A place where stories, thoughts and ideas come together

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I'm still obsessed with Wikimania and I'm still struggling to refine my notes and to post them. While I was in Frankfurt, my ISP did some changes in their settings which made posting anything from home impossible - I keep getting the "Document contains no data" error message.

For BlogDay, I'd like to introduce five bloggers connected to Wikimania. I met 4 of them in Frankfurt for the first time, and the 5th - a young lady living not far away from here- wanted to attend, but in the end couldn't (she was co-author of one the papers presented there).

Cathy Ma - a young and bright Chinese lady from Hong-Kong, was my room mate in Frankfurt.
She's doing research on Wikipedia and her blog is named Reliving the Moments.

SJ aka Samuel Klein is one of the enthusiastic wikipedians and one of the organisers of Wikimania. After exchanging e-mails few months ago when I found out about the event, I finally had the chance to meet him in person. His blog is called SJ's Longest Now and it's an interesting reflection of his restless multifaceted personality. He's living in the US.

Janne Jalkanen lives in Finland and is an Open Source Software developer, creator of the JSPWiki. His weblog-wannabe wiki is named The Butt Ugly Weblog.

Daniel Molkentin is German and he's a KDE Developer. His blog is named simply Daniel Molkentin's weblog.

Ina O'Murchu is Irish and she's studying Online Social Networks using a Semantic Web approach. She's writing a blog called Semantic Bits, but recently she started a second one, Evolving Communities.

Go read them and enjoy!

Technorati Tag: BlogDay2005
|| Gabriela 12:11:00 PM
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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Wikimania echos

I keep on working of my notes from Wikimania, even if time became a scarcer resource than ever before. Why am I doing it? Because I feel like I owe this - to myself, to my readers, to wikipedians... It was a great event, and I have the feeling there's still a lot of stuff to reflect upon.
Other people who have blogged or podcasted on it :

More at:
Technorati tags
Commons on MediaWiki
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Monday, August 08, 2005

Still in Frankfurt

WikiMania is over, but I'm still in Frankfurt. It was a great event, but with all my good intentions to blog live and with all the excellent wireless provided by the organisers, I couldn't make it. A lot of drafts , nothing finished. I couldn't resist, the company was too good to be missed even for half an hour.

Keep an eye on me, because I'll try to publish all my notes in the next few days. I met a lot of interesting people, I had a lot of interesting discussions, now I'll try to have a short tour of Frankfurt (after visiting the Deutsche Bibliothek this morning with a large group of wikipedians), and then I'll get to work. Few of us are still in Frankfurt, including Jimbo Wales.

Having wireless in the whole building (conference rooms, dormitories, courtyard) was fantastic. We were talking and checking websites, sending each other links, checking the web sites mentioned by the speakers or doing some background research using Wikipedia itself.

The only events I could think of as being comparable as interactiveness and productivity to this one were the two BlogTalks in Vienna, 2003 and 2004 .

Great event, I feel I'll have lots of idea to ruminate in the following weeks!

Thank you all, wikipedians, for making WikiMania possible!

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Friday, August 05, 2005

NPOV panel

My next pick was the panel on NPOV(Neutral Point of View). One night before, I heard a lot of talk about NPOV, and I was willing to find out why is this topic considered so important. Having a look at the list of controversial issues made me even more curious. The Wikipedia page on NPOV dispute is a good place to start reading about the issue.

I must confess that my experience as Wikipedia editor is still very modest, and I was never involved in editing a disputed article. I see myself more as a frequent Wikipedia user and promoter than as an editor - even if on several occasions I promised myself to put aside more time for contributing both to the Romanian and to the English Wikipedia.

There were 3 papers in this panel:
The first one, NPOV and meme evolution was an attempt to demonstrate how knowledge is distributed in wikipedia projects by proposing some so-called "real measurements".

His hypothesis was that NPOV and other feedbacks can be measured. He referred to the:
- government controlled media model,
- corporate media model, and to a 3rd one,
- the wikisphere selection model,
that is more neutral than the other two.

He considered an article as getting a positive feedback every time new things were added, and a
negative feedback - every time the information was corrected.
NPOV was considered as positive feedback, because it stops politically incorrect information from being suppressed, mentioning a separate point of view. The author envisaged to measure a positive feedback loop by counting how many words were added to a meme or an article.
He showed that his project is still vague and under construction and invited everyone who could be interested to join in.

