NBC and the End of the Broadcast Era

The news broke yesterday that NBC will be canceling 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and Community.

(…On the bright side, I suppose I’ll be more productive next year when there’s nothing interesting to watch on television.)

As a media consumer, I was shocked.  Everyone who watches Community knew the show was in ratings trouble.  But the other two shows have been a Thursday night tentpole and didn’t seem to be in danger.  Considering the hit-or-miss quality of most NBC programming, does anyone believe that they’ll find three replacements that are better?

As a media analyst, this strikes me as evidence that NBC just doesn’t understand (or accept) how the tv game has fundamentally changed.  The network has the attention of a valuable niche audience, but insists upon wasting it.  NBC was once the most popular television network in America.  But that was during the era of broadcast television, when limited consumer choice meant that three or four networks enjoyed the luxury of competing over an entire national audience.  NBC was home to The Cosby Show and Cheers in the 1980s, Friends and Seinfeld in the 1990s.  Those hit shows brought in a whole national audience.  Today’s NBC shows attract an appealing niche audience rather than the whole nation.

The difference is cable tv and the Internet.  Cable television existed in the 1980s and 1990s, but had a different texture.  Cable stations offered niche programming, while the networks offered staples.  Many households did not have cable back then.  While HBO started developing its own programming relatively early, we were still a long away from AMC competing for “best drama” Emmys with Mad Men.  Lacking the social web, audiences were passive.  Lacking the rich online data environment, advertisers settled for coarse metrics of audience interest.

Today, NBC fills a pretty sweet niche with its programming.  Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, The Office*, and Community anchor a lineup of generally pretty-smart comedies.  They attract devoted fans who riff on the shows constantly online.  My students at Rutgers frequently mention that they watch 30 Rock or Community.  They never mention Two and a Half Men.  My friends and colleagues are the same.  Amongst the social clusters who watch Mad Men and The Wire, NBC is the broadcast network that we most often tune in to.  NBC could choose to be happy with that audience.  It’s a tech-savvy crowd, with enough spending power and cultural capital to keep advertisers happy.  But that would mean relinquishing the dream of recapturing 1980s audience-share.  Apparently the network decided to go another direction.

If some upstart competitor is smart, they’ll view this as an opportunity. Cult favorite  Arrested Development is already heading to Netflix.  Netflix or another outlet (Current TV 2.0, anyone?) ought to round up these shows and corner the market on creative-class cultural favorites.

Arrested Development is a great example of the broader trend: how can a show that is so intensely popular not be worth airing?  In the era of broadcast, when there were limited timeslots, I can understand that logic.  You cancel it because the “real estate” of prime time television is too scarce and too valuable.  But can anyone honestly argue that Arrested Development wouldn’t attract a solid niche audience on a weekly basis?  Now that we have hundreds of channels, plus hulu, plus netflix, plus youtube for remixes, plus tumblr for memes, plus twitter for riffs, no channel is going to attract Seinfeld-sized audiences.  But that also means there’s expanded opportunity for quality programming.

If you can’t make money off of Arrested Development or 3o Rock, Parks and Rec or Community, it’s time to get out of the money-making business.


*The Office is sticking around for another full season.  I will pay cold, hard cash if someone can explain the logic of that move.

Ablogalypse and Internet Time

Today’s comic from xkcd is titled “Ablogalypse.”  Randall Munroe shares his work under a Creative Commons License, so I’m reposting it below*:

Three things about this chart:

1. Notice that mentions of “blog” haven’t declined much.  People are still blogging.  People are still talking about blogging.  But people are also finding new uses for tumblr sites, and many of those uses are absurdly shareable.

2. We saw a similar process a few years ago with social network sites.  Several public commenters looked at the rise of facebook and suggested it meant a decline of blogging.  Chris Bowers (I think, can’t find the post) responded that instead we were seeing finer-grained niches.  Blogs used to be the only self-publishing game in town (’01-’04ish).  So early adopters used blogs for all sorts of communicative purposes… even ones which a medium designed for instantaneous default-public, default-permanent writing is poorly-suited.  As the social web has developed, new platforms have been created with different affordances.  The more sophisticated users have started to select the right tool for their communications purpose.

