Wikimedia Executive Sue Gardner to seek successor
Sue Gardner, the Wikimedia Foundation’s amazing Executive Director, recently announced plans to step down later this year, and has launched a search for her successor. She is one of the most insightful and collaborative voices in the movement, and a good friend. And she has led some of our most ambitious organizational and financial shifts: our focus on individual fundraising, the transition to a community-led funds dissemination process, and a growing attention to grantmaking. It is hard to imagine the Foundation without her…!!
We have been discussing this internally among the Board for a month now; and the transition planned is gradual: the search is expected to take til the end of this year. But I am still getting used to the idea; it has been a long and wonderful road we have travelled during her tenure. We are also reaching the end of our first round of long-term planning, so this year and next will be a good time for a new ED to help shape the Foundation’s future and how we frame our work.
A rundown of outside news coverage:
Half-Baked Idea (fit for the half-bakery): a Coffee Presser
Java-Logs exist. They’re just like firestarters but they smell nice and are made of coffee grounds; wrapped in paper just like regular firestarters. Coffee machines produce lots and lots of grounds that get thrown out (ideally into compost but usually not. often they just sit around, uncompacted, and grow mold.)
So: someone should design a “Coffee Presser” add-on to traditional popular coffeemakers – and standalone for dumping the dregs from your French Press – that produces mini Java Logs and wraps them so you can hold then when spit out. Perfect for those climes suitable for both lots of hot coffee and nightly fires.
One man’s salvation from persistent madness to reasoned satirist
96 days of altered consciousness and recovering from a psychotic break. Told with humor and self-awareness, in an epic 18-part tale.
Let’s say that every time I see a yellow car, you actually see what I would call a green dragon, and we’ve just adapted to different driving styles… Now let’s assume we both see an object descended from the Model-T, and not the offspring of a bat fucking an iguana in a wood stove.* Except now I’m secretly attaching the symbol of car to dragon.
* I say natural selection demands that if you did this enough times, something would survive, and I bet that something would be a dragon. If there are any crazy people reading this right now, you have your mission.
Public Service Ad: TheOldReader perfects a google reader clone
If you liked Google Reader, you’ll love TheOldReader.com – a site that perfectly replicates the funcionality of the original Google Reader, adding the joy of being part of a reclaimed tool.
Update: Mako points out that newsblur may be even better, and is free software. Huzzah!
Every day for the past two weeks someone different has mentioned in my presence how much they miss Google Reader, and I or someone else has pointed them to this site, to great joy. TOR supports importing of your old GR feed. Most of my G-R-maven friends have switched over by now, so there are at least a few amazing people to share with there.
Edit by Edit: an Article Feedback Tool gets firmly tested
One of the Wikipedia projects that has been developing slowly over the past two years is the Article Feedback Tool. In its first incarnation, it let readers rate articles with a star system (1 to 5 stars for each of the areas of being Well-Sourced, Complete, Neutral, and Readable).
The latest version of the tool, version 5, shifts the focus of the person giving feedback to leaving a comment, and noting whether or not they found what they were looking for. After some interation and tweaking, including an additional abuse filter for comments, it has recently been turned on for 10% of the articles on the English Wikipedia.
This is generating roughly 1 comment per minute; or 10/min if it were running on all articles. In comparison, the project gets around 1 edit per second overall. So if turned on for 100% of articles, it would add 15-20% to the editing activity on the site. This is clearly a powerful channel for input, for readers who have something to share but aren’t drawn in by the current ‘edit’ tabs.
What is the community’s response? Largely critical so far. The primary criticism is that the ease of commenting encourages short, casual/random/non-useful comments; and that it tends to be one-way communication [because there's no obvious place to find responses? this isn't necessarily so; replies could auto-generate a notice on the talk page of the related IP]. Many specific suggestions and rebuttals of the initial implementation have been made, some heard more than others. The implementation was overall not quite sensitive to the implications for curation and followthrough.
A roadmap that included a timeframe for expanding the tool from 10% to 100% of articles was posted, without a community discussion; so a Request for Comments was started by an interested community member (rather than by the designers). This started in mid-January, and currently has a plurality of respondents asking to turn the tool off until it has addressed some of the outstanding issues.
The impression of the developers, here as with some other large organically-developing feature rollouts, was not that they had gotten thorough and firm testing, but that editors were fighting over every detail, making communication about what works and why hard. Likewise there has been a shortage of good facilitators to take in all varieties of feedback and generate an orderly summary and practical solutions.
