Archives for December 2004

Leave Wikipedia alone!

Larry Sanders, one of the founders of Wikipedia, goes off on a rant against his former baby (context: he left amid differences of opinion about the whole project), and says some, well, remarkable things.

“…as a community, Wikipedia lacks the habit or tradition of respect for expertise. As a community, far from being elitist (which would, in this context, mean excluding the unwashed masses), it is anti-elitist (which, in this context, means that expertise is not accorded any special respect, and snubs and disrespect of expertise is tolerated). This is one of my failures: a policy that I attempted to institute in Wikipedia’s first year, but for which I did not muster adequate support, was the policy of respecting and deferring politely to experts.

Consequently, nearly everyone with much expertise but little patience will avoid editing Wikipedia, because they will–at least if they are editing articles on articles that are subject to any sort of controversy–be forced to defend their edits on article discussion pages against attacks by nonexperts.

I know, of course, that Wikipedia works because it is radically open. I recognized that as soon as anyone; indeed, it was part of the original plan. But I firmly disagree with the notion that that Wikipedia-fertilizing openness requires disrespect toward expertise. The project can both prize and praise its most knowledgeable contributors, and permit contribution by persons with no credentials whatsoever. That, in fact, was my original conception of the project. It is sad that the project did not go in that direction.

Wikipedia is an amazing Postmodern entity, and one that doesn’t need any of the fixing Sanders recommends. The authority of Wikipedia is with the people who write it, and it’s nice to have an alternative to academic expertise. Here’s the comment I posted in the discussion:

In the Postmodern world in which we now find ourselves, expertise without experience is always suspect, so Wikipedia is an ideal symbol of the new age. Postmoderns (Pomos) distrust institutions and their assumed authority in a top-down, Modernist world. This is a given. Asking, therefore, a Postmodern creation to surrender — in any way — to the authority of a Modernist institution is intellectual homicide.

Wikipedia is just fine, and the more the “experts” squawk and complain, the greater the evidence that it is so. This is the Age of Participation, and self-correction will ultimately win out, because experience, not expertise, is the new authority. Only Modernists fear being shouted down, because they fear power and try to control it through logic and reason (and laws and rules). Pomos have no such fear, for they see the artificiality of Modernist power structures and rightly say, “Bullshit.”

Long live Wikipedia!

This is the same way I feel about the blogosphere, especially when MSM observers (and certain members) go on a rant about authority and the lack of editors. As if the world can’t function without our nice, ordered, top-down systems. Not! The last thing we need is to have this wonderful demonstration of freedom swallowed up by the failed authorities of Modernism.

Who speaks for the common man?

I’m struck today by what I view as my liberal friends returning to same-o, same-o just two months after the election. Whines about the environment. Whines about gay rights. Whines about race. Whines about the arts, abortion, business, Iraq and now Tsunami relief.

I watched a wonderful PBS documentary on Woodrow Wilson the other night on American Experience. Wilson had his faults, but he won as a Democrat on a “common man” platform. His domestic program, called the New Freedom, sought to extend opportunity to all and wrest power away from entrenched interests. He put in place anti-trust legislation, a Constitutional amendment to have Senators elected by public vote, workmen’s compensation, child labor laws, and the right of women to vote. He saw two Americas and did something about it.

So I’ve been asking myself lately, who speaks for the common man today? The big mistake of liberalism is that, by insisting that America is a mosaic of extremes instead of a melting pot, they’ve unknowingly denied the existence of a “common” man and, as such, their roots. That’s just fine with the Republicans. Here’s a bulletin: the common man is very much alive today, and he’s damned sick of hearing you whine about things that don’t concern him! He’s also searching for somebody who will listen.

Wilson’s party today sounds like a broken record of defeat, a hodge-podge of special interest hot-potatoes that don’t begin to touch the common man, and they’ll never beat the GOP unless they speak in a voice that the people recognize. That’s why I still believe the time is right for a third choice in American politics, one that will rail once again against big business and side with the common man — without all the baggage of those special interests.

