Archive for March 2010

A Wikipedia tool concept: Craptastic

16 March 2010
Categories: Wikiality

After more than five years editing and contributing to Wikipedia, I’m starting to get fed up with it. The anonymous vandals, the edit warring, and even the secret cabals are all adding up to what I can only characterize as a noble but failed experiment. Yes, I said it: Wikipedia is a failure.

Probably the coup de grâce to my desire to contribute was when some douchebag from Calgary took exception to an edit I reverted as linkspam. (It was a link to a page promoting a book he wrote, a violation of WP:ELNO #1 and #5. Two other editors reverted subsequent attempts at adding it, seconding my stance on its unsuitability.) He followed my Wikipedia user page to my home page, ran a whois query on my domain name to find personal data I inadvertently had left exposed, and invaded my privacy by calling my home and harassing my wife.

The coward lied to her about his name, and blocked caller i.d., but that’s okay—I know who he is. He was stupid enough to send me a threatening e-mail from the same IP address that had been used to make the anonymous edits. Needless to say, the book that he was trying to promote on Wikipedia will get nary a mention from me here, unless he chooses to continue his utterly inappropriate personal harassment, in which case I will out him as an asshole and do what I can to dissuade people from ever buying or reading any of his works.

What galls me too about this specific case is that I deliberately tried to say something nice while reverting: my edit summary said “No doubt an interesting book… but linkspam.” In fact, at that point I was sufficiently curious about the book (and continue to be interested in its subject matter) that I was fully prepared to buy a copy of his book for myself, and perhaps even promote it on my site. His reaction, however, eliminated any chance of that.

That aside, it just illustrates Wikipedia’s primary trouble: editors, operating in good faith to improve the encyclopedia, are forced to waste their time on trying to stay ahead of the constant avalanche of sheer crap that appears there.

In response, I have a concept for a new Wikipedia tool which I call Craptastic.

Many times, edits are of extremely low quality, but not so awful that they can be immediately reverted or undone. Some examples:

  • Information that seems blatantly false, but yet is also just plausible enough that it can’t be confirmed or deleted without additional research (except in BLP cases, which allow immediate removal of any uncited material).
  • Lengthy additions that contain tidbits of good information buried within poorly edited paragraphs, requiring significant copy editing to extricate the good stuff.
  • Details that may or may not be overly tangential or trivial, which is usually an editor’s judgment call.

In many cases, these edits might fall under one or more Wikipedia policies or guidelines, but it takes a thorough knowledge of those guidelines to wield them appropriately. Just because I don’t like the looks of an edit doesn’t mean I can easily call it, say, a WP:COI or WP:UNDUE and revert it with confidence.

That’s where the Craptastic tool would come in. Don’t like the looks of an edit, but can’t say exactly why? Know an edit is iffy but don’t have the time to spruce it up? Mark it as “craptastic.” The edit will be added to your personal Craptastic list.

Each edit listed in Craptastic would show its “intact” percentage. An unmodified edit would show up as 100% intact, likely in red. A reverted edit would be 0% intact, and green. The latter could be manually removed from the list, unless Craptastic could be smart enough to recognise when the same content returns in a subsequent edit… and flag such as possible edit warring.

Partially altered edits would have gradually lower intact percentages, giving an editor the chance to review an edit after someone else improved it, perhaps finding the problem areas less daunting at that point.

An editor who later finds a modicum of both time and gumption could check their Craptastic list and choose an edit to improve. Craptastic teams could share their lists and perform vetting and cleanup on edits marked by others on their team.

Described like that, it almost sounds like a useful, collaborative tool. Don’t be fooled. To be honest, my intent in suggesting this tool is not altruistic, for it is not really intended as a means to improve editing efficiency. In truth, what I want is a tool that would vindicate my opinions of the edits I see—to allow me to say, “oh, that’s just craptastic”… and later come back, with zero effort, to see that, sure enough, I was right.

À bientôt, Vancouver, it’s been fun — what we saw of you

1 March 2010

Every time the Olympic Games come to a close, there’s always that twinge of sadness, of let-down. It’s to be expected, for it is a melancholy moment when the torch is extinguished. As each Olympics has ended I’ve always felt the same way: “Is that all? Over so soon? It feels like we were just getting started!”

I used to think this feeling of dissatisfaction, of un-satiation, was normal—but no longer. I’ve come to realize that, along with exemplary sportsmanship, tales of tragedy and triumph, and edge-of-one’s-seat finishes, there’s another common factor to every Olympics I have ever watched: the dismal television coverage of the National Broadcasting Company. Read more…