Posts Tagged ‘WiReD’

"A country bumpkin approach to slinging generalizations around"

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Anderson plagiarism

WiReD magazine Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson has copped to lifting chunks of material for his second book Free from Wikipedia and other sources without credit. But it could be about to get a lot worse.

In addition to the Wikipedia cut’n'pastes, Anderson appears to have lifted passages from several other texts too. And in a quite surreal twist, we discover that the Long Tail author had left a hard drive backup wide open and unsecured for Google to index, then accused one of his accusers of “hacking”.

Does the WiReD editor and New Economy guru need basic lessons in how to use a computer?

Waldo Jaquith of Virginia Quarterly Review unearthed a dozen suspect passages after what he called “a cursory investigation”, and posted his findings here on Tuesday. Wikipedia entries for ‘There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch’, ‘Learning Curve’ and ‘Usury’ had been pasted into Anderson’s book.

In addition to Wikipedia citations, which Anderson reproduced with the errors intact (oops), Jacquith suggests he also lifted from an essay and a recent book. Presented with the evidence, Anderson blamed haste and (curiously) not being able to decide on a presentation format for citations, for his decision to omit the citations altogether. Other examples were “writethroughs”, he said.

Then lit blogger Edward Champion documented several more examples which he says show

“a troubling habit of mentioning a book or an author and using this as an excuse to reproduce the content with very few changes — in some cases, nearly verbatim.”

Champion’s examples of churnalism include blog posts, a corporate websites and (again) Wikipedia.
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WiReD UK: it's back!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

There was a surprise in the goodie bag for attendees of WiReD UK’s launch party. Alongside a copy of the launch issue and a Windows game, was a small bottle of Thunderbird – the fortified wine beloved of students and park bench alcoholics.

Actually – I made the last bit up. There was no Thunderbird. But you’ll need something similar – or maybe stronger – to anaesthetise your synapses after trying to read WiReD. After a 12 year absence, the magazine that purports to tell us the future returns to the country that invented the bouncing bomb, the hovercraft, television and the computer.

So, er … is it any good?

I can think of three or four reasons why it should be.

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Anderson downgrades Long Tail to Chocolate Teapot status

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Long Tail

“The end came quickly,” as authors of morbid weepies like to say. On Monday WiReD magazine editor Chris Anderson effectively admitted game over for his “Long Tail”, the idea he’s been dragging so lucratively around the conference circuit for the past four years. In as many words, he downgraded it from “the future of business” to something that’s, er, not very helpful for your business at all.

“I’ll end by conceding a point: It’s hard to make money in the Tail,” Anderson wrote. “The revenues are disproportionately in the Head. Perhaps that will never change.”

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The Long Tail can seriously damage your business

Friday, November 7th, 2008

The most comprehensive empirical study of digital music sales ever conducted has some bad news for Californian technology utopians. Since 2004, WiReD magazine editor Chris Anderson has been hawking his “Long Tail” proposition around the world: blockbusters will matter less, and businesses will “sell less of more”. The graph has become iconic – a kind of ‘Hockey Stick’ for Web 2.0 – with the author applying his message to many different business sectors. Alas, following the WiReD Way of Business as a matter of faith could be catastrophic for your business and investment decisions.

Long Tail
Anderson bet that the orange portion – the “Tail” – has more value than the red portion – the “Head”. But it doesn’t.

Examining tens of millions of transactions from a large digital music provider, economist Will Page with Mblox founder Andrew Bud and Page’s colleague Gary Eggleton, looked to see how large and valuable the “Tail” of digital music may be. They produced a spreadsheet with 1.5 million rows – so large, in fact, that it required a special upgrade to their Excel software (and more RAM) – and the three revealed their work at the Telco 2.0 conference this week.

They discovered that instead of following a Pareto or “power law” curve, as Anderson suggested, digital song sales follow a classic Log Normal distribution. 80 per cent of the digital inventory sold no copies at all – and the ‘head’ was far more concentrated than the economists expected.

