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(As you may know, I write the “In the news” sec­tion for the Wiki­pe­dia Sign­post. From this week onwards, I’ll be post­ing up the ITN sec­tion on my blog as well as hav­ing it pub­lished in the Sign­post.)

Pro­fess­or says Wiki­pe­dia crowds out expert know­ledge

Wiki­pe­dia breeds ‘unwit­ting trust’ says IT pro­fess­or — Deakin Uni­ver­sity asso­ci­ate pro­fess­or Shar­man Licht­en­stein believes that the increas­ing use of Wiki­pe­dia cre­ates blind trust in inform­a­tion, to the det­ri­ment of valu­able know­ledge and expert opin­ion. She says that Aus­trali­ans already dis­respect intel­lec­tu­als and aca­dem­ics, but she asks us to con­sider wheth­er we would use a trained brain sur­geon or a stu­dent who has just read Wiki­pe­dia for brain sur­gery. She notes that Wiki­pe­dia prides itself on being built by groups of lay cit­izens, and experts are unlikely to con­trib­ute any­way because they would expect to be paid. Cred­ib­il­ity of Wiki­pe­dia art­icles is ques­tioned because of the form­a­tion of “elite” edit­ors and admin­is­trat­ors, a trend that has caused grow­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Wikipedia’s edit­or­i­al pro­cess, lead­ing oth­ers to cre­ate com­pet­it­ors to Wiki­pe­dia.

Oth­er men­tions

Oth­er recent men­tions in the online media include:

  • Wikipedia’s Zealots — An edit­or who receives per­son­al com­mu­nic­a­tion about a scientist’s views on glob­al warm­ing edits Wiki­pe­dia to include these com­mu­nic­a­tions but is rever­ted by oth­er edit­ors.
  • Sci­entif­ic cita­tions in Wiki­pe­dia — The pat­tern of cita­tions on Wiki­pe­dia is com­pared with the Journ­al Cita­tion Reports, which counts journ­al cita­tions; Wiki­pe­dia is increas­ingly using struc­tured cita­tion markup.

[As pub­lished in the Wiki­pe­dia Sign­post]

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The SUITS sem­in­ar series aims to provide a cas­u­al lunch­time chat about inter­est­ing top­ics and cut­ting-edge research, and I had the priv­ilege of tak­ing the first one… and I took the chance to talk about Wiki­pe­dia, everyone’s favour­ite wiki. The audi­ence is inten­ded to be under­gradu­ate level, but there weren’t any under­gradu­ates there…

I gave a brief insider’s look at Wiki­pe­dia, show­ing off some of the admin­is­trat­or tools that ordin­ary users can­not see. I went over some of the parts of the web­site (com­munity portals, the Sign­post, policy pages, spe­cial pages) that are import­ant tools for reg­u­lar con­trib­ut­ors, espe­cially in keep­ing track of van­dal­ism. I also men­tioned the efforts under way to form the loc­al chapter of the Wiki­me­dia Found­a­tion.

Because if I talk for too long, people might die from bore­dom (!!) so I brought along some light enter­tain­ment. I played a bit of Eben Moglen’s lec­ture on GPLv3 — the part about the arith­met­ic shop. I was going to play video from Wiki­mania 2007, but the lazy bug­gers haven’t put up any­thing yet, so I had to be con­tent with 2006 stuff — but it turned out to be a good choice. Lawrence Lessig is a fant­ast­ic speak­er — he speaks with con­vic­tion and there’s no one who can match his slides. Finally, I played a bit of audio from the Wiki­pe­dia Weekly, broad­cast­ing from Taiwan dur­ing the con­fer­ence.

Some of the ques­tions I hadn’t really pre­pared for — e.g. a ques­tion on pat­ents. I should know more than what I man­aged to mumble out… and no, I still haven’t learnt that present­ing without much sleep isn’t good.

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The fun stuff you get to read as a Wiki­pe­dia admin…


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The fruition of some week­end hack­ing in C#:

WP:FRIEND — A Wiki­pe­dia Administrator’s Best Friend

WP:FRIEND is my answer to the deluge of house­keep­ing duties facing Wiki­pe­dia admin­is­trat­ors. Faced with weeks-old back­logs of dele­tions, a tool that makes chores easi­er and faster is what we need. There are exist­ing edit­ing tools, such as AutoWikiBrowser, but they are not par­tic­u­larly suited for admin­is­trat­or clean-up jobs. I’ve just imple­men­ted the dele­tion of images tagged {{Now Com­mons}} so far — and there are plenty of bugs to be fixed and func­tion­al­ity to be imple­men­ted before I’ll release it pub­licly — although that’s the even­tu­al goal. Here’s the oblig­at­ory plug to Dot­NetWikiBot for sav­ing me hours of pained debug­ging (the inter­ac­tion between the browser and Medi­aWiki is actu­ally quite com­plic­ated, and there is thank­fully an effort to provide a clean API, but it’s not quite done). Les­son of the day: don’t rein­vent the wheel.


Com­pu­ta­tion­al geo­metry code

Com­pu­ta­tion­al geo­metry looks all nice and dandy on paper — and as usu­al the dev­il is in the detail. It has to be the area of com­puter sci­ence where corner/​special cases require the most care­ful hand­ling. And there we have it! After hours of argh, I have code that tri­an­gu­lates! One inter­est­ing thing to com­ment on is that, whilst cod­ing, I stubbed out some parts that I’ll even­tu­ally write with .NET lib­rary calls (the idea being that I can get to the goal faster) but that turned out to be one of the causes of my head­ache: e.g. GraphicsPath.IsVisible() has unex­pec­ted beha­viour. Les­son of the day: write your own code because you know pre­cisely what it does1.

1 or what it’s meant to do at least.


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