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Saving Wikipedia; Internet regulation; Thoreau quote hoax

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By Gamaliel

"Saving Wikipedia"

Lila Tretikov

Time profiles (April 14) Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. Time paints a grim picture of the challenges faced by Tretikov and the encyclopedia, many of which were discussed in a recent Signpost's special report: a "meager annual budget", the gender gap, "critical gaps in coverage" (such as the Global South), the shrinking ranks of active editors, and the lack of contributions from those who access Wikipedia content through mobile devices, search engines, and personal digital assistants. Time speculates that Wikipedia could contract suddenly, with something similar to the almost 25% dropoff in active editors on the Italian Wikipedia in 2013, or dwindle gradually, a possibility that Andrew Lih (Fuzheado) compared to "the boiling frogs scenario". William Beutler (WWB), author of the blog The Wikipedian, told Time "I do not envy Lila Tretikov’s position."

Time outlined efforts by Tretikov and the WMF to address these issues, such as the Inspire Campaign and Wikipedia Zero. Time wrote that "Tretikov is focusing the Foundation’s limited resources on how readers and editors use the site," including gathering data about user preferences, increasing the number of WMF engineers, and improving and creating editing software like mobile apps.

Time notes that some of these efforts have brought the WMF into conflict with the editing community, especially the controversy involving Media Viewer (see previous Signpost coverage). Time highlighted a comment on the German Wikipedia from the controversy: “I want victory over the WMF. I want the WMF to shudder when they remember this case.”

Tretikov said to Time that “It’s not realistic to have everybody always in the boat with you,” which may sound ominous to those who wish the WMF to be more responsive to active editors, who Time writes "seem to have divergent views about almost everything." Beutler summed up his view of the problem for Time:

Wikipedians offer libertarian perspectives on Internet regulation

In The Huffington Post UK, Jimmy Wales writes "To Protect the Most Fundamental Rights of Internet Users, We Must Always Be Skeptical of Any Call for Regulation" (April 13). Wales credited "The 'anarchical' character of the Internet" for allowing people to contribute and share knowledge and placed Wikipedia in this tradition. Wikipedia "is based on this simple, yet revolutionary, concept of allowing free and unlimited access to the sum of all human knowledge."

Wales echos libertarian thought when warning of the harmful effect of "even seemingly minor regulation," citing regulations that allow Internet censorship in China and the global surveillance disclosures of Edward Snowden. He writes "even milder regulations by progressive democratic governments must be observed skeptically."

Wales concludes:

In the libertarian magazine Reason, where he is a contributing editor, Mike Godwin writes "What the 'Zero Rating' Debate Reveals About Net Neutrality (April 8). Godwin is former general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation and is general counsel and director of innovation policy at The R Street Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Godwin opposes "net-neutrality absolutists" who are concerned that "zero-rated services", such as Wikipedia Zero, which are free of mobile usage charges, have troubling implications for net neutrality. He argues that "In the long run, increased demand and increased capacity, together with the free informational resources that Wikipedia and its sibling projects provide, will promote increased Internet access in the developing world."

Fake Thoreau quote uncovered on Wikipedia

Henry David Thoreau and his virginal neckbeard

At Medium's The Message, librarian Jessamyn West tracks the history (April 13) of a fake quotation about American author Henry David Thoreau, attributed to another famous American author, Louisa May Alcott. The original edit, from December 2007, read:

Within hours, the edit was removed by an editor asking for a reference. The same day, a reference was duly supplied, to the entirety of the sixteen volume collection The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Another editor removed the final sentence about Thoreau's virginity, thanked the hoaxer for the reference, and asked for "a proper volume/page reference". The hoaxer did not respond and no further action was taken. When the hoaxer attempted to remove their own hoax in April 2008, they were reverted by another editor, who wrote "the information is referenced; if you say it's wrong, prove it." Protected by the faux reference, the hoax remained in the article until it was removed by Mr. Granger in March 2014. During the six years it was on Wikipedia, the fake quote made its way into articles, blogs, speeches, and even quizbowl questions.

