Tag Archives | Wikipedia

Wikipedia’s Anti-SOPA Blackout

Looks like Wikipedia will protest the proposed anti-piracy legislation known as SOPA by disappearing for 24 hours:

“The emerging consensus of the community seems to be for a global blackout of English Wikipedia,” Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, said on Twitter on Monday afternoon.  “Final details [are] under consideration but consensus seems to be for ‘full’ rather than ‘soft’ blackout… This is going to be wow.”

Wikipedians have been considering the radical measure for several weeks, alongside other sites such as Reddit. This weekend’s statement from the White House, which appeared to side with Silicon Valley – prompting criticism from media owners including News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch – has failed to dissuade them of the need for a blackout, making it a controversial decision among some users and editors.

I’m not sure if the people with the most power to nix SOPA–lawmakers–care that much about Wikipedia. But how would they react if even a small percentage of us who do care about Wikipedia were moved by the blackout to call our congresspeople and voice opposition to SOPA?

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Why Knol Failed: A Dire Lack of Peter Arno

Peter Arno CartoonOnce again, Google is swinging its corporate axe at secondary projects. It’s killing also-ran Facebook Connect rival Google Friend Connect. (I assume it’ll eventually introduce something similar built around Google+.) It’s doing away with Google Wave and Google News Timeline. (Wait, weren’t they dead already?)

And it’s closing Knol. Depending on how you looked at it, Knol was either a lot like Wikipedia (it was meant to be an immense user-generated repository of the world’s knowledge) or not much at all like Wikipedia (opinion was welcome, and contributors had a shot at making money from their articles). I started out skeptical about the service, then got intrigued before deciding it was off to a lousy start.

Knol didn’t get much better with time. Whenever I checked in, the items on the home page were mostly a bit odd, a bit spammy, or both. Google has an exit strategy for Knol content: It can be exported to a WordPress-based platform called Annotum. But Knol’s termination is really just a formality–it never lived up to any of the big plans Google once had for it.

Still, Knol started out promising. It certainly sounded interesting in the launch story by Wired’s Steven Levy. He wrote about the service’s inventor, Google exec/search pioneer Udi Manber, and began with an anecdote that resonated with me. Manber, Levy wrote, was moved to create Knol because he was felt that the Web was still full of “black holes”–important topics that were insufficiently documented. Such as the life and work of the wonderful New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno. (Manber, it turns out, is, like me, a cartoon fan.)

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Remove Jimmy Wales’ Face From Wikipedia in Three Easy Steps

Wikipedia’s looking for donations again, which means co-founder Jimmy Wales’ “personal appeal”–and face–is back at the top of every Wikipedia page. The Jimmy Wales Mugshot Method (that’s what I’m calling it, at least) was apparently quite successful last year, helping the user-generated free encyclopedia set a fundraising record, so the revival is no surprise.

Still, you might be sick of seeing Jimmy Wales’ face by now, especially because the alignment of the image on the page can lead to some unfortunate misunderstandings. Fortunately, Taylor Buley has developed a simple way to hide Wales’ mug forever, in three easy steps:

  • Go to Buley’s Github page.
  • Drag the “De-jimmy” link into your browser’s bookmarks bar or Favorites bar.
  • Click on the bookmark while browsing any Wikipedia page where Wales’ face appears.

Although you only click the bookmark on a single page, it applies throughout the site. After that, the only way to get Jimmy back is to clear your browser’s cookies and restart the browser.

Also, tuning out the pleas of a site that provides gobs of knowledge for free seems a little evil, but if you’ve gone this far, I’m going to assume you already got the message, and maybe even donated.

[This post republished from Techland.]

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Can You Trust Wikipedia?

Wired has an interesting story about Wikitrust, a new technology that will color-code material in Wikipedia in an attempt to indicate how trustworthy its author is. It’s an intriguing solution to a real problem, although like all articles on Wikipedia accuracy, Wired’s piece makes a reflexive-but-misguided reference to Encyclopaedia Britannica being the paragon of reference-work trustiness. (Which it isn’t–or at least wasn’t when my father reviewed it back in the 1970s and found some jaw-dropping errors.)

Anyhow, I feel a T-Poll coming on…


Microsoft Encarta: A Casualty of the Web

Microsoft EncartaOnce the bedrock of Microsoft’s home product offerings, the Encarta encyclopedia has been buried by the Web. The company cites changes in how people seek and consume information online as the impetus behind its decision to pull the plug on the venerable research work, which it launched in CD-ROM form back in 1993.

Microsoft announced today that Encarta software products will be discontinued by June, and that MSN Encarta Web sites worldwide would be shuttered on Halloween–with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will close at the end of the year.

A FAQ on Microsoft’s Web site reads: “(T)he category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

While its decision to discontinue out will no doubt help Microsoft tighten its belt, it is a sad occurrence. After all, there is a reason why college professors accept research cited from Encarta and not Wikipedia: one is trustworthy, and the other is not entirely valid.

As comedian Stephen Colbert hilariously pointed out, it’s possible for anyone to vandalize Wikipedia. Colbert caused chaos on Wikipedia by urging his viewers to edit the Wikipedia entry on elephants, and modified entries about himself and George Washington on air.

I lament the loss of Encarta, and encourage Microsoft to release its contents into the public domain or via a Creative Commons license so it doesn’t disappear, period. (Unless licensing agreements prevent it–Encarta incorporates content from several defunct dead-tree encyclopedia.) There need to be validated sources of the truth in a world beleaguered by spin and distraction.


Google Search for Barack Obama Reveals Racial Epithets

A reader tipped us off to the appearance of racial epithets in searches for Barack Obama on Google. When performing a search for our current president, on the first screenful you’ll be greeted with the N-word. Yep, that one.

Apparently someone went into the Wikipedia entry for President Obama at about 11:44pm ET last night, deleting the entire entry to read the epithet three times over. The wording was in such a position that Google’s crawlers picked it up.

The edit was quickly reversed in two minutes. However it apparently was not fast enough for it not to be crawled by Google’s servers. Below is the screenshot. As this is a family site, the front page version has been edited. A uncensored version is posted after the fold.


If anything, this goes to strengthen the argument which seems to be brewing lately over whether Wikipedia should become more stringent over who it lets edit its postings.

Incidents like this are a perfect example of why it should happen. If Wikipedia wants to be a reliable resource, it may be time for the site to start vetting its writers. It’s good that people want to help, but there’s people out there who have nothing better to commit than stupid antics like this.

I have a request for comment out to Google and Wikipedia on the situation, but I’m not expecting much other than a canned response.

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Google’s Knol: So Far, Not So Good

You could argue that it’s unfair–or at least unrealistic–to review Google’s Knol in its current form. After all, the Wikipedia-like service just went public a little over a month ago. It takes time to build a build a repository of the world’s knowledge, even if it’s less than comprehensive: Wikipedia surely wasn’t really ready for prime time six weeks after it was launched in 2001. As a Google service, Knol could end up being in beta for years.

On the other hand, as I said back in July, I think Knol is a neat idea. When it launched, it sported an oddball collection of entries that skewed heavily towards covering diseases. I was curious to see how much progress it had made in the interim. So I checked in today…and was startled by what I found. Depressed, actually.

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