Search Wikipedia for the word “lame”

Props to Michael Geist for holding the government’s feet to the fire for editing the Industry Minister’s Wikipedia entry. Not just because it’s unseemly for agents of the current administration (or any administration, for that matter) to be editing Wikipedia entries directly, but also because what they added was so, well… lame. I can understand removing controversial comments about whether Prentice delayed the proposed copyright legislation as a result of public pressure (which Michael was instrumental in helping to orchestrate). Some of what was written arguably breached the site’s “neutral point of view” requirements. But at the same time, adding phrases like “he is widely praised in both political and private circles, as he personifies experience, confidence and competence, ability and capability” not only breaches those rules, but breaches the nausea rule as well. Lame, lame, lame.

Facebook, Wikipedia better in emergencies

According to a study that is to be published in New Scientist magazine tomorrow, Facebook and Wikipedia are better at getting crucial information out during emergencies than either government agencies, emergency services — or the traditional media. The study, done by researchers at the University of Colorado, looked at how Facebook and Wikipedia were used by students during the Virginia Tech shootings, and how Twitter and other social media were used during the forest fires in California. As the Telegraph story describes it:

“During the Virginia shootings, they found the emergency services were slow to update their reports on the latest situation and the names of those killed. Within just 90 minutes of the first deaths, however, a web page accurately describing the events appeared on Wikipedia.”

The study found that dyring the fires in California in October, web users on various websites and those using Twitter were keeping their friends and neighbours informed of their whereabouts and the location of the fires on a minute by minute basis, and were also posting links to Google Maps with which others could track the progress of the fire and mark areas where schools and businesses were shut down as a result of the threat. The media weren’t so useful, however:

“The mass media were unreliable… as they struggled to access remote areas from which website users with an internet connection could easily report. Media sites also focused on the ‘sensational’, such as fires close to celebrities’ homes, which distorted the overall picture.”

Some interesting lessons there, for both emergency services and the media, about information delivery on the Web.

Wikia Search: Edit anything and everything

Jimmy “I invented Wikipedia” Wales gave a demo of the latest version of Wikia Search tonight, at the Social Media Marketing conference in Long Beach, and there is a new alpha site that you can play around with — if you don’t mind a page that yells “Beware!” at you in red type, and throws Javascript errors every time you click a button or launch an Ajax script (I particularly like how the URL is re.search.wiki.com; nice touch there, Jimbo). It’s actually kind of impressive in a way, if only because everything on the page is editable by any user, without leaving the page.

When Wikia Search was first released, it was dismissed by Mike Arrington at TechCrunch as one of the most disappointing products he had ever reviewed — primarily because it just added social features such as user profiles on to a rather lame search tool (powered by the Nutch engine). I had to agree at the time. But this alpha allows a user, through the wonders of Ajax, to click and edit in place any one of the search results, including title and description, and even allows search results to be completely deleted. You can also add new URLS, and pull data from a preview, which also appears in place.

Obviously, this is wide open to abuse — in much the same way that Wikipedia is. In fact, it’s even easier because you don’t have to click to go to an incomprehensible “edit” page with weird wiki commands for links. You just click and edit. Whether Wikia Search can develop the same kind of community of editors and overlords that Wikipedia has, which prevent the entire effort from degenerating into outright anarchy, remains to be seen. But it’s an interesting experiment, I think.

What’s wrong with Dave Winer

The inventor of blogging, podcasting, RSS and a bunch of other things has a post up about what’s wrong with Wikipedia — as he sees it — and as usual the post says a whole lot more about Dave than it does about Wikipedia. Not that there aren’t certain things about Wikipedia that could use some work, because there are. Like any social-media effort, it has its flaws. But I think most of what Dave doesn’t like about Wikipedia has more to do with him than it does with the encyclopedia itself.

The problems seem to revolve around Dave’s entry — something he has complained a fair bit about in the past — and how it doesn’t give him enough credit for the things he invented (or helped to standardize or popularize, depending on how you look at it). But of course, Dave doesn’t describe it that way: he describes it asa vendetta.” That says it all right there. For Dave, there’s no such thing as a difference of opinion — there’s what Dave believes, and then there are the unbelievers who want to destroy what is good and right. He blames the Wikipedia model for:

“Usurping authority, and replacing it with anonymity and giving power to those who who tear down creativity, to remove the incentive to share, unless you’re completely selfless and don’t mind if others take credit for your accomplishments. That’s not the nature of creativity, btw, creative people fiercely insist on credit, fight for it.”

See how that works? A different opinion of how RSS developed, or podcasting, or whatever isn’t a difference of opinion. It’s “giving power to those who tear down creativity.” But is Dave right when he says that the nature of creativity is to “fiercely insist on credit?” I guess for some people it is. Lots of creative people I know do it because they feel compelled to create, and because they want people to experience something — not because they want to “fight for” credit.

Dave then cites the U.S. constitution for support, arguing that Wikipedia should allow people who don’t like their profiles to “confront their accusers.” As my blogging friend Ian Betteridge notes in the comments on Dave’s post, this pretty much sums up why Dave is wrong about Wikipedia. The whole point of the model is to find the middle ground, the common ground, the mututally agreed-upon version of events — not for people to pursue vendettas and confront their accusers. On a side note, Frank Shaw of WaggenerEdstrom is also wrong about Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales is not Wikipedia

I like salacious rumours and innuendo about public figures as much as the next guy — heck, probably more than the next guy (I am a member of the media, after all). But all of this Jimmy Wales stuff just seems really over the top to me, and barely even relevant to anything that really matters. I know (or at least I think I know, thanks to Valleywag) that Jimmy got involved with Rachel Marsden and it ended badly, and he may or may not have tried to intervene to clean up her Wikipedia entry.

I also know, or think I know, that there was some kind of brouhaha over things that Jimmy billed the foundation for that were really private expenses, something that Wikipedians appear to have tried (and failed) to keep as an internal matter, and that Jimmy says it’s all cleared up now. And in the latest allegation, Jimmy apparently offered to clean up a Novell scientist’s entry in Wikipedia in return for a donation.

Are some of these things bad? Maybe. Personally, I couldn’t care less whether Jimbo is sleeping with Rachel Marsden (other than the fact that she appears to be insane), or what they say to each other in their IM chats. I don’t care whether Jimbo has had marital problems, or whether he’s had disagreements with the foundation over his expenses. All that says to me is that he’s human, and has made mistakes.

But the implication is that because he’s made some mistakes in his personal life, that somehow Wikipedia itself is demeaned or invalidated in some way, as though someone had discovered that Mother Theresa was skimming money, or running drugs through the orphanage. To me, Jimmy Wales is nothing more than the guy who set Wikipedia in motion; it has become much more than a one-man show, if it ever was. What he does in his personal life is of no interest to me, nor do I think it’s particularly relevant to what matters about Wikipedia.