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 Telegraphhighlighted Wales' urging of the community not to underestimate their power to terrify Congress members by inciting a "popular uprising" in protest of the Act. VentureBeattracked early support for a putative strike at 87% of respondents. The intrepid and attentive The Registerproffered an incisive taxonomy of respondent sentiment beyond simple support and opposition: "Confused, Uncertain, LOL, and Fuck knows", and The Daily Mailcharacterised 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". TheStreet.comworried 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
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 movedThe 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 CIOL.com.
Australian MP caught plagiarising Wikipedia for parliamentary report It has been widely reported in the Australian media that federal MP Craig Thomson plagiarised Wikipedia in a report about his taxpayer-funded study trip. The Age reported: "Much of Mr Thomson's discussion of economic conditions in Ireland and Spain has been taken from Wikipedia articles including texts labelled outdated and needing clean-up to meet Wikipedia's quality standards." The Age, ABC, Nine News (more sources)
Cartographic resistance: Following protests last month by Indian nationalists irate at Wikipedian cartographers' treatment of national boundaries (see Signpost coverage), Mylaw.net took a look at the encyclopaedia's handling of disputed maps of the country, and found that like many online resources, it hosts maps that are "manifestly illegal" under the relevant Indian legislation. Drawing a comparison with Google's refusal to censor its search results in the face of Chinese pressure, the report's author Rahul Sharma concluded that the effort to prosecute Wikimedians on these grounds "is borne out of an obsolete map policy rooted in nationalist paranoia" and that acceding to it would have "an adverse effect on our precious right to information and the freedom of expression".
Wales about town: Business Weeklyreported that that Jimmy Wales had permanently relocated to the United Kingdom, and was "keen to get involved in the startup scene" in London. Wales was speaking at an event connected to the city's Tech Entrepreneurship Week.
The week in death hoaxes: This week saw two fatalities-by-Wikipedia: that of actor Scott Baio (on December 14th of a "diaper-related illness"), as reported by MSNBC's "The Scoop", and that of celebrated DJ and rodent millinery enthusiast Joel Zimmerman AKA Deadmau5, which was picked up upon by Canoe.ca. Zimmerman expressed disappointment with the lack of imagination behind his cyber homicide, objecting to followers on Facebook that he "thought we had all agreed on acid spitting koala's skydiving and volcano".
Gingrich staffer treads lightly on COI: Politicodrew attention to yet another instance of a political staffer attempting to influence Wikipedia's coverage of his/her employer, in this case Joe DeSantis, communication director for Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. DeSantis' nuanced, collaborative approach evinced a more subtle understanding of Wikipedia's dynamics regarding contributions with conflicts of interest than is typically observed (see recent Signpost coverage). He refrained from intervening directly in the article to cast his employer, the candidate, in a more favourable light, and instead engaged editors on the talkpage with his suggestions. "Occasionally I will post notes to the Talk page to suggest changes and raise issues," DeSantis told Politico. "We have found working with the Wikipedia community pays off by reaching a consensus on language and that results in less ‘edit wars’ than if we were to just change language ourselves."