Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Knol worries

Last week Google announced an invite-only trial of a new tool called Knol (their name for a "unit of knowledge") to allow people to write an information page on a subject which can then be rated, reviewed or commented on by others. The central idea, as Google's VP of Engineering Udi Manber put it, is authorship:

"Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content."

You can see a sample knol here (isn't everyone just itching to edit out that spelling mistake in the first sentence?).

Most of the press coverage of Knol is positing it as a competitor to Wikipedia, but is it really? We won't know what Knol will really be like until it is open to the public (presuming it makes it out of private beta), but from the looks of things it differs markedly from Wikipedia in all of the most important ways that Wikipedia is unique.

Firstly, knols won't be collaboratively written: Google says that the Knol platform will include "strong community tools", enabling the general unwashed to submit changes to knols (they use the name for individual articles too) as well as review, rate and comment on them, but ultimately the content of knols will be controlled by their original authors. Obviously, this is different from Wikipedia's collaborative wiki editing model under which no-one owns articles.

Secondly, there will likely be multiple knols on any given subject: as they say in the Knol announcement, it will be Google's job to appropriately rank knols in search results. Presumably they'll make use of the rating and reviewing tools in the platform as well as standard metrics like PageRank to try to work out which knol really is the most authoritative on a subject. Again, this is clearly different from Wikipedia, with its single-voice, neutral point of view system.

Thirdly, knols will not necessarily be free-content: while the sample knol mentioned above has a CC-BY 3.0 licence displayed on it, there are no indications that such licencing will be required, and Knol's "author control" vibe probably indicates that each author will get to choose the licence for their knols.

Kevin Newcomb at Search Engine Watch thinks a better comparison for Knol is Squidoo, and to an extent Mahalo, "since it allows users to build authority and sign their work [and aims] to build content pages that rank highly in search engines." Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land also draws the comparison between Knol and Squidoo, and suggests that Knol is more likely an attempt by Google to carve out a niche of its own in the 'knowledge aggregation' industry rather than an effort to compete directly with any of the projects in the field.

However, it's perhaps best to think of the Knol proposal less as a project and more as a platform: Rafe Needleman at Webware compares Knol with Google's existing text publishing platform, Blogger, though with "Digg-like elements". Knol authors will build reputation, like blog authors (though Knol will be more about discrete articles rather than a stream of them), and users will rate and review competing knols in much the way that Digg and similar link-sharing sites operate. I think this is the best comparison, and fits well with the strong focus on individuality and authorship, and on Google's planned hands-off approach, in the Knol announcement. There's certainly a niche available for this kind of publishing.

So, presuming Knol goes public one day, it may well garner a significant slice of search results and a place in the knowledge business, but with its author-driven multiple-voice model and basis as essentially a publishing platform, it is more likely to be a complement to Wikipedia than a competitor.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Mr Wales Goes to Washington

Jimmy Wales testified before the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday (Washington time) on collaborative technologies generally and the Wikimedia projects specifically, and how that relates to e-Government initiatives in the United States.

Among other things, Jimmy discussed the use of both internal and public-facing wikis for governmental communication, explained semi-protection to Joe Lieberman, and outlined the benefits of systems that are designed to be open rather than closed. Also testifying were Karen Evans from the US government's Office of Management and Budget, John Needham from Google, and Ari Schwartz from the Center for Democracy and Technology.

You can view video of the hearing on Youtube or download it here in Real format (be aware that it's two hours long), see Jimmy's prepared testimony here (PDF) or see other statements here.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

One year of Citizendium

Citizendium has turned one year old (at least, it's been one year since its initial pilot release) and the Citizendium community is looking back on what they have done so far, and looking forward to what they aim to achieve in the next year and beyond.

Citizendium founder Larry Sanger has posted a "one year on" status update on the project. In it he addresses some "myths" about the project, many of which relate to its expert-led content generation model, and many of which focus on the number of articles that the project has produced so far. Sanger is particularly strident about rejecting the suggestion that Citizendium is just another Nupedia, and that Citizendium is a poor competitor with Wikipedia.

While it's true that Citizendium's model does differ from that of Nupedia, one key similarity is that is the role of experts to have the final say in approving articles. Sanger is keen to point out that Citizendium has more than 3,200 "live" articles, but a "live" article can be started by anyone, and includes articles imported from Wikipedia to which at least three "significant" changes have been made.

Given the expert-led content generation process by which it seeks to differentiate itself, the real measure of Citizendium has to be its output of "approved" articles, the ones which have been approved and locked off by the experts. After a year Citizendium has only 39 approved articles, a little more than the 24 approved articles which Nupedia generated through its existence.

One of the key issues facing Citizendium has been its rate of contributor growth. Sanger predicts that eventually the project will reach that critical mass whereupon it begins to experience rapidly accelerating, even exponential growth in contributors as awareness of Citizendium spreads. But that's not looking likely at the moment: while user activity is up, overall user numbers have been fairly constant for some time now, suggesting that while the users who are there are getting more and more involved, the project is not attracting many new editors.

I think that if Citizendium is to succeed it needs to communicate a clearer identity to the public at large. I suspect that the common perception of Citizendium is that it is merely an expert-run competitor to Wikipedia, and the truth of this aside, the comparison between the two projects seems to be something of a chip on the shoulder of at least part of the community at Citizendium. Consider the recent call for essays on which licence Citizendium should be using for its content; this essay opposes using the GFDL "both for its own sake and because Wikipedia uses it", and Mike Johnson references the debate within the community as to whether or not Citizendium's content should be compatible with Wikipedia. Go see the "Citizendium and Wikipedia" board on their forums for an idea of what I'm talking about.

Maybe Citizendium should look to differentiate itself in more ways than simply having experts at the top of the editorial food chain. Topic selection and content style are obvious areas (see also this discussion), but there are many other aspects of content policy which on Wikipedia have been influenced strongly by the fact that the content generation model is open and not formally reviewed; analysis and synthesis, for example, which are not permitted on Wikipedia, are ideally suited to a collaborative model which also includes expert oversight.

There is promise in the idea of Citizendium, but after seeing the results of one year of existence, I am not convinced that the predicted "coming explosion of growth" is inevitable.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A test for copyleft?

Another free-content related lawsuit has been filed in the last few days; this time the first United States case based on infringement of the GNU General Public License, filed in a New York state court last week.

