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Open access clash with copyright; rising reader satisfaction; the wiki-correlates of geopolitical instability; brief news

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By Skomorokh and Tom Morris

Open-access activists clash with proprietary journal establishment

Aaron Swartz (userpage), open-access activist charged this week with the illegal downloading of JSTOR-hosted content.
Greg Maxwell, who uploaded the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society papers in response to the prosecution of Swartz.

Aaron Swartz (User:AaronSw), an open-access activist, open-source developer, and 2006 candidate for the Wikimedia Foundation Board, is being criminally prosecuted for a variety of charges after he attempted to download a dump of all the PDFs on JSTOR, an academic paper repository containing archives from more than a thousand journals, mostly in the humanities. Swartz placed a laptop running a script, written specifically for downloading, inside a computer cabinet at MIT. After being caught attempting to take the computer out of the building at MIT, he was arrested and then charged in US Federal Court, although JSTOR have said they intend not to pursue civil litigation and have asked the US Attorney's Office to not pursue criminal charges against Swartz. He has pleaded not guilty and has been bailed on a $100,000 unsecured bond.

Swartz's indictment was widely reported in the international news media and the technology press, including the The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, PC World, and Wired News Threatlevel. Software engineer Kevin Webb gave a sympathetic take in a post on Reuters' MediaFile, describing how many academics frequently bend copyright law with regard to scholarly publishing, and suggesting that Swartz may have been intending to do data analysis on the JSTOR collection rather than distributing the files on the Internet—a theory supported by Swartz's past work trying to determine "Who Writes Wikipedia?"

Following Swartz's arrest, Greg Maxwell (User:Gmaxwell) released a 33 GB torrent of pre-1923 papers from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, held by JSTOR. The papers are out of copyright in the US, based on the decision in Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., but are of unknown legal status in the UK, where the Royal Society is based. Maxwell's document releases are in some ways similar to actions by Derrick Coetzee (User:Dcoetzee), who extracted images of public-domain paintings from a website and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons, resulting in legal threats by the National Portrait Gallery. Maxwell's actions were reported in a variety of news sources, including the MetroDesk blog, the technology website GigaOm and Gawker. The legal status of Maxwell's document releases and the differences between UK and US law are explored in a blog-post by Wikipedia administrator and Signpost contributor User:Ironholds, entitled "A Bridgeman too far". Further analysis and speculation about the prosecution has been published by Samuel Klein (User:Sj) on his blog. Existing Royal Society material is already being proofread on Wikisource as part of WikiProject Royal Society Journals.

The incident occurred in a week when the Wikimedia Foundation affirmed its commitment to joining forces with open science. Jay Walsh, the Head of Communications at the Foundation, told The Signpost:

Wikipedia tops the charts again

The second annual survey of the e-business sector by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (in conjunction with ForeSee Results) found, again, that Wikipedia has proven to be the "social media site" that American consumers find most satisfactory. Wikipedia improved its score by one point to 78 (on a scale of 1 to 100), beating such titans as YouTube (74 points) and Facebook (66). Credit for its success was attributed to its non-commercial nature. The social media sector overall performed relatively poorly, behind all but the airline, subscription television, and newspaper industries; Wikipedia was "the only social media site to beat the e-business (75.4) and national (75.6) averages for customer satisfaction". The website American consumers rated most highly was Google (83 points), closely followed by search competitor Bing (82) and (82). (See also last year's Signpost coverage: "High Wikipedia customer satisfaction explained by user interface stability and non-profit nature")

Drama imitates life in geopolitical stability stakes

A heat map showing the countries of greatest predicted instability according to the Index

In a new paper published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, researchers at Heidelberg University have proposed that the level of geopolitical instability of a nation-state is positively correlated with the frequency of disputes on Wikipedia about content related to the country. Drawing from methodologies used in biological network research, the researchers compiled a Wikipedia Dispute Index, which showed the parts of the world involved most intensively in on-wiki conflicts. The index was conceived as a less complex but more immediate and comprehensive supplement to existing widely used socio-economic indices, which have been criticized for producing results that are difficult to reproduce and to compare across different time-periods. According to the researchers, the Wikipedia Dispute Index "correlates with metrics of governance, political or economic stability about as well as they correlate with each other, and though faster and simpler, it is remarkably stable over time despite constant changes in the underlying disputes."

Compiling the index was hampered by insufficient data to reliably assess the majority of countries and regions, and by their uneven coverage in Wikipedia, but the researchers expect the Index to improve as the encyclopedia expands. The greatest frequencies of disputes were found in the Middle East, the countries making up the former state of Yugoslavia, and North Korea, while articles concerning Western European and North American countries attracted the least conflict. Disputes over events and individuals of historical or current interest that are sensitive to differences of interpretation among those of varying political persuasions were found to be the main contributors to the Index.

