William Beutler on Wikipedia

Archive for March 2009

Did Rep. Hinojosa Get a Free Pass on Biased Wikipedia Edits?

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on March 30, 2009 at 9:21 am

This weekend, former Tacitus and RedState blogger Josh Treviño asked over Twitter:

Do you think Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX-15) had his staff edit his own Wikipedia entry? So blatant: http://bit.ly/TSbMm

The answer is yes, and yes it is and I see what could be regarded as something of a double-standard here. First of all, Hinojosa’s congressional staff was quite up front about editing the page in the first place, when they contributed from a House-registered IP address in early 2008:

I am a staffer for Congressman Hinojosa in his Washington office and have found some mistakes. We have edited them and added the official biography from our website. If there are questions, please [sic]

Not unlike Twitter, you only get so many characters to explain your edit in the edit summary. This was not a bad way to go about it, although another editor left this note on the Talk page associated with the IP address for the Hinojosa staffer:

ATTN: Staffer for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa

The edit was constructive in the sense that it did not delete unfavorable information from the page. At least, not all that unfavorable. For example, they changed

Finally in 2002 he was elected once again after running unopposed.

to

Finally in 2002 he was elected once again.

which it’s debatable whether this is even the right phrasing, but there is no question they removed (what may or may not be relevant) context.

However, I am not sure why adding material from his official bio is “constructive” when Wikipedia explicitly forbids plagiarism. Using information from the bio would be one thing, if there was at least a citation. Instead, are a few examples from what they added:

In Congress, Rubén Hinojosa is regarded as a champion for the disadvantaged and has distinguished himself as a strong advocate for education, housing and economic development. His primary goal in Congress has been to reduce the chronic unemployment rate in regions of the district.

And:

As chairman of the Education Task Force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressman Hinojosa ensures that federal education policy never loses sight of the youngest and fastest growing population in the country – Hispanic Americans.

And:

On the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Hinojosa is widely recognized as a leader on issues affecting the underserved, from banking to housing.

Favorable impressions of a subject can be attributed to independent observers, but it should never presented as a true-because-Wikipedia-said-so fact. Yet as Treviño noticed, it has largely remained intact in the year-and-change since. In fact, one editor did stop by a few days later to clean it up, but only slightly.

A partisan job? Probably not — that editor was a retired aviation engineer from Bristol, England. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking whether a Republican congressional staffer making these kind of mistakes would have received the same benefit of the doubt? If one takes into account the case of former Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), whose staff was caught in mid-2006 making similar changes to his Wikipedia bio, this seems unlikely. Then again, the staff of former Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) was called out for doing something similar earlier that year, so the answer is not so simple.

The bottom line here is that Rep. Hinojosa’s page needs some major work to bring it back in line with Wikipedia standards. If nobody gets to it soon — and in fact the page has remained unedited for two months now — I may just have to get in there and fix it myself.

How Not to Plead Your Case at Wikipedia

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on March 29, 2009 at 10:20 am

Yesterday I wrote a relatively lengthy post discussing the circumstances surrounding the deletion of a Wikipedia article about Human Achievement Hour (HAH), a parody holiday created this year by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The title — “Why WWF’s Earth Hour Gets a Wikipedia Entry But CEI’s Human Achievement Hour Doesn’t” — was a bit misleading in that it did not actually go point-by-point about why the Earth Hour article lives yet HAH is no more, mostly because it was a response to a request from CEI’s Twitter guy about whether environmentalist-oriented articles had been removed in a similar manner (they have).

There should be no great mystery as to why the article was deleted, and the reasons given can be found in the relevant deletion debate. But such discussions are not always easy for the uninitiated to follow, so let me try to explain a little more neatly:

  • The article’s supporters maintained that because the fake holiday had been mentioned in various publications, it deserved an article.
  • However, they failed to acknowledge that these citations do not trigger notability — Wikipedia’s rules are a little more complex than that.
  • For one thing, mentions in the National Post and National Review were by CEI employees; commentaries don’t count toward establishing Notability in the same way that reported news articles do.
  • Notices from actual news articles, in USA Today and Time, only mentioned HAH in articles about Earth Hour.
  • Therefore, HAH warrants a mention in the Earth Hour article (which was not in dispute for long) but because it does not yet have news reports dedicated to HAH itself, it doesn’t make the cut for a standalone article. It would need at least two or three to rate.

Yet there are at least two recently-arrived Wikipedia contributors who may not necessarily have CEI’s blessing but have continued to press their argument at Wikipedia. And, to put it diplomatically, they are going about it all wrong.

The first, as noted previously, is someone calling themselves Thehondaboy. The second is an account named Thelobbyist, which has only ever edited articles related to this issue. So let’s take a tour of the arguments made by these two and the mistakes they’ve made. This won’t contain all of the necessary context, but I will link to the pages that provide it.

