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In the news this week

LA times overflows with praise

An LA Times op-ed this week took a look at Wikipedia (copy at another location), and formed a very positive view of the project. Columnist Crispin Sartwell, a political philosophy lecturer, described Wikipedia as "magnificent", and said it represented an exciting future for encyclopaedias. He said its entirely editable, entirely open nature was a "brilliant conception".

Noting that such a concept was "completely antithetical to the encyclopedic tradition", Sartwell considered the drawbacks of a wiki-based encyclopaedia. Acknowledging that errors and vandalism are certainly not uncommon ("In one brief instance, a character from 'Star Wars' was labeled Benedict XVI"), he noted the ease with which bad edits can be reverted, and said they were the exception, not the rule.

"So is it to be trusted? Does it have the credibility of Britannica?", asked Sartwell, a question that has been discussed frequently over the last few months as Wikipedia's profile has risen. Considering articles on subjects on which he is knowledgeable, Sartwell said they were "almost invariably accurate", and noted the improvement over time of many. Not only did Sartwell consider Wikipedia basically accurate and increasingly comprehensive, he also said that an open model was "in some sense the only possible way" to create an encyclopaedia representing the state of human knowledge in real time.

Sartwell concluded that allowing everyone to work on a project like this was a grand test of human nature. "If it is in the long run successful, it would show that people can make amazing things together without being commanded, constrained, taxed, bribed or punished", he said.

Professor of information science derides bloggers and Wikipedians

After the LA Times' fulsome praise, technology magazine Silicon Valley brought Wikipedians back down to Earth when they reported [1] that a university lecturer from Indiana had launched a tirade against bloggers and Wikipedians [2]. Blaise Cronin, Dean of the School of Library and Information Services at Indiana University, raged against the "narcissism and banality" of most blogs and wondered what impelled people to share their "unremarkable opinions, sententious drivel and unedifying private lives" with the world.

"Undoubtedly, these are the same individuals who believe that the free-for-all, communitarian approach of Wikipedia is the way forward", said the Dean, claiming that "librarians, of course, know better". Presumably, he believes that Wikipedia is not the way forward, but did not elaborate on why.

Rush Limbaugh mistreats Wikipedia

Right wing broadcaster Rush Limbaugh this week tried to push a point of view on Wikipedia. In a column on his website on 3 May, the conservative firebrand accused left-wingers of the sort of thing he usually accuses them of [3]. Perceiving some kind of conspiracy, he said he would put the word afristocracy on Wikipedia, to 'spread it around'. He also promoted the word ghettocracy.

On 4 May, Afristocracy duly appeared, with Ghettocracy following on 5 May. However, they were both nominated for deletion early on 5 May, and at the time of writing the emerging consensus seems to be to delete the articles. Limbaugh himself appears not to have created them, with users located in Sioux City, Iowa and San Juan, Puerto Rico instead being responsible.

NB: This correspondent is unwilling to pay an exorbitant fee to access the full version of the article on Rush Limbaugh's website, and has therefore relied on a two-line summary available via Google News [4] and his own personal prejudices to write this section.

Licensing issues

The raison d'être of Wikipedia is to create an open source, freely distributable encyclopaedia. While many sites have taken advantage of the permissive terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, under which all Wikipedia content is licensed, an article in marketing magazine Affiliate Tip indicates that some people still find the license too restrictive [5].

The article discussed the need for affiliates to have unique content on their websites to ensure a high google ranking. Discussing sources for content which people can adapt to their own needs, the article noted that 'Wikiepedia' [sic] allows content to be modified and redistributed, but said that the permission to do so came with "a few strings attached", and suggested that there were a "fair number of requirements" before content could be re-used.


The phrase "According to Wikipedia" is an increasingly common refrain, and now gets over 22,000 google hits. According to Wikipedia this week: Bluesnarfing is the theft of data via Bluetooth (Macworld, 4 May [6]); Eminent domain is the enforced appropriation of property by the state (New York paper Gothamist, 3 May [7]); a rave party is usually held in a warehouse (The Winchester Star, 5 May [8]); and an opinion leader may lead in one area while they follow in others (The Global Politician, 6 May [9]). Also, fresh from declaring Wikipedia a reliable source, the LA Times used unstated Wikipedia articles as sources for a detailed examination of Shia Islam in Iraq on 8 May [10], and The Skeptical Enquirer ("Magazine for science and reason") also recommended Wikipedia as "a good, neutral introduction to the theory and controversy" in an article considering the merits of the Gaia theory.

And finally...

Wikipedia this week made its first appearance in popular US comic strip Foxtrot [11], which is syndicated across the United States. The strip depicted two children vandalising the article on warthogs, before moving on to rabies. Following the publication of the strip on 7 May, Warthog was subject to repeated vandalism, having not previously seen an edit since 24 March. The vandalism eventually led to the page being temporarily protected from editing. Rabies seems to have escaped a similar fate, for the time being.


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Although Foxtrot appears on the web, it is not really a web comic. Foxtrot is nationally syndicated and appears in many American newspapers. Sayeth 13:32, May 11, 2005 (UTC)

Ah, right - wasn't sure, never heard of it on this side of the pond! I'll change it now. Worldtraveller 13:56, 11 May 2005 (UTC)[reply]

Re: "Bluesnarfing is the theft of data via bluetooth (Macworld, 4 May [7] (, although the article they quoted from was subsequently deleted due to a copyright violation)"—when I read the Macworld article, it links to Bluesnarf, not Bluesnarfing, and the text quoted seems to be all be from Bluesnarf. In addition, the article is dated May 7th; Bluesnarfing was deleted on March 26th so it seems unlikely they used that as the source. Therefore, I'm going to edit your article, Worldtraveller; hope you don't mind. Please revert if my changes are inappropriate. — Knowledge Seeker 03:44, 12 May 2005 (UTC)[reply]

Didn't mind at all, Knowledge Seeker. Thanks very much for spotting my mistake and correcting it. Worldtraveller 07:04, 13 May 2005 (UTC)[reply]

Regarding the Foxtrot entry: there's nothing to indicate in that comic strip that the characters are vandalising Wikipedia. Rather, they appear to be simply browsing it. I know this is a bit pedantic, but perhaps you (Worldtraveller) could give the comic another look and do the appropriate word substitution if you agree. -- Hadal 05:03, 13 May 2005 (UTC)[reply]

Well, maybe I've been dealing with too much vandalism recently and have started to see it everywhere :) but I thought the point of the third box was that the kid had uploaded a picture of their sister to the warthog article. I am completely unfamiliar with the strip and the kind of humour it normally goes in for, so please feel free to make any revisions to my text there that you think are appropriate. Worldtraveller 07:04, 13 May 2005 (UTC)[reply]
On further inspection, I think you're right. I suppose my (mis)interpretation of the strip (that the other character was simply comparing his sister to a warthog) was influenced by my preconceptions, because the last time I saw a FoxTrot strip (quite a few years ago) it seemed a bit "soft"—that is, the humour was jejune to the point of sterility. I didn't expect it to depict (even if indirectly) something shady like the defacement of public website. I just checked the FoxTrot article (which I should have done prior to commenting!) and it seems placing a picture of his sister in the warthog/rabies article is completely in-character. Oh well.. sorry for bothering you. -- Hadal 09:39, 13 May 2005 (UTC)[reply]


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