The plaintiffs are the developers of the BusyBox project, a collection of small versions of Linux utilities bundled into a single executable, designed for use as firmware or in embedded systems. They allege that the defendant, Monsoon Multimedia, included BusyBox, or a modified version of it, as part of the firmware on some of their hardware products, and did not offer the source code to the firmware as required by the copyleft provisions of the GPL. The plaintiffs, through their lawyers the Software Freedom Law Center, claim that Monsoon infringed their copyright as a result, and seek injunctions to prevent Monsoon from continuing to distribute the firmware, as well as damages.

The case will be significant (should it make it to trial) not only because it directly concerns the GPL, one of the more widely used free content licences, but also because it revolves around what is, in my opinion at least, the key part of any good free content licence: the requirement that derivatives be released under the same licence (the same essential concept is referred to as either "strong copyleft" or "share-alike"). The case may be the first test of whether such requirements are actually effective at compelling creators of derivative works to release those works under the same terms.

DLA Piper senior partner Mark Radcliffe also raises the very good point that the case will also revolve around exactly how the GPL is characterised - whether it is a copyright licence or a mere contract - which may have implications as to what remedies are open to people releasing their work under the GPL.

However, the case may not even make it to court, with Monsoon apparently looking to settle and make the source code for the firmware available, according to breaking reports.

You can see a copy of the BusyBox statement of claim here (PDF format).

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Flickr user sues Virgin

I blogged a couple of months ago about the controversy surrounding an advertising campaign for Virgin Mobile Australia, which featured photographs taken from photo-sharing website Flickr. The photos were licensed under Creative Commons licences, but apparently the advertising company didn't ask permission from the photographers, and nor did they obtain model releases from the subjects of the photographs.

There's been plenty of speculation about what legal avenues might be open to both the Flickr photographers and their subjects, but it looks like we'll soon get some answers, as the family of one of the people pictured in the advertising campaign has sued both the Australian and United States arms of Virgin Mobile in a Texas court.

The suit was instigated by the family of Flickr user Alison Chang, who was photographed by fellow Flickr user and Chang's youth counsellor Justin Wong. That photograph was used in one of the Virgin advertisements, as can be seen in this photograph, accompanied by the caption "DUMP YOUR PEN FRIEND".

At this stage the suit seems to be based on actions in libel and invasion of privacy, based on news reports (I'm currently trying to find the actual court documents without much luck - does anyone know where Texas court documents are available online?). Virgin Mobile in the US has apparently sought to be removed as a party as it claims that it had nothing to do with the advertisements. Virgin Mobile Australia says that it fully complied with the Creative Commons licence (CC-BY-2.0) that the image was licenced under.

As another twist, the suit names a third defendant in Creative Commons; exactly what cause of action is claimed to lie against them at this stage is not clear.

This case is interesting because of the intersection of multiple types of intellectual property rights, along with other related rights. There are a whole range of rights which are potentially involved just in this fairly trivial case of one person taking a photo of another person, only one type of which - the economic rights of copyright - are dealt with by free content licences such as the Creative Commons licences. Should this case ultimately reach a decision (it may well face some jurisdictional problems) it is likely to have significant implications for the free content movement.

Monday, 23 July 2007

(Free) culture clash

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

There's a story doing the rounds in the blogosphere at the moment about the latest advertising campaign for Virgin Mobile Australia, put together by Virgin and a couple of advertising firms. The story is to do with the campaign's use of images, mostly Creative Commons licenced ones, sourced from the photo sharing website Flickr. The campaign started making waves when it appeared in June, catching the eye of Flickr users late in the month, and being carried by The Australian newspaper today in their IT section. It's all about a very hot topic in free culture circles at the moment: the interaction between different types of intellectual property rights in relation to free content.

The story began when Flickr user Brenton Cleeland posted a photo of a bus stop billboard showing one of the ads, featuring a picture of Flickr user Alison Chang with the caption "DUMP YOUR PEN FRIEND". This is the original image of Chang, uploaded by Justin Wong, and released under a CC-BY 2.0 licence. It's hard to see, but the fine print on the billboard gives the photo's URL on Flickr.

The campaign uses many more photos just like this one. The captions that are shown alongside the images are significant. Take this one for example, in which a photo of some people chatting in a lift is superimposed with the caption "PEOPLE WHO TALK IN LIFTS HAVE BAD BREATH". A Flickr user captured two of the billboards here, see what you make of those captions.

This is where it gets interesting. While this photo and the others appearing in the advertising campaign seem to have been used in accordance with the terms of the licence, it's an open question whether the use has infringed any other rights. According to The Australian, Virgin (and the advertising companies) didn't ask permission from the photographers or the subjects before using the photos. But does this mean anything?

The Creative Commons licences, like other free content licences, relate only to the economic rights that the creator of a work has (the rights that are generally referred to as "copyright"). But intellectual property law covers other rights too. Possibly relevant here are moral rights, a group of rights which, generally speaking, remain with the creator of a work (even if the economic rights are transferred to someone else). These are essentially the right to be attributed as the creator of the work, and the right to the integrity of the work.

Australia now has a pretty much Berne Convention type implementation of moral rights. At least in the Australian implementation, the moral right of attribution is satisfied if the creator is identified in the way that the creator has specified; given that the CC-BY licence sets out a method for attribution, which providing the URL to the photo may satisfy, the uses here may be ok in this respect. A different question is the moral right of integrity of the work; there hasn't really been any case law in Australia on what constitutes derogatory treatment of the work, so it would be interesting to see how a court might approach the use of these photos in this advertising campaign, particularly given the captions that have been put alongside the photos.

So there are questions with respect to the rights of the creators, but what about the rights of the subjects in the photos? This is probably the more pressing question, since it is the subjects who are really copping it in this ad campaign, what with those suggestive captions. Many jurisdictions recognise personality rights, which can protect subjects in this type of situation; in Australia, like in other common law countries, this is done in a particular type of way through passing off, traditionally a tort but which in Australia is fairly robustly protected in trade practices legislation, which allows both for civil suits and intervention by the ACCC.

Andrew Nemeth, a (no-longer practising) solicitor from New South Wales, gives a pretty good rundown of the legal issues around photography in Australia, and even touches on the Virgin issue. But, as he notes, while the trade practices legislation would certainly seem to apply in this type of situation, the kicker is jurisdiction:

"The story would typically end there, except for one thing — these particular images were not taken in Australia and neither photographers nor subjects were Australian citizens. Which unfortunately places them beyond the jurisdictional reach of the TPA or any other Australian law prohibiting unauthorised use of a person's image. If the photographs were taken here, then the subject would have a case. If they were taken overseas of an Australian citizen, again the subject would have a legitimate complaint. But foreign person + foreign photographer + foreign location?…


Clearly the Virgin Mobile people did their homework. You apparently can use unauthorised images of people to sell products, just make sure they're foreigners photographed overseas! Well done guys, very slick."

