William Beutler on Wikipedia

Archive for the ‘Announcements’ Category

Turning Pro: An Argument for Wikipedia’s Future

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on February 10, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Small announcement here: in the February issue of PR Week, you can read a column by none other than this Wikipedian here, making the case that Wikipedia’s long-term growth requires a reassessment of its volunteer culture.

I don’t mean to argue that Wikipedia should do away with volunteerism, but that recent developments to professionalize certain types of editing and Wikipedia-building activity should be expanded beyond the “cultural sector” to include professional organizations and even for-profit entities. (So now you can see why PR Week was interested.) And the model which Wikipedia should consider? Another open-source community with deep ties to the business world: Linux. An excerpt:

Like Wikipedia, Linux was released free on the Web without fanfare, caught on quickly, and within a decade was known around the world. While anyone can join the Linux community, you will not be much help if you cannot write code. …

Linux’s evolution from a small open-source experiment to a key part of today’s Internet was driven in part by upstart companies such as Red Hat and behemoths including IBM. …

Wikipedia’s volunteers and its nonprofit parent group, the Wikimedia Foundation, should seriously consider this example.

It’s no big deal that the Smithsonian has a “Wikipedian in Residence”. Why shouldn’t General Motors, or General Electric? Granted, there is much more trust with the Smithsonian because it is a like-minded institution, and the generalists of American business are certainly different. However, for Wikipedia to grow and improve, it needs to find new ways to encourage contributions that its volunteer model, by itself, has not.

P.S. The article is behind a paywall, so you may try plugging the title into Google News and seeing if that helps. Not that you heard it from me…

Wiki: The Story of a Word

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on June 3, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Only very occasionally do I write about myself or business pursuits, and I won’t waste too much of your time here, but those of you who follow me in a non-The Wikipedian capacity may be aware that the small company I began a few years ago has become just a bit less small in recent months, and that we’ve rebranded as Beutler Ink. (You’ll notice that link goes to our Facebook page; our new website is still about a week away.)

Along with our new name comes expanded offerings in creative services and visual communication. Today we’ve launched a project for our own fun and your edification, which has a decidedly Wikimedia-friendly angle. It’s a vertical infographic about the evolution of the meaning and usage of the word “wiki” called Wiki: A Word’s Journey. Click on the title, or the preview graphic below and see the full thing—along with a blog post expanding on the topic at the Beutler Ink Tumblr:

Wiki-Journey-teaser

Bon WikiVoyage

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on January 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm

You know, The Wikipedian isn’t the only Wikipedia-related thing with an announcement today: by far the bigger development is the long-anticipated launch of the Wikimedia Foundation’s newest standalone project, Wikivoyage.

And unlike most other community projects, Wikivoyage has a big head start: the vast majority of its content has been ported over from Wikitravel, a decade-old site inspired by Wikipedia but never affiliated with it. Wikitravel still exists, and the migration of content (possible because that site also publishes under a Creative Commons license) and users to Wikivoyage has not been without controversy—as you might expect, there’s a pretty good roundup of the circumstances on Wikipedia’s article about Wikitravel.

For now, for most users, Wikivoyage is little more than a mirror of Wikitravel. (Compare: Washington, D.C. on Wikitravel, Washington, D.C. on Wikivoyage.) As of Tuesday afternoon, Wikivoyage is averaging 6 edits per minute, significantly less than the English Wikipedia but significantly more than Wikitravel.

The (Kind of) New Wikipedian

Tagged as on January 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Today I’m excited to announce that The Wikipedian is relaunching as something a bit different. Not very different, mind you. Since March 2009, the focus of this blog has been explaining Wikipedia (and other projects of the Wikimedia Foundation) to the non-insider. We’ve covered minor controversies, major news stories, and how the project is growing and evolving. That’s not going to change.

What is changing is the format: for the past four years, The Wikipedian has mostly consisted of long, essay-like posts, often published weeks—or months—apart. And that’s just no way to run a blog. Meanwhile, I’ve missed out on writing about many interesting stories. More often than not, I’ve given them a link over at this site’s related Twitter account. Yet some topics deserve more than 140 characters but fewer than 500 words.

Drawing inspiration from John Gruber’s Daring Fireball and Jason Kottke’s kottke.org, as of this post The Wikipedian has jettisoned its clunky, tri-column front page. We’re going single column, baby! Essay-length posts are not going away entirely; when there’s time and inspiration, I’ll write them. However, importantly, The Wikipedian will not go silent. Perhaps long overdue, we’re getting into the whole brevity thing. More to come—soon.

What I Did This Summer

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on September 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted on The Wikipedian—at the time I had just finished covering Wikimania right here in Washington, DC, and I had made at least one promise to write a wrap-up post. Alas, that never happened: between work and travel and other obligations, I’m afraid “August 2012″ will forever remain a blank spot in my archives. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. But there is a good reason, and one related—just a bit—to Wikipedia.

