You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

The Longest Now

Wikipedia tipping point
Tuesday June 28th 2005, 5:01 am
Filed under: %a la mod

I’ve been waiting for this for
a long time.  Today, it finally happened.  I was searching
for a bit of esoterica which I wouldn’t know how to look up in any
reference work; not a dictionary or an encyclopedia or even a polished
usage guide.

I entered a pair of words into Google, expecting to find a throw-away
comment about it on the third page of  results; enough to satisfy
my curiosity.  And there it was
— the top hit, a Wikipedia page (a discussion page at that), with
exactly what I was looking for.  In gorey detail.  It was as
though I had reached effortlessly into the collective subconscious and pulled out, not just what I had verbalized, but what I had been thinking.

Every other hit for the pair was one of those wordlists that so often foil googlewhacking.
For those of you who are curious, one /does/ sometimes put a diacritic over double-e’s, in early-20th century and older English.

I hope all those silly futurists were wrong about networks of
information being able to take on a life of their own. 

In other
news, John Perry Barlow and all those Signal or Noise lawyers were
right about Grokster.  I wonder if they are content with the

Comments Off on Wikipedia tipping point

Amarok, KDE, LinuxTag —
Monday June 27th 2005, 9:10 am
Filed under: popular demand

Not long ago, KDE announced it’s working closely with Wikimedia to produce KDE
goodies that draw from all this free content.  It was funny; a big deal
at the KDE conference, yet many people in the Wikimedia community were
surprised to hear about it.  As for future development, I’d like to see an open-source
knowledge solution for select-and-query, similar to the desktop tool
gurunet provides.  Oh, how I would love to hack a few good regular
expressions and cheap context awareness into such a thing.

Amarok, KDE, LinuxTag — …

Comments Off on Amarok, KDE, LinuxTag —

LA Times Learns about Wiki Vandalism
Saturday June 25th 2005, 3:00 pm
Filed under: poetic justice

Weekend America interviews Jimmy Wales about the Los Angeles
Times’  wiki
, which they had to remove, on the Iraq war and the problems they had with
vandalism.  Jimmy points out that without a giant community of
guardians, policing wiki vandalism is very difficult.  He thinks
some vandals can be deterred by posting community rules.

Just to make things more fun,  Weekend America misidentified Jimbo
on their Web site as Jim Dale and provided a .com URL for  Wikipedia.  
wrote to them, saying “Were your site a wiki, I could correct the
problems myself and not bother you with this bit of correspondence.”
Within minutes, I received a response from their Web staff indicating
the errors had been corrected.

LA Times Learns about Wiki Vandalism …

Comments Off on LA Times Learns about Wiki Vandalism

The Wonderful World of Wikis
Thursday June 23rd 2005, 3:52 pm
Filed under: popular demand

Come explore the wonderful world of wikis at tonight’s
blog group meeting
or, if showing in person is not possible, check the blog for remote
participation options, like Skype or IRC at


The Wonderful World of Wikis …

Solvay Converence, October 1927
Thursday June 23rd 2005, 7:35 am
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory

Don’t miss this delightful 2-minute film clip from the 1927 Solvay Conference in Brussels: from

Comments Off on Solvay Converence, October 1927

MetaWiki, WikiCite, and WorldCat
Wednesday June 22nd 2005, 5:47 pm
Filed under: metrics

Jeff Young and Outgoing‘s Thom Hickey are working on developing a
Metawiki to hold structured metadata along with each record.

Talis advisor Paul Miller (of Common Information Environment fame) comments:

It would be interesting – in the spirit of openness and cooperation – to understand any relationships between the [Silkworm] Directory and OCLC’s MetaWiki.

Contrast this with recent ideas about a WikiCite project for annotating all references that might be used in books or encyclopedia articles, and you can see a lovely tool just waiting to emerge.