The wording of the latest version of the Creative Commons licences - which contain something of an acknowledgment that moral rights exist and users of freely licenced content should make sure that they respect them - has attracted plenty of discussion on the Wikimedia mailing lists of late. The interaction between freely licenced content (which deals exclusively with the economic rights of copyright), other areas of intellectual property law, and even other fields of law that relate to how intellectual property can be used (like personality rights) is bound to be the source of many interesting legal questions in the years ahead, as free licencing becomes more and more prominent. Not to forget the social implications; Creative Commons is copping flak from some quarters for not educating their users enough about just what the implications of licencing works under the CC licences are. There are some Flickr users who are now justifiably concerned about just what they've got themselves into by sharing their photos online under free licences.

It remains to be seen what legal responses there will be to Virgin's campaign, but there's no doubting that situations like this are just the tip of the iceberg for the proverbial free culture ship in the IP law sea.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

On election timing

I blogged a few weeks ago about some issues I saw with the process for the Wikimedia Board election that was held recently. The results, as I am sure most people are aware by now, were released on 12 July, with Erik Möller, Kathleen Walsh and Frieda Brioschi being elected to serve two year terms.

One seemingly obvious observation that seems to have been lost so far amidst the larger controversies is that the new members of the Board were appointed some time after the date when their terms were supposed to commence, which was 1 July. Either the seats of the three outgoing members were left vacant for twelve days, or else they were occupied for twelve days beyond the time that they were supposed to be. Either alternative points to a serious failure with timing.

This is representative of almost all the problems with the election, which I attribute primarily to how little time there was for the Steering Committee to organise these elections; the Committee only being put in place at the beginning of the last week in May.

A number of problems with the election were caused or at least exacerbated by the haste with which the election had to be conducted. As an example, the amount of translation achieved in the 2007 election was less than that which has been achieved previously. For the 2004 election, the primary information page for the election on Meta was translated into 32 languages, and the 2005 election page was translated into 35 languages. In 2006 this dropped to 26, and in 2007 the main election page was translated into just 21 languages. I suspect that this was at least partly due to the fact that the master version of the election description page was only released a little over an hour and a half before candidate entry began. This is perhaps the most obvious problem with the election that could be lessened by allocating more time, though there are others.

Given that we know exactly when elections will be due (since we know when members' terms conclude) it should be entirely possible to plan when certain key events in the election process need to occur, and indeed to prepare for many parts of the election in advance.

I have put together some more thoughts in my userspace on Meta, along with a suggested timeline for when the election process should begin. Any suggestions as to improving this suggested timeline (particularly input on how long should be allocated to each phase of the election) are welcome.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Election process

I feel dirty saying this, but: process is sometimes important, at least when it comes to elections to the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation.

With all due respect to the members of the Board Election Steering Committee, the process for this year's elections leaves much to be desired. It is likely that many of the problems are a consequence of the committee only being put in place at the beginning of the last week of May, just over a fortnight before the election process was due to commence.

The most glaring issue is that major decisions about how the election will be conducted are still being made even after the process has started. For example, at the time of writing, the nomination and endorsement periods have closed, and voting will commence in two and a half days, yet neither the external third-party who will be conducting the election nor the software to be used for voting have been identified yet (or if they have, there has been no public announcement). While it is pleasing that the election will be conducted externally, and will not use an on-wiki method for voting, it is worrying that these fundamental issues have not been worked out in advance.

My other concerns are structural issues with the way that the elections have been organised.

While it's entirely appropriate to have participation requirements for voters (so that the franchise is extended only to those who have some stake in the Wikimedia community) it baffles me why we have participation requirements for candidates, particularly given the requirement (introduced this year) that candidates need a certain number of endorsements from members of the community eligible to vote in order to proceed to the voting phase.

An endorsement system (with appropriate parameters) should work fine in eliminating candidates unsuitable for whatever reason from being involved in the important voting phase, but having additional participation requirements can only serve to restrict the pool of candidates. There are all sorts of people out there who might be great to have on the Board of Trustees, such as people with experience in other non-profit organisations, people involved in other free content projects and so forth.

There are other, smaller problems with the current endorsement system.

Firstly, the just-closed nomination period ran concurrently with the period for endorsements. Several people observed on the Foundation mailing list that this effectively brings forward the closure of the nomination period, and it does so by an unspecified amount, since people would have to guess how long they would need to attract the requisite endorsements. effe iets anders suggested that it should be entirely possible for prospective candidates to line up their endorsements before nominating (and this also seems to be the conclusion that the Steering Committee reached, judging by this comment), and it should, but this for me raises a question about the objective of endorsements in the first place, which is supposedly for the community to assess whether candidates are worthy of serious consideration or not. I would rather have candidates putting their efforts into preparing their platforms, writing statements and answering questions, rather than shilling for endorsements.

Secondly, while the required number of endorsements was twelve, endorsement pages were not closed at this point, and endorsements continued to be listed, resulting in some candidates gathering very large numbers of endorsements. Some users expressed concerns that this was effectively a second voting period, distracting from the real vote ("a public one and a private one", as Walter Vermeir put it). It also runs the risk of making candidates who nominate early appear to have more support than candidates who enter later in the nomination period. If the objective of endorsements is only to eliminate the unsuitable candidates, then I would think it sensible that endorsements for a candidate be closed once the required number is reached. It may be preferable to have endorsers send their endorsements directly to the Steering Committee, perhaps by email or perhaps by an on-wiki interface, so as to prevent the perception of a popularity contest.

It seems to me that many of these issues could have been avoided had the Steering Committee been formed with adequate time to prepare for the election, and given that we are now more or less on a fixed cycle of elections (with certain positions up for election every two years) there is ample opportunity for planning to occur. I also feel that, given that some of the problems I have mentioned have been identified by other people also, that the Steering Committee could have opened up some of their decision-making processes to community input. Again, this was probably prevented by the short time that they had in which to work.

I would suggest that a timetable be laid down in the near future for the June 2008 elections, and that discussion on next year's format be opened now so that there is opportunity to comment while the issues around the present election are fresh in people's minds.

