Sue Gardner: "I want more women, more older people, more people from Africa!"
The Globe and Mail recently interviewedSue Gardner, the Foundation's executive director, in the Wikimedia office. In the piece, Wikipedians do it for love. Really. Gardner is described as "both old-fashioned and radical, a mega-voltage do-gooder, rebellious in her idealism and provocative in her optimism." Gardner says she "grew up in a public service family, we wanted to make the world a better place, and we were a good Canadian earnest family. I wanted to make good quality information available to people so they could make good decisions about their lives. At the time, the way to do that was through traditional journalistic methods.”
The report says that "Wikipedia, according to Ms. Gardner, is altruistic, its mission (one of “radical openness, radical freedom and radical convergence”) being to serve up objective information, aggregated and synthesized by volunteers in a non-commercial, credentials-neutral environment: You’re as likely to read a text written by a high-school student as one by a PhD."
"I love that at any time, when I'm asleep in California, there’s a Wikipedian somewhere fixing a typo or polishing an article", Gardner said. "Wikipedia is like the National Parks Service. The Internet is a vast space and it will only continue to grow, but in the vastness you still need space for parks or public libraries.... Wikipedians do it for love, for mission-type reasons. They don't want to be paid. They want to be praised." She described a stereotypical editor as someone who "always felt a little bit alone. They're the ones who always carry around knapsacks full of reference books. They were the ones picked last for teams and were the smartest kids in the class. Those are our people!"
Gardner concluded by saying that to achieve the vision of Wikipedia as "the sum of all the world's knowledge ... I want more women, more older people, more people from Africa!" She said that “we Wikipedians are good talkers! We love to chat. And proselytize,... We just care. A lot!"
Sue Gardner also recently started her own blog. The first two posts describe her thoughts about the Foundation's new revenue strategy (focusing on small donations instead of major donors and large grants), and about the Foundation as a workplace and the characteristics she is looking for in new hires.
Larry Sanger: "They've got a zillion rules—that's part of the problem"
Larry Sanger, who co-founded Wikipedia with Jimmy Wales, also gave an interview recently, to Slate's Kathryn Schulz. When asked how he became interested in encyclopedias, he replied "it was pure accident. I was circulating an idea for a Web site around different Internet acquaintances and one of them happened to be Jimmy Wales. He responded by saying, 'Well, I'm trying to get this encyclopedia project going; would you be interested in coming to work on it?'.... I found that it was a fascinating problem to organize people online to create encyclopedias." Asked whether he had looked at historical precedents while doing so, Sanger said:
When I was first starting Nupedia and Wikipedia, everything was moving so fast that I didn't have time to go back and read Diderot and D'Alembert and all that, which would have been useful. I did read them later. I can't remember when I read The Professor and the Madman, but that made a big impression [on] me.... It actually resonated very much with the experience I had trying to organize Wikipedia. It's very interesting to me that here you have the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, and one of his most prolific contributors was in an insane asylum. A lot of the most prolific Wikipedians, or at least many of them, also seem to have a screw loose. But that doesn't mean their work is useless.
Sanger said there are "a lot of theories" on why people edit Wikipedia. "But I think the most important thing to say is that Wikipedia has very few practical constraints about people behaving according to normal rules of politeness and fair dealing. They've got a zillion rules, of course—that's part of the problem—but there is no easy way to rein in the bad actors."
Asked why he left Wikipedia, Sanger also reiterated his often-stated criticism that Wikipedia is hostile to experts. He continued: "I don't like the word 'control', because I myself am pretty libertarian in my outlook on these things, quite frankly. It makes me nervous to think of handing the keys over to the experts. But one thing that Wikipedia could do that would not spoil the system—except in the sense that it would cause a huge ruckus among Wikipedians—is simply create a program in which articles are reviewed or rated by experts".
Sanger criticized Wikipedia's quality, too: "Wikipedia frequently gets things wrong—or, more often, states things in a misleading or biased way." However, Sanger also acknowledged that "When it comes to just basic facts—statistics about geography or demographics, things like that—then as far I can tell, and as far as I've ever heard, those are fairly accurate. They are probably not much less reliable than any traditionally fact-checked source."
The interview touched on Citizendium (described by Slate as "a rival online encyclopedia"), where Sanger had tried to avoid what he sees as Wikipedia's errors, and whose "Approved articles" constitute such an expert review program. Asked why his predictions of "explosive growth" had not come true for Citizendium, Sanger said:
If there's one bottleneck that has made it more difficult for us to grow than Wikipedia, it's the sign-up bottleneck. One of the things that allowed Wikipedia to grow explosively and with as little friction as possible is that it was not necessary to even create an account in order to participate. On Citizendium, you have to sign up for an account and get yourself approved with an e-mail address, so that adds some friction ...
(Citizendium's sign-up process requires users to state their real name and to provide evidence to verify it; a free email address alone is insufficient.)
Wikipedia to become available as a "beautiful and efficient" iPad magazine and on third-world TV sets
CNet last week previewed "Discover", an upcoming software application for the AppleiPad (submitted to the App store on July 27), which renders Wikipedia as a magazine; users turn the pages by swiping their finger across the screen. An executive of Cooliris, the company behind the app, said "this new application takes structured data—in this case Wikipedia, as the starting point. We've then created a templatized starting page and structured data from Wikipedia to let users navigate the depths of Wikipedia in a beautiful and efficient way". The app generates magazin-covers using images from the article. It launches by displaying the Today's featured article and Picture of the day, as explained in a promotional video. The video ends with the tagline "Discover by Cooliris. The elegant and effortless way to enjoy Wikipedia".
