William Beutler on Wikipedia

Posts Tagged ‘Mashable’

Change Your Wikitude

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on October 4, 2009 at 10:00 am

wikitude_itunesBecause I work in social media, every so often I’ll get the question: So, what’s the big new thing? For a couple of years now the answer has been “Twitter,” but the micro-blogging service finally “arrived” in early 2009, so I’ve needed a new answer. Lately, I’ve settled on “augmented reality.” As Wikipedia describes it:

Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are merged with-, or augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery – creating a mixed reality.

I.e. Terminator-vision, more or less. Now that the iPhone, Android-enabled devices and many more smartphones on the way have cameras and GPS (and compass in the iPhone 3GS) it becomes possible to determine where someone is, what they are looking at and serve up information to them on the spot. And it’s a no-brainer to imagine that one of the first information resources likely to be used is Wikipedia—especially considering how many articles about real-world objects contain geographic coordinates for their subjects (for this you can thank the people at WikiProject Geographical coordinates).

Just this week a program called Wikitude, available to Android users for several months, hit the iTunes store. Wikitude actually pulls information from elsewhere too, but like the name implies, Wikipedia is a key resource. Ben Parr at Mashable explains:

The app, which only works on the iPhone 3GS model (since it has a compass), utilizes three layers of information and superimposes them on your iPhone: information from Wikipedia, local reviews from London-based Qype, and finally crowdsourced information from its Wikitude.me website. With it, you can tag any location with personal notes that others can see. You can’t tell me that isn’t awesome.

He is right. I can’t. And Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb writes:

It’s because Wikitude is so open to user generated content that I find it the most exciting of all the Augmented Reality apps. Unfortunately, none of these apps that I’ve tested on Android are performing fabulously yet – the GPS is just too imprecise and the data too sparse. These are early days though, and even today it’s a lot of fun to look at the world around you through Wiki articles.

As he indicates, Wikitude is not the only player in the game. Another one available for iPhone is Cyclopedia, which I didn’t focus on just because I didn’t want to pay for it (but here is Gizmodo’s review). Wikitude, on the other hand, is available for the low, low price of free. (And as Tom Peterson would say, “free is a very good price.”) I took it for a quick test run at the corner of 18th and Columbia in Washington, DC. Here’s what I saw looking south along 18th Street:


And looking west in the direction of Columbia Heights:


Not displayed here is the ability to adjust the distance it will scan, a list-view of POIs (Points of Interest) and settings, which include the ability to turn on and off the different sources of information as well as different types of information. If you just want information from Wikipedia, it’s just a few taps away. If you want information about shopping and sights but not traffic or towns, you can adjust this as well.

I’m not likely to use this a great deal here in Washington, DC where I’d at least like to think I know what everything is. But when I’m traveling, such as when I visit San Francisco for the first time later this month, I can see myself not only making use of the program but using it enough to move it temporarily onto my first page of apps.

Have you used Wikitude or a similar application? Anything you like or dislike about them? Please share in the comments.

Flagged Revisions Come to the English Wikipedia

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on August 26, 2009 at 6:39 am

Earlier this week, New York Times web reporter Noam Cohen, who does some of the best Wikipedia reporting this side of The Register, broke the news about a decision by Wikipedia’s parent organization to instate tighter controls on some articles. Wrote Cohen:

Officials at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit in San Francisco that governs Wikipedia, say that within weeks, the English-language Wikipedia will begin imposing a layer of editorial review on articles about living people.

The new feature, called “flagged revisions,” will require that an experienced volunteer editor for Wikipedia sign off on any change made by the public before it can go live. Until the change is approved — or in Wikispeak, flagged — it will sit invisibly on Wikipedia’s servers, and visitors will be directed to the earlier version.

The change is part of a growing realization on the part of Wikipedia’s leaders that as the site grows more influential, they must transform its embrace-the-chaos culture into something more mature and dependable.

It’s worth pointing out early on, as Cohen’s story unfortunately did not, that these changes will apply only to biographies of living persons. In Wikipedia, that is a proper noun: Biography of Living Persons (BLP) is one of Wikipedia’s most strenuously enforced policies; earlier this year, Wikipedia veteran Newyorkbrad explained this in a series of posts on Volokh Conspiracy, which The Wikipedian previously discussed.

