The Web becomes the stream

From a blog post by Glen Hiemstra.

As we move beyond Web 2.0 into an ever more interactive network, in which users send as much material as they consume, via social nets and video sites, and so on, it becomes obvious that we are progressing from the Internet through the Web to the Stream. It is the constant flow of information that matters. (When Sonia Sotomayor is nominated to the Supreme Court, within about 90 seconds her bio on Wikipedia has been updated.) No static website or traditional media company can keep pace.

Interesting that point about the Supreme Court nomination.

Another Wikipedia hoax

Another case of an old story. Bet it gets used by steam media as an example of wikipedia failings and nobody wonders what ‘reputable’ newspapers were doing reprinting it without checking.

A WIKIPEDIA hoax by a 22-year-old Dublin student resulted in a fake quote being published in newspaper obituaries around the world.

The quote was attributed to French composer Maurice Jarre who died at the end of March.

It was posted on the online encyclopedia shortly after his death and later appeared in obituaries published in the Guardian, the London Independent, on the BBC Music Magazine website and in Indian and Australian newspapers.

“One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear,” Jarre was quoted as saying.

However, these words were not uttered by the Oscar-winning composer but written by Shane Fitzgerald, a final-year undergraduate student studying sociology and economics at University College Dublin.

Mr Fitzgerald said he placed the quote on the website as an experiment when doing research on globalisation.

Encarta RIP — the NYT’s belated obit

This is odd — weeks after Microsoft announced that it was abandoning Encarta, the NYT publishes a piece by Randall Stross.

IN 1985, when Microsoft was turned down by Britannica, the conventional wisdom in the encyclopedia business held that a sales force that knocked on doors was indispensable, that encyclopedias were “sold, not bought.” Encarta showed that with a low-enough price — it was selling for $99 when Britannica introduced its own CD-ROM encyclopedia in 1994 for $995 — it could become the best-selling encyclopedia.

But the triumph was short-lived. Microsoft soon learned that the public would no longer pay for information once it was available free. Other information businesses, of course, are now confronting the same fact, but without the Windows and Office franchises to fall back upon.

Randall Stross is a good reporter, so my hunch is that this is a piece that’s been lying on the shelf for a while until a quiet news day arrived.

The Wikipedia ‘debate’: time to move on

This morning’s Observer column.

Unwillingness to entertain the notion that Wikipedia might fly is a symptom of what the legal scholar James Boyle calls ‘cultural agoraphobia’ – our prevailing fear of openness. Like all phobias it’s irrational, so is immune to evidence. I’m tired of listening to brain-dead dinner-party complaints about how ‘inaccurate’ Wikipedia is. I’m bored to death by endless accounts of slurs or libels suffered by a few famous individuals at the hands of Wikipedia vandals. And if anyone ever claims again that all the entries in Wikipedia are written by clueless amateurs, I will hit them over the head with a list of experts who curate material in their specialisms. And remind them of Professor Peter Murray-Rust’s comment to a conference in Oxford: “The bit of Wikipedia that I wrote is correct.”

Of course Wikipedia has flaws, of course it has errors: show me something that doesn’t. Of course it suffers from vandalism and nutters who contribute stuff to it. But instead of complaining about errors, academics ought to be in there fixing them. Wikipedia is one of the greatest inventions we have. Isn’t it time we accepted it? Microsoft has.

Microsoft Encarta succumbs to Wikipedia

Well, it was a long time coming, but here it is.

Do you remember what came in between printed encyclopedias and Wikipedia Wikipedia reviews? For many, the answer is Microsoft Encarta, which was distributed starting in the 90s via CD-ROM and more recently on the Web via MSN. Today, Microsoft announced that it’s discontinuing Encarta later this year, offering symbolic confirmation that Wikipedia is the world’s definitive reference guide.

Microsoft acknowledges as such in an FAQ they’ve setup explaining the move and what existing Encarta customers can expect. The company writes, “Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years. However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

That’s quite the understatement. As PaidContent points out, the crowd-edited Wikipedia boasts 2.7 million entries in English versus just 42,000 for Encarta. Need further confirmation of why Wikipedia is simply a better model? News of Encarta’s discontinuation has already reached the product’s entry on Wikipedia.

Who’s Messing with Wikipedia?

This diagram summarises the editing activity on the wikipedia page about Global Warming. I produced it by running the entry through an intriguing new web service described by Technology Review.

Despite warnings from many high-school teachers and college professors, Wikipedia is one of the most-visited websites in the world (not to mention the biggest encyclopedia ever created). But even as Wikipedia’s popularity has grown, so has the debate over its trustworthiness. One of the most serious concerns remains the fact that its articles are written and edited by a hidden army of people with unknown interests and biases.

