Links for March 11th through March 14th:

  • A Sign of the Times: Encyclopaedia Britannica to End Its Print Run [The Atlantic] – “After nearly two-and-a-half centuries in print, the publishers of the Encyclopaedia Britannica are expected to announce tomorrow that they are stopping their presses … As Wikipedia emerged over the past decade, the question has always been, but how does it compare to the Encyclopaedia Britannica? (Answer: mostly favorably, with bonus points for breadth and accessibility.) … Recent years have seen a sharp decline: The 1990 edition sold 120,000 editions in the United States — the most ever — but the 2010 edition sold just 8,000. Four thousand copies are still in a warehouse, waiting for owners. Today, the printed encyclopedia accounts for less than one percent of the company’s revenues. Britannica, as a whole, is not moribund, though: a half a million people pay $70 each year for complete access online.”
  • Apple Reveals New “All-Time Top Apps” Following 25 Billion Downloads [Mac Stories] – Following the downloading of the 25 billionth app from the App Store, Apple have release top-downloads of all time charts for iPhone and iPad, breaking them down into free and paid lists. Angry Birds features prominently on all lists!
  • The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On [YouTube] – Well-made little video which tells the history of the now iconic and meme-ready ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster which was originally designed and produced in England during the Second World War.
  • A Show with Ze Frank by Ze Frank [Kickstarter] – Ze Frank (of ‘The Show with Ze Frank’) uses Kickstarter to ask fans to contribute to a new version of The Show, aiming to raise $50,000 to do The Show for a year. Instead, he raised $146,752, with over 3,900 backers (with one parting with $4000 … that’s a LOT of love for The Show)!
Print Friendly

Links for October 30th 2011:

  • Cashing In on Your Hit YouTube Video [NYTimes.com] – In the unlikely but not impossible event of a YouTube video going unexpectedly viral, here’s a quick guide from the New York Times on how to act quickly and make the most of your possible revenue and exposure.
  • When I died on Wikipedia | David McKie [The Guardian] – Amusing and insightful column from David McKie who Wikipedia incorrectly claimed, was dead. McKie points out that the Wikipedia is far from the first media service to prematurely announce people’s demise: “It was disconcerting to learn recently from a much used reference source that I had died on Friday August the 26th. True, one’s memory gets more fitful as one grows older, but I didn’t remember this happening. When I looked that day up in my diary, I found that I had noted it down as “a very empty day” when it rained and nothing much happened. Empty, perhaps, but not as empty as that. Still, there it was, in all its bleak finality, in a summary on Wikipedia: “David McKie (1935 – 26 August 2011) was a British journalist and historian.” [...] Wikipedia, I see, welcomes corrections. Indeed, its section on premature obituaries accepts it is incomplete and appeals for more, well-sourced, entries. So now I shall write to correct their error …”
  • Untangling the web: how the internet has changed the way we treat death [Technology | The Observer] – Good overview by Aleks Krotoski looking at death in a networked, digital world: “Death in the age of the web reminds us how much the technology has become part of the fabric of our personal and social identities. Once we’re gone, what we leave behind is a rich resource of who we are. We may not survive beyond the release of the next social network, but our inevitable ends are being extended by our digital lives.”
  • @AlanJoyce abused on Twitter, but he’s not the Qantas boss [Perth Now] – “An American science student who shares his name with the CEO of Qantas has found himself the target of a deluge of abuse on Twitter. The unfortunate American, whose name is Alan Joyce and who holds the name @alanjoyce on Twitter, is currently studying computer science at Stanford University, as well as having written two guidebooks to the Disneyland Resort in California. To clarify his identity the American replied to one accusation: “I’m glad to see someone appreciating my impeccable American accent, but I’m guessing you’re looking for a different Alan Joyce.” [...] The American Alan Joyce first responded to the attacks after @DognutsTom tweeted, “Well I’m stuck at home with broken wheelchair thanks to QANTAS! You think @alanjoyce CEO of QANTAS could work it out right?” Alan replied, “Sorry about your wheelchair, but I’m no more CEO of Qantas than @willsmith is a famous movie actor.””
  • Q&A;: Felicia Day, from ‘The Guild’ to ‘Dragon Age’ [latimes.com] – “Playing” Felicia Day: “And when Electric Arts [makers of Dragon Age] called, that was the first call in years that was really like, “Oh!” They asked, “What would you like to do?” and I said, “What properties do you have?” And when Dragon Age came up I was, like, “Yes!” Because when am I ever going to be able to be in a medieval world as an actor? Probably never. So I’ll help create it myself. This will be the first time that a video game property is a Web series; and the elf is an actual playable character. So my character will be a DLC [downloadable content] piece; if people own Dragon Age II, they’ll be able to purchase an extension pack and play with my character. It’s full motion capture with me, full facial capture, full vocal acting. It’s pretty much the coolest thing I could ever imagine: Not only am I in a game, but it’s as a character I created.”
Print Friendly

Links for August 25th 2011 through August 30th 2011:

  • Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist [The Guardian] – George Monbiot looks at the monopolistic world of academic publishing and finds a world where profits are soaring while the broader media landscape around them is crumbling. On the ethical side, the important question: should publicly funded reseach end up in journals that cost $20+ an article to read if you’re not attached to a university? Open access might be one answer to the problem!
  • Teen hacks ex-mate’s Facebook [Toowoomba Chronicle] – “Bad blood between former teenage mates had driven one to hack into the other’s Facebook page and leave a posting that he was gay and wanted to come out of the closet, Toowoomba Magistrates Court heard yesterday. [...] Woodside then hacked into the victim’s Facebook page and posted that the victim was gay and wanted to “come out of the closet”, a posting which anyone accessing the page could have read, the court heard.”
  • “Does This Technology Serve Human Purposes?”: A “Necessary Conversation” with Sherry Turkle (Part Three) [Confessions of an Aca/Fan: Archives] – Sherry Turkle interviewed by Henry Jenkins, clarifying many important points from Alone Together: “My earlier enthusiasm for identity play on the Internet, [...] relied heavily on the work of psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. Erikson wrote about the developmental need for a moratorium or “time out” during adolescence, a kind of play space in which one had a chance to experiment with identity. In the mid-1990s, I wrote about the Internet as a space where anonymity was possible and where one could experiment with aspects of self in a safe environment. Today, adolescents grow up with a sense of wearing their online selves on their backs “like a turtle” for the rest of their lives. The internet is forever. And anonymity on the Internet seems a dream of another century, another technology.” [Part 1] [Part 2]
  • Apple cancels iTunes TV rentals [GigaOM] – “Despite its role as a major selling point of the revamped Apple TV last fall, Apple has done away with TV show rentals. Several bloggers noticed the option to rent individual episodes missing from iTunes and Apple TV Friday, and Apple later confirmed the decision was based on lack of interest. “iTunes customers have shown they overwhelmingly prefer buying TV shows,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told AllThingsD Friday. “iTunes in the Cloud lets customers download and watch their past TV purchases from their iOS devices, Apple TV, Mac or PC allowing them to enjoy their programming whenever and however they choose.” Very few TV studios were on board with the idea in the first place–only Fox and ABC–so this isn’t a huge change. But now the only option in iTunes when it comes to TV shows is to buy. You can buy a full season or “Season Pass,” or if you want to cherry pick a season, you can still buy individual episodes.”
  • Case History Of A Wikipedia Page: Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’ [The Awl] – Fascinating: “Entries such as the one on Lolita demonstrate why perfection on Wikipedia remains an “unattainable” goal—when the topic is contentious, perfection will always butt heads against “is completely neutral and unbiased.” One man’s undeniable literary masterpiece is another man’s abominable pedophilic trash, and they’re both editors on Wikipedia. The edits to the Lolita page (and any Wikipedia page) can seem tedious and petty, and many of them are. But the users’ vigilance in keeping some words and changing others, and debating over content and style, does have a purpose: it keeps critical thinking alive and well. The writing, editing, rewriting and re-editing process of a Wikipedia page creates a new entity—the Lolita Wikipedia page, which is not Nabokov’s Lolita, but a work in its own right. In the collaborative editing process, any reader can use the Lolita page to challenge its meaning. In fact, he can reach right in and edit it himself, until someone else edits it again.”
Print Friendly

Links for May 31st 2011 through June 6th 2011:

  • Parents using Facebook to attack school staff, Principals Federation says [Perth Now] – “Parents are using Facebook and other social networks to attack principals and teachers they dislike or believe have wronged them or their children. The growing practice of raging against school staff online has sparked calls for the Education Department to step in. “These forums can also fuel the sort of misplaced anger and hatred that can end in physical confrontations and school lockdowns,” Australian Principals Federation president Chris Cotching said. Lawyers acting for the federation have warned the department it could be legally culpable if it continued to ignore online campaigns against staff.”
  • Palin Fans Trying to Edit Wikipedia Paul Revere Page [Little Green Footballs] – Interesting case study on Wikipedia’s accuracy – after Sarah Palin gets history wrong, her supporteres try and edit Wikipedia to make the Palin version; drama and editorial warfare ensue: “Man, you’ve gotta almost admire the sheer blind dedication of Sarah Palin’s wingnut acolytes. Now they’re trying like crazy to edit the Wikipedia page for “Paul Revere” to make it match Palin’s botched version of history. Here’s the Revision history of Paul Revere; check out the edits that are being reversed. Also see the discussion page for an entertaining exchange between Wikipedia editors and a would-be revisionist.”
  • Google Chrome: Lady Gaga [YouTube] – Clever ad for Google Chrome featuring Lady Gaga (and simultaneously a Lady Gaga ad featuring Chrome!) which really highlights how she’s deeply engaging with her fanbase via social media.
  • Google’s YouTube policy for Android users is copyright extremism [guardian.co.uk] – Cory Doctorow laments Google’s copyright-driven philosophical contradictions: “The news that Android users who have jailbroken their phones will be denied access to the new commercial YouTube pay-per-view service is as neat an example of copyright extremism as you could hope for. Android, of course, is Google’s wildly popular alternative to Apple’s iOS (the operating system found on iPhones and iPads). Android is free and open – it costs nothing to copy, it can be legally modified and those modifications can be legally distributed [...] unless you’re running a very specific version of Google’s software on your phone or tablet, you can’t “rent” movies on YouTube. Google – the vendor – and the studios – the rights holders – are using copyright to control something much more profound than mere copying. In this version of copyright, making a movie gives you the right to specify what kind of device can play the movie back, and how that device must be configured.”
Print Friendly

Links for January 28th 2011 through February 1st 2011:

  • Apple Moves to Tighten Control of App Store [NYTimes.com] – Apple’s Walled Garden App Store is building even Bigger Walls: “Apple is further tightening its control of the App Store. The company has told some applications developers, including Sony, that they can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps, or let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store. Apple rejected Sony’s iPhone application, which would have let people buy and read e-books bought from the Sony Reader Store. Apple told Sony that from now on, all in-app purchases would have to go through Apple, said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division. The move could affect companies like Amazon.com and others that sell e-book readers that compete with Apple’s iPad tablet and offer free mobile apps so customers can read their e-book purchases on other devices. An iPad owner, for instance, has not needed to own a Kindle to read Kindle books bought from Amazon. That may now change.”
  • Intel warns of $1bn cost of chip fix [Technology | The Guardian] – Ouch! “The chipmaker Intel has halted shipments of its new Sandy Bridge processors and says it will have to spend a total of $1bn (£600m) fixing a fault, delaying hundreds of new PC models for up to three months and potentially stifling growth in the personal computer market. Launched early in January, the Sandy Bridge chip combines standard processing and graphics units on a single die. But Intel said today it had found flaws in a support chip, called Cougar Point, which would have led to failures over time in connections to hard drives and DVDs. The fault will upset production on more than 500 computer models that were to have used the processors. That in turn will hit the PC industry, which has already been suffering from slowing growth in the US and other regions last year. It could also open the door to Intel’s longstanding rival, AMD, which has a similar processor, named Fusion. After the news AMD shares jumped by 5% in early trading in New York, while Intel shares slid by 1.5%”
  • Wary of Egypt Unrest, China Censors Web [NYTimes.com] – “In another era, China’s leaders might have been content to let discussion of the protests in Egypt float around among private citizens, then fizzle out. But challenges in recent years to authoritarian governments around the globe and violent uprisings in parts of China itself have made Chinese officials increasingly wary of leaving such talk unchecked, especially on the Internet, the medium some officials see as central to fanning the flames of unrest. [...] two of the nation’s biggest online portals — blocked keyword searches of the word “Egypt,” though the mass protests were being discussed on some Internet chat rooms on Monday. The use of “Egypt” has also been blocked on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Censoring the Internet is not the only approach. The Chinese government has also tried to get out ahead of the discussion, framing the Egyptian protests in a few editorials and articles in state-controlled news publications…”
  • Wikipedia Ponders Its Gender-Skewed Contributions [NYTimes.com] – “About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely 13 percent women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University. Sue Gardner, the executive director of the foundation, has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015, but she is running up against the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women. Her effort is not diversity for diversity’s sake, she says. “This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be,” Ms. Gardner said in an interview on Thursday. “The difference between Wikipedia and other editorially created products is that Wikipedians are not professionals, they are only asked to bring what they know.””
  • Google unveils Web-free ‘tweeting’ in Egypt move [AFP] – “Google, in response to the Internet blockade in Egypt, said Monday that it had created a way to post messages to microblogging service Twitter by making telephone calls. Google worked with Twitter and freshly acquired SayNow, a startup specializing in social online voice platforms, to make it possible for anyone to “tweet” by leaving a message at any of three telephone numbers. “Like many people we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground,” Google product manager Abdel-Karim Mardini and SayNow co-founder Ujjwal Singh said in a blog post. “Over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service — the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection,” they said.”
  • Man jailed over anti-semitic video [ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)] – “A 39-year-old Perth man has been sentenced to three years’ jail for posting an anti-semitic video on the internet. Brendon Lee O’Connell is the first person in Western Australia to be convicted under the state’s racial vilification laws. A jury found him guilty last week of six offences. O’Connell posted a video on YouTube showing him insulting a young Jewish man in 2009. The video also showed O’Connell standing in front of the Perth Bell Tower telling Jews their days were numbered.”
  • Facebook launches mobile deals [BBC News] – In a very clear challenge to FourSquare: “Facebook is launching a service that lets British users earn discounts from high street businesses. Users who visit participating shops can log in from their mobile phones to receive rewards. Companies, meanwhile can use Facebook Deals as a virtual loyalty card or coupon system. The social network has already lined up promotions with several businesses including Starbucks, Debenhams and mobile network O2. The service ties into Facebook Places, an add-on for mobile phones that launched in 2010 as a way for users to share their location with friends. Users who login to Places via the dedicated Facebook app for the iPhone and handsets running Google’s Android system can update their whereabouts – or “check in” – whenever they visit a variety of shops, restaurants and other venues. With Deals, users will not just be able to tell other people their location, but can also take advantage of any special offers that the retailer has.”
  • Android overtakes Symbian in smartphone sales [Technology | guardian.co.uk] – “Google’s Android overtook the long-time market leader, Nokia’s Symbian, as the world’s most popular smartphone platform in the fourth quarter, according to the research firm Canalys. In total, 32.9m phones running Android were sold to retailers and mobile networks in the fourth quarter of 2010, compared with Symbian’s total sales of 31m in the quarter, the researcher said. In a press release, Canalys noted that Nokia had however retained its lead as the single biggest smartphone vendor, with a 30.6% share of phones shipped. The rise of Android to the top of the smartphone sales chart indicates the popularity of the free operating system with vendors, which do not have to pay a licence fee to use it on their phones.”
  • Angry Birds Go Hollywood [NYTimes.com] – “Angry Birds, the cellphone game that has turned into a cultural phenomenon with 75 million downloads and counting, is lending its wings to a 20th Century Fox movie. To promote the April 15 release of “Rio,” an animated film starring two rare macaws, Fox and Rovio, the small Finnish company behind Angry Birds, said on Friday that Rovio would release Angry Birds Rio. The special edition of the game – the original Angry Birds are kidnapped and taken to Rio – will be made available in March. The announcement was made at an only-in-Hollywood press event on the Fox lot in Los Angeles. As a quartet of Brazilian bongo drummers pounded away on their instruments and reporters guzzled drinks made with Brazilian rum, Jim Gianopulos, co-chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, broke the news.”
  • Amazon Kindle e-book downloads outsell paperbacks [BBC News] – “Amazon has announced that in the US it sold more e-books for its Kindle device than it sold paperback books in the last three months of 2010. [...] Amazon announced that in the US since the start of the year it had sold 115 e-book downloads for every 100 paperback books, even excluding its downloads of free books. But it stressed that sales of paperback books were also growing. “Last July we announced that Kindle books had passed hardcovers and predicted that Kindle would surpass paperbacks in the second quarter of this year,” said Amazon boss Jeff Bezos. “So this milestone has come even sooner than we expected – and it’s on top of continued growth in paperback sales.” It has not said how many of its Kindle devices it has sold, but did say that they had overtaken the final book in the Harry Potter series to become the top-selling item in Amazon’s history.”
  • Egypt cuts off internet access [Technology | guardian.co.uk] – “Egypt appears to have cut off almost all access to the internet from inside and outside the country from late on Thursday night, in a move that has concerned observers of the protests that have been building in strength through the week. “According to our analysis, 88% of the ‘Egyptian internet’ has fallen off the internet,” said Andree Toonk at BGPmon, a monitoring site that checks connectivity of countries and networks. “What’s different in this case as compared to other ‘similar’ cases is that all of the major ISP’s seem to be almost completely offline. Whereas in other cases, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were typically blocked, in this case the government seems to be taking a shotgun approach by ordering ISPs to stop routing all networks.””
Print Friendly