“Is the ‘future of business’ really selling more of less?” asks Page. “Absolutely not. If you had Top of the Pops now, you’d feature the Top 14, not Top 40.”

As Andrew Bud explains:

“The Long Tail’s argument is that the pattern of consumption for media is bent out of shape by the limits of the shops selling them. Digital media lets the nature of people’s demand flow free. Well, we now know what the shape of that demand curve looks like.”

Bud told the conference that the basic shape of consumer demand for digital music clearly fits the Log Normal distribution, “with eye-watering accuracy”. That’s no surprise, he says, because so many sales curves he’s seen over the past ten years follow this distribution.

“Now we’ve seen what happens when tens of millions of choices are thrown in the air and people can go pick them up. What was astounding was the degree of inequality between the head and the tail – by a factor of three. It’s specifically the Log Normal shape that leads to a rather poverty stricken Tail.

“There are Tails where the Tail lives as a kind of welfare state. Not this one. You starve in this Tail.”

Digital sales follow a Log Normal distribution
Brown’s 1956 lognormal curve fits digital sales data much better than “The Long Tail”

This really isn’t the upbeat fairy tale message Anderson has spent four years selling on the conference circuit.

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Wired UK: Our readers design the cover

Friday, July 11th, 2008

WiReD UK: Andrew's effort

WiReD magazine is coming back to the UK. I set Reg readers the task of Photoshopping some covers here. You can see the results in a gallery here.

Wonderful stuff.

Bringing it all back Hume: Anton Wylie

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008
A philosophy of science that may be the best thing we’ve ever run

WiReD magazine’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson has just seen the end for scientific theories. And it is called Google.

The concept of the mind, and by extension that of a person, was also affected, with far reaching implications.

In psychology, Behaviourism was one favoured development. Its ontology does not include people with minds, only biological entities with patterns of behaviour. The rise and rise of neuro-science is correlated with this. Another is politics. The New Labour government in the UK boasts almost daily that it is in the business of “modifying behaviour”.

Even when this type of thinking is felt to be repugnant, the tendency remains to treat people as parametrically determined objects. The phrase “hearts and minds” admits that people feel and think, but implies that what matters is to ascertain which feelings and thoughts affect them most strongly. Modern politics consists to a large extent of this type of appeal, and that part conducted through the media, almost exclusively.

Read more at The Register

One Laptop Per Child: it's a con, says former exec

Friday, May 16th, 2008

The former security director of the One Laptop Per Child non-profit has blasted the project for losing sight of its goals, accusing chairman Nicholas Negroponte of deceiving the public. It’s all about shipping kit, says Ivan Krstić in an incendiary essay.

“I quit when Nicholas told me — and not just me — that learning was never part of the mission. The mission was, in his mind, always getting as many laptops as possible out there; to say anything about learning would be presumptuous, and so he doesn’t want OLPC to have a software team, a hardware team, or a deployment team going forward,” writes Krstić.

“Nicholas’ new OLPC is dropping those pesky education goals from the mission and turning itself into a 50-person nonprofit laptop manufacturer, competing with Lenovo, Dell, Apple, Asus, HP and Intel on their home turf, and by using the one strategy we know doesn’t work.”

Ouch.

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Kevin Kelly: the first human/Martian hybrid?

Friday, January 4th, 2008

Kevin Kelly enslaved
Interbreeding between humans and aliens is a recurrent theme of science fiction – and late night talk radio. But could an example we’ve unearthed from near San Francisco, California, prove to be the first living example?

Scientists have been able to identify human DNA for over 40 years. And here at The Register, we have access to our own stock of Martian DNA – courtesy, of course, of cult commentator and philosopher amanfromMars.

The startling discovery that DNA may have leaped across planetary boundaries comes courtesy of literary agent John Brockman.

