Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems

Encouraging signs from the Wikipedia project, where co-founder and überpedian Jimmy Wales has acknowledged there are real quality problems with the online work.

Criticism of the project from within the inner sanctum has been very rare so far, although fellow co-founder Larry Sanger, who is no longer associated with the project, pleaded with the management to improve its content by befriending, and not alienating, established sources of expertise. (i.e., people who know what they’re talking about.)

Meanwhile, criticism from outside the Wikipedia camp has been rebuffed with a ferocious blend of irrationality and vigor that’s almost unprecedented in our experience: if you thought Apple, Amiga, Mozilla or OS/2 fans were er, … passionate, you haven’t met a wiki-fiddler. For them, it’s a religious crusade.

In the inkies, Wikipedia has enjoyed a charmed life, with many of the feature articles about the five-year old project resembling advertisements. Emphasis is placed on the knowledgeable articles (by any yardstick, it’s excellent for Klingon, BSD Unix, and Ayn Rand), the breadth of its entries (Klingon again), and process issues such as speed.

“We don’t ever talk about absolute quality,” boasted one of the project’s prominent supporters, Clay Shirky, a faculty tutor at NYU. But it’s increasingly difficult to avoid the issue any longer.
Continue reading “Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems”

The Blooker Prize: small pieces, partially digested

The Bible, for example, was originally produced as a scroll
– Cory Doctorow

Some press releases are so simply, staggeringly indescribable, we print them without comment. These are most often related to corporate makeovers or rebranding exercises, which is quite appropriate in this case.

We’ve tried to be faithful to the original’s unique typographical qualities where possible.

And we’d better warn you: there’s a lot of SHOUTING at the start, and odd emphasis throughout – but that’s very much its charm.

So sit tight – and here goes:


ANNOUNCING “THE BLOOKER PRIZE” THE WORLD’S FIRST LITERARY PRIZE FOR “BLOOKS” (BOOKS BASED ON BLOGS OR WEBSITES) LAUNCHES 10TH OCTOBER

 

“BLOOKS” ARE THE FASTEST GROWING NEW KIND OF BOOK – AND THE HOTTEST NEW PUBLISHING AND ONLINE TREND


Continue reading “The Blooker Prize: small pieces, partially digested”

A Million Nation States of One fears Google Balkanization

Some stories just take forever to come true. 30 months ago, we revealed Google was going to introduce a weblog search engine – and this week, it finally did. The story, so obvious in retrospect, barely merits the term ‘scoop’. But now, as then, it has been eclipsed by a raging debate about the implications for bloggers and for the web in general.

A great many people see this as the perfect opportunity to improve Google search – and introduce some innovation into the world of web user interface navigation – by removing weblogs from the main Google index, and giving them their own tab, as Usenet enjoys now.

Google, along with rival search engines which aped its link based algorithms, has to wrestle with the constantly evolving techniques deployed to trick it into promoting certain web pages. It’s an arms race comparable to email spam, and one of the chief culprits is ‘blog noise’ – a catch all term for the irrelevant blog entries and all the extraneous plumbing that props them up: RSS feeds, empty pages, duplicate pages, TrackBacks, and so on.
Continue reading “A Million Nation States of One fears Google Balkanization”

On Computers, Creativity and Copyright

“We’d run out of ironic things to say”
Neil Tennant

Creative Commons is an intriguing experiment to granulize the rights a creator has over his or her work, and to formalize what today is largely spontaneous and informal. What we rarely see when it is discussed, is a genuine attempt to answer the question “Why is it needed?”

For a very self-consciously idealistic “movement” this, absence of an explanation is surprising.

Behind the scheme is the recognition of a very real problem. The permission mechanisms by which rights holders grant or deny the reproduction of artistic works haven’t kept pace with technology. It’s now very easy to reproduce an image or a piece of music, but it remains just as easy, or difficult, to get the permission to use it. We now have an abundance of material available to us, they ask, so can’t we do more with it?

It’s a reasonable question, and Creative Commons is an attempt to answer it.

Let’s look closer at what it is.

Continue reading “On Computers, Creativity and Copyright”

'Sims school' abandons books for laptops

Technology vendors have long viewed the state of Arizona as rich pickings. In addition to the Federal pork barrel, state tax payers have found over $60m dollars for IT investment.

Now a high school in Tuscon is abandoning textbooks entirely, at the urging of the school district’s technology evangelist, who appears to have caught the religion big time.

Instead of spending $600 per head on textbooks, Vail High School in Tucson will buy each of its 350 sophomores an $850 laptop. That shouldn’t be too difficult – the school itself is located in a science park. But the Tucson school district’s superinterindent, an enthusiastic technology evangelist called Calvin Baker, candidly admits he doesn’t know quite how it will all work.
Continue reading “'Sims school' abandons books for laptops”

For ambulance-chasing bloggers, tragedy equals opportunity

No human disaster these days is complete without two things, both of which can be guaranteed to surface within 24 hours of the event.

First, virus writers will release a topical new piece of malware. And then weblog evangelists proclaim how terrific the catastrophe is for the internet. It doesn’t seem to matter how high the bodies are piled – neither party can be deterred from its task.

