Wikipedia Redefining Research

I found this infographic from Open Site very interesting and I am sure it will find its way into a lecture in the near future. Here is the text from the post were I found it.

After 244 years, the Encyclopedia Britannica has decided to halt the presses and go out of print. Facing the realities and the stiff competition from Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia Britannica will now focus primarily on their online services. But even then, it might be too late. Wikipedia has grown to be the number one source for students. In fact, many students will stop research and change topics if it’s not on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia provides a wealth of information with over 26 billion pages of content. Though the quality of Wikipedia has been questioned, the editors of Wikipedia, known as Wikipedians, are vigilant with ensuring the data in Wikipedia is current and accurate. Studies have even shown that Wikipedia is almost as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. This infographic highlights how Wikipedia has revolutionized research and how it has become a reliable fountain of knowledge.


Wikipedia Academy 2012: Research and Free Knowledge

The next Wikipedia Academy is going to be in Berlin (quickly becoming my favorite city) in June 29 – July 1 2012. The theme this year is Research and Free Knowledge.
The topics of interest include: Analytics, economics, Cultures and Practice, and users. See the link for more details.

Important dates?
Submission of extended abstracts: March 31, 2012
Notification of acceptance: May 01, 2012
Submission of full papers: June 1, 2012
Event: June 29 – July 1, 2012

Information about the submission process, venue & accommodation and much more can be found by following the links.

Wikipedia has new article feedback tool

In an interesting move to open up Wikipedia even more and to draw in new contibuters and ways to contribute to the greatest encyclopedia project ever, Wikipedia is now experimenting with a new version of Article Feedback Tool. The goal according to Wikimedia’s blog is:

…to engage readers to help improve Wikipedia — and to become editors over time. We’re very excited about this new development, and look forward to getting more people to contribute to Wikipedia as a result.

How do they do this? Check it out:

We are approaching this development in several phases.  The first phase, which went live today, is a test deployment of three new versions of the tool on approximately 10,000 randomly selected articles on the English Wikipedia and on a small number of manually selected articles. For examples, see Android, Wikipedia, and Global Warming.

Here is one of the three versions that are being tested:

This new version of the tool asks the reader whether they found what they were looking for, and if not, prompts them to explain what is missing.  The intent of this version is to provide editors with some idea of feedback on what readers are actually hoping to see when they read a Wikipedia article.  This information may then be used by the editing community when deciding how to improve the page.  The other two versions also ask for reader comments, but with different questions: the second version lets you make a suggestion, give praise, report a problem or ask a question; the third version lets you review the article. These new forms were developed by OmniTI, a web development firm, and were based on designs created by the Wikimedia Foundation in collaboration with the Wikipedia community. To learn more, visit the AFTv5 project page.

Wikipedia Reader: new free book

Another book has been added to my growing hoard of CC licensed works that are somehow relevant to my research area.

The Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader is an interesting work featuring research from a large group of exciting and original thinkers. It is, as the blurb states:

About the book: For millions of internet users around the globe, the search for new knowledge begins with Wikipedia. The encyclopedia’s rapid rise, novel organization, and freely offered content have been marveled at and denounced by a host of commentators. Critical Point of View moves beyond unflagging praise, well-worn facts, and questions about its reliability and accuracy, to unveil the complex, messy, and controversial realities of a distributed knowledge platform.

Right now the chapters which have my interest are

The Argument Engine by Joseph Reagle, What is an Encyclopedia? From Pliny to Wikipedia by Dan O’Sullivan
A Brief History of the Internet from the 15th to the 18th Century by Lawrence Liang, Questioning Wikipedia by Nicholas Carr, The Missing Wikipedians by Heather Ford, and The Right to Fork: A Historical Survey of De/centralization in Wikipedia by Andrew Famiglietti. But this is only a small fraction of the topics covered in this work.

So check out: Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz (eds), Critical Point of View: A Wikpedia Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. Its available in online, pdf, or good old dead tree versions!

Also if there are other titles of CC licensed books which should be included in the list please let me know…

Wikipedia and editorial control

Wikipedia continues to experiment with access and control in relation to the most frequently vandalized pages. Previously it would simply “lock” the pages, removing the ability of anyone to just edit the page. This loses the advantage of dynamic creation which made Wikipedia great and now changes are afoot to enable editing. Instead of locking the pages the organization will have a system of tighter editorial control. As Buzzblog points out there seems to be a paradox between freedom and control but the systems goal is to limit “bad” edits. In an interview Jimmy Wales explained the position “These (pages) have had to be semi-protected for years just because they are too tempting for naughty people to try something funny. But semi-protection has prevented thoughtful and sincere newcomers from making good changes.”

A blog post from Wikipedia’s Moka Pantages explains the changes:

Over the next few days, English language Wikipedia users may notice a small change on some articles: a little magnifying glass where a lock once was. The icon, on the upper right corner of the article, represents an important step that Wikipedia volunteers have taken to open up articles that were previously protected from editing. Starting Tuesday at 11pm UTC, the English Wikipedia community will begin a two-month trial of a new tool called “Pending Changes” (formerly known as Flagged Protection).

