Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fromowner, two months later

Back in March, Daveydweeb mentioned the "fromowner" hack on the English Wikipedia. This approach puts up a placeholder image on articles that should, but do not, have free images, that, when clicked, guides the reader on the process of contributing an image. The idea is that current nonfree images (presumably being used under a claim of "fair use") would be replaced by the placeholder, and then subsequently replace by contributed free content.

Apparently, however, the community really hates this idea. Many people objected to it, on all sorts of grounds both substantive and procedural, and attempts were made to delete both the page describing the process and the placeholder image itself. The arguments in favor of the deletion of the process page seemed to focus mainly on perceived procedural violations, or convoluted interpretations of style and content guidelines. The deletions were rebuffed, although not without some acrimony.

Reading the commentary in the community discussion, however, leaves me with the firm belief that the real objection to the idea isn't that it wasn't proposed properly (although there certainly are some processhead objecting solely on those grounds) or because it violates the policy against self-reference or whatever. The real objection is that they like the (non-free) image that they found to decorate their article, and don't want it removed and replaced with this placeholder image; doing that would certainly make their article look a lot less pretty. And that just won't do.

At the moment, it appears that fromowner has become an accepted part of Wikipedia process. This somewhat surprises me: not very many of Wikipedia's content editors are all that committed to free content, and for them this process means that their articles will be less pretty than they could be, if nonfree images were allowed. It does seem that Wikipedians are becoming at least more tolerant, if not actually happy about, the nonfree image policies.

Of course, most of Wikipedia's content editors aren't all that heavily attached to their images; in most cases they've simply found-them-on-the-web and that's not a process that creates a lot of ownership interest. The cases where there was a lot of special effort to find images seem to mainly yielded collections of public domain images, probably because people who put a lot of effort into this aren't going to go after stuff that they know will probably just be deleted. And the process isn't removing, or even really altering, their pet articles, just undecorating them a bit, and most of the showoff wordsmiths who inhabit the "featured article writer" demographic seem not to get too unhinged over that sort of thing. So this is just another one of those annoying little things that most exopedians simply put up with. But I'm sure this has added a few more grudges to the pile.

The demographics that are most going to be annoyed by this are the compulsive image collectors, the spammers, and the PR agents, and all three really are groups that Wikipedia can do without anyway.

The fromowner process is also a win for eventualism; the process is open ended and clearly tolerates current diminished "prettiness" in exchange for the hopes of eventual improvement. As of yet nobody has proposed tagging articles with the placeholder for some sort of "cleanup" if they go with the placeholder for more than a few months at a time. It'll be interesting to see how this interacts with the Featured Article process, especially if someone tries to replace a nonfree image in a featured article with the placeholder; I'm reasonably certain that the FA goons would refuse to promote an article with the placeholder in it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Change of pace

I find myself losing faith in the ability of the Wikipedia community to recover from the tailspin it's pushed itself into lately, and I'm not getting much enjoyment out of trolling it, in any case.

The other night, someone (I haven't a clue who) messaged me via ICQ (wow, people still use ICQ) and asked me if I was still working on my Java port. As it happens, I haven't worked on it since late last year, and I regret that. So I'm putting down my sockpuppet army for now and am going back to working on the Java port. I'm actually starting over, with a whole new SVN repository and a new name, too.

Best of luck to the few sane people left in Wikipedia. Hopefully you'll be able to find someone to pick up the pieces after Wikimedia runs out of money....

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Today's seething idiocy

Well, the WikiDrama is in high swing today. (Apologies, but I am not going to litter this post with links. If you want to find the originals on Wikipedia, do it yourself.)

It all started with an article about some fat Chinese kid who has apparently been made the subject of Internet ridicule (certainly not a new story; happens all time). Some Internet "meme" addict obviously created the article. A deletion discussion ensued, which was eventually closed precipitously on the grounds that the article violated the "biography of living persons" policy (which it quite clearly did). However, badlydrawnjeff (hereinafter, BDJ) objected to this and initiated a series of procedural maneuvers all intended to bring the article back. Several aborted deletion reviews and deletion discussions later, the issue ended up in front of the Arbitration Committee -- but the ArbCom refused to hear the case. So the whole matter went from there to a Request for Comments, which BDJ basically refused to participate in in any meaningful way, leading to a second Arbitration case against him, also rejected.