Links for January 10th 2011 through January 18th 2011:

  • Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales: App stores a clear and present danger [TECH.BLORGE.com] – Interesting: “The app store model is a more immediate threat to internet freedom than breaches of net neutrality. That’s the opinion of Wikipedia chief Jimmy Wales. According to Wales — who was quick to stress he was speaking in a purely personal capacity — set-ups such as the iTunes App Store can act as a “chokepoint that is very dangerous.” He said such it was time to ask if the model was “a threat to a diverse and open ecosystem” and made the argument that “we own [a] device, and we should control it.””
  • Wikipedia – an unplanned miracle | Clay Shirky [The Guardian] – “Wikipedia is the most widely used reference work in the world. That statement is both ordinary and astonishing: it’s a simple reflection of its enormous readership; and yet, by any traditional view about how the world works, Wikipedia shouldn’t even exist, much less have succeeded so dramatically in the space of a single decade. The cumulative effort of Wikipedia’s millions of contributors means you are a click away from figuring out what a myocardial infarction is, or the cause of the Agacher Strip war, or who Spangles Muldoon was. This is an unplanned miracle, like “the market” deciding how much bread goes in the store. Wikipedia, though, is even odder than the market: not only is all that material contributed for free, it is available to you free; even the servers and system administrators are funded through donations.”
  • YouTube mobile video viewing surges [The Age] – “YouTube has said it is serving up more than 200 million videos daily to smartphones and other internet-linked mobile devices. News of the milestone came as the Google-owned video-sharing service began routing Vevo music videos from artists such as Lady Gaga and U2 onto smartphones powered by newer versions of Google-backed Android software. “As the world goes mobile and more people watch videos on their smart phones, we expect more partners will take advantage of these new mobile advertising capabilities and make more of their content available across more devices,” YouTube mobile product manager Andrey Doronichev said in a blog post. Android smartphones running on “Froyo” or newer versions of the mobile operating software will be able to access Vevo’s music video library using a free YouTube application, according to Doronichev.”
  • MySpace to shut Australian office [The Age] – “MySpace looks set to close its Australian office as part of its move to cut 500 jobs – or nearly half its staff – potentially setting the stage for a sale of the social network owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.MySpace chief executive Mike Jones said in a statement today that the company would enter into strategic local partnerships to manage advertising sales and content in Australia, with details of partners yet to be finalised. He said the company would retain a core international team to work with partners. It is understood that all Australian positions within MySpace are under review with some opportunities for relocation to other divisions.”
  • MySpace cutting global workforce by half [BBC News] – Ouch: “Struggling MySpace is cutting almost half of its global workforce. The social networking website is getting rid of 500 positions, or 47% of its employees. The announcement comes as MySpace continues to be eclipsed by Facebook, and as it tries to reinvent itself as an entertainment website. MySpace was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation for $580m (£372m) in 2005, but it has struggled to make money for its parent company. Mike Jones, MySpace’s chief executive, said the job cuts were “tough but necessary”, and had been taken to put the website on the path towards growth and profitability.”
  • ‘Angry Birds’ Exec Calls Android Too Complex [Angry Birds World] – “Those who use the Android might wanna whip some “Angry Birds” out on Peter Vesterbacka, the head of business development in North America for Rovio. While there’s a free version of “Angry Birds” for Android users available, a 99-cent version for the iPhone is a huge success. And the iPhone will continue to be “the No. 1 platform for a long time from a developer perspective.” Question is: why? Apple has “gotten so many things right. And they know what they are doing and they call the shots.” Android, too, is growing, he said, “But it’s also growing complexity at the same time.” While there are many devices and carriers that use Android, “device fragmentation (is) not the issue,” Vesterbacka said, “but rather the fragmentation of the ecosystem. So many different shops, so many different models. The carriers messing with the experience again. Open but not really open, a very Google-centric ecosystem. And paid content just doesn’t work on Android.””
  • Celebrities plugging products on Twitter could face legal action [Perth Now] – “As if they aren’t raking in enough money or freebie gifts, greedy British celebs are rapidly utilising the perk power of a new cash cow – their Twitter accounts. However, there could be consequences. Dozens of celebrities, including actress Liz Hurley and singer Lily Allen, face possible court action over claims that they are endorsing products through their Twitter accounts without declaring that they have been paid by the companies concerned, reports the Daily Mail. Celebs who fail to mention that they have a financial interest in ‘plugging’ goods online could be contacted by the UK’s consumer watchdog in the coming weeks. The crackdown has been ordered by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading, which has the power to take offenders to court.”
Print Friendly

Links for September 6th 2010 through September 8th 2010:

