some end of the week short links

It’s been a busy week this week. I had eight people come to computer drop-in time on Tuesday which was a tech frenzy of PayPal and email and inserting graphics and Yahoo mail address books. I’ve had a few of these links hanging around for a while waiting to find time to write proper posts, but I figured I’ll drop them in here. I see a lot of blogging as playing hot potato with a bunch of web content. You find it, you pass it on, the next person passes it on. The more content you shift, the easier it is to quickly ascertain which things you need to save for longer perusal and which need to just get passed on for the next person. I’ve read and absorbed these and thought you might like them.

Me talking about Wikipedia again

One of the things that the 2.0 crowd needs to remember, myself included, is that by writing about all this neat stuff on our blogs we’re still just talking to an elite sliver of already-savvy people. I like to get my 2.0 talking appearing in print as much as possible, that seems to really have an effect on a whole new group of people.

When my 80+ year old neighbor called me today to say that she saw me in the newspaper talking about Wikipedia, I’m pretty sure it was the first time she’d ever said the word out loud. The article is pretty lousy to read online (I’m not sure what happend to the paragraph breaks) but I’m going to go walk down to the corner store and get a copy. Here are some of the pull quotes I’m happy with, in case you don’t want to slog through it.

Another prolific Vermont Wikipedian is Jessamyn West, 38, who works in the library at the Randolph Technical Career Center. She transformed from a Wikipedia user to a contributor two years ago, after visiting the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington. “I went to Wikipedia, and saw that their entry for Brownington didn’t include this massive stone building. I thought, I should find the information and put it on there so other people can find it and learn about it,” she explains. Since then, she says, as she scrolls through a long list of her contributions, she’s made “a couple thousand edits.” [note, it’s less than I estimated]

Her mission last winter was to figure out which Vermont towns had official town Web pages, and making all those links available. Today, thanks to her efforts, visitors to Wikipedia entries on Clarendon, Bethel and dozens of other Vermont towns can link directly to the town’s Web site. West points out that because of the way search engines work, many Vermont towns may be difficult to find online. “Wikipedia understands how to structure information so it makes sense to computers as well as humans,” she explains. “By linking the town’s Web site in Wikipedia, that will make them more findable on Google.” With a degree in library science and membership in the American Library Association Council [sic], she has also contributed to entries about libraries. She’s a fan of a parody TV show called Reno 911, and watches that page, too, as well as the entry for a band she likes. Every page West edits she adds to her watch list; 10 to 15 Vermont towns get revised each day, she says. She removes any vandalism she sees. “I see a lot of kids edit Wikipedia, add their names and friends’ names to it,” she said. “It’s why I have a watch list.” The next project she’s considering: going back to the Vermont town entries and adding links to public libraries….

Jessamyn West’s view: “In library circles, sometimes, there are people who complain: ‘I found something wrong on Wikipedia.’ I wonder, ‘Did you change it?’ We are all responsible (on Wikipedia). That’s an unusual way to feel about a Web site. You are responsible if you see a mistake. Everyone should be responsible for making Wikipedia better.”

Wikipedia is wise to your antics

In the most recent Dispatches from a Public Librarian, Scott Douglas asks readers to “invent my life” on Wikipedia. By the time I checked out the Wikipedia article, which was not even linked from his essay, it had already been protected which is Wikilanguage for “we’re stopping you from editing this page until you monkeys quit messing with it.” A quick inspection of the page’s history, ah transparency, shows that the page was created by someone named Roboscott (which matches his email address) about two weeks ago and had a flurry of editing yesterday, the day the essay was published, culminating in it being protected about 24 hours ago.

on wikis

I find that ever since I edited a typo on the celebrity sex tape entry on Wikipedia (slightly nsfw), I’ve become more interested in the site. This is because Wikipedia lets you have a watchlist, a list of all the pages you’ve edited. You can then see when any of these pages have been edited by anyone else, and what they did to them. Most of the pages I’ve edited are either Vermont town pages which aren’t updated too often, or the library and ALA-related pages which are frequently updated, often by vandals or sometimes just well-meaning people who have a very specific axe to grind with the association. The watchlist becomes as addictive as an RSS feed and does lead to a lot of hyperfocus on whatever your pet topics are. I have about 300 pages on my watchlist, but 250-ish of them are Vermont towns. The celebrity sex tape page is updated every few hours most days, it’s fascinating to watch it change. Democracy in action? A bunch of nerds with too much time on their hands?

