Friday, January 26, 2007

The WikiDrama Committee is about to rule!

Once again, the Arbitration Committee gives more weight to the notion that they should be renamed to the "WikiDrama Committee", this time by showing a strong interest in accepting Yet Another Pointless arbitration matter related to IRC. Despite the best efforts of many people to try to calm the situation down (efforts that were largely working), the Committee has already once done its best to keep the dispute hot and bothered through its ill-guided and vainglorious declaration of jurisdiction over IRC. While I'm sure their declaration made the recently elected powergrabbers happy (they now have Even More Power) and did at least a little to satisfy the bloodlust of the witchhunters, it did nothing at all to resolve any dispute, which is the stated purpose and function of the Committee. Now the Committee has been asked (by Irpen, who has the distinction of being the loudest known Wikipedian) to reconsider this matter. Apparently the witchhunters were not fully sated by the previous action and require yet more blood. The Committee is not able to recognize that these people will not be satisfied until they have control of all the power nexi on Wikipedia, and are going to continue their "scorched earth" tactics until they have succeeded. The end result will, eventually, be something which does not very much resemble an encyclopedia.

That the Committee is even contemplating stirring the pot even further is clear evidence to me that the Committee is no longer serving its designated purpose. Jimbo ought to and should dissolve it. The problem with doing that is either (a) Jimbo would have to resume his role as the sole settler of disputes on Wikipedia (something which I doubt he is wont to do) or (b) appoint a new committee to serve the same purpose, and any such committee would either be filled with the same useless dramaseeking reprobates that fill it now, or else be filled with people who would loathe the job because they would be subjected to constant attacks by the witchhunters.

The only way I see out of this mess is for the Arbitration Committee to firmly and decisively tell Giano and his friends where to stuff it. If they fail to do so, they will set Wikipedia's community on a clear trajectory to failure by sanctioning these witchhunt that will eventually expand to consume it entirely. I notice today that Giano is now calling for David Gerard's head (ostensibly for using checkuser on him, which, given that Giano has recently pledged to disrupt the wiki, created multiple accounts, and possibly been subjected to impersonation, would be well within the scope of the general principles for the use of checkuser), and some anonymous coward (my guess is Giano, but it could just as easily been any of the other members of the witchhunt coalition) has declared that Steve Dunlop should be removed as a checkuser ombudsman for having the temerity to conclude that my use of checkuser on SlimVirgin was consistent with policy.

Should the ArbCom accept Irpen's case -- at all -- it will destroy what little respect I had for the Committee, and I will feel no compunction to observe their decisions, advice, or statements at all. I would likewise encourage all other Wikipedians to contemn their rulings, disregard their edicts, and use their own common sense in deciding how to conduct themselves on Wikipedia.

Food, or weapon? You decide.

This one is for Don.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

On the purported abuse of checkuser

It has come to my attention that certain unscrupulous individuals are once again falsely accusing me of having abused checkuser. Allow me to set the record straight.

Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2006 08:06:30 -0700
From: Steve Dunlop
Subject: RE: Checkuser complaint from Slimvirgin
To: Kelly Martin
cc: Sarah, Brad Patrick, Anthere, Jimmy Wales, Michael Davis

In my role as "checkuser ombudsperson," my primary role is to review
complaints about the use of the checkuser feature that are potentially
in violation of Wikimedia Foundation's privacy policy. Since some
jurisdictions require websites to follow any privacy policy they
establish and publicize, the WMF takes such concerns particularly

The privacy policy states, in part, "Log data may be examined by
developers in the course of solving technical problems and in tracking
down badly-behaved web spiders that overwhelm the site. IP addresses of
users, derived either from those logs or from records in the database
are frequently used to correlate usernames and network addresses of
edits in investigating abuse of the wiki, including the suspected use
of malicious "sockpuppets" (duplicate accounts), vandalism, harassment
of other users, or disruption of the wiki." The policy then goes on to
enumerate those relatively more limited scenarios where log data may be
made public.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Kelly Martin has publicly released
data from the checkuser request at issue.

With regard to the Foundation's privacy policy, it is my conclusion that
Martin was indeed seeking to "correlate usernames and network addresses
of edits in investigating abuse of the wiki." Martin is a trusted user
and in the absence of any clear evidence that the data was obtained for
some other reason, we presume that Martin was using the tool for its
intended purpose.

In conclusion, no violation of the Foundation's privacy policy occurred.

Use of the checkuser tool is also governed by internal controls
enumerated at which
states, in part, "There must be a valid motive to check a user."
Responsibility for interpretation and enforcement of this policy lies
with each project, not the checkuser ombudsperson: "In case of abusive
use of the tool, the steward or the editor with the CheckUser privilege
will immediately have their access removed. This will in particular
happen if checks are done routinely on editors without a serious motive
to do so ... Suspicion of abuses of checkuser should be discussed on
each local wiki. On wikis with an arbcom, the arbcom can decide on the
removal of access."

It is up to Slimvirgin to decide whether to pursue remedies with the
ENWP arbcom.

