Collaborations with universities and a professional society
An article in The Washington Post ("Wikipedia goes to class") reviewed the success of the Wikimedia Foundation's Public Policy Initiative, with a focus on participating universities from the region: Virginia Tech, Georgetown University and James Madison University. The article said that "Many students involved in the project have received humbling lessons about open-source writing as their work was revised, attacked or deleted by anonymous critics with unknown credentials", but indicated that this had had a positive impact on quality, quoting Rochelle Davis, one of the participating professors from Georgetown University: "Collectively, they were the best papers I’ve ever read at Georgetown". The Washington Post noted the Foundation's goal "to train at least 10,000 professors and students by 2013". The article's author also designed an online quiz inviting the reader to "test your Wikipedia knowledge" on the Washington Post's website.
The Wikimedia Foundation's blog featured an entry last week about the work of Campus Ambassadors at Montana State University.
Students take Wikipedia editing "more seriously" than class assignments
In related news, Brenna Gray (who appears to edit as User:Brenna.gray) of the Department of English at Douglas College has been using Wikipedia in the classroom and summarized her experiences at the 2011 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences (press release). She found that students produce better quality work when they are writing for Wikipedia than if writing their assignment for the teacher alone; in particular, they become much more worried about the factual accuracy of their work. The students in question were first-year English students instructed to write biographies on Canadian writers.
Two promotional videos featuring Jimmy Wales advocating the idea were published last week on Vimeo and YouTube (they do not appear to have been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, but are licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0). The online petition surpassed 10,000 signatures on May 30; it will close on January 15, 2012.
In unrelated news, Florence Devouard (User:Anthere, former Wikimedia chair) is currently participating in an expert meeting on languages at UNESCO, in her capacity as Wikimedia advisory board member.
Xkcd features Wikipedia
The May 25 episode of the webcomic xkcd described Wikipedia as an "Extended Mind": "When Wikipedia has a server outage, my apparent IQ drops by about 30 points" (on the previous day, Wikimedia wikis had undergone a scheduled downtime, see this week's "Technology Report"). The detailed drawing of the standard "Wikipedia has a problem" error message drew scrutiny on the Wikitech-l mailing list, where developer Domas Mituzas observed that the included server IP address (10.0.0.242) could not have actually appeared since it was that of an internal DNS server. Mituzas later quoted an explanation from xkcd creator Randall Munroe: "I drew it based on an older error message where the IP was 10.0.0.243. I changed it to 242 (a) because I try not to get too specific with those things, and didn't want people poking the actual machine at .243 (if it was still there) -- I actually considered putting .276 and seeing how many poeple noticed, but figured they'd just think I made a dumb mistake. and (b) as part of this ancient inside joke involving the number 242 ... ".
The tooltip comment to the comic rekindled interest in the observation that for most articles, if one clicks on the first wikilink in the article and keeps repeating the process, one will eventually pass by the entry about philosophy. (This had been described on Wikipedia since at least 2008, see Wikipedia:Get to Philosophy.) For example, Thenextweb.com invited its readers to "Try This Crazy Wikipedia Trick". On May 25, page view numbers for philosophypeaked at around 40 times their previous daily average. One xkcd reader programmed a tool displaying the chain for any given start article.
Jimmy Wales attends eG8 summit
Jimmy Wales was one of the representatives from the global Internet industry who met with government leaders at the E-G8 Forum in Paris last week, to discuss the Internet in the context of global public policy. Much of the discussions at the event concerned stricter regulation of the Internet by governments (an approach championed by the host, French president Nicolas Sarkozy). In particular, the recent UK superinjunctions against the publication of allegations about the private life of some celebrities were debated in Paris, where Jimmy Wales added to his previous criticism (Signpost coverage), going so far as to compare it to the Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China: "I do view it to being similar to the Chinese situation where they also cover up misdeeds of high ranking people" (BBC), and warned that the US would not weaken its strong free speech protections to compromise with other countries.
In April, Wales had asked readers of his blog "What should I put on the agenda at the upcoming e-G8?". The Guardianreported a remark by Wales about the impact of the Internet on languages in the developing world, and more specifically that of Wikipedia, citing the example of the Swahili Wikipedia which is the first ever encyclopedia in that language. In response to "criticism that Wikipedia is a permanent record of some information that people might prefer not to have on a public forum", Wales said: "They say an elephant never forgets; Wikipedia is a very big elephant." A somewhat gossipy article on CNBC mentioned Wales' commitment to running Wikipedia as a nonprofit, and described him having a "heart-warming reunion" with Tom Glocer, CEO of Thomson Reuters.