Going chronologically, Thehondaboy argued in the HAH deletion debate on March 23:

    The commentor presumably thinks that criticism from ClimateBiz determines the event is not notable. ClimateBiz commentary will obviously be opposed to CEI or anyone that sides with their position or takes part in the event. Obviously they believe (or hope) the event is not notable. Using their sentiments to determine notability is therefore asinine. The use of the link is clearly to show a major player in the environmental movement noting the event. The observation by the of the event taking place justifies its notability. Thehondaboy (talk —Preceding undated comment added 20:37, 23 March 2009 (UTC).

Thehondaboy makes two primary mistakes, that I see. The first is violating the “Assume good faith” guideline; making inferences about another editor’s political viewpoint does not change any of the facts under discussion and is no way to ingratiate you with other editors. It’s a tactic of weakness, and a sure sign you’re going to lose. Second, look up what “Notability” means to Wikipedians.

On the same page, Thehondaboy argued later:

    It certainly sounds like the attempts of someone opposed to the event, rather than someone simply and unbiasedly concerned about whether it should or should not exist. The reasons for it’s removal are weak. There are reasonable sources that have listed the event. Whpq asks for reliable sources. I don’t know who Whpq is. He is some random guy on the Internet. Why would he get to decide what is or is not a “reliable source.” Weak argument for deletion. Additionally, he again makes the assumption based on personal bias that the event is not notable. The argument that “We don’t create articles in the hopes that the subject may become notable in the future,” is not valid because it has not been agreed on that the subject is not notable. The events notability has not been agreed upon, so therefore we can’t determine that it is currently or will be notable. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.Thehondaboy (talk —Preceding undated comment added 20:42, 23 March 2009 (UTC).

Pretty much the same thing here, although now that the discussion is resolved to the dissatisfaction of Thehondaboy, he’s making the same arguments again. There are a few behavioral guidelines that apply here, but one worth focusing on is “Characteristics of problem editors” which unfortunately describes Thehondaboy. Here he is again, on the talk page of an editor who had disagreed on the deletion review after the HAH page was first removed. And here is Thelobbyist also claiming to know the rules better than Wikipedia editors who regularly work in AfD:

    Very clearly what I mean by political is the fact that editor’s of the Earth Hour page have been rallied to endorse deletion on our page whether it has merit or not. It’s obvious that no one actually cares about merit or WP rules. There is no way after this I could ever trust anything on WP ever again. There are climate articles built on blog citations. But Human Achievement Hour is mentioned in 3 national papers including the USA Today. And there is a story citing it in TIME MAGAZINE today. But these aren’t good enough for noteriety. Why? Because individuals personal bias is deciding when these will be good sources or not. This whole project is a sham. thehondaboy (talk) 17:03, 28 March 2009 (UTC)

“Problem editor” also describes Thelobbyist, another account created with the apparent sole purpose of arguing about HAH. Here he (or she) is on yet another editor’s discussion page, with Thehondaboy right on his heels:

    Human Achievement Hour
    Your deletion of HAH is based on a previous page that had no notability. A brief even callous glance at the new page placed up today would make it very, very obvious that the event is notable now. It appeared in the USA TODAY this morning, and two national news papers yesterday. This is censorship at it’s finest. Especially being that the event is tomorrow. It needs to be reinstated now. Thelobbyist (talk) 22:06, 27 March 2009 (UTC)

    Agreed. Reinstate. thehondaboy (talk) 22:07, 27 March 2009 (UTC)

Thelobbyist’s attempt to dictate content is laughable, although it is disruptive and therefore serious. This person makes a few obvious errors, such as arguing that Wikipedia is censored and trying to impose a deadline. Wikipedia does not take kindly to being called “censors,” and conservatives who know that only the government can truly impose censorship should not be flinging the term around. Likewise, Wikipedia is not a promotional tool, and will generally resist attempts to use it in this manner. And of course, it’s painfully clear neither of the pro-HAH contributors have bothered to study the aforementioned Notability guidelines even four days later.

Worse still is the fact that Thehondaboy’s comment was added just one minute after Thelobbyist’s, which raises the possibility that they are working as a team — a frowned-upon activity referred to as Meat puppetry:

While Wikipedia assumes good faith especially for new users, the recruitment of new editors to Wikipedia for the purpose of influencing a survey, performing reverts, or otherwise attempting to give the appearance of consensus is strongly discouraged.

I don’t know who either editor may be or whether they are in fact working in tandem, but I will reiterate my point from yesterday: it’s a shame that CEI cannot find someone more knowledgeable or conscientious to make sure they are represented fairly.

