WorldCat’s meme requests

The funny thing about memes is you can’t force them. I mentioned this particular issue on Twitter a little bit ago but I find WorldCat’s Meme Request [update: link suddenly broken, see comments for text. another update: the post is now back. Huh.] post to be a little sketchy-seeming.

Maybe this is because of my particular perspective of not feeling that I get a lot of value for me or my library from WorldCat. Here’s the thing with this request. If this is a legitimate and okay use of Wikipedia — to add links to WC identities to applicable pages — Wikipedia has an open API, just go build a bot and do it, on the level. If it’s not okay, and my reading of the Wikipedia guidelines seems to indicate that it may not be, trying to end-run this by faking a grassroots movement seems to not be in the best interests of either Wikipedia or WorldCat. I don’t think WorldCat is trying to be shifty or sneaky here, I just don’t think their approach is as helpful as they may think it would be.

Also, let me state for the record, that I think the WorldCat identities project is really smoking hot. However there is still a huge difference between “all libraries” and “OCLC member libraries” and I’ll continue to raise these polite objections to the willful blurring of the line between the two until the point at which WorldCat can direct me to the actual nearest copy of Jane Eyre to my house.

18 thoughts on “WorldCat’s meme requests

  1. Did you scare them off the project? The post is nowhere to be found. Interesting that they just pulled it, like it didn’t ever happen, instead of revising it to say “oops, we decided this was a bad idea”.

  2. Yeah I don’t even see the Google cache of it, though that might be standard for how Google operates.

  3. For the record, here’s the post, from Google Reader, without the hyperlinks.

    Meme Request: Let’s Get WC Identities into Wikipedia
    from WorldCat Blog by Andy

    Wikipedia is clearly being used by a bjillion people as their chosen reference site of first resort. But, of course, many people do not end their quest for knowledge at Wikipedia. In some cases, it’s the first step in a long road of discovery. A road that can logically lead to libraries.

    Some recent data from Hitwise shows that almost 10% of the downstream traffic (where people go when they leave a site) from Wikipedia goes to “educational” pages. 10% might not seem like much… but the top 1,000 Wikipedia pages (from the English site) get more than 35 million hits per day. Which means that more (probably many more, considering the Long Tail) than 3.5 million people per day leave Wikipedia in search of “educational” information.

    Segue to WorldCat Identities. In case you haven’t heard me singing the praises of the Identities service before, please take a sec and go check it out. It’s an amazingly cool way to get lots of information about a person, group or character in a small amount of space/time.

    There’s a natural connection, I believe, between services like Wikipedia and WorldCat Identities. Both are providing good, solid, reference information on a subject-specific basis. Many of us here think that a link from a Wikipedia page to the appropriate Identities page makes perfect sense. Actually, so does Tim O’Reilly, who said:

    I’d really love to see this tied in programmatically to wikipedia. There ought to be an automatic link to this site for every identity in wikipedia!

    So would we! Unfortunately, it’s currently impossible to do something like that at a programmatic level.

    How do links get added from Wikipedia to valuable resources like WorldCat Identities? Well, since Wikipedia is a user-built site, the best way is, well… YOU!

    There’s an easy way for you to add an Identites link to Wikipedia using a fancy-dancy template. Basically, you find the Identities “number” for a person you’re interested in. For example, Samuel Phillips. His number is the last portion of the Identities URL. In this case: lccn-n85-221132

    Copy that number for the Identities page you’re interested in, then go to Wikipedia and find the page on the related person. Click to “edit” the external links section (usually at the bottom of the page) and add the following:

    *{{worldcat id|id=IDENTITES_NUMBER}}

    Substituting the actual number for “IDENTITIES_NUMBER.” Leaving, in the case of our example:

    *{{worldcat id|id=lccn-n85-221132}}

    That will create the following line in the actual Wikipedia article:

    * Works by or about Samuel Phillips, Jr. in libraries (WorldCat catalog)

    Here’s my hope: that those of us interested in both particular subjects and promoting library services will take the time to make this connection. We know that there is a ton of great stuff in libraries that folks coming to Wikipedia would benefit from. And, I belileve, WorldCat Identities is a fun, appropriate way to get folks to take the next step.

