Listing entries tagged with wikipedia
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wikimania: the importance of naming things 08.05.2006, 3:53 PM
I'll write up what happened on the second day of Wikimania soon – I saw a lot of talks about education – but a quick observation for now. Brewster Kahle delivered a speech after lunch entitled "Universal Access to All Knowledge", detailing his plans to archive just about everything ever & the various issues he's confronted along the way, not least Jack Valenti. Kahle learned from Valenti: it's important to frame the terms of the debate. Valenti explained filesharing by declaring that it was Artists vs. Pirates, an obscuring dichotomy, but one that keeps popping up. Kahle was happy that he'd succeeded in creating a catch phrase in naming "orphan works" – a term no less loaded – before the partisans of copyright could.
Wikimania is dominated by Wikipedia, but it's not completely about Wikipedia – it's about wikis more generally, of which Wikipedia is by far the largest. There are people here using wikis to do immensely different things – create travel guides, create repositories of lesson plans for K–12 teachers, using wikis for the State Department's repositories of information. Many of these are built using MediaWiki, the software that runs Wikipedia, but not all by any means. All sorts of different platforms have been made to create websites that can be edited by users. All of these fall under the rubric "wiki". we could just as accurately refer to wikis as "collaboratively written websites", the least common denominator of all of these sites. I'd argue that the word has something to do with the success of the model: nobody would feel any sense of kinship about making "collaboratively written websites" – that's a nebulous concept – but when you slap the name "wiki" on it, you have something easily understood, a form about which people can become fanatical.
wikimania day 1: wrap up 08.05.2006, 9:32 AM
There was something of a valedictory feeling around Wikimania yesterday, springing perhaps from Jimmy Wales's plenary talk: the feeling that a magnificent edifice had been constructed, and all that remained was to convince people to actually use it. If we build it, they will come & figure it out. Wales declared that it was time to stop focusing on quantity in Wikipedia and to start focusing on quality: Wikipedia has pages for just about everything that needs a page, although many of the pages aren't very good. I won't disagree with that, but there's something else that needs to happen: the negotiation involved as their new technology increasingly hits the rest of the world.
This was the narrative arc traced by Larry Lessig in his plenary: speaking about how he got more and more enthusiastic about the potential of freely shared media before running into the brick wall of the Supreme Court. At that point, he realized, it was time to regroup and assess what would be politically & socially necessary to bring free media to the masses. There's something similar going on in the wiki community as a whole. It's a tremendously fertile time technologically, but there are increasingly social issues that scream for engagement.
One of the most interesting presentations that I saw yesterday afternoon was Daniel Caeton's presentation on negotiating truth. Caeton's talk was based on his upcoming book entitled The Wild, Wild Wiki: Unsettling the Frontiers of Cyperspace. Caeton teaches writing at California State University in Fresno; he experimented in having students explore & contribute to the WIkipedia. The issues that arose surprised him. His talk focused on the experiences of Emina, a Bosnian Muslim student: she looked at how Bosnian Muslims were treated in the Wikipedia and found immensely diverging opinions. She found herself in conversation with other contributors about the meaning of the word "Bosniak". In doing so she found herself grappling with the core philosophy of Wikipedia: that truth is never objective, always in negotiation. Introducing this sort of thinking is something that needs to be taught just as much as Wiki markup syntax, though it hasn't had nearly as much attention.
Today there's a whole track on using Wikis in education: I'll be following & reporting back from that.
transmitting live from cambridge: wikimania 2006 08.04.2006, 1:29 PM
I'm at the Wikimania 2006 conference at Harvard Law School, from where I'll be posting over the course of the three-day conference (schedule). The big news so far (as has already been reported in a number of blogs) came from this morning's plenary address by Jimmy Wales, when he announced that Wikipedia content was going to be included in the Hundred Dollar Laptop. Exactly what "Wikipedia content" means isn't clear to me at the moment – Wikipedia content that's not on a network loses a great deal of its power – but I'm sure details will filter out soon.