All of this is pretty much par for the course for BDJ, who has long viewed himself as a crusader against administrative tyranny on Wikipedia, with a ready willingness to use or abuse process to support his excessive fondness of Internet memes and his extreme inclusionist tendencies. While I really don't agree with BDJ, at least he's consistent.

No, the real problem came after all of the above. After the second ArbCom case was rejected (or at least appeared to be headed for rejection), apparently there was a discussion on the infamous Wikipedia English admins channel, leading to (apparently) a decision by administrator Zsinj to ban/block BDJ. Zsinj was even stupid enough to cite IRC as the reason for the block -- despite there being endless warnings about doing that. Doing so basically guarantees endless screaming and furthermore makes a martyr of BDJ with the "we hate IRC" crowd.

So, we are faced with two possibilities with respect to Zsinj: either he is deliberately attempting to further harm the reputation of the admin's channel, or he is just abjectly stupid. In either case, it's in the interest of the IRC channel that he be removed, at least temporarily. I'm really inclined to do so, although I haven't actually decided yet -- I've elected to defer that decision until morning.

The sad thing is, I really think BDJ should be banned from deletion discussions; he is disruptive there and rarely, if ever, benefit the encyclopedia in his actions. But Zsinj's actions will make it very much harder to impose any form of community sanctions against BDJ. I don't know at this point what Zsinj's intentions were, but it's quite clear that his results were quite harmful.

At the moment, I am strongly inclined to revoke Zsinj's access to the admin's channel for one month. I won't decide on whether to actually do this until morning. And, of course, any of the other channel administrators could override me, after all.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Today's Worst Wikipedian in the World

In his novel Friday, Robert Heinlein presents, through the character of the protagonist's "boss", the thesis that incivility is the hallmark sign of a sick and moribund society (for more on this, see a somewhat interesting article by The Death of Civility, part 2 by Don Webb). Sadly, I see this being the case on Wikipedia.

Of course, I'm sure many of my regular readers are now cleaning the Coke off their monitors, as I am certainly generally known as one of Wikipedia's least civil participants, second perhaps only to Grand Master Giano himself; surely for me to criticize Wikipedians for their lack of civility is the pot calling the kettle black, no? And, yes, I have had certainly had my moments where I have failed to remain civil, although admittedly most of those were for political effect. But I reject any claim that I am in any way responsible for Wikipedia's current crisis of civility, or even that I'm one of the worst offenders.

For example, today's particularly obnoxious offender is recently-promoted Wikipedia administrator Anthony. Despite a very clearly worded statement on my user talk page that I consider such "thank you notes" unwelcome, and despite a general admonishment not to post such notices in the Guide to Request for Adminships, Anthony spewed out a mass-delivered thank you. In the message left on my page, Anthony not only ignored both the general and my specific requests, but even invoked "civility" as an excuse to do so. Apparently, he believes that, because my request is "incivil and rude", he is entitled to ignore it. I have promised to scorn and vilify any editor who ignores my request, and so I hereby do scorn and vilify Anthony for being the rudest Wikipedian I have had the displeasure to deal with in at least the past week or so.

Anybody else feel like submitting him for consideration on Keith Olbermann's Worst Person in the World? Perhaps I should have a "Worst Wikipedian in the World" periodic segment.... Although I am certainly not going to put a MIDI of Bach on autoplay.... You can always email me suggestions.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Some things were not meant to be

This is one of them.

This post is entirely her fault.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Are we perhaps a weensie bit reductionist?

Today's rant is about Sudan at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Why Wikipedia needs an entire article to say "Yup, they were there" is beyond me.

I suppose the idea is that someone will come along and add endless details about each member of the Sudanese team and how they placed in each event they were in and so on and so forth. Yeah, right. That's going to happen.

I'm sure there are thousands more articles just like this one, too.

I've been copyediting for the past few days, just hitting "random article" and correcting whatever is wrong with the article I find. About one in four articles requires at least some changes, and about one in ten gets substantially rewritten. Most commonly, this occurs because the original is obviously either PR spam or blatant hagiography. It's obvious to me that we underestimate the number of PR agencies and the like that are editing Wikipedia. It's also obvious to me that there are not nearly enough people doing copyediting.