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To save the wiki: strike first, then makeover?

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By Skomorokh, Surturz and Tom Morris

SOPA: to strike or not to strike?

Jimmy Wales, whose call for Wikipedians to consider action on the Stop Online Piracy Act threat set off a stream of media commentary

The spread to Wikipedia of the online furore over the potential impact of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a piece of legislation being considered by the United States Congress, has been well-marked in the media. Although the campaigning against the bill by prominent Internet organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, PayPal and Tumblr had been afoot for some time and the matter had been debated on a small-scale by Wikimedians (see "News and notes"), it was Jimmy Wales' instigation of a poll to assess whether the English Wikipedia editing community had the stomach for protest that drew the interest of the online press (the precipitating discussion can be found here). Among the outlets to cover the story were CNET, The Atlantic, The Hill, and Paste magazine.

The Daily Telegraph highlighted Wales' urging of the community not to underestimate their power to terrify Congress members by inciting a "popular uprising" in protest of the Act. VentureBeat tracked early support for a putative strike at 87% of respondents. The intrepid and attentive The Register proffered an incisive taxonomy of respondent sentiment beyond simple support and opposition: "Confused, Uncertain, LOL, and Fuck knows", and The Daily Mail characterised the informal poll as a threat by Wales on his "private Wikipedia blog" (user talkpage) to "turn off" the site.

MSNBC's Technolog asked whether a Wikipedia blackout could "save the Internet". worried about the possible impact on students working on their final papers of the academic term, while SF Weekly's The Snitch remarked "it seems like pulling the plug on Wikipedia might not do much more than piss off people who just want to find out who played bass on the Rolling Stones' last album or which Simpsons episode featured Krusty's racist standup routine". ZDnet's iGeneration proposed nonetheless that it might be worth the disruption but ended its article on a note portended with doom:

If the SOPA bill does come in to play, Wikipedia may end up on more than a voluntary, short-term blackout.

At last, an interface that anyone can edit with

When Wikipedia was created, everything was hard on the Internet. We were no harder than anything else. But today most forms of interaction online are easier than editing a wiki article and that creates a barrier to entry that doesn’t do anybody any good

— Sue Gardner, as quoted by The Economist

This week saw the launch of a trial for Wikipedia's first long-heralded "what you see is what you get" editing interface, the Visual editor (see "Technology report" for in-depth coverage). The new interface is intended to make the site's technically demanding wiki syntax less intimidating to potential contributors, and moved The Economist to state that "it would be no overstatement to call it the most significant change in Wikipedia’s short history". The newspaper's tech blog Babbage, which had early access to the project's sandbox, drew a contrast with a site at the other end of the accessibility spectrum, Facebook:

If HTML is a vast open field on which you can wander in any direction unfettered by restrictions, then Facebook is a city tram line, structured and restrictive of where those using it can go. Wikis fall somewhere in the middle, allowing a great deal of freedom within certain limits. Think of it as a network of pathways and cycle lanes where your route is based on the specific needs of your journey. The wiki syntax assumed people were familiar with the lay of the land. Visual editor is akin to handing out maps at the entrance.

The column cast the development in the context of a series of recent Wikimedia Foundation initiatives aimed at making the site a more welcoming environment, such as the wikilove extension. "It is hard to say whether that will be enough", it concluded,"[b]ut if things go well, Wikipedia’s famously grumpy senior editors should have their hands full once again."

The development was noted in characteristically concise terms by the Wikipedia-fans at The Register ("Wikipedia simplifies article editing for world+dog"), who disparaged the sandbox as "decidedly beta and somewhat buggy" and worried that "the thought of making it brain-dead simple to change a Wikipedia entry gives us pause". PC World was more optimistic, entreating readers to help test the interface and "usher in a new, user-friendlier editor for the benefit of all". Ubergizmo allowed that "the introduction of these new tools will probably help introduce a new generation of editors", but wondered whether they would "lead to more useless pages and errors". The development was also covered by The Verge and

In brief

Australian MP Craig Thomson, who made liberal use of Wikipedia's generous licencing terms in an official economic report
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Well, even if we don't get Wysiwyg, at least Wikipedia is easier to use than Facebook! (ducking for cover) :-) -- Ssilvers (talk) 04:26, 21 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Facebook is easy to use, what are you talking about o_O. ResMar 04:59, 21 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

It's no secret that I'm a critic of Jimbo, his cult of personality, and his willingness to both manipulate to further his own agenda but also deny the existence/effect of said cult of personality. I don't think that his intention was to whip up an international media frenzy when he started the thread on his talk page, but then removing that discussion without archiving it, after it had been covered by the international media... for god's sake that's a poor move. On a website that prided itself on a publicly viewable history for every change that is made, burying the conversation both looks improper and is rather ineffective. Sven Manguard Wha? 05:29, 21 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Wales has a long history of failing to practice what he preaches. This has sometimes hurt Wikipedia, but he continues to do it anyway. What more can be said? -- llywrch (talk) 17:07, 21 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

I had been warned and blocked for vandalism wayyyy back in 2008 before I became very active (before I made an account), all because I couldn't do the wikimarkup correctly.Jasper Deng (talk) 06:11, 21 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

That image is an easy target for photo manipulation by the likes of 4chan. I'm sure you know what I'm hinting at. SpeakFree (talk)(contribs) 02:53, 22 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Heil if I know :-) -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 01:56, 23 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Concerning SOPA, it appears that as the Italian Wikipedia goes, so does Scribd. Story here. -- llywrch (talk) 16:53, 22 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]


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