January 30, 2008

John Edwards Ending Presidential Campaign and Blog Evangelism Is Quackery

I usually don't comment on politics, but "John Edwards to Quit Presidential Race" is an opportunity to note something I've often said, where the "Web 2.0" sales-pitch uses the same mechanism as quack medicine. The Net marketing hucksters hype up the people who have taken their snake-oil and do well, but don't mention (or worse, blame) the people who drink the Kool-Aid and DON'T do well. The John Edwards campaign had the bubble-blowers, genuflected to bloggers and big Liberal political blogs, had blog A-listers on board for advice ... and none of it worked. If his campaign had caught fire, we'd be hearing from that crew again about the wonderful Internet, buy their magic, etc.

Now, the A-listers involved might say they never promised success in every case, under all circumstances. But that would be missing my point. Some of the more clever peddlers of quack medicine don't promise cures in all circumstances either - they just show testimonials of the sick who coincidentally happened to get better, and ignore those who died horrible deaths (which were sometimes worsened by the quackery). They're not interested in any objective evaluations of how well their stuff works, they want to sell it to you.

Yeah, I know, old news. Shouting to the wind again, bad habit :-( ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , politics | on January 30, 2008 05:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
January 29, 2008

"Profit-oriented Wikia eying IPO in long term"

They said it, I didn't:

Profit-oriented Wikia eying IPO in long term

Wikia Inc., a profit-oriented company set up by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, is aiming for a public listing in the long term, he said Thursday. ...

Wales said Wikia has funding from venture capital and seeking an initial public offering "is sort of the path we are going to take." But he said had no timeframe for such a listing for the San Mateo, California-based Wikia right now.

Now let's compare this interview:

IBD: Why would anyone volunteer to do this?

Wales: The main reason is that it's fun for them.

YOU get to have "fun". HE gets very rich from an IPO.

And people wonder why I'm such a spoilsport :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on January 29, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
January 24, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on Wikia Search and Google-FUD

Even search engines have an axe to grind

"Wikia Search tries to draw on the fear and doubt stemming from the dominance of Google"

I've tried to pack a lot into this column, everything from the $50K price for the "Grub" crawler" to pointing out how the politics of search can be used for free labor. I also bent over backwards not to even seem to be using the column to retaliate against Jimmy Wales's conduct, and he ends up only being mentioned in specific for identification (sadly, as far as I've ever seen, it's never done me any good to be morally better my attackers in terms of not abusing power, but I think I read too many comics books as a kid with Good triumphing over Evil - it doesn't work that way in real life).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , press , wikia-search | on January 24, 2008 01:00 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
January 23, 2008

Wikipedia Organization's Financial Audit May Be Released Soon

[Not my scoop, but an early echo from obscurity!]

According to an edit on the Wikimedia Foundation's audit site, the long-awaited "Audit Report and Financial Statements - 06/30/07" document has been posted there, presumably for internal review. So while that financial information about Wikipedia has not been made public yet, it looks like the wait for that data is coming to an end.

This is not my scoop, but showed up in a discussion posting by "tarantino" on the critic site Wikipedia Review. (they're having a betting pool regarding the date when the Wikimedia Foundation financial audit will finally be released, which I have to admit I find amusing). Note this is another small example of where reliable information can come even from "attack sites" which engage in personal attacks on Wikipedia administrators. I'd never trust the mere word of a random poster on a web forum. But if they supply a reference to the web page of the organization itself, and it checks out, that's a different matter. And who else is going to turn up this information?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on January 23, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
January 20, 2008

Andrew Orlowski reviews Nick Carr's book "Big Switch"

Echo: Nick Carr's Big Switch

The "Web 2.0" affliction of has so far only infected the media and political classes, with isolated outbreaks in marketing and the social sciences. ... But where it strikes, it seems to take over the unfortunate victim's entire brain; and that's still a lot of people with public policy influence. The zombie symptoms of the virus we all know today: gibbering about "new democracy", "wise crowds", and the rational faculties of a three year-old.

There's a lot of themes here, about worshiping technology or technological determinism. I figured I had too many conflicts of interest to delve into it myself, but adding to the Google-power of the above seems reasonable.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on January 20, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
January 11, 2008

Why Wikia Search Is Not Like Wikipedia Growth

I've been mulling over the it'll-get-better argument for Wikia Search, which has struck me as problematic:

When he first announced the idea, Wales said the search engine would improve over time, much like the other project he [co]founded, Wikipedia, has.

It's seemed to me that, though it's expected PR, there's something subtly wrong with that comparison, and I believe I've figured out the error.

To wit: For a search engine, a certain level of quality has to be reached for everything before it's usable for anything.

That's stated in a concise way - by "everything" I mean not "every result", but rather that a lot of things *all* have to reach at least a mediocre level: indexing, server response, ranking algorithm, anti-spam, etc. And if any single one of those factors isn't at least passable, the whole search engine is unusable in practice. Roughly, you won't even have a few good results that people in a topic area can use until all the basics are working.

Moreover, it's pretty unrewarding to work on improving internals for free. Where someone might write one Wikipedia article for the joy and happiness of having written it, it's much more difficult to get a volunteer to work for months on a ranking algorithm (note I don't claim it's impossible - students doing a class project or a thesis, or people trying to gain experience, are potential sources of unpaid development - but the free labor pool is much smaller)

So I believe the argument is wrong, in that there's a barrier of functionality, which can't be climbed incrementally with small contributions. Which again is not to say it's completely insurmountable. But that would seem to require an extensive amount of concentrated skilled development.