Over the last two years, and more intensively during the past two months, I have been working on a very large, personal project, and on Monday it was finally ready for release. It’s called The Infinite Atlas Project. As I’ve described it elsewhere, the goal is to identify, place, and describe every cartographic point I could find in David Foster Wallace’s iconic 1996 novel Infinite Jest—whether real, fictional, real but fictionalized, defunct or otherwise.

The project is tripartite, and the first part launched in mid-July: Infinite Boston, a photo tour hosted by Tumblr, which I’m writing daily through the end of this month. Launched just this week are two more ambitious efforts: a 24″x36″ poster called Infinite Map, plotting 250 key locations from the novel’s futuristic North America (and available for purchase, just FYI); and one not constrained by the dimensions of paper: Infinite Atlas, an interactive world map powered by Google Maps including all 600+ global locations that I was able to find with the help of my researchers (i.e. friends who had also read the novel). You can read much more about this on the Infinite Boston announcement post or on the Infinite Atlas “About” page, but here are screen shots of each:

Infinite Map     

Meanwhile, there are some aspects to the project that I think will be of interest to Wikipedians. For example, on the Infinite Atlas website, every entry that has a relevant Wikipedia article links back to it—whether to the exact location, such as the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School—or to the closest approximation, like the Neponset exit ramp, I-93 South. Among the development projects related to the online atlas, this was one of the last, but I think one of the most helpful. Yes, it’s interesting to the reader to be reminded that a key character stays at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, but it’s even more useful to confirm that McLean Hospital is a real place with more than 200 years of history. And both sites will tell you that DFW himself was a notable former patient.

Additionally, and importantly, the site is published under a Creative Commons license. For a research and art project based on a copyrighted fictional work—quoting judiciously and keeping fair use in mind, I stress—I figured it was important to disclaim any interest in preventing people from using it how they see fit—so long as they attribute and share-alike, of course. And another big reason for doing so: readers are invited to submit their own photos, so long as they are willing to approve their usage under the less-restrictive CC-BY license. If you live in one of the many locations around the world (though mostly in the U.S. and Canada) featured in the book, and now in the atlas, consider yourself invited to participate.

Live though these projects are, they are not finished and might not ever be. Which is part of the fun. And in that way like Wikipedia itself. Now maybe I’ll finally get around to fixing up the Infinite Jest Wikipedia entry and taking it to FA…

My Wikitinerary: Day 3 at Wikimania DC

Tagged as on July 14, 2012 at 6:22 am

Wikimania logoWe have arrived at the last day (of official events) at Wikimania, which begins shortly with an opening plenary by the Wikimedia Foundation’s executive director, Sue Gardner. As expected, my Wikimania attendance yesterday was limited on account of other obligations; today I’ll be around for most of the events. Here are a few of the panels and presentations I’m interested in today:

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10:30 – 11:50

Title: Getting elected thanks to Wikipedia. Social network influence on politics.
Speaker: Damian Finol
Category: Wikis and the Public Sector
Description: Wikipedia and politicians is a contentious topic—one I wrote about for Campaigns & Elections in April 2010. This seems to be a bit different: it will be focused on Venezuelan politics, but the question: does having a good Wikipedia page help win elections? is one I’d like to hear how others would answer.

Title: Iterate your cross-pollinated strategic synergy, just not on my Wikipedia!
Speaker: Tom Morris
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: Like any small community focused on a unique project, Wikipedia and its Wikimedia sister projects have developed a kind of jargon all its own. This talk will focus on the language used on WMF and how it can be simplified for clarity, especially to encourage participation of new editors and non-native English speakers.

Title: Wikimedia on social media
Speaker: Jeromy-Yu Chan, Tango Chan, Slobodan Jakoski, Kiril Simeonovski, Guillaume Paumier, Naveen Francis, Christophe Henner
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: As I tweeted the other day, English-speaking Wikipedians are often disdainful of Facebook, for reasons that would take some time to unpack. Twitter too was disfavored for the similar service Identi.ca—the latter is open source, a plus for many—although I think the Twitter has gained a share of acceptance by now. Indeed, the proceedings of Wikimania have been heavily tweeted, just like any conference. So: “The goal of this panel is to share experience on the use of social media throughout the Wikimedia movement, and to share best practices to collectively improve our use of these communication channels.” What are best practices now?

12:10 -13:30

Title: What does THAT mean? Engineering jargon and procedures explained
Speaker: Sumana Harihareswara and possibly Rob Lanphier or additional members of the engineering staff of the Wikimedia Foundation
Category: Technology and Infrastructure
Description: Speaking of jargon, this is supposed to be a non-techie explanation of the technical aspects of Wikimedia. As a non-techie, I could stand for someone to explain how Wikipedia uses squids to me again.

