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Today in geek misogyny:
The onward march of the internet age has taken a historic casualty: yesterday, Encyclopaedia Britannica has announced that it is giving up printing encyclopaedias; those solidly shelf-filling expanses of dead information bound in leather and gold ink, which many a parent paid handsomely for their children to have access to, will soon be as dead as the Pony Express. The last edition of the Britannica to appear is the 2010 edition, whose new entries included global warming and the Human Genome Project.
In the 1950s, having the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the bookshelf was akin to a station wagon in the garage or a black-and-white Zenith in the den, a possession coveted for its usefulness and as a goalpost for an aspirational middle class. Buying a set was often a financial stretch, and many families had to pay for it in monthly installments.
Sales of the Britannica peaked in 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold in the United States. But now print encyclopedias account for less than 1 percent of the Britannica’s revenue. About 85 percent of revenue comes from selling curriculum products in subjects like math, science and the English language; 15 percent comes from subscriptions to the Web site, the company said.The Britannica is a casualty of the shifting economics of information, the rise of the internet, and more specifically, the rise of Wikipedia; now that collating information no longer requires an expensive infrastructure (such as a business with dozens of editors and experts) but only some servers and the good will of countless volunteers across the world, traditional encyclopaedias have found their raison d'etre diminishing. The Britannica fought against this tide, pooh-poohing the Wikipedia approach, with its lack of formal authority, and asserting that nothing good can possibly come of it, only to find itself losing market share to something good enough; orders of magnitude broader in subject matter, almost instantaneously up to date, and not so catastrophically unreliable as to negate these points (and, in fact, according to some studies, not significantly more error-prone than the Britannica). Soon, the price of encyclopaedias crashed, with Craigslist being littered with second-hand sets whose owners no longer have a need (or space) for them; meanwhile, of the 12,000 copies of the 2010 Britannica printed, 1/3 languish unsold in a warehouse.
The Britannica company will keep publishing an online edition, accessible by a $70 annual subscription fee, in the hope that enough people will find its conservative editorial approach a selling point rather than a liability.
In the light of Wikipedia disappearing for a day in protest against the SOPA law, an article by an assistant professor comparing the philosophy of Wikipedia with that of traditional paper encyclopaedias:
Reading the high-quality, professionally edited entries in my library’s encyclopedias was an eye-opener and a guilty pleasure — you could learn so much with so little effort! And you don’t have to work as hard untangling the entries the way you do with Wikipedia! But this is exactly the problem with closed, for-profit encyclopedias: they require no work. In fact, they require just the opposite: submission to authority. The writing guidelines for my encyclopedia entry insist that there be no quotations or citations — just a short list of additional readings. Encyclopedias give us no reason to believe their claims are true except the arbitrary authority of those who write them. They are the ultimate triumph of the authoritarian impulse in academics.
It is this refusal of arbitrary authority that really scares encyclopedia types, not worries about accuracy. Wikipedia is a place where you must learn to think for yourself, encyclopedias are places where you are told what to believe.It's interesting that the authoritarian underpinnings of the encyclopaedia, necessary for the purposes of aggregating broadly accepted knowledge within convenient reach, went all but unnoticed (and, had anybody noticed and criticised them, they would have sounded like some kind of hopelessly idealistic hippy Arcadian) until the disintermediating power of the internet demonstrated that another world is possible.
Read: White Barbarian, an essay by a French Wikipedia contributor, vividly defending Wikipedia's culture:
I'm ten. Every week for French class we are required to select a book from the class library. I already can't stand the classics, so I reach for a gamebook. The searing glare from my teacher confirms that just because I'm allowed to take the book does not mean I can. I take it anyway.
I'm fourteen. A colleague of my father spots me as I'm idly tapping keys on a demo synthesizer at the local department store. He takes his time to explain how this is worthless; such instruments warrant nothing but contempt and true music requires no amplifiers. I suddenly develop an interest for electronic music.
