Archive for the Wikipedia Category

New blog, by and about WikiProject Oregon

Posted in Wikipedia, WikiWay with tags , , on May 26, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

I’m very excited to announce that WikiProject Oregon, a loose collection of Wikipedia volunteers who share an interest in Oregon, has just started its own blog:

Our first post gives some background and advice on how to publish a photo on Wikipedia; future topics may
include highlighting some of the better articles and photos about Oregon, sharing techniques for researching Oregon history, and calls for help in areas that aren’t covered too well yet.

I hope you’ll check it out — at least those of you in Oregon!

(Please post any comments in the first thread over there.)


Anonymity and public service

Posted in open government, politics, Wikipedia, WikiWay with tags , , on May 14, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

I’m just back from RecentChangesCamp 2008, a conference and networking event for people who work with wiki software and communities. When you get a bunch of smart people together, you get new ideas; this post will be the first of several exploring the ideas I came away with. -Pete

Anonymous suitIn a democratic society, it seems natural that decision makers should be forthcoming about who they are, so that the society as a whole can draw its own conclusions about their motivations, possible conflicts of interest, and general suitability for decision-making. We see this value reflected in laws about public service; for example, a recent extension of Oregon’s ethics laws (SB 10 of 2007) has attracted a great deal of attention. Public officials — even volunteers — are expected to disclose not only their names, but often their business affiliations and other personal information, to the public whose lives they stand to impact.

In many public forums, though, anonymity is commonplace. Talk radio callers, bloggers and blog commenters, and contributors to projects like Wikipedia are often completely anonymous; or, if they disclose any information about themselves, it often can’t be verified.

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Republishing Wikipedia content, revisited

Posted in Wikipedia with tags , on April 22, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

In response to my earlier blog post, Word theft and feedback loops, I received an interesting phone call from Josh, the owner of the book publishing company Biographiq.

Josh was concerned about the views expressed here and elsewhere, that his company was violating either the law or ethical principles in the way it republishes Wikipedia content. I was impressed with his desire to meet the concerns head-on, and express the measures he’s taken to ensure he’s complying with the law and respecting the Wikipedia community.

However, my concerns about the company’s practices remain.

Josh made several points worth exploring:

Presentation to Oregon Encyclopedia editors

Posted in Uncategorized, Wikipedia, WikiWay with tags , , on April 17, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

On Friday, I was one of three Wikipedia editors to make a presentation to the editors-in-chief of the Oregon Encyclopedia. About two months in the making (see my previous posts), this was a valuable opportunity to learn more about what they hope to accomplish, and to present the strengths of the Wikipedia project and, especially, of WikiProject Oregon. Everybody in the room shared an interest in providing better information about Oregon to a wider audience, and discussing our differing approaches led to some interesting conversation.

We addressed several subject: Jason got us started with some discussion of the differences between Wikipedia and wiki software, and an exploration of the software and technology. I then talked about the community aspects of Wikipedia, and the opportunity to work with other editors to expand our knowledge of Oregon history as we collaborate on improving articles. Steven wrapped up by delving into some of the things that make Wikipedia unique – the procedures for evaluating articles, making decisions, etc. We had some time left for questions and discussion.
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What does wiki-based decision making look like?

Posted in Wikipedia, WikiWay with tags , , , on April 15, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

placeholder image (female)Answer: MESSY! Right now, I’m involved with one of the biggest deliberative processes I’ve seen yet on Wikipedia. At issue is whether or not it’s OK to put “placeholder” images, like the one pictured at right, on biographic articles. Some people think they unnecessarily deface an article, while others think they’re an important tool in soliciting new images for the encyclopedia, and getting new contributors involved.

This has led to a huge discussion. It’s pretty chaotic, but also highly structured; it can be a little hard to see what’s currently getting the most attention, but because of the section headings and table of contents, it’s not too hard to get an overview of what people have been discussing.

I often wonder about this sort of process. I see decisions made through this sort of process on Wikipedia, with a great deal of input from diverse groups, and a completely transparent process. But I also recognize that it’s a very unfamiliar format, very off-putting to anyone who doesn’t do a lot of work on wikis. I think the “best of both worlds” approach involves meeting face to face, and keeping notes in a format more like this, but after the fact. In essence, highly detailed and structured meeting minutes.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Is a process like this too unfamiliar and confusing to jump into? Or can you imagine a scenario where you might participate in something like that, with the goal of reaching a carefully-considered conclusion with broad participation.

(Note: I published a notice about this in the Wikipedia Signpost as well.)

Word theft and feedback loops

Posted in Wikipedia with tags , , on April 11, 2008 by Pete Forsyth

Here’s something unsettling: a Wikipedia editor claims that a published book contains a verbatim copy of an old version of a Wikipedia article.

The book had been listed (innocently, it seems) as “further reading” in a subsequent revision of the Wikipedia article, as follows: Biographiq (2008). D. B. Cooper: Portrait of an American Hijacker. Biographiq. ISBN 1599861984.

Wikipedia editor Harry Yelreh caught and removed the mention of the book, leaving the following edit summary: “Biographiq book is verbatim copy of earlier versions of wikipedia article”.

This raises a couple interesting issues: first, Wikipedia’s role in a potentially disastrous “feedback loop,” where sources that are trusted by the public merely cite one another; and second, the ethical and legal impropriety of republishing Wikipedia content without proper attribution.

On a technical level, Wikipedia’s policies cover all the right bases. The license covering Wikipedia’s works, the GNU Free Documentation License, requires that any work republished in another medium be properly attributed. The authors of the text (not the Wikimedia foundation) have standing to take legal action against anyone violating this policy. (Some editors, myself included, choose to multi-license their contributions under less restrictive licenses, but most editors don’t bother, or prefer not to do so.) In other words, while much is made of the “free” nature of Wikipedia, there are in fact some limits on what can be done with its content.

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