mfioretti: wikipedia*

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  1. When OSM was launched, governments did not release their data under free licenses. They only began doing so because OSM exists now as competition. Yet due to the problems I've outlined, OSM imports are difficult, and updating imports, once they get in OSM is nearly impossible. This is a critical problem for the project.

    Similarly, when OSM was launched, drones were not cheap and available. AI wasn't able to do good visual detection of roads, and flying cars were still science fiction. Now all of these tools exist, and yet OSM is still stuck largely editing by hand.

    If OSM relies exclusively on manual labor and be unable to work with other datasets, its data quality will continue to decline and the project will ultimately stagnate and fail.
    Just the Roadblocks

    It may appear at first that this article is a comprehensive list of everything I find wrong with OSM. It's not. There are many more concerns I have about the project, but I've limited my article to the scope of concerns I have that I feel are stopping the entire project from progressing. There will be time to fix the small issues if (and only if) the project as a whole succeeds. If it doesn't, then the small nit-picky problems are going to be irrelevant anyway.

    It's my sincere hope that this article will be a call-to-action for OSM. There are many brilliant and inspiring individuals in the project. If I'm am a pun, I hope OSM will once again find its way.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2018-02-19)
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  2. At first, the Internet seemed to push against this trend. When it emerged towards the end of the 80s as a purely text-based medium, it was seen as a tool to pursue knowledge, not pleasure. Reason and thought were most valued in this garden—all derived from the project of Enlightenment. Universities around the world were among the first to connect to this new medium, which hosted discussion groups, informative personal or group blogs, electronic magazines, and academic mailing lists and forums. It was an intellectual project, not about commerce or control, created in a scientific research center in Switzerland.

    Wikipedia was a fruit of this garden. So was Google search and its text-based advertising model. And so were blogs, which valued text, hypertext (links), knowledge, and literature. They effectively democratized the ability to contribute to the global corpus of knowledge. For more than a decade, the web created an alternative space that threatened television’s grip on society.

    Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’

    It is a development that further proves the words of French philosopher Guy Debord, who wrote that, if pre-capitalism was about ‘being’, and capitalism about ‘having’, in late-capitalism what matters is only ‘appearing’—appearing rich, happy, thoughtful, cool and cosmopolitan. It’s hard to open Instagram without being struck by the accuracy of his diagnosis.

    Now the challenge is to save Wikipedia and its promise of a free and open collection of all human knowledge amid the conquest of new and old television—how to collect and preserve knowledge when nobody cares to know. Television has even infected Wikipedia itself—today many of the most popular entries tend to revolve around television series or their cast.

    This doesn’t mean it is time to give up. But we need to understand that the decline of the web and thereby of the Wikipedia is part of a much larger civilizational shift which has just started to unfold.
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  3. The larger issue that we see, however, is more than just a culture of misogyny or a complicated user interface acting as a barrier to women’s participation. It is also the architecture derived essentially from the Enlightenment era of what an encyclopedia should be – whose knowledge is considered notable and whose sources are reliable for writing that encyclopedia. This excludes women and other marginalized groups from contributing the full sum of their knowledge to Wikipedia. How do you write a complete biography of a woman activist from the global South when the most reliable sources of knowledge about her may be either oral or recorded only in a small, local, non-English publication? How do you write full accurate coverage of trans rights issues when the “neutral point of view” required by one of Wikipedia’s core policies, as trans Wikipedian Pax Ahimsa Gethen brilliantly said, presumes views of straight cisgender white men as the neutral default, while reliable sources don’t accurately reflect transgender lives? There is as much work still to be done around architecture and policies as there is around culture or technology in order to incorporate more knowledge and participation from marginalized communities, including women, in Wikipedia.

    APCNews: On Wikipedia’s verifiability policy: “In Wikipedia, verifiability means that anyone using the encyclopedia can check that the information comes from a reliable source. Wikipedia does not publish original research. Its content is determined by previously published information rather than the beliefs or experiences of its editors. Even if you’re sure something is true, it must be verifiable before you can add it.” How to close the gender bias in Wikipedia’s content without the pre-existance of reliable or non-gender biased sources? How is it possible to edit Wikipedia to reflect women’s contributions to science, technology, medicine, politics, etc, when the only sources that could offer verifiability to our page are subject to the same historical invisibility and lack of acknowledgment?