Now it's time for a wash.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Why there cannot be a generic template for fair use claims

Fair use is a legal doctrine that may be used as a defence against a claim of copyright infringement. Technically speaking, until you've actually been to court and successfully invoked your claim of fair use to defend against such a suit, you're using the work illegally. In practice it's often possible to reasonably anticipate where a claim of fair use will be successful, typically by analogy with cases in which the defence has been successfully raised, and as such, the use is commonly regarded as "kosher", as it were, while still technically being illegal.

This reality raises a couple of issues. Since fair use is a defence, it's necessary to be able to explain on what basis your use falls within that defence. Since the defence applies only to particular uses of a work, you need to be able to make such an explanation for all of your uses of the work. And since claims fall into the "kosher" category by being based on solid analogies with existing cases in which the defence has been successfully raised, you need to explain the analogy you have employed, by reference to the specific fair use factors that apply to the particular work and the particular use in question.

There is no boilerplate fair use claim to be used against copyright infringement, just as there is no boilerplate claim for, say, self-defense in a murder trial, or for an estoppel claim in a breach of contract suit. Fair use claims may be very similar to each other, but that only reflects that the particular analogy being employed is strong (or at least popularly thought to be strong).

Executive summary: since fair use is a legal defence, you need to explain how it applies in every case, and this means there can be no boilerplate claims.

Friday, 1 June 2007

The fullness of time

The current debate about the application of the biographies of living persons seems focused solely on the question of whether or not Wikipedia should have an article about a person at all, and there have been only a few rare attempts to frame the debate in more nuanced terms than this binary approach. One of the key questions we should be asking, in addition to the question of whether to present information at all, is the question of how that information ought to be presented.

Much as I take a mergist stance in the inclusion/deletion debate more broadly, I think a similar stance is most preferable in this current manifestation of that debate. The fundamental reason is the same: content must be presented in the most appropriate context. The right context allows the proper significance of information to be conveyed, and presents it in a naturally coherent fashion, which is exceptionally valuable for an encyclopaedia.

In the case of biographies of living persons, the question is then whether or not certain information is best presented in a biographical article, whether such an article provides the most appropriate context for the content.

One key issue to consider is the temporal focus of an article.

Articles about an event concentrate on the short-term, are generally tied to one or several discrete points in time and have a narrower scope; even though they sometimes discuss larger issues, they do so through the prism of individual situations. In contrast, biographical articles are focused on the long-term, with scope extending to the entire lifetime of a person.

When we decide where to include material that relates to a person's involvement in an event, we ought to consider the proper temporal focus of the sources for that material. Sources with a short-term focus, that discuss a person in order to discuss a particular event, should be used to develop articles about the event, and not biographical articles about the person. On the other hand sources with a long-term focus, that discuss a person, often by way of discussing a series of events, should be used to develop biographical articles.

Many of the biographical articles that have been causing problems lately are drawn largely from news sources. News coverage, generally speaking, is almost always concentrating on the here and now; if it writes about people, it is usually writing about them only insofar as they are part of a particular event, that is, only insofar as their lives intersect with this discrete point or points of time. This is the same even for "human interest" type pieces that seem to be about people: really they have the same short-term focus, the journos are just looking for a different angle to help sell the story.

Choosing to put content in a biographical article becomes increasingly appropriate the more that the content is drawn from sources with a long-term focus. Where the only sources available are short-term, event-focused sources like news coverage, then it must be questioned whether the content should be presented as a biographical article, and in most cases (especially where the news sources are all about one event) it probably should not.

Lastly, in all of this we must not forget Wikinews, a project which is intended precisely for the type of coverage which is not always proper for inclusion in an encyclopaedia: news coverage, with a narrow, short-term focus on its subjects. Wikinews is surely a far more appropriate venue for many of these types of articles, since fundamentally it concentrates on knowledge that is important at a particular point in time.

The exhortation that "we have a really serious responsibility to get things right" in the context of biographies of living persons applies not only to what content we present, but also the manner in which we present that content. We must ask ourselves, what is the most appropriate context for this information? Is it really the most desirable choice to present this information in a biographical article? Whenever the answer is no, then look to other articles instead, where context may be better established, or else look further afield, to projects like Wikinews.

Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia, not a newspaper. Its content must be developed with this difference in temporal focus in mind.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

A threshold question

David Gerard has set a challenge to the Wikipedia community, to "construct a useful notion of 'notability' using only neutrality, verifiability and no original research". Here's my attempt.

David identifies the extraordinary subjectivity of the "notability" concept as one of its key failings, and I tend to agree. That would seem to be a fairly widely accepted position, since the most broadly accepted variations on notability have been ones which introduce some objective standard; for example the requirement for a certain number of sources addressing a subject. These are obviously not perfect or necessarily desirable standards but they're a good starting point. I think a useful notion of notability will be something that flows naturally from the core content policy and which is also capable of being at least partially objective in application.

During the Attribution debate I started work on an essay on what I think ought to be done about our content policies. It is still unfinished, but presently it is roughly three parts the essay I intended and two parts Theory of Everything.

In the essay, I attempt to show how all of our content policy may more or less be derived from the neutral point of view policy and the goal of accuracy and reliability, whether it be a principle such as not accepting original research, or a mechanism such as only utilising reliable sources. I think a similar approach can be taken with respect to notability.

A basic definition of "notability" is that a subject, to warrant coverage in Wikipedia, must have attracted some degree of attention from the outside. The difficulty has always been in identifying that degree. In my view, the threshold ought to be where achieving a neutral point of view becomes reasonably practicable, while using only material attributable to reliable sources and without resorting to original thought.

In practice this comes down to the number and quality of sources available, though it's not a matter of counting them. The question to be asked is, essentially, can NPOV be achieved with the sources available? Are there sufficient sources available, and are they of sufficient quality, that it is reasonably practicable to fairly portray all significant points of view on a subject, in accordance with their prevalence? If not, then the subject is not sufficiently notable.

So that's the principle; I'll leave the practical implementation of this for later. As a final note, consider this: two of the most problematic types of articles out there are the hack job and the puff piece (particularly the former). People doing OTRS or BLP work will have come across these types of articles time and time again. Consider the way these types of articles could be approached differently with a concept of notability based on the feasibility of achieving NPOV.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Time for a rethink on conflict of interest

I've been thinking lately that we need to reshape our approach to the conflict of interest guideline, which is about people who have a conflict between their own interests and the interests of Wikipedia, whether that be a financial interest (eg, people paid to edit), a personal interest (eg, people writing about themselves) or some other interest.

