Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Brutal warrior of the week: Mastcell

Something seems to be wrong with his WikiStress Meter, which is broken at the "became insane" level. That's what MastCell wants you to believe. Though his master account may be on sabbatical, his many sockpuppets are busy doing his will. Actually, when you look at his contributions page, you see that his master account has never really been on sabbatical! What a vicious, ferocious, brutal warrior MastCell is.

Monday, July 27, 2009

One possible reason your college professor hates Wikipedia so much

A lot of college students are wondering why their professors are so damn uptight about Wikipedia. Those professors are being "pesky" or "uncool."

Those of you still in college, try this experiment: go up to your professor and say something along the lines of: "Professor, I was wondering what kinds of lies and misconceptions are out there about [topic you teach], so I went to Wikipedia." Watch him or her launch on a speech about how Wikipedia is unreliable, how it has no peer review, how no one is accountable for its content, how some schools (including perhaps yours) give failing grades to students who cite Wikipedia, etc. In fact that speech is the very same one they'd give if you had said you believed something you read on Wikipedia.

What is it about Wikipedia that sets professors off on such a paroxysm of hatred? When I was in college (don't ask how long ago, suffice it to say Wikipedia didn't even exist back then) I don't remember any professor getting in such an angry mood at the mere mention of Encyclopedia Britannica. "Don't use it as your only source," is the most strongly-worded advice on the matter I can remember.

The publically-stated principle of Wikipedia sounds very good on paper: instead of the encyclopedia seeking out experts (like a traditional encyclopedia does), Wikipedia lets the experts find the encyclopedia. Idealistically, this has the advantage of bringing up experts the traditional encyclopedia would have overlooked. In fact it's possible your college professor bought into this four or five years ago and enthusiastically started contributing to Wikipedia.

But soon he or she would have found out the reality of Wikipedia is very different from its purported ideals. His or her contributions were probably reverted immediately, despite his or her best efforts to comply with Wikipedia's shifting-sand standards. Professor can't cite himself in Wikipedia? Fine, he or she knows plenty other scholars to cite. If he or she was not discouraged at that first difficulty, he or she would eventually have been more thoroughly attacked, his credentials ridiculed and his views mocked. He or she was probably called every name in the Wikipedia book: vandal, sock, troll, pedant, wikiholic, inclusionist, deletionist, etc.

Your professor soon realized that the true purpose of Wikipedia is to provide an arena for self-important ignorant idiots to battle each other for the amusement of Jimbo Wales. Your professor realized that fighting ignorant idiots on Wikipedia is a waste of his time. At the same time, he or she saw, with increasing distress, how his students turn to Wikipedia for information on almost everything. But he or she's too proud to admit that his hatred of Wikipedia stems from the lousy treatment he received at the hands of Wikipedia's ruling idiots. An encyclopedia ruled by idiots is certain to have many other flaws, some of which the professor can use in his anti-Wikipedia speech without any personal embarrassment.

But I'm not letting professors off the hook completely. I say to them: Before launching into your anti-Wikipedia speech, take a second to assess whether you're really telling a misguided student something he or she hasn't heard before or you're actually preaching to the choir.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Brutal warrior of the week: Martin451

Sometimes you have to look for evidence of a brutal warrior's arrogance. But with some warriors, it is right there in their user page for all to see. Martin451 is one such brutal warrior. He "enjoys contributing to Wikipedia without wearing clothes"? And he "fights vandalism with Huggle and Twinkle. Sometimes simultaneously..." Enough said.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Editing Wikipedia: Your privilege to grant or deny

Let's call him "Michael." Let's say Michael knows a lot about "1970s American automobiles." For one thing, he has already restored three such cars and is working on a fourth. For some reason I still can't figure out, Michael was very enthusiastic about sharing his deep knowledge of this topic on Wikipedia. Then one day, Michael found himself fingered a sockpuppet of some conservative keyboard warrior who only edited articles about political figures. Michael usually edited late at night, long after having gotten off work. But now all his time stamps were falsified to say that he edited during what would be his working hours. The only computer in Michael's work area can't connect to the Web, it's a very specialized device. Michael would have to leave his work area to go to the front office, hope a computer is available, and from there make detailed edits to several articles about old cars and several articles about politicians and pundits, all within a time span of less than half an hour. I find that a little hard to believe.