    AS and SB: To be clear, core principles of the Wikipedia community – like ‘verifiability’ and ‘reliable’ sources – are what have made Wikipedia a legitimate and credible source of popular information in the 15 years it has existed. These principles have helped bring an immense wealth of reasonably curated knowledge online in ways that are easily accessible. Yet, exactly as you point out, these core principles are also what might well limit Wikipedia’s growth – and certainly its mission of seeking the ‘sum of all human knowledge’ – over the next 15 years and beyond. The knowledge that currently exists on Wikipedia is primarily male and from the global North; data shows us that 130 million in 480 languages, but there are over 7000 languages and dialects in the world. “Oral citations” – a concept first explored by Achal Prabhala and his team in a fascinating 2011 film called People Are Knowledge – are not yet given credence within the community of editor
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-01-16)
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  4. Wikimedia and Facebook have given Angolans free access to their respective websites, but not to the rest of the internet. So, naturally, Angolans have taken to hiding pirated movies and music in Wikipedia articles and are also sharing links to these files on Facebook, creating a totally free and clandestine file sharing network in a country where mobile internet data is extremely expensive. It's undeniably a creative use of two services that were designed to give people in the developing world some access to the internet. But now that Angolans are causing headaches for Wikipedia editors and the Wikimedia Foundation, no one is sure what to do about it.
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  5. The Wikimedia Foundation is in open revolt. While the day-to-day volunteer efforts of editing Wikipedia pages continue as ever, the non-profit Foundation, or WMF, is in the midst of a crisis it’s never seen before. In recent weeks, WMF staff departures have accelerated. And within just the past 48 hours, employees have begun speaking openly on the web about their lack of confidence in the leadership of its executive director, Lila Tretikov.


    All in all, it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad start to 2016. Controversy in the first weeks of the year focused on the unexplained dismissal from the WMF Board of Trustees of James Heilman, a popular representative of Wikipedia’s volunteer base, before shifting to the unpopular appointment to the WMF Board of Arnnon Geshuri, whose involvement in an anti-competitive scheme as a Google executive led him to resign the position amidst outcry from the staff and community. 1 »

    But other issues remained unresolved: WMF employee dissatisfaction with Tretikov was becoming better known beyond the walls of its San Francisco headquarters, while questions mounted about the origin, status and intent of a little-known initiative officially called Discovery, but previously (and more notoriously) known as the “Knowledge Engine”. What was it all about? How do all these things tie together? What on Earth is going on here?

    Deep breath.

    The strange thing about the Knowledge Engine is that, until very recently, basically nobody knew anything about it—including the vast majority of WMF staff. Not until Heilman identified it as a central issue surrounding his departure from the Board had anyone outside the WMF staff ever heard of it—though in May 2015, a well-placed volunteer visiting HQ 2 » observed that a team called “Search and Discovery” was “extraordinarily well-staffed with a disproportionate number of engineers at the same time as other areas seem to be wanting for them”.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-02-20)
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  6. Facebook is already, it is often said, eating the Internet. So it’s easy to see why was rebranded as Free Basics. The old name sounded too much like a reflection of what Facebook actually is: a dominant and possibly unstoppable force, a private company exerting enormous influence on public access to the web. “The great social network of the early 21st century is laying the groundwork,” Austin Carr wrote for Fast Company in 2014, “for a platform that could make Facebook a part of just about every social interaction that takes place around the world.”

    Free Basics might be stoppable. But is Facebook?

    “It is an uncomfortable truth that, in emerging economies, Facebook had already won the Internet well before and the FreeBasics campaign began,” Steve Song, a telecommunications policy activist, wrote in a blog post this week. “Facebook became the de facto Internet for many people because it did the most profoundly useful thing the Internet can do: Connect people.”
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  7. The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

    Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

    If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die. Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

    As with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.

    Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

    Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.
    British capitalism is broken. Here’s how to fix it
    Read more

    Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.

    New forms of ownership, new forms of lending, new legal contracts: a whole business subculture has emerged over the past 10 years, which the media has dubbed the “sharing economy”. Buzzwords such as the “commons” and “peer-production” are thrown around, but few have bothered to ask what this development means for capitalism itself.

    I believe it offers an escape route – but only if these micro-level projects are nurtured, promoted and protected by a fundamental change in what governments do. And this must be driven by a change in our thinking – about technology, ownership and work. So that, when we create the elements of the new system, we can say to ourselves, and to others: “This is no longer simply my survival mechanism, my bolt hole from the neoliberal world; this is a new way of living in the process of formation.”