There are more examples from both editors, but they tend to mine the same territory. Four days later, both editors were still banging their heads against the wall. Here’s Thelobbyist reduced to being snide on still another editor’s talk page:

    Enjoy your articles?
    I hope so. Thelobbyist (talk) 06:58, 28 March 2009 (UTC)

And here’s Thehondaboy, back on the original deletion debate:

    This just got picked up by Michelle Malkin. michellemalkin.com. Any further questioning of it’s relevance or notoriety is at this point garbage rhetoric from individuals biased against this article. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Thehondaboy (talk • contribs) 17:33, 24 March 2009 (UTC)

Right, but Michelle Malkin is a blogger and that only counts under certain circumstances. It’s also hilarious — and almost as telling — that this person has confused “Notability” with a non-existent “Notoriety” standard. And if there’s one thing Thehondaboy knows, it’s garbage rhetoric. What’s more, this kind of edit activity makes it difficult to take seriously complaints from NewsBusters’ Christine Hall that there is an “Enviro Wikipedia Assault on Human Achievement Hour” going on. Doesn’t it look like the other way around?

Let me conclude with a few quick points of advice:

  • Don’t make demands.
  • Don’t issue threats.
  • Don’t keep making arguments that have already been resolved.
  • Don’t treat Wikipedia debates like a 50 percent-plus-one vote.
  • Don’t argue that other editors are politically-motivated — especially if you are also politically-motivated.

These are all negative, so here are a couple that are positive:

  • Remember that words like notable, verifiable, reliable and others have specific meanings at Wikipedia, so get to know them.
  • Ask for help.

Yes, ask for help. Go to the Help desk and ask uninvolved editors which content guidelines apply. Wikipedia is not monolithic, and if one or two editors are unfairly denying your argument, another editor is likely to make a non-judgmental call. Maybe you win or maybe you don’t. But you sure won’t get posts like this written about you.

Why WWF’s Earth Hour Gets a Wikipedia Entry But CEI’s Human Achievement Hour Doesn’t

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on March 28, 2009 at 5:05 pm

earth-hour-cei-logos

You may have heard of Earth Hour, an eco-Hallmark holiday for the Twitter age, created by the World Wildlife Fund in 2007 and promoted in the media each year since.

You are probably less likely to have heard of Human Achievement Hour, a counter-holiday launched by the Competitive Enterprise Institute this year.

I was unfamiliar until I noticed CEI’s Twitter account acting upset on Friday about the deletion of a Wikipedia article about their new tradition. I responded to @ceidotorg and said I would take a look for myself. Here are the relevant tweets, in descending choronological order:

    ceidotorg: #hah Attempts to ‘delete’ Human Achievement Hour in Wikipedia http://ping.fm/4rABR #fr33 #tcot #liberty #c4 –1:38 PM by CE
    ceidotorg: #hah WIkipedia deletion discussion here http://bit.ly/kZMJ No good reason given for axing entry on HAH -#liberty #tcot –3:22 PM
    ceidotorg: #hah deleted by Wikipedia now banned by Youtube in 1 minute -Human Achievement strikes again http://ping.fm/5wtS4 #liberty #tcot –12:44PM
    williambeutler: Sorry, @ceidotorg, your Wikipedia article was not deleted because editors didn’t like your agenda: http://twurl.nl/ersp1o –1:11 PM
    williambeutler: @ceidotorg Not surprising an event that hasn’t occurred yet and is just getting notice wouldn’t make the cut. Next year may be different. –1:16 PM
    ceidotorg: @williambeutler if you could provide any solid evidence that the same occurred to an entry that agreed with green agenda-I’d believe that –3:34 PM

I said I knew just the place to look, and that was WikiProject Deletion sorting/Environment/archive, which saves past discussions from Wikipedia’s Articles for Deletion process — where entries that just aren’t ready for prime time go to die.

On that page, I counted 36 deliberations over keeping vs. deleting articles on Environmental topics since the archive category was created last year. And after counting twice, I found 14 nominated articles were kept, 13 were deleted and 9 were “other” — sometimes being merged into other articles.

This demonstrates in the aggregate that just any submission of interest to Wikipedia’s many environmentalist-minded contributors won’t stick just for being “politically correct.” The results even looks outwardly fair, although Wikipedia is concerned more with process than outcome.

Meanwhile, there are specific examples of such debates from the past and present we can study:

  • There is no longer an article about an outfit named Carbon Purging, which seems to be one of these “green” companies whose business model depends on an Al Gore-style guilt-trip.
  • Climate conflict, a little-used term apparently referring to some kind of feared global warming-sparked regional confrontation, got the boot.
  • More recently, the neologism Hot Stain (not what it sounds like, whatever you think that may be) is currently the subject of a sustained, as it were, debate on both sides (based on what I’ve seen, I lean “delete”).
  • And a biographical entry about an “eco-feminist” named Leslie Davies is currently headed down to defeat.

