William Beutler on Wikipedia

Posts Tagged ‘New Media Strategies’

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.

Could Intellipedia Improve Wikipedia?

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on April 10, 2009 at 8:48 am

intellipedia-logoThe Intellipedia project is now a few years old, but the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (or CIA, which seems to get credit for these things on account of people knowing what it is) got a write-up in the latest Time magazine, so let’s agree for now to let Time continue its role as agenda-setters and quote from the article:

Intellipedia’s godfather is CIA analyst D. Calvin Andrus, who wrote a paper in 2004 titled “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community.” For decades, the U.S. intelligence system had been structured to answer static Cold War–era questions, like how many missiles there are in Siberia. What the U.S. needed after Sept. 11, Andrus argued, was something that could handle rapidly changing, complicated threats. Intelligence organizations needed to become complex and adaptive, driven to judgments by bottom-up collaboration, like financial markets or ant colonies — or Wikipedia. …

Sean Dennehy, 39, and Don Burke, 43, used the Andrus paper to push the idea of an intelligence-community wiki on their superiors at the CIA. They didn’t get very far until the then newly organized Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that the idea had potential — and even then it faced stiff cultural resistance.

The resistance met sounds no different than any other bureaucratic or vertically-structured organization adapting to a “flatter” age, but the content is undoubtedly far more interesting than whatever your average corporate wiki might have (unless maybe you work for Wonka Chocolate).

Wikipedia having inspired Intellipedia, I wonder if there’s a chance Intellipedia could return the favor. As I wrote in a post last week at the New Media Strategies blog (and belatedly cross-posted here) on Encarta’s Wikipedia-overseen demise:

[W]hy not close the loop and allow Encarta’s knowledge to be used in building out Wikipedia? After all, one area where Wikipedia is deficient is material between the copyright of the last encyclopedia edition to go into public domain and the Internet age.

Same thing here: Wikipedia often takes information directly from government documents, so why not allow material declassified from Intellipedia be to be made available for use in Wikipedia? To be sure, this could be a long time off. But it undoubtedly has illuminating data that could enhance Wikipedia in ways I can’t imagine, mostly because I have never seen Intellipedia and, barring a sudden mid-career change, almost surely never will. But you know I want to.

Microsoft Closes Encarta, But this Doesn’t Have to be the End

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on April 10, 2009 at 8:38 am

Note: This was originally posted one week ago at the blog of my employer, New Media Strategies. This post is now dated if not out of date per se, but considering it’s about Wikipedia, better late to post it here than never.

Earlier this week Microsoft announced it will soon be shutting down its digital encyclopedia, Encarta. The official statement didn’t actually use the word “Wikipedia,” but then again, they didn’t really need to. Wikipedia has 97% of the online encyclopedia market, according to Hitwise, a share that makes Google seem to barely have a foothold.

But this was by no means a totally foregone conclusion — and it doesn’t necessarily mean the end.

Longtime Wikipedia editor Andrew Lih, originator of such indespensible articles as “Seven dirty words” and “Ana Marie Cox” and author of the new book “The Wikipedia Revolution,” explained at his own blog why the news caught him by surprise:

Because Microsoft could have kept it going indefinitely, given its cash pile and the “Windows Tax” paying for everything. With this being such a prominent example of “free” trumping commercial and proprietary, I do wonder if this makes for a victory that might give spiritual comfort to others in the free culture movement. What’s next in Microsoft vs Linux, Microsoft vs OpenOffice, MPEG vs Ogg and other battles? …

Interestingly, Encarta was a product that was always meant to be a throw-in: a me-too product that enticed consumers as part of the Microsoft suite when buying a Dell or Gateway PC. It was never destined to be a standalone moneymaker. Add to this, the fact that Bill Gates founded Corbis as a photo and video archive, and bought the prized Bettmann Archives, and Encarta suddenly had a wealth of visual multimedia features. Its rich interactive features were far ahead of others, and it had rights to the most important historical photos of the last century. It was more a showcase than a business. It was an old school model in a new media world.

How very appropriate, considering what Encarta did to Britannica 15 years ago:

Microsoft had originally approached Encyclopædia Britannica, the gold standard of encyclopedias for over a century, in the 1980s, but it declined, believing its print media sales would be hurt; however the Benton Foundation was forced to sell Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. at below book value in 1996 when the print sales could no longer compete with Encarta and the Microsoft distribution channel which gave away free copies with computer systems.

Are you wondering where that came from? Please don’t wonder too long: it’s from Wikipedia’s entry about Encarta. This actually got me wondering. What happens when you look up Wikipedia at Encarta? Although at first there appears to be an article there is not. When the apparition is clicked, one is diverted to an odd list that will (with enough clicking) eventually take you to the third page (!) of the “Encyclopedia” article, which has this to say about Wikipedia:

In the early 21st century a new type of online encyclopedia, known as Wikipedia, enabled readers to create and edit encyclopedia articles. A wiki is a type of server software that enables users to create or alter content on a Web page. Wikipedia was closely associated with the open source software movement and rapidly expanded to include hundreds of thousands of articles, many on popular culture topics, in a number of languages. The philosophy behind Wikipedia was that a community of volunteers could pool their knowledge and crosscheck their work to create a free encyclopedia. Articles may be written by enthusiasts, rather than experts, and they remain unsigned and “open” to revision. Due to Wikipedia’s open-access policy, it is sometimes the target of vandalism or abuse. However, a crew of volunteer editors polices the site, usually identifies malicious content quickly, and removes it. In cases where a subject is particularly controversial the article may be “locked” so that further alterations or amendments cannot be made.

Apart from the uncomfortably ironic past tense, this is pretty good. Nice dig about the pop culture emphasis, too. But it certainly could be improved, especially the overly simplistic gloss on when articles may be locked. And they should know, as Microsoft somewhat controversially once paid a third party to edit Wikipedia — coincidentally, about the open source movement. I guess you could look back to that 2007 incident and see Encarta’s demise. Not only would somebody from Wikipedia have been unable to pay for changes to Encarta, I can’t see why they would want to.

As Lih points out, Microsoft is frequently in conflict with the open source movement. Which is exactly why Microsoft should release Encarta under a free public license, under the GNU Free Documentation License (which Wikipedia currently uses) or Creative Commons’ Attribution-ShareAlike license (with which it is also compatible). Yes, their business plan was undercut by another model — in a manner similar to my “churn” semi-manifesto — as it had previously done to another. So why not close the loop and allow Encarta’s knowledge to be used in building out Wikipedia? After all, one area where Wikipedia is deficient is material between the copyright of the last encyclopedia edition to go into public domain and the Internet age.

I don’t think this will really happen, of course. And there could always be a hang-up with the non-exclusive rights from Funk & Wagnalls, upon which Microsoft itself built Encarta. But if Microsoft is looking for goodwill — and these days, they should be — letting Wikipedia absorb Encarta would be an act of magnanimity that could go a long way.

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.

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.