In the news
Fundraiser coverage and parodies continue
See also The Signpost's full background report on the annual fundraiser: "November 15 launch, emphasis on banner optimization and community involvement"
The annual Wikimedia fundraiser reached slightly more than $5.5 million in donations to the Foundation on November 28, according to the official Fundraiser Statistics page – about a third of the $16 million target.
In the second week after the fundraiser's official launch on November 15, the graphic banners featuring Jimmy Wales (which had been proved to be most effective in testing) were still used in most of the ads, and continued to provoke amused and annoyed reactions in news and social media (cf. last week's "In the news"). (The banners can be removed temporarily by clicking the "X" on the top right corner, and permanently, for logged-in users, via a gadget in the preferences.)
Slate ("His Wikiness requests your money") asked: "Wales may be a founding father, but does he really deserve the Caribbean-island-dictator treatment? Apparently, his face has been scientifically proven to be an appealing fundraising icon, albeit against somewhat unimpressive competition." Pointing to other proposed banners featuring Wikipedia volunteers, Slate added that "now Wales has some more formidable competition from his own subjects."
The "Marketplace" radio program on American Public Media covered the fundraiser on November 25 ("The unpaid army behind Wikipedia"), commenting that it is "expected to last two months. Think about that the next time you're sore about a two week public radio drive!", and featuring a short interview with Joseph Reagle, author of the recent book "Good Faith Collaboration" (see Signpost review), on historical predecessors of Wikipedia, and issues such as notability and consensus decisions on Wikipedia.
In the introduction to another, longer interview with Reagle (see below), Harvard University's Berkman Center observed that
||The Wikimedia Foundation ... took a dramatic approach to their annual fundraising campaign. Just head over to any article on Wikipedia and you'll see a banner ad featuring the face of Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, and an appeal for funds. The banner ads have taken many Wikipedia users by surprise. Wales has never really been a shy spokesperson by any means, but 99% of the visitors to Wikipedia were probably like "Who the heck is this guy popping up on my screen, and why does he want my money?" It turns out that the appeal for funds was actually the result of a collaborative process of volunteers ...
A posting on the blog of the "Critical Point of View" Wikipedia research initiative (see also this week's interview) asked "why they need so much cash", rather inaccurately claiming that "only a slim 23 [employees] are actually on [Wikipedia's] books" and that "travel expenses make up a large part of the operating expenses".
Numerous parodies of the banners continued to appear. Several media outlets reported a spoof of "the whole unintentionally hilarious Wikipedia donation thing" (TechCrunch) on 4chan by that site's founder, m00t (Christopher Poole), linking to a picture of a kitten instead of an appeal (as reported by Erictric). A Westword blogger applauded the "trolling": "if there ever was a self-serious banner that needed spoofing, it was Wales's". "Spreeblick" (one of the most widely read German blogs) posted a "personal appeal from Spreeblick founder Johnny Haeusler", a sentence-by-sentence parody of the German translation of Jimmy Wales' appeal, complete with Haeusler photoshopped into one of the Wikimedia banners. A dance/rap version of Wales' appeal has appeared on YouTube, with the artist questioning the need for donations: "Just get AdSense, Jimmy, you know? Like the rest of the Internet!" And every page on Uncyclopedia is currently displaying one of several parody banners featuring Jimmy Wales. The "Techerator" blog explained that Wikipedia "needs a decent amount of cash to stay free", and called the appeal "a very genuine and valid call to action for donations", but commented that "Jimmy Wales really offered himself up for the internet’s endless humor with this latest marketing move", offering a few more photoshopped images and sarcastic tweets as examples.
AOL's "Urlesque" blog juxtaposed one of the banners with the article staring contest, and asked "is Jimmy Wales staring at you just creepy, or does it actually make people want to give more money to Wikipedia? Turns out the Staring Jimmy ads work", linking the Foundation's banner testing results.
As reported in the last "In the news", an unofficial browser extension for Google Chrome (available here) displays a Wikipedia fundraising banner featuring Jimmy Wales on every webpage accessed. It received further media coverage last week, with PC World India suggesting it might be added to public computers, like a college lab PC.
Another Google Chrome extension took a converse approach, promising to replace Jimmy Wales' photo with that of a kitten on each Wikipedia page.
A blogger from the Colorado Springs Independent defended the banners against the mockery: "Make fun of Jimmy Wales' ubiquitous puss all you want ... but that doesn't diminish the effectiveness of the Wikipedia co-founder's ever-so-slightly narcissistic fundraising campaign."
Report on climate change for the U.S. Congress plagiarised Wikipedia and other sources
An academic investigation has found that some uncredited passages in an influential report for the U.S. Congress that questioned the validity of climate change research appear to have been plagiarised from Wikipedia (including the articles social network and Dansgaard-Oeschger event) and textbooks. The Wegman report had been commissioned in 2006 by Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield, Republican members of the US House of Representatives energy and commerce committee, and was written by statisticians Edward Wegman, David Scott and Yasmin Said of George Mason University. It was found to have passages so similar to work by Professor Raymond S. Bradley, a climate scientist, and to entries on Wikipedia, that it constitutes plagiarism. USA Today, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Salon
At least in one case, the Wikipedia plagiarism allegations had already been made in April on the Deep Climate blog, which called Wikipedia "the favourite source of scholars in a hurry", and has provided a detailed side-by-side comparison of a passage in the Wegman report with the Wikipedia article Social network, in its 12:21, 2 January 2006 version. (The report had examined the social network of authors that had collaborated with one particular climate scientist, alleging the possibility of an old boy network.) Deep Climate noted that while Wegman et al. appeared to have changed a few words from the Wikipedia original, "the changes don't even make sense". The plagiarism appears to have extended to a subsequent paper by Said and others, where Deep Climate sarcastically described a passage matching the Wikipedia article as a "return to the safe ground of Wikipedia" after criticizing the preceding paragraph for "rampant confusion" and bad English.