The important thing is that all of these decisions — and all of those that resulted in a “keep” — were made by community consensus based on the content guidelines with which anyone can familiarize themselves.

afd-hah-cei

Since I started writing this post, I’ve been following the actions of an editor using the handle Thehondaboy, who had been pressing the CEI case on the “AfD” debate over Human Achievement Hour (aka #hah, if you didn’t catch that) in recent days, has been trying to dramatically expand the “Criticism” section on the Earth Hour page to include substantial details about the campaign, including just about every single mention in the media — over and over again, after being reverted — as if the previously-given explanations (about why they didn’t satisfy the guidelines) never took place.

And it’s not an insignificant point that Human Achievement Hour had in fact already been prominently mentioned on the Earth Hour article. Yet Thehondaboy was apparently not satisfied with that.

I’m a little surprised this account hasn’t been temporarily blocked from editing, although it does look like it’s headed in that direction. I have no idea who Thehondaboy is, though I do certainly hope it is not someone from CEI edit warring on this point. From this editor they’d be wise to keep their distance.

Wikipedia needs conservatives and right-leaners to contribute, especially at the margins where many topics would be lopsided in favor of the left-progressive perspectives of editors from WikiProject Environment. As an economic libertarian myself, it’s especially frustrating to see CEI’s cause reduced to a futile struggle against a set of rules (and a community) that its chief advocate hasn’t taken the time to understand.

I have written elsewhere that many conservatives’ complaints about Wikipedia are misplaced (see here and here, for example) and this seems to be another such case.

Conservatives are not unique in having a weak grasp of how Wikipedia functions, nor are they even alone among political activists. The website is undoubtedly complicated, but it’s hardly incomprehensible. If you learn to edit according to rules, you can figure out which battles are winnable — ahem, which content disputes are likely to be resolved in your favor — and save yourself a real headache.

How to Avoid Unnecessarily Annoying a Wikipedia Editor

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on March 28, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I work in an office where discussions of Wikipedia come up fairly often, which owes something to the fact that I work for an online marketing firm. However, one habit on the part of some co-workers (about which I have not previously commented and will permit myself just this one gripe) is the irritating habit of referring to Wikipedia as Wiki.

Now, I get the need to economize time spent devoted to communication, especially when everyone is on Internet time. “Wiki” is just two syllables and four letters, while “pedia” tacks on an additional three and five, respectively. Not to mention, between the two halves of the word, “Wiki” is more distinctive than “pedia,” and also ~pedia has been growing in usage as a suffix (mostly because of Wikipedia). So I understand why they (or maybe even you) do it. But here’s the problem — it’s just wrong.

Even if you’ve only used Wikipedia as a time-waster you are probably at least somewhat aware that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia built upon something called a “wiki,” which is analogous to a blog in that it is a relatively new platform for building a website. Although the Web is lousy with wikis — the software having business and entertainment applications alike — I’d wager that Wikipedia is the only one that most people ever use. This explains the habit, but doesn’t excuse it.

Calling “Wikipedia” by the abbreviation “Wiki” is expressly verboten on Wikipedia itself, which in fact has a guideline-like essay appropriately titled Don’t abbreviate Wikipedia as Wiki. This obviously does not proscribe such usage off-site — nor does it try to do so — but it would at least save a bit of the enamel on my teeth.

As the essay advises, in written communication “Wikipedia” can be abbreviated to “WP”; to be sure, this is also the initialism for WordPress and arguably so for the Washington Post as well — two other terms in common usage at my inside-the-Beltway workplace — but I think in most cases, context will make this clear. As for spoken word… you know, if you’re in a rush and call it “Wiki” I won’t correct you (like I will those who mispronounce “Oregon” or “Nevada”) but I would appreciate your attempt to call it “Wikipedia” whenever possible. Just out of common courtesy is all.

So there, I’ve said my piece. Sincerely, your trying-to-stay-friendly neighborhood Wikipedia editor.

Searching for Wikipedia Assistance on Craigslist

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on March 22, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Here’s an interesting request for Wikipedia assistance on Craigslist, sent to me by a friend and former colleague from my hometown of Portland, Oregon — coincidentally, also the birthplace of the wiki — just a few days ago:

some wikipedia help (SW Portland)  Date: 2009-03-18, 11:01PM PDT  I am looking for help with wikipedia. I could really use a good wikipedia editor willing to help and post what seems reasonable on Wikipedia within the rules. The topic is "string matching algorithms and structured data". You need to have a basic undertsnading of this topic.  Your need to be an experienced wiki editor and have credit in the wikipedia community regarding such topics.

I’ve clipped a bit from the bottom, but it also includes this:

* Location: SW Portland
* it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
* Compensation: $25+ depends on qualifications.

With the math knowledge requirement and low monetary offer, I am not surprised that the ad remains at the time of this writing.

The mention of compensation could well raise concerns among editors who are wary of financial interests influencing content on Wikipedia. While I am sympathetic to this point of view for the simple reason that they are often correct — people who are willing to put money against getting something changed on Wikipedia are likely to be willing to pay for edits that satisfy their interests but fall short of Wikipedia’s goals — this is also why the Conflict of Interest guideline specifically states: Where advancing outside interests is more important to an editor than advancing the aims of Wikipedia, that editor stands in a conflict of interest. How serious is the advertiser about following this? I’d say the phrase “what seems reasonable on Wikipedia within the rules” has to be pretty close, but what may seem “reasonable” to someone unfamiliar with Wikipedia guidelines may nevertheless conflict with them.