The website padgadget.com described Wikipedia as "a tremendous tool for learning and searching for information. But, one of the biggest challenges is the breadth and depth of information provided by Wikipedia, which can sometimes make it difficult for all of us to navigate its content." The report goes on to say that the app "solves" this problem. "The elegant magazine style interface provides you with a simplified 'flow' navigation, glossy photos and the ability to dive more deeply into a new concept or information using smart search on Wikipedia."
As observed by Kurier (the Signpost's German sister publication), "edit" links, site notices and links to donate to the Wikimedia Foundation appear to be missing, as do copyright notices. Instead, according to CNet, advertisements by Cooliris will be displayed (the app will be cost-free for users). According to Jay Walsh, Wikimedia's Head of Communications, the Foundation appears to "have had no conversations with Cooliris about this app, nor about any topic."
Somehow on the other end of the spectrum of mobile Wikipedia reading devices, Wired last week reported on a new device, projected to cost only $20, that will allow every Wikipedia article to be read without an Internet connection. Called the Humane Reader, the gadget is aimed at students in developing countries, and uses very basic technology to reduce costs: It is powered by two 8-bit microcontrollers and connects to a TV set instead of using a dedicated display. The developer, computer consultant Braddock Gaskill, told Wired that "It’s meant to be an absolute basic system that can deliver Wikipedia and e-books for educational and non-profit use." He went on to say that "once you put these in the hands of the students, they can, not just learn from it, but also hack it ... The combination of a computing platform and a encyclopedia opens up the world to them."
The recent paper described the results of a comparison of the English Wikipedia's article on osteosarcoma, a kind of bone cancer, (in its version as of 3 April 2009) with "the patient version and the health professional version of the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) website as 'official' reference websites". Each of the three texts was graded according to 20 questions, on a 0–3 scale. Three examples where Wikipedia scored zero were "Should radiotherapy normally be applied?", "Name three histological subtypes", "Do you find web-links to study centers (EURAMOS)?". The answers "were discussed with a member of the German board for guidelines in musculoskeletal tumor surgery (AL) and, furthermore, verified with authoritative resources and international guidelines." Wikipedia received 33 of 60 possible points, the NCI's patient version 40 points, and its professional version 50 points. However, only the difference between Wikipedia and the professional version was found to be statistically significant. As an example of Wikipedia's shortcomings, the authors specified that "important information on clinical studies or possible study centers (European and American Osteosarcoma Study Group (EURAMOS)) was missing." On the other hand, they noted that:
all three reviewers preferred Wikipedia when asked for the ease of use to find patient-related information and an explanation of the page’s oversight.
Despite the earlier remark about statistical significance, the paper concluded that:
the quality of osteosarcoma-related information found in the English Wikipedia is good but inferior to the patient information provided by the NCI.... [N]on-peer-reviewed commonly used websites offering health information, such as Wikipedia, should include links to more definitive sources such as those maintained by the NCI and professional international organizations on healthcare treatments. Furthermore, frequent checks should make sure such external links are to the highest quality and to the best-maintained aggregate sites on a given healthcare topic.
Both the conclusion about information quality and the remark about ease of use are somewhat different from the results of another recent study that had also compared cancer information on Wikipedia with that provided online by the NCI, based on a slightly larger sample size – ten different cancer types (see Signpost coverage: Wikipedia's cancer coverage is reliable and thorough, but not very readable).
Book about adventure games is based on Wikipedia, enriched with interviews
In an article last week (Wikipedia tapped for history of adventure games), GamerCrave reported that author Philipp Lenssen has "cobbled together a 500-page book on the history of graphic adventure games ... and thanks to the unpaid volunteer editors at Wikipedia, you can rest assured that the information within is for the most part pretty close to being accurate. Don’t worry, Lenssen’s not totally ripping off the free labor. First he went through all the text, editing portions that could use more book-like language."
But for readers who think Lenssen is making a quick buck, the website goes on to report that he is "giving 50 percent of the revenues to the Wikimedia foundation, and making a free, editable version available for free download, in accordance with Wikipedia’s rules." On Amazon, the book is currently listed for $29, with "Authors of Wikipedia" named as the author. Lenssen himself explains that his original idea had been to "merely compile an encyclopedia from Wikipedia, a book for perhaps a small but dedicated group of fans", but then the project took a life of of its own:
"What I did was edit the Wikipedia articles through heavy or light rewriting, depending on what I figured the article would need to look good in book form. I then went to find additional information from other sources where I felt having more could be fun, and I added screenshots. And then I conducted interviews with many people who were involved in producing the classic graphic adventures."
On Tuesday, thegeorgetowndish.com, a website focusing on the Georgetown neighbourhood in Washington, D.C., noted the existence of the article Georgetown Cupcake, about a small coffee shop that is currently featured in the reality TV series DC Cupcakes. The article had been started two days earlier by Aude (a previous Signpost writer). The Dish's article began: "I guess this is how you tell you've arrived—as of this week, Georgetown Cupcake, having already nabbed its own TV spot on TLC, has its own Wikipedia page."
The July 29 edition of the New York Times' Tech Talk podcast (MP3) featured a 7 minute interview with Noam Cohen, a NYT editor who had been present at the recent Wikimania conference in Gdansk, Poland. Cohen described Wikipedia's current situation as "being a victim of your own success" (flagging enthusiasm by contributors although "the audience keeps going up because people more and more recognize it for being reliable"), noted that the Foundation "looks very different than the Wikipedian regular contributors", in that the latter were "overwhelmingly male", younger and "computer techie types", and mentioned the Foundation's efforts to increase diversity, the use of Google's Translation Toolkit, the collaboration with the British Museum, and (briefly) flagged revisions.