I'm twenty-eight. I discover on Wikipedia that tons of people share my unusual knowledge. Some try to convince me that the method is flawed and you can't treat all topics as equal. By nature incapable of listening to such arguments, I ignore the bores. So does everybody else, anyway. The bores get annoyed at this fact and proceed to announce they are Right and everybody else is Wrong. I'm not sure I get that logic.And it concludes...
I am a barbarian. A well-educated barbarian, mind you, who has read and listened to all the right things, but a barbarian nonetheless. Left to my own devices I will always develop completely nonstandard interests, and experience taught me that, no matter what, people expect me to acknowledge what I like to be intrinsically inferior. Thanks to Wikipedia, I know that the world is full of people like me. I can't tell you about the rest of the universe, but to those here that expect me to give way again, I say this: go take a stroll in another encyclopedia.
Wikipedia's Rome wasn't invaded by barbarians. It was built by them. Oftentimes I go for a walk on the city's Forum and hear an orator trying to rally the crowd to his cause and explaining that the barbarians are at the city's doors. I'm still laughing.The original French, by the way, is here.
(via David Gerard)
Search giant Google confirmed to the BBC that when the news first broke it feared it was under attack.
Before the company's servers crashed, TweetVolume noted that "Michael Jackson" appeared in more than 66,500 Twitter updates.And Farrah Fawcett (whom one really has to feel sorry for; what a way to go) wasn't the only one eclipsed by the "King of Pop" going supernova; the entire Iranian protest movement was as well.
That put news of Jackson's death at least on par with the Iran protests, as Twitter posts about Iran topped 100,000 per hour on June 16 and eventually climbed to 220,000 per hour.(It's probably, in the Blairite parlance, a good day to bury bad news; I wonder whether the Iranian government has taken advantage of this to hastily machine-gun all those pesky protesters into freshly dug trenches while the world's mourning a pop star.)
Michael Jackson's death will almost certainly go down in history as one of those iconic events that everyone remembers where they were when they heard of it, like the Kennedy assassination or the passing of his erstwhile father-in-law some three decades earlier. Only, this time, it happened in a highly networked world, so the recollections will surely reflect this. I first heard of it when I saw someone log into an instant messaging service with "RIP Michael Jackson" as their status. Though one may well have found out about it by reading Wikipedia's revisions page:
(cur) (prev) 22:49, 25 June 2009 TexasAndroid (talk | contribs) m (119,637 bytes) (Removed category Living people (using HotCat))Which is somewhat less ignominious than Wikipedia's summary judgment of non-notability on Steven Wells. (Wikipedia appears to be locked in a deletionist spiral of radicalism these days, as editors prove their hard-headedness and ideological purity by being increasingly ruthless with what is deemed "notable".)
And the Register' article on the Michael Jackson Twitter meltdown ends with some speculation about what's likely to happen in the days and weeks following his death:
We can expect floods of tributes, detailing how Jackson changed the face of pop music (a reasonable claim) was the biggest record seller in history (probably) and invented the moonwalk (absolutely not).
This will be quickly followed by floods of revelations about the singer's murky private life, now that libel restrictions no longer reply - at least in the UK.
But first of all, we can expect a flood of malware spam, likely promising post-mortem pictures of the star's body.The spam, it seems, didn't take long.
The rise of Wikipedia and its open-source, collaborative content model has claimed a scalp among its traditional, proprietary competition: Microsoft's online encyclopedia Encarta will be shut down on 31 October. Encarta was launched in the 1990s as a savvier Britannica for the CD-ROM age.
I wonder how long Britannica has left. Will it survive indefinitely, sustained by the niche market for expensive, impressive-looking leather-bound volumes, fetishised by those to whom such things still suggest wisdom more than decrepitude? Will the brand name be snapped up by a manufacturer of prestige E-paper Wikipedia browsers? Or will it just sink without a trace, as a relic of a past age of informational scarcity?
Several of the UK's biggest ISPs are blocking access to a Wikipedia page about a heavy metal album. The page in question, on Virgin Killer, an album by German band Scorpions (best known for their fall-of-the-Berlin-wall anthem Winds of Change), includes an image of the cover artwork, which includes a photograph of a naked prepubescent girl; presumably this sort of thing was less unacceptable back when major label RCA signed off on it.