The comments from the audience:
- this is an abstract way of considering NPOV;
- the important issues are bias, censorship, putting into place a mechanism to avoid some kind of opression, advertising, pressure groups - this issue is no longer a technocratic thing; it looks like the author proposes a technocratic solution to a practical problem;
- Do NPOVs serve any purpose? The majority of NPOVs are not dramatic - see the list.

The second paper, that of Revo Arko Soekatno, focused on The Indonesian language Wikipedia.
A very interesting case study:

  • The growth was very rapid following to a press interview: half of the articles (about 5000) were produced in the last 5 months, as a result of an improved awareness in the academic environment.
  • The editors are mainly students, researchers, professors, ICT people;
  • Among the active users (in the context of Wikipedia, a user is a person who has a registered id and is, more or less, involved in editing the WP- a wikipedian), there are 10% non Indonesian nationals, and 60% of them are very active;
  • 24% from the users who are Indonesians live abroad;
  • the sources of articles are, beside the printed Encyclopediae, the English, the Dutch and the German Wikipedia - a very interesting phenomenon telling a lot about how knowledge gets diffused;
  • they had only one edit war due to an anonymous who tried to use a differite template in an article on Surakarta, the former capital of the Javanese kingdom;
  • they now look forward to write Wikipedias in Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese and several other regional languages.

Listening to the presentation, I was thinking of a strategy of promoting Wikipedia in Romania. Could a press campain help? As far as I know, we are several supporters living abroad. Editing the Romanian Wikipedia is the least we can do.
But many people back home doubt about the reliability of the content and avoid using it, and every time I tried to encourage people to become wikipedians, their answer was either they don't feel they have the competence to do it, or they prefer to contribute information to the site of someone they already know. I guess this must be a post-communist syndrome, we don't like to contribute to communities anymore, because too often their goods were confiscated and used by few ("what's mine is mine, and what's yours is ours").

I asked a dumb question - what about the number of people who use the Indonesian Wikipedia (page accesses)?- Revo couldn't answer on the spot, but I got a note from someone in the audience. I typed the URL in, and there I was! Oh, how I love conferences with wireless!

The third paper was really about NPOV. Tsila Hassine coming from Israel and currently studying in Rotterdam, spoke about the dynamics of NPOV disputes .

The current list of NPOV disputed articles can be an interesting point of departure. Some of them are dedicated to hot topics, but others are quite obscure.

Tsila said it could be considered a sort of recommendation system, comparable to that on Amazon -what's going on, what are the hottest topics of the day?

I browsed the list myself , and I was a bit surprised to discover an article on Adrian Paunescu, a Romanian poet turned into politician (a controversial character, but the dispute is about including or not in the article a phrase about his wife who provoqued a car accident!). The article on Slavery in Sudan was, of course, disputed. But the article on egoism is also being disputed, as well as the one on Intel Ireland (see the discussion pages for more details).

Tsila mentioned in her presentation some other articles that were NPOVed, likeYoga,Yasser Arafat, Cauliflower, Aluminum or Al Quaeda.

One of the interesting examples she came up with was the article on the Israeli naval commando Shayetet 13 .

The article was marked NPOV for a long time in the English Wikipedia. See the discussion page to figure out what happened. It looked like users from different backgrounds and nationalities were having a genuine dispute - while in reality they were all accessing the internet from a military school in Alabama ;-)

The same article in the Hebrew Wikipedia is of patriotic nature and involved no discussions.
Tsila also mentioned that most of Hebrew users contribute to the English Wikipedia.

The comments after the presentation referred to the way the editors try to contain and mediate the conflicts, and to the credibility of the contributors - people who declare their identity and biases are more credible than the ones who don't. The case of China was again mentioned as a situation where editors prefer to stay anonymous.

I had the chance to introduce myself to Tsila and, after seeing my name tag, she surprised me with a few words in Romanian. This is a small world after all!

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Jimbo Wales' keynote speech

Jimmy Wales' keynote speech was the conference opening everyone was expecting. I admired the organisers' efforts to stick with the initial time scheduling: most keynotes started exactly on time.

Angela Beesley, volunteer user representative in the Wikimedia Foundation Board of trustees introduced Jimbo.