Thus, Wikipedia has clearly told Michael that he's not wanted there. And yet, he wants to edit Wikipedia again. He has the deluded notion that if he can prove his time stamps were falsified, he might be given his "editing privileges" again (his phrase, not mine) and be exonerated of the much-dreaded sockpuppet label. It's unlikely he would succeed in that endeavor, because most likely the "little God-king" (to use the Wikitruth phrase) who got him booted is an admin. What Michael could do instead is install and IP thrower on his home computer, as well as an edit scheduler, and carefully build a new persona on Wikipedia, one who would at first work on topics which don't interest Michael very much and gradually find his way back to antique cars, and also one who would edit at all hours of the day and night (Wikipedia winners are often lifeless losers in real life).

But why should Michael go to all that trouble? Shouldn't Wikipedia be falling over itself to recruit and keep people with great practical or academic expertise on specific topics? Since Wikipedia can't pay money to experts, shouldn't Wikipedia try instead to pay them something intangible but perhaps more valuable, instead of treating them like crap?

The moral of the story is this: If you have expertise in a given topic, editing Wikipedia is a privilege that you grant to Wikipedia. Thinking the other way around is incredibly backwards and idiotic, and some pretty smart people have made that mistake. The valuable time you spend editing Wikipedia, which could just as easily be spent doing things that could actually bring you money and/or prestige, that is a privilege you can grant or deny Wikipedia. For now, Wikipedia has shown itself to be completely undeserving of that privilege.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brutal Warrior of the Week: Teapotgeorge

This week's brutal warrior of the week, Teapotgeorge, could perhaps be nicknamed "the Butcher of Speedy Deletion." Always patrolling recent changes, Teapotgeorge is ready and standing by to nominate for speedy deletion any new articles created by new users. He often gets his way. But it should give everyone pause noticing how many articles he nominates for swift, thoughtless deletion are rescued by other users.

Just in the past week, the articles for the Montclair Historical Society of New Jersey, Detroit councilwoman Sheila Cockrel, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in India, the computer program BrowseControl, the computer company Eazybusiness, and businessman Stefan Andriopoulos have all been nominated for speedy deletion by Teapotgeorge and they have all been rescued from such unthinking obliteration by other uses.

Additionally, the articles on the book Justice for All: Mental Illness and the Law, and the Morgan Stanley Matrix, have been referred to "proposed deletion" (a little slower than speedy deletion but still not requiring community 'debate' like "articles for deletion") because other users feel uncomfortable just rushing in to delete those articles without giving anyone else a chance to respond.

This is just a tiny sampling of all the articles Teapotgeorge has nominated for speedy deletion. Was there any merit whatsoever to the articles on Merlin Blencowe, the Coricidin Kid, the Clear Code Method, Penneyspeak, Soula Withycombe, Sales Partner Software, photographer Jimmy Forsyth, Vishalexercise? (These are just from the past 24 hours) We will never know, because those requests were all granted. It's between Teapotgeorge, the granting admin, and God now. No one else can do anything.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wikipedia: worthless as a source for anything

It bears repeating: Wikipedia shouldn't be trusted as a source for anything. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. For anything you want to know, no matter how ephemeral, obscure, or unimportant, there is always a far better source, and often that source is on the Web. Sports trivia? Nope. Try looking in a sports almanac. Try looking at ESPN on the Web instead. How about obscure German movies from the 1960s? Try the IMDb. Or maybe the latest fads in American slang? Urban Dictionary is far more thorough and a lot less uptight. You can ask me for any category of human knowledge and I can point you to a better source than Wikipedia.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Brutal Warrior of the Month: Savidan

This month's brutal warrior is Savidan. I had thought about Casliber, but there is almost something debonair to the way he conducts his wikiwar atrocities, something sportsmanlike. The brutal warrior of the year should be so evil, so rabid, so foaming at the mouth, that he wouldn't even think of doing anything that would even theoretically upset the status quo. So Casliber, with his poll on the civility policy, which has the potential to make the sport of wikiwarring a little more challenging (though it also has the potential to leave things exactly as they are), shouldn't advance to the warrior of the month level. Savidan fits that bill a lot better. Mysterious and brutal, he's a perfect candidate for warrior of the year. So for now he's warrior of the month.