I'll identify some current issues with the guideline, and some ways in which I think it can be improved. But first, a little bit about the history of the guideline.

The page began in May 2004 under a different title, "vanity guidelines". It focused on articles created by people very close to the subject of the article - usually autobiographies or articles about relatives or companies related to the person. Interestingly, the oldest version of the page contained the advice that "vanity" articles should not be deleted simply because they may have been written by someone very close to the subject, but because of the problems that they almost invariably have: a lack of neutral point of view, the inclusion of much non-encyclopaedic content and so forth.

The page has always been related to the autobiography guideline (which has a heritage back to July 2003) though they never merged. The guidelines were gradually developed over time (becoming increasingly wordy, naturally); though they always had a focus on the creation of new articles, and how editors ought to approach those, it eventually moved to cover topics such as citing yourself - mainly addressing the issue of academics citing scholarly material authored by themselves.

In October 2006 the vanity guidelines were renamed as the conflict of interest guideline - mainly to avoid the disparaging term "vanity" but also to emphasise that the guideline wasn't just addressing people writing about themselves, but people writing about any subject that they were too close to. The need for a rewrite was declared, and by the end of the month it had more or less taken on its present form, although there have been many more changes since then.

The development of the guideline has inevitably been bound up with particular conflicts, especially relating to MyWikiBiz, aswell as several prominent arbitration cases. It has evolved from focusing on writing about one's self to writing in a much more varied range of situations. In doing so it has also changed from being essentially a page offering advice to a page offering imperatives, even though that is not always its intention. I'm particularly concerned at recent trends which seem to be moving in the direction of penalising users simply for being in a position of conflict of interest, as opposed to producing poor content as a result of their conflict.

The problems that we ought to be addressing are not that someone is editing with a conflict of interest, but that someone is producing content which is not neutral, or is unverified, or is original research. The problem is with the content that is actually produced. Granted, a person with a conflict of interest is probably more likely to produce problematic content than a person without a conflict, but that doesn't mean that the person always will (nor that the person without never will).

To put it another way, the existence of a conflict of interest may explain why someone is producing problematic content, but it is not the problem in its own right. The problem is the actual content someone produces.

I realise that this is easy to say, but hard to reconcile with practical reality. At this time I think the community needs to resolve the tension arising from the question of whether we desire people with conflicts of interest to continue to edit, or whether we would prefer that they not edit at all. Either approach has its downsides; as Charles Matthews identifies, an approach of discouragement raises issues of a conflict with the necessity of assuming good faith, but a more relaxed approach risks achieving nothing more than restating the content policies.

My preferred approach would be to discourage people with conflicts from editing as much as possible, but at the same time, give them as great an opportunity to participate through other means as is practicable. If editing material about which one has a conflict of interest is taken away as a socially acceptable option, it needs to be substituted for something else.

In a recent completely new draft of the guideline, I identified the use of talk pages, requests for comment and the OTRS system as such avenues. Hopefully the community will be able to identify a much better range of methods than this. Ideally they should involve mediating content through the community and should have a low barrier to entry.

As a final point for now, I think we also need to be more welcoming and less suspicious of people with conflicts of interest, on the proviso that at the same time we strongly discourage them from editing. We need to create an environment where disclosing a conflict and working with other editors to produce valuable content is a truly viable option for people with conflicts. A heavy-handed approach will force people underground in attempts to sneak content in, and that can only be counter-productive.

I have probably raised more questions than I have answered here. Hopefully this will get people interested in developing a more robust and well-rounded approach to conflict of interest.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Wikipedia is not Thermopylae

The HD DVD encryption key controversy rages on, and while Digg goes out on a slender limb, other user-generated content communities, including the Wikimedia family, are still deciding what to do.

The good news is that the community seems, for the most part, to be taking a sensible course of action and rejecting attempts to put the contents of the key into Wikipedia. There are a few dissenters though, most of whom are beating the "censorship" drum and complaining about oppression of the masses and their rights to free speech.

There's a section in what Wikipedia is not entitled "Wikipedia is not censored", which is often clung to by these people who rail against "the Man". If memory serves me correctly, the section used to be titled differently; "Wikipedia is not censored for the protection of minors" at one stage, and "Wikipedia is not censored for good taste" at another. The latter of these is the better, in my opinion, because the point of the statement is to explain that we can neither guarantee that all content will comply with some standard of good taste, nor will we exclude content that some people find objectionable (encyclopaedic material about sex, for example).

The problem is that some people try to boil that down to a slogan, "Wikipedia is not censored", and get themselves confused. While it's correct to say that we generally don't exclude content for reasons of taste based on social or religious norms, we undoubtedly do exclude content based on our policies and based the laws of Florida and of the United States, where the projects are based.

It also needs to be remembered that while Wikipedia is not censored (for good taste), it is not a whole bunch of other things too. It's not a soapbox, for starters, nor is it an experiment in democracy, or anarchy. It's especially not a tool for experiments in civil disobedience. It's an encyclopaedia.

United States District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan put it well in the case of Universal v Reimerdes:

"Plaintiffs have invested huge sums over the years in producing motion pictures in reliance upon a legal framework that, through the law of copyright, has ensured that they will have the exclusive right to copy and distribute those motion pictures for economic gain. They contend that the advent of new technology should not alter this long established structure. Defendants, on the other hand, are adherents of a movement that believes that information should be available without charge to anyone clever enough to break into the computer systems or data storage media in which it is located. Less radically, they have raised a legitimate concern about the possible impact on traditional fair use of access control measures in the digital era. Each side is entitled to its views. In our society, however, clashes of competing interests like this are resolved by Congress. For now, at least, Congress has resolved this clash in the DMCA and in plaintiffs' favor."

So to all the geeks itching to fight the Man, go write to your Congressman (if you live in the US and have a Congressman of course - if you don't, then I suppose you'd better nag your American friends to do so). And if you want to engage in civil disobedience, don't abuse Wikipedia in order to do so. It's not your farm to bet.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Nonpublic data resolution

I'll open with the standard disclaimer that IANAL (JALS).

All Wikimedia volunteers for tasks which involve access to nonpublic data (stewards, checkusers, oversighters, OTRS volunteers, developers), a group that happens to include me and many other Wikimedians, now need to identify themselves to the Foundation, and be of the age of majority in whatever jurisdiction they live in, following this resolution from the Board of Trustees. In many ways the resolution is a companion to the privacy policy.