His speech referred to the free culture movement and to the place occupied by Wikipedia in this movement. He spoke about 10 things that should be free, but encouraged the audience to come up with additions to the list:

1. Free the Encyclopedia! - this is what we are doing, attempting to provide an encyclopedia "for every single person on the planet, in his/her own language"
He mentioned that the mission can be considered accomplished for the English and the German Wikipedia; the French and Japanese ones are on their way. (Check this page for a general view!)
The rest of them will probably be ready in about 10 years - it will be an important step forward for small languages who never had an encyclopedia of their own.

2. Free the dictionaries!
The Wiktionaries project is getting momentum - in certain languages - they already become useful and they become more visible- hopefully this way they will be attracting more contributions.

3. Free the Curriculum! We need free curricula from the kindergaarten up to the university;
this is a much bigger task than Wikipedia. It implies articles on all levels of education, i.e. there will be articles about the Moon for each level of education. This is going to take long long time.
The Wikibooks are but a first step. In present, textbooks for students become more and more expensive, and a handfull of professors get most of the contracts. Just think of 500 Economics professors - working collaboratively on a textbook!

4. Free the music! The most amazing musical works in history belong to the public domain,
but most of the recordings are proprietary. Definitely there are lots of students/volunteers orchestras out there that can play them and make them available for the grand public.
Unlike the other 3, this kind of project is not doable without gathering people in a studio to make the recordings. The problem is how to bring people together without incurring big expenses...

5. Free the Art! 400 years old paintings are held in museums that own the physical objects - but not their representations! (they sometimes pretend it!)
The owners of these works of art control the physical access and prevent people to take good quality photos. If you get the chance to take such a photo - upload it to the Wikimedia Commons!

6 Free the File Formats!
We agreed not to use MP3 files. Proprietary file formats prevent you from switching to another software. The HTML format is accesible to everyone - that's why we were able to switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox. We should educate people not to use proprietary formats.

7 Free the Maps! Maps are a very important kind of data - GIS software and GeoData should definitely be free! Recently, at a conference in India (guess it was this one - interesting proceedings!) - Stefan Magdalinski said : "What could be more public domain than basic information about location on the planet?". In this field, there's a lot of work being done, but what we need is a coordinated worldwide project.

8. Free the Product Identifiers ! At reboot in Copenhagen, Jimmy met Ulla-Maaria Mutanen, alias the Hobbyprincess, who spoke there about the long tail of fashion.
It seems there is a whole women subculture - of people doing crafts and trying to sell their products online. In order to be able to compete on the global market, these people need open standards (something like ISBN). Amazon is using ASIN, which is a proprietary standard. Ulla Maria proposed a LTIN (which stands for "long tail id number") that should be cheap or unexpensive to obtain- free as in 'free speech', not as in 'free beer'. An extensive database freely licensed and easily downloadable will enable multiple rating systems and e-commerce.

9. Free the TV Listings! The development of free software digital PVRs is going on
Free as in beer listings exist, but this is tenuous. Make them free as in speech - putting them on the website with a specific licence! We need freely licenced video recordings, otherwise everything is going to be proprietory!

10. Free the Communities! The only free one is currently Wikimedia - all the rest - depend on their hosting companies. Consumers' forums, wiki forums - should be licensed under a free licence, so that in case a major disagreement intervenes, the community can take its database and leave.
Jim spoke about an online community of Disney fans that gathered more than 20.000 members few years ago before the dot com crash; the company started loosing money and they closed it;
the result - people lost their friends, their links; several other communities started - but no one really took off.
Angela & Jimbo started Wikicities under a free licence; it is a for-profit company that expands Wikipedia's social model, allowing communities to build their own home pages on various topics. But the communities own their pages and can take them away anytime.

"You are not here to contribute to the 'make Jimmy rich' fund!"- said Jimbo.
At the end of his speech, Jim Wales promised to blog about these 10 things and asked for input .

