Boing Boing 

Why Philip Roth had to explain himself in the New Yorker before his Wikipedia entry could be corrected

My latest Guardian column, "Why Philip Roth needs a secondary source," explains why it makes sense for Wikipedians to insist that Roth's claims about his novels be vetted by and published in the New Yorker before they can be included on Wikipedia:

Wikipedians not only have no way of deciding whether Philip Roth is an authority on Philip Roth, but even if they decided that he was, they have no way of knowing that the person claiming to be Philip Roth really is Philip Roth. And even if Wikipedians today decide that they believe that the PhilipRoth account belongs to the real Philip Roth, how will the Wikipdians 10 years from now know whether the editor who called himself PhilipRoth really was Philip Roth?

Wikipedia succeeds by "not doing the things that nobody ever thought of not doing". Specifically, Wikipedia does not verify the identity or credentials of any of its editors. This would be a transcendentally difficult task for a project that is open to any participant, because verifying the identity claims of random strangers sitting at distant keyboards is time-consuming and expensive. If each user has to be vetted and validated, it's not practical to admit anyone who wants to add a few words to a Wikipedia entry.

Why Philip Roth needs a secondary source

Wikipedia will encrypt to fight UK spying

Jimmy Wales says that he'll configure Wikipedia to encrypt all user traffic to undermine the UK government's "Snooper's Charter," which will institute bulk, warrantless Internet spying on the whole nation. (via /.)

Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at the library of the Royal Society

Wikipedia's entries on women in the sciences are lacking. The Royal Society has an extensive collection of original sources documenting the work of women in the sciences. On October 19, the nail will meet the hammer in the form of a group Edit-a-Thon and workshop. The event is especially aimed at fledgling Wiki editors, who might be intimidated by the job of editing the Internet's primary source of basic information. Representatives from Wikimedia UK will be on hand to show you how the site works and answer questions. They're going to pick the entries that need improving. Participants will get access to the Royal Society archives and will work together to make Wikipedia better. What a cool program! More museums should totally do this! (Via Ed Yong)

Wikipedia's list of infamous software glitches

Worth noting, especially if you read my piece last Friday about problems with America's electric infrastructure: Wikipedia's list of infamous software glitches includes the problems with General Electric Energy's XA/21 monitoring software that helped make the 2003 East Coast Blackout happen. (Via Kyle McDonald)

Russian Wikipedia blacks out over censorship plan


People visiting the Russian-language Wikipedia today will find it blacked out, in protest of a proposed far-reaching Internet blacklist plan in Russia. Similar measures were used in the Italian Wikipedia to protest an Italian Internet censorship law, and in the English Wikipedia to protest SOPA/PIPA. The Russian proposal, Bill 89417-6, will establish a national censorwall that blocks "all websites containing pornography, drug ads and promoting suicide or extremist ideas." Here's a Google Translate translation of the Wikipedia message:

Today, July 10, the Duma hearings are going to amend the Act for information that could lead to the creation of extra-judicial censorship of the Internet in Russian, including the closure of access to Wikipedia in Russian.

Wikipedia community protests against censorship, dangerous to free knowledge, open to all mankind. We ask that you support in opposing this bill.

Russian Wikipedia Shutters In Protest of Internet Blacklist Plans

Hillbilly Holler and other Mountain Dew generics

Wikipedia's "Generic citrus sodas" lists 27 (as of this writing) generic equivalents to Mountain Dew/Mello Yello/Sun Drop. "In deference to Mountain Dew's leading position in the market for citrus sodas, most brands of generic citrus soda have the word 'Mountain' in their names." Read aloud in a rush, they're a kind of tone-poem about marketing, dental caries, and caffeine shakes.

1 Citrus Drop/Citrus Drop Xtreme
2 Citrus Pop
3 Heee Haw
4 Hillbilly Holler
5 Kountry Mist
6 Mountain Breeze
7 Mountain Drops
8 Mountain Explosion
9 Mountain Frost
10 Mountain Fury
11 Mountain Holler
12 Mountain Lightning
13 Mountain Lion
14 Mountain Maze
15 Mountain Mellow
16 Mountain Mist
17 Mountain Moondrops
18 Mountain Roar
19 Mountain Rush
20 Mountain Splash
21 Mountain W
22 Mountain Wave
23 Mountain Yeller
24 Mountain Rush
25 Mt. Chill
26 Ramp
27 Rocky Mist

Generic citrus sodas (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Newspaper claims Vikileaks Twitter account traced back to House of Commons

The @Vikileaks30 account on Twitter has been publishing embarrassing personal information about Canada's Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is pushing for a domestic spying law that would require ISPs to gather and retain your personal information and turn it over to police without a warrant. The Vikileaks account kicked off with excerpts from the affidavits from Toews's very ugly divorce, including his ex-wife's allegations about his abuse of his official government expense accounts. The account created a nationwide stir over the domestic spying proposal, and has caused a rare (and possibly strategic*) climbdown from the majority Conservative government.