While this request appears to be small ball, it does remind me of the time when a Microsoft employee offered Australian programmer Rick Jelliffe money to edit a Wikipedia article of interest to the company. Presumably knowing he would be sympathetic, Microsoft instructed Jelliffe to use his best judgment, and the controversy only kicked off once Jelliffe himself wrote a blog post about it. Notwithstanding comments from the likes of Jimmy Wales saying he was “disappointed” in the situation, it is unrealistic to expect that interested parties cannot seek to correct inaccurate or incomplete information — which is what Microsoft says it was doing. Lost in the controversy was the possibility that IBM, Microsoft’s rival, may have had people anonymously weighting the article in question.

Ultimately, Jelliffe’s biggest mistake was not disclosing the arrangement on the article’s Talk page at the time of his edits. This may have meant additional scrutiny on the page, but that comes with the territory. And if anyone takes up this guy’s offer, I’d recommend they do the same.

Don’t Be WorldNetDaily’s Aaron Klein

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on March 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm

As noted yesterday, a recent article by WorldNetDaily Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein about Wikipedia’s alleged “scrubbing” of President Obama’s Wikipedia article resulted in additional coverage that brought to light the probability that Klein himself had made the controversial edits in question and was also the creator and top contributor to his own Wikipedia entry (at least until yesterday, when it exploded with activity.

To be fair, Klein has now claimed (in a letter to Gawker) that he is not in fact Jerusalem21 but in fact only told a subordinate at WND to edit the page:

First, I am not “Jerusalem21,” but I do know the Wikipedia user (he works with me and does research for me), and I worked with him on this story, which focused on investigating allegations I had received from others of Wikipedia scrubbing Obama’s page.

Whatever. Klein is probably satisfied that he has brought to the world’s attention the horrible Wikipedia conspiracy to keep fringe theories out of articles where they don’t belong, but it may come at a price he didn’t expect:

aaron-klein-afd

If you check out the deletion debate itself, it’s not immediately clear which way it will go. Many votes for Keep and many for Delete as well. The fact that Klein (or his subordinate) wrote up a vanity page is not the issue — after all, it can always be changed — but whether Klein meets Wikipedia’s notability requirement certainly is.

Amusingly, some take the position that Klein did not meet the requirement prior to criticizing Wikipedia, but due to the ensuing coverage, he now does. And I think this is may be correct, though I think it’s arguable he met the requirement in the first place. I think the article will most likely survive, even if the decision is “no consensus.” But he may not like that, either — because as long as the article stays, so will some version of this:

Klein removed the name of the editor from the article after reports arose on blogs and Wired News that he might himself be the suspended editor described in the story.

The So-Called Fight Over Barack Obama’s Wikipedia Article

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on March 10, 2009 at 7:27 am

There are two stories going around in the past 24 hours about President Obama’s biographical article on Wikipedia. One, from FoxNews.com, is about the article downplaying Obama’s relationship with the controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright and eliminating all references to erstwhile domestic terrorist William Ayers. The second is from WorldNetDaily and concerns Wikipedia editors reverting attempts to mention the alleged controversy over whether Obama was in fact born somewhere outside the United States, thus making him ineligible for the presidency (misleadingly promoted at Druge as “WIKIPEDIA scrubs Obama page clean of critical entries…”).

While I haven’t done extensive research into the history of this page or its associated talk page, I think there are reasonable questions involved but as we will get to later, this is ultimately a non-story.

First of all, Fox was wise to have ignored WND’s primary concern: there is a big difference between campaign controversies that merited mainstream press attention and those which remained the confined to blogs and message boards. The editor who removed the “eligibility” information the first time cited WP:FRINGE and WP:UNDUE and if neither guideline is familiar, they are worth studying. However, due to the actual lawsuits that were not covered in conjunction with the campaign, the subject is deserving of its own Wikipedia article, and it has one: Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, I can at least envision a case being made that Ayers warrants a mention on this page, although not much more of one than what Wright gets:

Obama resigned from Trinity during the Presidential campaign after controversial statements made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright became public.[200]

This sentence resides in the “Family and personal life” section, and is the closing sentence in a paragraph on Obama’s religious views. This also points to the fact that Wright was, by all accounts, a much more important person in Obama’s life than was Ayers. It’s true, the article does not mention that inspiration for the title “The Audacity of Hope” comes from Wright, but the article on the book most certainly does.