For the technology evangelists, the glee is barely containable. The daily business of congratulating each other jumps to a whole new level with all the bloggers marveling in unison at their ability to detail real-time tragedy.
Continue reading “For ambulance-chasing bloggers, tragedy equals opportunity”

Space is the place, says Esther Dyson

Fly her to the moon. Please. 

In a remarkable case of life imitating satire, Esther Dyson has decided to host a space conference.

No, we’re not making this up – and no, we can’t think of anyone more appropriate.

“It’s not that there aren’t space conferences, but nothing as tacky and commercial as we want to be,” Silicon Valley’s space cadet tells the New York Times.
Continue reading “Space is the place, says Esther Dyson”

Net religion vs Organized religion

Net religion bumped into real, organized religion again at the Berkman Center’s Votes, Bits Bytes conference today, held at Harvard University’s Law School. The subject couldn’t be more topical. In the recent elections, church-based groups got out the vote. Despite the view that a blogger’s vote is worth ten ordinary votes, real religion triumphed Internet religion.

Robert Puttnam, the author of Bowling Alone who popularized the term ‘social capital’, followed an ecstatic keynote speech talk by Scott Heiferman, co-founder and CEO of Meetup.com. Heiferman began at the pace of a runaway horse, and his frenzy only increased as he continued.

“We’re on the verge of a new people-powered era!”

Meetup.com wasn’t just for political junkies, he insisted: it allowed single mums, pug lovers and expatriates to meet, as slides of happy single mums, pug lovers and expatriates flashed past. Why?

“It means more power at the node!”

As Scott’s EPM (Exclamation-Marks-Per-Minute) rose to a machine gun tempo, he dispensed with sentences altogether, a high tempo succession of aphorisms.

“We need a new term for this!” he said, and steadied the PowerPoint projector long enough to offer a slide that read:

“Flash, Emergent, People-Powered, Long-Lasting, Open, Influential, Agile, Chapter-Based Institutions, Organizations, Unions, Coalitions, Associations With Card Carrying Members Engaged In Collective Action!”

What did these groups have in common? Scott explained.

The slides of happy pug-lovers, holding their pooches, flashed round again.

“They’re emergent! Esther Dyson wrote that the Republican Party was an emergent organization!”

A thin voice from the front row – which turned out to be Esther herself – piped up, “But that was a very long time ago.” Undeterred, Heiferman rattled on.

“The USA was an emergent organization! – That idea of collective power! – We haven’t unleashed that yet!”

“It’s collective power! – Linux! – Google! – Google is collective power!! – The links!!”

The PowerPoints were now looping past us so quickly on the big screen, the presentation began to resemble a shaky 1920s animation.

“This will empower people! Citizens – shareholders – customers – employees and other people – with more power!!”

And with that, he sat down.

Puttnam welcomed Meetup.com and believed that it could be as big as the boy scouts. Technology had privatized leisure time, with the result that people participated on their own, at home. Now, he hoped, technology could help people meet each other and build real face-to-face ties with people.

He had been studying an evangelical church in Orange County, and confirmed that the church has played a central role in getting out the vote. He was particularly impressed by the low barrier to participating in the church by the group’s ‘Seeker’ drop-in sessions.

“Can internet groups achieve the same level of organization, eventually?” he asked.

The answer, which he hoped would be true, was yes. When people make a lasting commitment to a group, they stick around longer and behave better. Part of the reason online conversations are so hopeful are articulated neatly here: you can disagree with someone in the real world, but it’s hard to online without each party deciding it’s less trouble to walk away. So what’s to stop online groups from falling apart just as easily?

From the audience, an atheist single mum who lived in an evangelical community marveled at the level of support given to church members, and despaired that the secular were so poorly provided for. An earlier questioner had made the same point.

“White conservatives and African Americans have equivalents: they’re called churches. There’s no ‘meetup’ social networking institution for white adults. Where will it come from?”

Alas, despite much talk of low barriers to entry, and the relative stickiness of Meetup-originated groups, both panelists’ answers skirted around the issue. With a church, it’s harder to leave. Afterwards your reporter asked Puttnam why he thought leaving a church, with its faith commitment, was just as easy as leaving a pug-lovers group?

A colleague of his stepped in.

“People leave churches all the time in the United States,” he said.

Oh really? If he left an evangelical church wouldn’t he expect a friendly real world visit from some members of the congregation? The question left hanging in the air, as the party had to depart in a hurry. So for now, we must leave it there.

Although the audience was invited to marvel at the achievement of Internet-based social groups, it’s hard not to conclude that Churches have something even blogging pug-lovers don’t have. And no machine is going to bridge that gap.

Netizens: white, wealthy and middle class (and full of it)

Diversity in action: bloggers

“The Internet is becoming more and more widespread and will increasingly represent a scientific random sample of the population,” claims ICANN’s newest board member, Joi Ito. Quite what scientific experiments he will wish to perform, once the desired sample size has been reached, remains a mystery. But like many people who spend too long in front of their computers, he’s talking about a Platonic ideal rather than the real world.

A survey by the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration shows that the internet has entrenched the divide between rich and poor, and the races. Statistics reveal an internet that’s overwhelmingly white, wealthy and urban. And the net’s best days may even be behind it. The pace of internet adoption has tapered off to a trickle, with a substantial part of the population not interested in the internet at any price.
Continue reading “Netizens: white, wealthy and middle class (and full of it)”