Articles that are frequently subjected to malicious edits have long been locked, sometimes for years, and protected from editing by new and anonymous users. Over the last year, the Wikimedia Foundation and volunteers from the community have been working to develop Pending Changes, a softer alternative to these editing restrictions. At present, only about 0.1 percent of the 3.3 million articles on the English Wikipedia are under edit protection. This tool should help reduce disruptive edits or errors to articles while maintaining open, collaborative editing from anyone who wants to contribute.

FSCONS part 1

Despite being late I made it to the first talk which was by Erik Zachte speaking about Future of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. He was eloquent and offered both an interesting animated graphical (a la Hans Rosling) example of the growth of different language groups within Wikipedia. He also offered a critical analysis of what this growth could mean and what will happen in the future.

The next talk was Young Pirate: Young people and hacktivism by Amelia Andersdotter, Krister Svanlund, Jimmy Callin, Kalle Vedin but unfortunately they were hadicapped by the problem that Amelia Andersdotter (Swedens latest MEP) was late and Jimmy Callin was unable to come due to illness. Despite the handicaps the talk gained momentum and the discussion got started and became an interesting talk about the problems with a disseminated organisation. Part of the problems could be technical the Göteborg group is more hacker oriented and use irc and the rest use the proprietary skype. Or organizational “Uppsala is more hierarchical while Göteborg is more chaotic”

Next up it’s Karin Kosina (vka kyrah) Hackerspaces FTW! She begins by apologizing that she maybe doesn’t need to but she will define the term hacker as opposed to crackers. “Hackers are people who do awesome things with technology” and Hackerspaces “I don’t mean spaces in an abstract theoretical space but actual physical space”. Kyrah has a great energy and belief that people can create – if they are given they opportunity the will go from consumers to producers. The opportunity? Basically its the need to go beyond chats and mailing lists. Physical space is creative! And fundamental spaces are key, she describes the importance of their kitchen (the place for food hacking):

Making food together and eating together is a fundamental way for people to come together as a community

My fellow second class scientists or proles…

Can you hear the hordes of Germans academics chanting fight, fight, figth in the background? Apparently the argument stems from the German Wikipedia newsletter Kurier which contained a this text:

Im besten Fall werden Blogs von zweitklassigen Wissenschaftlern betrieben, im Normalfall vom Prekariat.

For those of us language-challenged non-German speakers, there is google translation which gives:

At best, blogs are run by second-rate scientists, usually from precariat.

Damn as a blogger I don’t even understand when I am being insulted. I needed to look up precariat and with the help of German Wikipedia and Google translate I get:

Precariat is a term used in sociology and defines “unprotected end of the work and the unemployed” as a new social grouping. The term itself is a neologism that is fragile from the adjective (difficult, dangerous to dubious) analogy to derive the proletariat. Etymologically, the word “precariat comes” from the Latin precarium = one bittweises to revoke granted tenure status

So as a blogger I am either a second class scientist or a prole?

All I can do from over here is to support my fellow German second-classers or proles and chant fight, fight, fight… or as google translate would have me say:

kämpfen, kämpfen, kämpfen…

The dangers of editors

Time Magazine has an interesting article on the decline of Wikipedia. It puts the blame where it belongs – squarely on the editors

Wikipedia’s natural resource is an emotion. “There’s the rush of joy that you get the first time you make an edit to Wikipedia…

Over time, though, a class system emerged; now revisions made by infrequent contributors are much likelier to be undone by élite Wikipedians. Chi also notes the rise of wiki-lawyering: for your edits to stick, you’ve got to learn to cite the complex laws of Wikipedia in arguments with other editors. Together, these changes have created a community not very hospitable to newcomers.

This means that a topic expert with deep knowledge in the subject will lose to any expert at Wikipedia. This is not the most advantageous way to get information to the public.

Equality loses on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is planning to add a feature called “flagged revisions” which will fundamentally alter the basic philosophy of WIkipedia. The plan will effect the articles of now living people and will require trusted voluntary Wikipedia editors to accept changes made to any article. Prior to acceptance the changes will not be visible. The New York Times writes:

The change is part of a growing realization on the part of Wikipedia’s leaders that as the site grows more influential, they must transform its embrace-the-chaos culture into something more mature and dependable.

The original free for all attitude where anyone can change articles – which is still the main boast of Wikipedia – has not been true since the Seigenthaler “scandal” in 2005. After John Seigenthaler was accused in a Wikipedia article of being directly involved in both the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy Wikipedia removed anonymous edits.

But the basic change occurring now is that the simple user cannot change articles (of now living people) which means that the balance of power in the creation of online information on Wikipedia shifts and gives the voluntary editor more power – even in relation to the knowledgeable writer.

Considering the past problems and the ways in which Wikipedia articles are often used for marketing and boastfulness these changes are probably necessary. But at the same time it is sad to see that the power over the online knowledge infrastructure is fundamentally shifting from the users into the hands of the gatekeepers.