So how did things go wrong? Pete gets to the heart of it in his comment, where he asks for a clearer presentation of the project hopes and goals, measures of success, and a framework for community engagement, feedback, and approval:
I think it’s a mere mistake, but it does get frustrating because WMF has made this same mistake in other big technical projects…
What I’m looking for is the kind of basic framework that would encompass possible objections, and establish a useful way of communicating about them…
WMF managed that really well with the Strategic Planning process, and with the TOU rewrite. The organization knows how to do it. I believe if it had been done in this case, things would look very different right now…
It is our technical projects that are most likely to stumble at that stage – sometimes for many months – despite putting significant energy into communication.
Can we do something about it now? Like most of the commenters on the RfC, including those opposing the current implementation, I see a great deal of potential good in this tool, while also seeing why it frustrates many active editors. It seems close to something that could be rolled out with success to the contentment of commenters and long-time editors alike; but perhaps not through the current process of defining and discussing features / feedback / testing (which begs for confrontational challenge/response discussions that are draining, time-consuming, and avoid actually resolving the issues raised!).
I’ll write more about this over the coming week.
[Value NaN] Vignettes of pricelessness in everyday science
There’s a certain quality to discovery, exploration, and discussion of priceless things.
Max Kennerly’s vote for doing something about Aaron Swartz’s death
The National Criminal Justice Commission Act (NCJCA) Spearheaded by Jim Webb (D-VA) is a first step towards high-level reform of our benchmarks for criminal justice – what is considerd acceptable, and what our justice system should be for in the first place. Most observers agree the system is broken in fundamental ways. It’s not clear to me why a review is controversial; but this act got only 57/100 votes in the Senate in 2011 and was filibustered. (The bill was Tracked over its history by the BulletPath Legislation Channel.)
Max Kennerly, one of the more level-headed critics of Aaron’s legal prosecution last year and this, suggests supporting the NCJCA this term. It was already very close to being passed.
Want to do something right now? Call up your Senators and Representative and tell them you’d like them to start moving again on the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. It failed in the Senate in late 2011, but it’s still bouncing around. Get it on Congress’ radar again.
ᔥ Max’s Blog
Babbage on Aaron, in this week’s Economist, with love and regret
Remembering his own past correspondence with Aaron:
On hearing of his death Babbage (G.F.) reviewed a number of e-mails he exchanged with Mr Swartz in 2000-01. The boy was in his mid-teens but his prose, taut and to the point, was as mature as his precocious mind. He wanted to know where your correspondent obtained book data for a price-comparison site. He even suggested a collaboration, regretfully unconsummated, that later became the nucleus of the Open Library.
Aaron’s first wiki concept: TheInfo, circa 1999
This is the project with which Aaron became a finalist in the ArsDigita Prize contest when he was 13:
Swartz’s contending creation was The Info Network www.theinfo.org), an ever-growing encyclopedia-like site filled with “a vast repository of human knowledge” focused on content — real information for people to use, as he calls it.
The site works like this: Anyone can submit information about what they know in a totally open environment, which means they can add to the information freely.
“In the style of the popular GNU/Linux operating system,”Swartz added.
Users are allowed to edit another’s submission, but the program will always copy any original material so as not to permanently overwrite any copy.
Swartz’ online encyclopedia include sections on art, with subsections on rubber stamping and square dancing; a section on science, with subsections on treating burns and finding out what a palindrome is; and a chapter on life, with subsections on genealogy and religion.
It was two summers ago that Swartz starting toying with the idea of building such a site.
“I spent my days typing away at the keyboard, bringing my ideas into action,” he said.
Swartz said the kicker was when he realized (although it may have been easy for him) that it was really hard for people to post information online. “You have to set up a server, find a place to host it, learn HTML, or learn to use a Web editing program,” he said.
from the Chicago Tribune, June 23, 2000
Of all of the encyclopedia projects covered in Mako’s recent overview (there were almost a dozen in the years just before and after Wikipedia’s founding), this was closest in spirit and inspiration.
Westboro Baptists face off with Anonymous at Aaron’s service
Yesterday, the Westboro Baptist Church (a cultlike single-family church that gets publicity for its extreme religious views by picketing high-profile funerals – such as those of soldiers returning from fighting overseas – with the most offensive chants they can muster) declared they would attend and picket Aaron’s funeral tomorrow. (via Salon) I suppose that is a sign that they expected it will generate publicity.
Anonymous, which has opposed WBC antics in the past, launched Operation Angel in response: to minimize the impact of such picketing, and help avoid the hounding of people like Aaron in the future.