Ed Chi, a senior research scientist for augmented social cognition at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and his colleagues have now created a tool, called WikiDashboard, that aims to reveal much of the normally hidden back-and-forth behind Wikipedia’s most controversial pages in order to help readers judge for themselves how suspect its contents might be.

Wikipedia already has procedures in place designed to alert readers to potential problems with an entry. For example, one of Wikipedia’s volunteer editors can review an article and tag it as ‘controversial’ or warn that it ‘needs sources.’ But in practice, Chi says, relatively few articles actually receive these tags. WikiDashboard instead offers a snapshot of the edits and re-edits, as well as the arguments and counterarguments that went into building each of Wikipedia’s many million pages.

This is a great idea.

The sting in the long tail

This morning’s Observer column.

'Scorpions', says Wikipedia, 'are eight-legged venomous arachnids. They have a long body with an extended tail with a sting.' Staff of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the self-appointed monitor of 'child sexual abuse content hosted worldwide' and of 'criminally obscene and incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK', may well find themselves in rueful agreement about the sting. Except that what they've discovered is that Wikipedia also has one.

Pause for a review of recent events…

Wikipedia offline

Wikipedia produces a downloadable version of the encyclopedia aimed at the schools, with content relevant to the national curriculum. Great idea, and one that could have some serious applications in developing countries where schools have difficulty getting a workable internet connection. The blurb describes it as

a free, hand-checked, non-commercial selection from Wikipedia, targeted around the UK National Curriculum and useful for much of the English speaking world. It has about 5500 articles (as much as can be fitted on a DVD with good size images) and is about the size of a twenty volume encyclopaedia (34,000 images and 20 million words). Articles were chosen from a list ranked by importance and quality generated by project members. This list of articles was then manually sorted for relevance to children, and adult topics were removed. Compared to the 2007 version some six hundred articles were removed and two thousand more relevant articles (of now adequate quality) were added. SOS Children volunteers then checked and tidied up the contents, first by selecting historical versions of articles free from vandalism and then by removing unsuitable sections. External links and references are also not included since it was infeasible to check all of these.

The project is a joint venture with SOS Children’s Villages.

Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.

US Department of Justice banned from Wikipedia

Interesting story

Wikipedia has temporarily blocked edits from the US Department of Justice after someone inside the government agency tried to erase references to a particularly-controversial Wiki-scandal.

Early last week, the Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) was accused of organizing a secret campaign to influence certain articles on the “free encyclopedia anyone can edit”. Just days later, the DoJ’s IP range was used to edit the site’s entry on the Pro-Israel “media-monitoring group,” lifting a new section that detailed the controversy.

The DoJ did not respond to our requests for comment. But odds are, the edits were made by a single individual acting independently. Wikipedia’s ban on the department’s IP is due to be lifted today…

The Charms of Wikipedia

Nicolson Baker has written a lovely piece about Wikipedia in which, as usual, he makes fascinating use of his own compulsiveness. Excerpt:

It was constructed, in less than eight years, by strangers who disagreed about all kinds of things but who were drawn to a shared, not-for-profit purpose. They were drawn because for a work of reference Wikipedia seemed unusually humble. It asked for help, and when it did, it used a particularly affecting word: “stub.” At the bottom of a short article about something, it would say, “This article about X is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.” And you’d think: That poor sad stub: I will help. Not right now, because I’m writing a book, but someday, yes, I will try to help.

And when people did help they were given a flattering name. They weren’t called “Wikipedia’s little helpers,” they were called “editors.” It was like a giant community leaf-raking project in which everyone was called a groundskeeper. Some brought very fancy professional metal rakes, or even back-mounted leaf-blowing systems, and some were just kids thrashing away with the sides of their feet or stuffing handfuls in the pockets of their sweatshirts, but all the leaves they brought to the pile were appreciated. And the pile grew and everyone jumped up and down in it having a wonderful time. And it grew some more, and it became the biggest leaf pile anyone had ever seen anywhere, a world wonder. And then self-promoted leaf-pile guards appeared, doubters and deprecators who would look askance at your proffered handful and shake their heads, saying that your leaves were too crumpled or too slimy or too common, throwing them to the side. And that was too bad. The people who guarded the leaf pile this way were called “deletionists.”

Well worth reading in full. Pour some coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy.

Update: TechCrunch is reporting that

The ten millionth article has been written on Wikipedia – a Hungarian biography of of 16th century painter Nicholas Hilliard.

Never heard of him — until now. That’s Wikipedia for you.