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.)

mouseonmouse

August 5, 2012

Does the clothesline paradox apply to IT?

Filed under: Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 9:04 pm

Does the clothesline paradox apply to information technology? There is a relationship between the clothesline paradox and digital dark matter, but there is also a subtle and important difference. It is important to keep those differences straight. It makes a difference to several contemporary policy debates.

That will take some explaining. There are some terms to define. (more…)

February 10, 2012

Wikipedia, Mitt, Barack, and a Hand Over the Heart

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Internet economics,Online behavior,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 3:41 pm

It was just a little skirmish, a mere tit-for-tat in the presidential race. It made headlines for a day and it also made Wikipedia just a little bit better.

To be sure, Romney and Obama infrequently appear in the same sentence as Wikipedia, so this is worth a look. How did the-encyclopedia-that-anyone-can-edit get mixed up with a verbal spit-spat between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama? More to the point, how does this little story illustrate why Wikipedia works, and why it works so well?

Ah, therein lies a tale. (more…)

December 15, 2011

Internet Hysteria Index

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 2:44 pm

<sarcasm alert> Tired of the self-referential and self-important? Then do not attend a conference on communications policy in Washington D.C. (or watch the latest debate among the Republican candidates for president). What is the next best anecdote to that tone? A bit of humor to punctuate the bubble, of course! <end of alert>

Need some humor right now? Then read this post about the Internet Hysteria Index, entitled, “Internet hysteria — Are we Losing our Edge?” Written by Scott Wallsten and Amy Smorodin of the Technology Policy Institute, it takes aim at some of the *ahem* excesses of communications policy discussions today. In particular, it aims at its excessive hype.

And a warning to those of you with a tin ear for a joke or merely a complete lack of sense of humor… before reading this post be sure review the meaning of deadpan humor and understated sarcasm.

Enjoy!

November 10, 2011

Limits to broadband diffusion?

Filed under: Broadband,Internet economics and communications policy,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 12:20 pm

The National Telecommunications Information Administration just published the findings from its latest survey about Internet use within US households. In case you missed it, here is a summary: broadband adoption among US households went up, but not by much.

Actually, that is not entirely fair. Viewed at short intervals, broadband adoption will appear to be a slow moving process. However, a little stepping back from the short run headlines reveals good news and bad news in this report. That is the point of this post. (more…)

October 16, 2011

The Neutrino Song

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Short observations,Uncategorized — Shane Greenstein @ 6:30 pm

As Dave Barry used to say, I am not making this up: Somebody has written a song about neutrinos, and recorded a you-tube video. In an act of shameless self-promotion, the writers and performers of this song sent me an email after reading the neutrino jokes in the previous post. For your listening pleasure I am now sharing their song/video with you.

The name of the band is the Corrigan brothers. I must confess that I had never heard of this band before they sent me their email, though they appear to be established, and about as respectable as an Irish band can be (if they are not U2).  I also am impressed by how quickly they wrote their song and put together a YouTube video using so many Einstein images. I also have some grudging respect for someone who is trying to take advantage of a pop trend using YouTube. Part of their speed is due to their use of the same tune from a prior pop hit (about Barack Obama, no less), but why hold that against them?

To be sure, their chances of success are quite low, so only a foolish dreamer would try to start a viral campaign for their pop song this way. But who does not like foolish dreamers? There is a certain quixotic charm about bands who are trying to get ten percent of their fifteen minutes of fame writing songs about surprising results from a physics experiment.

Now, actually, as it turns out, there are several neutrino songs on YouTube. This idea has occurred to more than a few aspiring pop artists. <sarcasm alert> But none of the others sent me an email promoting their song. Sure, that is an arbitrary way to chose who to promote, but what did you expect, a critical review? This is just a blog about the online economy, after all. <end of sarcasm>

Anyway, back to the main point. This particular song is called “Einstein and the Neutrino.” Here is the video:

Here are the lyrics:

TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LINO

IS LIGHT NOW SLOWER THAN A NEUTRINO

We can believe it

We weren’t prepared

Does E STILL EQUAL

MC SQUARED

NOW THAT THE NEUTRINO

HAS TAKEN FLIGHT

AND IS SEEMINLGY FASTER

THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT

WAS OLD ALBERT WRONG

OH CAN IT BE

THAT FABOULOUS THEORY

RELATIVITY

IS BEING DEBUNKED

FOR THE FIRST TIME

BUT HE’S STILL MIGHT BE RIGHT

OLD ALBERT EINSTEIN

TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LINO

IS LIGHT NOW SLOWER THAN A NEUTRINO

NOW PHYSICS FOREVER

MAY NOT BE THE SAME

AND BOFFINS ARE GONNA BE

DRIVEN INSANE

IF LIGHTS NOT THE FASTEST

WHAT CAN THIS MEANO

AND IS SOMETHING FASTER

THAN THE NEUTRINO

TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LINO

IS SOMETHING ELSE FASTER THAN A NEUTRINO

Let’s not rush to conclusions let’s take our time

He still could be right old albert Einstein

TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LOO TOOR A LINO

IS LIGHT NOW SLOWER THAN A NEUTRINO

September 11, 2011

Sports stories written by algorithm

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 10:14 pm

Have you suspected for some time that most writing about sporting events is formulaic? Well, suspect no more! It is possible to have a computer write a sports story merely from the box score.

