September 03, 2008

Wikipedia Is An Attractive Nuisance - Sarah Palin Edition

They said it, not me:


Jimbo, I'd recommend keeping an eye on the Sarah Palin article and the associated talk page. The amount of libel and POV-pushing going on there is pretty astonishing, and Wikipedia could end up getting a major public black eye if it's not brought under control. Most sensible editors seem to have thrown up their hands and left.


... We are the #1 RESULT on google for her name. If you see _anything_ wrong I highly encourage you to lend your opinions in the matter. At the moment I don't think any decrees from your are necessary. Just to have people know that you are watching and have expressed an interested will be a big help to editors like Kelly who are just trying to keep it a good article.

What makes the problem worse here is that presumptive Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin is very much unknown nationwide and to the world. So where do people turn? To Wikipedia - the so-called "encyclopedia" that any axe-grinder can edit-war.

Yeah, they should know better. They should, they should, they should. Just like little kids shouldn't be running around swimming pools without the supervision of their parents. Or playing in abandoned refrigerators. Shouldn't happen. But it does.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on September 03, 2008 12:49 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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So, Seth, out of curiosity... Do you include open source software as a venue for "digital sharecropping"? If not, why not? Because it seems to me that Red Hat's market cap of US$4 billion, or Novell's US$2.5 billion, makes Wikia's multi-million startup cash look like chump change.

If the principle is the same, why pick on the little guy, rather than the most egregious offenders? (And again, if not, why not?)

Posted by: Hal O'Brien at September 3, 2008 06:55 AM

Please note that's not a question I've never heard before.

BRIEF answer, since this is a comment box:

In general, I don't believe the idea of open-source software is digital sharecropping. I'm a big fan of open source, for many reasons. However, it is not a mystical communal endeavor, but a corporate patronage system (and I'm for that!). This is well-understood.

I do think there are many, many people who try to turn open-source software into digital sharecropping though, who view it as "programmers work for free!". Wikia Search is an obvious example. In fact, I've brought up these issues to them, but they aren't receptive, for various reasons.

I make an issue of Wikia since Wikipedia is so heavily used in various ways I think are harmful. I believe Wikipedia's basically sociologically an exploitative cult (sigh, not the worst cult in the world, but one which is still quite noxious in its way).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 3, 2008 11:39 AM

I think you're right, but when you highlight a problem, I wish you'd also raise the question of whether there is a solution. Or, why the conditions of the problem make it such that there is no solution.

I've been saying lots of times that Wikipedia should let verified users "sign off" on versions of an article and lock them against future edits (where pending edits would be put into a queue to be approved, but wouldn't automatically be posted). And if Wikipedia doesn't, someone should fork Wikipedia and do it. You said that Wikipedia clones can't succeed because they can't compete in the Google search ranking. But now Google Knol (which implemented pretty much all of the features that I said Wikipedia should have had all along) could compete with it.

The last obstacle is that Google Knol's TOS doesn't let you use GFDL content (i.e. content copied from Wikipedia). They currently allow users to publish under the Creative Commons Attribution license. If they expand those options to include Creative Commons Sharealike licenses, then users could copy from Wikipedia, and the floodgates would open. (I have an article coming out soon arguing they should do that...)

Maybe that's not the best solution, but if you can think of a solution, throw it out there :) (You can't truly believe that "nobody will hear it" -- otherwise, why write the blog post in the first place?)

Posted by: Bennett Haselton at September 3, 2008 04:25 PM

"otherwise, why write the blog post in the first place?"

Self-delusion. Frustration. Exercises in futility.

People aren't perfectly rational, and I don't exclude myself from that assessment. The deep answer is that it's entirely possible to know one is doing something irrational and to do it anyway.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 3, 2008 10:20 PM

"However, it is not a mystical communal endeavor..."

That's, um, not a universal observation. The phrase "linux taliban" does not exist in a vacuum.

"People aren't perfectly rational, and I don't exclude myself from that assessment. The deep answer is that it's entirely possible to know one is doing something irrational and to do it anyway."

And that's cool, and I can understand that.

Posted by: Hal O'Brien at September 4, 2008 08:28 AM