Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Friday, February 29, 2008

Wikileaks wins

Danny Wool's blog has been great lately -- he analyzes wikipedia by scholarly metrics of empire decline, evaluates wikimania in alexandria, etc.

Deletion Solution

Okay, I've been railing on for awhile about how bad it is when articles get deleted. It doesn't focus energy on more "serious" articles; instead, it frustrates people, drives them away, and has a chilling effect on the whole project.

The irony, of course, is that "deletion" is the wrong word -- the article's just hidden.

The obvious solution is to move the "deleted" article somewhere off-wiki. It's a shiny happy utopian obama-like solution because it resurrects the thousand-flowers-bloom spirit wikipedia once had, where every action seemed somewhat focused on building an awesome body of work that anyone could enjoy.

Four things prevent it from happening, though:

1. Inclusionists fear wikipedia will lose even more articles because they won't be able to argue "if you delete this, nobody will see it".

This is a bad strategy! It forces people to choose between two opposites (delete or keep); "delete" will eventually win, and that will be that. Plus, it's wrong on principle because it impoverishes the conceptual space and constrains what's possible.

2. There's nowhere else like wikipedia.



Telling someone to move from Wikipedia to Everything2 is like kicking your friend off your living room couch because "I think there's a pillow or something in that alley".

This will only be solved when other places get more vibrant. The more articles are moved, the faster that happens.

3. The interface between wikipedia and the rest of the web is really bad. To put it another way:

(a) There's no easy or automatic way to move an article off-wiki because you've got to move its whole history to preserve the authorship record.

(b) Once the article's been moved, it leaves no trace. The deleted wikipedia article is an ordinary blank page, with no indication that the content is still there, potentially a click away.

4. Over-caution. The best place to move things is Wikia, which is a commercial wiki farm that for all sorts of reasons (taxes, culture, brandt) can't be seen as an appendage of the non-profit wikipedia; it has to be walled off, like the church and state. This adds some friction to the export process and generally makes people shy away from working on it.

The fix is obvious enough: always provide a bunch of different links (to wikia, bluwiki, and wherever else). It would help if other wiki providers knew their shit as well as wikia.

Anyway, the main point is that all of these problems are solvable. There aren't any insurmountable obstacles.

Wiki social networking

Wikia (Wales's wiki startup) has been adding some business-friendly features to the open Mediawiki platform that runs underneath wikipedia (and underneath a million other wikis). This time Jimmy just announced some new "social networking features" -- raising the obvious question what the hell does that mean?

Well, it looks like it means "user profile" pages in addition to regular user pages. The profile pages have a friends list and mini message board, plus a convenient list of the user's recent edits (which were already available elsewhere, but hey). On a technical level, all of this seems to be streamed into the page from centralized sources.

(The bad: There are two superficial facebook ripoffs: "gifts" and "awards". This could have been done in a much more general and creative way, instead of parroting specifics.)

This isn't as revolutionary as it probably seemed on the drawing board -- every site and its mother is adding these features now; it's one of those silicon valley echo surges -- but it's pretty cool and makes Mediawiki that much sturdier. ('Course, mediawiki still doesn't come with "enterprise-ready" features like WYSIWYG.)

Social networking isn't coming to wikipedia anytime soon -- a non-enyclopedia-related wikipedia community showed signs of emerging awhile back, even without explicit software support, but the self-appointed culture enforcers tut-tutted it away, and they'd be unhappy with this stuff.

(Also: Wikia's interface gets a little better each time I look at it. They should spend more time on wikis, damnit, and less flailing around in Google's general direction.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wikipedia undelete is a script for greasemonkey/firefox. Every time you visit a deleted article, a bunch of links appear showing versions of the page that are cached on archive.org. (Like this one.)

Caveats:

  • Needs firefox (duh).

  • Only works (for me) when visiting w'pedia as a logged-out user.

  • The links only show up when visiting one particular "not found" page -- for example, on /wiki/List_of_fictional_expletives, which is where incoming links will take you, but not /wiki/Special:Search?search=List+of+fictional+expletives&go=Go or /w/index.php?title=List_of_fictional_expletives&action=edit, where internal links and the search field lead.

  • Doesn't clearly indicate what content is added by the script and what content was already there, so you're sort of in your own web-browsing universe. This is a common greasemonkey problem.

  • The author of the script didn't know that every "deleted" wikipedia article is actually still on the server. If he did, he might have arranged a better system whereby people collaboratively request that deleted pages be moved to their userspace; the script's links would point there (or somewhere else the articles can be edited), instead of archive.org.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A slidewalk is a fictional moving sidewalk structurally sound enough to support buildings and large populations of travelers. Adjacent slidewalks moving at different rates could let travelers accelerate to great speeds.