To all the people suggesting Eusebeus as a warrior of the week: I'm not going to name sockpuppets as warriors. Get me some convincing evidence as to who the Eusebean sockmaster might be, and I'll consider naming that sockmaster a brutal warrior of the week in the future.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Warrior of the week: Casliber

Some warriors have clean block logs. Like Casliber. His socks do the dirty work. But apparently the great warrior has gotten somewhat bored with the current state of things. The Wikipedia policy on civility (WP:CIVIL) makes it way too easy for Wikipedia warriors to deal with their enemies. So he started a poll on the civility policy, asking whether the current policy is satisfactory or not, whether or not it is too strict or too lenient, whether or not it's harsh on new users, etc. Maybe the poll will succeed in making the civility policy less of a tool for Wikipedia's most brutal, most vicious warriors to commit their most vicious atrocities. In that case, being a Wikipedia warrior would become more interesting, as they woud have to operate with greater sophistication... and sophistry. Or it could just wind up keeping things as they are. Either way, Wikipedia's most atrocious warriors win.

How to pin your sockpuppets on someone else

Wikitruth has it right: "sockpuppet" is a wonderfully vague and elusive insult that can be used against anyone who disagrees with you on Wikipedia. Instead of dozens of people disagreeing with you, there is only one real person and several sockpuppets!

But when reality begs to differ, Wikipedia's most vicious warriors have ways of making the logs tell a different tale. The warrior finds out the IP address of the person he wants to pin the socks on. Then he goes about the business of creating and grooming the socks. The warriors with more money might even invest in houses in the same city where their target lives, equipping them only with electricity, a computer, and an Internet connection which accepts Web browser commands from the warrior's house. Though that's somewhat of a waste of money, because IP addresses can always be falsified later. Once the warrior is ready to pin the socks on his enemies, he has one of them do something that will grab someone's attention and prompt them to file a Checkuser request. The IP addresses of all the socks are falsified, and the warrior makes sure that none of his enemy's edits overlap time-wise with the socks. But if they do, all he has to do is falsify the edit times for those inconvenient edits. The person who does the Checkuser may either be an unwitting idiot or a knowing accomplice. Either way, the will of the warrior is done.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wikipedia's lame attempt to gain credibility will backfire

Read the following scenario and tell me if it's happened to you recently:

"A friend asks you a question. You don't know the answer off the top of your head, but you do know where to find the information, so you tell them to look up such and such in Wikipedia. They go to the article you specified and they fail to find the information they sought. So you look it up in another source and find the information that you thought Wikipedia had. Later on, you examine the edit history of the Wikipedia article, and you find that the information you thought Wikipedia used to have was in fact there all along after all. Some idiot deleted it because the idiot thought it was trivia. You would really like to know who the hell appointed that idiot to the position of ultimate decider of what is and what isn't trivia."

It's happening more and more often, but eventually it will stop happening. That's because people will realize that Wikipedia is worthless as a source for any information. What happened is that by 2007, a lot of people thought that Wikipedia could contain all that information that a regular encyclopedia wishes it could embrace but for which it just doesn't have the room. So a lot of people started adding in a lot of information of that sort, getting into great detail, generally getting their facts right even if their spelling and grammar occasionally left something to be desired. Unfortunately for them, those people didn't realize that Wikipedia is not about providing information for everyone, but providing gladiator-style entertainment for its founder; thus they thought that they didn't think they would have to fight anyone in order to make sure that true information stayed in Wikipedia.

The great Wikipedia warriors started cracking down on the new users, systematically removing the new information they brought under the pretense of "trivia clean-up" (in every case perverting the real policy on trivia). These warriors didn't care whether or not the information was true or relevant to the topic. All that mattered is that it offered an easy opportunity to assert their authority, rack up edits on a wide variety of subjects and hopefully get themselves elected to positions of power in Wikipedia.

Random, unexpected connections between high culture and pop culture are often targets of the so-called trivia "clean-up." Supposedly they're irrelevant. But back in 2005, that's all Wikipedia was! A network of random, unexpected connections! Precisely the sort of thing there's no room for in a regular encyclopedia.

The ultimate end result of all this is that Wikipedia will eventually contain a lot less information than a regular paper encyclopedia. People will realize that Wikipedia is worthless as a source of information for any topic. For the most popular topic areas, there is almost always an online source that has more information on that topic than Wikipedia does, and has far greater credibility and accountability to boot. For the less popular topic areas, there is the library. You know, the building that has a few thousand books next to the computer terminals.