In fact, Fox News’ Joshua Rhett Miller concedes there is less than meets the eye here in this paragraph:

Obama’s controversial relationships with both men have two extensive independent Wikipedia pages: “Bill Ayers presidential election controversy” and “Jeremiah Wright controversy.” The associations, however, are largely downplayed or ignored altogether in Obama’s main Wikipedia entry.

True (see here and here, respectively). There is also a discussion of Wright in the article about Obama’s presidential primary campaign and mentions of Ayers in that article as well as the one about his general election campaign. This is whitewashing?

That said, the concern that supporters of President Obama may zealously guard the page is a real one. Wikipedia has a whole guideline pointing out that no single editor has ownership over any article, which is a pretty good indication that this does happen. Because Wikipedia runs on consensus, it is also possible that a group of like-minded editors are reinforcing each other’s desire to see negative material removed from the article. Likewise, relegating disputed material to another page in order to avoid debates is called POV forking, and is discouraged. However, I see no clear-cut evidence this either the case, and it would take several hours’ research for me to know enough to say.

Meanwhile, what is clear is that the editor whose reverted additions of aforementioned material did a clumsy job, is obviously motivated by political considerations and is hardly a conscientious Wikipedia contributor. As Wired points out:

Of more interest is the identity of the mysterious Jerusalem21, whose courageous disregard of Wikipedia’s ban on fringe material provided WND’s Aaron Klein with his smoking gun in the first place, spawning what will soon be a national wiki-scandal.

Curiously, it turns out that Jerusalem21, whoever he or she might be, has only worked on one other Wikipedia entry since the account was created, notes ConWebWatch. That’s Aaron Klein’s entry, which Jerusalem21 created in 2006, and has edited 37 times.

Who watches the watchmen, indeed.

Wikigroaning: Less Random than a Blaster

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on March 9, 2009 at 3:24 pm

On July 31, 2006, Stephen Colbert said of Wikipedia:

Any site that has a longer entry on truthiness than on Lutherans has its priorities straight.

This probably wasn’t the first time someone has noticed the tendency of Wikipedia to feature more information about arguably trivial subjects than arguably significant ones, but it certainly was not the last. Less than a year later, a contributor to Something Awful created (or popularized) a game called “Wikigroaning”:

something_awful_logoThe premise is quite simple. First, find a useful Wikipedia article that normal people might read. For example, the article called “Knight.” Then, find a somehow similar article that is longer, but at the same time, useless to a very large fraction of the population. In this case, we’ll go with “Jedi Knight.” Open both of the links and compare the lengths of the two articles. Compare not only that, but how well concepts are explored, and the greater professionalism with which the longer article was likely created. Are you looking yet? Get a good, long look. Yeah. Yeeaaah, we know, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The article included a list of amusingly juxtaposed concepts, such as Modern warfare vs. Video Game Crash of 1983 and while the concept is funny, Wikipedia recognizes this as a systemic bias they must deal with.

This seems to me like an opportunity a) to ask whether they have and in doing so b) launch an occasionally recurring feature, wherein we compare the Wikipedia of today (beginning in early 2009) to the Wikipedia of 2007. So let’s see how those specific articles from 2007 compare then, and now.

First, let’s benchmark the articles at June 1, 2007, just a few days prior to the article’s publication and about the time author Johnny “DocEvil” Titanium was doing his research. Naturally, the piece implies that the “Lightsaber combat” article was much longer than the one about “Modern warfare.” Unfortunately (sort of) the former article no longer exists: if you click the link you are now redirected to the article Lightsaber, and as I am not an administrator, I cannot see the old pages. No matter. If we substitute Lightsaber on June 1, 2007, that article was 9,500+ words long. Modern warfare on June 1, 2007 was just shy of 2,000.

Now, here are the two side-by-side as of today:

wp_modern_warfare_vs_lightsaber

As you can see, the Modern warfare article is now somewhat longer than the Lightsaber article. Of course, length is not everything. For one thing, the Lightsaber article is now well-sourced (in 2007 it had just one in-line citation) whereas Modern warfare in fact has none. But there are mitigating circumstances here, as well. One thing that “Wikigroaning” doesn’t take into account is the amount of material on other pages, and here Modern warfare is nearly a list, serving primarily as a jumping-off point to other articles describing different aspects of modern warfare in greater detail. Some of these are well-sourced, whereas others are not. Another consideration is edit frequency: Lightsaber has been edited many, many more times than has Modern warfare, which speaks partially to the number of “experts” in the former and partially to the stability of the latter.

A more apt comparison might be to the AK-47 article, which I think is a better article still, and much better than the one about the Blaster.

This being the first post in a series I have yet to fully develop, I may develop a rating system and return to this post at another date to include it. Additionally, what I write is guaranteed valid for March 9, 2009 only and may warrant revisiting at another time. But let’s see where this takes us in the meantime.

Oh, and if you really want to know all about Lightsaber combat, Wookiepedia has an article of that name which runs more than 3,300 words — but no in-line citations.