The measures applied redirect traffic for a significant portion of the UK's Internet population through six servers which can log and filter the content that is available to the end user. A serious side-effect of this is the inability of administrators on Wikimedia sites to block vandals and other troublemakers without potentially impacting hundreds of thousands of innocent contributors who are working on the sites in good faith.The ISPs in question include O2, Demon, Sky and Virgin Media. There is no word on whether the ISPs will block other instances of this artwork, such as those appearing on Amazon, or indeed images of other cover artwork with child nudity (a certain Nirvana album comes to mind).
The Irish Independent has a piece on how social networking websites are changing relationships, and in particular, how they end and what happens afterward:
I started getting clues that I might be about to become a free man when my girlfriend's friends posted messages to her that read: "Good luck with tonight -- it's for the best."
First came the announcement online of my new 'Single' status. Deftly inserted into Facebook's running newsfeed, it informed everyone that both she and I knew that I had been dumped, in much the same way that Reuters proclaims the engagement of a minor member of the British royal family. There was no way of deleting it, so it sat there haunting me.
But then her status updates started to tell a story. Just three days after we broke up, she changed hers to: "2008, new job (check), new flat (check), new man (working on it)."
Your ex's blog may only be read by five and half people, but you still don't really want them telling complete strangers how you were unable to put the loo seat down and never really gave the choosing of shelves the attention it deserved, and how these things were symptomatic of your lack of commitment to the relationship.
It makes me think that our grandparents had an easier time. If one of their relationships went bad they could always go to sea -- or at least the next village -- and never see the other person again.The whole issue of relationship breakups in the age of the internet recently hit the spotlight spectacularly with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales' breakup with his girlfriend, FoxNews journalist Rachel Marsden. Wales apparently dumped her on Wikipedia, and she retaliated by releasing transcripts of their online chats, the major upshot of which was a revelation that these lofty public figures were, scandalously, quite into having sex with each other while they were going out.
It'll be interesting to see how the standards of socially acceptable conduct evolve once it is literally impossible to dissociate oneself from an ex without becoming a hermit. Will slagging off one's exes and their failings in public blogs become taboo, or restricted to some acceptable bounds of fair play? Or will people get used to the fact that anyone in the dating marketplace probably has several scathingly negative references from their various exes? (Perhaps there is a niche for a site which aggregates exes' references, along with reputation scores for the referers?) Will things like Rachel Marsden's release of the chat transcripts become unacceptable, the social equivalent of a nuclear first strike?
Allegations have emerged of a secret mailing list used by a cabal of Wikipedia admins to unaccountably ban people they suspect of being enemies of Wikipedia trying to infiltrate the site. (The evidence against one banned user was that they seemed too skilled and too productive for a new user, and thus were probably a troll or sleeper agent trying to infiltrate Wikipedia and win its trust before doing god knows what.)
Meanwhile, it turns out that "wikipedia" is an ingredient in the food at at least one Chinese restaurant:
In this case, "wikipedia" turns out to be a type of fungus. This is not the first time that a restaurant in Asia has listed "wikipedia" as an ingredient; some two years ago, a French restaurant in Taiwan listed cheesecake as "wikipedia", and there are other reports of another establishment using the word to denote squid. Could it be some quirk of novice attempts at Chinese-to-English translation that causes this word to be mistaken for so many culinary ingredients?