Brockman runs an online groupthink “salon”, called Edge.org, where his indentured science authors and a select band of ideologically-correct journalists are invited to congratulate each other on their insight. (Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Edge before – it’s only ever mentioned by Blokes who are already in it, or Blokes who would sell their mothers to get in.)

But it’s here, at Edge, that Brockman may have unearthed the greatest scoop of his lifetime; for here at least, one Martian-human hybrid walks amongst us.

New Year’s Day found a curious declaration credited to one “Kevin Kelly” – editor in chief of WiReD magazine.

“The success of the Wikipedia (sic) keeps surpassing my expectations. Despite the flaws of human nature, it keeps getting better,” he writes.

Of course, that’s an easy mistake to make… if you’ve just arrived from another planet. Here’s a more accurate measure of success, from earth-bound observers SomethingAwful.

Wiki groaning

Yet the alien visitor must be impressed by the high ethical standards exhibited by the project, its fair-mindedness, tolerance and generosity, and of course, its uniquely bottom-up democratic nature, for he is mightily impressed. So much so, that he sees in it a new way of organising society:

“The reality of a working Wikipedia has made a type of communitarian socialism not only thinkable, but desirable… I hate to say it but there is a new type of communism or socialism loose in the world.”

Alarm bells really ought to be clanging by this point. The Martian-Martian hybrid is using terms he has apparently heard, but doesn’t really understand – and can’t relate to the world around him.

The next statement can be construed as a promise that the hybrid DNA is here to stay:

“It may take several decades for this shifting world perspective to show its full colours …

Finally, here’s the clincher:

“I am convinced that the full impact of the Wikipedia is still subterranean, and that its mind-changing power is working subconsciously on the global millennial generation, providing them with an existence proof of a beneficial hive mind, and an appreciation for believing in the impossible.”

Pure Martian.

Google Health offers reputation massage

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

“Fire the publicist. Go off message. Let all your employees blab and blog!” fantasised the writer Clive Thompson in a recent WiReD magazine cover story.

“The name of this new game is RADICAL TRANSPARENCY, and it’s sweeping boardrooms across the nation,” burbled the mag.

But the perils of allowing employees to “blab and blog!” were splendidly illustrated over the weekend by Google.

“Does negative press make you Sicko?” asked Google health account planner Lauren Turner. She was referring to the new documentary by left wing demagogue Michael Moore about the US health provision.
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Junk science – the oil of the new web

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

There’s a case to made that James Surowecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds is the most influential book of the decade – The Selfish Gene for the noughties. Both have something else in common: the title of each book is profoundly misleading. Crowds aren’t wise, nor can genes be selfish – as one critic famously wrote, any more than atoms can be jealous.

Just as the young polemicist Dawkins paved the way for the social darwinism of the Reagan and Thatcher years, Surowecki’s discussion of futures markets and “collective intelligence” provides the flimsy premise for a spending splurge on junk technology. It’s the common thread that unites several of the disparate “Web 2.0″ start-ups we wrote about yesterday, in our must-read roundup.

Both authors were the catalyst for entire schools of junk science – yet both can justifiably claim to have been misrepresented to some degree. While Surowecki is clearly as bewitched by “collective intelligence” as Dawkins was by a gene-eyed view of evolution, he also warns that the crowd only picks winners in very specific circumstances, where the collective guess work acts as a kind of risk hedging. If these factors aren’t present, then the market falls victim to the inevitable: gaming.

But even when this appears to work, so what? Seth Finkelstein notes that in some situations, throwing darts at a dartboard produces excellent results. Citing the Wall Street Journal Dartboard Contest, he writes,

“People are fascinated by ways in which data-mining seems to represent some sort of over-mind. But sometimes there’s no deep meaning at all. Dartboards are competitive with individual money managers – but nobody talks about the ‘wisdom of darts’”

And today, Canadian hockey fans are rejoicing in the return of Maggie the Macaque. The simian (on the right) out-performed the experts in predicting the results of key games during the 2003 season. Could it be Maggie’s diet of crabs, or could it be – “The Wisdom of Monkeys”?