The idea was suggested by Anthere about a month ago and developed over the days following (although it has been mooted before, and was raised most recently in the context of the validating credentials debate). It seems that the resolution was passed in the middle of April, but the process of collecting information from people is just beginning.

I think it's definitely a positive development. However, it's interesting to take a closer look at the reasons behind it; there are two threads to the rationale which are seemingly running in opposition.

The first part of the rationale is an ethical consideration (one might put it more crudely and say that it's a PR consideration), and revolves around cultivating and strengthening both the internal culture and the external perception of the Foundation as a responsible organisation. In this respect it's essentially about allaying common fears, because the volunteers who currently fulfil these tasks are for the most part eminently trustworthy people. It's about underlining for the public's benefit that we take these things seriously.

The second part of the rationale is based on legal considerations; essentially, as Kat says, "we wish to be able to say who is responsible for handling this information to ensure that volunteers can be held accountable for their own actions."

Delphine put it more bluntly:

"...people who have [access to this information] are trusted with information that could mean they end up in court one day, whether to testify for or defend the Foundation. As such, they should have the capacity to act without the consent of their parents."

Perhaps a better expression would have been to act without requiring the consent of their parents :) Nevertheless, the idea that Delphine was getting at, that these volunteers need to be of the age of majority so that they can be legally accountable for their actions (to the fullest extent possible) is the crux of the matter.

sj expressed this well:
" 'This is a very important role' is not a reason to discriminate based on age. 'This is a role that requires being responsible' is likewise not appropriate. 'This is a role that requires being legally accountable for one's actions' is..."

...even though (at the time, at least) he was unconvinced of the necessity of the change.

Essentially, the legal rationale is that these various types of volunteers should be fully legally competent in their jurisdiction, so they can be as legally responsible as possible - thus insulating the Foundation against them to a certain extent.

The reason I say that the two rationales for this policy change are seemingly in opposition is that the first, the ethical consideration, is about bolstering (the image of) the Foundation as a responsible organisation that deals with this information in a professional way. The legal consderation, however, revolves around isolating the volunteers from the Foundation. It's essentially about making sure that they're legally competent so that the Foundation's liability is limited as much as possible.

I should emphasise that I agree with the resolution, I just think it's interesting to observe this cross-current in the rationale.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Wikimedia traffic patterns

Daniel Tobias posted to the English Wikipedia mailing list recently about Alexa's traffic statistics for Wikipedia, suggesting, among other things, that page views seem to peak on a Sunday. However, it has often been noted that there are problems with using Alexa's data in certain ways (they only sample people with the Alexa toolbar, for starters) and so I much prefer to look at our own statistics, the request graphs and traffic graphs hosted on the toolserver by Leon Weber (although it seems the script was written by someone else).

Let's take a look at a weekly graph (you can see the current weekly graph here):

All of these graphs are based on UTC. The black vertical line represents the beginning of a new week, which starts on a Monday. As you can see, the lowest days across this sample period are Saturday and Sunday, with the highest being on Monday to Thursday. It seems safe to infer that more people use Wikimedia projects during the working week than they do on the weekend.

Now let's look at a daily graph (you can see the current daily graph here):

The black vertical lines on this graph represent midnight UTC. The daily peak across all clusters occurs around 14:00 to 21:00 UTC, with a fairly steep decline on either side of that time period.

But that's the overall data. Things start to get interesting when you break it down into clusters.

Looking at the pmtpa and images clusters (the blue part of the graph), there's a fairly sustained high level from around 14:00 UTC to around 04:00 UTC the next day. It's a little hard to tell with the stacking graph, but the knams and knams-img clusters (green) both seem to have a sustained high level from around 08:00 to 22:00 UTC. Finally, the yaseo and yaseo-img clusters (yellow) seem to get the most traffic between 02:00 and 16:00 UTC.

Why the different times? Well, the pmtpa and images clusters are in Tampa, Florida (the Power Medium datacenter) and so the peak there, from 14:00 to 04:00 UTC, corresponds to the period from 10 am to midnight on the US East coast, and 7 am to 9 pm on the US West coast. So the peak for the Tampa cluster essentially corresponds to waking hours in the US. The knams and knams-img clusters are in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (hosted by Kennisnet) and the local peak there corresponds to waking hours across Europe. Finally, yaseo and yaseo-img are in Seoul, South Korea (hosted by Yahoo!) and their local peak, not surprisingly, corresponds to waking hours in East Asia.

Another interesting observation is that for the Tampa clusters there is a clear drop in requests about two-thirds of the way through the high period... which more or less corresponds to tea time. The latter part of the peak (the local evening) is still high, but not as high as during daylight.

So to tie this all together, most people use Wikimedia projects between 8 am and 10 pm local time, no matter where they are in the world. People also use Wikimedia much more during the working week than they do on weekends. Finally, people use the projects less when they are eating dinner, and are less likely to return to browsing on a full stomach.

Now there's some food for thought.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Interesting exercise

With the debate about the Attribution policy merger still going strong, I got to reading the position papers prepared by some of the prominent proponents on each side (broad agreement and broad disagreement) of the debate. While considering those, and some of the responses in the ongoing poll, it struck me that there is a remarkable degree of difference in understanding of Wikipedia's fundamental content policies.

I was particularly intrigued by some of the comments on both sides of the debate which have discussed the ways in which Wikipedia policies have evolved over time; the people supporting Attribution arguing that policies have always been changed, and some of the people opposing it arguing that policies have changed away from their original meaning. This got me thinking about the degree to which change has actually occurred with these long standing policies.

I've always thought that the core policies in particular were essentially well understood concepts that haven't really changed much, and that the development of policy pages over time has merely been a refinement of the expression of the central idea, and an adaptation to meet changing circumstances. I decided to test whether this was really the case by, quite simply, looking at old versions of policy pages.

Here's how the core content policies looked on my first day of editing (8 October 2004):

For both verifiability and no original research, the version that existed when I first edited was within the first fifty revisions of the page. Indeed, verifiability had only been edited by a dozen different users by the time of this version. NPOV had something of a longer history, having been around since the beginning of 2002 (and longer than that as an idea).

