March 31, 2009

Wikia Search Dead

Wikia Search dead, says CNET:

Wikia is announcing on Tuesday that it is closing the Wikia Search product. The service was intended to be a user-generated search engine, through which users could influence the rankings of results for all other users.

The Wikia Search project is set to be shut down Tuesday.

Corroborated by a post to the moribund search-l mailing list:

From: "Mark (Markie)"
Subject: [Search-l] The end is here... tells it all.

it was nice working with you all, thoughts go to all the staff who have been let go because of this. who knows, we may meet again the in the future at some point.



ps: -> go there :)

I had seen indications of this last month, but I'm not exactly their favorite person, so they likely weren't going to talk to me.

Post-mortem later.

[Techmeme readers: You may enjoy my earlier column on Wikia Search
"When you have a Wikipedia, everything looks like an edit"

Update 2:

They-said-it-not-me: I like the way VentureBeat describes the PR

In confirming the news, Wales attempts to deflect the bad news by pointing to the success, Wikia Search’s parent, has seen in terms of growth over the past two years. But towards the end of his post, he concedes that Wikia Search has not had the success that the company had hoped for.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on March 31, 2009 11:04 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
March 26, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on Google's "interest-based advertising"

Google's surveillance is taking us further down the road to hell

Google recently took another step along the path of surveillance as a service, launching what it called "interest-based advertising", and which everyone else calls "behavioural targeting".

I had suggested a title of "Google's interest-based advertising and surveillance as a service", as I was aimed for the keywords "interest-based advertising", and I wanted to emphasize the phrase "surveillance as a service" (that plays off "software as a service"). But the title they used is fine by me. It's definitely more attention-grabbing.

Althought there's certainly a lot of punditry on the topic, I hope I managed to say something that wasn't a rehash of the same points, by concentrating on some of the politics and public-relations issues. I particularly like my line about Google's tech gimmicks meaning that "Too many supposed watchdogs end up distracted by the equivalent of a chew toy."

And I've already seen that "chew toy" argument being made. I look forward to many, many, iterations over this, as Google sends out the flacks and apologists to preach how its massive monitoring network is no trouble at all, compared to the horrible ISP deep-packet-inspection (i.e. "Look over there - a monster!").

[Pre-emptive note: From checking comments elsewhere, please don't "explain" to me how according to your elaborate ideological theory of moral responsibility, Google is a saint while ISPs are devils. I've heard it. In fact, I will hear it from experts who spend their whole professional lives in the service of trying to make people believe corporate agendas are the essence of being human, and they're good at what they do. I'm a geek. I know all about the differences between cookie-based tracking and packet analysis. The whole point of my column is arguing that sort of thinking is the wrong way to approach these issues, because it's very flawed in practice.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , press | on March 26, 2009 08:09 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)
March 25, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day - Shelley Powers

Ada Lovelace Day, "Bringing women in technology to the fore", is an "international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology.". This is belated, but here's a short participation post.

I'll pick Shelley Powers, who is living proof that the A-list is far less of a meritocracy than it tells itself, and very much an old-boy's club

Point of fact, if you follow the thread of this discussion, you would see something like Dave linking to Cory who then links to Scoble who links to Dave who links to Tim who links to Steve who then links to Dave who links to Doc who follows through with a link to Dan, and so on. If you throw in the fact that the Google Guys are, well, guys, then we start to see a pattern here: men have a real thing for the hypertext link.

Whoever thinks "hyperlinks subvert hierarchy" is severely mistaken.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on March 25, 2009 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
March 16, 2009

A reply to "Wikipedia criticism, and why it fails to matter"

Vipul Naik wrote a blog post "Wikipedia criticism, and why it fails to matter" (and follow-up) where he discussed many critics of Wikipedia, and raised a question:

Does criticism of Wikipedia serve any purpose (constructive or destructive) other than being an excuse to fill journal columns and blog space (I might note that the critical articles I wrote about Wikipedia have driven the most traffic to my blog)? it is hard to say. I want to argue here that it does not at least serve the obvious purpose of keeping potential readers away from Wikipedia.

For my reply, let me put it this way:
Part of my motivation has been the delusion that I can make a (small) difference in the world. But I am not nearly so deluded as to think I can significantly keep potential readers away from Wikipedia. Indeed, as I repeatedly try to point out that Wikipedia's success has been driven by an implicit subsidy by Google (implicit meaning there's no deal, no specific arrangement, but rather an effect overall), it logically follows my ability to compete with that is, in practice, nil.

I started critiquing Wikipedia in self-defense, since my biography there was being used as a weapon in a longstanding harassment campaign. And then the more I looked into the real inner workings of Wikipedia, the worse it seemed. I suspect many people don't understand the frame of reference I try to convey, of cults where idealistic unpaid acolytes work themselves to burn-out, while a few people at the top benefit enormously.

But I have no grandiose views about my readership and influence. At best, I'd aim to affect things like Jonathan Zittrain's use of Wikipedia in his book - i.e. some intellectuals might read me, and as a result the hype would be less extensive, maybe even debunked a little. Realistically, that's the best I can hope for (and I likely won't achieve even that much).

That is, I'm not trying to change (directly) the number of Wikipedia editors, but rather the Public Intellectual perspective on Wikipedia.

To me, structurally, Wikipedia embodies many policy trends which I find immoral and destructive - e.g. the shifting of risk and responsibility from institutions onto relatively powerless individuals, while simultaneously shifting personal benefits to a tiny elite. I know, that's not the way we're told (often by PR flacks) to think about it. But how many $50,000 - $100,000 ? - speaker's fee gigs do the article writers get?

Perhaps it's futile to criticize all that. It's certainly not lucrative. Maybe I've made the same mistake that I made during the Great Bubble, of not getting on the gravy train while the getting was good. I suppose it all comes down to the question of which side you're on, and why you're on it.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 16, 2009 06:09 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)
March 04, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on Wikipedia Inclusionism vs. Deletionism (vs. Wikia)

"In the end, it's actually about money"

"One of the perennial debates about Wikipedia is 'inclusionism' v 'deletionism', which revolves around what topics should be covered."

The title isn't mine, but it does capture the ideas. I do hope people grasp that the "money" part is meant to be a multilayered observation, connecting the two concepts explored - an examination of the costs that every article creates, and the pressures of commercialization. Not something silly, like a potential strawman of deletionism being a plot to enrich Wikia's digital-sharecropping gains.

I quote with attribution and permission two very active Wikipedia editors being critical of Jimmy Wales. So it'll be interesting to see how that affects the article's perception in Wikipedia cabals, err, circles. I've been derided as a "media troll", but I've sourced some of the criticism here to "insiders", so maybe that'll matter (or not ...).

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

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikia , wikipedia | on March 04, 2009 04:18 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)