3. Tumblr sites are particularly good for fun viral stuff.  Last week’s phenomenon, Texts From Hillary Clinton, is a great example.  Two netroots politic0-types came up with the lolcats-style idea over beers.  A few years ago, they would’ve launched it as a blog.  That would’ve worked alright, but blogs are a little clunky if you just want to post images and short commentary.  So today they use a tumblr site instead.  To the extent that images-and-captions are more viral-friendly (or “upworthy“) than their text-heavy equivalent, we ought to expect a spike in tumblr’s google rankings.

Last Friday at the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting, I gave a presentation of my latest paper, Social Science Research Methods in Internet Time.  It’s essentially an extended rumination on the phenomenon associated with this graph.  New features of the social web emerge fast.  It creates a novel research problem — our most robust social science methods are based in the ceteris paribus assumption that the communications network we sample at time X will be basically the same as the network in existence at time Y**.  I argue that, in the face of the ongoing adoption and adaptation practices, our best research options often involve embracing the messiness, being transparent about our data limitations, and hacking together kludgy research designs that provide some analytic leverage on how the system is evolving, and how it all fits together.  …In light of this week’s comic, maybe I should have added “keep a sense of humor” to that list.


*Please tell me you’re already regularly visiting XKCD.  New comics come out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  There is no such thing as a person who would enjoy shoutingloudly.com but dislike xkcd.

*Where X = the time when you conduct the research and Y = the time when your research is published.  It’s a reasonable assumption most of the time, and hellishly problematic when it proves unreasonable.

Jim Gilliam’s “The Internet is My Religion”

One of the runaway highlights of this year’s Personal Democracy Forum was Jim Gilliam’s talk “The Internet Is My Religion.”

I’ve known Jim for a few years, but never known his full story.  The talk is moving and powerful and thought-provoking.  Click the link above and watch it.

Kudos to Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej for putting together such a solid event.  Talks by Larry Lessig, Eben Moglen, and Dan Sinker (@mayoremanuel) were also clear highlights.  Oh, and Clay Shirky was wearing a 3 Wolf Moon t-shirt.  That’s basically an internet meme wearing an internet meme.  Whoa. Meta.

How I Use My Kindle

Via Facebook today, I had yet another cause to discuss how I use (and why I love) my Kindle. This isn’t a Gizmodo-style tech lust blog by a long shot, but other folks—especially other academics—often want to know if this device can improve their lives. The short answer is: Maybe. For me, Continue reading

Posted in Fun

Reflecting on Convergence Culture… the good and the bad

[This is more of a holiday-cheer post than my usual academic blog entries.  ‘Tis the season…]

In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins’s excellent work on the various effects of digital media on media production/culture, “convergence” takes on multiple meanings.  Part of what makes it such a good book is that all of these meanings are true.  Media convergence includes both the rise of mass media conglomerates and the rise of read/write culture.  It is the interaction of those forces that determines the shape of media power in the 21st century — we can’t just focus on one or the other.

That said, there’s also the normative question of “is it a good thing or a bad thing?”  Social scientists are trained to duck this question, but we all have our opinions.  And particularly for those of us who deal with YouTube and other “user-generated content,” it’s easy to get swallowed up by the junk and the horrendous comment threads and bemoan the lack of quality that comes as we move from a filter-then-publish world to a publish-then-filter one.

And then there’s the “JK Wedding Dance.”

You’ve almost certainly seen it.  It’s been viewed over 33 million times, making it the third most-visited YouTube clip of 2009.  Cute couple.  Wedding in a chapel.  Chris Brown’s “Forever” starts playing.  The groomsmen and bridesmaids start dancing down the aisle, followed by the rest of the wedding party and ending with the bride and groom.  It’s engendered numerous spoofs, and was directly referenced in The Office’s wedding episode.  It’s hard not to smile, watching this outpouring of joy and affection.  These people were having fun.

I can’t help but compare the JK Wedding Dance to “The Real Wedding Crashers.”  This was a short-lived reality show on NBC in 2007.  It’s pretty much the perfect antithesis to the wedding dance.  Launched after the Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson pic, “Wedding Crashers,” the premise of the show was that soon-to-be-married couples would secretly sign up to have their nuptial events ruined by the “crashers.”  Hidden cameras would capture the crowd’s disgusted reactions, and we the people could watch and entertainment.  After months of constant/heavy promotion, the show lasted 4 episodes before joining the rotting husks of so many of its fellow bad-idea reality shows.

