Wikipedia editor count down by a third

Tom Simonite on "the decline of Wikipedia":
The volunteer workforce that built the project’s flagship, the English-language Wikipedia—and must defend it against vandalism, hoaxes, and manipulation—has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking. ... The main source of those problems is not mysterious. The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage.

Wikipedia fights massive sock-puppet army

Alan sez, "A 'sock puppet network' is a set of seemingly independent accounts on Wikipedia that act in concert because they are (or at least strongly appear to be) all controlled by the same entity. The accounts are sock puppets for the true entity, which uses the network to effect changes it wants on Wikipedia."

Read the rest

What would it cost to continuously print out every edit to Wikipedia?


In a recent What If...?, XKCD's Randall Munroe tackles the important question: "If you had a printed version of the whole of (say, the English) Wikipedia, how many printers would you need in order to keep up with the changes made to the live version?" Turns out the answer is SIX, but it would cost $500,000 a month for the ink, and you'd need 300m^3 a month to store the paper.

Read the rest

Jimmy Wales: Wikipedia won't surveil users for China

This year's annual Wikipedia conference, Wikimania, was held in Hong Kong, and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales devoted some time in his speech and subsequent interviews to a discussion of the site's relationship to the Chinese authorities. Wikipedia is heavily censored by the Great Firewall, which blocks many queries and pages, and an encrypted, unfilterable version of Wikipedia is blocked altogether. Wales ruled out shutting down the unencrypted version for now, on technical grounds, but said that the site would never censor itself in response to government threats.

More significantly, Wales ruled out completely any participation in China's "real name" policy, which requires online services to track user activity and associate it with their real names, saying he would not comply with this, "not for five seconds."

Read the rest

Cetacean needed: Wikipedia whale diagram needs line-art


The missing elements in the diagram on the Wikipedia page for List of cetaceans is missing some line-art of various whales and such. Where the art is missing, the box simply bears the legend "cetacean needed." (ObRef XKCD)

Nice work editor of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cetaceans … - missing diagrams labeled 'cetacean needed' @doctorow pic.twitter.com/B18yrKrJvI

How a Mexican drug-lord dines out

When Joaquín Guzmán Loera, leader of Mexico's notorious Sinaloa Cartel, wants to dine out, he engages some rather extreme security measures:

In 2005 on a Saturday evening, Guzmán reportedly strolled into a restaurant in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, with several of his bodyguards. After he took his seat, his henchmen locked the doors of the restaurant, collected the cell phones of approximately 30 diners and instructed them to not be alarmed.[26] The gangsters then ate their meal and left – paying for everyone else in the restaurant.[27]

Culiacán appearance

Later that year, Guzmán was reportedly seen in Culiacán, Sinaloa, repeating the same exploit at a restaurant.[28] According to a witness, in November 2005 Guzmán entered the restaurant in Culiacán with 15 of his bodyguards, all of them carrying AK-47s.[29] The restaurant was known as "Las Palmas", a lime-green eatery with an ersatz tile roof on a busy street.[30] A man in the restaurant told those present the following:

"Gentlemen, please. Give me a moment of your time. A man is going to come in, the boss. We will ask you to remain in your seats; the doors will be closed and nobody is allowed to leave. You will also not be allowed to use your cellulars. Do not worry; if you do everything that is asked of you, nothing will happen. Continue eating and don't ask for your check. The boss will pay. Thank you."[29]

Joaquín Guzmán Loera (via Reddit)

Realtime map of anonymous edits to Wikipedia


Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi's "Wikipedia Recent Changes Map" plots anonymous edits to Wikipedia on a world-map in realtime, based on the location of the user (only anonymous users are identified by IP address, so they're the only ones whose locations can be estimated). It's a hypnotic view into Wikipedia's casual users and vandals, as well as unobservant users like (I often forget that I'm logged out until after my edit, and have to go back and add an attribution).

When an unregistered user makes a contribution to Wikipedia, he or she is identified by his or her IP address. These IP addresses are translated to the contributor’s approximate geographic location. A study by Fabian Kaelin in 2011 noted that unregistered users make approximately 20% of the edits on English Wikipedia [edit: likely closer to 15%, according to more recent statistics], so Wikipedia’s stream of recent changes includes many other edits that are not shown on this map.

You may see some users add non-productive or disruptive content to Wikipedia. A survey in 2007 indicated that unregistered users are less likely to make productive edits to the encyclopedia. Do not fear: improper edits can be removed or corrected by other users, including you!

This map listens to live feeds of Wikipedia revisions, broadcast using wikimon. We built the map using a few nice libraries and services, including d3, DataMaps, and freegeoip.net. This project was inspired by WikipediaVision’s (almost) real-time edit visualization.