In brief

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For god's sake, Wikipedia is not a "social media site". It's an encyclopedia. Yes, we cover popular things, often very well, but at the very least very thoroughly. Yes, some people do use their talk pages as chat boards or "walls", although that's technically frowned upon. Yes, the WMF has shown a desire to make Wikipedia more like a social network by implementing or planning to implement such features as WikiLove and the MoodBar, even though WikiLove has stirred some resentment, and if the WMF bothered to properly ask Wikipedia about MoodBar, it would get even more opposition than Wikilove. But, as I just said above, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. The purpose of the talk pages is to facilitate collaboration and help run the project. As long as people keep lumping Wikipedia in with such nonsensical timesinks as Facebook and Twitter, Wikipedia will never be as trusted or respected as it deserves. Sven Manguard Wha? 04:19, 24 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]

For god's sake, Wikipedia is not a "social media site". It's an MMORPG :-) --Slashme (talk) 14:53, 26 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
On a mostly unrelated note, I echo Mat Honan's statement. I think that the Feedback tool, while spawned from the desire to get inside the heads of readers (a good idea), is implemented in a way that will produce little constructive feedback. A better idea would be to attach a comment box to the tool, and then have volunteer editors filter though the comments, filter out useless "8==D" style comments, sort the rest, and pass their findings onto the foundation. Insight on why a reader gives something 2 stars is more valuable than the simple knowledge that a reader clicked the two stars button. Sven Manguard Wha? 04:24, 24 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
There's a VP thread about MoodBar here, as noted there, it has nothing to do with "making Wikipedia more like a social network"; it's simply a tool for collecting microfeedback about annoyances, frustrations and other elements of the new user experience. As explained in the VP thread, this first deployment is a minimal test to examine the S/N ratio of the collected feedback. We should find out pretty quickly whether this approach generates useful data or not.
Similarly, with AFT, the feedback tool simply represents a first view of what a tool like this can be used for. You can see that we've been thinking about many possible different future directions for this tool on mw:Article feedback/Extended review, including extended comments and meta-moderation of those comments. I wouldn't discount the value of the data that it's currently collecting, and which is available for further digging into here, but I agree that free text comments are the logical next frontier for the tool.--Eloquence* 22:43, 25 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
The experience of Reddit has been that no amount of pleading will stop people from downvoting things they disagree with. One interesting idea is to give the user two votes, one for article quality and one to express approval/disapproval of the topic. A possible further refinement would be to discount votes on quality by voters who always mark articles they disagree with as low quality and always mark articles they agree with as high quality. Guy Macon (talk) 00:09, 26 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
The existence of multiple rating categories, instead of one, is partially designed to counter or detect rating bias. For example, you could look for raters who rate in extremes across categories, or specifically look for raters who rate articles both as 1 in "objectivity" (a rating category that is more likely to elicit approval/disapproval) and in "well-written" (a rating category that should be fairly independent of the rater's view on the topic).--Eloquence* 02:07, 26 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Of course it's a social media site. Anywhere people gather is social; Wikipedia has a society; and we are definitely in the media business. Powers T 20:16, 26 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Aaron Swartz

While I'm not criticizing this part of the story, as it's been widely echoed in the media, just as a comment it's not clear to me if it's actually true that "JSTOR have said they ... have asked the US Attorney's Office to not pursue criminal charges against Swartz". The JSTOR statement is very legalistic, and I've dealt with enough lawyers and PR flacks to be suspicious of their phrasing. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 23:06, 25 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]

What else could they mean? -- œ 12:04, 26 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
They could mean merely that they aren't ones who do the criminal prosecution (the government does), which is quite different from asking not to prosecute. For the Federal government to undertake such a prosecution against the expressed wishes of the main victim is possible, but it's odd enough to wonder about JSTOR's PR. Note their statement does not say "have asked the US Attorney's Office to not pursue criminal charges against Swartz". You might think it says that, but close inspection shows it does not in fact say that anywhere. Which is a good signal to wonder if one is being fed a PR line. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 12:54, 26 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I think Aaron Swartz is popular enough with the sort of person who edits Wikipedia that his biography page will be treated well. This does not provide any guidance for the general case, especially someone NOT popular with that sort of person. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 12:30, 27 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
To my mind, this comment is really illustrative of the problems that we continue to have dealing with the BLP policy. It seems as though, since Swartz is "one of our own", that we're not as concerned with "protecting" him. Contrast that viewpoint with what's going on surrounding the Anders Behring Breivik article and it's pretty clear that there is a (rather severe) double standard in the community when it comes to dealing with BLP articles.
— V = IR (Talk • Contribs) 21:20, 27 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I look at it from the other direction - just as a statement of fact, he's both at low risk from people wanting to use Wikipedia to attack him, and has a high likelihood of being defended against any attacks which happen to be made. Of course there's favoritism, and that's wrong. I'm not approving of it. I'm simply saying he's one of the favorites. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 23:15, 27 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Could you elaborate on that, Ohms law? The Signpost takes its responsibility towards its subjects seriously, and if readers are concerned by our coverage of living people, I want to hear about it. Skomorokh 14:54, 27 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Hey, I think it's great. If the Swartz article were new though, there's no way that it would survive here with the current climate surrounding biographical articles.
— V = IR (Talk • Contribs) 15:47, 27 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]

RIP Aaron Swartz

Just a link back to User_talk:AaronSw#RIP. Bennylin (talk) 14:23, 16 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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