“Real Wedding Crashers” always left a bad taste in my mouth.  You can just imagine the pitch meeting: “it’s just like the movie hit, but with real people!  Imagine a cross between Survivor and Wedding Crashers…  It’ll cost nothing to promote and be a cross-platform event!”  This is 15-minutes-of-fame at its worst, taking one of the most storied moments in a relationship and turning it into a mean prank on friends and family.  It’s crass, it’s mean, and it appeals to the worst in each of us.  Oh, and it’s over-promoted on primetime television, probably replacing a cult favorite broadcast television show that had high production costs and a niche, devoted fan base.  It’s hard to think about “reality” shows like this (which are, in actuality, the antithesis of “real”) and not wish a speedy collapse upon the media conglomerates who visit them upon us.

And then there’s the JK Wedding Dance.  Semi-spontaneous, joyful, fun, making a special event more special and more memorable for the community that’s present.  Zero production costs, zero promotion, and reaching a viral audience of 33 million.

I don’t want to make too much of the juxtaposition — just share it because it so often occurs to me.  These are only two cases, interesting because of their symmetry.  But when I consider the normative question of whether the paired rise of participatory media and destruction of revenue streams that supported cherished older media, I cannot help but reflect on this pair of examples.  Most of YouTube is a combination of junk user-generated content and clippings from the mainstream media.  There are very few gems like this one, and bountiful examples of the fundamental flaws in the human character, I’m sure.  But the same is true for network television.  Given the choice, I find YouTube and other social media far less depressing than the economic logic of mainstream media convergence.  Democratizing production allows for more beautiful ideas to see the light of day.  As a researcher, I’m not sure how to count, prove, or disprove any of that.  But as a citizen, it sure does bring a smile to my face.

Thanks to Newsweek for Having Me at News/Geek

Just a quick, 24-hours-overdue thanks to the folks at the Newsweek Dev Team for hosting me last night at their third News/Geek event.

I had a rollicking good time, the questions were awesome, and the post-talk celebration was even better. If you want the Powerpoint, it’s here in all its 12.2 MB glory.

Further discussion welcome.

ShoutingLoudly Welcomes Paul Falzone

It is with a joyous heart that I welcome our latest co-conspirator contributor, Paul Falzone.

Like the rest of us, he has a big “Penn” stamp on his arse, having earned his PhD from Annenberg in 2008. He started in 2003 (same year as Jason and me), and it quickly became apparent that he was a genuine radical. Little wonder we got along so well!

Paul’s now at Green Mountain College, as good a home for him as I could have possibly imagined.

I look forward to seeing his insights appear with the same unreliability that our 3.5 readers have come to expect from the rest of us.

Herman v. MTA: Rumors Already Flying

The MTA is so zealous in their enforcement of trademark and copyright that, at least according to one blogger, they’ve already censored me.

That was news to me, but it wouldn’t have surprised anybody if it were true. Here’s what is:

On July 25, I uploaded this design to CafePress:

My T-shirt idea: Taken down by Cafe Press in 30 minutes flat. on Twitpic

CafePress took down the design within 30 minutes (and over a weekend)–presumably before the MTA could contact them.

When I emailed CafePress, they helpfully provided me the name and contact info of the MTA lawyer with whom I could take up the matter. The fact that this info is available to the CafePress help desk is scary–it suggests that the MTA attorney is very regularly contacting them.

Then yesterday, I saw the following tweet from NYCPhotoRights: “New post: MTA Censors Another Parody (http://cli.gs/1X0XX)” That user had also just started following me, but Tina and I were busy getting ready for our Labor Day Weekend BBQ and I didn’t follow the link.

The link is to this NYC Photo Rights blog entry, which shows a picture of my design under the same headline. I may be misreading the post, but it appears the blogger thought the MTA played a direct role. I posted a comment there correcting the mistake.

For the record, I have not as of yet been contacted by the MTA. I hope (though I have absolutely no faith) that they will not contact me simply for posting my design as part of a discussion about their preposterous over-enforcement of their trademark rights.

I have, however, emailed attorney and blawger Ron Coleman. I can’t pay him to take the case, which puts a damper on the odds that he’ll take on the MTA for me, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. After all, he’s publicly grousing about other clients who wouldn’t take it to court.

I think this is already an interesting story on a number of levels… Being publicly labeled as a victim of MTA censorship is just the latest addition to the list.