The latest online meme: wikigroaning. This involves searching Wikipedia for pairs of thematically related articles, the first being reasonably serious, useful and somewhat minimal, and the second being frivolously trivial, usually related to some aspect of pop culture, often of a fanboyish nature, and invariably much more comprehensive and more thought out than the first, i.e.:
Discovery of the day: there is a Scots edition of Wikipedia (or "Wikipædia", as it's known in Scots). That's written in the Scots language, which is descended from Middle English, and is just about comprehensible to English speakers. (Though while it may look like English with funny spellings and odd words, it should not be mistaken for Scotched English; not only that but one should be wary of artificial attempts to make it more English-like, such as the nefarious apologetic apostrophe). In it you will find 1,573 articles about various subjects, including (naturally) Scotland, the "Unitit Kinrick" and Europe, the "mathematical an naitral sciences", "airt an cultur", "applee'd sciences an industry", "daily life an leisur" and "ither", as well as on written Scots and a Scots-English dictionary. Also, the Scots for "search" is "rake" (though "Edit" appears to be the same as in English; either that or MediaWiki doesn't let one change this), and some articles begin with the disclaimer:
The "Scots" that wis uised in this airticle wisna written by a native speaker. Gin ye can, please sort it.
"It would have been a major oversight to ignore this portentous anniversary," said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, whose site now boasts over 4,300,000 articles in multiple languages, over one-quarter of which are in English, including 11,000 concerning popular toys of the 1980s alone. "At 750 years, the U.S. is by far the world's oldest surviving democracy, and is certainly deserving of our recognition," Wales said. "According to our database, that's 212 years older than the Eiffel Tower, 347 years older than the earliest-known woolly-mammoth fossil, and a full 493 years older than the microwave oven."
The commemorative page is one of the most detailed on the site, rivaling entries for Firefly and the Treaty Of Algeron for sheer length. Subheadings include "Origins Of Colonial Discontent," "Some Famous Guys In Wigs And Three-Cornered Hats," and "Christmastime In Gettysburg." It also features detailed maps of the original colonies--including Narnia, the central ice deserts, and Westeros--as well as profiles of famous American historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Special Agent Jack Bauer, and Samuel Adams who is also a defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Indiepedia is like Wikipedia, only focussing on indie bands, and run by people who know that "indie music" is not the same as "whatever NME and Xfm are pimping now". Of course, it could be argued that it would be better just to post these articles to Wikipedia.
All is not well in the happy kingdom of Wikipedia; it has now been revealed that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has committed the cardinal faux-pas of editing his own entry; what's more, the edits involved him removing a reference to former Wikipedia employee Larry Sanger as a co-founder of the site and references to the porn business his previous enterprise, Bomis, was involved in. Other users have attempted to put back the deleted information, only to have their edits reverted as "vandalism"; some are hopping mad. Wales claims to have good reasons why both edits are objective and appropriate; though even if he is right, the fact that he made the edits himself can't help but reflect badly on them and the reliability of Wikipedia.
The other day, I was in this fancy Italian/French restaurant (where I had Escargot, but that's another story) and so they had fancy English under the usual Chinese names. They're pretty accurate, until I read about desserts. Under the Chinese for cheesecake, was the English word, "Wikipedia".
"The idea seemed to dovetail perfectly with our tradition of democratic participation," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said. "But when so-called 'contributors' began loading it down with profanity, pornography, ASCII art, and mandatory-assault-rifle-ownership amendments, we thought it might be best to cancel the project." Congress intends to restore the Constitution to its pre-Wiki format as soon as an unadulterated copy of the document can be found.
(via The Onion)
The anarchic, anyone-can-edit model of Wikipedia may soon be tested in court; the Council of Australian Jewry is considering suing Wikipedia for allowing a vandalised article to be published on its site. The vandalised article, on recently deceased Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, contained unsavoury sexual accusations.
If it does go to court and their case stands up (and the idea of an anonymous wiki with no personal responsibility does not feature in most defamation laws), it could be the end of the wiki, or at least of the pseudonymously editable one. Wikipedia could continue on either being moderated or requiring all contributors to have verified identities kept on file and assume legal liability for their edits. Which would be somewhat of a chilling effect, though it could be argued that that's how the real world works, and the present Wikipedia is no more legally sustainable than the original Napster was. And so, another piece of the utopian anarchy of the internet (you know, that ungoverned interzone that interprets censorship as damage and routes around it) may soon fall to the encroaching tide of harsh reality.
Update: I have been informed that any such lawsuit would be a non-starter. For one, one cannot legally libel, slander or defame a deceased person, and secondly, the Scientologists have already tried this sort of thing and failed.
