,000 degrees Celsius, and this heat can be used to generate electricity, melt steel or make hydrogen fuel.

via kottke

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Talk is cheap unless it's on the wiki

I've made a sort of nonprofit ad banner for the site -- you can see it if your screen's wide enough; otherwise, here it is:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Wikirandom is a website that (naturally) grabs random wikipedia articles. The obvious question is so what?

I'll tell you what: interface. It's all ajaxy and cool, and it even lets you embed a random-wiki-article-getting widget in an external site. That looks like this:

Some random Wikipedia articles:

More randomness on Wikirandom - The Random Encyclopedia

(Edit: hm. That doesn't work, does it? Blogger strips line breaks; it might be that.)

Wikipedia + iPhone + gps = OMG THE MATRIX

Geopedia is an iphone app.

The iPhone knows where you are, geographically speaking. So Geopedia knows where you are, too, and it uses that knowledge to pull up a batch of Wikipedia articles (they're geotagged) about stuff nearby.

It's not hard to see how cool this is -- it's sort of a merging of physical reality with a canonical description of that reality, creating a single giant thingamabob made of bits and atoms. Go to the statue of liberty, and there you'll find the Statue of Liberty article.

It's worth reiterating a comp. sci. professor's prediction for the year 2100:

This city is all about intensity of purpose and connections, and technology will only make it more efficient and more fluid. And in a city that is so multicultural, communication will be easier. A hundred years from now, you and I could be having a conversation in two languages and translation would be automatic. I could look at a newspaper written in any language and have the translation superimposed on my vision.

Being in the same room with people, looking in their eyes, touching them — this will still be important. But when people come together, there will be a lot more information at their fingertips and floating in the air between them.

On the other hand, it's easy to overdose on media -- drown in it -- and become a total spaz. You've got to get some peace once in awhile (that is, to unplug) in order to think. Unless we can figure out how to ignore distractions better, the always-on future might be as brain-numbing as TV.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Absurd Entries in the Oxford English Dictionary (from someone who read it cover-to-cover).

I am afraid that as the edit of the OED continues, these bits of absurdity will be excised, along with any outright errors that the editors find. It will obviously be an improvement, at least in terms of improving the clarity of these definitions. Yet the whimsical anthropomorphizer in me is sad to see that murinoid has had its definition changed from ‘Resembling the mouse or its allies’ to ‘Resembling a mouse; (Zool.) of or belonging to the subfamily Murinae…

The Codebreakers (full video) is a BBC documentary about how poor countries use open source software. (I haven't watched it yet, but it looks good.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two NYT articles this weekend. The first is about the slow death of print encyclopedias, and includes this funny chart.

The second is about Jimmy, mostly, and Wikipedia's growth pains. It's good -- it manages to draw together a lot of issues.

Wikipedians will be most interested in the second half, which talks about how a member of a VC firm arranged big donations to Wikimedia (and mentions selling logo rights to a board game, which might be cool).

Sue and Florence come off as cautious and principled, and the comments section is full of people who like wikipedia. The ship is not sinking.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Moving Forward

This brilliant bit of code siphons newbie-baffling wikiprogramming off into separate parts of the on-screen interface without breaking up the "real" article fulltext.

Practical and creative. Good stuff.

Newscientist: Physicists slam publishers over Wikipedia ban.

If I'm reading between the lines right, "GFDL" is becoming synonymous with "Wikipedia-compatible".

Sunday, March 16, 2008

World Happiness Map

The Sentience Quotient concept was introduced by Robert A. Freitas Jr. in the late 1970s. It defines sentience as the relationship between the information processing rate (bit/s) of each individual processing unit (neuron), the weight/size of a single unit and the total number of processing units (expressed as mass).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wikipedia Brown (video)

The sound quality's mediocre. But it's so, so worth it. Link, for feed readers.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"With all the energy expended on uppercase vs. lowercase, the debate over whether to prominently mention lang's sexual orientation and animal-rights activism barely heats up at all. Some issues are just more important."

Read all the way through; most of the 12 entries are funny.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wikipedia traffic

Sage has some interesting analysis: the long tail is also wide, and quirky unexpected articles do well on the main page.

Similarly, Kelly's taking apart the writing style of the most popular articles.

Wikipedia begins to interlock with physical reality (think phones, and GPS).

If you read one thing about Wikipedia this year, you're a better man than I
it's probably that list of porn stars you found on google
you're reading it right now! stop!

Ahem. If you read one thing about Wikipedia this year, make it this article in the New York Review of Books. It totally captures how Wikipedia works, and also the excitement of stumbling across it for the first time.

Plus, it's the best defense of inclusionism ever. The author, Nicholson Baker, even joined the Article Rescue Squadron. *blush*. On-wiki, he's user:Wageless.

Actually, it might even be the best general-media article about Wikipedia ever, taking the torch from 2005's The avatar versus the journalist.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Three new Wikipedian blogs

Infoholics Anonymous, NonNotable Natterings, Wiki-Observations. Good luck, kids.

There's also a new podcast: "NotTheWikipediaWeekly is a grassroots and utterly 'unofficial' attempt to build on the fine work of the good people over at Wikipedia Weekly." Cool.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wikipedia:Drop the stick and back slowly away from the horse carcass. See also

Former chief scientist at Novell claims Jimmy Wales traded Wiki edits for donations.

When it rains, it pours. Jeff Merkey, the scientist, has been involved in several lawsuits -- he sued slashdot, for example. So this may not be credible, though it's getting press attention.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wikipedia's tin-cup approach wears thin. Timely LA Times article.

Wikipedia, the "encyclopedia anyone can edit," is stuck in a weird Internet time warp, part grass-roots labor of love, part runaway success.

A global democracy beloved by high school term paper writers and run largely by volunteers, the site is controlled for now by people who seem to view revenue with suspicion and worry that too much money -- maybe even just a little money -- would defile and possibly ruin the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the written word.


How about selling advertising space like most big-time websites do? Don't go there unless you want to start a Wikipedian riot. Some members of the foundation's board of trustees and most of the site's editors and contributing writers zealously oppose advertising. [Are you reading this, Danny?]

After a staff member in 2002 raised the possibility in the Wikipedia community, a facet of the Spanish-language branch quit and created the forever ad-free Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español. Its founders said that advertising "implied the existence of a commercialization of the selfless work of volunteers."


As Wikimedia adds features to its pages, such as videos, costs will rise. "Without financial stability and strong planning, the foundation runs the risk of needing to take drastic steps at some point in the next couple years," said Nathan Awrich, a 26-year-old Wikipedia editor from Vermont who supports advertising.

Outsiders find it hard to see how the site can avoid selling ad space.

"They either have to charge people or run ads, or both," said Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, which specializes in consumer behavior online.


Wales said that the free culture movement, as it's called, has to think creatively if it wants to keep spreading information to computers around the world.

"There are some real problems with a nonprofit structure," he said. "One of the basic problems is funding: We can get enough money to survive but don't really have the funding to push forward or innovate."