Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The three week rule

When several different people make queries and the same advice needs to be given, it's probably better (or at least less work) to blog the darn thing. So here's one of my little methods for defusing content disputes. Call it the three week rule.

This is one of the reasons why the cases I take to formal dispute resolution almost never relate to my own content disputes.

First, a little harmonious spirit.

Now here's the trick: if you've tried the bold/revert/discuss model and it isn't going anywhere useful, then consider this: walk away for a while. Give it about three weeks. Hang out somewhere else. Chill. Wikipedia has millions of other articles.

Sometimes the person you were locking horns with ain't so bad. In three weeks, if that person has a broader set of references and perspectives to bring to the page then that's plenty of time for them to shine. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Second option: your hunch is correct and that dude's a POV pusher. Let them own the article for three weeks. If that's what they really are then they'll slant the article even further so it's obvious to everyone. Once things reach that stage the problem is easier to correct.

Third option: the individual is a troll (or at least feeds off conflict). So stop acting like an immovable object, and watch the irresistible force wander elsewhere. There's a beauty to the Zen approach.

So give it three weeks. Let the article be wrong. When you return, post politely to the talk page. If nobody objects then go ahead and edit. If somebody does object then don't quarrel; open a content request for comment promptly. If you're really right then uninvolved editors will step forward and agree.

It's surprising how often this turns out well.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Honoring Iran

Here's an option if you want to contribute something positive with regard to Iran: help spread appreciation of Iranian history and culture.

At right is a featured picture that appears at the biography of Nezami Ganjavi, who was the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature. It illustrates his version of the Layla and Majnun love story.

The Library of Congress hosts hundreds of high resolution scans of calligraphy, and the largest portion of the collection originates from Iran. For selections, see here. They're all public domain, which means they're available for upload and placement at Wikipedia. With restoration, some of these could qualify for featured picture designation. A few of the images from the calligraphy collection are already in use, but many aren't.

By uploading images to Wikimedia Commons, you can make this material available to the various language editions of Wikipedia. With a surf through Google Books you can expand the articles they'll illustrate.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Strange moments at Wikipedia

Today's strangeness: finding an article about a magazine called The Bookseller that covers the publishing industry...and tagging it as unreferenced.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The associaton of friendly geezers

The association of friendly geezers is a group of Wikipedians over the age of 30 who oppose ageism. One of the joys of Wikipedia is that it allows talented people to demonstrate their true abilities. When young people perform valuable volunteer work for this website that's something to celebrate. Friendly geezers think it's wonderful when young people contribute quality content and perform useful support functions. We're glad to support individuals who demonstrate proficiencies suitable for administratorship or bureaucratship, regardless of age.

Maturity is a factor of inner growth; some people have it at fifteen and others lack it at fifty. Friendly geezers rate fellow editors by how much they help the site. We wish a place like Wikipedia had existed while we were younger, and we pledge to extend merit-based respect.

Participants welcome. Geezers (over thirty) sign up as full members. Future geezers (under thirty) sign up as associates. And if you don't think your age is anybody's business, your signature is welcome at 'Friendly independents'.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An open letter to Mathieu O'Neil


This is an odd situation. I have just discovered in a book review that I have been a case study in your recent book. It would have been nice if, at some point, you had made an attempt to contact me. I'm not hard to find.

Yours truly,
Lise Broer

As an aside, Ragesoss, the editor of the Wikipedia Signpost, went to print without contacting me either. A casual Signpost reader informed me about fifteen minutes ago.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The crud factor

Many thanks to Vassyana for opening a page within user space to brainstorm for solutions to Wikipedia's chronic conflicts. This post is related to his excellent drive.

One thing to be alert for within arbitration is the crud factor: disruptive editors fill the case pages with crud. The principle is simple: when the evidence is against you and you don't have a useful rebuttal, clutter the case and make it harder to read. Crud appears at Wikipedia arbitrations across many unrelated topics because crudism is an intuitive strategy. Crud is the noise in the signal-to-noise factor of Wikipedia arbitration. This post describes crudism and how to defend against it.