Title: The bad assumptions of the copyright discussion; Blacking out Wikipedia
Speaker: James Alexander; panel
Category: Wikis and the Public Sector
Description: January’s Wikipedia blackout in protest of proposed U.S. legislation tightening copyright and intellectual property enforcement on the web (SOPA and PIPA) was very controversial, and remains so. Jimmy Wales, in his opening plenary, addressed the issue, suggesting blackouts would be considered only for similar issues. The first talk is shorter and appears to be on the issue of copyright. The panel is longer and will discuss the decision to blackout, and how the blackout worked, how the blackout page was designed and the media’s response.

14:30 – 15:50

Title: 11 years of Wikipedia, or the Wikimedia history crash course you can edit
Speaker: Guillaume Paumier
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: Exactly what it sounds like, a history lesson on the last 11 year years of Wikimedia/pedia history. This is a 70 minute talk. Having read Andrew Lih’s “The Wikipedia Revolution” and Andrew Dalby’s “The World and Wikipedia” there is probably not much here I won’t know about already, but I still find it interesting nonetheless.

Title: The end of notability
Speaker: David Goodman
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: Notability, on Wikipedia, refers to a widely-discussed guideline which recommends whether a given subject deserves a standalone Wikipedia article or not. It is very contentious, it is the inspiration for the ideological split between inclusionists and deletionists, and was a key focus of John Siracusa in the “Hypercritical” podcast episode I wrote about earlier this year. This talk will focus on the topic of notability guidelines and how we can’t always find two reliable sources providing substantial coverage for some topics that probably should have articles. Goodman seems to be suggesting that we have articles on topics people want information about regardless of standard notability, but with a twist: should there be a “Wikipedia Two” to satisfy the many non-notable college athletes and politicians whose fans and supporters would like to create articles about them. Plus, Goodman (DGG on Wikipedia) is a bit of a character, so that should be interesting, too.

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OK, I’ve got to race down to the GWU campus now if I’m to catch Gardner’s talk. Look for me on Twitter as @thewikipedian, and I’ll write more here soon!

My Wikitinerary: Day 2 at Wikimania DC

Tagged as on July 13, 2012 at 2:19 am

Wikimania logoWikimania Day 1 is on the books, and it was a busy one. Mary Gardiner’s keynote delivered on the mostly-male Wikimedia community’s promise that they care about female participation (and as many noted, the female presence at Wikimania is very strong) while Jimmy Wales fulfilled his role as the conference touchstone, while adding a dose of levity, or two.

Although, did anyone else notice he was credited as “Founder” of Wikipedia and not “Co-founder”? Well, I did.

My coverage of the first day of the conference was doled out in 140-characters-or-fewer bursts on Twitter as @thewikipedian, and so it will be on subsequent days.

As to the first subsequent day ahead: as much as I’d like to give my full day over to Wikimania, regular readers will know that I live here, and Friday I’m still basically on the clock. So I may not get to all the sessions I would like. But here is what I’m hoping to attend:

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9:00 – 10:20

Time will tell if I make it to the first of the breakout sessions. If I do, it will probably be:

Title: Ask the Operators
Speaker: Leslie Carr, Ben Hartshorne, Jeff Green, Ryan Lane, Rob Halsell
Category: Technology and Infrastructure
Description: Just what it sounds like, a chance to ask the people who keep Wikipedia up and running about how it works, their jobs, and apparently… unicorns? I doubt this session will actually be dominated by bronies, but if it is, then I concede I have been sufficiently warned.

I may also attend:

Title: Giving readers a voice: Lessons from article feedback v5
Speaker: Fabrice Florin
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: I missed his presentation on new tools yesterday, and I’m intrigued by this as well. Good feedback is hard to come by, as a Wikipedia editor, and I’m curious to find out how those most involved think the current feedback tool is working. When I wrote about it last year, I was skeptically optimistic.

10:50 – 12:10

If you’re keeping score at home, it seems that I am most interested in the “WikiCulture and Community” sessions, and why shouldn’t I be? The Wikipedian tries to be about making Wikipedia’s goings-on understandable to the non-editor, so this track is a natural fit.

Title: Wikipedia in the Twitter age
Speaker: Panel moderated by Andrew Lih
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: How does Wikipedia handle the fast pace of information in the Twitter age? Can Twitter be a reliable source? (I think the correct answer is: generally, no.) The role Twitter played with Wikipedia in the 2011 Egyptian revolution and other breaking news events will be discussed here. And I’m always a fan of Andrew Lih’s take on Wikipedia.