Few of the ideas that came from the audience (there were quite a lot!):

  • No.11- We need a free search engine; Google is proprietary! (Jim says it should be no.4)
  • TV listings are not so important - video podcasting is on its way;
  • free the science - we need open access to research findings - publish scientific content under free licences - no 7;
  • free the media - people ignore public culture, popular movements
  • make the free content available - the project Gutenberg is a good example, but there are lots of archives around the world that are in principle free, but currently dispersed; for example, genealogical data it is buried in a lot of places; there are many communities and they would probably collaborate, but somebody will have to write the software for them;
  • Q: if you free the content , where you will get money from? A: we are talking about free as in speach; the Wikimania event was sponsored by - there are new business models emmerging; probably we are not ready to answer to this question;
  • Q: what should be the role of the governments in creating free content? A: I am not really a fan of the idea that the governments should pay for it; yes, citizens pay taxes and are entitled to have access to what was produced using their money; works in the US- a lot of pictures taken by NASA are public domain; in Europe this is less evident;
  • Q: What about free wireless? a candidate running for mayor in New York promised to make NYC a hot spot! A: JW's personal opinion- municipal wireless is not a good idea; we don't want to be controlled by the municipality provider; the municipality could give us more bandwidth;
  • free the images - it is very important that people ask institutions to free the content (free as in speech); JW- when we ask for help, this is what we should ask for: the images to be made available; universities do not licence their content under free licencies because people are not aware of the implications;
  • What about security? Public open content can offer information to terrorist networks!
  • Licensing - GNU and Apache or GPL? There are people who make money in Open Source software; if everything would be licensed under GPL, the profits would be about 1% of what they are now;
  • Business models: Jim can't imagine a business model where people were taking Wikipedia content and were selling it; offered money for advertising; the answer was we can't change the licence now;
  • Wikinews take information from the news agencies, who spend money for investigations, maintain foreign offices, employ people; what will happen if they disapper? where can we get the information from? Media companies who will adapt will survive and will use community involvement; the world is changing - how? we will see! Citizens have eyes and ears everywhere- there are leaks of information - will administrations become more transparent - or, on the contrary, there will be more secrecy? I don't know the answer!
  • Wikipedia articles in the medical field link to drug pages that contain links to websites of the pharmaceutical industry. Isn't this a conflict of interests?!
  • Medical information - physicians would like to share information, but there are problems with it. General information is OK, but information suggesting a specific course of action could harm.
See RossMayfield's post on the same topic.

And Jimbo himself blogged about these things on Lessig blog:
He promissed to continue on his own blog, but didn't seem to succeed yet.
Interesting to see how he still found the time to answer to some of the comments on the Lessig blog on that very day, in the middle of that madness!

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Wikipedia and the Semantic Web

I guess I missed some of the comments made on Cormac's presentation, because I ran out to try and catch what was left from the session dedicated to the Semantic Web.

I missed the first two papers:
John Breslin: An ontology for describing and exchanging articles²
Markus Krötzsch, et al.: Wikipedia and the Semantic Web

When I got to the big hall, Daniel Kinzler was already in the middle of his presentation about Mining the Wiki.
This time I switched on my laptop and tried to catch up with the content of the paper - what a great opportunity! to have the paper online, with all its links, and to be able to check the names and the context in real time .

The last speaker was Jakob Voss: Metadata with Personendaten and beyond.
The "Personendaten" concept was mentioned very often during the conference. It is a type of metadata introduced by the German Wikipedia for enriching biographical records with data fields that contain name, date, place of birth and other metadata. There are lots of interesting possible uses that become possible through the introduction of this concept - some of them mentioned in the paper.

Later on, trying to meet John Breslin after the panel, I confounded him with Denny Vrandečić, one of the co-authors of the Wikipedia and the Semantic Web- the Missing Link paper. This post on his blog summarizes the idea of their paper.

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Wikipedia as a learning community

This morning I had to make a difficult choice: what stream to attend?
There were running in parallel:

In the end, I made up my mind to go to Cormaggio's presentation - the chance to meet my kind of people was probably the biggest. Cormac is a well-known enthusiast of the English Wikipedia. Of Irish origin, he's currently doing postgrad studies in Manchester.
He spent a lot of time talking about the theoretical background of his research on Wikipedia (Communities of Practice, hierarchy and authority, learning communities) - too much in my opinion, because the audience was very heterogenous.

The most interesting part of the presentation was the case study - you can find it in his paper , but unfortunately he went very quickly through his examples, assuming that everyone had the chance to read them before. I decided not to switch on my laptop in order to focus my attention on the presentation, but I think I took a wrong decision - checking his links while he was talking would have been much more rewarding!