No seriously. It is.

And there is some pretty interesting business economics in that example. Some professors from Northwestern figured out how to get a computer algorithm to write a story about a sporting event, like a baseball game, merely from the minimal statistics, like a box score. It is described in this article.

Now, seriously, there are two ways to read this article, and one of them is substantially more right than the other. The first interpretation would foresee a massive replacement of sports writers with computers, a.k.a. the substitution of computing for labor. The second interpretation would foresee the growth of a new service, the creation of stories for events that previously did not receive them — such as local high school games.

I think we will see more of the latter in the next few years.

First of all, the computers do not yet employ that extra verve or wordplay or attitude that makes for great sports writing. Someday computers may be able to imitate human sarcasm and punning and passion, but not yet, not whimsically. So the best sports writers are in no danger of losing their uniqueness, the voice that gives their writing value. Second, there is considerable demand for the second type of service. There are lots of sporting events played all over the country. A routine sports story would enhance a web page, and add just a nice element to a summary. Lots of places will pay ten dollars for that (which is what the price is today), and that price will decline with time.

Think about it: Much of sporting news follows a routine canon, a contest with ups and downs and comebacks and heroism and more. These are played out every day on high school playgrounds and in many others places, but the only stories ever written are those written in the heads of the right fielder. Now we have another source.

Onward to a new form of journalism!

July 25, 2011

Two graphs show newspaper revenue decline

What happened to newspaper revenue? This short post contains an answer in two graphs. The graphs show the growth and decline in aggregate newspaper revenue.

More to the point, the graphs illustrate the timing of the decline in revenue and also the acceleration in decline. The graphs provide useful information about changes in the composition of revenue, which helps explain why revenue declined.

The graphs come to this space from my esteemed colleague, Tom Hubbard, who is the John L and Helen Kellogg Professor of Management & Strategy. Tom teaches a class on advanced strategy for MBAs, and had compiled the data for a module in the class.

In brief, Tom read a previous post in this space about the decline in newspaper revenue, and we got to talking about how a small amount of well chosen data can illustrate insightful analysis.  He showed me what he had collected and I was impressed. He graciously offered the graphs as additional evidence for the conversation. (more…)

July 11, 2011

Did one invention lead to the decline of newspapers?

Filed under: Considering topical questions,Internet economics,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 7:50 pm

Did one invention lead to the decline of newspapers? What is economic myth and what is true?

Don’t get me wrong. The decline of newspapers is NOT an economic myth. The business continues to lose more revenue each year, and so does other advertising-supported media, such as magazines. Much of this happened in the last decade. It is  unclear if executives at any newspaper have any good strategic choices. None of this is a secret.

But one invention and one firm did not produce this outcome. The typical story blames Google and Internet search, and does so a little too blithely. There is a grain of truth in the common story, but it misses a lot. While it is correct that the firm to profit the most from this trend is Google, Google alone did not kill the newspaper.

This post is not an apology for Google. Rather, it presents a broader economic history than typically found in public discussion. As more issues get debated in public it important not to premise decisions on a distorted view of how we got here.  (more…)

May 27, 2011

A brush with lightning

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 11:39 am

What is the lightning drill for the Internet age? I had never considered the question until a lightning flash brushed our home.

Every camper knows the drill for the outdoors:  One, count the seconds after the flash. Two, watch for the next flash and count again.  Three, run away from any tall object that might act like a lightning rod.

What is the equivalent act for the Internet age? It seems to be this: One, install a surge protector in every socket. Two, pray that they work.

That is the point of this post. Surge protectors are part science and part talisman. That is because there is no way to test them in advance. Will they really do their job? What would you do to find out prior to an electrical storm?  For my part in it, I relied on faith. I had no interest in climbing up on the roof, flying a kite like Benjamin Franklin, and directing the lightning towards the home, just to see if the surge protectors would hold their ground.

Installing surge protectors always felt like taking an umbrella to the parade to make sure it did not rain.  I just hoped that installing them would raise the probability that lightning would hit my neighbor.

Look, it is not as if I have been waiting with bated breath to find out whether these things work or not. But, finally, last Sunday the moment came. An electrical storm arrived. The lightning flashed. I think the surge protectors worked, but I am not really sure. This is just a little unsettling.

(more…)

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