Podcasting problems

Biased editing on podcasting turns into public spat

Removal of information from a popular Wikipedia article has led to a public flap, after the person to whom this information pertained aired his complaints about the incident.

The dispute in this case centered around the entry on podcasting, which lately has been one of the Wikipedia articles that gets cited most often in the media. Perhaps not surprisingly, having demonstrated its value as a source of information, the article has also been targeted by people trying to push an agenda.

Dave Winer protests

On 11 June, noted blogger and software developer Dave Winer complained on his blog about being expunged from the Podcasting article. (Interestingly, he was content to link to the article without further comment last year.) Winer added that the entry for RSS "has been rewritten to be an ad for a competitive format."

Following up on the issue last Monday, Winer reported that the issue had provoked an extensive debate on a Harvard mailing list about Wikipedia generally. He tied the discussion to the concerns of information professionals with Wikipedia, saying, "Researchers and librarians are not happy, but don't dare say so publicly." (One blogger pointed out that this was at least not true of all librarians, as several previous stories reported here might prove.)

Responses to Winer

In general, Winer has become a controversial figure, known for his reputed personality conflicts as well as his innovative software. Sympathetic voices quickly expressed their support of his complaint. Geek News Central commented, "This is beyond a travesty". As Bill Riski put it, "the history of podcasting without Winer is like the history of Apple without Wozniak - incomplete and uninformative."

Jon Udell, creator of the Heavy metal umlaut movie (see archived story), responded by comparing the revisions that produced the erasure (Winer, by comparison, showed no awareness that he could use the history function, since his post relied on an Internet archive version of the article someone had sent him). Udell determined that the article had first been edited to say, "Creator of RSS2, and true godfather of Podcasting, David Winer helped former NPR host Christopher Lydon...", so that the removal was effectively prompted by the attempt to paint the situation in a tone that is clearly inappropriate given the neutral point of view policy.

What really happened

However, it appears that Udell also missed the full story, as he mistakenly identified edits that happened in a brief edit war after Winer had already posted his initial criticism. The editing Winer was referring to actually took place in May, although it is not clear what motivations were involved. The first edit involved was pure vandalism, removing a paragraph containing the link to Winer's own article and replacing it with junk text. This left Winer mentioned only by surname, and incidentally affected Adam Curry in exactly the same way. DavidWBrooks restored Winer and Curry's given names, but because he used "David Winer", his attempt to link to the article on Winer failed, leaving only a red link.

The reference to Winer was later removed, and one might suppose that the editor erroneously concluded that if Winer didn't have an article about him, he wasn't significant enough to mention at all. However, since someone using the same IP address also made the subsequent edit removing Winer's name (this was the change found by Udell, after Winer had already complained), it seems reasonable to believe that this was a person with an anti-Winer agenda.

In his comments, Udell went on to emphasize the transparency of Wikipedia, which in this case extended to the addition of a dispute template at the top of the article. He said the dispute was "inevitable" but praised Wikipedia's framework for its ability "to mediate the social construction of knowledge, advocate for neutrality, accommodate dispute, and offer a path to its negotiated resolution." Udell even gushed that Jimmy Wales deserved a Nobel Prize for it.

Blogger Robert Cox noted that this last comment was made "without any apparent sense of hyperbole", although he observed that Udell did not specify which particular Nobel Prize. Adding his own evaluation of the situation, Cox concluded, "seems to me Dave has identified the Achilles Heel in Wikipedia."

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