Finally, I do note that Martin's unnecessarily colorful use of metaphors
is inappropriate for a dispute where Martin is in the position of
greater authority. Whatever frustrations Martin may have experienced
in her dealings with Slimvirgin, both users are trusted contributors to
ENWP and are deserving of each others' respect.

Steve Dunlop/UninvitedCompany

> -------- Original Message --------
> Subject: Re: Checkuser complaint from Slimvirgin
> From: "Kelly Martin"
> Date: Fri, September 22, 2006 7:20 am
> To: "Steve Dunlop", Anthere, "Jimmy Wales", "Michael Davis"
> Cc: Sarah, "Brad Patrick"
> I would like to see a statement from you very soon as to your
> conclusions in this matter, as people are using the fact that a
> complaint was made as proof that I misused checkuser. My resignation
> from enwiki is explicitly not related to Sarah's complaint, except
> insofar as her complaint is an outgrowth of the political infighting
> on enwiki that I wish nothing to do with. Given that Sarah is
> currently busily spreading rumors of my guilt through the
> backchannels, I think a public statement is required.
> Please bring closure to this so that Sarah will not be able to spin
> more nasty tales about me and further malign my character.
> I'm so unsurprised to see the Checkuser Ombudsman used for political purposes.
> Kelly
> On 9/21/06, Kelly Martin wrote:
> > On 9/21/06, Steve Dunlop wrote:
> > > In my role as "checkuser ombudsperson" reporting to the WMF board, I
> > > have received a complaint from User:Slimvirgin regarding a checkuser
> > > check you performed on her account on May 31, 2006. She says that
> > > there were no grounds for such a check, although she notes that she has
> > > been told third-hand that you were investigating a claim that her
> > > account had been compromised.
> > >
> > > Since you performed the check on your own rather than in response to a
> > > request at WP:RFCU, could you please share with me any relevant
> > > information you have regarding:
> > > a) the purpose of the check
> > > b) the results of the check relative to its purpose; i.e. did it confirm
> > > or deny whatever suspicions you had
> > > c) what information was divulged and to whom about the results of the
> > > check
> > >
> > > Thanks
> > >
> > > Steve
> >
> > Sarah can fold this complaint until it is all corners and stuff it
> > into an appropriate orifice, for all I care. I was already
> > interrogated by Ambi about this last night, and frankly I'm getting
> > tired of dealing with the sniping over this, which is pretty clearly
> > someone digging for dirt on me. The fact that she has sent at least
> > two different people at me to investigate this, rather than talking to
> > me directly about it, is especially bothersome. Sarah's close
> > connection with JayJG is well known, and I know that JayJG is
> > currently motivated to try to take me down; we have been in conflict
> > (which I have striven to keep private) for some time now.
> >
> > In any case, I don't recall the exact purpose of the check, it having
> > been several months ago, although my vague memory is that it had
> > something to do with behavior on her part which seemed out of place to
> > me. I don't retain any log of my checks unless they result in
> > "interesting" results, so this one must not have. Given that nothing
> > interesting was found, I am quite certain that no information was
> > disclosed to anyone. I did not retain a copy of the results.
> >
> > Kelly
> >

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Obama for President!

Do I really need to say any more?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lol scripting!

Another great example of what makes Wikipedia great: Lol scripting:
"Lol scripting" is the slang expression for programming/coding in an "easy" language. It is most commonly used by users of more "advanced" programming-languages than the one they are referring to. JAZZ and HTML coding could be called "Lol scripting", because theydon't require excessive skills. Although you might think that a c++ programmer had the rights to call PHPprogramming for "Lol scripting", this is wrong. Programming languages requiring a skill level equivalent to PHP's can NOT go under the term "Lol scripting" as they are way too advanced.

Although "Lol" in its original meaning can not be used in this context as it is an acronym for "laughing out loud" or "lots of laugh", it has evolved to a word of many classes because of its common use in everyday l33t-speak.

What amuses me more about this article is not that it was created (it's obviously juvenile silliness by some kid who thinks being a PHP coder is "l33t"), but that it's survived for two months, and has been tagged by two different bots for various action that nobody has bothered to take. Does anybody copyedit Wikipedia anymore?

Shortest stub on Wikipedia

That would be Transport in Africa, which until a few moments ago contains no actual text, just a navigational template and a stub template. It now also contains the single sentence, "There is transport in Africa," which might be considered an improvement.

Update: The article has been deleted. Horrors.

The horrors of Special:Random

Nebraskans For Peace (NFP) is one of the United States' longest existing non-governmental organizations that was formed during the peace movement.

Need I say more? Is this trying to claim that Nebraskans For Peace is one of the United States' oldest NGOs? Cuz it's not. The American Red Cross is one of the United States' oldest NGOs, and it's MUCH older than NFP, by quite a lot. NFP is relatively young. Is it trying to claim to be one of the oldest "founded during the peace movement"? Well, so what, since all NGOs funded during the peace movement will be about the same age. Bad writing, in any case. And I'm not in the mood to fix it.