13:10 – 14:30

One of the panels I wanted to see yesterday was rescheduled last-minute for this time period, and I very well may still try to check that out. But I’m also fascinated by this one:

Title: Eternal December: How awful arguments are killing the Wiki, and why not to make them
Speaker: Oliver Keyes
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: For good or ill, Wikipedia is a place that many people go to argue about all kinds of things—some very important, and others not so much. This talk will cover the resistance and curmudgeonliness of “Power Editors” and how they prevent the implementation of new developments on Wikipedia and discourage newbies from contributing.

There are other good panels in this time slot, so room-hopping again is a thing I would like to try, although on day one I found it a challenge. If I manage, I like:

Title: Hey, its trending! Let’s update that Wikipedia article!
Speaker: Arkaitz Zubiaga, Taylor Cassidy, Heng Ji
Category: Research, Analysis and Education
Description: This one is a discussion of a possible system that suggests revisions for Wikipedia based on Twitter activity; much Wikipedia editing activity is driven by the news, and Twitter often breaks news before the media has had a chance to write a full story. The panelists will outline goals, details of the system and progress of this research project.

Title: Bots and Wikipedia: It’s OK to be lazy!
Speaker: Gaëtan Landry
Category: Technology and Infrastructure
Description: Although I lack the technical skills to write a real software program myself, I love me some bots. I.e. automated programs that wander around Wikipedia making changes based on an algorithm—fixing common misspellings, reverting obvious vandalism, and the like. The submission says it won’t be highly technical, which is probably good for yours truly.

15:10 – 16:30

I said above that Friday will have to be a working day for me, and it’s very possible that I’ll cut out in the afternoon to wrap some things up for the week. But if I’m still around, I think I may visit:

Title: Refighting the War of 1812 on Wikipedia
Speaker: Richard Jensen
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: From the description: “This year is the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and my presentation will examine how Canadian and American editors have handled the war in the main article. Sometimes they re-fought the war, as they balanced scholarship/RS and patriotism in a quest to tell the world what really happened.” I can go in for that.

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One last shameless plug: and if you’re not following me as @thewikipedian on Twitter, then you’re missing out on a lot of interesting tweets, including some very smart people that I am dedicating, and some things that I hope other people are smart.

I’ll see you there in a few hours!

My Wikitinerary: Day 1 at Wikimania DC

Tagged as on July 12, 2012 at 5:15 am

Wikimania logoIn a few hours, the first day of general activities at Wikimania—the official annual conference of Wikimedia Foundation—begins right here in Washington, DC. It is a global conference, in fact this is the first time Wikimania is being held in the United States since 2006, when it was hosted on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This year, it just happens to be outside my front door. What’s more, it is being held on the campus of the George Washington University, precisely where I launched this very blog at a (much smaller) conference in March 2009.

So: it’s a big day ahead—big weekend, but I have to focus for now. A review of the official schedule reveals an almost overwhelming number of events. After reading through the various panels and presentations, I think I have a pretty good idea of my day ahead, which I’d like to share here now:

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09:00 – 11:10

The only place to be, indeed the only official event at this time, is the opening ceremony, keynote and plenary. Most of the wider media attention that Wikimania generates will be probably be focused on Wikipedia co-founder and unofficial mascot Jimmy Wales on “The State of the Wiki”, but I’ll be interested to see the opening keynote by Mary Gardiner, an Australian computer programmer who is also a leader in “increasing participation of women in open technology and culture”. Wikipedia editors have long skewed heavily toward men, but in recent years more attention has been focused on how to change that. I am a skeptic—Wikipedia is hardly alone in this fact, particularly among technology tactics—but I am also interested in hearing what she says, on this very high-profile stage for such a topic.

11:40 – 13:00

Here the breakout sessions begin, and it is truly a poverty of riches from a Wikipedian perspective; there is too much to possibly take all in. What follows is an estimation of the panels I am likely to check out:

Title: “This is my voice”: the motivations of highly active Wikipedians
Speaker: Maryana Pinchuk, Steven Walling
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description:One of the most common questions I am asked about Wikipedia, and also one of the hardest to answer with anything but anecdotal evidence, is why Wikipedians do what they do. Pinchuk and Walling have interviewed some of the most active Wikipedia editors to study the motives behind why they participate. Intriguingly, their submission includes the following teaser: “Note: after this talk, we will be making a special piece of conference swag available to any interested Wikipedians which will let them show off their own motivation for editing.”

Title: Engaging editors on Wikipedia: A roadmap of new features
Speaker: Fabrice Florin
Category: Technology and Infrastructure
Description: This talk will discuss new features on Wikipedia that make it easier to edit and the impact this will have on attracting new editors and retaining current ones. This follows a 20-minute talk so if I leave right after the Pinchuk / Walling’s talk and sneak in quietly I can probably catch most of this. At least, I presume this will work. You can never really tell how a conference will work until one arrives.

