Wikipedia Issues

Can we trust the Wikipedia? The Guardian Unlimited (among others) has a story, Read me first: Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we practise to deceive (Seth Finkelstein, Mar. 8, 2007) about the latest Wikipedia scandal. A Wikipedia administrator who been posing as a tenured religion professor turns out to be a 24-year old with no advanced degrees. What is worse ,is that Wikipedia has hired him and has been promoting this administrator, suggesting him as someone for a New Yorker article that now has an editor’s disclaimer,

At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay’s real name. Essjay’s entire Wikipedia life was conducted with only a user name; anonymity is common for Wikipedia admin-istrators and contributors, and he says that he feared personal retribution from those he had ruled against online. Essjay now says that his real name is Ryan Jordan, that he is twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and that he has never taught. He was recently hired by Wikia—a for-profit company affiliated with Wikipedia—as a “community manager”; he continues to hold his Wikipedia positions.

So what are the ethical issues and what does this mean for the quality of Wikipedia content? On the second question, an Editorial: Wikipedia with caution (Mar. 8, 2007, by Editorial Board) by the The Stanford Daily strikes the right note for me.

Most university-level students should be able to discern between Wikipedia and more reliable online sources like government databases and online periodicals. To be fair, some of Wikipedia’s entries are specific enough to be extremely valuable in studying or researching, but others are shallow, short, and occasionally completely inaccurate.

On the moral issue there is a tension between anonymity, which many people need online to perform their chosen roles, and deception. It could be argued that to preserve anonymity a Wikipedia administrator under the spotlight might have to mislead critics, but Essjay went too far, he tried to build his reputation through deception.

Time to learn your exabytes: Tech researchers calculate wide world of data

161 exabytes of information was generated last year according to a CBC.ca story, Time to learn your exabytes: Tech researchers calculate wide world of data by Brian Bergstein (March 5, 2007). That is way up from the estimate in How Much Information? 2003 that I blogged before. The study quotes John F. Gantz of IDC, but I can’t find the paper on the IDC site.

Wired News also has a version of the story, but again they link to the general IDC site.

Thanks to Matt amd Mike for this.

What we need from universities

DeLuca and Rockwell PictureWhat sorts of graduates does Canada need? Bill Gates in a opinion piece At risk: innovation (subscription required) in the Globe and Mail about a month ago argued for more computer science and engineering graduates arguing that our ability to innovate is at risk. This triggered a response, that Technology’s overrated and that what we need are more business students. Frankly I think they are both wrong, we need social content innovation. The innovations of the Web 2.0 (from blogging and wikis to Flickr and YouTube) are not technical innovations, but content innovations involving innovative ways for groups of people to communicate meaningful content. The areas of growth in information and communications technology are those areas that intersect with creative practices like digital imaging and computer games, as the resport Beyond Productivity points out.

What we need are more arts, humanities and social science students who are comfortable with communications technology and curious to use it in interesting ways. We need what Eugene Roman of Bell Canada calls “content scientists”. Companies like Bell have neat technologies, but need people to find ways to use them to create value. Toys are not enough, people need to play with them to give toys meaning and that is what arts, humanities and social science students do. Imagine a world where we made soccer balls but never organized a game – that’s what Gates, Martin and Milway will leave us with. Instead, as Chad Gaffield, the new president of SSHRC, puts it, Canada should support the human sciences which encourage understandings of people and developing talent.

In the picture above, I am with Gerry De Luca of Bell Canada after a meeting between Bell Canada representatives and colleagues at McMaster where we discussed the problems we face in teaching and research. Can we find an appropriate way for an enterprise like Bell to support the development of talented content scientists? What’s in it for them? This is not an easy problem in the content disciplines as industry engagement carries different risks than in science and engineering. When industry supports research in engineering the site of the engagement is a matter of patentable property ownership that is relatively free of controversy. When industry supports the creation of content it is a matter of copyright or expression, something that resists control or ownership. On the one hand there is too much content making most new content worthless; on the other hand content innovation takes freedom and rarely has a commercialization pathway when free. To support innovative expression you have to be willing to risk the tasteless, the controversial, the political, and the just plain bad. What entreprise would want to be associated with a chaotic explosion of content, even if there were a gem or two? Likewise, how comfortable are universities allowing industry engagement in content science.

CNW Group: Mediavantage

Logo for MediavantageThe CNW Group that has it’s Canadian base in Toronto has a new service called MEDIAVANTAGE that has many of the features of a multimedia news crawling, managing, and visualizing service. From the Flash intro it looks like users define keywords to track. Mediavantage then shows you results from different sources. It can send alerts and graphs result history.
Screenshot
The interesting part is that they track TV news and provide text summaries that look like the text off close captioning. Subsets of results can be shared by e-mail and PDF. This is a news mining tool for business that offers a model for what Web Mining for Research might look like.

Thanks to Terry for this.

iPhone: Is it magic?

Mike Elgan has an article on iPhone: 20 things we don’t know (Jan. 12, 2007) in Digit a magazine about “the future of digital design”. In particular I agree with his questions about the touch screen interface and virtual keyboard – will it be responsive enough for Blackberry users who do push e-mail?

Image of Apple NewtonOne way of asking about the iPhone is to think about the Newton PDA which was also supposed to be a magical reinvention of personal computing. Like the iPhone, and unlike the iPod, it tried to do lots of things and as a result didn’t do anything well. The Palm Pilot got the PDA market right by doing fewer things very well and in a small enough package to fit in your pocket. As pretty and desirable as the iPhone is, I worry that it will be a delicate and fat phone; a slow and poor Internet device; and an expensive iPod with little memory.

That said, it will shakeup the cell phone business. If it doesn’t take off, someone else will get the need for new designs and digital integration right.

