September 29, 2008

Reactions to my _Guardian_ column on Wikipedia, advertising, Objectivism

My column (Wikipedia isn't about human potential, whatever Jimmy Wales says) has drawn various reactions.

Steven Walling, self-described as "A wiki evangelist and writer, working primarily on and Wikipedia" Twitter-critiqued my article as follows: (a fun addition to my collection)
"Seth Finkelstein is a grade A moron."

There's a nice article on "" about Wikipedia and altruism. It's in German, but the gist comes through well in translation. I've made an attempt to clean this up a bit from the automatic translation results, but don't rely on it being absolutely correct:

While Jimmy Wales, founder of the site and president of the non-profit organization Wikimedia Foundation cloudy with speeches about democracy, the Internet and the wisdom of the masses, the image of improving the world increased, and somewhere in a squad with Al Gore and Bono the rescue of our future was involved. Other hand, the former stock options trader Wales makes no secret of his views about fundamental capitalism, most recently a whole series of articles about him appeared. His first wife, as reported in the September issue of U.S. magazine W, he discouraged her from becoming a nurse, because he basically nothing altruistic activity held with. The Economist in June attempted to explain Wales' career from his openly expressed admiration for libertarian and radical market thinkers such as Ayn Rand and Friedrich August von Hayek.

As novelist Ayn Rand [did, says] the blogger and Guardian columnist Seth Finkelstein, the language could also be taken with the Wales people to bring to their work delights to be provided free of charge. ...

[It then summarizes, with credit, many of the points I've made in columns]

I wrote Jonathan Zittrain about a small error in his book's Wikipedia chapter - "Thus dot-com Web sites like mirror all of Wikipedia's content and also display banner ads to make money, something Jimbo Wales has vowed never to do with Wikipedia.". There's never been any such "vow", and the history was quite different from the implications of that sentence.

That's all not bad, but I'm not sure it's made any sort of dent in all the hype.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on September 29, 2008 09:29 AM | (Infothought permalink)
September 24, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on Wikipedia, advertising, Jimmy Wales's proselytizing

Wikipedia isn't about human potential, whatever Jimmy Wales says

It's informative to observe how long Wales has been selling advertising around other people's work

This is my attempt to debunk some of the mythologizing of the development of Wikipedia, pointing out its initial consideration of being advertising-supported site (i.e. commercial), and examining the very extensive history of Jimmy Wales wanting to commercialize other people's work for private profit.

It's not any sort of secret. Business articles discuss it. But this is my attempt to provide sort of antidote to the web hype around the cult of Wikipedia.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikipedia | on September 24, 2008 10:56 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
September 23, 2008

"Media Bloggers Association" relaunches

A long time ago (especially in Internet time), I managed to become a member of the "Media Bloggers Association". Nothing much ever came of it for me, though I judged it was a sincere attempt to do whatever it was trying to do for media bloggers (which wasn't clear in the first place). Now it's trying again, and that seems worthwhile.

Perhaps the most significant is a legal advisory and liability insurance program, which is a very good and practical thing. Looking over the details, I doubt it would be sufficient for the censored censorware research I had to write-off because of attacks and lack of support. But I suppose I should be realistic.

I imagine they'll be some flack from the paranoid and/or knee-jerk attention-mongers about nefarious plans to control bloggers. I find that sort of stuff laughable, given how I've seen the MBA struggle to do anything at all, much less rule the (blog) world.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in mba | on September 23, 2008 10:55 AM | (Infothought permalink)
September 19, 2008

Multiple-identity pseudonymity pathology perils - Wikipedia "case study"

Cade Metz has a good story in The Register regarding Sockpuppeting civil servant Wikifiddles himself:

Fronting multiple Wikipedia accounts with photographs of unsuspecting young women from our world, he juggled no fewer than 15 alter egos, and eventually, a handful of these virtual personalities spilled onto other sites, including Wikipedia Review - the infamous Wikipedia criticism site - and Wipipedia - a free online encyclopedia for the London SM scene.

I'd know about this, but didn't want to write about it myself, due to reasons such as the detail necessary to explain it all. Cade Metz has done a good job of putting it all in context.