14:00 – 15:20

Title: A talk page is a broken message wall: Building a more efficient communication
Speaker: Danny Horn, Tomasz Odrobny
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: These days, I spend more time on Wikipedia’s discussion pages than I do editing the encyclopedia itself, so I am extremely familiar with how these pages work—and how they don’t. This presentation will demonstrate a new talk feature that will make it easier to track conversations you are interested in without receiving watchlist notifications about topics you don’t actually care about. Interesting! Although Wikipedia has put much more public attention on a forthcoming WYSIWYG editor, I think this could actually be a bigger deal. If it works, of course.

The above talk is followed by another one that I find fascinating for exploring the insider-outsider dynamic around Wikipedia, featuring the presenters from the first breakout session:

Title: Welcome to Wikipedia, now please go away? improving how we communicate with new editors
Speaker: Steven Walling, Maryana Pinchuk
Category: WikiCulture and Community
Description: On Wikipedia, veteran editors run across the same kind of activity by new editors so often that they have developed a deep reserve of templated messages—some friendly, many unfriendly. According to the session’s topic page, “On English Wikipedia and many other projects, automated warnings and welcomes currently make up about 80% of first messages to new editors.” Wow. I had not thought about it before, but it makes complete sense. I’ll be curious to see where the state-of-the-art thinking is on this topic.

15:40 – 17:00

For the final breakout session, there is one long sustained discussion of Wikidata that I am awfully tempted to spend my time at, but there is another talk that I find interesting within this period:

Title: How Wikidata fits into the global web of data; Wikidata implementation and integration; Wikidata as a platform
Speaker: Denny Vrandečić; Daniel Kinzler; Jeroen De Dauw
Category: Technology and Infrastructure
Description: What is Wikidata? Indeed, what is it precisely. It is only the most ambitious new Wikimedia Foundation project to launch in recent years. As the first panel description says: “Wikidata’s goal is to move the rich structured data currently encoded in Wikipedia templates into a central repository, which will be available for re-use on all Wikimedia projects, but also to 3rd party services. We will introduce what Wikidata aims to do and how: centralizing language links, centralizing data for the infoboxes, and all of that in the first new Wikimedia project since 2006.” Yeah, that’s not too ambitious. The first talk appears to be more of an overview and the two following it seem to be more technical.
Location: Grand Ballroom
Length: Each talk is 25 minutes

Title: Wikimedia relations with government, lobbying and public relations
Speaker: James Forrester, Philippe Beaudette
Category: Wikis and the Public Sector
Description: If Wikidata gets too technical for me, I’ll be heading over to this panel. In my professional life public relations is one of my primary activities, often involving Wikipedia—as I have written about before—and so I will be very interested to see where this discussion goes. If there is any presentation where I am likely to participate, this may be it, depending on where the discussion goes. Why not come find out?

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And that is the end of the official activities for the day. More events stretch into the evening, but I won’t be at them. Tonight, Roger Waters brings The Wall to the Verizon Center, which I will be seeing with a friend from high school and college in town just for this event. Actually, we’ll be seeing this if StubHub and FedEx combine to deliver these tickets during the day today, which they have so far been rather slow about.

I know… this has nothing to do with Wikipedia. But it’s highly relevant to my day ahead at Wikimania. Fingers crossed everything works out! Meantime, I will be tweeting the day’s activities from my @thewikipedian Twitter account, so please follow! And if all goes well I will post tomorrow’s wikitinerary here soon.

30 for 30 (Divided by Ten)

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on May 25, 2012 at 4:46 pm

In Slovenian, the traditional name for the month of May translates to “the month when plants grow”, or so Wikipedia tells me. It’s apt then—if not altogether insufferable as a metaphor—that this month three “seedlings” I recently planted have all blossomed.

Horse ebooks Wikipedia article

First up is something I am almost embarrassingly prideful about: that I will go down in history as the person who created the Horse ebooks Wikipedia article. (The what, you ask? Read the article!)

Considering the meteoric rise to Internet fame of the Horse ebooks Twitter account—without a doubt, the most followed and most beloved Twitter spam account of all time—it’s rather surprising that when I first looked in late April, no such article existed. So, I wrote it. The article debuted on May 5, and graced Wikipedia’s front page with its presence—in the “Did you know” section—on May 12.

Read the Wikipedia article, follow the Twitter account, and then buy the T-shirt (note: I have no deal with the sellers, except that I did buy the shirt). And then take sides in the debate over whether the magic is gone since its automation became a subject of disagreement.

Best of Wikipedia Sandbox Tumblr screenshot

Another fun project that has taken off this month is The Best of Wikipedia:Sandbox, a Tumblr account.