US ISP has to release identity of anonymous editors in libel case
As reported earlier ("Company sues IP editors for defamation"), fashion company Façonnable last month filed a John Doe lawsuit against anonymous (IP) editors who inserted what it says are false claims alleging ties of the company with the Lebanese Hezbollah organization into the Wikipedia article about Façonnable. The lawsuit was brought after the users' Internet provider, Skybeam Inc, had rejected the request to provide their names to Façonnable, stating that this would need "a summons delivered by a local law enforcement agency".
According to the blog E-Commerce Law ("Identity of Anonymous Wikipedia Editors Not Protected by First Amendment"), the District Court for the District of Colorado has now rejected a motion by Skybeam to quash the subpoena that had been subsequently obtained by Façonnable. The charges brought by the company against the IP editors, as summarized by E-Commerce Law, allege they "violated the Lanham Act and committed trade libel and commercial disparaging by falsely posting that plaintiff is a support of Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamist militia and political party which has been designated as a terrorist organization", and the court's justification for not applying the "heightened standard" used by other US courts for such discovery of the identity of online speakers was that in this case "the burden placed on the anonymous speaker's exercise of free speech was content neutral as the subject subpoena was not 'designed to suppress the express of unpopular views,' but instead to allow an allegedly injured victim to seek relief against anonymous Internet posters for actionable speech."
On Foundation-l, the Wikimedia Foundation's former legal counsel Mike Godwinilluminated the legal situation further by describing "the status of anonymity under U.S. constitutional law" according to the landmark case Lovell v. City of Griffin, which "basically says you have the right to attempt to engage in anonymous public speech, and you don't have an obligation yourself to disclose who you are simply in order to speak. At the same time, Lovell does *not* say you have a constitutional guarantee to *succeed* in being anonymous. In effect, that means that telcos and ISPs can be compelled to provide whatever information they have on you, the anonymous speaker, and the government may be able to use other investigatory techniques to figure out who the anonymous speaker is anyway."
The articles about Façonnable and its parent company M1 Group had been speedily deleted some weeks after the earlier news reports about the lawsuit appeared.
Strauss-Kahn coverage in French- and English-language Wikipedias: The French magazine Télérama wrote an article about the different ways the French- and English-language Wikipedias covered the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. English-language editor User:Tvoz and several French-language editors were interviewed and quoted in the article.
Podcasters examine their Wikipedia articles: Marc Maron, Adam Carolla, and Alison Rosen discussed Wikipedia in a live episode of Carolla's (record-setting) podcast, quickly covering an incorrect entry on Maron's article and the ongoing meme of Carolla's page erroneously claiming he has Crohn's disease. They then focused on Alison Rosen's lack of notability. Rosen explained how she understood and viewed the AFD process. (Ca. 10 minutes of discussion in this episode, about 50 minutes in.) Similarly, Chris Hardwick used a recent podcast to step through his Wikipedia entry, confirming and denying statements, which User:Tedderused for the article.
Wikipedia in Greece: On the University of Amsterdam's "Masters of Media" group blog, graduate student Ilektra Pavlaki related her experience in following a campaign to participate in the Greek-language Wikipedia, launched late last year, and supported by the Greek Ministry of Education which declared 2011 to be the "Year of Digital Encyclopedia". Posting in two parts ("A 'lazy' Wikipedia. An active community. An interesting story", "The lessons that 'teaching' taught me"), she described her encounter with Greek Wikipedians, and how she held two workshops about Wikipedia for Greek school students ("64 students in total, 34 from the second class of lyceum and 30 from the third class of high school"). Although almost everyone seemed to be familiar with Wikipedia, only 6 of the 64 were able to answer the question "who writes Wikipedia?" correctly, and most had never noticed the "edit" button while using Wikipedia.
Quora and Wikipedia: In an interview for TechCrunch, Charlie Cheever, one of the founders of the Internet question-and-answer site Quora, was asked by Andrew Keen (well-known as a Wikipedia critic) to explain "the difference between Quora and Wikipedia" (a question that has already been explored by other commenters, see Signpost coverage from March 7, February 14). Cheever argued that what distinguished Quora from Wikipedia and "most other sites" was that it published "a lot of primary source knowledge ... a lot of times, people who are like the authorities or experts will come write sort of a definitive answer on Quora that just wasn't there before". Asked by Keen on how to decide whether a Quora poster was an expert or not, Cheever replied that "I think the answer to that is basically like crowd sourcing, for the most part." The fact that Quora is a for-profit company was noted as a further significant difference to Wikipedia.
Malayalam short film about Wikipedia: A short film on Wikipedia (in Malayalam, with English subtitles) has been published on YouTube. The plot centers around an Indian Internet user who discovers Wikipedia, uses it successfully for competing in a dial-in TV quiz and for writing newspaper articles, but in the end has to discover to his horror that Wikipedia has discontinued its free service, after he has already sold off his books.