Now The Ottawa Citizen newspaper has tricked the person behind the anonymous account into visiting a website that it controls, and have traced back the IP address used in the trap to the House of Commons, suggesting that Toews's nemesis works for the federal government. The Citizen claims that the IP address has also been used to "frequently" edit Wikipedia "[give] them what appears to be a pro-NDP bias" (the New Democratic Party is the left-leaning opposition party in Parliament).

While it's impossible to say who is actually the using the address without a full-scale investigation undertaken by the House of Commons, a trace of the IP address shows it is also used by an employee of the House to post comments on a website for fans of the musician Paul Simon.

When reached by phone, the employee said that while he frequents the Paul Simon website he has nothing to do with the Vikileaks30 Twitter account.

A spokeswoman for the Speaker of the House of Commons said she is not aware of any investigation into whether any House IP addresses are behind the Vikileaks30 account. In order for an official government investigation to begin a complaint would have to be filed by a Member of Parliament.

Vikileaks30 linked to House of Commons IP address

* "Possibly strategic" because it looks like they're rushing this to committee, which is likely to go closed-door, exclude skeptical expert testimony, and speedily conclude that the bill is just fine as-is while maintaining a low public profile (Thanks, Colin!)

Wikipedia will go dark to protest SOPA/PIPA

Jimmy Wales has announced that Wikipedia will join Reddit, Boing Boing, and many other sites around the Internet in going dark on Wednesday to protest SOPA/PIPA, the pending US legislation that would make it impossible to run any website that links or allows commenters to link, by making us liable for copyright infringement on the sites we link to.

Wales used his Twitter account to spread the news, writing “Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday! #sopa”

In place of Wikipedia, users will see instructions for how to reach local members of Congress, which Wales hopes "will melt phone systems in Washington."

He also noted that comScore estimates the English Wikipedia’s web traffic at 25 million daily visitors worldwide.

Wikipedia to Shut Down in Protest of SOPA (Thanks, Marilyn!)

Fictional disease

Wikipedia helpfully catalogs the major fictional diseases. (via Maria Popova)

Italy's insane Internet law prompts removal of Italian Wikipedia

Prompted by Italy's punitive (batshit) wiretapping law proposal, Wikipedia has removed its Italian version and now directs anyone trying to find Italian Wikipedia to a page explaining that Italy's Internet law will make it impossible to have an Italian Wikipedia:

This proposal, which the Italian Parliament is currently debating, provides, among other things, a requirement to all websites to publish, within 48 hours of the request and without any comment, a correction of any content that the applicant deems detrimental to his/her image.

Unfortunately, the law does not require an evaluation of the claim by an impartial third judge - the opinion of the person allegedly injured is all that is required, in order to impose such correction to any website.

Hence, anyone who feels offended by any content published on a blog, an online newspaper and, most likely, even on Wikipedia can directly request to publish a "corrected" version, aimed to contradict and disprove the allegedly harmful contents, regardless of the truthfulness of the information deemed as offensive, and its sources...

The obligation to publish on our site the correction as is, provided by the named paragraph 29, without even the right to discuss and verify the claim, is an unacceptable restriction of the freedom and independence of Wikipedia, to the point of distorting the principles on which the Free Encyclopedia is based and this would bring to a paralysis of the "horizontal" method of access and editing, putting - in fact - an end to its existence as we have known until today.

Wikipedia recursion madness

The disambiguation page for "Disambiguation". (via Kottke)

Lolita on Wikipedia: 2,300 edits later


Emily Morris surveys the 2,303 edits made to the Wikipedia entry for Nabokov's Lolita since it was first created, some ten years ago. The entry still draws an edit every other day or so, and Morris's analysis of the different sorts of edits coming in illuminates something of the difficulty of converging on consensus about seemingly straightforward subjects like the plot of a novel.
The constant back-and-forth over word choice is just a microcosm of the same (albeit slightly less charged) issue of relaying the plot. This revision from January 2007 changes “rhapsodize over Lolita in her sleep” to “sexually molest Lolita without fear of discovery.”
Case History Of A Wikipedia Page: Nabokov’s 'Lolita'