This move is obvious enough, perhaps, but there are interesting ramifications of this. Some of these were brought out during the audience question period during the next panel that I attended, in which Alex Halavis talked about issues of evaluating Wikipedia's topical coverage, and Jim Giles, the writer of the Nature study comparing the Wikipedia & the Encyclopædia Britannica. The subtext of both was the problem of authority and how it's perceived. We measure the Wikipedia against five hundred years of English-language print culture, which the Encyclopædia Britannica represents to many. What happens when the Wikipedia is set loose in a culture that has no print or literary tradition? The Wikipedia might assume immense cultural importance. The obvious point of comparison is the Bible. One of the major forces behind creating Unicode – and fonts to support the languages used in the developing world – is SIL, founded with the aim of printing the Bible in every language on Earth. It will be interesting to see if Wikipedia gets as far.
wikipedia lampooned in onion 07.27.2006, 12:21 AM
The Onion takes a shot at Wikipedia this week:
Wikipedia, the online, reader-edited encyclopedia, honored the 750th anniversary of American independence on July 25 with a special featured section on its main page Tuesday.
Not bad, though it kinda beats the Wikipedia-is-error-prone point into the ground. But the fact that it's being satirized says something.
Naturally, the piece has already been noted on Wikipedia's article on The Onion. The talk page points to another, funnier, wiki-themed "news brief" from last September: "Congress Abandons WikiConstitution."
wikipedia not safe for work 07.25.2006, 3:37 AM
Stacy Schiff takes a long, hard look at Wikipedia in a thoughtful essay in the latest New Yorker. She begins with a little historical perspective on encyclopedias, fitting Wikipedia into a distinguished, centuries-long lineage of subversion that includes, most famously, the Encyclopédie of 1780, composed by leading French philosophes of the day such as Diderot, Rousseau and Voltaire. Far from being the crusty, conservative genre we generally take it to be, the encyclopedia has long served as an arena for the redeployment of knowledge power:
In its seminal Western incarnation, the encyclopedia had been a dangerous book. The Encyclopédie muscled aside religious institutions and orthodoxies to install human reason at the center of the universe--and, for that muscling, briefly earned the book's publisher a place in the Bastille. As the historian Robert Darnton pointed out, the entry in the Encyclopédie on cannibalism ends with the cross-reference "See Eucharist."
But the dust kicked up by revolution eventually settles. Heir to the radical Encyclopédie are the stolid, dependable reference works we have today, like Britannica, geared not at provoking questions, but at providing trustworthy answers.
Wikipedia's radicalism is its wresting of authority away from the established venues -- away from the very secular humanist elite that produced works like the Encyclopédie and sparked the Enlightenment. Away from these and toward a new networked class of amateur knowledge workers. The question, then, and this is the question we should all be asking, especially Wikipedia's advocates, is where does this latest revolution point? Will this relocation of knowledge production away from accredited experts to volunteer collectives -- collectives that aspire no less toward expertise, but in the aggregate performance rather than as individuals -- lead to a new enlightening, or to a dark, muddled decline?
Or both? All great ideas contain their opposites. Reason, the flame at the heart of the Enlightenment, contained, as Max Horkheimer famously explained, the seeds of its own descent into modern, mechanistic barbarism. The open source movement, applied first to software, and now, through Wikipedia, to public knowledge, could just as easily descend into a morass of ignorance and distortion, especially as new economies rise up around collaborative peer production and begin to alter the incentives for participation. But it also could be leading us somewhere more vital than our received cultural forms -- more vital and better suited to help us confront the ills of our time, many of them the result of the unbridled advance of that glorious 18th century culture of reason, science and progress that shot the Encyclopédie like a cork out of a bottle of radical spirits.