Update: Shawn pointed me to an article Apple Ushers in Era of the Fluid UI by Om Malik. Malik correctly, I think, identifies the fluid interface as the important innovation.

Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men

Shakespeare and Queen's Men ImageI went to the first Hamilton performance of the Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men project. SQM is a SSHRC funded Research/Creation project that is reconstructing how plays would have been put on in the late 16th century during Shakespeare’s apprenticeship. I will be involved in the internet research site where we hope to put up streaming video footage from the project that documents the reconstruction research. The play I saw, King Leir, directed by Peter Cockett, was terrific. The procession of dignitaries included McMaster’s president and AVP (Academic) Fred Hall. They sat at the back of the stage where us less important types could see if they fell asleep during the performance. King Leir repeatedly addressed them when talking about the evils of flattery (the main theme of this version.)

A review in the National Post discusses the Toronto performance of the King Leir which I saw.

A more stimulating sidelight on Shakespeare in general and King Lear in particular can be had from Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men, a joint theatrical-academic project on view at the Glen Morris Theatre, on the University of Toronto campus, and subsequently beyond. The Queen’s Men were an Elizabethan theatre company who flourished briefly in the 1580s, in London and on tour, before disappearing from the record in mysterious, and conceivably sinister, circumstances. This was just before Shakespeare began his career, and the present enterprise is staging and discussing three plays that definitely or conceivably influenced him.

Montreal attack and video games

Another horrible shooting at a school and once again there is a reported connection to a mix of blogs, goth culture and videogames. The Globe and Mail has a story about how the Blog of accused killer reveals dark character (Scott Deveau). The blog, which is still (as of posting) accessible, now has 233 comments on the last entry posted an hour before Kimveer went.

As for the videogame connection, Montreal gunman called himself ‘angel of death’ is the title of a CBC story that quotes the blog,

“Work sucks ‚Ķ School sucks ‚Ķ Life sucks ‚Ķ What else can I say?” he wrote. “Metal and Goth kick ass. Life is like a video game, you gotta die sometime.”

The Globe and Mail article quotes more from the blog on the subject of videogames,

Among other things, he says his likes were: “First Person Shooters” and “Super Psycho Maniacs roaming the streets.” He also says he likes his knife, guns, and “Crushing My Enemies Skulls.”

Among his favourite video games are several first-person shooting games, including Super Columbine Massacre RPG, which has players mimic the infamous high school killings in Columbine, Colo., the morning of April 20, 1999, through the eyes of the teenage killers. The shootings at Dawson College on Wednesday are a chilling echo of those events.

Mr. Gill also lists Postal as another of his favourite games. The purpose of that game is to get through as much of the game as possible without going berserk and gunning people down, or, failing that, to avoid getting caught and being thrown in jail.

He also complained that Postal 2 was “too childish.”

‚Äúi want them to make a game so realistic, that it looks and feels like it’s actually happening,‚Äù he wrote in his blog.

Setting aside the question of who would create a game like “Super Columbine Massacre RPG”, I find it hard to believe that videogames didn’t let Kimveer model his violent fantasies.

Now I’m going to go back to the 233 comments on that last post. A snapshot of reactions from anger to concerns about how goth culture will be portrayed.

Second Life Activities

I’ve noticed a number of interesting activities that are using Second Life as their virtual site. The Infinite Mind in Second Life is a web page about interviews with people like John Maeda and Kurt Vonnegut that were broadcast (took place?) in Second Life. (You can see photos and read agout it also at The Infinite Mind blog.)

CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion is a law class about argument outside of court and on the net. The class is by Harvard prof Charles Nesson and his daughter Rebecca Nesson. There is a trailer video that explains the class and how you can join through Second Life. There is an interesting moment when you shift from the video of Nesson to video of his avatar in a recreation of the same space.

Note how video is the way virtual encounters are being documented.

Thanks to Johnny for the Infinite Minds link and Peter for the Harvard link.

BBC: Text analysis of texting to catch criminals

The BBC have a story on Texting study to catch criminals by researchers at Leicester University in the School of Psychology. They are studying the individual styles of text messages in order to help with forensic investigations. The BBC had previously reported how Text messages examined in Danielle case had helped in the prosecution of the 15-year-old Danielle Jones’ uncle who seems to have sent text messages from Danielle’s phone in order to throw off the scent.

The Leicester University researchers have a web page that welcomes people willing to submit samples. I wonder how useful anonymously submitted messages will be. I imagine, if they get enough messages, it will give them a control sample for the study of particular suspect messages.

Tagliamonte: Instant messaging linguistics study

Instant messaging is not a spoiler of syntax in youth, U of T study suggests (Victoria Ahearn, Canadian Press, August 1, 2006) is a news story that is circulating about a study that Sali Tagliamonte and a student conducted about instant messaging. The good news is that we needn’t worry about IM.

Here’s a word to the wise (AWTTW): Instant messaging (IM), which is often riddled with acronyms like LOL (laugh out loud) and TTYL (talk to you later), is not the spoiler of syntax that some think it is but rather “an expansive new linguistic renaissance,” suggests a new study from the University of Toronto.

Here is the conclusion of an abstract submitted to the New Ways of Analyzing Variation conference in October of 2005:

These findings challenge the deleterious perceptions of IM and suggest that they have been over-blown in the media. Instead, IM is vibrant new medium of communication with its own unique style
(see also Herring 2003, 2004). We will elaborate an argument that IM is an illuminating reflection of
the dynamic ongoing, normal processes of linguistic change that are currently underway in the English
language. Moreover, we will suggest that it may well provide a ‘bellwether of future [socio linguistic]
trends’ (Schiano et al. 2002).

See OMG, its so PC! Instant Messaging and Teen Language.