Blogosphere reaction has been much more widespread than any Wikipedia story that comes to mind from this past year. I think this is because everybody who uses Wikipedia has some opinion about the website’s curious balance between openness and reliability — and now the balance has shifted. I’d say reaction is roughly divisible into four quadrants: those who mourn Wikipedia’s openness vs. those who will continue to question Wikipedia’s reliability, with those who are optimistic about the change vs. those who are not. Here is a walk-through:

Among those who feel that Wikipedia’s openness is key to the site’s success, count Judd Antin at TechnoTaste, who is studying Wikipedia as part of his PhD work:

As part of my dissertation research I’ve been interviewing less experienced Wikipedians about their perceptions of the site. One constant theme has been the perception of a class system in Wikipedia. Casual editors worry that their edits aren’t good enough, and that they’ll be rebuked by Wikipedia’s upper-classes. They perceive a mystical group of higher-order contributors who make Wikipedia work. … This latest move is troubling in that it seems to represent a lack of faith in crowdsourcing and the wisdom of crowds, in the model that made Wikipedia what it is today. This change will also remove another of the important social-psychological incentives that draw new people into the Wikipedia fold: the instant gratification that comes from seeing your work reflected on a Wikipedia page.

This is not always a good thing; Kate McMillan at Small Dead Animals is an example of someone who is the subject of a Wikipedia article, but is not exactly pleased about the fact. She also isn’t exactly optimistic that things will change:

My own Wiki page was instigated by an internet “stalker”, in fact, the same individual who once authored a blogspot site using my stolen identity. Requests to Wikipedia to delete the page went unheeded, and it’s remained a reliable source of misinformation, false attribution of quotes, and drive-by smears ever since. … It wasn’t until I threatened a Wiki editor personally with legal action for restoring defamatory material to the page, that they began to take tighter control of the content.

Another skeptic is Ann Bartow at Madisonian.net:

I have doubts about how effective this is going to be in improving the reliability of the content of Wikipedia entries, but it is a great PR move by Jimmy Wales, that’s for sure.

From the perspective of a frustrated editor, here is Andy Merrett at The Blog Herald:

As someone not in the Wikipedia “elite”, I’ve long since given up trying to edit entries on the site, having already wasted not insignificant time adding information only to have it reversed. I foresee that Wikipedia will increasingly become a place where only a minority of privileged and “trusted” editors have the keys to the kingdom.

That is a plus to others. Among the critics of Wikipedia’s reliability was Lisa Gold at Research Maven, who nonetheless is a skeptic herself:

I’m glad there is finally some acknowledgment among the powers that be at Wikipedia that accuracy is important. But that’s not enough. If accuracy is important, you have to make it a priority and do things on many different levels to try to achieve it. You have to apply your policies to the entire site, not just some articles. You have to bring in people with knowledge, experience, and qualifications to do real editing and fact-checking. (With all of the unemployed editors, fact-checkers, and journalists out there, why not hire a few and let them work their magic.) This new policy is not really about making Wikipedia more accurate, it’s just about trying to stop the embarrassing vandalism stories that hit the news with disturbing regularity.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Dr. Jim West, who appears to have some experience arguing with an intellectual opponent about Wikipedia content. His reaction to the change:

In a word, duh. Now if you’ll do the same for every entry then perhaps your resource might be worth visiting some day. Until then, I think I’ll continue to abstain. I’m not really interested in reading an article on the Dead Sea Scrolls that Raphael Golb has edited using one of his 200 fake names.

While I understand the concerns of both above, I also think they go too far. Striking a balance and offering a more optimistic view is Ben Parr at Mashable:

[W]e can’t help but feel a bit sad that this change had to happen. Wikipedia was egalitarian in the spread and use of information, and it treated everyone as equal contributors of knowledge. While that may not necessarily be true in the real world, it still was the driving force behind the creation of 3 million articles, more than any other encyclopedia could ever hope to boast.

The move was necessary, but it does mark a new chapter in the Wikipedia information age and the end of an old one.

And here’s another philosophical take from Joe Windish at The Moderate Voice:

There is little doubt the debate will be passionate, but that’s exactly as it should be. Eight years into the incredible success of Wikipedia, long one of the 10 most popular sites on the Web, many of us still don’t understand it. … The thousands of volunteer Wikipedian editors take their responsibility seriously. Flagged revisions may or may not work. What’s best about it is that the Wikipedia editorial community will watch and wonder about and debate it. And if it should not succeed, they will try and try again.

My own take on the situation? I don’t know yet. As Andrew Lih explains in his book, The Wikipedia Revolution, the German-language edition has had this feature for several years, and it seems to work there. On the other hand, the English Wikipedia is much larger, and the possibility certainly exists that some articles will be left unchecked and un-updated for extended periods of time. Will the site grow stagnant? Will the vast majority of people who read but do not edit even notice? These are just a few of the operative questions.

WikiProject Flagged Revisions, which will try to keep articles current, was only established on the 19th of August and as yet has just four listed participants. It’s also worth noting, once the details are hammered out — which they are not just yet — the plan will be implemented on a two-month trial basis. And after that? Well, I’m very interested to find out myself.