But then, I am one of the "negative people".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on January 11, 2008 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (11)
January 08, 2008

The Wikia Search Launch Disaster, and More Flaming From Jimmy Wales

As my Wikia Search troubles would seem to make anything I say suspect, I sat out yesterday's blog-fest reaction to Wikia Search's launch. No need for me to pundit anyway. When TechCrunch on the one side calls Wikia Search "one of the biggest disappointments I've had the displeasure of reviewing" and SearchEngineLand.com says "it's really just yet another crappy search service that may, potentially, if all goes well, eventually turn into something useful", no matter how hard Jimmy Wales tries to spin it by bleating about "alpha"-test, that's a PR disaster. Yes, Wikipedia was minimal at the start, but it wasn't launched after a year of hype about being a Britannica-killer (I know, there was some effort to set expectations about the "Google-killer" story, but still, it was there).

I suppose I should be flattered when in the midst of this debacle for his company, Jimmy Wales took time out of his very busy schedule in order to flame about me again, on the search mailing-list where he's _de facto_ banned me. I was actually surprised. All of this bad press is crashing down on him, and he takes the personal time to make sure he throws some mud at me, where I can't reply. Truly a measure of his character.

I suppose I must resign myself to being one of the, in his words, "negative people and FUD mongers" who thus does not belong in the shiny happy unpaid-labor world he is building on "principles of free culture, transparency, and openness." (!). It's all very cult behavior :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on January 08, 2008 02:54 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)
January 06, 2008

Wikia Search Follies

Wikia Search "transparency" doesn't seem to go too far in practice, as Jimmy Wales himself has now basically tossed me from the Search-Wikia mailing list - proclaiming at first "Seth, you're an idiot." and then immediately denouncing my "conspiracy mongering and FUD" (well, I'm technically on "moderation", but given that sort of flaming from The Man, I'd say it's in essence a ban).

Wow. I've long known Jimmy Wales had a problem with lashing out at people who do not trust and love him, and favors sycophantic behavior. But I'm continually surprised at what seems to draw his wrath. It's very much the dark side of the cult guru who has been crossed.

Here's what I wrote which caused him to blow-up, in a little discussion thread about the pending Wikia Search launch (since this is within a thread, there's details which refer to earlier matters, they're probably not important).

Well, it seems obvious that some sort of funding deal got done. My *guess* is that it involved funneling money through the "Internet Systems Consortium". Something like, *hypothetically*, BigMoneyMan was convinced to donate a million bucks or so to the ISC, where the ISC would then run the search project for Wikia. That structuring would mean the BigMoneyMan would get a tax deduction, while Wikia would not be saddled with more venture capital obligations. Then that supports buying many servers and for expert consulting.

I should clarify I'm not saying that the above *hypothetical* is necessarily a bad thing (though small search engines might claim it's favoritism in spirit even if permitted under the letter of the law).

Maybe the deal will be announced Monday, "We got X dollars from Y (via ISC), which allowed us to put Z servers into production and hire ABC". I should stress, before Jimmy flames me for speculation, that under the current "mushroom management", speculation is all I can do. And I assume such a sharp businessman has taken his financial experiences with Wikipedia (as part of a non-profit, "501(c)(3)" foundation) to heart.

There's a large amount of tension between the fact that Wikia is a venture capital backed start-up, and the idea of running a transparent open-source project. Let's remember that the price of the Grub crawler being $50K was not a secret _per se_, eventually being disclosed in SEC documents. But due to the implications, Wikia definitely had an incentive to keep that info hidden as long as possible. Businesses by nature aren't transparent - that's the whole history of the Securities and Exchange Commission in a nutshell.

I suppose I could beg Jimmy Wales to forgive me (err, could have before I did this post). But I'd probably just annoy him again with my irreverence and business-oriented analysis. Oh, and I've got a blog! :-(

[Update: link for memesturbation]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on January 06, 2008 12:00 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (13)
January 03, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on the Writers Guild strike, and the Net

The writers, not the internet, will decide who wins their strike

"If anyone thought there's no money to be made from internet content, the Writers Guild of America strike refutes that idea once and for all"

The title's not too bad, but again, not quite what I was saying. The point was more that social and legal support for unions matters much more than "The Internet", and no outcome is predestined.

I've attempted to pack a lot of technology-positive social criticism into this column, basically trying to advocate against the view that the natural order of things is a multiple prisoner's dilemma game where corporations set all the rules. I'm struck by how little support there is for the strike on some A-list blogs, and I think there's an obvious business reason at work.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , press | on January 03, 2008 08:21 AM | (Infothought permalink)
January 02, 2008

New Year's Resolutions 2008

I'll just revisit and update the last go-around:

0) Looking back at e.g., 2005 or 2006, be aware that I tend to repeat myself in frustration, and try to address the reasons for that.

[Or 2007. Definitely a failure here. I've got to put more effort into not making that mistake.]

1) Stop arguing with marketers about "conversation". It wastes my time, and it annoys the flack. It's not going to do any good.

[Despite the occasional lapse, I think I've made progress here]

2) Stop being delusional about ever having more influence. That ship has sailed.

[Sigh ...]

3) Fish or cut bait on whether to try to push out my moldering Google and Wikipedia reports, or just write them off like the censorware research, since it's likely more effort to beg attention than it's worth for me.

[Basically decided it's a write-off]

4) "Life Trumps Blogging"

[Need more work here :-(]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on January 02, 2008 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)