What interests me is what I believe it reveals of the dark side of Shiny Happy "Community" Sites: "But his tale bares the flaws of the social web in general - and Wikipedia in particular.". Since of course these are not physical communities, it is trivially easy to manufacture members. And if you're a seeker of social approval, why not help the process along by having some admiring echoes of yourself? And also a support cadre for those inevitable arguments? There's a limit to this process, as all people aren't stupid, so a chorus of clones is going to be obvious. But that just raises the bar for the cloners (should the pseudonyms argue with each other to throw off suspicion? simulate different interests? protest loudly against allegations, or pretend to co-operate?). So one can get a kind of multiple arms race in terms of balancing factors between creators of multiple-pseudonyms and the targets of the deception.

Call it another experiment in a top laboratory of social pathology.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on September 19, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
September 15, 2008

Google effects as Digital Sharecroppers leave Wikia's Electronic Plantation

The Transformers (shape-changing toy robots) fan wiki-community, which I wrote about in my Guardian article concerning Wikia digital sharecroppers leaving the electronic plantation, has now completed their site emigration away from the mandatory ad-farm that forms Wikia's business plan. I wish them well. Now one interesting question is what happens in terms of Google rankings for the two sites.

Notably, the process of moving the site involved stripping out automatically inserted backlinks to Wikia in the pages generated to move the site, as explained in the post "The last helicopter out of Wikia (filtering page text)"

Wikia has inserted an extra link back to itself! in the exported text! Don't believe me? Check it out! How obnoxious! That's at the bottom of every page! ...

But gosh, it sure makes it harder for us to leave, doesn't it? And when we do - why there's millions of links from us back to Wikia's near-identical content! Links that improve their Google ratings... and harm ours. (Google looks down on re-presented content.)

[That "millions" is definitely an over-estimate, since all the history versions of wiki pages are not indexed, but the main idea still stands]

Anyway, does community win over inertia and cross-promotion? This is a fascinating test. Good luck climbing Mount PageRank ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , wikia | on September 15, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
September 12, 2008

Job Ad - Nonprofit Seeking Anti-Censorware Tech Manager

[I don't have any special connection to the following ad, and I'm not interested in moving to DC. But I figure that among my tiny tiny audience, call it targeted traffic, there's a significant probability that someone might find this of interest.]

EFF has been asked to help find a tech manager for a very cool project.

International non-profit seeks manager to oversee innovative multi-country, multi-year project to combat internet censorship by facilitating expanded use of circumvention technology (such as Tor). Desired skills: management (ideally in the non-profit world, and even more ideally using US government grant resources), understanding of internet architecture, international experience in developing countries, languages (such as Chinese, Farsi, Vietnamese, Russian, Arabic). Position will be in Washington, DC.

Contact Eric Johnson directly for more information, please contact: imiafamiliya[at-sign]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on September 12, 2008 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink)
September 09, 2008

More on the upcoming "Ford Hall Forum" Jimmy Wales talk

I did a bit of journalism today, asking about details of the the "Jimmy Wales with Christopher Lydon" Ford Hall Forum Boston event (Thursday Sept 11, 6:30pm-8:00pm). The basics: Wales will speak in the first half for 45 minutes, and the second half will have an additional 45 minutes for comments and questions from the audience. I spoke to Alex Minier, the Executive Director, who was graciously helpful, and quite willing to discuss how the Forum tried to conduct matters. He stated "We don't filter questions", though "we ask for people to be respectful of both the speaker and the other audience members who may have questions." Christopher Lydon's role is facilitating the conversation between the audience members and Jimmy Wales.

The facts having been given, the rest of this post is my opinion and speaking only for myself. While Alex Minier impressed me with his sincerity in wanting to foster debate, I see the situation itself as inevitably yielding nothing but a snow-job sales-pitch from Wales, an infomercial using Wikipedia to hype his commercial start-up Wikia. In opposing such marketing, it's necessary to have both authority and time to dissect an argument, and a hurried questioner has neither. Sure, I could go to the event and try to hone a devastating razor-sharp 30-second sound-bite which would eviscerate the cultish pontifications. But using the minimal effect of several newspaper columns as a yardstick, it doesn't seem like that sound-bite would do any good.

