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My mobile’s battery is flat, so to call my mum to pick me up from the station, I’ve turned on my work laptop, connected to Telstra NextG, connected to VPN using my secure token, logged into Cisco IP Communicator (which emulates the IP phones we have on our desks at work) and then made a call using that. That’s pretty cool (but not quite as cool as this).

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Wikipedia: built on cooperation and collaboration

Wikipedia depends on collaboration for success (18 September 2008, Daily Trojan)

Professor Robert E. Kraut of Carnegie Mellon University discussed the factors that are involved in the success of online communities, and his own research into the coordination techniques of Wikipedia. Success in an online community can be defined in a number of ways, he said, but to succeed, online communities need to overcome challenges such as a lack of response to posts, recruiting members and welcoming newcomers. Focusing on Wikipedia, Kraut said that Wikipedia articles require “an awful lot of substantial coordination”, for example, in planning the article or dealing with disputes. There is explicit coordination (such as through planning and discussing) and implicit coordination (such as through structuring), he said, and the coordination work lies beneath the surface of the article.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in the online media include:

  • Defining the Bush Doctrine: Not as Simple as it Sounds (15 September 2008, The Wall Street Journal blogs)
    Sarah Palin’s gaffe focuses attention on the Bush Doctrine article.
  • Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales on wiki success and failure (11 September 2008, ZDNet blogs)
    Listen to a podcast where Jimmy Wales discusses the factors that lead to success or failure for a wiki, such as critical mass.
  • Wikipedia Sleuths Win Journalism Award for Wired.com (10 September 2008, Wired.com blogs)
    A Wired.com blog won an award for combining a voting widget with the WikiScanner application to let readers highlight self-interested edits to Wikipedia.
  • Vernon Kay shocked at death by Wikipedia (15 September 2008, TechRadar UK)
    Television host Vernon Kay has had his Wikipedia biography vandalised to say that he had died in a yachting accident, when he is perfectly well and alive.
  • Knol, the Wikipedia Maybe-Fork? (19 September 2008, Slashdot)
    The author of this article suggests that Google Knol accept CC-BY-SA contributions, so that once the GFDL is compatible with CC-BY-SA, copying to Knol will be completely above board; this will facilitate the creation of, effectively, flagged revisions of Wikipedia articles, supported by people’s reputations.
  • How Wikipedia Works (19 September 2008, Kansas City infoZine)
    This is a book review of the book How Wikipedia Works, written by a number of prominent Wikipedians.

From the Wikipedia Signpost.

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The Planet 3 services can be accessed on your 3 phone by pressing the button on the home screen, which launches the phone’s default browser.

But what if you want to use Planet 3 using Opera Mini?

The short answer is, you can’t. The author of this post thinks that it’s due to the server restricting access to the built-in browsers, but I don’t think this is the correct reason.

Opera Mini, according to Wikipedia, uses a proxy server hosted by Opera that renders the page in a special compressed format. Now, it should be axiomatic that Planet 3 is not accessible outside the 3 network, and the proxy servers are definitely located outside the network. Q.E.D.

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Wikis knocking on the iron gates of Oxford

Andrew Keen on New Media – Recently, Internet commentator Andrew Keen was at Oxford University together with Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger to debate whether “the internet is the future of knowledge”. Keen notes that it was ironic for the discussion – including discussion of whether the internet was democratising the creation and distribution of knowledge – to have occurred at Oxford, a representative of the “ivory tower business model for knowledge”. He notes that establishment of Oxford University by a wealthy landowner contrasts with the origins of Wikipedia, and sites like Wikipedia and Citizendium are driving the adoption of wikis, podcasts and blogs, even by traditional knowledge companies. Keen found the response of Oxford faculty and students to the democratic potential of the internet enthusiastic and “anything but snooty”.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in online media include:

From the Wikipedia Signpost.

