April 29, 2009

Twitter - I'm not getting suckered again

Yes, I have a Twitter account (Seth Finkelstein). But today's hot item Twitter Quitters Post Roadblock to Long-Term Growth is a good hook to write a post on why I'm not playing that lottery game again.

"But despite the hockey-stick growth chart, Twitter faces an uphill battle in making sure these flocks of new users are enticed to return to the nest."

I understand why the BigHeads love being Twits. Which is exactly why I don't like it at all. That is, Twitter is the distilled essence of top-down, broadcast, pontification, of a small group of large egos thinking their blatherings are vital communication. It's worse than blogs. At least with a blog, you can pretend that you're writing something intellectually important, that someone somewhere might care (that's almost always false, but there's just the tiniest kernel of truth in it to support the delusion). With Twitter, there's a reason the evangelists hype breaking news and link-flogging - because that's about the only thing you can do in 140 characters which is other than trivia.

The "A-list" aspects are spectacularly blatant - due to "power law" effects, there's a tiny number of people with a huge number of followers (note that terminology!), and everyone else - well, little Z-lister, squeaking at the bottom of that very steep curve, isn't it enough for you to chat with your friends?

It's the same story as blog-evangelism - the hucksters switching their argument back and forth between diary/chat and journalism, the elite group of attention-dominants "conversing" among themselves while everyone else is their audience, the you-could-be-a-star selling of dreams and celebrity.

I'm not going to play that game again - of following (!) the BigHeads, trying to get an audience, all the while wasting time and effort so a start-up can monetize it (in an extremely inefficient way). It's enough being suckered once.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 29, 2009 10:21 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6)
April 23, 2009

Wikimedia Foundation vs Wikipedia Art (wikipediaart.org)

Echoes: EFF - Wikipedia Threatens Artists for Fair Use

Can a noncommercial critical website use the trademark of the entity it critiques in its domain name? Surprisingly, it appears that the usually open-minded folks at Wikipedia think not.

[Snip description]

Yep, they used the term "wikipedia" in their domain name."Wikipedia" is a trademark owned by the Wikimedia Foundation. And now the Foundation has demanded that the artists give up the domain name peaceably or it will attempt to take it by (legal) force.

Wikipedia should know better. There is no trademark or cybersquatting issue here. First, the site is entirely noncommercial, which puts it beyond the reach of U.S. trademark law. (We note that Paul Levy of Public Citizen, who has helped establish key precedents on this issue, has signed on to represent Wikipedia Art). Moreover, even if U.S. trademark laws somehow reached this noncommercial activity, the artists' use of the mark is an obvious fair use. ...

Legal history at Wikipedia Art

I still support the goals of the Wikipedia project, despite my personal disappointment in how they have been handling matters. I find it distressing that their commitment to an open encyclopedia is in stark contrast with their effort to effectively shut down what is clearly an artistic project that asks us to reflect on the Wikipedia system of knowledge production.

Last year, I was a Wikipedia donor. I find it ironic that some small portion of my monetary contribution may be used to pay for their legal counsel in a potential case against me.

Mailing-list analysis message excerpt by Wikimedia general counsel (lawyer):

Unsurprisingly, the artists, who enjoyed making a fuss with their initial perfomance-art project, are hoping to make a fuss about our having contacted them at all. We anticipated precisely this reaction, of course, which is why our initial letter to Wikipedia Art, now posted on their website, talks about resolving the matter amicably and asks the artists to respect and understand our concerns. In other words, it's about the gentlest "demand letter" one can possibly write. We're pleased it led to positive results (the disclaimer). We always figured they might post our communications with them.

Mailing-list comment by Wikimedia (volunteer) United Kingdom PR flack:

They're performance artists. This is more performance. They fooled the EFF into playing along.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on April 23, 2009 05:35 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
April 15, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on Wikia Search's Failure

"Shutdown of Wikia Search proves empty rhetoric of collaboration"

"The shutdown of Wikia Search - an attempt to apply Wikipedia-style ideas to create an open source, commercial search engine - came as no surprise to informed observers"

I didn't suggest a title, leaving to the editors what they wanted to emphasize, and this one is fine.

I have some good turns of phrase in this article - calling Google the "Great Search Satan" (looks like nobody ever used that phrasing before), and talking about "mining user-generated discontent". And I close with "a taint of half-baked dilettantism and corporate exploitation.".

An open search engine is a great idea, and I support the concept in general. But Wikia had too much of a conflict of interest in term of corporate motives to be right for it.

Blog bonus: I wanted to use this old joke I've mutated, somewhere, but it was too long for the column:

Two entrepreneurs are in the woods following the trail of a ferocious predatory Google. All of a sudden, the Google crashes out of the brush and heads straight for them. They scramble up the nearest tree, but the Google starts climbing up the tree after them. The first entrepreneur starts taking off his heavy leather hiking boots and pulls a pair of sleek running shoes from his backpack. The second entrepreneur gives him a puzzled look and says, "What in the world are you doing?"

He replies, "I figure when the Google gets close to us, we'll jump down and make a run for it."

The second guy says, "Are you crazy? We both know you can't outrun a full-grown Google."

The first one replies: "I don't have to outrun the Google, I only have to outrun you!"

[Wikia Search did not have to be a "Google Killer". It only had to outrun its costs, using digital sharecroppers as bait, to make a profit (though it couldn't even do that)]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia , wikia-search | on April 15, 2009 09:28 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
April 14, 2009

Larry Sanger: "An open letter to Jimmy Wales"

Echo: Larry Sanger - "An open letter to Jimmy Wales" (updates), about Jimmy Wales denying him credit as Wikipedia co-Founder:

I recently read the "Hot Press" interview with you. The lies and distortions it contains are, for me, the last straw, especially after this came to light, in which you described yourself as "co-founder" in 2002.

Strong stuff, not mincing words:

"I resent being the victim of another person's self-serving lies." ...

"What angers me is not any one error, but the accumulated weight of your lies about me ..."

It was originally posted on Jimmy Wales's personal discussion page on Wikipedia, which of course set off extensive edit-warring on removing and replacing it. But interestingly, that did seem to have some effect. The information was apparently conveyed to some people among a small core group high up in the Wikipedia hierarchy, who otherwise apparently would not have seen it.

Notably, in a mailing-list discussion, Florence Devouard, former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation (the Wikimedia Foundation is the parent organization of Wikipedia), sent a supportive message

I know it will only be a small satisfaction, but I wanted to mention that in the French speaking user guide book I recently co-wrote with Guillaume Paumier, you are recognised as a co-founder. ...

I have had enough opportunities to see that what the public/journalists say and believe is frequently highly different from the reality and I fear we all have to live with this. For many, Jimmy is still the one doing all the work at the Wikimedia Foundation, and sometimes even the one approving any article before publishing. LOL. ...

If anyone following my writing didn't know, I've read extensively through the background, and my assessment is that Larry Sanger has the right of it. Truth is not in the middle here. He was regularly termed "co-founder" of Wikipedia for several years, even after he left the project, until it appears around the time Jimmy Wales started seriously to commercialize the ideas of Wikipedia. And while it can't be proven absolutely that the commercialization led to a rewrite of history, it's a powerful motive and very suspicious timing.

I'm surprised none of the Usual Suspects covered the issue (not even the gossip site Valleywag, and that's really surprising). And of course, a few posts on blogs simply won't be heard compared to the huge megaphones Jimmy Wales gets for his "sole founder" story because of the hype around Wikipedia :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on April 14, 2009 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)