The Fix is In

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on March 6, 2009 at 8:44 am

Today’s Featured article on the English Wikipedia covers an interesting subject, and one that is recently relevant as well:

saxbe-fix-featured-article

As you may remember, the fix was necessary for Senator Hillary Clinton to become Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and this is well-covered in the section titled “21st century.” But here’s my favorite part:

These pay raises were by executive order in accordance with cost of living adjustment statutes, as noted by legal scholar Eugene Volokh on his blog, The Volokh Conspiracy.[54] Before the January 2009 pay increases, secretaries made $191,300 and senators and congressmen earned only $169,300.[59]

If you know anything about the Verifiability guideline, one of the things you probably know is that blogs are nearly always disallowed as a “self-published source.” But the usage of Volokh’s writing on his widely-celebrated group blog falls well within the scope of this guideline:

Self-published material may, in some circumstances, be acceptable when produced by an established expert on the topic of the article whose work in the relevant field has previously been published by reliable third-party publications.

Check, and check. As a longtime fan if intermittent reader of The Volokh Conspiracy, I think Eugene Volokh’s admittance as a source on this rigorously-evaluated article — and not just once but in fact five times — is pretty cool.

The Curious Case of Ryan Coonerty

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on March 4, 2009 at 9:06 pm

There’s an interesting story from the San Jose Mercury News today about Ryan Coonerty, a moderately controversial mayor of Santa Cruz, California who has a much-contested Wikipedia article:

Young, highly educated and very popular with voters, or a politician who plies his trade by cashing in on resentment toward the homeless in Santa Cruz.

If you get your information online, your view of Councilman Ryan Coonerty may depend on who last edited his Wikipedia page.

ryan_coonerty_public_domainTwo years after Coonerty joined the Santa Cruz City Council in 2004, his supporters created an admittedly glowing Wikipedia profile that they hoped might hook Web-savvy young voters.

Though he has long since been re-elected to the council, what once seemed like hip political strategy has become a headache as Coonerty, 35, engages in an ongoing struggle to control his online image on Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

It has gotten to the point where, “given it all, I would rather just not have a Wikipedia page,” said Coonerty, who in 2007 became the youngest Santa Cruz mayor in 30 years. “It gets looked at a lot. I’ll give a speech and people will print out my Wikipedia page.”

So I’ve had a look through it now and what’s kind of amusing is that even after the article was posted this afternoon, drive-by editors were still taking their shots at Finnerty — only to be quickly reverted by more-established editors. Several hours later the article was drawing vandals who were less critics of Finnerty than out to make fun for themselves — a malady afflicting many articles in the news.

The upshot, however, is that the article seems to have several defenders, including Xymmax (today’s most active) and Delirium (a sometime contributor to the Greek Wikipedia). A more interesting case is Rthunder, a Santa Cruz resident and the article’s most frequent contributor. Rthunder appears to be no supporter of Coonerty, whose good faith edits have been rolled back for legitimate reasons but has also made edits of which Coonerty would undoubtedly approve.

Articles such as Coonerty’s can be difficult to keep neutral, as Delirium explains on the Talk page today:

I do think this is one of Wikipedia’s bigger blind spots in general, though: BLPs [Biographies of living persons] which have a few people who care a lot about them (on either side), but are neither non-notable enough to delete, nor notable enough to attract much attention from neutral editors. One I was involved in a while back, Erwin McManus, was fought over by partisans for over a year before they mostly went away and some more neutral editors showed up. I guess the BLP noticeboard is the best way to pull non-involved people into these sorts of articles?

I think that’s right on the first point, and probably correct on the second. Of course, then there is also the curious case of how public pressure can bring changes to articles, which is another way to pull in other editors. It happened here, and that’s certainly what happened in the much more infamous case of John Seigenthaler, what Wikipedia itself calls the “Seigenthaler incident.”

Oh, and one more thing? The Coonerty article is arguably better than it was yesterday — but it still needs a lot of work.

Twitter + Wikipedia = How Can I Not Write About This?

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on March 3, 2009 at 6:57 am

I hadn’t realized that Sen. John McCain was on Twitter as @SenJohnMcCain, but with 127,000+ followers I am going to assume that it’s the real one and @JohnMcCain at ~6,700 followers is just a supporter. Given McCain’s war injuries it’s unlikely he’s typing these up himself (all updates are “from web”) but it’s nevertheless official, and the following tweet was just featured on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal a few moments ago:

mccain-twitter-wikipedia

I wasn’t familiar with the project, but a quick Google search reveals that he is obviously talking about the Online Nevada Encyclopedia.

Although I tend to share McCain’s skepticism that an encyclopedia of state history is something the federal government should be funding, my Wikipedia-specific thought was: Wikipedia guidelines may well not allow many of the articles the Nevada Humanities organization might want to create. In fact, Wikipedia suggests to frustrated newcomers that if Wikipedia doesn’t fit their goals, then perhaps starting another wiki is the way to go (where Jimmy Wales’ for-profit Wikia is theoretically poised to benefit).

