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My First Wikipedia Experience

Conrad Aiken as a Boy

Conrad Aiken as a Boy

Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead. ~Conrad Aiken, Music I Heard

This is the first verse of one of Conrad Aiken’s poems. Aiken’s poetry is some of the well-known and award-winning American work in the 20th century. I stumbled across Aiken’s poetry when researching a topic to edit for my class’ Wikipedia project and was intrigued by his story.

When I searched for Aiken’s page on Wikipedia, I was surprised to find out that the information was very limited and quite disorganized. This is when I decided that his page would be my focus. His page was missing three main things:

  • Selected works
  • Awards and Recognitions
  • “Snapshot” biography box and photo at top right of screen

With some detailed research, organization, and patience, I was able to insert a solid list of selected works and notable awards. Looking at other poets’ wiki pages (e.g., Robert Frost and Maya Angelou) proved to be very helpful in determining a sufficient layout/format. The biography box was a bit more of a challenge; I had to cut & paste the section from those “edit” pages and adjust it with Aiken’s information. Another challenge was keeping track of the references and including the appropriate external links. The final challenge was inserting a picture. With all of Wikipedia’s copyright rules and guidelines, and after many failed attempts, I decided to give up on this one aspect of the page. I do admit that I was a bit disappointed by this, but got over it ūüôā

I think that editing a page was much easier than creating a page from scratch, mainly since I did not understand all the formatting tricks. However, despite the challenge, I would definitely edit a page again if I got the opportunity and if I found a topic that I cared enough about!

Wikipedia’s Credibility

wikipedia-logo

Until recently, I was like one of the many who used Wikipedia as just another resource for information. After watching the ted.com video of Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, my already-existing trust in Wikipedia increased tenfold.

It is easy for skeptics and uneducated persons to try and bring down this ever-growing phenomenon. But the one statistic that really jumped out at me was the fact that, according to Wales, only 18% of Wikipedia contributors are anonymous. This number is shocking when you take into the account that the site is open for anyone and everyone to edit. Of course, it is inevitable that fraudulent posts will be made (like the very recent Obama page vandalism). But, as Wales points out, these scammers are outnumbered. The very loyal 600-1000 members of the close-knit contributor community have proven to be quick in eliminating erroneous posts (through reverting to a previous version or “voting for deletion”). This fact in itself should hush the skeptics. For the time being, this is Wikipedia’s best bet in keeping the site accurate.

If Wikipedia was only limited to the experts, it would be just another encyclopedia. In fact, it would lose some of its credibility. That’s not to say that Brittanica and the others should be considered erroneous (although the difference in web traffic is tremendous, according to this Wikinomics blog entry). But the beauty of Wikipedia lays in its open source software…making it a living phenomenon. The controversies that arise actually make the site unique; the scrubbing of false information keeps the site accurate. Additionally, Wikipedia’s core principles of neutrality and good faith solidify its credibility and ensures ongoing quality.

With time, this freedom of information will redefine the future of knowledge and education as we know it.

Second Life…the “Game”

“People often underestimate the creativity in Second Life. If you can dream it, you can probably find it.” -Onder Skall

I recently just tried out Second Life, a new Massive Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) . Well, it’s not really new – it was launched by Linden Lab in 2003 – but new for me. I have heard about it before but never really had any idea what it entailed. My first impression was…well, pure confusion. I’m more of a Tetris kind of girl; I’d rather play games that keep score and have a clear purpose or goal. In SL, there is no score – there’s money. The purpose or goal is far from clear – it’s what you make of it.

I focused on the only thing I knew how to do (sort of), which was making my avatar attractive and dressing her nicely. Of course, this took some time. I had a hard time determining whether I wanted her to look just like me or completely different. I tried my best to make her look like my real self, but found myself giving her certain “assets” that the real me doesn’t have. It got me thinking about how many others go through the same thing. It makes sense to me that with much control over the avatar’s appearance, it is inevitable that users will create a more ideal, and sometimes cliche’, image.

I eventually figured out how to fly and transport to other “worlds.” The vast array of worlds in SL is mind-blowing; there is a world for every interest imaginable. If the user can’t find it, they can create it.