Incidentally, I have other ideas for T shirts that are much more directly critical of the MTA:

*Where the (F) is my train?
*MTA to NYC: (F) (U)
*MTA to NYC: (W)(E) O(W)(N) (U)

I know, it ain’t Shakespeare, but I think it’s clearly protected speech.

Andrew Lih on the Wikipedia Revolution

Do you want to know how Wikipedia was able to become such an incredible success? Who the people behind its success are? The best book to learn about the history and the culture of Wikipedia is Andrew Lih’s new book “The Wikipedia Revolution“, launched last week. He was at Harvard last night to give a talk and do an interview with Berkman Fellow and distinguished internet scholar David Weinberger.

Andrew shares with us his story of how he first came across Wikipedia – in many ways, it was a very different experience from most people. On February 9, 2003, Andrew was looking for his next research project – he has been studying online journalism and new media for a long time – and has been instrumental in creating the new media program at the Columbia J-school – he was told that he should take a look at this new site called Wikipedia – this amazing site that “anyone can edit”. Contrary to most people, he heard the principle first, before he saw the actual website. When he took the time to explore the site, he was immediately taken away with it, thinking “the crowd could not have written this” He looked at more pages, started using Wikipedia in class assignments, and became so fascinated with the project that he wanted to study it full-time.

“It works in practice, but not in theory” is often said of Wikipedia. And that’s definitely true if you consider its origin. Wikipedia started out of a project called Nupedia – in many ways this was projected to be a conventional encyclopedia. Started by Bomis, it envisioned a 7 step rigorous peer review – it would recruit volunteers to write its articles – and the hope was that most of these volunteers would have a PhD degree. That is, the original vision of an online encyclopedia was one with very high stringent requirements.

The big problem: after one year, Nupedia had the grand total of twelve (count ‘m) articles. Even worse, they were written by someone on the payroll. This was clearly not sustainable. Larry Sanger decided to intervene – realizing they needed something radical to at least get seed material. He turned to this thing he saw called wiki software – created by Ward Cunningham – wiki was a way for programmers to share best practices – it would be an online resource for programmers. The name came from the wiki wiki bus in Hawaii – meaning ‘quick’. The wiki software indeed produced quick results – as of recent, there are over 2.8 million entries in the English Wikipedia alone. So why does Wikipedia work? Andrew suggests five key factors: it was free – open – neutral – timely and social.

Andrew describes the piranha effect – the idea that one change in one corner can inspire other changes and create a torrent in the community. For example, in one particular week, 33,800 (count ‘m) articles were added in Wikipedia. This was largely from a huge body of census data from the US – a software robot was written to extract relevant information from this data and inject every possible town and city in Wikipedia. One such town was Apex, and it just happened that on one day SethIlys visited this page. It was a dry article – what he decided to do was – hey, why not put a map on there? A few keystrokes later, he had added his own handmade map – and in his own way, was able to contribute his knowledge to the world. Useless perhaps? Perhaps, but if he visited this page, why not someone else as well? This experience was really empowering to him. Once he started with one map, he figured, why not add others? And once he started, it did not make sense to stop – so like Forrest Gump – he kept on running. The strange thing was, others started running, too. Nearly all the US census location articles now have maps.

There’s a famous saying: “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Andrew adds to that: “If there was ever a project that had lots and lots of unhammered nails, it was Wikipedia.” The dot map project was an inspiration – an exemplar – encouraging people to do things they never thought possible. And in many ways, Wikipedia itself is such a project as well – an exemplar.

David starts his interview with Andrew.

David: Let’s get this out of the way first, are you neutral about Wikipedia?

Andrew: No I’m not. I analyze neutrally. But I’m a big fan. I believe Wikipedia is one of the most fascinating creations man has ever made. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve scrutiny.

David: You think it was important enough to write a book about – an endorsement in itself. But let’s go to its origin myth – as all super heroes have one – the myth is often that idealists came together to do this democratic experiment and that the world’s greatest encyclopedia is the result. Is that right, where did it go wrong?

Andrew: Telling Nupedia’s story helps debunk a lot of this. It started as a failure. There was no way anyone knew how to do this. Even though the founders were very internet savvy and big fans of open source, it was not apparent that doing an encyclopedia in that style was the way to go. Only after a full year, did they decide to try it this way.