    Even now many people fail to grasp the true meaning of the word “austerity”. Austerity is not eight years of spending cuts, as in the UK, or even the social catastrophe inflicted on Greece. It means driving the wages, social wages and living standards in the west down for decades until they meet those of the middle class in China and India on the way up.

    Meanwhile in the absence of any alternative model, the conditions for another crisis are being assembled. Real wages have fallen or remained stagnant in Japan, the southern Eurozone, the US and UK. The shadow banking system has been reassembled, and is now bigger than it was in 2008. New rules demanding banks hold more reserves have been watered down or delayed. Meanwhile, flushed with free money, the 1% has got richer.

    Neoliberalism, then, has morphed into a system programmed to inflict recurrent catastrophic failures. Worse than that, it has broken the 200-year pattern of industrial capitalism wherein an economic crisis spurs new forms of technological innovation that benefit everybody.

    That is because neoliberalism was the first economic model in 200 years the upswing of which was premised on the suppression of wages and smashing the social power and resilience of the working class. If we review the take-off periods studied by long-cycle theorists – the 1850s in Europe, the 1900s and 1950s across the globe – it was the strength of organised labour that forced entrepreneurs and corporations to stop trying to revive outdated business models through wage cuts, and to innovate their way to a new form of capitalism.

    The result is that, in each upswing, we find a synthesis of automation, higher wages and higher-value consumption. Today there is no pressure from the workforce, and the technology at the centre of this innovation wave does not demand the creation of higher-consumer spending, or the re‑employment of the old workforce in new jobs. Information is a machine for grinding the price of things lower and slashing the work time needed to support life on the planet.

    the banking system, the planning system and late neoliberal culture reward above all the creator of low-value, long-hours jobs.

    Innovation is happening but it has not, so far, triggered the fifth long upswing for capitalism that long-cycle theory would expect. The reasons lie in the specific nature of information technology.

    In the 1990s economists and technologists began to have the same thought at once: that this new role for information was creating a new, “third” kind of capitalism – as different from industrial capitalism as industrial capitalism was to the merchant and slave capitalism of the 17th and 18th centuries. But they have struggled to describe the dynamics of the new “cognitive” capitalism. And for a reason. Its dynamics are profoundly non-capitalist.

    If we restate Arrow’s principle in reverse, its revolutionary implications are obvious: if a free market economy plus intellectual property leads to the “underutilisation of information”, then an economy based on the full utilisation of information cannot tolerate the free market or absolute intellectual property rights. The business models of all our modern digital giants are designed to prevent the abundance of information.

    I’ve surveyed the attempts by economists and business gurus to build a framework to understand the dynamics of an economy based on abundant, socially-held information. But it was actually imagined by one 19th-century economist in the era of the telegraph and the steam engine. His name? Karl Marx.


    The scene is Kentish Town, London, February 1858, sometime around 4am. Marx is a wanted man in Germany and is hard at work scribbling thought-experiments and notes-to-self. When they finally get to see what Marx is writing on this night, the left intellectuals of the 1960s will admit that it “challenges every serious interpretation of Marx yet conceived”. It is called “The Fragment on Machines”.

    In the “Fragment” Marx imagines an economy in which the main role of machines is to produce, and the main role of people is to supervise them. He was clear that, in such an economy, the main productive force would be information. The productive power of such machines as the automated cotton-spinning machine, the telegraph and the steam locomotive did not depend on the amount of labour it took to produce them but on the state of social knowledge. Organisation and knowledge, in other words, made a bigger contribution to productive power than the work of making and running the machines.

    Given what Marxism was to become – a theory of exploitation based on the theft of labour time – this is a revolutionary statement.
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  8. WIKIPEDIA has come a long way since it started in 2001. With around 70,000 volunteers editing in over 100 languages, it is by far the world’s most popular reference site. Its future is also uncertain.

    One of the biggest threats it faces is the rise of smartphones as the dominant personal computing device. A recent Pew Research Center report found that 39 of the top 50 news sites received more traffic from mobile devices than from desktop and laptop computers, sales of which have declined for years.

