· · Publishing
· · · Reference
Sex and T.E. Lawrence
· I’m not a very active Wikipedian, but I do put occasional effort into the entry on T.E. Lawrence who is perhaps better known as “Lawrence of Arabia”. Its coverage of his sexuality has been particularly contentious. This is a research piece designed to support my work on stabilizing this part of the entry ... [6 comments]
· For a nice safe NPOV (“Neutral Point of View”) discussion of the issues, see Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia. My experience, which isn’t NPOV at all, is that Deletionists are knuckle-dragging droolers, walking vacant spaces, and as a side-effect generally, well, what’s the word I’m looking for? “Wrong.” ... [27 comments]
· There’s much ado about Knol, but I haven’t noticed many Wikipedian voices. Well, I’ll speak up, and I’m sort of a Wikipedian. Actually, less so recently, which is relevant ... [16 comments]
Life Is Complicated
· My goodness, even CNN picked up the story about Microsoft trying to retain Rick Jelliffe to update the Wikipedia articles on ODF and OOXML for them, just as the ISO process around OOXML is getting in gear. This raises complicated issues about document formats and transparency and conflict of interest; and there’s at least one elephant in the room ... [20 comments]
· There’s been something happening recently in my little corner of Wikipedia, and I don’t know if it’s an anomaly or evidence of a trend; so this is raw random anecdotal data. By “my little corner” I mean the small collection of articles that I track via a recent-changes Atom feed, have contributed to quite a bit, and feel a little bit of shared responsibility for. There’s been a surge of recent editorial activity, with super-energetic (and apparently well-informed) new contributors trimming and tweaking and growing the articles, often several times per day. In general, while I haven’t been convinced that 100% of the changes are improvements, the quality of the articles as a whole is definitely trending up. Also, the random drive-by teenage defacements are getting fixed really fast. Anyone else seeing this? [5 comments]
Wikipedia: Resistance is Absent
· What happened was, I went to check out the new Microsoft search engine at live.com (it’s not bad), and I started by looking for myself. I was kind of surprised when my Wikipedia entry came in ahead of ongoing. (Wikipedia’s #2 at Google and Yahoo.) I’m seeing this pattern of Wikipedia inching up the search-result charts for a whole lot of things. Search-result rank, on the Internet, more or less equals Authority. So this trend has to worry the anti-Wikipedians. It worries me too. Maybe it could be reversed, but I don’t think so. [Update: Byron Saltysiak suggests a more positive aproach.] ...
Yes, I Can Keep Editing!
· I have taken a serious interest in a fairly small number of Wikipedia entries, on subjects where I think I’m pretty expert, and for some time I tried to keep on top of them, nuke others’ edits when they were bogus, fix grammar and spelling problems, trying to achieve what Toyota calls kaizen, or continuous improvement. But I can’t any more. I don’t have time to go check back every day or even every week, and that’s what a conscientious article minder ought to do. I totally need, for each article, a feed I can subscribe to that will summarize changes. Give me that and I can probably stay on top of a handful of articles, because most edits are good. It can’t be that hard; every article already has a “history” page that has the information right there; all you’d have to do would be to create an alternate version wrapped in RSS or Atom tags. So, dear Wikipedians; you want me to invest time and attention in improving the commons? Give me tools. [Hah! And from within the bowels of Wikipedia, a voice emerges, saying: “Ask and you shall receive.” And, it’s valid Atom 1.0; how many more million Atom feeds is that? Put me in the Wikipedia fanboy column.]