West attempted to decisively "prove it" a hoax. Unsatisfied with simply not locating the quotation in Emerson's journals in Google Books, she contacted John Overholt, Curator of Early Modern Books & Manuscripts at Harvard University's Houghton Library. (Overholt also created the Tumblr blog First Drafts of History, featuring first edits of Wikipedia articles.) Overholt told West

West concluded "I hope we’ve all learned something about the nature of online citation and that if you really need to know something for certain, ask a librarian."

For more Signpost coverage on hoaxes see our hoaxes series.

Wikipedia and online reputation management

Jon Ronson

British journalist Jon Ronson's March 2015 book So You've Been Publicly Shamed contains a discussion of the online reputation management services provided to one public shaming victim, Lindsey Stone, by Stone had no Wikipedia presence, but Ronson discussed the work of the company Metal Rabbit with Graeme Wood, who alleged that the Wikipedia article of an unnamed United Nations peacekeeper was edited by the company. Wood wrote a 2013 article on online reputation management for New York which discusses a Metal Rabbit client called "Chad" (not his real name), who is likely the UN peacekeeper. A 2011 profile in the New York Times of Metal Rabbit and its founder, Bryce Tom, noted that "'On a recent Wednesday afternoon, [Tom] was preparing a briefing for a new client, describing how he would 'fix' Wikipedia and the top search results on various search engines. On the walls of his office were framed copies of Google search results and Wikipedia entries of clients: a reality television star, a movie actress and a chief executive officer. Mr. Tom calls it his “wall of fame.'"

In brief

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Thoreau, Emerson & Alcott

There has been all sorts of speculation about Alcott and Thoreau, and the hoax probably came from someone trying to prove that Alcott said "As for taking Thoreau's arm, I should as soon take the arm of an elm tree.", a quote often attributed to Alcott, but actually from the pen of Emerson here. Jane (talk) 15:57, 17 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

No mention of Caitlin Dewey's story

Space for Time's April 14 story. Space for Ted Loveday's April 15 mention. No space for Caitlin Dewey's story from April 15, which went to the front page of Slashdot? Is there some rationale; perhaps that Dewey's story and the vandalism experiment it discussed will be given a more complete treatment in the next Signpost ITM? - 2001:558:1400:10:CC0F:8EAD:7C36:144A (talk) 16:02, 17 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

It's not a space issue, I simply ran out of time this week. It will be in next week's ITM. Gamaliel (talk) 16:44, 17 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Saving Wikipedia?

I am having trouble reconciling the claims of a "meager annual budget" with the discussion at Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2015-03-18/Op-ed#Computer equipment and office furniture and my subsequent failure to get anyone at WMF to show me an accounting of what computer equipment and office furniture was bought and the price paid. --Guy Macon (talk) 18:10, 17 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

That was such a weird tangent. I rather doubt the WMF is conspiring to turn your funds into posh office chairs. ResMar 21:05, 17 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
It wouldn't be a conspiracy if there is unwise spending. It is almost inevitable in any charity with too much cash. Any money not spent on servers and content improvement support is questionable.--Milowenthasspoken 03:45, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I don't think there is a conspiracy. I think that whoever said that the WMF has a "meager annual budget" is a liar.
BTW, for those who like conspiracies. here is THE TRUTH. I hope this helps... :) --Guy Macon (talk) 05:57, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