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High-school students study course on Wikipedia

HSC students to get Wikipedia course – As of next year, the English curriculum for students sitting for the Higher School Certificate, which is taken in New South Wales, Australia, will incorporate an elective called “Global Village”, which will include the option of studying Wikipedia. Explaining the choice of Wikipedia, the English inspector at the Board of Studies, which oversees the HSC, said that Wikipedia reflects “notions of the global village”, and that the course will allow students to examine communications on a global scale. There has been a positive response from education.au, a not-for-profit educational organisation that brought Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to Australia on a speaking engagement last year. The CEO of education.au, Greg Black, said that young people need to learn how to understand and contextualise the information they gather on the Internet and to determine “whether there’s an alternative view”.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in the online press include:

  • Clinton’s entry in Wikipedia has a watchdog – One of the editors watching over Hillary Clinton’s Wikipedia biography has been brought unexpected celebrity and is profiled by this article.
  • The Wiki business plan – Sue Gardner and Kul Wadhwa talk about growth plans for Wikimedia, the business side of the foundation, and future opportunities.
  • REPN TRI to the FULLEST!!! – “[A]s a model of discourse, it’s a killjoy”; this author believes that the style of the prose on Wikipedia is apt to lead students to believe that intellectual discourse is “leaden” and “spiritless”.


As published in the Wikipedia Signpost

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You may know that I write for the Wikipedia Signpost, and recently, I wrote an article for it on the comparison between Wikipedia and Google Knol. In the end, the article I wrote was substantially overhauled by the editor because it was an opinion piece biased towards one view – intentionally. Although opinion sometimes does make it into the Signpost, the editor felt that was not the time nor place for it, and so he rewrote most of it in a more objective style. So it’s old news, but instead of wasting (somewhat) good prose, here it is:

Google usually makes a noisy entry wherever it dares to tread, and this week’s announcement of Knol, a site that will host user-generated articles was no different. Wikipedians, however, should have nothing to fear.

Knol, which is currently only accessible to a select few who have been invited, will be a site that hosts user-generated content on a wide range of subjects. The term knol was coined by Google to mean a unit of knowledge, and refers to the entire project as well as individual articles. While the jury is still out on whether Knol will be successful, or whether it will even make it to a public launch, the obvious comparison that has sparked the Internet alight is with Wikipedia.

There are some immediately apparent differences between Knol and Wikipedia. The most important one is that Knol is not a wiki. Content pages will be owned by a single author and that sole author has the responsibility of maintaining its content; users can participate by suggesting edits, or by rating or commenting on the article, but that’s about it. There is no Wikipedia-style collaboration model; in fact, it is difficult to see how there can be much of a strong community. The single author approach admittedly has its attractions, though; an author’s reputation lives and dies by his or her words, and this builds trust into the equation. However, as many have noted, this denies Knol one of the more valuable aspects of Wikipedia articles, that controversial articles are likely to have been edited by a variety of users who have had to compromise to produce a relatively neutral and balanced piece of work. The competition between different Knol pages will not necessarily result in greater utility for the end user.

This competition is what will define Knol, and this further differentiates it from Wikipedia. Writers of Knol content will have the ability to insert Google advertising into their pages and earn a cut of the resulting revenue. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is advertising-free, and the competition on this site, if you can call it that, is one more akin to a friendly meritocracy than the harsh world of chasing advertising dollars. Knol, from its very foundations, does not seem conducive to a community spirit, something that may keep editors on Wikipedia.

But maybe Google doesn’t need a sense of community. Cynically, all it needs is for people to link to Knol articles, have the pages appear close to the top of its widely-used search results and then have its advertising cash registers chinking; by comparison, sending people to Wikipedia does Google no direct financial favours. Wikipedia could lose out by having less incoming traffic, and therefore less exposure to new, potential editors.

Knol is an interesting idea that will surely stimulate debate about how the face of user-generated content should proceed. It currently appears as neither friend nor foe, but as another choice for users that will probably satisfy its own niche.

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I’m surprised I didn’t know about this till recently, but Google Blog Search is something that no blogger should ignore. (Here are some other, albeit somewhat old, first impressions.) Apparently, Google believes in blogs — “Google is a strong believer in the self-publishing phenomenon represented by blogging…” — and extends their search prowess to the world of blogs. It looks and feels just like the standard Google search, but one must ask the question: why bother searching blogs? After all, aren’t blogs (like this one), just filled with the immature rants of wannabe writers who just wouldn’t cut it in the real world of journalism?