This is a feature I think many people don’t know about Wikipedia. I think there is a lot people don’t know about Wikipedia, or the way wikis work generally, just like there is a lot they don’t know about MySpace, or Flickr, or del.icio.us. Speaking of del.ico.us:

You probably read about Meredith presenting at the Wikimania conference in Boston. If not, here are her slides, and here’s a link to the audio. I certainly would have been there too if I didn’t have a scheduling conflict. I’ve been reading more about wikis lately.

One of the things I didn’t know about wikis was the original purpose behind them. Wikis are tools for creating reference works. Originally, it was the only way you could coax programmers to write documentation, a task they hated. Ward Cunningham wrote a tool to solve that problem, and the wiki was born.

This is excellent if you’re explaining what the KeyboardInput and ScreenOutput functions of your computer program does, and if you are writing encyclopedic entries for [[World War II]] or the [[Russian National Library]]. But for many smaller workgroups, wiki pages tend to get meaningless and confusing titles like [[TODO]] or [[Things to consider]] or [[Ideas from the meeting last week]]. Nobody knows what goes into which page and the only difference between the old intranet mess and the new wiki mess is that nobody has any excuse any longer for not updating and reorganizing the information. That doesn’t mean the information gets updated or reorganized. It certainly doesn’t get so by itself. It’s only the excuse that has been removed. Nowadays people admit spending three hours a day just reading their e-mail (ten years ago this seemed like wasted time, and people would be ashamed to admit it, now the shame has gone away),
but how much time can they spend just reorganizing information on their workgroup’s wiki?

wikipedia: economies of community scale, cherish individuals first

Wikipedia is all over the place lately, from the New Yorker to The Atlantic to the Colbert Report

. Interesting side note regarding scalability of Wikipedia. Major media mention of articles on Wikipedia — particularly in areas known to be frequented by tech-savvy individuals — can result in whole swaths of mentioned articles getting protected status, something that can only be conferred by an administrator. You can trace the history of the Elephant article to see that it was getting a few edits a day until just about the time that the Colbert Report aired and then it began getting several edits per hour. In fact most of the articles mentioned by Colbert are now semi-protected.

This is a dramatic difference between print and collaborative online reference-type works. The transparency of Wikipedia is both a mark in its favor in a Library 2.0ish transparency way as well as a detriment in that it keeps track of every bit of bad behavior as well as every helpful edit. An open question is whether tracking the bad with the good results in less petty vandalism (your jerkishness on display for everyone to see) or more (Wikipedia history = hall of fame for vandals). We deal with this over on MetaFilter a lot, trying to figure out what to do with people who abuse the site and what to do with their contributions.

As a side reading project, I strongly recomment taking the time to dig through Jaron Lanier’s essay DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism and article about Wikipedia and other collaborative sites from the perspective of someone who both realy understands technology and also someone who examines it with a critical eye. I read the whole thing, I suggest you read the whole thing.

The hive mind should be thought of as a tool. Empowering the collective does not empower individuals — just the reverse is true. There can be useful feedback loops set up between individuals and the hive mind, but the hive mind is too chaotic to be fed back into itself.

These are just a few ideas about how to train a potentially dangerous collective and not let it get out of the yard. When there’s a problem, you want it to bark but not bite you.

The illusion that what we already have is close to good enough, or that it is alive and will fix itself, is the most dangerous illusion of all. By avoiding that nonsense, it ought to be possible to find a humanistic and practical way to maximize value of the collective on the Web without turning ourselves into idiots. The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.