While it may be easy and convenient to point to inflexible "old timers" for the current problem, anyone who has an attention span larger than that of a gnat knows the real problem is that the WMF has a record of proposing 1) bad ideas, and that Wikipedia's model for change is flawed as it depends on 2) community consensus, which any major organization knows places you dead in the water when it comes to pushing new ideas at a large scale. So blaming old timers for this problem might be a nice soundbite and a great excuse, but it ignores the actual problem. Bad ideas are dead on arrival, and consensus isn't the right process for change at the scale of Wikipedia. I would like to see the Signpost address these facts. Right now on Jimbo's talk page, there's a rough but energetic consensus that the community needs tools to help insure the accuracy of content. Will we see the WMF create these tools? Viriditas (talk) 23:56, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Speaking as someone with many years of experience in software development, first the WMF needs to get to the point where they can create high-quality software with clear user documentation and a documentation trail that allows anyone to find out when and why major design decisions were made. They cannot do that now, and until they can, it really makes no difference what buggy software they decide to throw over the wall for the wikipedia users to reject.
I am not convinced that community consensus places you dead in the water when it comes to pushing new ideas. I am seeing an interlocking set of bad software development practices that would sink any project at any organization. If we fixed the obvious problems that any competent manager could easily fix, then and only then would we discover whether there are any remaining problems that are unique to Wikipedia. --Guy Macon (talk) 17:21, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
There is no software company in the world that depends on community consensus from their users. The limits of consensus in product development are well known. If you have the time, you are welcome to study up on it. Viriditas (talk) 22:21, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Article in Time Magazine

I was really happy to see the non-profit aspect as the first factoid in the first sentence of an article about Wikipedia, and this is in Time magazine - yay! I also love how they qualified the line about "288 languages" with 2 key figures: 4.9 million articles on enwiki, and 36 million articles total. Anyone who does the math will quickly realize there are not many articles in the long tail of that "288" number. Though geographic diversity issues are equated with the Gendergap, I was also happy to see both highlighted. I count 62 edits a second on enwiki alone this morning in "Recent changes", so I think the "10 edits a second" for all projects is off by a factor of 100 at least. No mention of the "Copyright gap" which is just as much a threat to Wikipedia as the drop-off in editors. Like others, I was very sad to be called one of the "old timers who are used to getting their way" by Beutler and it should be noted that the WMF did not say this. We old timers never got our way after repeated requests and it's time to listen and react to some of these (very old) requests, or we will continue to drop off, confusing the WMF in their monthly reports. Though I agree with Lila that “It’s not realistic to have everybody always in the boat with you,” I do believe it is crucial that everybody can see where the boat is going so that they can feel that the boat is going somewhere they want to go too. Jane (talk) 07:05, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

10 per sec edits is in the right ballpark. Just had to estimate it for a presentation; per m:List of Wikipedias/Table, there were about 6.5 edits per second in the last 30 days. --Tgr (talk) 15:04, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Interesting link! Yes I see I was counting edits per minute, thanks. Jane (talk) 16:08, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Murder most foul

I daresay I hear the Jaws theme playing right about now.

Depending upon how things are handled, we could see a mass exodus of Wikipedia newbies and oldbies alike who like the "Wikipedia format" of doing things over the way many other places do, or we could see actual improvement that benefits everyone.

We should never throw our long-standing shipmates overboard because we don't wish to bother considering compromise. The "old timers" referred to by William Beutler are no less important that any of the "new timers". This idea that "old is bad" needs to be discarded, as it is utter hogwash.

Radicalism will get you nowhere fast, by the way. Tharthandorf Aquanashi (talk) 15:15, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

I'm going to be charitable and assume that complaints such as Beutler's aren't as simple as "throw out the old timer". As a member of the old timer's club myself, I see these comments directed at those who want Wikipedia to be oriented towards their particular needs and discard the necessity of attracting new editors. When you are comfortable with the policy and bureaucracy and templates and formatting tools that have sprung up around what was once a simple and easy task to edit an article, you might not realize how bewildering and off-putting all those things are to a novice editor. Gamaliel (talk) 17:31, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Always 1984...