It’s also interesting that Wikipedia is always cited as an example of democracy, but the community itself never uses that word. It assumes good faith, it likes consensus, but it never ever uses the word democracy. As a matter of fact, a key thing in wiki is NOT to do voting. They discourage voting – they rather decide through discussion, not to rely on hard measures like voting.

David: What’s wrong with hard measures?

Andrew: The problem of gaming the vote without having meaningful discourse. One of the most contentious issue was the Danzig/Gdansk edit war. An edit war is what happens when you don’t converge on a neutral point of view – the result is that there is a constant flipping back and forth between different revisions of one article. This edit war was the catalyst of a lot of policy change – for example, the Three-Revert-Rule. But in this case, after a year of brutal edit war, voting was inevitable – it was a defining edit war in English Wikipedia history.

David: Can you talk about the flatness – that supposedly every voice is equal and there is no hierarchy – and its rules, the anti-rules and emergence of rules?

Andrew: The rule is that you shouldn’t have that many rules – having too many rules, you start to game the rules. There are rules nevertheless – neutral point of view, assume good faith, – the idea that your next contributor could be the most prolific one, so don’t bite the newbie. But these rules are soft ones and established during the early days – the community has changed quite a bit since 2001.Today it is no problem to get people to contribute. The problem is to get rid of bad stuff. The concern: is the community is still as vibrant as the early days?

David: There is an antipathy towards rules – the idea that rules tend to breed bad behavior – yet at the same time it is a warm-hearted community – assume good faith. To what extent is Wikipedia free of a certain political mindset in the structure of Wikipedia as an emergent community?

Andrew: The English Wikipedia, it’s a liberal progressive community, or libertarian. It is reflected in the early roots of Wiki – they met on Objectivist mailing lists. Jimbo (Jimmy Wales) is a straight forward libertarian – common in the geek community. The articles are generally of good quality nevertheless. But if you disagree, you can fork. One such response is Conservapedia.

David: Is it built along the same principles?

Andrew: No, but I wish it were. Articles are often written in direct opposition to Wikipedia articles.

David: Is it open to edit?

Andrew: Hmm, hard to say. More people are in control, they are not as inclusive.

David: What I like is the pragmatism of Wikipedia – a general dislike for rules, but if you need a rule to build an encyclopedia, then it’s fine.

Andrew: There are really five pillars, one of them is that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. That might sound silly, but that wasn’t so in 2004. Wikipedia had grown as a community with lots of social aspects – there was a gaming lounge for example where people were playing virtual chess games. We had to shut that down – it was pretty cruel – but we are here to write encyclopedia articles and not to support MySpace activities.

David: It’s also a discussion about which articles are deleted – that Wikipedia is not an art project. It’s an encyclopedia, but sort of different – so the question becomes what an encyclopedia is in a digital age? It’s a sharp edged debate between the deletionists and inclusionists – what side do you fall on?

Andrew: The inclusionists’ argument is that wiki is not paper – why not have articles about anything under the sky? An article on an obscure issue does not take away from your general experience. The deletionists, also called exclusionists, argue that the value of an encyclopedia is that it is a set of articles. It’s no good to have an article where every single word is cross-linked, or that are not reliable – the key test here is – should we have an article on what we had for breakfast?

In the early days, I was considered an exclusionist. I argued that it does matter how selective you are – that articles need to be verifiable, high quality. Over the years, the community standards have shifted, to the point that I don’t think I have changed my stance that much, but where I am now being considered an inclusionist.

Now it is crucial to keep out the bad stuff – Wikipedia is now high profile – and recent policy changes are all about restrictions, restrictions, restrictions. It provides a much more different atmosphere than the early days – now much more stringent.

David: What gets people so passionate about this particular issue?

Andrew: It’s not just within one language – it’s across cultures as well – for example, the German Wikipedia has 900,000 articles – a long way to go before you hit the 2.8 million articles of the English Wikipedia. But the Germans are very happy with their 900,000 articles – they generally have a much more stringent standard. Wikipedia used to be known as the definitive guide to Pokemon – that would not fly in German Wikipedia. That’s their style. The German Wikipedia is more traditional – but also has a great reputation – the German government, libraries, and universities are all interested in working with Wikimedia Deutschland because their quality is so high.

That is to say, the inclusionist/exclusionist argument also varies widely depending on the cultural lens you use.