  • In ‘Bed Intruder Song,’ Gregory Brothers Have Billboard Hit [NYTimes.com] – “Viral videos tend to have a short lifespan online. [...] But in one of the stranger twists in recent pop-music history, a musical remake of a local news clip transcended YouTube fame and reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart in August. It was a rare case of a product of Web culture jumping the species barrier and becoming a pop hit. The song’s source material could not have been more unlikely: A local TV news report from Huntsville, Ala., about an intruder who climbed into a woman’s bed and tried to assault her. But with some clever editing and the use of software that can turn speech into singing, the Gregory Brothers, a quartet of musicians living in Brooklyn, transformed an animated and angry rant by the victim’s brother into something genuinely catchy. The resulting track, “Bed Intruder Song,” has sold more than 91,000 copies on iTunes, and last week it was at No. 39 on the iTunes singles chart. Its video has been viewed more than 16 million times on YouTube.” The background to this meme:
  • Avatar activism [Le Monde diplomatique] – Henry Jenkins on the mobilisation of popular cultural in protest movements: “Five Palestinian, Israeli and international activists painted themselves blue to resemble the Na’vi from James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar (1) in February, and marched through the occupied village of Bil’in. The Israeli military used tear gas and sound bombs on the azure-skinned protestors, who wore traditional keffiyahs with their Na’vi tails and pointy ears. The camcorder footage of the incident was juxtaposed with borrowed shots from the film and circulated on YouTube. We hear the movie characters proclaim: “We will show the Sky People that they can not take whatever they want! This, this is our land!” The event is a reminder of how people around the world are mobilising icons and myths from popular culture as resources for political speech, which we can call Avatar activism.”
  • Reputation bankruptcy :[The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It] – Should we be able to purge our online reputation record and declare reputation bankruptcy? Jonathan Zittrain: “As real identity grows in importance on the Net, the intermediaries demanding it ought to consider making available a form of reputation bankruptcy. Like personal financial bankruptcy, or the way in which a state often seals a juvenile criminal record and gives a child a “fresh start” as an adult, we ought to consider how to implement the idea of a second or third chance into our digital spaces. People ought to be able to express a choice to de-emphasize if not entirely delete older information that has been generated about them by and through various systems: political preferences, activities, youthful likes and dislikes. If every action ends up on one’s “permanent record,” the press conference effect can set in. Reputation bankruptcy has the potential to facilitate desirably experimental social behavior and break up the monotony of static communities online and offline.”
  • What Are BP, Apple, Amazon, and Others Spending on Google Advertising? [Fast Company] – A peak into adword spending: “Google is typically very secretive about the specifics of its search revenue. I can’t actually recall any other leak quite like this one, in which the budgets of specific companies are laid out–kudos to AdAge for snagging the internal document with such rarely seen information. Much of the list, which covers the month of June 2010, will be of no surprise to anyone that uses Google Search regularly (which is pretty much everyone): AT&T spends ridiculous amounts of money, as do Apollo Group (which owns the University of Phoenix), Amazon, and Expedia. It’s worthwhile to note that some of AT&T’s $8.08 million budget was probably due to the launch of the wireless carrier’s biggest product of the year, the Apple iPhone 4. Apple itself spent slightly less than $1 million, which puts the company in the upper echelon of Google spending but not all that close to the top. 47 companies spent over $1 million, so Apple was, at best, in the top 50.”
  • On Wikipedia, Cultural Patrimony, and Historiography [booktwo.org] – A fantastic way to illustrate the importance of Wikipedia histories: “… Wikipedia is a useful subset of the entire internet, and as such a subset of all human culture. It’s not only a resource for collating all human knowledge, but a framework for understanding how that knowledge came to be and to be understood; what was allowed to stand and what was not; what we agree on, and what we cannot. As is my wont, I made a book to illustrate this. Physical objects are useful props in debates like this: immediately illustrative, and useful to hang an argument and peoples’ attention on. This particular book—or rather, set of books—is every edit made to a single Wikipedia article, The Iraq War, during the five years between the article’s inception in December 2004 and November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages.”
Print Friendly

[This article was originally published in Screen Education, 53, Autumn 2009, pp. 38-42. It is reproduced here with permission.]

Love it or hate it, everyone has heard of the Wikipedia. Explore most topical subjects on popular search engines like Google and the relevant Wikipedia entry will almost always be in the first few items returned. And far from a flash in the pan, on January 15 2010, the Wikipedia celebrated its ninth birthday, now encompassing more than 10 million articles spanning over 250 different languages. Yet, for teachers and academics the Wikipedia can be a constant source of concern as students increasingly start (and, in the worst cases, end) research on a new topic with a quick peruse of the Wikipedia entry. The biggest concern comes from the core premise of the Wikipedia: it’s an online encyclopaedia that can, literally, be edited by anyone. Yet for all of the fashionable talk of crowdsourcing, collective intelligence and the wisdom of the crowds, most educators prefer their students to be using sources which have more authority and reputation behind them. But is that concern warranted, and given that the Wikipedia is slowly finding a home in classrooms across Australia, what do teachers really need to know about the Wikipedia?

How the Wikipedia Works

From the outset, it is useful to remember that the Wikipedia is just one example, albeit the most well-known, of a website which uses wiki software. A wiki, by definition, is type of software which powers websites and allows anyone to edit and contribute. The wiki software that provides the architecture for the Wikipedia is called MediaWiki and is freely downloadable and reusable (see MediaWiki.org) although that requires server-space and a reasonable level of technical skill. If you’re interested in trying out a wiki, or using a free wiki in teaching, pbworks.com is a good place to start, providing basic wiki functionality for free (and more comprehensive tools for teaching for a fee).