First, what exactly is the crud factor? A simple example of pure crudism occurred at the Gundagai arbitration of 2006. All of the participants except one substantiate their assertions with diffs, while a single individual makes a long series of aggressive claims backed by no evidence at all. See if you can spot the crudite at this page.

Most of the cases the Arbitration Committee gets in 2009 are more complex than that because the community has gotten more effective at dealing with simple crud at the community level. One well-known example of recent crudism was the John254/Kristen Eriksen sockpuppet team that played both sides of the fence at the Scientology arbitration workshop until the sockteam was identified and banned by the community through independent action.

Community action doesn't stop crud from occurring, though, because John/Kristen was a rare type of crudite. Most crudites are either directly involved in the dispute being arbitrated or else strategically aligned with one or more partisans. Most crudites pursue three goals:
  • Protection of one or more allied partisans against arbitration sanction.
  • Aggressive sanction against one or more opposing partisans.
  • Establishment of arbitration principles that can be leveraged to the crudites' advantage in future disputes.
These days, when a case reaches arbitration it often comes with multiple crudites acting in tandem and subtle forms of crud. Instead of long rants with no diffs they provide cherry picked or irrelevant diffs. Crud expands and migrates across case pages the longer the case remains in evidence phase.

The really damaging thing about subtle crud is that it resembles evidence; other editors may consider themselves compelled to rebut it. If they do, more crud follows. If they don't, exhausted arbitrators might suppose no defense was attempted. The result of this double bind is a negative feedback loop during which the case grows exponentially.

The Solution to Crud
Arbitrators can put an effective cap on crud by putting up proposed decisions sooner. Note the time frame of the Gundagai arbitration mentioned earlier:

Case Opened on 21:50, 18 October 2006 (UTC)

Case Closed on 18:02, 4 November 2006 (UTC)

In most arbitrations the useful evidence gets posted within about three weeks of opening the case. Occasions when useful evidence gets delayed are usually identifiable because someone has asked for more time due to health, work, or other tangible reasons. By contrast, crud accumulates at a steady trickle according to whenever the crudites have enough free time to generate more crud.

The key defense, from the arbitrators' standpoint, is not to rush the voting upon a proposed decision but to initiate the proposed decision sooner. Once a case moves to voting, crud naturally migrates to the proposed decision talk page--which slows the growth of crud at the evidence and workshop. It is more useful to distract hardened crudites off those pages and to leave the arbitrators somewhat at leisure to sort out the existing mess.

Fred Bauder was brilliant at that while he served on the Committee. Many of the old Bauder proposed decisions are superb demonstrations of crud management.

Remember, the most important response to crud is to identify it, separate it from useful input, and redirect the crudites' attention where they cause less damage until the case closes. For the most part, only arbitrators can achieve this.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Why featured pictures is ailing

Reposted from Wikipedia's featured pictures talk page:

Picking up on the 'crap technical quality' comment in the thread above,[21] a problem in recent months has been myopic understanding of technical quality. One of the best examples to diagnose the ailment is the Titan delisting nomination.

The image is dated 2004, but of course the camera wasn't made in 2004 because the spacecraft was launched in 1997. The exact mass of all the equipment had to be known and tested years before launch in order to plot its course, which included two gravity assist flybys at Venus and Jupiter. So the camera was built with early 1990s technology. It had to perform at temperatures a few degrees above absolute zero in near-total darkness because at Saturn's orbit the sun doesn't provide much more energy than a bright star.

Titan has been visited by spacecraft only three times in human history. The first was Pioneer 11 in 1973, which returned this image. Then the Voyager missions in 1980-1981 shot this. And in order to even do that well with the technology that existed at the time, NASA scheduled Voyager I's final encounter as a close Titan flyby.

