Tagged: wikipedia

Thirty two (ii)

Of course, any corpus compiled by many thousands of volunteer authors, mostly unknown to each other, is going to be flawed. But perhaps the most surprising thing isn’t the number of holes you might want to pick in it, but the fact that it exists at all and serves as one of the most useful resources to begin one’s research into an incredibly diverse range of topics. One of the most interesting descriptions of Wikipedia I’ve heard invoked on several occasions is this – it isn’t perfect but it is totally awesome.

So how did Wikipedia resist the polarization that ravages many a chat room and public forum rendering them of no value to anyone but the so-called ‘trolls’ who appear to relish the downward spiral?

Dom and I reckon it’s a combination of a number of qualities of the Wikipedian community and a set of founding principles they collectively hold dear.

Even I’ve edited a few entries on Wikipedia if only because I was intrigued by the fact that I could. For example, I found myself stumbling over some grammar and a typo on the entry for asparagus (yes, I went there to read more about what Gurdev had been saying at Vincenzo’s), and one minute later I’d corrected the typo and improved readability. Strangely satisfying.

It helps of course that the Wikipedians exercise that apparent human need to be critical of others, but do so constructively by weeding out bias and conflicts of interest and weak copy in their pursuit of a common purpose – namely, the creation, development and maintenance of the world’s best encyclopedia.

So Dom and I ended up concluding that the potential for the successful, the useful and valuable application of social media and related technologies is considerably enhanced when the associated community shares common purpose and values. We didn’t have any evidence, just our ad hoc observations of the world.

Thirty two (i)

Dom loves tart tatin, but I hadn’t had time to make one this time. I excused myself upon reaching for the box from the local bakery. Ever plain speaking, Dom said he thought they made a better tart tatin than me anyway.

There was a time I would have decided not to make another one again, but now I just had an urge to work in the bakery for a day.

Our conversation had wended from my reminiscing about my History degree, to university life and back to knowledge in general, and I recall Dom and I both picking up on one tangent and saying at the same time: “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

It’s probably the most famous quotation by Georg Hegel, a German thinker and philosopher at his most productive during the early part of the 19th Century. I’m a bit of a fan, and we chewed the cud about what he’d make of the social web.

Hegel didn’t rate public opinion. He didn’t think it could appreciate the shades of grey in serious matters, but has a tendency instead to polarize argument – perhaps in order to tug harder on those of opposing opinion, and then indeed to resist such tugs from the other side robustly.

And perhaps his conclusion holds fast today. Things seem to be binary. Witness the facilities throughout social media to ‘like’ or not, to +1 or not, to thumbs up or not, to bookmark or not. When we’re asked to rate something out of five, we’re tempted to go for one or five. Even the automated services out there that attempt to analyze the sentiment of social media contributions only hope to categorize them as positive or negative else leave it as neutral.

Hegel didn’t think public opinion could morph its considerable energy and combine its varied perspectives and experiences into a body of knowledge. In fact he believed that great things actually come from ignoring public opinion, from rising above it – and that the test of greatness is then partly determined by the public coming around to it and embracing it as its own.

But obviously Hegel could not foresee the advent of social media and related technologies. While social media does have binary manifestations, there are more and more examples of such technologies assisting groups of people in coming together to do really useful stuff.

What do you think of Wikipedia? It’s become the sixth most popular website in the world at the time of writing, so it must be seen by many to be pretty useful. And Dom is a regular Wikipedia editor as you know.


So, what was the disagreeable stuff I got from the Goorooz?

I won’t list it all, but here are two examples that typify an all too cavalier attitude.

The main Wikipedia entry for Attenzi isn’t the longest, or the shortest. It covers the firm’s history, change of ownership and key products. Amazingly, my appointment was recognized in the entry within a week of my taking up the job. I say amazingly, because Attenzi is hardly a big bank or retailer. Who are these Wikipedia editors?

It also documents a product recall in 2006 in factual terms. But because the facts are unflattering, this part of the entry is unflattering. Nevertheless, the Goorooz assured us this could be fixed. On my asking if they had both a time machine and the quality control abilities to rewrite history, they assured me that there was no need to have this part of our history documented at all. They just laughed gently when I pointed out that Wikipedia’s requirement that editors have a neutral point of view is actually one of its founding principles.

(Dom is a so-called Wikipedian with several hundred edits to his name, and he has conveyed his frustration on several occasions with edits by those without a neutral point of view, with a conflict of interest.)

And later the Goorooz walked us through a dozen or so slides describing ways we could find out as much as possible about customers and those who visit our website. Some of it was quite legitimate, like tracking the clicks each link in our newsletters accrues. We already did that. But some sounded like it bordered on the illegitimate, or at least the unethical, including ways to access our website visitors’ browsing history and ways to circumnavigate the way browsers treat cookies – the little bits of code we can quite legitimately leave behind to ascertain when the same person returns to our website for example. But in this instance, it was a way to reinstate the cookie as soon as the visitor decided they didn’t want our cookie on their computer any longer.

“Shouldn’t we ask their permission to do these sorts of thing?” I asked.

“It’s just the age we live in. It’s the consequence your customers pay for being digital. Everyone’s doing it.” Came the plainly uncomfortable response.

But how can we claim to be customer-centric while showing the customer such disrespect? I say this stuff is plainly uncomfortable, but apparently not for everyone.