David: Is it a problem that neutrality happens only if there is enough homogeneity in the community? Or they will have to break off? Does Wikipedia reinforce a prevalent domain of discourse that everybody agrees on? And thus excluding other views?

Andrew: Certainly in some languages – the first twenty languages – the largest languages – are fairly well educated and multilingual – especially contributors for the English Wikipedia span the whole world – and there is diversity of view points. But after the twenty languages – the drop off is bigger – and people are more homogeneous.

David: Isn’t this the case in English Wikipedia as well? That is, neutrality hides a fork – people fork.

Andrew: Yes, but they create meaningless forks, that nobody links to, they fade away.

David: That is exactly the price that it exacts – marginalization of points of view out of mainstream – that they cannot get on the same page – lots of groups accuse Wikipedia of this.

Andrew: Jimbo said once that Neutral Point of View is a term of art – most things that work are not razor sharp. There is a lot of faith in the actual ground troops – that they stay within directive – and that hopefully the diverse community will take this in account and create reliable content.

David: Lets talk about the changing roles of authority. Being a big prof doesn’t matter – its bad form even if you say this.

Andrew: Editorial authority is even more interesting in Japanese Wikipedia – most are anonymous – this is because the dominant internet culture in Japan is based on anonymity. You could be discussing with anyone, a housewife or a prof, what matters is the quality of edits.

David: Let’s talk about Essjay.

Andrew: That was one of the bigger crisis. Essjay was a pseudonym – and on his user page it said that I can’t tell you who I am but I have a PhD in Theology and I work at an academic institution but would get into trouble if I tell you my real name. Was an incredible prolific contributor – over 10,000 edits and everybody generally accepts that they were good quality. He eventually got access to admin privileges – that is, he could check IP addresses of users behind the scenes, and only a dozen people can do that, had access to private data.

What happened was that the New Yorker was doing an article – by Stacy Schiff, a Pulitzer award winning reporter – she did an interview with Essjay – wrote a long piece. Then Essjay took a job with Wikia Wikimedia Foundation (EDIT: Andrew corrected me: he took a job with Wikia, the for-profit firm founded by Jimmy Wales and another Wikipedian Angela Beesley) – and to do so, he had to come clean – that he was a 20-year old with no PhD degree. This was a huge embarrassment to the New Yorker – it seemed that Stacy never even asked Essjay’s name just to fact check it.

Some people argue that Essjay lied to a reporter but had good contributions. Others pointed to the fact that he sometimes used his credentials to win arguments. It was a real soul searching for the community – a prized Wikipedian would lie to the outside world, to a Pulitzer award winning reporter, and raised issues with regard to having faith in each other in the community.

David: The increasing use of credentials – or the German system that now allows for the marking, a flagging of pages that are considered reliable – is this a trend that will continue?

Andrew: Germans lead on quality issues – they have a tighter community of admins, who almost act like a council – whereas the admins in the English Wikipedia function more like janitors. So why not have a flagged version – you could flag the last version of an article that is stable – and you show people the latest checked version. You get better quality but you lose that they are instantly updated. The Germans implemented this last year – quite a success – flagged 89% in first year. The English Wikipedia has interest to implement this but it is hard to get the community to reach consensus on anything at all. Right now it’s a total stalemate – it had a surge of initial support but now trickled down.

David: The common complain is that students go to Wikipedia and simply believe what is there. What is it that readers need to do not to be fooled by occasional vandalism? How scared should we be?

Andrew: Wikipedia should be the starting point, but not ending point. It should not be in citations, just like entries from the Britannica should not be cited.

David: How confident should we be when we use it to look things up>

Andrew: The critique that it is dangerous when 14 year olds take it as gospel is not fair. Most people are media savvy. And then there is a whole range of things the community implemented – for example, requiring sources – in 2003, 2004 you never had any article that was tagged ‘citation needed’, now you do everywhere – there is a team called the ‘citation needed patrol’. Standards have improved – but ultimately I think flagged versions should be put in some way – right now it looks like it will be used for entries of living persons – this is for libel reasons. We start there and see what happens.

Audience Questions

Question: Can you discuss failed Wiki projects?

Andrew: The battlefield of failed wikiprojects is vast. Wikitorial from the LA Times was a real disaster. There is an assumption that you put up a Wiki and the Wiki Magic will happen. The LA Times learned the hard way – if you have no robust community with admins that fight vandalism, it’s a recipe for disaster.