The Wikimedians don’t care about the differences between the Silkworm Directory and the Metawiki and Wikidata; they just want to get down to creating annotations as soon as possible. People can argue over what format they should be in and how they should be propoagated later…

Comments Off on MetaWiki, WikiCite, and WorldCat

OCLC cake and 100Gbps transfers
Wednesday June 22nd 2005, 5:24 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

Nothing goes with OCLC Cake (entered and deleted more than once from WorldCat) and the Silkworm project like a little practical physics to disseminate it to the world.

If you want to watch WorldCat updates in realtime, you can visit the latest-entry-only Worldcat Recentchanges page.

Comments Off on OCLC cake and 100Gbps transfers

On Overrated Ontologies
Monday June 20th 2005, 7:41 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

More Shirky on information.

There is a key point that gets lost when optimistic tech enthusiasts ejaculate over the glories of “alternate organizational systems” which “like the Web itself,” “let individuals create value for one another,” “often without realizing it.” Shirky is complex enough to both make every facet of this point and to lost it in the same essay. The point is that ontologies are all about seek times, reliability, and parallelism.

A good ontology is self-similar; when you reflect upon it, the ontology itself reminds you of truths you know about interrelationships between different concepts and different aspects of the world. The best ontologies have a non-null learning curve; you get more out of it with appreciation and practice. A good ontology is largely orthogonal; it creates deep and meaningful divisions in the unbroken flesh of raw thought.

If I tag everything I see as quickly as possible — free association, tempered by habit — I will be far from the ideal ontology, both for myself and for reuse by (or the emergent enlightenment of) others.

Yes we should collectively listen to the casual ways masses of anonymous users classify things. Better still, we should teach them ways to improve their personal classifications so that they will scale and age better. But this does not mean we should let these masses dictate what the best classification/ontology/search-algorithm looks like.

My armchair proclamation: the best systems [for finding information] are patiently considered, organically informed but not dictated by large bodies of users, and steadily improved in ways that teach users how to effectively form the questions they didn’t know they were asking. These systems should provide answer-sets that expand searchers’ concepts of what they were looking for, and should preempt clarification when possible.

When I look for “Georgias” I should discover, in separate taxonomically-contextualized sections, results for the US state, the Eurasian nation, the woman’s name, and the ancient Greek sophist (see Gorgias). Each of these should be well-identified by its place in at least one (and preferably a few named and referenced) well-conceived, self-similar ontologies.

I have nothing against Shirky, btw. It is the very excellence of his writing that makes it such a pleasure to take issue with it.

On Overrated Ontologies …

Wiki platform proliferation
Wednesday June 15th 2005, 6:19 pm
Filed under: popular demand

In tracking down groups to invite to Wikimania, I’ve discovered a
wealth of active wiki platforms populated by entirely different circles
of users, and promoted on different social/blog circles as well. Let’s
see how many I can list (NB: capitalizations not CaMel perfect):

  • MediaWiki. Low on ACLs, manuals, and single-user snappiness, high on scalability and install speed. Server cluster compatible.
  • Twiki. Oldie and goodie. Endlessly extended; a frankenstein of great bits that often work well together.
  • Xwiki. Ludovic’s baby. Neatly modular, cleverly multilingual, a jack of all trades.
  • Socialtext. The most open of the enterprise wikis. Pretty swell.
  • JotSpot. The early leader in “how hot is enterprise wiki?” VC circles, afaik. Flashy.
  • Confluence.
    Atlassian’s editable workspace; not called a wiki for the first year of
    its life. Compatible with an endless collection of databases and
    middleware platforms. Largest enterprise-wiki userbase.
  • Snipsnap. Fundamental notion of snips, for transclusion and reuse.
  • PurpleWiki. Niche case contender; primarily used by its creators and as an example application of Purple Numbers.
  • UseMod wiki. MediaWiki’s ancestor. Stable. Unchanging. Stuck in 2001.
  • Historical wikis : c2, meatball, others which helped mould the philosophy of the budding tool.
  • Planned wikis Of The Future : WordPress-wiki (another
    contender for the name wikipress by another contender for the acronym
    WP?), WorldCat wiki, …

Free wiki hosts (with ads):

  • In English:  wikispaces, with beautiful layout and inline stats,  wikicities (jwales & wikia), schtuff (brian), seedwiki (since 2001),  xwiki (ludo himself),  pbwiki
  • In other languages : [a few german hosts I need to look up.]

