William Beutler on Wikipedia

Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Colbert’

Who’s The Idiot?

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on November 30, 2009 at 9:28 pm

wikipedia-iggy-pop-idiotSo I’d thought that Stephen Colbert had finally quenched the national and political media’s thirst for amusement derived from Wikipedia vandalism, but The Hill newspaper has proved me wrong. If you are not following the 2012 presidential campaign three years out, you may have missed the storm today surrounding 2008 Republican dark horse (and arguable Romney spoiler) Mike Huckabee.

In 2000, serving in his capacity as governor of Arkansas, Huckabee granted clemency to a convicted felon who is currently a suspect in the murder of four police officers in a suburb of Tacoma, Washington. [Update: Was at the time. Hours later, Maurice Clemmons, the aforementioned felon, was killed by Seattle police.] Being a national news event, perhaps the best source of reported information is Wikipedia’s Lakewood police officer shooting article.

But it’s the article about Huckabee that caught The Hill’s attention, because earlier today, this was added to the lead paragraph:


In addition, next to Huckabee’s name in the infobox sidebar, the following clarification was noted thusly:


Yep, that sure is Wikipedia vandalism. And The Hill had quite the hot scoop, because the vandalism was gone within 10 minutes, and The Hill’s date stamp is just three minutes before it was reverted.

The Hill’s Jordan Fabian commented:

Any Internet user can edit or write Wikipedia entries, it is not clear who edited the page under the site’s revision history.

Well, in fact we can know that the vandal is in Seattle, simply because that IP address traces to that area. We can also look at the IP user’s previous edits, which include the clumsy expansion / temporary vandalism of the article about South Puget Sound Community College (his alma mater?) and editing the article of Golden Girls actress Betty White (?) to note something clearly heard on Seattle radio.

And then, as Wikipedia would hope, it was removed by a user just as anonymous as the one who added it. Or to quote the first commenter on The Hill’s breakthrough story:

Non-story, welcome to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia On Dead Tree Redux

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on June 20, 2009 at 3:31 pm

More than a week ago I posted a photo that’s been making the rounds lately — and even wound up as the basis for a joke on Conan O’Brien this past week — about a student artist who had created a physical book of Wikipedia’s Featured articles, one taking up approximately 5,000 pages. I noted at the time that the explanatory text

Reproducing Wikipedia in a dysfunctional physical form helps to question its use as an internet resource.

wasn’t terribly satisfying to me, and I asked at the time

Would printing all of Google’s search results also question its use as an Internet resource? Would printing an image of a sundial question its use as a physical timekeeping device?

and I resolved to find out more if I could. In fact I did hear back from the book’s creator, Rob Matthews, not long after. When posed with the question above, he responded at first:

I’m comparing the Internet Wikipedia to a traditional encyclopedia, by putting it in the same format, therefore suggesting that Wikipedia is dysfunctional compared to a normal encyclopedia. This is suggested by how I’ve conveyed Wikipedia physically.

I still wasn’t satisfied with this, but after a bit of back and forth, Matthews confirmed that his intention was to point out, compared to a traditional paper-based encyclopedia, it’s less reliable because of its radical openness, or hard to find what’s important among the incomplete and unbalanced articles that exist on the site. Those are my words, but he agreed with this much.

I actually do not agree with this view. Not that I don’t agree there is some truth to the point, because there is, but because I do not actually see how anyone is impeded from finding what they want because of Wikipedia. Moreover, “what’s important” is always in flux, and Wikipedia is a reflection of that.

wikipedia-in-print-rob-matthewsIt’s also nothing new. Those who lament the fact that Wkipedia gives disproportionate coverage to trivial matters — a criticism voiced by none other than Stephen Colbert, who sarcastically riffed on the subject, “any site that’s got a longer entry on ‘truthiness’ than on Lutherans has its priorities straight” — should also recognize that these imbalances are often corrected.

I’ve never been one to take my social commentary from visual art such as painting or sculpture, in significant part because it is rare that an image or an object can convey a subtle point while also succeeding as art. For such a purpose — in this case offering commentary on a subject which is overwhelmingly composed of words — I think nonverbal art is inferior to something like the novel, the essay or even the sitcom.

Even if I thought Matthews had a strong argument about Wikipedia to make, I think this fails as standalone commentary. But if Matthews does actually sell copies of this book, consider me interested (price dependent). Mr. Matthews doesn’t have answers for his questions, but his artwork would make for an excellent conversation piece.