There are many Tumblrs like it, but this one is mine. In fact, there are other Tumblrs about Wikipedia, including Best of Wikipedia, [Citation Needed], and—if you know Tumblr, you know this is coming—Fuck Yeah Wikipedia!

Ostensibly Wikipedia:Sandbox is a place to test edits and check formatting, but that’s not all it gets used for. What started out as a joke among my colleagues—sharing screen caps of the ridiculous things we’d seen in the Sandbox—has transformed into a Tumblr to share these largely unknown and unappreciated comic gems with the world. The Sandbox is an unlikely repository for strange world views, faceplam-worthy test edits, and—since this is the Internet—cat pictures.

I’ve saved the biggest announcement for last… this month I launched what is essentially my second Wikipedia-related website: Beutler Wiki Relations. Yes, it’s a business website.

Although I rarely write about my consultancy much here, close readers of The Wikipedian are likely aware that one of my professional focuses (focii?) is helping brands, companies and individuals work constructively with the Wikipedia community to improve articles. I’ve never sought to draw attention to this—and indeed, when I appeared on C-SPAN this January, the subject only came up briefly. But I feel like it’s worth posting a simple website explaining myself to skeptical Wikipedians and, sure, potential clients alike. Closer readers may recall the phrase “wiki relations” from my post about the Bell Pottinger mess, and how it could have been avoided.

Although “conflict of interest” and “paid advocacy” on Wikipedia remain contentious topics, I think it’s more important than ever to make them seem less mysterious. It won’t stop the Bell Pottingers, but it may stop people from hiring them to mess with Wikipedia.

And yes, I realize I have a conflict of interest in saying that. Can’t avoid it; might as well own it. Or as Horse ebooks says: “Discover the usefulness of wax.”

The Grande Guide to Wikipedia

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on May 3, 2011 at 8:14 am

In line with my cryptic tweet of yesterday afternoon (owing to an early scoop by The Next Web) here’s the big reveal: in the past few months I’ve been working with the marketing automation company Eloqua and design firm JESS3 (with whom I worked on “The State of Wikipedia” video) to write a new entry in their “Grande Guide” series of how-to manuals. Of course, I wrote about Wikipedia: “The Grande Guide to Wikipedia”:

Because Eloqua’s audience is marketers, they are also the focus of this guide. One of the first (rhetorical) questions raised in this guide is this: “Is Wikipedia a marketing opportunity?” The answer, more or less, is: “No, but…” While trying to use Wikipedia as a marketing tool is one of the surest ways to find yourself in trouble with Wikipedia editors, there are times where it is appropriate for someone who works with or for a company to make positive suggestions and even some non-controversial edits.

This subject makes Wikipedians understandably nervous. As evidence, consider the many tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of words expended on debating the propriety and rules surrounding paid editing—without coming to a resolution. The result is a confusing place where contributors with a financial interest are not exactly welcome, but also not disqualified. It can be very confusing. As Eloqua’s Joe Chernov writes:

It’s also important to note that we worked hard to preserve the integrity of the Wikipedia community throughout our Guide. We aimed to share how Wikipedia truly works, so that marketers can understand and appreciate it – not so they can game the system. We hope and trust that respect comes through in the content.

I hope you’ll read “The Grande Guide to Wikipedia” and, whether you’re a marketer curious about Wikipedia (more than a few of you, I know) or a Wikipedia editor skeptical of marketers (and not without reason!), I hope you’ll learn something new.

The State of The State of Wikipedia

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on January 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Chances are good that if you follow Wikipedia closely, then you have probably seen the following video:

The State of Wikipedia from JESS3 on Vimeo.

Last week, it was featured on both TechCrunch and Mashable and, on YouTube alone, it’s climbing toward 100,000 views as of this writing. And you might have missed the following infographic that went along with it, although I hope you didn’t:


Right-click to view at full size in another tab.

Meanwhile, if you happened to see Jay Walsh’s post on the Wikimedia blog last week—or you watched carefully through to the very end—you may have noticed that among those involved was yours truly.

The story of this video’s development began early in 2010 with the launching of the “State of” video series by my friends at the DC-based creative agency JESS3. The first in the series was “The State of the Internet“; more recently, they produced “The State of Cloud Computing” in association with Salesforce.com.

Seeking new topics, JESS3 invited me to develop a story concept for the video you see above. I talked with some influential wiki-thinkers, some of whose names appear in “Special Thanks” at the video’s end, to write a script for the eventual narrator. Not unlike Dan Aykroyd’s first draft of “The Blues Brothers”—and like it in only this regard—it was much longer than what you see above. Left out were asides on the cause (and effects) of the Spanish Fork, the German-language Wikipedia’s different way of doing things, the development of chapters, the invention of bots, the most-visited Wikipedia articles, the most-visited-in-a-single day Wikipedia article, and more.