There are a few interesting nuggets in these old versions. Most surprisingly to me is that in the old version of no original research, the page posits Wikipedia as either a secondary source or as a tertiary source, whereas I've always considered Wikipedia to be only a tertiary source, as a necessary consequence of having the NPOV policy. You'll see that the old version excludes original ideas, but permits analysis, evaluation, interpretation and synthesis as legitimate techniques in writing articles. This would, I am sure, come as a surprise to many (my homework for today: find when the prohibition on synthesis was introduced).

It's also interesting to observe that contrary to what some people assert, the verifiability policy even back then was all about checking that sources have been used accurately and correctly (ie, not misrepresenting the sources), and not about only including content that can be proved to be true. The old version of verifiability also included a section about reliable sources, and offered a classic formulation which I still regard as eminently valid:

"Sometimes a particular statement can only be verified at a place of dubious reliability, such as a weblog or tabloid newspaper. If the statement is relatively unimportant, then just remove it - don't waste words on statements of limited interest and dubious truth. However, if you must keep it, then attribute it to the source in question. For example: 'According to the weblog Simply Relative, the average American has 3.8 cousins and 7.4 nephews and nieces.' "

I'm sure that there is more to be learned from these old versions of policy. I would encourage everyone who is interested in this subject to check out a history page for yourself: perhaps you'd like to view the policies as they existed when you first edited, or perhaps you'd like to delve even deeper into the past than that.

The historical development of policy can offer great insights into how it can be developed in the future.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Chunky or smooth?

While thinking about the current discussion about the proposal to merge several of Wikipedia's content policies into a new policy, Attribution, my gut feeling was that the core content policies (verifiability, no original research and neutral point of view) are better off treated as separate concepts that are nevertheless to be applied in conjunction with one another, rather than to try to join some of the concepts together. As I thought about it, the best reason I could think of to explain this reaction was to do with the way that the concepts operate in different ways, and thusly, how they need their space in order to operate properly.

The verifiability policy, as it is currently called, focuses on discrete "chunks" of content. The basic idea is that it should be possible for any reader to find the material in an extant reliable source. I'll call this the chunky level. The neutral point of view (NPOV) policy, on the other hand, operates at a higher level: it is concerned with what is done with these verifiable chunks of material, how they are put together. The core concept there is that, looking at the final article, all significant views on a subject should be presented fairly, in accordance with their prevalence (that is, not giving undue weight to any given view). The neutral-ness of individual chunks isn't important, rather the overall impression. I'll call this the smooth level.

The prohibition on original research sits somewhere in between these two in terms of the way in which it operates. It applies to individual "chunks" of content, in that each must not be original thought, but it also works on a broader level by prohibiting original research by synthesis. It's not a small picture or big picture thing: it's everywhere, at every level, from every angle.

There is undoubtedly some overlap between the policies on verifiability, NPOV and no original research, but I don't think that that's inherently a problem, nor do I think that when it becomes a problem that problem can be solved by merging the policies, because the policies operate in different ways.

Merging the NPOV and no original research policies, say, would lessen the force of the prohibition on "chunk-style" original research by focusing on the overall picture painted by the chunks when put together. Similarly, merging the verifiability and no original research policies - the thrust of the attribution proposal - lessens the force of the prohibition on original research by synthesis by focusing on the "chunk" level and not in the way that the chunks are used.

I think that the best way forward would be to merge elements of the policies and guidelines on sourcing into the verifiability policy, and rename that the "attribution" policy (the name "verifiability" is often misunderstood), and to maintain the other core content policies separately. Naturally, where overlap or bloat becomes a significant problem, then the policies need to be trimmed, and I think this is where efforts need to focus from now on.

Friday, 23 March 2007

How do they use us? Let me count the ways

A recent blog post from Steven Aftergood, analyzing the use of Wikipedia by the United States Government in certain intelligence products, has been attracting some attention recently, with the responses ranging from amused to angry. Aftergood approved of the use of Wikipedia "and other unorthodox sources" by the intelligence community, but gave the standard caveat on the inherent unreliability of some content:

"The relatively new attentiveness of U.S. intelligence agencies to Wikipedia and other unorthodox sources (including seems like a healthy development. Of course, like any source and moreso than some, Wikipedia cannot be used uncritically.

Last December, according to another OSC [Open Source Center] report, a participant in an online jihadist forum posted a message entitled 'Why Don't We Invade Wikipedia?' in which 'he called on other participants to consider writing articles and adding items to the online Wikipedia encyclopedia.... and in this way, and through an Islamic lobby, apply pressure on the encyclopedia's material.' "

The references to Wikipedia content identified by Aftergood don't actually amount to much, but they do provide an insight into the manner in which content is used.

In one instance that Aftergood identifies, Wikipedia was used as a source for the names of two children of a terror suspect, although the existence of the children was already known. This is an example of what seems to me to be one of the main types of use of Wikipedia as a source in "serious" contexts: using the content as "flavour", to add something to, or fill in gaps in, existing information. Another example is one of the earliest uses of Wikipedia as a press source, a 2003 Daily Telegraph article which touches on the Suez crisis, and then offers a link to the Wikipedia article on the crisis for readers unfamiliar with the subject to learn about it.

Another significant use in such contexts is to demonstrate the prevalence of an idea or a certain piece of knowledge in mainstream society or culture. A good example of this is the first use of Wikipedia as a source by a court, the use of the article "explorer" on the German Wikipedia by the German federal patent court (the Bundespatentgericht), in a trademark case, to show how the word has come to enter the German language. This is a little disturbing, given that part of the ideological underpinning of the project is that it shouldn't change existing thought on a topic, merely summarise the existing state of affairs, but fortunately it seems that this type of use is relatively rare.

A third category of use, one which I find particularly interesting, is the use of Wikipedia content ahead of other potentially available sources for the particular clarity or roundedness of the content. One example is the Federal Court of Australia's reference to the article "reality television" in a 2005 case to obtain a broad definition of reality TV. Another example is Australian politician Danna Vale's use of the English Wikipedia article on totalitarianism in a 2005 speech to parliament; the concept of totalitarianism was (probably) well known and understood to all present, but Vale turned to Wikipedia for a good expression of certain aspects of the concept. Yet another is the California Court of Appeal's reference to no less than eleven Wikipedia articles in its decision in Apple v Does. Indeed, this category of use seems to be very common among the instances of courts referencing Wikipedia (that is, when they're not criticising counsel for referencing Wikipedia).

I say that this last type of use is particularly interesting because it is probably closest to the main intended use of Wikipedia content: as a starting point, as a source that someone turns to first to get a quick understanding of the basics of a topic, and to obtain a starting point for further investigation. In short, it's using Wikipedia as an encyclopaedia.