The technical challenges that arise after launch add additional layers of difficulty to these missions. Voyager I was nearly destroyed in the rings of Saturn before its Titan encounter because the best technology available when the mission was planned had been unable to detect any matter in the dark zones of its ring system. After the Jupiter encounter the craft sent back images of literally hundreds of rings in the zone of its planned course: a grain of sand would have operated like a bullet on the craft at the speeds it was traveling. Emergency course modifications were extremely difficult to execute, but the mission was saved. Without that rescue, much of the data never would have been obtained that went into planning the Cassini mission.

This is all cutting edge science and sometimes the technical team has to work around hardware failures. One famous save occurred here:

Since Galileo's high-gain antenna failed to open in 1991 the mission was forced to use the low-gain antenna for all communication to Earth. This meant that data storage to Galileo's tape recorder for later compression and playback was absolutely crucial in order to obtain any substantial information from the planned Jupiter and moon flybys. In October 1995, Galileo's 114 megabyte (914,489,344 bits[40]), four-track digital tape recorder which was manufactured by Odetics Corporation, remained stuck in rewind mode for 15 hours before engineers learned what happened and sent commands to shut it off, after recording an image of Jupiter. Though the recorder itself was still in working order the malfunction possibly damaged a length of tape at the end of the reel. This section of tape was subsequently declared "off limits" to any future data recording and was covered with 25 more turns of tape to secure the section and reduce any further stresses, which could tear it.

The software needed extensive rewrites after the antenna failure, then a second round of even more drastic rewrites after the tape recorder failure. And all of the relevant imaging had to be rescheduled and replanned because the data was moving much more slowly, but the craft was still flying at orbital speed.

It simply isn't rational to review the Titan image by the same standards one would apply to a home tripod photo of earth's moon. Of course the Titan mosaic isn't stitched: it was shot for scientific purposes, not for an art gallery. Of course it's contrasty: Titan is the only astronomical body in the solar system other than earth that has liquid at its surface--they were looking for specular reflections.

As stated before, I do have a conflict of interest regarding the Titan image and will disclose fully to anyone who emails a request. So far, no one from the featured pictures program has inquired. Most of the statements in this post are readily verifiable; a few aren't. A barnstar to the first person who detects which information wasn't published officially. Several of the regulars at featured picture candidates need to spend more time reading the articles these images illustrate.

And yet 'crap technical quality' is a comment that gets taken seriously. And the delisting nominator himself hasn't been called to task for saying FPC is not an image gallery and nobody puts quality ahead of EV. Just take a look at the page now and see for yourself. The images that are being opposed because of quality concerns have TERRIBLE quality.(original poster's emphasis)[22] That is an expression of misplaced priorities, superficial understanding, and distorted perspective. Knowledge of digital photography is not a substitute for research. The technical quality of this image is a feat of international science and engineering, and those who deny that reveal their own ignorance. It will likely be a quarter century before better images can be taken of this astronomical object. Those are the realities of science, and this website is an encyclopedia. Cross posting to my blog. DurovaCharge! 21:18, 6 June 2009 (UTC)

Featured picture priorities at Wikipedia

This mosaic of Saturn's moon Titan, taken by the Cassini spacecraft in 2004, "constitutes the most detailed full-disc view of the mysterious moon". It is a featured picture at English Wikipedia, but on 1 June 2009 an editor nominated this image for delisting.

And that delisting nomination, along with the reasoning that led to it, could harm Wikipedia for years to come. It's a shortsighted trend that needs to be stopped.