    So… think of your five favorite authors, characters, groups and singers… anybody with a name. And make the connection to the Identities from Wikipedia. Then pass the idea on to five friends who love libraries and learning.

    As far as memes go, it’s not funny or silly and doesn’t involve exposing your personal feelings or comparing yourself to spices or superheroes. But maybe a meme can be a little fun, and also a little helpful.

    Thanks in advance for your participation.

    Note: more information on the WorldCat Identities template for Wikipedia is here.

  4. Wouldn’t building a WorldCat Identities bot end up being considered a spam agent anyway? I’m genuinely asking, given my problems with interpreting Wikipedia rules in the past.

    I figure that a bot that runs around adding these links to articles automatically and having people add the links by hand would still produce the same problem of “spam” links according to the guidelines cited, since it’s still linking the articles to a specific product or service that lists *member* libraries, not an open, all-inclusive service.

    I’m disappointed that WorldCat deleted the post, even though it really does sound like WorldCat was essentially asking librarians and lovers of libraries to spam bomb Wikipedia, albeit unintentionally. This could’ve been a learning opportunity for everyone: read the rules, understand how people do things, and learn to play nice with systems, instead of trying to jerry-rig them to do things.

  5. Thansk Roy! Any idea why just that one post wasn’t on the site all of the sudden and is now back?

  6. 1) I’m not sure I see how this is a violation of the guidelines. Is it because WorldCat is for-profit? It is pretty common to link to album reviews on for-profit sites ( ). Is it because WorldCat gives the impression that it is a complete/universal catalog when in reality it is made up of paying members? I don’t see where that is a violation. I may be missing something.

    2) I agree with Andy when he says this would be practically impossible to do programmatically with a bot. Even if it were possible to make a bot that made good guesses, it seems to me it would require a human to confirm that the WordCat Identity and the Wikipedia article were both talking about the same entity.

  7. I thought about these issues when linking to WorldCat for a website on Scandinavian crime fiction – not every library is an OCLC member, some are members but don’t subscribe to the public database, which is what you have to do to be included in the free version, you may have a different edition of the book, or you may be in a catalog that doesn’t let branches show up as locations owning the book. If you can be very clear that the list of libraries doesn’t mean your library doesn’t have it, it’s handy, but there’s nothing at WorldCat that makes that crystal clear.

  8. That one post went down due to an issue related to our moving the admin server for the blog yesterday. It turns out that the post was written from one server, and then got un-published after the move. The post went back up when we pushed it out again after we noticed it was down.

  9. Interesting. When you twittered about the Worldcat thing the other day, I left a comment on their blog saying that it was going about things the wrong way and stood a good chance of being autoreverteda spam. That comment’s nowhere to be found there now.

    Maybe it was the “unpublishing”, but somehow that makes it harder for me to assume good intentions.

  10. Andrea’s got a point with the spam issue. Perhaps if OCLC’s data were free as in free speech, Wikipedia would have already integrated it.

  11. Rich — I get an email whenever there’s a comment left on a blog post I write, and I didn’t get one related to a comment from you. Not sure what happened, but if you want to try again, we’d certainly welcome the feedback.

  12. Besides what other catalogs can be tried to search for North American libraries, organizational libraries, special libraries, office libraries holdings not included yet in Online Computer Library Center OCLC data.

  13. As a Wikipedian, I don’t think this is a terrible idea, really. The way the links would become spam is if they were added indiscriminately or were not useful for the article. Arguably, the links are generally useful. Basically, I consider anything Wikipedia can do to help push readers to libraries when they are looking for more information to be a good thing — and the presence of a worldcat link does not deter the presence of links to another, better union catalogs as well.

    If there were a universal standard for coding identities, it could be incorporated into the page, which is much more democratic in where you can search for books. Unfortunately, unlike ISBNs, there isn’t really such as standard.

    The mistep that OCLC took in this post is trying to promote it as a “meme”, which should really never be the case when trying to add stuff to Wikipedia and is pretty much a sure-fire way to attract controversy. Whether or not to add any link should be a considered editorial judgment. Better to just let the world know that the template exists and that it can be used if appropriate.

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