But what of Brave New World, the liberal equivalent of 1984? No one seems to bat an eye at the events of that book taking place, even though they are far more likely in this day and age. Tharthandorf Aquanashi (talk) 15:31, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Try The Machine Stops. But really, anyone who would be foolish to refer to Brave New World as "liberal" must be equally foolish enough to want to impose The Handmaid's Tale style theocracy. "Is that Freedom Rock Fox News, man? Turn it up!" Viriditas (talk) 19:41, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
The Machine Stops, indeed, is also in a similar vein to what I was talking about. But I haven't read it in years, so I can't say whether or not there is something specific you are trying to indicate with that. Haven't we already created at least a prototype of the Machine in this current era?
Brave New World is, indeed, not liberal, however it is a possible future if the world blindly follows the agenda of the modern liberal. It is, in that sense, the "(if we follow the path of the modern) liberal('s) (agenda) future" equivalent of 1984 (which is the "[if we follow the path of the] conservative['s] [agenda] future.")
Hence, if one wishes to avoid both 1984 and Brave New World, one must throw out the "conservative", "liberal", "rightist", "leftist" and the like labels, as well as party systems, and judge people's political beliefs purely on an individual level. Full stop. I'm sick of all of this party hogwash. It's obsolete dross that serves no beneficial purpose in this modern age. Tharthandorf Aquanashi (talk) 20:42, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Libertarian perspective

While this piece plays to the choir, so to speak, it is unfortunately incredibly biased and promotes discredited, minority opinions without presenting other, more mainstream POV. The fact remains, there is no country or society on the planet where libertarianism has ever succeeded in practice. It remains a theoretical construct that has failed in every respect when it is implemented. Regulations may not be ideal, but they have a rationale and a purpose that benefits most people and institutions. Promoting the extreme minority viewpoints of people who think the governments of Somalia and Honduras are libertarian paradises is naive. While I despise statism and bureaucracy as much as the next person, and wish that limited and self-government were ideals to work towards, I am not stupid enough to believe in the libertarian fantasy that removing all regulations is the answer. This article fails in every respect to present more established views. Viriditas (talk) 19:57, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

The point of this section is not to provide an in-depth discussion of every issue; that's the purpose of our News and Reports sections. I do try to provide necessary context, and perhaps here I did not provide enough. I did request a quote in response to these columns from a prominent Wikipedian who has been vocal about these issues, but they did not respond (which is, of course, their prerogative). Beyond that, I felt I did not have time to develop further what I thought was maybe only the eighth-most important item in the Signpost this week. (See above the complaint, which I'm sure is not from a certain banned user, regarding a story they thought was more important than this one that I did not have time to cover.) Once our Signpost tagging system is fully implemented by Mr. Stradivarius and Resident Mario, we can more easily refer readers to articles where we have more fully explored the issues under discussion. If there is an issue or topic that you feel is un- or under-represented in the Signpost, you are welcome to contribute an op-ed or a news article on that subject.
As to this being a biased promotional effort, its purpose was to point out that these Wikipedians wrote about their views in prominent media outlets, not to promote those views. Since we've worked on a number of the same political articles over the years, especially back when I was an active editor on US political topics, I'm surprised you do not recall that my views and interests are decidedly not libertarian. Gamaliel (talk) 20:53, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
The signpost isn't broken and doesn't need fixing. Nor does the world need yet another venue for people to argue about American politics. --Guy Macon (talk) 06:33, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Viriditas, the fact that you realise that is, unfortunately, of no consequence. We are currently headed down a path, in which, if we do not stop, will lead us to a scenario like Brave New World (as I aforesaid). We were so worried about ending up in a 1984 situation that we paid absolutely no attention to the other extreme. But, that is to be expected. Most human beings have no want for balance. They tilt the scale to one extreme, and (when they become dissatisfied with it) flip it upside down. Tharthandorf Aquanashi (talk) 20:59, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I don't know who first said this (certainly not me), but the phrase "No political position is anywhere near as bad as its opponents claim, and no political position is anywhere near as good as its proponents claim" comes to mind. If your opinion of any political movement is that all of its members are evil, stupid, or deceived, something is wrong with your thinking. If your opinion of any political movement is that all of its critics are evil, stupid, or deceived, something is wrong with your thinking. --Guy Macon (talk) 21:30, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Indeed. It isn't the case that all members of the political movements aforementioned are problematic or villainous. I'm just saying that the movements themselves are functionally not beneficial. Tharthandorf Aquanashi (talk) 21:34, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
But clearly a large number of people have a good-faith opinion that those movements are functionally beneficial, and I am 100% certain that if you were to express the opinion that any particular political movement is functionally beneficial, I could easily find a large number of people who have a good-faith opinion that it is not.
The real question is this: What benefit does one more discussion about the merits of political movements do? The signpost article wasn't advocating any movement, just reporting on it, and zero people are going to be persuaded by any argument in favor of or against any political movement made on this page. I propose that we drop the topic as a waste of time and get back to building and encyclopedia. --Guy Macon (talk) 21:51, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Fair enough. Tharthandorf Aquanashi (talk) 22:01, 18 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