Other wiki hosts:

  • Broken wiki hosts: atwiki, swiki (another xwiki site?), …
  • Non-free wiki hosts :  Sometimes there is one combined with each non-free wiki platform… 

More entries, and links, to come… please suggest your own favorites
to add to the list. If you have favorite wiki hosts, free or non, you
can mention them as well. I’ll get around to doing a comparison of them
one of these days.

On selectivity, and feats of Clay
Saturday June 11th 2005, 12:24 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

Wikipedia can and is selective about what subjects are ‘encyclopedic’. The weeding process is nevertheless slow in comparison to the influx of new content; in contrast to a traditional encyclopedia, where both proceed at roughly the same rate.

Every now and then there are projects to merge a certain class of stubs, giving them prominence more suitable to their importance; or projects to rename or remove other classes of articles. This was in fact part of the genesis of Wiktionary; dictinoary definitions were considered unencyclopedic and Had To Go.

Clay Shirky recently wrote about a Wikipedia article about a new Linux distribution (now in alpha) which was referenced by a Slashdot post; and the Slashdotting of the site then appended as a footnote to the article. He suggested that this was an example of someone shilling for their work; a form of astroturfing to create an “instant trend”.

However, the Wikipedia author in question didn’t know much about the OS being written about; and has been an active contributor to WP for many months. This wasn’t a reputation hack, although from glancing at blog posts about Shirky’s writing, you might guess that it was.

I wish that Shirky would assume good faith… in this case, assuming that both the /. poster and the WP editor were enthusiastic about the tool, and not out to scam up some quick advertising. The Wikipedia editor who started the article got into a flame war with Shirky on its talk page, and came out looking like an ass. But Shirky’s post, in assuming bad faith, was offensive. That’s how any number of ugly flame wars start. There’s nothing like someone baselessly accusing you of conspiracy or lying to raise your hackels.

Hints that this wasn’t a reputation hack: as Shirky noted himself, the article was edited 20 times by this person during its first three weeks, on many different days. That’s not a sign of someone trying to drop in an ad for a favored tool. Checking the article’s revision history, one can see this early edit summary: “added info box that I pasted from the Fedora Project. This article needs cleanup and expansion. I will ask for help from the Symphony OS forum.” Not the comment of a long-time project devotee.

The world of amateurized publishing, particularly on Wikikpedia, is not really all that anonymous. A glance at the forum on the Symphony OS website turns up the aforementioned request for help, and shows how [un]familiar the author was with the OS when creating the initial article.

Finally, Shirky clncludes with “the threshold for exclusion from the Wikipedia is so low… it’s hard to see how to defend against the creation of pages where so little is at stake for anyone but the advertiser” — little may be at stake for him; not so for those editors who obsess about the quality of the encyclopedia. Here’s a little statistical TMI:

For love of Shirky, I trolled thorugh the latest 50 new pages (going back 45 minutes), to see how many had been clarified or NPOV’ed since their creation. Most new pages cover minor subjects, about which a passing observer might think there was “little at stake” (e.g., the List of fish on stamps of Cote d’Ivoire). About a dozen of them had been tweaked in some way; often with a “cleanup”, “explain significance” or “deletion” notice (see for instance the first hour in the life of “The Singapore Stone“). Another five had been marked as stubs or categorized, both of which help attract the notice of subject-specific readers who would notice minor embellishments or mistakes. So within an hour, 25% of new articles had been looked at critically and been changed to conform to standards of suitability or style. Two or three looked as though noone had yet looked at them or cleaned them up.