What I found extremely new and exciting is the fact that all the papers presented at the conference were published as Wikibooks - and anyone can jump in and add ideas and comments.

The temperature of the audience was high - the room was full and you could really feel how interested the public was. There were a few interventions from the public - very pertinent ones. I felt a sort of special energy - there were many people there who had lots to say on this topic - if only this panel would have turned into a workshop!

One of the issues brought to attention was how badly we need good facilitation, and how rare facilitators (or moderators) with natural skills are.

Old Death by Powerpoint threatened us again, I really hope that for the next edition of Wikimania, wikipedians will come up with new ways to make the sessions more participative.

I don't have a particular solution in mind, but I heard Jimbo Wales later on talking about having more plenary sessions, with both 20 min presentations and 3 min statements - and I found the idea interesting. While plenary session are great, because they provide the participants with a shared understanding of concepts and a higher awareness on who's who, separate smaller sessions on specific topics can give people the chance to discover others who share their interests and bring
their contribution.

I wish we'd find a special "wikipedian" way to run workshops, combining both geekie things like contributions made in real time on a wiki entry, a human touch given by the face-to-face interaction and the wikipedian spirit of sharing and contributing.

Probably the best part of attending the session was "making eye contact" (as Cormaggio referred to it later) with the presenter and with other people interested in the topic.

Ross Mayfield was there too and he blogged about it here.

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Intercultural experience

I arrived at the Haus der Jugend in Frankfurt in the afternoon, a bit worried about my accommodation. Everything went more than smoothly. One night before,on Skype, Ina suggested that I might take my sleeping bag with me, just in case;-) I'm very sorry Ina couldn't come, she was the co-author of an interesting paper on Wikipedia and the Semantic Web. Why was I worried? Well, I registered in time, but sending the money was a much more difficult enterprise than I expected (online banking in Ireland has a complete different meaning than in Luxembourg - it means you can look at your account online!). A message exchange in the week before with Sj and Austin from the coordinators team - even if very reassuring -made me worry a bit.

Nina was an angel, and I got a place in a 4 beds room. I guess it was the best place she could find for me- not only the room was better than I expected, but the company was also great. I had a wonderful time with my room mates, a Chinese from Hong-Kong, a Jew from New-York, and a Fleming studying in Brussels.
Limor Garcia, Gabriela Avram and Cathy Ma
Here's a happy trio!(unfortunately Finne is missing!)

We spent the first evening together, having a drink at a bar at Hauptwache , together with few others. We took the U-Bahn to get to the Hauptwache, and we succeeded to make a nice German lady completely forget that the train we were on only travels back and forth between 3 stations, so we spent about 30 min together sitting and debating.

Frankfurt subway

I found out a lot about all kind of Wikipedia tools, statistics and discussion lists. I realised how much work was already made and how involved some of the people around me were - I was nothing but a frequent user and an occasional contributor looking at the Wikipedia phenomenon not exactly from outside, but from the periphery of the Wikipedia's cercle of enthusiasts.

For anyone like me who would like to find out more and maybe to get more involved in this unprecedented project, here's a good point to start: the Meta I heard mentioned about 1000 times during the conference!

Another sensitive topic we covered were the gender matters: why are so few women at the conference? are they contributing less to Wikipedia? what happens to the thousands of girls who start studying computer science and never graduate?
It was a topic we often discussed with my German colleagues, but never reached a conclusion.

Back in the hostel, I am able to check some of the links we were talking about and to re-connect to my usual friends via IM after midnight. It is so great to enjoy full connectivity from the top of your bed in a Youth Hostel in Frankfurt - there's wireless everywhere!- the whole world seems so close!

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Live from WikiMania

I just arrived in Frankfurt at the Haus der Jugend for the Wikimania.

Somebody showed me Jimbo Wales few minutes ago, and from his page I found out he's an admirer of Ayn Rand. I was talking to my room mate few minutes ago about how her novels changed my whole perspective.

The atmosphere is terrific, wi fi is working everywhere ( despite some worries) - actually I'm on the top of my bed right now! - and I'm going to have a shower before joining the others for dinner.
I already met Tsahi Hayat on the bus, I'm looking forward to listening to his presentation on Saturday.

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