In the end, it was a good thing they asked me to scale it back, especially once Jimmy Wales agreed to provide the voice as narrator. And the shorter version perhaps better accomplishes the goal of giving viewers a bit of an answer to the questions of where Wikipedia came from, and why it works the way it does. At the very least, I hope it sparks a deeper curiosity among viewers and, perhaps, sufficient interest to get involved themselves.

Who knows if it will have that effect, but it was a great experience to be part of. The effort put into this by the JESS3 team—on art direction, animation and sound—was tremendous, and took it far beyond any concept I had of what it could become. And maybe we’ll do it again in ten years.

How I Spent Wikipedia’s Tenth Anniversary

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on January 16, 2011 at 11:10 am

Alas, I did not make it to the local meetup in Washington, DC, where I live, but I did something else, something as fun as it was unexpected—I was on Ukrainian television.

Friday afternoon, a small TV crew led by reporter Maksym Drabok visited my apartment in Lanier Heights to record me talking about Wikipedia and even editing Wikipedia. Fortunately, I had some material about University of Oregon head football coach Chip Kelly waiting to be added, so I used the occasion to add a few more citations to his biographical article (it still needs more). Also featured in the segment was Thomas Boylston Adams, about the ne’er-do-well son of second U.S. president John Adams, which I created in April 2008 (while watching the HBO miniseries John Adams).

Also also featured: my home office, me in a wiki-related T-shirt, and—you guessed it—this very blog. Here’s the segment in full:

Last but not least, thanks very much to Maksym Drabok and INTER TV for the opportunity.

Four Thousand Editors in Real Lancashire

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on March 1, 2010 at 7:11 am

wikipedia-lancashireA unifying theme of The Wikipedian in the first year of its existence — and will be again now that its unscheduled hiatus comes to an end today — has been the lag between the public’s recognition of Wikipedia as an important if imperfect information resource and the public’s understanding of how Wikipedia works.

Illustrating the point perfectly is a clumsy news item in a small UK newspaper, the Southport Visiter, highlighting local complaints in late February about a perceived error concerning the boundaries of Lancashire. According to the Visiter, the following text from Wikipedia (still present at this writing) is the matter of some dispute:

The county was subject to a significant boundary reform in 1974, which removed Liverpool and Manchester with most of their surrounding conurbations to form part of the metropolitan counties of Merseyside and Greater Manchester. Today the county borders Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and North and West Yorkshire.

I say “some dispute” in part because I’m not quite clear on what the issue is. According to a group called the Friends of Real Lancashire, Wikipedia “leaves Southport off the … map.” But as far as I can tell, Wikipedia has already absorbed this perspective and includes the following sentence later in the article:

Pressure groups, including Friends of Real Lancashire and the Association of British Counties advocate the use of the historical boundaries of Lancashire for ceremonial and cultural purposes.

So it appears to me that Friends of Real Lancashire are unhappy with the representation of Lancashire’s borders on Wikipedia, and have gone to the press with their concerns. This is not such a crazy idea: oftentimes ensuring placement of a particular fact or viewpoint in Wikipedia requires validation in a newspaper or magazine article before Wikipedia editors are likely to agree the fact or viewpoint is true or significant enough for inclusion. Because their viewpoint is presented, at least in summary, this must be a dispute over facts.

Now, let’s say I am a Wikipedia editor who lives thousands of miles away from Lancashire and have no special knowledge of the area’s boundaries (which is in fact the case). A newspaper article pointing out a supposed error could be useful to me. Perhaps I’m inclined to update the article based on what I have learned. Except the article does not explain the dispute carefully enough for me to make a judgment; the impression I am left with is that some people are unhappy with the designated boundary and wish for Wikipedia to elevate their views over existing reality. In which case I will ignore them as soon as I figure this out. Or maybe I write this blog post.

That Friends of Real Lancashire and the Southport Visiter have little idea how Wikipedia works is also quite evident:

[Friends of Real Lancashire] has contacted the website on several occasions, are concerned that those wanting to learn about Lancashire will be given the wrong information. … Although comments and letters have been sent to the editor of Wikipedia, Mr Dawson said that no action has since been taken.

Letters to the editor? The editor? There is a fundamental disconnect here, one in fact so stark that one wonders whether Wikipedia’s structures are so vanguard as to be incomprehensible to the average user, or whether the Real Lancashirites are hopelessly behind the times. It’s one thing for people who don’t think much about Wikipedia to misunderstand it; it is quite another for an organized interest group to care what Wikipedia says but not take the time to understand why it says what it does.

This phenomenon is bigger than Wikipedia. From where I live and work in Washington, DC, I often see advocacy organizations that are so focused on advancing their viewpoint using a manner and technique which is advantageous to them in one venue (newspapers, radio, television) that they cannot adjust their approach to advance their viewpoint in another (weblogs, social networks, Wikipedia). Sometimes, this adjustment undermines their original point, in which case they were destined to lose, anyway. This happens all the time.