I would guess that 95% of new articles are checked out for suitability and appropriateness of content within their first day of existence. Perhaps one in a thousand doesn’t get looked at for weeks, most likely an article on a niche subject, or a stub with few links that only got edited once. To be an effective reputation hack, you have to TELL someone else about it, feeding a negative feedback loop.

Now of course, if Clay’s blog were part of Wikipedia, those subtle POV errors in his post would eventually be corrected; wikis are good with such subtletlies. As it is, people will refer to that post as an example of astroturfing and reputation hacking for months.

Atmosphere, Disruption, and Movie theatres
Thursday June 09th 2005, 12:14 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire

The biggest lapse in the recent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galazy film wasn’t its disconnection, unbelievable romance, or score. It was Marvin, who the director, like trillions of others before him, didn’t understand. Marvin didn’t annoy merely with his voice and his sarcasm; he was a master of timing, annoying by waiting exactly the right number of milliseconds before responding or doing anything.

It is remarkable, how much meaning one can put into a pause, or a well timed step, look, twitch, or breath. Life can be lost or thrown out of joint by less. I’m not sure that hell is full of pain and suffering and lack of freedom. Worse would be the constant promise of freedom, curtailed by a stream of mishaps or reality shifts outside one’s control; I imagine Sisyphus’ unlife as complicated to the point that he can never be sure that success is truly outside his control.

For instance, for the last two weeks, ‘net access has been flaky. Not bad enough that Verizon techs can catch it when I call, but bad enough to cut me off a few times a day and interrupt a half-dozen important conversations. (We need to develop the network equivalent of a UPS for stateless services…) So I have to decide each night whether to go down to the campus lab to work, or stay home. Or to go to the theater across the street with superb wireless.

So that’s where I went yesterday night. There were too many people everywhere; I needed to get away. What a great atmosphere a movie theatre has for doing work. I could have camped out there all night, but I don’t think they would have approved. Maybe they should consider opening a side business after hours.

More and more from Tor core
Sunday June 05th 2005, 11:41 am
Filed under: %a la mod

New trends in librarianship in the newslib rooms, came up in the pre-SLA conference sessions back in June.  Somehow this post slipped through the cracks…

More and more from Tor core …

Comments Off on More and more from Tor core

Clue: The Librarian, in the Bishop, with the Candlestick
Friday June 03rd 2005, 6:25 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire

Thanks to greyhound racing and long-past temporary insanity, I will be antilaxing at a lavish de villa tomorrow, or in some sort of canadian bishopric, with a small casket of librarians.

I tried to put a positive spin on this, but rura quickly shot me down.

   No, you won't be special.  you're not a librarian.  

Gnaaaaaah. I certainly hope the Europeans are there over the weekend, or I will feel silly about the whole thing.

Comments Off on Clue: The Librarian, in the Bishop, with the Candlestick

Friday June 03rd 2005, 3:10 pm
Filed under: SJ

Both first and last on my list. First, because you have been on it for a decade; were its founding member. I have long owed you the impossible, or at least a calligraphed letter to that effect. Last, for celebrating less warmly than deserved your liberation from the far side of the pond.

It held plumb, level, solid, square and true for that one great moment… The key to Dugan’s lucidity is that it is really hard to nail even one hand to a crosspiece yourself, whether or not you are a carpenter. Those asking a great deal have often sacrificed a great deal first. Thankfully, by that point it rarely feels like sacrifice.

Comments Off on Angela

Best. Maciej. Ever.
Thursday June 02nd 2005, 10:50 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

And somehow I missed its blowhardy goodness at the time. I like Paul Graham and Dave Winer, but I love that essay. The world needs more art and literature nerds renouncing a life of easy lays for software geekdom.

Also, an even older root-mean-square gem, for elle.

Best. Maciej. Ever. …

Comments Off on Best. Maciej. Ever.

Bad Behavior has blocked 239 access attempts in the last 7 days.