For example, just conveying the concept that Wikipedia's prominence is very much a quirk of Google's algorithm (and not some mystical embodiment of the human spirit) is already quite complex. And debunking myths of "crowds", showing that Wikipedia is more like a set of little fiefdoms ruled by petty warlords, requires significant effort. Plus it's all far less appealing than the fairy tale of the little elves who work for free (and of course, for the right consulting fee, maybe he can get them to do unpaid labor for YOU ...).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on September 09, 2008 08:57 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
September 07, 2008

Jimmy Wales "Ford Hall Forum" Boston event 9/11 6:30pm

The Ford Hall Forum has "Jimmy Wales with Christopher Lydon" on Thursday, September 11, 6:30pm-8:00pm.

Free Speech, Free Minds, Free Markets:
Competition and Collaboration

Across the globe we are building, editing, and contributing to a growing body of knowledge and tools at everyone's fingertips. Volunteers in leaderless organizations contribute to online initiatives and articles. Software developers spend their free time collaborating with complete strangers. Amazingly, these efforts are creating products of extraordinary quality, sometimes better than that of large for-profit organizations. Why do we do it? Why does it work? Join us tonight as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales joins journalist Christopher Lydon to address these questions, where "web 2.0" will take us next, and how Objectivist philosophy guides his vision.

One can see, even from the "Wikipedia founder" description, that this won't exactly be a critical examination of Wikipedia or digital-sharecropping.

Note Christopher Lydon, a very well-respected Boston media person, has long associations with the overall topic. You can read the comment thread on his 2005 radio show episode about Wikipedia for a sense as to what this event is likely to be. The commenter said it, not me:

I also found it a little out of place that Chris was cheerleading a little for Wikipedia, by way of praising it. It's not like I don't agree that Wikipedia is a great idea; it's just that it's off-putting for the referee of a conversation to also be a participant in that way.

See also guest Karen Schneider's Wikipedia show post:

Lydon seemed disappointed, after the fact, that "dissers" of Wikipedia were stronger presences on the radio than Wikipedia leader "Jimbo" Wales. Lydon found that the two "dissers" had "weak" arguments, and then remarked that Wikipedia needed a stronger defender to "summon up the appropriate awe for so grand an accomplishment." I'm glad I didn't know going in that the show's host had so thoroughly drunk the KoolAid on one side of an issue he was covering; I said what I believed, well or not, you decide.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on September 07, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
September 04, 2008

Google Results Domination by Wikipedia - another study

Another study about Google's high ranking of Wikipedia articles:

"Just How Powerful Is Wikipedia?"

Well, with 70% of the US using Google (and that number is similarly high is many countries around the world) to find information, it would definitely be important if Google was very often sending us to Wikipedia. ....

... we found that an amazing 50.2% of the top 1000 searches had a Wikipedia result on the first page. (That's 502 out of 1000 for the math challenged.) We theorized that many of the "no" results likely came from the large number of porn terms on the list, and a cleaner list of family friendly terms might favor Wikipedia even more.

This overall result is of course not new - but I think it shows one reason why the extensive law / policy marketing of Wikipedia is a cause for concern.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , wikipedia | on September 04, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
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) | Comments (5)
September 02, 2008

Obligatory "Google Chrome" Browser Blog Useless Cloudy Post


Note: There is no working Chromium-based browser on Linux. Although many Chromium submodules build under Linux and a few unit tests pass, all that runs is a command-line "all tests pass" executable.

Windows-only. That says something. I'm not sure exactly what. But then again, everything else has been said by everyone else anyway, so I'm sure what it says has already been said by someone else.

I wish people would stop using the word "cloud" for "remote services". Do you get electricity from the "cloud"? Does food come from the "cloud"? It's the same fogginess (pun unintended) as "cyberspace".

Google's one of the biggest "remote-services" companies in existence, so it's developing a browser which is optimized for those applications. Simple. Got it. Call it "mist wisp aura-laden computing', and suddenly it sounds far more opaque.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on September 02, 2008 11:38 PM | (Infothought permalink)