December 24, 2008

On "A Personal Appeal From Wikipedia [*CO*]Founder Jimmy Wales"

There's a Wikipedia fundraising message which is drawing a bit of critical comment for the implicit self-promotion it contains. The efforts to remove Larry Sanger from history as a Wikipedia co-Founder are an ongoing matter. Worse, it plays into Wikipedia's weakness in that what's widely reported in the press tends to be taken as true, even if it's obviously the result of a PR campaign.

One could argue the text is not technically inaccurate. But I would also say it's fair to observe how this feeds into the history-rewriting process, and how there's a system of benefit to a small number of the insiders in this supposedly volunteer democratic process. As Wikimedia's UK PR-flack has stated: "Jimbo applying his rock star factor is one of his most useful jobs for WMF :-)"

Also notable is the appeal's statement that:
"Like a national park or a school, we don't believe advertising should have a place in Wikipedia."

Again, while not inaccurate, it's useful to know that Wales's own attitude towards advertising on Wikipedia in the early days was being quite open to it. And he certainly doesn't have the anti-advertising attitudes that many people think he has (to be fair, it's not all his fault, but he definitely gives certain impressions from which one might easily take a mistaken view).

One good quote, from 2003:

"I know that not many people share my curious political views, but to me, it's much worse to seek money from governments, i.e. to ask them to take money by force from others, than it is to accept advertising money."

But the number of people who will read this commentary is a joke compared to the hype-machine. [sad face]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on December 24, 2008 09:20 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
December 17, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on Wikipedia, Sex, Scandal, and problematic material

Sting in the Scorpions tale is the exposure of Wiki's weakness

"Anyone who needs to use an old album cover to make a Wikipedia sexual controversy is not trying very hard"

[I didn't pick the title, though I like it for the wordplay - I would have been more pragmatic myself and gone for more SEO-friendly phrasing]

I didn't do the IWF-is-absurd article, as that's been done extensively. (there was one recently by Cory D., and I certainly don't have anywhere near the platform he has). Instead, I used this event as an opportunity to write about the reality of Wikipedia's very real problem with "determining the boundary between provocative and profane."

This column will not further endear me to the Wikimedia Foundation.
But they know the material is true.

[For all columns, see the page Seth Finkelstein |]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikipedia | on December 17, 2008 08:15 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
December 14, 2008

Pew Research Center: "Future of the Internet III: How the Experts See It"

The Pew Research Center has released Future of the Internet III: How Experts See It

A survey of internet leaders, activists and analysts shows they expect major technology advances as the phone becomes a primary device for online access, voice-recognition improves, artificial and virtual reality become more embedded in everyday life, and the architecture of the internet itself improves.

They disagree about whether this will lead to more social tolerance, more forgiving human relations, or better home lives.

I was one of the people contacted, and gave my perspective. The press release quotes me for my bubble-popping views on Second Life and its ilk:

The evolution of augmented and virtual reality: ...

"For some reason I've never been able to comprehend, certain pundits can seriously propose that the wave of the future is chatting using electronic hand-puppets. Flight Simulator is not an aircraft, and typing at a screen is not an augmentation of the real world."
- Seth Finkelstein, author of the Infothought blog, writer and programmer

The "electronic hand-puppets" phrase sums it up for me. At the height of the hype, when Second Life was being marketed to various A-listers, I wished I had had the opportunity to attend one of those presentations and bring a ventriloquist's dummy, communicating only by using the dummy (i.e. raise the dummy's hand instead of mine, put it in front of me and move the mouth when I spoke, etc). I'd say the dummy was my "avatar", and I was in Projection Reality. The point would be to illustrate how ridiculous it all is, but I suspect the audience wouldn't get the joke (plus I don't have the status to pull off something like that).

Anyway, I'm quoted a few more times, but the only other really good line I have is "One Laptop Per Child is a classic "Ugly American"-style project."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press | on December 14, 2008 05:00 PM | (Infothought permalink)
December 07, 2008

Reflections on Wikipedia vs CleanFeed, Censorship and British ISP's

Wikinews (a separate project from Wikipedia): British ISPs restrict access to Wikipedia amid child pornography allegations

The Register: Brit ISPs censor Wikipedia over 'child porn' album cover

Someone else can do the pundit argument that the general material is horrible, but does it justify censorship? It's not for me, and nobody cares anyway (well, except for people who'd like to take a line out of context to smear me, but no need to cater to them). This post is for pointing out that this incident gives a golden opportunity to see the technical details of how the UK "CleanFeed" national censorware system works in practice.

Note the "Internet Watch Foundation" which maintains the blacklist, has confirmed the event.

Apparently only one or a few Wikipedia pages are on the UK blacklist, but it seems the effect of a site having even one page on that blacklist is to force all site traffic though a proxy, which assigns it to a single Internet address per Internet service provider. This aspect of putting a huge number of users on a single IP has the effect of severely disrupting Wikipedia's administrative controls for the relevant population.

In the discussion pages on Wikinews, and on Wikipedia, there's a rare instance of true aggregated user research, as people from across the UK are posting what error message they see when they try to access the blacklisted material (e.g. an old album cover by the band "Scorpions" called Virgin Killer), and what's happening from various UK ISP's. And poor Wikinews gets no respect for journalism, as the huckster A-listers are enamoured with hyping Wikipedia as much as possible, even though Wikipedia is a very poor fit for journalism.

I'm not going to speculate where this all will end up now. But it's as big an explosion over national censorware as has even been seen in the Western world.

Update: "CleanFeed" flow chart

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on December 07, 2008 04:30 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6)
December 01, 2008

Welcome Slashdot Readers

Bennett Haselton, in a Slashdot article today (thanks)

(My own favorite blog that nobody's ever heard of is Seth Finkelstein's InfoThought, which is usually logical and insightful and is only about 25% of the time about how "nobody ever reads this blog, so what's the point". His Guardian columns are also good and usually don't have that subtext, perhaps because it's considered impolite to use a newspaper's column-inches (column-centimeters?) to complain that you have no voice.)

No, because then they wouldn't publish it! :-)

Though on that theme, I recommend the Guardian column I wrote:
"If you want to change the world, a blog may not be the place to start"

Further, the unread blogger sayeth not, due to irony overload :-(

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on December 01, 2008 01:41 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6)