The Wikipedia itself was launched in January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, taking its name from the combination of the words wiki and encyclopaedia. The aim of the Wikipedia is fairly simple: to produce and continually improve an online encyclopaedia that is free for anyone to use and, most importantly, can be edited by anyone. After a slow start, the Wikipedia today features over 3.3 million articles in English, with articles in hundreds of languages and it is one of the most popular reference works in the world.

Since the range of articles in the Wikipedia is largely dependant on the interest of contributors (referred to as Wikipedians), the coverage is often uneven; popular culture, recent historical events, and technical issues tend to be very well represented while less topical or more geographically-specific material can be sparse. For example, the Wikipedia entry for the current run of the popular BBC series Top Gear is more than five times longer and has more than three times the references compared to the article for Australian novelist Tim Winton. More to the point, since Wikipedia entries tend to grow over time though the contributions of many editors, newer entries are often less reliable, while those which have been edited and critiqued by a range of Wikipedians tend to be more reliable. The question of reliability, though, given the huge range of people who might contribute to, or ostensibly damage, an article, remains the most divisive issue for lovers and haters of the Wikipedia.

The Reliability Question

While the idea that anyone can edit the Wikipedia causes many people to scoff at the idea of it having any credibility whatsoever, this presumption has actually been tested far less often than it should be. In 2004, Alex Halavais, an assistant professor at Quinnipiac University, looked in to the question of the Wikipedia’s credibility and was surprised to find almost no research on the issue whatsoever. After an online discussion, he decided to test out the speed at which the numerous editors of the Wikipedia would actually be able to fix mistakes. Halavais created a pseudonym and a Wikipedia profile as ‘Dr al-Halawi’ and made 13 deliberate errors, some obvious and some obscure. He predicted that within two weeks many of these errors would remain undetected. However, within several hours, all of the deliberate errors were identified by other Wikipedians and those errors were removed.

Writing in his blog (alex.halavais.net), Halavais noted that he was genuinely impressed by the speed and effectiveness with which the Wikipedia entries were corrected. While he conceded that his experiment didn’t ‘prove’ that the Wikipedia was reliable for everything, he did highlight the time and effort many people put into the Wikipedia, and that editors often also see themselves as guardians of particular articles, even obscure ones.

It’s worth explaining that one of the functions all registered Wikipedia users have access to is something called a Watchlist. Whenever an article on a user’s watchlist is edited by someone else, the watchlist user is sent a message and, upon notification, many Wikipedians will immediately examine the new material. In the cases of obvious vandalism or error, these errors are often ‘rolled back’ within minutes (that is, the Wikipedia entry is returned to the previous version before the errors were made). For more popular articles, Wikipedians with watchlists can be extremely effective, but even the more obscure articles often end up with one or two watchers, ensuring that obvious errors tend not to last that long. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule, especially for entries which not of ongoing interest to the Wikipedians who originally created them.

In December 2005, a more substantial and widely reported study was undertaken by the leading scientific journal Nature. Articles from the Wikipedia and the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the same topics were collected and then sent for blind-review to experts on those topics; the experts were not told which articles were from which source. While there were a few substantial errors in either, on average Wikipedia entries tended to have roughly 4 inaccuracies, while the same entries from the Encyclopaedia Britannica had approximately 3 errors. The results suggested that neither Wikipedia nor Britannica was flawless, but that the reliability gap between the two was fairly small. Indeed, given the seemingly haphazard manner in which Wikipedia entries and created and refined, the Nature study has been hailed by many commentators as evidence of impressive collective intelligence of Wikipedians, and of Wikipedia’s success and credibility.

The Nature examination also highlighted the biggest difference between the two sources: while errors in Britannica would have to wait until the next hardcopy edition was created, Wikipedia entries could be fixed instantly. Indeed, it is the speed at which the Wikipedia entries can appear and develop which is often mentioned as its greatest strength. And while neither the experiments of Halavais or Nature suggest Wikipedia is perfect, it appears almost as reliable as its well-respected hardcopy competitors.

The Neutrality Question

One of the core principles of the Wikipedia is that articles should be factual and be written using a Neutral Point of View (or NPOV). This policy ensures, for example, that any claims made without the appropriate sources or references can be easily identified and removed. However, given the breadth of material covered and the number of editors, the ideal of objectivity or neutrality is a difficult one to maintain. The entry on global warming, for example, has a long history of changes and arguments between editors which has, at times, led to certain Wikipedians being blocked from editing the entry. Similarly, while the Wikipedia could easily be used as a promotional tool or for self-aggrandisement, autobiography and obvious conflicts of interest are highly discouraged. The only exception to these guidelines is the right to correct obvious factual errors.

In 2007 the Howard government was wrapped up in its own scandal when a new website launched (unaffiliated with the Wikipedia) called the WikiScanner. The Wikiscanner highlights how many changes to the Wikipedia come from any particular internet address. Journalists and others quickly pounced on this tool and found that staff in Prime Minster Howard’s department had been actively editing unfavourable entries, including those about the 2001 Children Overboard Affair and the biography of Peter Costello. The Wikiscanner also revealed thousands of changes originating from computers in Australia’s Defence Department, although this practice was quickly clamped down on, with official Defence Department rules now preventing changes being made (while at work, at least). While many of the changes were either predictable (like inserting the word allegedly into reports about the Children Overboard Affair) or inconsequential, the fact that the Howard government or the Defence Department would bother to edit the Wikipedia is a clear indication of the wide impact the Wikipedia has had across Australia and the wider world.