One need only look at the composition of the internet to understand why the “Wisdom of Crowds” will never apply: the internet isn’t representative of society, and even amongst this whiter-than-white sample, only a self-selecting few have any interest in participating in a given pseudo-market.

While Wisdom of Crowds was self-consciously written with the purpose of restoring the public’s faith in the market, after the dot.com bubble burst – it was titled after Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Decisions and The Madness of Crowds – it’s had the opposite effect.

The self-selecting nature of participation in computer networks simply amplifies groupthink. Facts that don’t fit the belief are discarded. The consequences abound, wherever you look.

The great Wikipedia experiment is already over, says Nick Carr, the inevitable result of an open editing policy.

He cites what may prove to be the 21st Century’s equivalent of the 1948 newspaper headline, “DEWEY WON”, Time magazine’s declaration that,

“everyone predicted that [Wikipedia's] mob rule would lead to chaos. Instead it has led to what may prove to be the most powerful industrial model of the 21st century: peer production. Wikipedia is proof that it works, and Jimmy Wales is its prophet.”

Praise be!

But to buy into this world view, one must disregard all evidence to the contrary. Veteran Wikipedia administrator ‘Skippy’ of Wikitruth.info – a site strangely absent from Wikipedia’s “sum of all human knowledge” – mailed us his summary yesterday:

“Wikipedia is proof that an encyclopedia that ‘anyone can edit’ doesn’t mesh with the reality of human nature.”

A harsher summary from the Village Voice recently declared:

“No true believer in the democratic promise of the Web can fail to gladden at the very mention of this grand experiment – the universal encyclopedia ‘anyone can edit’!—or fail to have noticed, by now, what a fucked-up little mockery of that promise it can sometimes be.”

It’s no surprise to discover that Time magazine’s puff piece was written by WiReD magazine editor Chris “Long Tail” Anderson. Three years ago, Anderson bet your reporter that by today Wi-Fi chipsets would outsell GSM or CDMA chipsets. This was on the occasion of an Intel-sponsored edition of his publication, and Anderson was in the grip of the religious mania about Wi-Fi. His prediction has fallen short by around a billion units.

(If you want faith-based economic theory, Anderson’s your man.)

We’ve written about groupthink on so many occasions – particularly after the collapse of the Howard Dean presidential run – we won’t bore you with repetition. But a golden rule of internet companies is that the more faith they place on the “new wisdom of the web”, the more inevitable their demise.

For Google, which buys into the junk science more than any other Silicon Valley company, this is very bad news indeed. The “democracy of the web” was short-lived, and the company devotes most of its brainpower resources not to developing new products, but trying to rescue its search engine from “Grey Goo”. Faith-based junk science can be a real handicap.

Where does all this affect us? Wherever their advocated bad ideas waste money and resources. For those of us who want better technology, the mini splurge of capital investment in fatuous companies is more than troubling. A dollar spent on a doomed web site is a dollar that could have been spent on solving some real, overdue infrastructural problems.

Seth Finkelstein points out an immediate consequence which is already taking place. Wisdom… gained such traction on the net, because of its cultural distrust of expertise. This stops where the net stops, however – it’s hard to envisage even the most militant Wikipedia fan choosing to be operated upon by amateur heart surgeon. But it’s accelerated the process of deskilling, and the new flood of cheap (but wise!) amateur labor promises to depress wages even further.

The media, and Time is a great example, espouses the rosy view that our public networks are in rude health. I’m confident that this utopian view carries little weight with a public frustrated with pop-ups, viruses and spam.

So to return to our original question. If the public so wilfully buys into sloppy thinking, are the authors themselves responsible? In the case of both Dawkins and Surowecki, who mistitled their books, they may protest too much