What you realize after all this failed projects – wiki is perfectly suited for encyclopedia. It’s like a bento box of writing.
Very structured writing and lends to crowdsourcing. Very modular. This is not true for a novel, for example. Penguin had a contest where they put up a Wiki and expected that the magic wiki crowd would write a novel – did not happen.
Those that do work: lots of sharing, step by step, modular structured style of writing. Certain type of content are like this, but lots don’t. A lot of other organizations learn the hard way.

Question: Why not make people use full names?

Andrew: There is always talk in community – now do we don’t need anonymous people anymore – they give us more problems than they are worth – lets start requiring higher standard. In the beginning – the original culture dominates – Wikipedia tends to be inclusive – anonymous users are the core value of “anyone can edit”.

David: What about pseudonyms?

Andrew: It makes you to be able to converse with this person, it allows interaction, although you don’t know the authenticity. You can still see all the edits. Interestingly, pseudonym users give less information than anonymous users – with anonymous users, an IP address is recorded, and that often provides geographic location, what organization you are part of, etc. The Wikiscanner used this to its advantage – found out that people in Congress, Ogilvy, all kinds of organizations were editing articles they probably should not be editing. It was a typical example of sunshine being the best disinfectant – it was a kind of watchdogging the crowd.

Question: If Wikipedia would have been run by company, would it have been different?

Andrew: If Wikipedia was a commercial company, no way it could have been successful – people contribute because it is a free license – same like with Linux – people know it wasn’t making a company rich. Example is the Spanish fork – in the early days, there were some rumours about the possibility of advertisements – the Spanish community went ballistic on the mention of ads – they literally took the ball and went home – started Encyclopedia Libre – convinced all contributors to leave. This incident set the tone for the community since then.

Question: Is the bulk of content made by a small number of people?

Andrew: The idea behind the 80/20 rule is that 80% is done by 20% of the people. But this is not necessarily true for Wikipedia – Aaron Swartz’s research shows that there is a wide swath of people that edit Wikipedia. While the distribution is still non-linear, it’s just not the case that there is an elite crowd who edits over hundred hours a week.

David: Aaron’s work shows that the creation of new articles, the bulk of it is done by a broad range of users – which makes intuitive sense.

Andrew: As far as where the community is now, we don’t have good numbers. Since October 2006, there is no authoritative dump of Wikipedia anymore – it takes more than a month to do a monthly dump. This leaves Wikipedia vulnerable – and you also can no longer do statistical analysis.

David: We should each download one page!

Question: Can you talk about Larry Sanger?

Andrew: Sanger has an odd role – he did set up most of the basic rules of Wikipedia – but over time also encouraged Wikipedia to be more elitist over time – and some started seeing him as a pariah, as the anti-Wikipedian. Citizendium is supposed to be Wikipedia done right – with a layer of expertise but still largely open. His main criterion seems to be maintainability. He thinks a lot of what is going on in Wikipedia is just bs – trying to turn vandals into productive members – he is saying, cut that out, work with experts who can cut through the junk. We’ll see what history will say about that.

(Question about the vote on license migration – got lost in the details)

David: Wikipedia experienced exponential growth – but what got us there may not be the right set of tools to move ahead.

Andrew: That’s why flagged is inevitable – not to grow further, but to maintain quality.

Question: How did the power structure evolve?

Andrew: The number of privileged positions have grown but tend to be technical rather than editorial oversight. As an admin – you can block users – but only in narrow situations. You can lock articles – but only temporary – for combating vandalism. Promotion is community decision, there are no hard metrics. Things considered include the number of edits, activities you engage in, social capital – these are all intentionally left vague – the decision is made on an interaction human human basis – it’s not like there is an eBay rating or Amazon ranking.

Question: Why are there different forks and how do they exist – is there a possibility to have one global Wikipedia instead of all these divides?

Andrew: You’re right that it is too easy to see the 2.8 million English entries as the super set from which other Wikipedia languages should be translated from. This set is missing lots of things on Chinese arts, history – things the Chinese Wikipedia has. But the problem is, you need bilingual folks, tools to discover which article is good in one language and has a bad counterpart in another ..

Question: Will the WikiMedia foundation do this?

Andrew: They are a great engine to raise funds.