In 2005 one of the most biggest controversies to hit the Wikipedia erupted when well-respected US journalist and political figure John Seigenthaler had it brought to his attention that the Wikipedia entry about him falsely accused Seigenthaler of being linked to the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. At issue was not just the false information, which was removed fairly quickly after the hoax entry was exposed, but the fact that the erroneous entry had last for 4 months before someone noticed the problem. Seigenthaler’s reputation and the obviously false accusations were something of a blow to the Wikipedia, and the issue of Wikipedia’s reliability again became a hot topic in the media. In response to the Seigenthaler incident, the Wikipedia introduced new safeguards which meant some entries were protected from editing, while others could only be edited by trusted Wikipedians who had proven their reliability with a history of useful contributions. This is illustrated, for example, in that immediately before and during the inauguration of Barack Obama, the entries both for Obama and George W Bush were in ‘semi-protected’ mode. This mode means only Wikipedians who’ve made non-controversial edits to more than 10 articles over a period of time and have thus earned a level of trust, can edit these biographies. The biographical entries for many current and recent political figures are in semi-protected mode, as this prevents anonymous users, first-time users and automated scripts from altering and vandalising content. While these restrictions alter the ‘anyone can edit’ philosophy behind the Wikipedia, the changes do offer a higher level of credibility and reliability, especially surrounding hot topics and public figures, trying to maintain the ideal of neutrality.

Using Wikipedia in the Classroom

So with the caveats about credibility and neutrality in mind, what place can the Wikipedia have in the classroom? More to the point, given that many of our students are using it whether endorsed by their teachers or not, how can we try and ensure that, at the very least, students approach the Wikipedia with a critical eye?

In trying to understand the Wikipedia, the most obvious approach is to try and design a project in which students edit or create a Wikipedia page. Such a project ensures that students get first-hand experience of everything from logging in, to creating content and then working with whatever alterations or contributions come from the broader Wikipedian community. The success or failure of such a project will often hinge on carefully considering the topic to create or explore. For example, editing the biography of John Howard might be interesting, but students are likely to come up against a fairly detailed existing entry and there will probably be quite a few vested Wikipedians watching over this entry; this, in turn, might see contributions from the classroom quickly overturned. However, one of the least well-documented areas of in the Wikipedia is often local history. So a project, for example, which involved students researching their local suburb’s history, or the history of a significant community landmark or event, is far more likely to be of value both as a project and to the Wikipedia itself. Wikipedia’s policy of ensuring material is referenced would require students to do decent research, while creating a local historical entry could add both to their understanding of local history and their understanding of the Wikipedia. Wikipedians themselves suggest that one of the best ways for teachers to introduce the Wikipedia is for the whole class to use a single username and password. This allows teachers to moderate and, if needs be, to remove student contributions. If you’re considering trying out using the Wikipedia as a classroom activity, it’s worth taking a look at the Wikipedia’s guide for teachers, at: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Schools/Teachers%27_Guide.

Another possibility, rather than creating entries, is to study the Wikipedia as both a cultural and social entity. Making such a study of real value are some of the greatest assets of the Wikipedia, which are not the entries themselves, but the editorial histories which are linked to each and every Wikipedia entry. Every article has an associated Discussion and History page (accessed via tabs at the top of each entry). The Discussion page (often just called Talk) is the place where Wikipedians can propose, discuss, argue and critique changes and suggested changes to articles. These pages can sometimes be banal, but often they reveal a great deal about the way people think about particular topics; these discussions can also serve as a compass in measuring what the debates are surrounding certain topics or subjects. Similarly, the History page shows the detail of each and every change made to an entry since it was first created, including any instances where the entry was ‘rolled back’ to a previous version after a contribution that was not judged worthy by other users. Again, this depth of editorial knowledge can reveal a great deal about how certain topics are explored and the way entries have evolved. Beyond individual entries and their histories, studying the Wikipedia as an entity is made far more interesting by examining the Wikimedia Foundation, who run the Wikipedia; in a community of peers, they the ones who still hold unrivalled power in over the online encyclopaedia. Jimmy Wales, the remaining founder of the Wikipedia, is also a colourful and at times controversial character in his own right. It is worth noting that as part of the Global Village elective in this year’s English syllabus for the NSW HSC the Wikipedia itself is suggested as an object of study and amongst the suggested pages are those which discuss the Wikimedia Foundation, not just individual entries.

The final suggested classroom activity is for students to undertake a detailed analysis of an individual Wikipedia entry, often one which is on a currently controversial or topical issue. If, as the Nature investigation revealed, most Wikipedia entries have some errors, what might those errors be? If students were starting from scratch on a particular topic, how would they approach their research? Is this approach reflected in the Wikipedia entry, or do their plans already reveal deficiencies in the information available? What impact does the Wikipedia’s neutrality policy have on what information is and isn’t part of that particular entry? And how accurately, or meaningfully, does the Wikipedia entry reflect the history or impact of that subject today? In comparing the Wikipedia entries with other sources, not only are students likely to discover the strengths and weaknesses of the Wikipedia, but they’re also likely to develop broader insight into the way information is presented in different sources, both online and in more traditional forms. This critical literacy may, in fact, be of far more value than any single investigation of the Wikipedia whatsoever as it may help teach students one of the most important lessons: that all sources should be approached critically, regardless of their supposed origins. Errors are always possible, and if an investigation into the Wikipedia can highlight the subjective nature of all information, that insight will serve students far beyond the immediate project they’re undertaking.