No, I don’t believe it’s true in general. Sure, the quality of blogs does vary quite a bit — but they all serve some kind of a purpose. Whether it’s a professional blogger contributing in his or her field of expertise, or a university student writing about life, the universe and crap like that, it’s all because they have something to say. The ability to link between blogs and comment on blogs creates a kind of dynamic that encourages people to think — instead of merely being passive consumers. That is a great thing to see. I suppose Andrew Keen wouldn’t agree, but just because he’s published in dead tree form doesn’t amount to much: see the Wikipedia Signpost review. By being able to search exclusively in blogs, you too can participate in this part of the Internet — participate in free speech. You can find out things that traditional media will not cover — how-to’s in obscure topics, political rants that match your persuasion. The results you get are pretty good — see this description of how it all works. Yes, Google’s thorough.

For bloggers, it is important that you are indexed by search engines, even if you are a small time blogger like me. What’s the point of writing publicly if you don’t actually intend on anyone reading it? I had known of Technorati before this, but Technorati has many irritations that other bloggers have covered and I won’t cover here; anyway, Google’s overtaken it. To ping Google Blog Search, just add http://blogsearch.google.com/ping/RPC2 to your list of servers to ping.

In other news, Google Maps features content for the 2007 federal election. Click on the “My Maps” tab and it’s under the “Featured content” part. Overlay the party colours onto the map of Australia, and you’d be surprised about the land area that the Liberals/Nationals represent!

On a final note, Google Blog Search and these special maps rather emblematic of the problem that Google has so many fantastic services written by so many fantastic engineers that just aren’t seeing much of the light of day because… there are just so many of them.

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As I trawl the depths of the Interweb, I’ve been jotting down ideas for what to blog on my digital post-it notes in the Vista Sidebar. (Notionally, it’s because I only want to inundate my blog but maybe I’m procrastinating on doing my procrastinating activities – not a good sign). Sadly, I somehow mistook the delete button for the add button, and I deleted everything but here’s a few I remembered.

Sad kitty: my cats would hate this – this surely counts as animal cruelty! Only in Japan…

sadkitty6

Are the days of the SMS numbered? As the only person using mobile Internet regularly that I know of, I’ll just say something quickly. No, I don’t think email (in its current form) can supplant SMS. Putting aside the reputation of email as being for more “serious stuff”, email is fundamentally a pull medium, not a push medium that SMS is. The usually widely different uses of the two mediums doesn’t really make a strong argument for the convergence of the two – one’s for short quick messages that you’d prefer to be received instantly, while the other’s for longer messages that can be digested at the recipient’s leisure. I guess you could do something like what Google has done by meshing email and chat together in Gmail, the logic being that both are about conversations, and they’re just different manifestations of the same thing… but I just don’t see SMS and email together as offering any additional benefits to what we have currently. In terms of cost, yes, one SMS nominally costs a lot more than one email, but my cap plan at least allows me to treat SMS as an all you can eat thing – I can’t possibly use it all up unless I text day in day out.

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An excellent review on the Wikipedia Signpost of Andrew Keen’s book, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture: here

A less harsh review here

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I noticed, and a couple of other people also noticed, that someone from Symantec posted a comment on a previous post, where I flamed Norton AntiVirus 2007. I’ll write a little more rationally this time. Before I continue, I’d like to say that it’s nice to see that they care so much about their public image customers. However, part of me thinks that their PR slush fund might be better spent on hiring more quality-assurance personnel.

Put simply, anti-virus software is only necessitated by the hoards of people who basically just click anything that moves. I’ve watched, transfixed, many times, as non-technical users use the Internet and check their mail. I just don’t understand.

Until recently, I too have considered anti-virus software to be the necessary yearly “Windows tax” that you’ve just got to pay… until it basically struck me that in the last couple of years, we’ve had no instances of virus infected files at all. In fact, because of our vigilance, we’ve also had no instances of spyware or adware at all in the last couple of years (as detected by Ad-Aware and Spybot). Our ROI on security software is… zero.

That’s why I didn’t take up their offer of free technical support. Even if I had a desire to work out what was going wrong, it would’ve taken too much trouble to switch uninstall AVG Free Edition (which is really good – low resource usage, and did I mention that it was free?) and reinstall NAV, and my subscription runs out about now (I was not intending to renew), so there would’ve been absolutely no point in fixing it anyway.

So, farewell Symantec. For those of you who are wondering what I use: AVG, Ad-Aware and Spybot on all machines; Sunbelt Kerio Personal Firewall on XP, the built-in firewall on Vista. (The firewall isn’t strictly necessary, because I have a router that blocks most incoming connections anyway.) I highly recommend all, and they’re all free.

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