Virulent Word of Mouse

May 26, 2013

Revenge Editing on Wikipedia

Filed under: Recommendation,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 6:23 pm

Unless you regularly read Salon, you probably missed last week’s interesting article about anwikipediaextraordinary case of revenge editing on Wikipedia. This article should matter to anyone who cares about Wikipedia, and, more generally, it should matter to anyone who cares about the long run success of open platforms for accumulating content.

Look, the world is not a perfect place. It is full of jealousy and envy, and all kinds of flawed human behavior. Wikipedia did not promise to eliminate such behavior, but it is remarkable how Wikipedia seems to survive in spite of human frailty.

Wikipedia has a strategy for human frailty. It does try to organize the accumulation of contributions and then it allows those contributions to be reviewed by many participants. It does let the opinions of the many alter the contribution of the one. That seems to hold abuse in check. Or so I thought.

jimbo2To be sure, Wikipedia has gone forward more on a promise than any actual evidence or experience. So goes the mantra: if enough readers and contributors reviewed articles, the article would tend towards a balanced portrayal of topics. It is just a promise, but so many of us have bought into it. And it has been ten years since Wikipedia first started. It has seemed to work reasonably well.

Not that Wikipedia is perfect. Not that the model worked straight out the gate. As it has become more prominent some of the vulnerabilities have become more apparent. It has been tweaked along the way in order to make it better.

But this story is disturbing precisely because no simple tweak will solve it.

Two of Wikipedia’s biggest vulnerabilities play a role in in revenge editing. First, attention is skewed, so not all articles receive the same extent of review. Many articles receive less review – a lot less, as it turns out. Second, as in any project involving many participants, Wikipedia depends on etiquette, mature behavior, and the unwritten rules of civilized behavior. It has to, since every contributor gets a considerable amount of discretion.salon_com2

Put those two together and you get the potential for massive chaos on some of Wikipedia’s more obscure entries and pages, where the crowd is not really paying attention.

More to the point, what happens when one person sets on a persistent and vengeful path and will not respect the truth? What happens when someone seeks to sully the name of a rival’s entry on Wikipedia? What happens when all this takes place on some of the less prominent pages of Wikipedia, where not many people are paying close attention?

Want to understand why Wikipedia would fall apart quickly if every contributor violated etiquette whenever they had the discretion to behave badly? This article describes one example. Check it out.

(A shout-out goes to Phil Weverka for passing this one along to me.)


September 8, 2012

Confusion in copyright and video streaming

Filed under: Recommendation — Shane Greenstein @ 8:50 pm

Confused by the latest technology and businesses in video streaming? Goodness knows, I find it hard to keep up with which innovative streaming business is illegal, and which is not. Well, along comes James Grimmelmann to clear up which is which and why it is this way. In case you missed it, let me recommend this post, “Why Jonny Can’t Stream: How Video Copyright went Insane.” It appeared in Ars Technica on August 30.

More to the point, it provides a review of the history of copyright law as it pertains to streaming video. Look, everybody who watches the Internet expects streaming video businesses to show up sometime soon and in droves, but — whew, the experimentation is messed up by the law.

Grimmelmann starts with the famous VCR case won by Sony, and then jumps to the recent CableVision case, a ruling that shaped new business models of several prominent and obscure firms. He shows the relationship between the successes and failures, highlighting iCraneTV, Netflix, Hulu, FilmOn, ivi, Zediva, MP3tunes, ReDigi and MegaUpload. Notably, the law shape the businesses in very direct ways. Many of these businesses closed due to lawsuits. Many survive due to ticky-tack legal loopholes. Sustained tests of user demand are secondary.

After providing a reasonable history of all these firms, Grimmelmann then argues that copyright law is not facilitating innovative activity, but, instead, is distorting outcomes away from anything sensible or efficient. After his rendition of what happened and how the law shaped it, it is hard to argue with that conclusion. It sure would make any sensible observer worry about how a few more poorly thought out decisions involving copyright could set back innovation on the Internet.

Let me not spoil it any further for you. If this post were a murder mystery, we would say that there are many dead bodies in this one. Lots of legal gore appears all across the page. The courts are holding the murder weapon. The mayhem is not over.

I recommend it. Give it a read.

July 26, 2012

One gig broadband in Chattanooga

Filed under: Broadband,Recommendation — Shane Greenstein @ 8:50 pm

For those of you with an interest in frontier infrastructure, check out this article from Stacey Higginbotham at Gigaom. She wanted to see what *really* high speed fiber looks like in practice, so she went to Chattanooga, which has been running an experiment at the frontier. This quote will give you a feel for the article:

“For the last two years, Chattanooga, Tenn.’s public utility (EPB) has offered customers a gigabit fiber-to-the-home connection costing roughly $300 a month, so I touched base with a group of investors and entrepreneurs who have built a program to try to see what people can do with that fast a connection. So far, the limits of equipment, the lack of other gigabit networks (much of the Internet is reciprocal so it’s no fun if you have the speeds to send a holographic image of yourself but no one on the other end can receive it) and the small number of experiments on the network have left the founders of the Lamp Post Group underwhelmed.”

It is a pretty interesting article. Read the comments too, as some of them disagree with her negative conclusion and offer concrete counter-examples.

July 18, 2012

The new Economics of Privacy?

Filed under: Recommendation — Shane Greenstein @ 8:42 am

Here is an insightful article about the changing economics of privacy. It comes from Jeff John Roberts, one of the more insightful online reporters and commentators in tech today. Here is a quote:

“It has become cheap and easy to pry into the lives of others at the same time that protecting our own lives has become time-consuming and expensive. A look at two companies — one that sells your data and another that protects it — shows the business and policy lessons of this new reality.”

Check it it out.

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