The appropriateness of the Wikipedia as a classroom tool or project will always depend on the specificities of that teaching environment, but given the widespread impact of the Wikipedia, it seems better to study it and highlight its strengths and weaknesses rather than ignore it altogether. Another way to get a firmer grip on the Wikipedia is to seek out a the recently published How Wikipedia Works: And How You Can Be a Part of It by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yates (No Starch Press, 2008) which was written by three long-time Wikipedians and gives a wealth of insight into the inner workings of the Wikipedia, as well as best practice for new users and educators seeking to use the Wikipedia for the first time. However, the single most important thing to remind students is that despite being online, the Wikipedia aspires to being an excellent encyclopaedia; simply citing an encyclopaedia without further research has never led to good marks and that’s unlikely to change any time soon, be it an online encyclopaedia or otherwise. Every Wikipedia entry cites its sources, following these is where real research can often begin.

Print Friendly

Links for August 17th 2010 through August 24th 2010:

  • Social Steganography: Learning to Hide in Plain Sight [DMLcentral] – danah boyd on social steganography: “… hiding information in plain sight, creating a message that can be read in one way by those who aren’t in the know and read differently by those who are. [...] communicating to different audiences simultaneously, relying on specific cultural awareness to provide the right interpretive lens. [...] Social steganography is one privacy tactic teens take when engaging in semi-public forums like Facebook. While adults have worked diligently to exclude people through privacy settings, many teenagers have been unable to exclude certain classes of adults – namely their parents – for quite some time. For this reason, they’ve had to develop new techniques to speak to their friends fully aware that their parents are overhearing. Social steganography is one of the most common techniques that teens employ. They do this because they care about privacy, they care about misinterpretation, they care about segmented communications strategies.”
  • The Mother Lode: Welcome to the iMac Touch [Patently Apple] – A look at a patent for the future iMacs which shows the entire desktop computer will soon be enable as a giant touch-screen device thanks to the technology developed creating the iPad and Apple’s new iOS touch-based operating system.
  • Sweden Rescinds Warrant for WikiLeaks Founder [NYTimes.com] – Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, was, for a brief time, up on rape and molestation chages in Sweden before the charges were rescinded just as quickly as they’d appealed. In a context where the Pentagon and others have said they’ve the resources to close Wikileaks and prosecute Assange, this whole debacle seems entirely suspicious.
  • Share Bookmarklet [Twitter] – The official Twitter Bookmarklet, streamlining the sharing of any site or page on Twitter via a bookmarked link in your browser.
  • Our Natalie raking in $100,000 a year from YouTube [The Age] – Australian YouTube sensation Natalie Tran is reported making more than $100,000 Australian dollars from the advertising on her clips, Community Channel.
  • Facebook scam lures users craving ‘Dislike’ button [SMH] – This scam works because so many people want a DISLIKE button on Facebook! “Computer security firm Sophos has warned that scammers are duping Facebook users with a bogus “Dislike” button that slips malicious software onto machines. There is no “Dislike” version of the “Like” icon that members of the world’s top social networking website use to endorse online comments, stories, pictures or other content shared with friends. Hackers are enticing Facebook users to install an application pitched as a “Dislike” button that jokingly notifies contacts at the social networking service “now I can dislike all of your dumb posts.” Once granted permission to access a Facebook user’s profile, the application pumps out spam from the account and spreads itself by inviting the person’s friends to get the button, according to Sophos.”
Print Friendly

Links for August 4th 2010 through August 10th 2010:

  • Women Set the Pace as Online Gamers [NYTimes.com] – “Although women are still slightly in the minority among global Web users, they are closing ground with men and, once connected, spend about two more hours online a month on average. [...] Women also outpace men in photo sharing and shopping, and in what may come as a surprise, gaming, favoring casual puzzle, card and board games. Female gamers over 55 spend the most time online gaming of any demographic by far and are nearly as common as the most represented group, males 15 to 24.”
  • Wikipedia’s Lamest Edit Wars [Information is Beautiful] – Fantastic infographic showing a timeline of some of Wikipedia’s silliest editing wars.
  • Omo GPS stunt opens doors for marketers [News.com.au] – Unilever Brazil has embedded 60 GPS trackers in OMO washing liquid bottles and then their teams have followed the pruchasers of these bottles home and given them prizes. Understandably, many privacy issues have been raised!
  • Does Facebook unite us or divide us? [CNN.com] – Brilliant, and a little confronting, TED talk from Ethan Zuckerman (senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society) looking at how globalisation might be a technical achievement, but not a social or mediated one (“cosmopolitan globalisation”). We look to our own social networks, and they increasingly narrow our perspective rather than broadening it.
  • Update on Google Wave [Official Google Blog] – Google Wove: Wave development ceases, after users find it’s all too complicated.
  • CommBank app lets people snoop on your house [SMH] – House-pricing information is apparently available to the public generally, but there is a real sense of privacy invasion at work here: “There’s a brand new property app on the block that gives iPhone users detailed information on the value of any house they care to point their handset towards, but privacy experts warn it may not sit well with the neighbourhood watch. Detailing sales prices of 95 per cent of Australian homes, the free app has been launched by the Commonwealth Bank in a bid to deliver more immediate buying and selling information to the public as they are actually viewing properties, helping them to ward off rogue sellers who attempt to talk up property prices. Just by pointing an iPhone at a particular property, they will be able to see the last sale price of the property, and if the home is actually for sale, the app will bring up a listing from realestate.com.au with details such as home layout and pictures.”
  • Thunderous Bolt sensitive to parody [ABC The Drum Unleashed] – Jason Wilson weighs in on fake Twitter profiles in the wake of Andrew Bolt’s angry denouncement of (fake) himself: “Online fakery is something that draws on different strands in online and offline cultural history. Apart from drawing on early online examples like Fake Steve Jobs, Twitter faking has links with political impersonation, writing techniques like pastiche, and it also has some relationship to genres like fan fiction. After all, the best fakes don’t just go after their targets with blunt instruments, they create a narrative world for the fake persona to inhabit …”
Print Friendly