Which is all the more reason that we should learn how to read Wikipedia in the fullest way: by exploring the discussion pages and revision histories that contextualize each article, and to get involved ourselves as writers and editors. Take a look at the page on global warming, and then pop over to its editorial discussion, with over a dozen archived pages going back to December, 2001. Dense as hell, full of struggle. Observe how this new technology, the Internet, through the dynamics of social networks and easy publishing tools, enables a truer instance of that most Enlightenment of ideas: a reading public.
All of which led me to ponder an obvious but crucial notion: that a book's power is derived not solely from its ideas and language, but also from the nature of its production -- how and by whom it is produced, our awareness of that process, and our understanding of where the work as a whole stands within the contemporary arena of ideology and politics. It's true, Britannica and its ilk are descendants of a powerful reordering of human knowledge, but they have become an established order of their own. What Wikipedia does is tap a long-mounting impulse toward a new reordering. Schiff quotes Charles Van Doren, who served as an editor at Britannica:
Because the world is radically new, the ideal encyclopedia should be radical, too.... It should stop being safe--in politics, in philosophy, in science.
The accuracy of this or that article is not what is at issue here, but rather the method by which the articles are written, and what that tells us. Wikipedia is a personal reeducation, a medium that is its own message. To roam its pages is to be in contact, whether directly or subliminally, with a powerful new idea of how information gets made. And it's far from safe.
Where this takes us is unclear. In the end, after having explored many of the possible dangers, Schiff acknowledges, in a lovely closing paragraph, that the change is occurring whether we like it or not. Moreover, she implies -- and this is really important -- that the technology itself is not the cause, but simply an agent interacting with preexisting social forces. What exactly those forces are -- that's something to discuss.
As was the Encyclopédie, Wikipedia is a combination of manifesto and reference work. Peer review, the mainstream media, and government agencies have landed us in a ditch. Not only are we impatient with the authorities but we are in a mood to talk back. Wikipedia offers endless opportunities for self-expression. It is the love child of reading groups and chat rooms, a second home for anyone who has written an Amazon review. This is not the first time that encyclopedia-makers have snatched control from an élite, or cast a harsh light on certitude. Jimmy Wales may or may not be the new Henry Ford, yet he has sent us tooling down the interstate, with but a squint back at the railroad. We're on the open road now, without conductors and timetables. We're free to chart our own course, also free to get gloriously, recklessly lost.
wikipedia provides rss for articles 07.16.2006, 12:19 PM
As noted in The Long Tail, RSS feeds have been added to Wikipedia articles. The feeds can be accessed by going to an article's history page – links for RSS & Atom feeds are on the left side, under the "toolbox" heading.
They've done a good job with these: instead of sending you a new copy of the article every time changes are made, as is the case with most blogging software, the feed explains exactly what's changed. Here's a sample of what they look like. It's not the most intuitive presentation if you've never edited Wikipedia, but it is useful once you learn to decode it:
This is from the Wikipedia article on Susan Sontag; the feed is here, though the speed at which the Wikipedia changes suggests that you may no longer see these edits. This is actually two entries (the newest first) documenting a change that I made: I noticed that one of her books had been categorized incorrectly so I moved it to the correct category. In the bottom entry, I deleted Where the Stress Falls from the Monographs section: on the left side is the Monographs section before my deletion, on the right side in Monographs after my deletion. In the top entry, I added Where the Stress Falls to the Essays section. On the left is the section before my addition; on the right is the section after. The brackets, asterisks, and single quotes are the markup style used by Wikipedia. The yellow background is added to a new paragraph; green denotes a deleted paragraph. If you change existing text, changes are in red, much like MS Word's track changes feature.
How useful is this? It might be too early to say: RSS is a useful building block, and once it exists, interesting uses tend to present themselves. I suspect it will prove most useful to casual Wikipedians, who update a small number of articles on a regular basis but don't spend most of their time in the Wikipedia.
reuters notices wikipedia revisions 07.07.2006, 1:29 PM
It's interesting to track how the mainstream media covers the big, sprawling story that is Wikipedia.