New-age guru turned skeptic and sociologist Karla McLaren on differences in the way skeptics and new-agers think:
For instance, an understanding of cold reading would have helped me a great deal. I never knew what cold reading was, and until I saw professional magician and debunker Mark Edward use cold reading on an ABC News special last year, I didn't understand that I had long used a form of cold reading in my own work! I was never taught cold reading and I never intended to defraud anyone - I simply picked up the technique through cultural osmosis.
People in my culture have heard you and we're trying to answer - but we don't understand you. Our cultural training about the dangers of the intellect makes it nearly impossible for us to utilize science properly - or to identify your intellectual rigor as anything but an unhealthy overuse of the mind.
We love to say that we embrace mystery in the New Age culture, but that's a cultural conceit and it's utterly wrong. In actual fact, we have no tolerance whatsoever for mystery. Everything from the smallest individual action to the largest movements in the evolution of the planet has a specific metaphysical or mystical cause. In my opinion, this incapacity to tolerate mystery is a direct result of my culture's disavowal of the intellect. One of the most frightening things about attaining the capacity to think skeptically and critically is that so many things don't have clear answers. Critical thinkers and skeptics don't create answers just to manage their anxiety
Meanwhile, a revert war seems to have opened up in the Wikipedia entry on Witchcraft; it started when a bunch of fuzzy-bunny pagans took offense with the part of the article which contradicted their belief that witchcraft was the same unified, benign and generally warm and fluffy thing throughout centuries, rejected the validity of all the sources cited for this (partly because the "secret oral tradition" they know says otherwise, and what would some stuffy academic who's not part of it know?), and vowed to enlist their friends' help to ensure that their point of view prevails.
Quite frankly, I don't care what you think. If you post further erroneous statements, I will not hesistate to remove them. Moreover, I'm sure I can easily recruit a thousand or so neo-pagans that would be more than willing to devote a little of their time to keep Wikipedia's entry on witchcraft free of your hostile and inaccurate statements
It looks like spammers have hit on the technique of putting articles about whatever they're trying to flog into Wikipedia and then sending out spam citing that as an authoritative source, in the hope that at least one person gullible enough to buy from spammers is impressed. Quoting from a recently caught spam:
The only effective nonsurgical method to lengthen the penis is by employing devices that pull at the glans of the penis for extended periods of time. This is known as traction; where tissues under continuous tension will undergoe cellular multiplication. The result is tissue expansion, resulting in a permanent increase of the tissue...
Source : Wikipedia
In the latest phase of their world-domination-through-doing-good strategy, Google are offering to host content for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. And about time that someone made such an offer, as half the time Wikipedia's servers seem to be in a world of pain.
Today's featured article on Wikipedia is "exploding whale". Now that's something you probably wouldn't find in the Britannica.
The truth is that Wikipedia reveals what is normally hidden in an encyclopedia: the countless decisions that lie behind each entry. The only difference is that in Wikipedia, the decision-making never stops and the debates are often robust to say the least.
[Encyclopædia Britannica] Editor-in-chief Dale Hoiberg is no less damning: "People write on things they're interested in, and so many subjects don't get covered; and news events get covered in great detail. The entry on Hurricane Frances is five times the length of that on Chinese art, and the entry on Coronation Street is twice as long as the article on Tony Blair."
I've started looking around Wikipedia (after seeing it mentioned in David Gerard's LiveJournal a few million times). It's certainly got a wealth of information about musical genres, mentioning everything from shoegazing to Cantopop to rhythm and blues (which has nothing to do with what's currently known as "R&B") to No Wave to twee pop. There's also extensive material on heavy metal (someone there must be really into it), including this encyclopædic overview, pieces on all the subgenres of it, and even a piece on the heavy-metal umlaut. Not to mention non-music-related topics such as this useful overview of Situationism.
Mind you, some of the information is a bit dubious, such as the bit in the Britpop entry which talks about ""shoegazing" bands such as Ride, Stereolab or Oasis".
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