The idea of the game is very clever, although I would argue that it could even be considered a game. It strikes me more as a hobby, and for some, a business. The benefits of using SL as a business platform are evident, but where do we cross the line between real life and second life?

Could users become too engulfed in this alternate world to a point where they completely lose sight of what is real? Could SL completely take over the web? What are the economic implications? The questions are endless, but one thing is certain; as long as there is an alternative to real life troubles, this “escape” will continue to be developed (with newer and faster technologies) and used by many for years to come.

Fear Google?

Some Question Google's "Don't Be Evil" Motto

Some Question Google's "Don't Be Evil" Motto

I remember when I first heard the term “Google,” I was in my early college years (about 2001) and, at the time, Yahoo was my primary source of internet search. In fact, I clearly remember when more of my friends began using Google’s search engine; for some odd reason, I didn’t think much of it and avoided using it at all costs. Looking back, I think I was just feeling intimidated because I was so accustomed to my own way of searching and was afraid of changing that. It wasn’t too long until I switched over.

Today, Google is the internet’s top search engine with approximately 830,000 searches per minute. As of January 2009, Google search accounts for nearly 72% of searches on the web – a 9% change in just one year! In my view, Google represents technological innovation at scales that I am just beginning to understand. John Battelle, author of The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, thoroughly explains Google’s profound impact on human culture. He discusses the company’s past, present, and future in great detail and lays out their continuous success. He also explores the implications of Google’s tremendous power.

Naturally, any powerful entity has the potential of creating some cultural resistance and, in some cases, fear. Despite their motto “Don’t Be Evil,” people still seem to think so. Ivica Miscovic even gives a top 10 list on why we should fear Google. Battelle explains (p. 13):

Search straddles an increasingly complicated territory of marketing, media, technology, pop culture, international law, and civil liberties. It is fraught not only with staggering technological obstacles…but with nearly paralyzing social responsibility. If Google and companies like it know what the world wants, powerful organizations become quite interested in them, and vulnerable individuals see them as a threat.

In addition to Google’s firm grasp on search, they continue to create useful products that range from business tools to networking sites. As most know by now, Google’s Book Search is underway; the project is causing some friction and will likely lead to lawsuits. Nevertheless, I stick to my belief that Google should not be feared. Other companies and individuals should follow their lead if they want to stay ahead of the game. Or at least keep up with it.

The Long Tail Theory

Back when I was in middle school, radio was my primary source of the hottest songs and artists. I always had my cassette tape ready to record the latest song on the radio so that I could go back and listen to it repeatedly until the next hit came along. Sometimes I would go purchase the whole CD if I really loved the track (Fiona Apple, anyone?) or if a friend recommended something. My taste in music was essentially chosen for me by radio stations and record stores. And to think, that was only 15 years ago.

longtail1

In his revolutionary book, The Long Tail, Chris Anderson efficiently outlines the concept of business demand moving more down the path of niches and further away from “hits” where all the competition lies. This has proven to be increasingly true

in my personal experience, thanks to the three forces of opportunity in this new marketplace (outlined below, see page 57). Anita Campbell from smallbiztrends.com argues that markets should focus their business models around the long tail, and as Danny Iny so efficiently puts it:

Since you’re focusing on what makes you unique, you’re no longer trying to fit yourself to the same mold that all the other candidates are trying to fill ‚Äď you’re creating your own.

Producers: Growing up, I was formally trained in classical piano and developed a deep appreciation for all genres of music.¬† In college, I experimented with a production tool called FruityLoops to create my own electronic beats. This was my extent of experience with production tools, but I’ve known an increasing number of people who have used these types of tools to their full extent and ability.

Aggregators: Once I reached college, the Napster world opened up doors I never knew existed. I built a library of nearly 11 gigs on my hard drive (which was a lot back in 2001!). Today, iTunes is my primary source of purchasing music. As for shopping, anything from Zappos.com to eBay.com are my primary retail sources.

Filters: Recently, last.fm, and MySpace have been my primary music discovery tools. Friends no longer rant and rave about new music through word of mouth, but rather through status and playlist updates. Recommendations have also been an invaluable resource (for books, movies, etc.), and usually act as the deciding factor on whether I would purchased a product.