One of the reasons I feel this way is that the Internet — and specifically the blogosphere — enables a new party. After all, what is the blogosphere but the common man speaking out? We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.

(Note to my liberal friends: the term “man” — as used above — does not denote gender.)

Bandwidth update

The blogosphere is really quite an amazing community. An organization to which I belong, The Media Bloggers Association, is arranging to host the tsunami videos for all of the bloggers who’ve posted them on their sites as a way to relieve the staggering bandwidth costs mentioned below. Great work, methinks.

The bandwidth bugaboo bites

Steve Safran of Lost Remote has issued an appeal to the blogosphere to provide financial assistance to blogs that are hosting Tsunami videos for all to see. The appeal is for funds to offset significant bandwidth spikes caused by streaming the numerous amateur videos of the disaster. One example is Bill over at PunditGuy, a blog that’s been overwhelmed by users wanting to see the videos:

HELP!!! – I’ve been hit very hard on bandwidth usage fees due to the popularity of the Tsunami videos I was hosting. My only goal was to show them so people could get a sense for the enormity of the disaster and desire to give to a charity of their choice. Now, I need help. The bill is more than I can afford. If you feel so inclined, would you please consider sending me a donation? If you donate, I’ll give 50% of whatever you send me to the Red Cross in care of the victims in Southeast Asia. Simply hit the PayPal button below. Thank you!!!
The cost of bandwidth is a turd in the punchbowl of the happy Internet streaming party. I’ll be writing much more about this in the days ahead.

The Internet cuts into socializing, or not

Here is a case of researchers adding two plus two to come up with five.

According to the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, a research group that has been exploring the social consequences of the Internet, the time you spend online is coming at the expense of TV (who knew?) and social interaction. Here’s the way the New York Times tells it:

A 2000 study by the researchers that reported increasing physical isolation among Internet users created a controversy and drew angry complaints from some users who insisted that time they spent online did not detract from their social relationships.

However, the researchers said they had now gathered further evidence showing that in addition to its impact on television viewing, Internet use has lowered the amount of time people spend socializing with friends and even sleeping.

According to the study, an hour of time spent using the Internet reduces face-to-face contact with friends, co-workers and family by 23.5 minutes, lowers the amount of time spent watching television by 10 minutes and shortens sleep by 8.5 minutes.

I remember the original study by these folks, because I was running a company devoted to understanding personalities. We ran a popular community site, where people learned to interact based on personality.

If you define socializing only as physical contact, then these researchers are right (and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out). However, the Internet is redefining socializing. Frankly, I think I’m more socially active these days than I’ve ever been, and I wouldn’t trade my online relationships for anything. There is something inherently freeing about meeting someone at their core instead of their surface.

Here come the video blogs!

I’ve been a voice crying in the wilderness about how vulnerable local TV stations are to losing the only real information niche they have in their communities: video. Well, video blogging may be the straw that breaks the news camel’s back, and here’s an excellent article by Heather Green in Business Week that helps make the point. Like text blogs, video blogs (vlogs) are meaningless without a distribution method. Well, guess what? Our old friend, RSS, is coming to the rescue.

Yahoo, which unveiled a video search service earlier this month, is working with Ourmedia, Creative Commons, and commercial sites such as indie-film service AtomFilms to develop a video version of Really Simple Syndication, or RSS.

Using RSS, Web surfers would choose the types of videos they want to see and have them sent automatically to their computers. The technology also allows independent video makers to submit their films to Yahoo’s search engine automatically. Separately, startup Kontiki, which has helped the likes of CNET (CNET ) set up online video services, is also creating a free service that plans to aggregate online videos together using RSS.

Ms. Green adds that all of this will generate a cult-like following for the many quirky vlogs, and that will likely spawn new business models.

The biggest impact could be the creation of on-demand services, a sort of alternative TiVo (TIVO ) online. If video RSS takes off, it would present just one more diversion from the established media. And like text blogs, it would be a diversion that evolves outside of the control of big media.
This is something local stations should get into immediately and work with software developers to create their own RSS delivery system. Time is a serious enemy.