May 27, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on "Wikipedia Art" and trademark vs fair use

"Do commercial pressures outweigh artistic ideals at Wikipedia?"

"When do commercial pressures affect ideals? Testing that proposition was an unexpected result of the 'Wikipedia Art' project"

I didn't suggest a title for this one, and the title they used is fine by me. Someone might be pedantic and note it really should be "at the Wikimedia Foundation" rather than "at Wikipedia", but I'd say that's acceptable shorthand for a headline.

I emailed Jimmy Wales a long set of queries, in part asking him how he could reconcile his statement and accusations with the legal nastygrams sent by the Wikimedia Foundation lawyer. But he never replied to me.

Note to any Wikipedia-defenders: I know the "Wikipedia Art" page wasn't acceptable according to Wikipedia rules. My column is about the subsequent trademark-based threat, which had nothing to do with whether that Wikipedia Art page should have been kept or deleted.

Note to net-lawyers: I also know "fair use" is a phrase most frequently associated with copyright law. However, there really is trademark "fair use", similarly named, which applies in trademark law. That's what was being argued here - it's "fair use" to use a trademark to refer to the thing itself as a reference.

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

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikipedia | on May 27, 2009 08:21 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
May 22, 2009

"Wikia Search" site ends up pointing to Wikia Wikianswers site

In a final coda to the sad saga of Wikia Search (the overhyped Wikipedia-model user-generated free labor search startup, which crashed and burned into being a Yahoo front-end before imploding completely), the site now leads to nothing but Wikia's copycat wiki answers site. There's a little section on the homepage there:

Wikia Search

The Wikia Search project has ended. redirects here. Find out more:

* What was Wikia Search?
* What happened to Wikia Search?
* Where can I get the source code for Wikia Search?

A while back, just before the announcement of Wikia Search's shutdown, Walt Crawford wrote in his Cites & Insights publication the following thoughts:

I have nine printouts and lead sheets, mostly related to Wikia Search, Wikia's odd effort to take on Google by crowdsourcing search ranking itself. But I notice an oddity similar to the CZ cluster, and maybe it shouldn't be surprising: All the items are from a single blog, in this case Seth Finkelstein's InfoThought ... Searching that blog for "Wikia search" yields a lot of results; he's covered it in depth.

Why is all my Wikia Search stuff from one source? Maybe because, despite lots of praise when Wales started talking up the idea in 2007, the reality has been... tepid. When the public availability began in January 2008, SearchEngineLand called it "really just yet another crappy search service." The more you read of the whole basic idea, the less it seems to make much sense in the real world.

Sadly, there's a market for hype, but not for skepticism.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia , wikia-search | on May 22, 2009 05:21 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
May 18, 2009

Search Industry Expert wants Media Bloggers Association idea

I'll get around to "Wolfing Alfalfa" sometime, but I actually might do more real-world good today with my tiny audience of readers by discussing search expert Danny Sullivan's recent post, prompted by recent Google/newspapers issues:

"Dammit, I'm A Journalist, Not A Blogger: Time For Online Journalists To Unite?"

I want online journalists to get organized. Yes, there's the Online News Association, but that seems an extension of "traditional" journalists working in mainstream organizations with digital outlets. I think we need an "Online Journalists Association," or a "United Bloggers" or whatever catchy name you come up with. As for its mission? I'm not certain, but some thoughts:

* Ensure the news blogs get an equal seat at any table where news and journalism is being discussed
* Help promote deeper reporting and recognition of work that already happens
* Perhaps share correspondents and photos

Danny, this has already been attempted. It was called the "Media Bloggers Association". You might want to talk to Robert Cox, who created it. And to Rogers Cadenhead, about the MBA's role defending him in the AP / Drudge Retort dispute.

There are many lessons to be learned there, some of them quite unpleasant.

One big problem is that any such organization is likely to have a substantial contingent of the destroy-traditional-journalism-replace-it-with-BLOGS!!! crowd, both sincere and insincere, for many dubious motives. This faction will interact badly with those who are more moderate, and want to work with the dreaded mainstream media. Note I donít simply speculate here, it already happened (students of group psychology will recognize a standard radicals vs reformers split).

And then, there's the eternal question - where's the money? Who is going to pay for it?

Regrettably, this is basically a case of "We tried your idea, and it didn't work".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in mba | on May 18, 2009 11:27 PM | (Infothought permalink)
May 14, 2009

Wikimedia Foundation Form 990, Jimmy Wales Speaking Fee $75,000+ ("salary")

The Wikimedia Foundation Form 990 for their 2008 fiscal year has been posted now. See also their FAQ for details on what's been redacted and why. For people unfamiliar with this, a "form 990" is an IRS disclosure form required for charities. And it's often full of interesting financial information. Definitely worth a look if you're interested in the internal workings of an organization. Particular in terms of what people are paid.

It should be noted that the salaries do not seem to me extravagant at all. For example, the Chief Technical Offer, who is responsible for keeping the servers running overall, is paid $62,473. I've never criticized the technical operations side of Wikipedia, it just seemed like that would be misplaced.

However, that information has to be read, well, in context. For example, a recent interview (paywall'ed, so I can't link) of Jimmy Wales contained this exchange:

[Interviewer] Do you draw down a salary from Wikipedia?

[Jimmy Wales] No. I don't get any salary. In fact, I don't even get reimbursed for my expenses. It's my charity work. I'm pretty insistent about that.

That salary statement is true as far as it goes. One can see that he indeed doesn't get any salary. However, the Jimmy Wales Speaker's Fee is now at: "FEE CATEGORY: Above 75.0k" [update 1/2010 - now 50.k - 75.0k]

Somehow, that doesn't feel like "charity work" to me. I actually wouldn't mind so much if he said something like "No, I don't take any money out of the Wikimedia Foundation, since it's a nonprofit, which could pay chump-change anyway. Instead, I fleece executives who have far more money than sense, and are crazy enough to pay me tens of thousands of dollars to spout buzzwords and blather. What do you think, that I'm some sort of silly *altruist*?" (of course, more elegantly phrased). There would still be a problem of it being built on exploitation. But it's the "charity work" part which strikes me as wrong. Nothing which results in one gig paying more than the entire salary of the person in charge of keeping the site running, can fairly be described as "charity work".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on May 14, 2009 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)
May 06, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on *TWITTER*

"Twitter: sucker's game that boosts elite"

"People aren't being connected by the 'real-time messaging service', they're being bundled up and sold"

My working title was "Twitter Bitter, or Why I Am Not A Happy Twit". But frankly, the one they used is better.

I suspect some people are going to miss the point of this column, and tell me that, golly gee, I can chat with friends. I know that. Really. I'm well into a third decade of being on the Net (I went to MIT, I was on the Net more way before it reached the general population), and I know all about text chat. I don't want to use Twitter to chat.

I also don't want to broadcast or narrowcast my life's trivia. Encouraging exhibitionism is part of what I meant by "pathologies of celebrity". I made a deliberate, strategic choice to put "personal voice" into my blog, and in retrospect that was, overall, a pretty bad decision.

What's left is the rat race of trying to get followers for one's micropunditry and links. No. Not again. Not another grind of a few BigHeads on top all group-grooming each other, while everyone else is practically unheard. Not again, not so I can be monetized by another social/data-mining start-up.

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

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , press | on May 06, 2009 09:09 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (13)