So Friends of Real Lancashire may lose no matter what; if I am correctly interpreting their case, they will. Even so, it does not appear they have even tried to make their case in the proper manner. At least they have not engaged the one forum in which they might make their case directly to Wikipedia’s contributors: the Talk page associated with the Lancashire article. It’s there for a reason, and if you don’t use it, those who do will probably have themselves a laugh at your expense and go right back to editing Wikipedia.

Lancashire map via Wikipedia.

You’re With Me, ESPNDB

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on April 26, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Last week, ESPN unveiled a new website self-consciously intended to compete with Wikipedia: ESPNDB. The website has not made any kind of splash with sports blogs nor many other news websites. To my knowledge, the only in-depth coverage comes from MediaPost, which reported on April 16:

Curious where Shaquille O’Neal went to college? How many seasons Mickey Mantle played? ESPN wants to break the Google-to-Wikipedia flow chart that so many sports fans turn to for those kinds of answers.

espndb-logoSo, it’s set to launch ESPNDB.com (the DB stands for database) — a site it hopes will serve as a sports encyclopedia-archive- statistical compendium. On one level, the goal is simply an ESPN-opedia — although the content would be thoroughly fact-checked and would come from professionals. (Like Wikipedia, however, there will be some user-generated aspects.)

As I said, ESPN doesn’t even try to conceal that Wikipedia is a serious competitor for providing sports fans with information about teams, players, statistics and, quite literally, the footnotes of sports history. Here is what the front page of the website says right now:

ESPNDB will be your definitive source for sports and sports-related information. We are building a product that combines the far-reaching resources of ESPN with the unique output of our industry-best Stats and Information Group to give you an immersive experience that no other site can provide. In months ahead, we’ll also employ some great new technologies to harness the collective knowledge of the world’s sports fans.

This strikes me as a worthy endeavor, one capable of real success. While sites like Citizendium and Google’s Knol have espoused ambitions to compete with Wikipedia in creating a comprehensive online reference website, ESPN is wise to focus on just one area of knowledge, naturally the one topic it understands very, very well.

Wikipedia is just one of many websites who dominate a category, where network effects and other social phenomena have bestowed a de facto monopoly: Google, YouTube, Twitter, Craigslist and Amazon are just a few others. Barnes & Noble has not had an easy time going head-to-head with Amazon online, but rare and out-of-print bookseller Alibris has carved itself a small but viable niche.

Another site with a relative monopoly in its particular category is IMDb, another site ESPNDB must owe something to, even if not candidly acknowledged. The continued success of IMDb (an Amazon subsidiary for more than a decade) should also be cause for encouragement, both for ESPNDB as well as Wikipedia. After all, IMDb still rates as high or higher than Wikipedia on Google searches for most movie titles. To be sure, IMDb launched a decade before Wikipedia and in fact predates the Internet as we know it today, and so has merely held on to its prominence, whereas ESPNDB has ahead of it the task of building its authority. Meanwhile, it shows that there is room for both “wiki” and “database” at the top of Google’s rankings.

And ESPN seems committed for the long term, or at least is taking their time in building out the site. The ESPNDB front page continues:

We begin by giving you a ton of information about the NFL Draft – about 500 pages’ worth! As we evolve, we will be adding many more cool features, so continue to check back with us.

There are indeed some hints of cool features to come, but ESPN’s plans remain unclear. For instance, right now one can “friend” or follow the Facebook profiles of NFL draft prospects. What I’d like to see them do is tap into Facebook Connect, which would basically mean anyone with a Facebook account is already signed up to participate — though there is not much to participate in just yet.

Also interesting is that ESPNDB pulls Twitter feeds onto its pages, which is something I doubt Wikipedia will ever consider even trying. Right now it’s very simplistic, just updates from the NFL Draft, on its second and final day as I type this now. Imagine, though, if each article or entry — like this one about the Detroit Lions — pulled recent tweets specific to that team or its players. That would be something interesting.

But these potential “cool features” don’t address the strengths of Wikipedia which ESPN ostensibly means for this website to answer. So let’s look at the actual pages themselves. Here’s a screen cap of the article about Oregon (Go Ducks!) wide receiver Jaison Williams:

espndb-jaison-williams

Not much actual content so far, but the layout seems coherent and access to photos is a big strength ESPN has compared to Wikipedia. It has promise. Meanwhile, there is no Wikipedia entry for Williams, although that will probably change quickly once he is selected, which is expected sometime today. So the point goes to ESPNDB, at least in this narrow circumstance.

On the other hand, what’s the chance ESPNDB will ever allow users to write an article explaining the story behind “You’re with me, leather”?

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.