The biggest difference I see now is that music is no longer chosen for me and products are not unpredictable. I have full control over the selection and quality of my media and products. This control will only increase as the Long Tail lengthens and thickens in unperceivable ways. This is especially true when you take Moore’s Law into account; the faster the tools, the longer the tail.

A Bill of Rights for the Social Web?

Should social web sites adhere to certain codes of conduct in the best interest of their users? I, for one, believe that this is a great idea, but one that would be quite challenging to uphold.

On September 5, 2007, Marc Canter (founder of Broadband Mechanics) and Joseph Smarr (head techie at Plaxo) teamed together to publish a “Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web.” In it, they lay out user “rights” specifically pertaining to ownership, control, and freedom of personal information. What I like best about this technological declaration is that they did not just sit down one day and carve these rules into stone; they presented the information in a blog-like format and opened it up for discussion, welcoming comments and suggestions.

With the dramatic expansion of social networking sites such Facebook and Myspace, it seems inevitable that someone would eventually come out and stand up for user rights. Besides, it would seem only natural that individuals who chose to present personal information about themselves would automatically expect a certain level of privacy, right?

Wrong.

Just last weekend, Facebook challenged these rights by publicly stating an adjustment in their terms of service. This caused quite a bit of commotion in the blogosphere. While it is uncertain how long this clause will last, this action has, in a way, opened up a can of worms. It is very likely that other networking sites will follow Facebook’s lead and take ownership of the data that is posted by their users. With the growing complexity and diversity of social networking sites, a part of me truly believes that this will be unavoidable.

People have debated the question of whether or not customer data belongs to the supplier, agency, or customer. While I agree with most that the customer should have full access rights to their own data, I am also a firm believer that the customer should take full responsibility of what they choose to post publicly. I came across these very useful tips (specifically for Facebook users) that allows the users to take matters into their own hands. While this does not completely stop Facebook from caching all your data, it enables the user to take better control of what is publicly viewable and what is kept private.

So, while a “Bill of Rights” can be useful, it would need to undergo constant evaluation since social networking sites are expanding at increasingly higher rates. Ultimately, it comes down to the users’ personal decisions.

Whose Podcast Is It Anyway?

I explored podcasts and vblogs for the first time this week.¬†I’ve heard of both types of¬†online¬†media¬†in the past¬†but never actually gave them a try. Throughout and after each clip, I wondered to myself… WHO IS THE AUDIENCE?

First, I visited twit.tv and listened to the entirety of Sunday’s this week in tech. What I found most useful on this show was the talkers’ regular references to other sites, mainly backtype.com and celebrity twitter feeds. While I can find myself listening to some of the shows that twit.tv offers, I found this particular group of broadcasters slightly obnoxious. Sure, they offered some great insight on the new technologies that the world of blogging has to offer – but what’s up with the constant Seinfeld (and other)¬†impersonations? I know they were just trying to spice up the conversation and be funny; however, I found this to become a bit tacky after a while.

I then¬†visited Rocketboom.com. I enjoyed this site since many of the clips were under 5 minutes in length and easy to scroll through to pick and choose.¬†The content (music and art) is also something I am interested in –¬†so¬†I would¬†certainly place myself in that “audience.”¬†Shortly after, I made a quick stop to askaninja.com. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the purpose of this site! I quickly concluded that I was definitely not a part of the “audience” this site was aimed towards.

Webbalert.com focuses on highlights from Ted.com and is geared towards a more intellectual audience. I found myself venturing over to Ted.com to check out some of its fascinating videos. The concept of the 20-minute expert talks intrigued me to a point where I actually looked up conference dates to see when they would visit the D.C. area.

As for iTunes, I browsed through everything from President Obama’s weekly vblog to CNN’s Rachel Maddow show to Fitness clips. NPR’s¬† “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”¬†reminded me of watching a studio game show, yet I learned a lot; the show gave new context to a way of keeping up with current events. My favorite of all podcasts was “This American Life,” which featured personal and narrated stories of ordinary American people. I tried listening to “CNET.com’s Buzz Out Loud” and “BoingBoing” podcasts, but those were more geared towards a specific tech-savvy audience and therefore it was harder for me¬†to relate.

All in all, I’ve certainly found some new content to listen to while I sit and work in my office ūüôā

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