In USA Today, Wegman, who is currently under investigation from George Mason University, defended himself against the allegations, stating that the report was never "intended to take intellectual credit for any aspect of paleoclimate reconstruction science or for any original research aspect of social network analysis", but that the authors had felt "some pressure" from the House committee to complete the report "faster than we might like".
- Exley and Reagle interviewed: On the podcast of Harvard University's Berkman Center, David Weinberger interviewed the Wikimedia Foundation's Chief Community Officer Zack Exley and Joseph Reagle, author of the recent book "Good Faith Collaboration - The Culture of Wikipedia" (Signpost review). Exley explained his role at the Foundation, insisting it was not that of a usual "community organizer" (which would imply a hierarchy between organizer and "organizees" and ignore the largely self-organizing nature of Wikipedia), but rather "to create an environment where community members can work full-time in a concerted way, in a way they are not able to as volunteers, on solving and researching community problems."
Reagle was asked various questions related to his book and slides from a recent talk at Berkman, such as if he thought that Diderot might approve of Wikipedia, were he alive today. Talking about Wikipedians' concerns about defamatory material in BLPs, Reagle observed that today the question was not so much "about the quality of Wikipedia - because I think it has improved, - but the significance of Wikipedia". Weinberger added: "You show any living person any biography written in any medium - newspaper story about them or whatever: That person will feel embarrassed and ashamed, and denounce it because they got it wrong, and they didn't mention this, or they spent too much time on that, or they maybe look fat ... There is no possibility of pleasing people with any biography short of their obituary." On his blog, Reagle highlighted that part of the conversation, and noted the apparent absence of comparative studies of biographies of living people.
- Houellebecq copyleft controversy: The controversy about passages in French writer Michel Houellebecq's new novel La Carte et le territoire that were adapted from three Wikipedia articles (Signpost coverage: Houellebecq defends himself against charges of Wikipedia plagiarism) was reignited earlier this month. Flammarion (the book's publisher) announced it was "undertaking legal steps" against lawyer and blogger Florent Gallaire, who has linked to an unauthorized PDF version of the book on RapidShare, arguing in a legal analysis that because of the incorporation of the CC-BY-SA-licensed text from Wikipedia, it was legal to make the entire work available under the same license, by virtue of its copyleft clause (as reported by Rue89.com and Numerama). A headline on the website of RTL exclaimed "The latest Houellebecq pirated because of Wikipedia!". Quoted by Rue89, Adrienne Alix, the president of the French Wikimedia chapter, commented that Houellebecq's use of Wikipedia articles did not present a clear legal issue (pointing to the brevity of the used passages, and questioning their originality), and doubting the conclusion that it would make the entire book pass into a Creative Commons license.
- Danese Cooper speaks: Last month, the Wikimedia Foundation's Chief Technology Officer Danese Cooper was a speaker at the Long Now Foundation's "Long Conversation" event, talking with Stuart Candy and Peter Schwartz about Wikipedia and other topics. Video  and audio  recordings have recently been published.
- Internet carrier lawsuit: Craigslist and Wikipedia are both being sued by Russell Dan Smith of South Carolina for "openly promot[ing] child prostitution and the distribution of child pornography" by allowing it to be viewable on their sites within his home state. Smith is demanding $500 million from each; should he win, half the proceeds would go to Smith and half to the state of South Carolina. Smith says that he discovered such things on both sites unintentionally while searching the defendant sites for "valid non-pornographic purposes". (Tech Dirt)
- The Onion on page view stats: In an article titled "'L.A. Law' Wikipedia page viewed 874 times today", US satire website The Onion undertook a very detailed analysis of the readership for the L.A. Law article.
- Public policy initiative: ReadWriteWeb reported on the Wikimedia Foundation's Public Policy Initiative, which has recruited American universities including George Washington University, UC Berkeley, and Harvard, to offer courses that involve students in the process of improving Wikipedia articles on public policy. It cited Food Quality Protection Act as one active example (see diff) out of the 150+ articles actively being worked on by students in 14 courses at these universities. WMF hopes the number of courses will double for the spring semester.
- WP pages in video form: Qwiki, a Californian start-up company, hopes to revolutionise the web experience by creating "information you can watch". The experience is the result of machine-generated one-minute videos derived from Wikipedia pages as well as other sources. (Shiny Shiny, Business Insider, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Burmese Wikipedia: Responding to calls from WMF to boost the number of articles on the Burmese Wikipedia, the Myanmar Computer Professionals Association asked Burmese people to contribute 15 minutes to creating articles in that language, with the target of achieving 15,000 articles by next July. According to news reports, Wikipedia's insistence on using Unicode (as opposed to the preference of Myanmar internet users for the non-Unicode font Zawgyi) may be just one reason for the low participation rate among the 20 million Burmese; other reasons cited were a dislike of Wikipedia's open participation model and the lack of financial incentives to contribute. (Myanmar Times)
- Brand advice: Fast Company last week asked Jimbo Wales for insights on managing brands online ("Wikipedia Founder's Advice to Brands: 'Make Stuff That Doesn't Suck'"), comparing him to Apple CEO Steve Jobs for having "the same lack of tolerance for corporate blather. 'At Wikipedia, the usability group has done focus studies,' Wales says. 'Most of what they came up with, I thought, was blindingly obvious.'" In what the magazine described as a "knock at one of Wikipedia's biggest critics", Wales said: "When I go to speak at a university or high school, it's completely insane how excited the kids are about Wikipedia. I remember when I was in school, if they told us that the editor-in-chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica was coming, we would've probably just killed ourselves."