In the news
Sockpuppeting journalist recants, search dominance threatened, new novels replete with Wikipedia references
British columnist Johann Hari admits to Wikipedia vandalism
columnist Johann Hari
, whose apology for unethical interviewing practices and surreptitious POV-pushing on Wikipedia was greeted coolly by peers.
Johann Hari, opinion columnist for the British newspaper The Independent, finally admitted to being behind the now-banned user "David r from meth productions", as well as using prior published statements in interviews without proper attribution.
In Hari's published apology, he details the nature and extent of his editing:
- The other thing I did wrong was that several years ago I started to notice some things I didn’t like in the Wikipedia entry about me, so I took them out. To do that, I created a user-name that wasn’t my own. Using that user-name, I continued to edit my own Wikipedia entry and some other people’s too. I took out nasty passages about people I admire – like Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot, Deborah Orr and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. I factually corrected some other entries about other people. But in a few instances, I edited the entries of people I had clashed with in ways that were juvenile or malicious: I called one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk. I am mortified to have done this, because it breaches the most basic ethical rule: don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.
The connection between Hari and User:David r from meth productions first surfaced in a Diary piece for The Spectator by Nick Cohen in July (see Signpost's initial coverage on 11 July), and was quickly followed up investigative work by the lawyer and writer David Allen Green – who has a concluding blog post on the matter at the New Statesman website.
Hari has returned the Orwell Prize he was given and has agreed to take time off and undertake a journalism course. One of the victims of Hari's activities on Wikipedia, Cristina Odone, wrote an article entitled "Johann Hari hounded me for years: all he gets is four months' unpaid holiday from the Independent. But the truth will come out":
- I have received no personal apology from Hari; nor have any of his other victims. I have received no direct apology from the Indy, which defends him.
Hari's apology has, of course, been subject to considerable negative reaction (Erik Wemple at the Washington Post asked: "Hey, like, how is a journalism training course going to cure the ills of Johann Hari? A look at his own disclosures shows that his sins are sins of character, not training. Does he really need some instructor to tell him not to libel someone on Wikipedia?"). Hari's activity on Wikipedia has been discussed in a number of media outlets including The Guardian, The Economist and The Telegraph. William Beutler also discussed the story on The Wikipedian.
Is Wikipedia's search dominance coming to an end?
Business Insider caught up with board president of Moveon.org and search guru Eli Pariser for insights into the changing nature of search in an era of increasing personalisation. Pariser had first taken note of the implications when he noticed Facebook had gradually been narrowing down the content it highlighted to him based on the political compatibility between him and the content's authors, part of a trend among websites to profile users based on their past browsing habits and to display content that is likely to appeal more prominently than that which is not.
Pariser's subsequent investigations found that the more websites tried to algorithmically tailor content to what they imagined users were looking for, the less universally oriented sites like Wikipedia featured prominently in search results. As attempts to make content as personally relevant to individual users represent a driving concern of most major websites other than Wikipedia, this could threaten the unparallelled stature of Wikipedia in search (particularly Google search) rankings that has been widely credited for its dominance as a top ten global online resource. This week, the encyclopaedia was reported to have been overtaken by microblogging service Tumblr in Quantcast-measured pageviews.
An illustrative animated gif image from the John Wall Dance
article, which received coverage on the NBC Washington's Capital Games blog this week. The image uploader was accorded kudos by NBC Washington for their "slightly freaky" creation.
- Wikipedia's leaderless organisation: Speaking at the Think global leadership summit in New York, MIT Media Lab director and Wikipedian Joi Ito dwelled on the observation that open source movements such as Mozilla and Wikimedia treated the concept of leadership quite differently to the traditional Newtonian conception held in business circles, noting that at Wikipedia members are pushed into positions of responsibility rather than seeking them out. This echoes the dictum attributed to long-serving Wikipedian David Gerard that On Wikipedia, the reward for a job well done is another three jobs.
- Wikipedia as a continued source of 'inspiration' for authors: The Guardian noted with amusement that the British edition of the Goncourt-Prize-winning La Carte et le territoire by acclaimed novelist Michel Houellebecq, which had borrowed liberally from Wikipedia passages (see previous Signpost coverage), contained in the acknowledgements a straight-faced appreciation by the author for the encyclopaedia (the result of conversations between Houellebecq's French publisher and Wikimedia France, see Signpost coverage). In related news, academics Yasmin H. Said and Edward J. Wegman were strongly suspected of having botched a copypaste of the Simplex algorithm article into their paper, eliding the mathematical notation and introducing errors in the process. Meanwhile in the United States, author Ron Suskind was accused by White House spokesman Jay Carney of lifting a passage from the Wikipedia Fannie Mae article for his book Confidence Men, a critical look at the Obama administration; Suskind rejected the charge out of hand, pointing out that the two sentences were differently worded in each text and any similarity was accounted for by it being the natural phrasing for describing the institution.
- Accuracy of Wikipedia BLPs a running joke: Wikipedia biographies came in for a kicking in REAMDE, the latest doorstopping novel by celebrated speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson. Speaking to The Oak Park Patch, Stephenson revealed that the widely held inaccuracy of the encyclopaedia in the eyes of its subjects was something of a running joke in the thriller novel and that he rarely looked at his own entry which had painted him perhaps unfairly as a recluse, remarking that reviewing the article "just seems narcissistic and usually leads to me getting aggravated".
- Deletionism in the crosshairs: In response to Laurel L. Russwurm's (Laurelrusswurm) scathing missive "Notability is the opposite of Neutrality", Urpo Lankinen (wwwwolf) issued a 4500 word plea "Wikipedia needs to return to simplicity", calling for a turn away from any deletionist tendencies (the English) Wikipedia might be harboring.
- Student-led competitor for Wikipedia Books? A group of undergraduates from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have launched a book-creation tool for Wikipedia, BookIt, the outcome of a semester-long start-up project. Unlike the Wikipedia:Books initiative, in which discrete articles are selected and assembled to form a printable volume, BookIt works using an algorithm to compile material based on its relevance to search terms entered by users.
- Surfer-model-actress-fraud? Hannah Cornett a purported surfer, model and actress, was the subject of an exposé by Deadspin which disclosed allegations of her complicity in credit card fraud and indicated that accounts of her accomplishments given on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia may have been fabricated or significantly exaggerated. Cornett's biographical article has been dramatically stubbed since the story emerged.
- NBC praises "slightly freaky" wiki entry: NBC Washington's Capital Games blog hailed the ascension of the John Wall Dance into the vaunted ranks of dance routines with dedicated Wikipedia articles, commenting of the celebration that "The John Wall Dance has enough swagger to stand alone", and singling out its animated portrayal (right) for particular praise.
- Macs come with Wikipedia built-in: Cult of Mac revealed that the latest iteration of the Mac OS X operating system, Mac OS X Lion, allows you to access definitions of selected words in Wikipedia by simply double tapping on the trackpad whilst focusing the mouse cursor on any highlighted term.
- Omar comin' yo, to check his Wikipedia bio: Chicago radio station WBEZ's Wikipedia Files series continued with an examination of the accuracy of the Michael K. Williams article with the actor himself, best known for his portrayal of gangster Omar Little from The Wire. Williams regretfully had to correct the assertion that he was brothers with slam poet Saul Williams, but confirmed the basis of the assertion that Janet Jackson had inspired him to leave his comfortable job to pursue a career in dance, and that he had secured the role of Little in one audition.
Explore Wikipedia history by browsing The Signpost archives