Here's an odd little article from Reuters on Wednesday, which reports the flurry of revisions that took place on the Ken Lay Wikipedia article immediately following news of his fatal heart attack (suicide? murder? vanishing act?). What's odd about the Reuters piece is its obvious befuddlement at the idea that an article could be evolving in real time, or, more to the point, that a news purveyor would allow unverified information to be posted as the story was unfolding -- to allow an argument over facts to be aired in front of the public. Apparently, this was the first time this reporter had ever bothered to click the "history" tab at the top of an article.
At 10:06 a.m. Wikipedia's entry for Lay said he died "of an apparent suicide."
At 10:08 it said he died at his Aspen home "of an apparent heart attack or suicide."
Within the same minute, it said the cause of death was "yet to be determined."
At 10:09 a.m. it said "no further details have been officially released" about the death.
Two minutes later, it said: "The guilt of ruining so many lives finaly (sic) led him to his suicide."
At 10:12 a.m. this was replaced by: "According to Lay's pastor the cause was a 'massive coronary' heart attack."
By 10:39 a.m. Lay's entry said: "Speculation as to the cause of the heart attack lead many people to believe it was due to the amount of stress put on him by the Enron trial." This statement was later dropped.
By early Wednesday afternoon, the entry said Lay was pronounced dead at Aspen Valley Hospital, citing the Pitkin, Colorado, sheriff's department. It said he apparently died of a massive heart attack, citing KHOU-TV in Houston.
Hard news has traditionally been prized as the antidote to rumor and speculation, but Wikipedia delivers a different sort of news. It's a place where churning through the misinformation, confusion and outright lies is all part of the process of nailing down a controversial, breaking news topic. Thinking perhaps that he/she had a scoop, the Reuters reporter unintentionally captures the surpise and mild discomfort most people tend to feel when grappling for the first time with the full implications of Wikipedia.
student guide on using wikipedia 07.07.2006, 6:31 AM
Alan Liu from the University of California at Santa Barbara, posted on the Humanist Listserv an interesting draft policy statement on student use of Wikipedia. A copy got reposted to kairosnews. When it is completed, this guide will be a useful tool for teachers who are seeing increasing references to Wikipedia in student work. Liu is providing students (and the public for that matter) with a context for understanding how to use Wikipedia in both their research and daily lives. If:book is included in a bibliography of articles on the controversy surrounding Wikipedia and its reliability.
meanwhile, back in the world of old media . . . 06.22.2006, 4:50 PM
One of the most interesting things about new media is the light that it shines on how old media works and doesn't work, a phenomenon that Marshall McLuhan encapsulated precisely with his declaration that a fish doesn't realize that it lives in water until it finds itself stranded on land. The latest demonstration: an article on the front page of yesterday's New York Times. (The version in the International Herald Tribune might be more rot-resistant, though it lacks illustrations.) The Times details, with no small amount of snark, how the conservatives have taken it upon themselves to construct an Encyclopedia of American Conservatism.
We've spent a disproportionate amount of time discussing encyclopedias on this blog. What's interesting to me about this one is how resolutely old-fashioned it is: it's print-based through and through. The editors have decided who's in and who's out, as the Times points out in this useful chart:
Readers are not allowed to argue with the selections: American Conservatism is what the editors say it is. It's a closed text and not up for discussion. Readers can discuss it, of course – that's what I'm doing here – but such discussions have no direct impact on the text itself.
There's a political moral to be teased out here – conservative thinking is dogmatic rather than dialectical – but that's too easy. I'm more interested in how we think about this. Would we notice the authoritarian nature of this work if we didn't have things like the Wikipedia to compare it to? Someone who knows more about book history than I can confirm whether Diderot & d'Alembert had to deal with readers disgruntled by omissions from their Encyclopédie. It's only now, however, that we sense the loss of potential: compared to the Wikipedia this seems limiting.