This was the nominator's rationale:
Noisy, lack of detail, improper focus(?), areas of focus varying.
The first response elaborated:
Delist Woah, that is pretty rough. The stitching is also kind of obvious, especially with the error at the edge of the globe at about the WNW position. The sharp edge is also unrealistic and distracting. Is that a natural background or did NASA just replace with a single black?
In response, another commenter suggested:
If you read the page description, it says that NASA has processed the image to sharpen the surface details.
This has led to a lively debate about featured picture standards. On one side:
Delist - Agree this would make a better VP than FP. Technical quality is low - stitching errors, pixelated edges, inconsistent sharpness, grainy, etc. The EV is extremely high though.
On the other:
Keep This image is not easily reproducable. There is a lack of images of titan, possibly one of the more important bodies in this solar system. And this is currently the best composite image of the whole surface. Please do some reading up on the FPC guidelines. They are there to read, understood and applied, not to be simply ignored.
The issue here is whether esthetics take priority over encyclopedic value in the site's featured pictures. And with that debate rests the fate of the site's relatively new valued pictures program. Encyclopedic value has always been an important consideration at featured pictures and can highly encyclopedic images get priority over esthetics according to the official featured picture criteria, but that's on the verge of changing. From a related nomination to de-feature the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki:
Maybe its time we "demote" some of our lower-quality FPs and fill up VPC with them... We aren't doing harm; maybe this will be a saving grace for the VPC program.
Actually that would a great deal of harm: featured pictures get a turn on Wikipedia's main page. Valued pictures don't. That makes a big difference to the team of volunteers are negotiating with museums and archives internationally to improve access to encyclopedic images. To a museum curator, the chance of a turn on Wikipedia's main page is a golden opportunity: approximately 7 million views per day. That is very persuasive in opening doors and in obtaining large content donations to WMF of many thousands of images.

Put it this way: if you were talking to a Japanese historic archive, wouldn't it be a lot more persuasive to show them the mushroom cloud as a featured picture, and explain that if they released their collection too then their country's perspective--the destruction that actually occurred on the ground--could get equal attention on Wikipedia's main page?

The valued pictures program, which receives no main page attention, is a bureaucratic process that harms Wikipedia by hindering negotiations to gain encyclopedic content. Valued pictures has been nominated for deletion. Both Gerard Meijssen (chairman of the Open Progress Foundation) and Joseph Seddon (a board member of Wikimedia UK) have endorsed the deletion nomination. Meijssen and Seddon are both part of the international volunteer network that is working to open the doors at more image archives.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Stephen Colbert

As you may have heard, he mentioned Wikipedia last night. The video is here.

After five and a half months of arbitration, that was a welcome laugh. Thank you Mr. Colbert.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Biographies of living persons: An ingenius compromise?

So what do we do about the people who don't want their biographies written up on Wikipedia? The dead trees standard (see last month's post) has some support but not consensus. Well here, for the first time in two years, is a really new solution:

Suppose we noindexed biographies of living persons, upon the subject's request.

First the basics, then the details. Suggestions welcomed.

Basics: A subject who doesn't want his or her biography to show up on Google could email OTRS with a request to have their biography noindexed. The biography itself would remain on Wikipedia, but the search engines wouldn't crawl it anymore.

Details: The ability to noindex in mainspace would be tightly controlled. Policy would restrict its use to BLP articles only, and the developers would toggle the ability only for select users. P possibly this ability would be restricted to functionaries. A log would be generated of all noindexed biographies, which would be reasonably accessible (viewable by all administrators)? The specifics on access would need to be nailed down, but something along the lines of that scope.

Generally speaking, most biography subjects' chief complaint has to do with the high ranking given to Wikipedia articles by search engines--combined with the difficulty in preventing malicious vandalism. Most of the objections to deleting biographies upon request have to do with the desire for encyclopedic completeness. So this looks like a viable compromise. At the very least, it's worth discussing.

Many thanks to the folks at WikiVoices for the brainstorm that led to this idea.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Maturity test: the scoring key

Answer key:
A. 1
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

A. 1
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

A. 1
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

A. 1
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

A. 1
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

A. 1
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

A. 1
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

A. 1
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

A. 1
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

A. 0
B. 1
C. 1
D. 1
Note on question 10: there's a little troll in all of us.

0-4: epic fail
5: You're an old admin who got sysopped before 2006. Nobody dares RfC you because you're such a pain.
6: Not banned yet, but on yer way. How's that block log lookin'?
7: Editor.
8: Good editor.
9: Admin.
10: I'd like to talk to you about that proposed decision you're drafting.