@Gamaliel: Is the Signpost designed to be an uncritical, milquetoast, softball-throwing lapdog for the Wikipedia establishment that never asks questions or challenges assumptions? If it is, and you guys are busy drinking the Konservative Kool-Aid of the Job Kreators, then please excuse my confusion and carry on. In that case, I'll expect to be more disinformed in the next issue. If, on the other hand, this is a legitimate news organization, that deals with facts not fantasies, I would expect you to challenge and question false statements and myths, such as the idea that the Internet was an "anarchy" free from government intervention. In fact, the Internet has always been highly organized and regulated, and is a direct product of public funding. It was actually conservatives like Jim Sensenbrenner who introduced the Patriot Act and it was conservative libertarians like Rand Paul who helped defeat NSA reform (and he actually admitted it). These so-called libertarians say we must be skeptical of any call for regulation, yet do absolutely nothing when individual freedoms are threatened. After all this time, organizations like Reason and R Street Institute can't point to a single, solitary success in the fight for individual freedoms, and refuse to support the people who are actually doing the hard work to preserve our freedoms. Libertarianism is a failed philosophy that exists as a fantastical talking point, snake oil for the 1% to steal from the public trough. The technological utopia that libertarians wax poetic about has always been a myth, and its crazy uncle transhumanism has always been its religious underpinning. All this talk about greater individual freedom and access is bullshit. The facts show otherwise. We see less freedom across the board, and less access, with inequality growing in every sector. As automation increases, 80% of the workplace is projected to be unemployed in the next two decades. What does libertarianism say about this? Absolutely nothing. It's time to stop giving these people space to promote their fantasies and to start asking the hard questions. Viriditas (talk) 00:27, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Milquetoast? Lapdog? None of this bears any reality to the actual Signpost, as opposed to this straw man publication you've invented because you are annoyed we didn't cover a particular story you are interested in in a particular way, just as our friend from Wikipediocracy is annoyed because I did not yet cover the story he wants to promote. I did not have the time, nor did I see the need, to write an expose on libertarianism in response to a couple of minor op-eds that people will forget about next week. A slower week or a week in which I had more time, perhaps I would have written a separate editorial. I'm sorry that our editorial decisions and the amount of time that we have at our disposal do not coincide with your preferences, but since this is Wikipedia, you are always welcome to help us cover these issues. Personally, I have faith in the readers of the Signpost and their ability to think critically and withstand the sinister siren call of a couple of op-eds full of boilerplate libertarianism without me having to do it for them. Gamaliel (talk) 04:37, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Have you considered changing the masthead from The Signpost to The Stenographer? (I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself.) Viriditas (talk) 08:41, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Virititas all of this manufactured discontent is rather unbecoming of you. ResMar 15:05, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
The author of this piece ("Wikipedians offer libertarian perspectives on Internet regulation") did not critically examine, present, or discuss these disputatious viewpoints, but merely repeated them as if they had credence and authority, and elevated these unquestioned views. Contrast this with the previous piece ("Saving Wikipedia"), which presented multiple POV and different perspectives. On the other hand, in this libertarian column, we don't hear anything about how the Internet might not be an anarchy, how regulation might not always be harmful, about how the word "regulation" is taken out its original financial context to instead apply and equate with censorship, and we don't hear a peep from the so-called "net-neutrality absolutists" that Godwin discusses. As I said, this plays to the choir, and appeals to the libertarian demographic of Wikipedia. This is obsequious pandering at best, stenography at worst. Viriditas (talk) 20:39, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
