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Gardner and Sanger on why people edit Wikipedia, Fancy and frugal reading devices, Medical article assessed

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By Wackywace, Tarheel95, extransit and Tilman Bayer

Sue Gardner: "I want more women, more older people, more people from Africa!"

Sue Gardner (at Wikimania 2010)

The Globe and Mail recently interviewed Sue 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

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:

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:

(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.)

See also last week's Signpost coverage about the ongoing efforts to give Citizendium a sustainable structure before Sanger's long-announced stepping down as editor-in-chief: Citizendium still in transition after one year.

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 Apple iPad (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 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."

Apps for viewing Wikipedia have long been popular on the iPhone, too. Several are available, apart from the free official app provided by the Wikimedia Foundation (see Signpost coverage about Wikipedia on iOS devices: May 2010, March 2010, October 2009, January 2009, December 2008, and February 2008). In March this year, the "Articles for iPhone" app (see Signpost coverage) sold more than 10,000 copies "within a short week", corresponding to more than $30,000 in revenue. It is also available for the iPad, and last week its developer asked users whether they would like it to have the capability to edit and compare revisions on the iPad.

In related news, Amazon recently released a new version of its Kindle app, updated for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, which enriched its ebook reading interface with the option to look up words in Wikipedia and Google, using an external browser (Wired: Kindle for iOS Brings iPad Search, Dictionary, Fast-Switching).

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."

Medical article evaluated

Illustration from osteosarcoma, the assessed article

A "viewpoint paper" (abstract) published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) asks: "Wikipedia and osteosarcoma: a trustworthy patients' information?" The two-page article by six authors from the Medical University of Graz, Austria is a response to a paper published last year in the same journal, Seeking Health Information Online: Does Wikipedia Matter? (coauthored by Wikipedian TimVickers), which had found that "[b]ased on its search engine ranking and page view statistics, the English Wikipedia is a prominent source of online health information".

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."


Considering the folks at the Georgetown Cupcake just got their own Wikipedia page, they don't look excited.
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  • I just want to say that I've heard the "consensus vs. credentials" argument before, and from Sanger. I think that criticism is purely wrongheaded. It is impossible to pay attention to credentials without making room for bias to creep in. If we were to write Economics from a credential-based system (which Citizendium either has done or will do), we might get some Keynsian vs Monetarism disputes. The non-experts would be ignored, and the experts would use WP as a battleground, whichever side having more actual editors winning. You'd end up with a totally biased article. I'd also like to note that evidently Sanger hasn't (or won't) read Citizendium's article on Homeopathy. In that case, instead of a battleground, there were no experts to represent the "homeopathy is crap" opinion, so the article noticeably lacks it (or has it squeezed into the bottom section; here's a quote: "The “balance of evidence” as to whether homeopathy has any effects other than placebo effects depends on who is balancing the evidence."). Now read our article on homeopathy (I hope we can all agree that homeopathy is crap, right? Our article says "Homeopathy's efficacy beyond the placebo effect is unsupported by the collective weight of scientific and clinical evidence." and has ~8 citations after that sentence). Results speak for themselves. (I won't even bother with the perennial "how many (approved) articles do they have now?" because we've all heard it before)
End of rant. Has anyone seen [1]? --NYKevin @186, i.e. 03:27, 3 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
That'll be in next week's issue. WackyWace converse | contribs 07:27, 3 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
See also Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2010-03-22/In_the_news#Role_of_experts_on_Wikipedia_and_Citizendium_examined and the talk page there, the quite harsh criticism of Citizendium at RationalWiki, or, if I may, [2] (and the links there). Regards, HaeB (talk) 07:42, 3 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  • Far too many interviews with Singer on Wikipedia can be summarized in a simple series of questions-&-answers: (1) Are there problems with how Wikipedia works? [yes] (2) Does Singer think Citizendium is a better model, despite indications to the contrary? [yes] (3) Has Singer said anything new? [not in this interview] (I am not criticizing the authors of this article, just pointing out that Singer really hasn't said anything new or thoughtful about Wikipedia in a long time.) -- llywrch (talk) 22:31, 3 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
You have a point in (1) and (2), but if you look at the version history, you will see that I rewrote the story to cut out some of that repetitive stuff. The Slate interviewer asked some good questions and in reply Sanger did say some interesting things which to my knowledge he hasn't said before:
  • His admission that he didn't have a special interest in encyclopedias before being hired for Nupedia (it has sometimes been implied that the topic of his Ph.D. thesis sort of predisposed him to be an encyclopedist), and that having had more knowledge about the history of encyclopedias would have been useful in the early years of WP and Nupedia. Also, the comment about Winchester's book
  • Acknowledging that "basic facts" on Wikipedia are "fairly accurate" (I seem to recall other comments where he qualified his WP criticism in that respect, but not this clearly)
  • Offering a clear explanation for CZ's lack of growth
Regards, HaeB (talk) 16:59, 5 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  • I really enjoyed the Gardner interview when I read it earlier this week. Her characterization of Wikipedia content-writers as (and I am paraphrasing) a nerd-army of young males with project-specific writing missions rang true — bearing in mind that the "young" part doesn't necessarily apply to me, ha ha. The desire to expand the circle of content-writers geographically, by age, and by gender seems well-intentioned, appropriate, and desirable. Her analysis gave me a lot of hope.
As for Sanger, his song remains the same. He blithely ignores the fact that the expert-reviewed-and-approved model has been a huge failure twice now, at Nupedia and at Citizendium. Wikipedia has structural issues, to be sure, but it is based upon a living, breathing, growing, functioning model that works. I think it would be good for the world if Sanger would fold his tent and to bring the debate back in-house. Somehow he has confused WP with Lord of the Flies though, so that doesn't seem terribly likely at this juncture. Still, Sanger has something to say and it would be good if he was saying it in person here rather that running it through the media to our ears second hand.
Nice job on the Signpost one and all. Carrite (talk) 03:44, 4 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  • "They don't want to be paid. They want to be praised." I'm not sure that we really do want to be praised. Being receptive to praise from outsiders implies that we care about what they think, which in turn implies that we will be receptive to criticism ("I never use Wikipedia, it's such a waste of time"), which, over time, may make us question whether or not we want to continue editing. I don't want my editing to be affected by the moods of the largely ignorant masses. I would much prefer to just sit here under my rock and do my own thing. I suspect I am not alone in this perspective. --Cryptic C62 · Talk 14:40, 4 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
I think the praise in question is internal. I can't speak to whether newer editors are around for external impact reasons, but certainly every editor when I joined (including me) became a regular because they were a little obsessive-compulsive about their pet topic/activity, and the respect of other editors that you already respect is a powerful motivator. If the community's primary motivation was external popularity, the site would never have gotten off the ground. - BanyanTree 02:21, 6 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]


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