    This is a challenge for Wikipedia, which has always depended on contributors hunched over keyboards searching references, discussing changes and writing articles using a special markup code. Even before smartphones were widespread, studies consistently showed that these are daunting tasks for newcomers. “Not even our youngest and most computer-savvy participants accomplished these tasks with ease,” a 2009 user test concluded. The difficulty of bringing on new volunteers has resulted in seven straight years of declining editor participation.

    In 2005, during Wikipedia’s peak years, there were months when more than 60 editors were made administrator — a position with special privileges in editing the English-language edition. For the past year, it has sometimes struggled to promote even one per month.

    The pool of potential Wikipedia editors could dry up as the number of mobile users keeps growing; it’s simply too hard to manipulate complex code on a tiny screen.

    The real challenges for Wikipedia are to resolve the governance disputes — the tensions among foundation employees, longtime editors trying to protect their prerogatives, and new volunteers trying to break in — and to design a mobile-oriented editing environment. One board member, María Sefidari, warned that “some communities have become so change-resistant and innovation-averse” that they risk staying “stuck in 2006 while the rest of the Internet is thinking about 2020 and the next three billion users.”
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  9. Wikimedia, spiega il giudice, "chiarisce di non poter garantire in alcun modo la validità delle informazioni pubblicate, con una chiara presa di distanze dalla verità dei fatti riportati nelle singole voci", elemento che la community si incarica di garantire: per questo motivo non si configura alcun tipo di condotta omissiva e si esclude la responsabilità della Fondazione a titolo di concorso nella diffamazione.

    "Eventualmente responsabili di condotte diffamatorie sono infatti i singoli utenti, dei quali viene peraltro conservato dal provider l'indirizzo a scopo cautelativo": il Moige potrebbe rivalersi su di loro, ma dovrebbe altresì riconoscere che la community ha saputo far evolvere la pagina dedicata, offrendo delle fonti e delle precisazioni che l'hanno avvicinata alla realtà dei fatti.

    Il giudice riconosce che Movimento Genitori, come altresì raccomandato nel contesto del caso legale sollevato con l'accusa di diffamazione da parte di Cesare Previti e conclusosi a favore di Wikimedia, ha tentato di muoversi nella giusta direzione, operando nel contesto di Wikipedia, con gli strumenti messi a disposizione da Wikipedia. Se invece ha lamentato censure e ostruzionismo da parte dei Wikipediani, osserva il magistrato, potrebbe non aver compreso le regole che sorreggono l'Enciclopedia Libera: "occorre seguire le procedure ivi analiticamente descritte - ricorda al Moige il giudice - nulla evincendosi dagli atti circa la correttezza delle modalità seguite a tal fine da parte attrice".
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2015-07-28)
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  10. Wikipedia is a paradox and a miracle—a crowdsourced encyclopedia that has become the default destination for nonessential information. That it has survived almost 15 years and remained the top Google result for a vast number of searches is a testament to the impressive vision of founder Jimmy Wales and the devotion of its tens of thousands of volunteer editors. But beneath its reasonably serene surface, the website can be as ugly and bitter as 4chan and as mind-numbingly bureaucratic as a Kafka story. And it can be particularly unwelcoming to women.

    “The encyclopedia that anyone can edit” is at risk of becoming, in computer scientist Aaron Halfaker’s words, “the encyclopedia that anyone who understands the norms, socializes him or herself, dodges the impersonal wall of semiautomated rejection and still wants to voluntarily contribute his or her time and energy can edit.”

    The problem instead stems from the fact that administrators and longtime editors have developed a fortress mentality in which they see new editors as dangerous intruders who will wreck their beautiful encyclopedia, and thus antagonize and even persecute them. This attitude comes from the fact that some of these intruders are indeed trolls, partisans, paid hacks, or incompetents. Many, however, are not dangerous and run screaming from Wikipedia after receiving a hostile welcome. It is common to accuse a new editor of being a “single-purpose account,” or SPA, focused on one particular issue with a non-neutral point of view. Of course, most new editors look like SPAs at first, so the derogatory term frequently functions as a way to delegitimize newcomers. “Many newcomers experience being bashed and disparaged without good cause,” Jemielniak told me. “Wikipedians are used to hunting trolls and fighting them. It desensitizes them.” You can start to see why Wikipedia has trouble recruiting new editors and how this process may actually select for stubborn and implacable editors. Unfortunately, since the number of longtime, productive editors has continued to drop over the years to 31,000 last year, almost half of what it was in 2007, this problem is becoming more pressing.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2015-07-27)
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