There has been plenty of work so far in amassing lists of instances of Wikipedia being used as a source in various different settings. These lists stand to be an excellent resource for anyone researching the impact of Wikipedia today in terms of how it is used, and I for one would be very interested in seeing some research in this area. Understanding how Wikipedia is used, particularly how it is used in various contexts - such as in the press, in academia or in the courts - will be crucial for guiding the future direction of the project.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Vive le roi

A hot topic on the mailing list currently is a discussion about the nature of Jimbo's role on the English Wikipedia. In the discussion, I suggested that the constitutional monarchy is probably the best model for the project at the moment in terms of its governance structure. To understand why I think this is the best model, it's important to understand some Wikipedia history.

I should note at the beginning that I've only been around since October 2004, but I've developed what I think is a fairly good understanding of what went on before over my time with the project.

Originally, Jimbo exercised many important functions on the project, along with a few other select individuals, notably Larry Sanger (whose precise role is still subject to much debate, and has been since at least 2002). Gradually, power devolved, as other functionaries appeared to exercise various functions. Believe it or not, there were no sysops in the beginning; this feature wasn't added to the software until the beginning of 2002 or so, if memory serves me correctly (although I can't find a source for that currently). Here's the earliest list of sysops that I could find. The first sysops were developers like Brion, and people like Jimbo, and the functions devolved from there to be exercised currently by 1149 people.

The best example of devolution of authority is the creation of the Arbitration Committee at the end of 2003. Before the ArbCom was put in place, Jimbo performed the functions transferred to it, namely arbitration of serious disputes, including the authority to ban users. The often overlooked Mediation Committee was established at the same time, for the same purpose.

Jimbo no longer exercises these and other functions exclusively or regularly, though he reserves the right to do so. At the beginning of 2004, noone knew how the ArbCom would work out, and Jimbo reserved the right of executive clemency with respect to the ArbCom's decision, and even reserved the right to dissolve the ArbCom if necessary.

Jimbo's role looks like a horrible, poorly-defined mess, but looking at this through a constitutional history perspective, it seems fairly straightforward. Jimbo once exercised many functions, which are defined essentially by use: the functions that he had, such as arbitration, were the ones he exercised. These functions are now exercised by other functionaries, governed by their own policies, although Jimbo still has a potential to exercise them. Jimbo retains what are essentially reserve powers, to be used in extraordinary circumstances, while the day to day exercise of power is governed by the equivalent of a constitution (the arbitration policy, for example). Pressure from the community will serve well enough to force constitutional conventions on Jimbo's use of authority. As long as the conventions are not breached, everything's peachy.

I don't think it matters that his role isn't clearly defined. There's a doctrine in constitutional law that prerogative powers can diminish or even disappear entirely simply by not being exercised over a long period of time, which I think could be well applied to Wikipedia.

The last point I want to make is that while Jimbo's functions have been devolved, he remains a respected leader within the community, just as he was at the beginning of the project. It's a role just like that of Betty in many countries today, and it's a path well-trodden by other leaders of growing communities, in the open software field for example.

In summary, I'm comfortable with Jimbo's functional role not necessarily being rigidly defined, because I can appreciate the way it has diminished over time, and probably will continue to do so, and I can appreciate that not being rigidly defined can help this process. His leadership role is a function of his service, past leadership and the trust invested in him by many members of the community. Moreover, it is largely distinct from his functional capacity: Jimbo will remain a leader for as long as he continues to lead well, even while his functional role declines.

So to all the American editors clamouring for a constitution to define Jimbo's role: chill out and enjoy the Westminster System.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Experts and credentials

One of the recent hot topics lately, particularly in the wake of the Essjay incident, has been the idea that Wikipedia might consider introducing a system for validating credentials claimed by Wikipedia editors. One of the main reasons for such an idea was laid out by Jimbo in May 2005:

"[P]eople wonder, and not unreasonably, who we all are. Why should the world listen to us about anything? People think, and not unreasonably, that credentials say something helpful about that... although we never want Wikipedia to be about a closed club of credential fetishists, there's nothing particularly wrong with advertising that, hey, we are *random* people on the Internet *g*, but not random *morons* after all."

For as long as I've been editing - and probably for longer - there's been strong opposition to any form of credentialism on Wikipedia, for two main reasons, one cultural and one structural.

The cultural reason is that the community is strongly egalitarian, in that it essentially accords status by the quality (and, yes, the quantity) of work done by each editor. The Meta page on edit counting makes the excellent observation that Wikipedia (and the other Wikimedia projects too) is a gift economy, which is a type of economy distinct from a barter or market economy:

"A gift economy is an economic system in which goods and services are given without any agreement for immediate or future compensation. This differs from a barter economy - in which there is an immediate or expected quid pro quo... Typically, a gift economy occurs in a culture which emphasizes social or intangible rewards for generosity: karma, honor, loyalty or other forms of gratitude."

The structural reason is that the skills needed to create good content for Wikipedia are essentially aggregatory skills, deriving from Wikipedia's nature as a tertiary source. It is not about original thought, but about bringing together established thought from multiple - and indeed all - existing sources.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Opposing credentialism as a means of preserving the fundamental structural qualities of Wikipedia as a tertiary source is undoubtedly the right approach, as is operating a culture that rewards contribution. But this tends to ignore a large and very significant body of people: the readers of Wikipedia.

Readers I will define as those people who consume Wikipedia content without necessarily contributing to it; they exist outside of the culture and structure of Wikipedia and thus come to Wikipedia with completely different values. Many readers will be from cultures that place value in credentials as recognition of skills developed and knowledge acquired, and many will be from environments that are structured to respect and rely on credentials.

I don't think that these two worlds are incompatible. We can acknowledge the credentials of our editors without stepping over into credentialism. Under a verification system readers who are engaged enough to check out who has been writing the articles they are reading would be able to evaluate the compilers of the information in front of them in the same way that policies for verifiability and sourcing allow them to evaluate the information itself.

Acknowledging credentials would be a good first step in bridging a gap between two cultures.

Welcome to TFD

This blog will contain my thoughts about various aspects of Wikipedia, as if there weren't enough of those flying around what with all my subscriptions to endless mailing lists and so forth. It'll be like my personal Meta.

My main user account is thebainer on the English Wikipedia, you can find all of my on-wiki work there.