Wikipedia Recent Changes Map

"Citation needed"'s Wikipedia entry

Regrettably, the Wikipedia entry for "Citation needed" ("a common editorial remark on Wikipedia, which has become used to refer to Wikipedia in wider popular culture") doesn't include any actual assertions tagged with [citation needed].

On July 4, 2007, the webcomic xkcd published a comic which depicted a protestor holding up a "citation needed" sign during a political speech.[7]

In late 2010, banners with the template appeared at the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,[8] and in February 2011, at a more serious demonstration in Berlin against German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who had been embroiled in a scandal after it was discovered he had plagiarised portions of his doctoral thesis.[9]

The New York Times has commented on the propensity of some "stickler editors" for adding the template to unattributed facts,[10] and has used the phrase in an online headline.[11]

Citation needed (via JWZ)

French spies demand removal of a Wikipedia entry, threaten random Wikipedia admin in France when they don't get their way


The French spy agency Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur inexplicably flipped out about a longstanding Wikipedia entry on a military base (station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute) filled with public domain, widely known information. They tried to get the Wikimedia Foundation to delete it, but wouldn't explain what, exactly, they objected to in the entry. When the Wikimedia Foundation rebuffed them, they picked out a random volunteer Wikipedia admin living in France -- a person who had never had anything to do with the post in question -- and threatened him with jail unless he used his admin privileges to delete the post.

The Foundation is trying to support the their volunteer as best as they can. Meantime, the post about station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute's pageviews have shot from a couple per day to 9000+.

The Foundation takes allegations of national security threats seriously and investigated the matter accordingly. However, it was not readily apparent what specific information the DCRI could consider classified or otherwise high-risk. Without further information, we could not understand why the DCRI believes information in the article is classified. Almost all of the information in the article is cited to publicly-available sources. In fact, the article’s contents are largely consistent with a publicly available video in which Major Jeansac, the chief of the military station in question, gives a detailed interview and tour of the station to a reporter. This video is now cited in the article. Furthermore, the page was originally created on July 24, 2009 and has been continually available and edited since. We do not know why the DCRI believes that the article has suddenly become an urgent threat now.

We requested more information from the DCRI, such as which specific sentences or sections they believed to contain classified information. Unfortunately, the DCRI refused to provide any more specific detail and reaffirmed their demand that the entire article be deleted. Therefore, the Foundation was forced to refuse their request pending receipt of more information that we could use to fully evaluate their claim.

On 30 March 2013, we discovered that the DCRI, evidently dissatisfied with the Foundation’s response, contacted a volunteer with administrative rights (a “sysop”) who resides in France. This sysop is not responsible for the hosting of the content on Wikipedia, had no role in the creation of the article, and is not part of the Wikimedia Foundation. As we understand it, the sysop attempted to explain his limited role as a volunteer and directed them back to the Foundation’s legal department.

Legal and Community Advocacy/Statement on France

(Image: A general view of the military base of Pierre sur Haute, located in the Monts du Forez. It's a dependency of the Base Aerienne 942 of Lyon-Mont Verdun, GDL/CC BY-SA image by S. Rimbaud)

Group whose Wikipedia entry was deleted for non-notability threatens lawsuit against Wikipedian who participated in the discussion

Benjamin Mako Hill writes, "Last year, I participated in a discussion on Wikipedia that led to the deletion of an article about the "Institute for Cultural Diplomacy." Because I edit Wikipedia using my real name, the ICD was able to track me down. Over the last month or so, they threated me with legal action and have now gotten their lawyers involved. I've documented the whole sad saga on my blog. I think the issue raises some important concerns about Wikipedia in general."

Donfried has made it very clear that his organization really wants a Wikipedia article and that they believe they are being damaged without one. But the fact that he wants one doesn’t mean that Wikipedia’s policies mean he should have one. Anonymous editors in Berlin and in unknown locations have made it clear that they really want a Wikipedia article about the ICD that does not include criticism. Not only do Wikipedia’s policies and principles not guarantee them this, Wikipedia might be hurt as a project when this happens.

The ICD claims to want to foster open dialogue and criticism. I think they sound like a pretty nice group working toward issues I care about personally. I wish them success.

But there seems to be a disconnect between their goals and the actions of both their leader and proponents. Because I used my real name and was skeptical about the organization on discussion pages on Wikipedia, I was tracked down and threatened. Donfried insinuated that I was motivated to “sabotage” his organization and threatened legal action if I do not answer his questions. The timing of his first letter — the day after the ICD page was recreated — means that I was unwilling to act on my commitment to Wikipedia and its policies.

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy and Wikipedia

Wikipedia and libraries: a match made in heaven

John Mark Ockerbloom's "From Wikipedia to our libraries" is a fabulous proposal for creating research synergies between libraries and Wikipedia, by adding templates to Wikipedia articles that direct readers to unique, offline-only (or onsite-only) library resources at their favorite local libraries. Ockerbloom's approach acknowledges and respects the fact that patrons start their searches online, and seeks only to improve the outcomes of their research -- not to convince them not to start with the Internet.