The Long Form
· I found that Orlowski’s long, incoherent anti-Wikipedia screed in the Guardian sent my thinking in some unexpected directions. Really, it’s too much to expect rational discourse from a man whose first piece on the subject (that I saw) rejoiced in the URL “khmer_rouge_in_daipers” (sic). Anyhow, he assembles put-downs from the usual anti-Wikipedia suspects; there’s really not much new. I will credit him for one observation that has recently become apparent to me: the wearing thing about being a tender of the Wikipedia flame isn’t the malicious political or racist crazies, it’s the constant background noise of dumb low-level minor juvenile vandalism. After the same-old same-old bashfest is done, the article dips into sophmore philosophy, arguing that the Net’s endless flow of atomized information somehow prevents us from interpreting or acquiring wisdom. And, by the way, the kids these days are no good, what with relying on Google instead of Real Books. Anyhow, in among all this tilting at windmills there is a (fairly well concealed) thing to think about, and it has to do with length. It doesn’t bother me that much of the prose I read these days has an age measured in hours, or is evanescent electronic text, or is produced by principals rather than intermediaries. But here’s what I’m coming to think: in text, short form tends to drive out long form. Our novelty-seeking chimpanzee minds would rather chew through a bunch of tasty little morsels than a full balanced meal. For example, when I was just about to turn in last night, I glanced at the New Yorker magazine at the end of the sofa, got started reading George Packer’s excellent The Lesson of Tal Afar, and didn’t get to bed till way past 1AM. And I learned some things about the state of play in Iraq that no succession of blog posts is gonna teach me, because the material really needs a dozen or so pages of beautifully-typeset densely-argued discourse. I’m not going to try to summarize Packer’s piece; but if you want to have a really educated opinion about the way things are heading over there, you’ll read it. As for me, I’m making a conscious effort to do more of my reading in big chunks. But I’m not giving up on blogs or the Wikipedia, and I remain contemptuous of Orlowski’s posse’s ineffectual flailing at anything with that dangerous smell of the New and Interesting.
My Wikipedia Policy
· Scoble published his, and these days, I think having a policy is a good idea. Unlike Scoble, I have edited my entry, in my case with a very specific goal. Both Scoble’s entry
and mine are labeled as stubs, which I think is silly. I suggested that we de-stub mine, and no less a person than Wikipedia goddess Angela Beesley laughed politely at me, saying it didn’t even have my birth-date and so on. So I filled in the basic bio and now it’s plenty long and I’m eventually going to run out of patience and de-stub it myself. Hey Rob, you want me to de-stub you too? Why don’t you put in your birth-date and citizenship and other basics first? The other thing I do, and I recommend that everyone else with an entry do, is get a Wikipedia account and put your entry on your watchlist, so that if someone starts defacing, you’ll notice. Wikipedia doesn’t provide feeds on watchlists, but I think they should, it would improve the efficiency of error-correction. I see Petrik de Heus has already handcrafted a watchlist feed generator in Python. [Update: Thanks to AdamJacobMiller and PatriceNeff for cleaning up my article and de-stubbing it. Scoble’s still a stub though.] Wikipedia Notes
· This week I had a pleasant, relaxed, sit-down conversation with Jimmy Wales, the main man behind the Wikipedia. The purpose of this note is to pass along some interesting facts about the project that I hadn’t previously known. This is timely in that there has been a recent flare-up of the usual Wikipedia controversies, with mostly the same old players flinging the same old slime; those who care might want to revisit my essay from last year, which takes a careful look at the project as contrasted to the world of conventional reference publishing. I stand by my conclusion: the Wikipedia dwarfs its critics. The rest of this piece is just a recitation of facts, but some of them are surprising. [Update: PHP@Yahoo!] ...
· Dan Gillmor pointed out that Wikipedia has a thorough, scholarly article on the new Pope. I can improve on that: I happened to have the Sistine-chapel webcam in a corner of the screen when the white smoke came out, and observed the Wikipedia article when it was only minutes old. At which point I noticed that a defacer with a sense of humor had inserted something about the former Cardinal Ratzinger dreaming of retiring to “a small Nazi village”, but it had been fixed by the time I got there. Just now, I decided that the phrase “Benedict XVI is the 8th German pope in history;” would be improved by losing the words “in history” so I nuked ’em. Which is to say, Dan’s got a point. I see a future in which, when you want to talk about anything worth talking about, you link either to its URI, or its Wikipedia entry, or both.
· There’s exhaustive research and scholarly publishing, and then there’s pop culture, and sometimes they meet in ëcstätïc trïümph. Oh my goodness gracious, Jon Udell has built a wonderful monument of mëtä-schölärshïp on this base.
· “Reference Publishing” is the business of publishing “reference works”: dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the like. By definition, it includes the Wikipedia, which is intended as a reference work. I have remarked kindly on the Wikipedia and taken exception when it came under attack. There have been a lot of voices chiming in on this issue; herewith a survey and, based on my years in reference publishing and because I care profoundly, I’ll add my own observations ...
By Tim Bray
I am an employee
of Amazon.com, but
the opinions expressed here
are my own, and no other party
necessarily agrees with them.
A full disclosure of my
professional interests is
on the author page.