Upon closer inspection, this putative New Mexico “encyclopedia” is not itself presented as a wiki, the writing style is far different and the so are the citation styles. The site runs to perhaps a few hundred articles at most so it’s highly conceivable that many or most could be rewritten and included in Wikipedia. But somehow I doubt Nevada would get a federal grant to do that.

The Electronic Slide: United States Congress Still Editing Wikipedia

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on March 2, 2009 at 6:39 pm

As I mentioned in the first post, I presented at TransparencyCamp yeserday. As promised, I posted the related PowerPoint deck to my SlideShare account, but you can click through it right here (and if you’re looking at this on the front page yes, it’s too wide, I’ll get that fixed as soon as I can and remove this parenthetical statement once it has been):

If it doesn’t make complete sense, that’s understandable — it’s meant to support a discussion, after all. However, this was the first time I’ve given this particular talk and, like others I’ve given, it will benefit from additional iterations and refinement. I’ll certainly do plenty of that on The Wikipedian — looking more closely at the Wikipedia edits not just of other members of Congress, but of other government agencies.

In the meantime, you can take a look for yourself at the recent edits from the IP address of the U.S. House of Representatives. And if you’re feeling especially adventuresome, try to find the good-faith edit that I cleaned up and cited.

Welcome to The Wikipedian

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on March 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

Greetings and salutations! If you’re reading this (and I suspect that you are) then you have found the first post at The Wikipedian. I believe this here “Web-site” is the first “Web-log” about Wikipedia written specifically for the non-insider — that is to say, the non-Wikipedian. Which I suppose makes me your presumptively self-appointed host — the “The Wikipedian” — but I’ll probably just stick with “William Beutler.”

As the title suggests, I am an active editor on the English Wikipedia, where I contribute primarily as User:WWB and have been editing in some way, shape or form since the middle of 2006. Here’s how I put it on my user page:

I first started editing Wikipedia as a reader who finally decided to try my hand at editing the articles I read. Beyond that I continued with simple spelling, grammar and formatting corrections, which led to more substantial contributions to existing articles and, eventually, creating new ones.

I am not one of the very top elite contributors, nor am I an administrator or sysop, nor am I anywhere near being a member of the alleged cabal, but I’ll wager that I’m probably somewhere in the top 20 percent — just in deep enough to explain the inside to the outside and, one hopes, avoid being too jargony.

The idea first came to me late last year as I noticed two things happening, at work and in my spare time. In my capacity as Innovation Manager at New Media Strategies I’ve spent the past year (and then some) developing consultative services for clients regarding Wikipedia engagement, leading the white hat approach to Wikipedia optimization. Meanwhile, I noticed that my primary site, Blog P.I., was becoming more and more about Wikipedia (that is, when it wasn’t becoming more and more about Twitter) and so maybe it would be worthwhile to devote more resources to covering Wikipedia on a regular — who knows? maybe even daily — basis. Hence the brand-new blog before you.

Today’s soft-launch comes to you from a third-floor room of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet on the George Washington University campus during TransparencyCamp 2009, where in just a few short hours I will be delivering a brand new PowerPoint-supported presentation about Wikipedia; the focus of my talk will be Congressional staff edits to Wikipedia. Now, that much I had planned for. Less planned for: I’ve just received notice that, for the first time, an article I created made the front page of Wikipedia this morning in the “Did you know” category. Specifically, did you know

… that despite being an object of ridicule in popular culture, over 8 million British Rail sandwiches were sold in 1993?

Call it serendipity if you like, and then look it up on Wikipedia just for the heck of it.

As I get started on this project, there are many arguments and debates I want to cover but avoided previously for fear of hijacking my own blog, and I’ve got more than a few ideas about recurring features to create that heretofore remain uncreated for the same reason. One thing you will certainly see is a version of the old “All the Rage” series from my Thomas Magnum-esque previous base of operations. I will also be seeking guest posts and occasional contributions from others, so if the idea interests you, please contact me at thewikipedianblog at gmail (you know, dot com).

On a goofier note, this blog is named in part for The Oregonian, the daily paper of my hometown, and also in part the inspiration owes something to The Origamian, a defunct newsletter of OrigamiUSA, whose name was also inspired by The Oregonian.

And I might as well add that this is at least the fifth blog I have started since 2002 and at least the eighth I have contributed to in that time, but it’s the first I’ve launched in more than two-and-a-half years. Also noteworthy: this time I will not be shuttering my other sites: Blog P.I. will continue as my increasingly occasional outlet for writings on matters of politics and technology and the Washington Canard is still where I will post about life in the District, when said life and endeavors such as this aren’t keeping me too busy.

Okay, I think that’s enough for an introductory post. Expect topical posts to commence later today or tomorrow, and I hope to see you on Wikipedia.