So how do we get people from Wikipedia articles to the related offerings of our local libraries? Essentially we need three things: First, we need ways to embed links in Wikipedia to the libraries that readers use. (We can’t reasonably add individual links from an article to each library out there, because there are too many of them– there has to be a way that each Wikipedia reader can get to their own favored libraries via the same links.) Second, we need ways to derive appropriate library concepts and local searches from the subjects of Wikipedia articles, so the links go somewhere useful. Finally, we need good summaries of the resources a reader’s library makes available on those concepts, so the links end up showing something useful. With all of these in place, it should be possible for researchers to get from a Wikipedia article on a topic straight to a guide to their local library’s offerings on that topic in a single click.

I’ve developed some tools to enable these one-click Wikipedia -> library transitions. For the first thing we need, I’ve created a set of Wikipedia templates for adding library links. The documentation for the Library resources box template, for instance, describes how to use it to create a sidebar box with links to resources about (or by) the topic of a Wikipedia article in a reader’s library, or in another library a reader might want to consult. (There’s also an option for direct links to my Online Books Page, if there are relevant books online; it may be easier in some cases for readers to access those than to access their local library’s books.)

From Wikipedia to our libraries (via Making Light)

(Image: library card, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from raqkat's photostream)

Wikipedia by text-message

Wikimedia's Wikipedia Zero project will let people look up Wikipedia articles using text-messages. This will bring Wikipedia to billions of people who lack smartphones:

We want to enable access to free knowledge for every last human being. For many readers in developing countries, their primary (and often only) access to the internet is via mobile. However, barriers exist that can prevent users from reading Wikipedia and accessing free knowledge on their mobile devices.

Cost - While handset prices have reduced sharply around the world, data costs are still prohibitively expensive for many users. From the 2010 mobile readers' survey, for example, we saw that 21% of users listed "too much data usage" as a critical barrier to access. That number rises dramatically when we consider people who have capable devices, but are not even yet mobile readers. We need to remove the cost of data as a deterrent to reading Wikipedia.

Speed - The mobile survey also pointed out that speed of connection is the top barrier (44% of users) for using Wikipedia on a mobile phone. Therefore, we need to offset this barrier by offering an experience that loads faster.

There are two outcomes to this. First, new readers will be encouraged to access free knowledge for the first time, knowing that the barriers are low. Second, existing readers will not be obstructed from accessing knowledge when they need and want it.

Wikipedia Zero (via /.)

Official City of Melbourne IP address used for biased edits to Wikipedia page for Occupy Melbourne prior to local election


Someone using the City of Melbourne's IP block has been introducing biased edits to the Wikipedia page for Occupy Melbourne, attempting to erase the record of council's resolve to remove Occupy, and trying to smear the Occupy protest by removing the adjective "peaceful" from the page. The edits were made anonymously, but Wikipedia publishes IP addresses for anonymous contributors, and the IP address in question, 203.26.235.14, is registered to the city.

Proof of attacks on Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page, attempts to change history and evidence in on-going federal court cases. More importantly the edits were made during the last week of MCC’s 2012 elections. A quick tidy up of MCC’s image just before the election. Anyone who didn’t think Melbourne City Council (MCC) was (and still is) opposed to Occupy Melbourne either has their head in the sand, is plainly lying or delusional.

The smoking gun, proof Melbourne City Council is behind the IP address 203.26.235.14 editing Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page. The timing of this edit is far from coincidental. 21st October, the one year anniversary of the brutal city square eviction and just days before the 2012 Melbourne city council elections, where Robert Doyle sought and gained re-election.

Melbourne City Council cyber war against Occupy Melbourne (Thanks, Occupy Melbourne!)

Notable deaths in 2012, as recorded by Wikipedia

Information designer Jess Bachman created Wikipedia Remembers 2012, an interactive feature about the top 100 public figures who died in 2012 as ranked by the number of words in their Wikipedia entries. There are probably more accurate ways to measure the value of a person's life, but hey, that's a matter for another debate. Jess explains:

I think its a great way to explore and remember the lesser known heroes and is an interesting measure of ones life. Phyllis Diller and Michael Clarke Duncan were 101 and 102 so they didn't make the list, while others like #4, Tale Ognenovski is a lessor known Macedonian clarinetist, but for some reason has a incredibly documented wiki page! So many interesting people here.

It should be noted that I did remove notorious people and those who were solely involved in news events, so there is some editorial by me here. The number one person was actually Treyvon Martin, and there were plenty of serial killers, terrorists, and other folk I didn't think were worth remembering.

Check it out.

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