Dumb list of the day

The Wikipedia Dumb List of the Day for today is: List of plants and fungi which damage buildings! And it doesn't even include trees, mushrooms, or daikon.

Wikipedia, in general, is just loaded with pointlessly stupid lists.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Why Commons sucks

The Wikimedia Commons sucks. Let's not mince any words about this. It just sucks.

No, not the concept. The idea of having a repository of free content is just great. Wonderful idea. Really spot on great idea. It's the implementation that sucks.

There's a term in the media industry for what Commons is, or at least should be: Digital Asset Management, or DAM. (Wikipedia has an article on it, but frankly it reads like sales literature to me.) Allow me to detail point by point why MediaWiki is simply the wrong software to be used as a DAM -- and especially as a DAM for open content.

A good DAM would provide a very thorough cataloging and indexing to facilitate retrieval of desired content. For example, it should be very easy to obtain "all images that portray a kitten in color that are at least 3 inches by 5 inches at 100 dpi". MediaWiki cannot do this. MediaWiki can't even give you all images that portray a kitten unless there is a "kitten" category (fortunately for us, there is). But that's dependent on the uploader putting it in the "kitten" category, and MediaWiki's categorization system has never been good to begin with, and the category tree used on the Commons has a lot of curious issues. And what if you only want ginger tabby kittens? If they're in a ginger tabby kitten category, sure (but there isn't one, alas), but if they're merely in both the ginger tabby category and the kitten category, well, you can't do that. You could try to do something with MediaWiki search, but we all know how bad MediaWiki search is. And there's no hope of specifying format criteria, unless someone has bothered to create a category that happens to match your needs and uploaders have happened to manually assign the categories. Hm. There's a lot of "manual" in this.... not good.

A good DAM would have some way to detect probable duplicate images. There are some decent algorithms for this out there. Commons has no way to use them. There are lots of duplicated images on Commons, and they'll only get fixed if an administrator happens to notice one of them. Tagging duplicates for delete doesn't seem to help: I accidentially uploaded a duplicate once; it took six months and three separate naggings of various Commons admins before it was finally deleted.

A good DAM will provide some way to collect related content together. By "related", I mean content that is all derived from the same original work. I recently took an photograph uploaded to Commons by another user, and (at her request) did some Photoshop magic on it to improve the quality of the image, and reuploaded it. My upload is clearly a derivative -- one might even say a version -- of the original. With MediaWiki I have two choices: upload it as a new version of the original -- overwriting the original -- or else upload it under another name, which will then not be associated with the original in the software in any way. I can add content to the image description pages saying "oh, by the way, see over here for another version", but that's a manual process and is likely not to be performed on a regular basis.

A good DAM will provide an application-independent means to access its content. Commons has no API for access to its database or content except the generic MediaWiki interface, which is not really suitable for use as a content repository. The current methodology of having Commons "stand behind" each project's Image: and Media: spaces is rather much a hack, and is not very much extensible. MediaWiki is not a content repository, and it doesn't play well as one.

A good DAM will have mechanisms for controlling compliance with licensing requirements. This may not seem like such a big deal since Commons is supposed to be entirely free content. However, there are lots of media on Wikimedia projects that are not free. Why should the same nonfree media be uploaded to both enwiki and some other project simply because both want it? Current policy requires nonfree media that fall within the "fair use" policies of multiple projects to exist in duplicate merely because Commons arbitrarily refuses to host them. To me, it makes sense to store all of the media in a single system and use copyright control mechanisms within the system to restrict its presentation to locations where its display is consistent with the usage allowed by its license (or lack thereof). Also, in the sense of providing a reusable tool for use outside Wikimedia, in projects where copyright policies may not so strongly favor free content, having copyright controls becomes much more useful. Some MediaWiki-based wikis have "all rights reserved" as a copyright policy, after all.

In short, Commons was a good idea implemented in nearly the worst possible way by using a completely wrong tool. MediaWiki is, fundamentally, a text content engine: it is intended to support collaborative editing of text content, with versioning and all that jazz. (It has issues doing that, too, but that's not grist for this post.) MediaWiki image management has never been good (although it is much better than it used to be) and it's simply not the right tool for the job. The implementation of the Commons in MediaWiki is, as far as I can tell, an example of "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". (Don't ask me who I blame for this.) It impresses me the lengths of complexity that people will go to to make MediaWiki behave like something it is not, simply because "all the world is a MediaWiki". Software should serve users, not the other way around.

I'm not entirely in agreement with Amgine's comments on the Commons, but his post definitely spurred me to post on this issue. Commons should be entirely replaced by a proper DAM. I'm not the person to write it (if I were to write it, it would be written in Java, and I'm reasonably confident the Wikimedia Foundation won't even contemplate hosting it if I write it in Java, and I don't happen to have a place to host over 1TB of digital media content) but I really would like it if someone would step up to the plate and do something about the total suckiness of the project where I make the most contributions these days.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why I like the Colbert Report

"Hanging out with a bunch of Catholic priests really did nothing for my heterosexuality." -- Dan Savage, on the Colbert Report.