So you think pandering is better than simply reporting what they said? Gamaliel (talk) 21:12, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
"Simply reporting what they said" is pandering to the subject in this context, and is the very definition of stenographic journalism. Look, it's very simple. The Signpost can be a watchdog or it can be a lapdog. Please choose one. Viriditas (talk) 21:52, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
In my opinion, you are demanding that the editors promote one particular political position and complaining of "bias" when they decline to do so. The Signpost isn't broken, and doesn't need fixing. There are hundreds of online venues that promote the same politics you are promoting. We absolutely do not need one more. Fight your war somewhere else.
It would serve you right if the editors started actively "refuting" your favorite political position. But of course they won't. --Guy Macon (talk) 21:54, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
You're very confused. I have demanded nothing nor advocated any political position. Are you letting your own libertarian views get in the way of your objectivity? The problem is that the editors have promoted a particular political position called libertarianism by "simply reporting what [others] said". This is a well known problem in journalism studies and is discussed in most reporting guides. For example, to deal specifically with this problem, the Routledge guide recommends that journalists should be "analytic more frequently, going beyond description and adding interpretation as well as explanation" and that they should "use their fact gathering to draw conclusions and offer evaluations and opinions, using what they have learned to enable the news audience to make up its mind". More importantly and to the point, "journalists generally need to be more active and to minimize passive or stenographic journalism". This process prevents editors from promoting one particular political bias. How very strange that you would come to the opposite conclusion! Journalism professor Matt Carlson of Saint Louis University says that "the model of a reporter's to investigate claims and verify information on behalf of audiences lacking the ability to do so on their own." In his defense, Gamaliel says he expects us to investigate the claims ourselves, but I think this directly undermines the role of the journalist. The libertarian perspectives on Internet regulation are offered without any investigation as to their validity, they are simply reported as if they were true. Viriditas (talk) 22:30, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
You're too busy being insulting to realize that we at the Signpost actually agree with you in principle, so repeating these principles over and over again while simply swapping out the pejoratives does nothing to further the discussion. Practice doesn't always allow us to employ these principles in the way that every staffer or reader would prefer. It's easy to say someone else should have done [insert vague thing here], it's harder to actually do it when you have to do the specifics of researching it and writing it and handling multiple other more important stories in a particular week and actually try to do your full-time day job in between. Gamaliel (talk) 22:33, 19 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
We can't really have a discussion if you agree with me, so I have to be antagonistic. :) Viriditas (talk) 01:10, 20 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
"A little rudeness and disrespect can elevate a meaningless interaction into a battle of wills and add drama to an otherwise dull day." --Calvin and Hobbes --Guy Macon (talk) 01:52, 20 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
+1 to Gamaliel. He is doing an incredible amount of work for the Signpost right now, probably more than I was ever able to put in. While that shouldn't shield him for legitimate criticism, I do think it's unfair to expect an analytical special report for every article. There's only so many hours in each day. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 02:14, 20 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Conflict management and talent scouting

What Wikipedia needs is, among others, better conflict management and a talent scout programme offering guidance and protection for productive new editors.

A building site is one man with a shovel and five standing around shouting orders.

— Hyphantes
--Hyphantes (talk) 09:38, 23 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]


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