Monday, March 30, 2009

Why Wikipedia Works

Wikipedia: Exploring Fact City

Contributors to Wikipedia have wondered aloud lately if — perish the thought — they are running out of topics. The obvious articles, low-hanging fruit like “China,” “Moses” and “Homer Simpson,” have been written and rewritten hundreds of times. There are more than 2.8 million articles on the English version of Wikipedia alone. Already looking back, Wikipedia this month got its first serious memoir, “The Wikipedia Revolution,” by Andrew Lih, an early Wikipedian (yes, that is what they call themselves), who writes about how “a bunch of nobodies created the world’s greatest encyclopedia.”

But these concerns seem misplaced — Wikipedia can no more be completed than can New York City, which O. Henry predicted would be “a great place if they ever finish it.” In fact, with its millions of visitors and hundreds of thousands of volunteers, its ever-expanding total of articles and languages spoken, Wikipedia may be the closest thing to a metropolis yet seen online.

Like a city, Wikipedia is greater than the sum of its parts; for example, the random encounters there are often more compelling than the articles themselves. The search for information resembles a walk through an overbuilt quarter of an ancient capital. You circle around topics on a path that appears to be shifting. Ultimately the journey ends and you are not sure how you got there.

Wikipedia articles can send you down unlikely alleyways in two ways. First, there are links that direct you to the same article in another language, a trippy experience that sheds light on a culture. Spend time in German Wikipedia, and you find jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk with articles far longer than those written in their own language; you may also come upon odd areas of deep interest, like “pecherei,” the extraction of resin from trees — no English equivalent provided — and 15 different tools needed for the job.

Second, at the bottom of most articles, there are the categories — impromptu neighborhoods, or perhaps civic organizations, that bind together the virtual encyclopedia. There are unsurprising ones, like “Jewish comedians,” found at the bottom of the Jerry Seinfeld article; and then there are the quirky kind, like this one I stumbled upon: “Literary devices playing with meaning.” It was in the latter category that I came upon the article “Mondegreen,” which describes the phenomenon of mishearing song lyrics, which led to “Soramimi,” a Japanese term for hearing lyrics in foreign languages as Japanese phrases, which led to the discovery that the heavy metal band Metallica has a line in “Enter Sandman” that frequently is heard by Japanese as “Let’s go to Chiyoda Life Insurance.” Which led to ...

It is a tale of spontaneous organization and achievement. Until recently, Wikipedia was able to operate on a budget of less than $3 million a year. Today it is still only $7 million, all donations and grants. No advertising, no sugar daddy. A rags-to-rags story of world domination in information that could only have happened in the Internet age.

In “The City in History,” Lewis Mumford tried to explain how cities came to be: “In the earliest gathering about a grave or a painted symbol, a great stone or sacred grove, one has the beginning of a succession of civic institutions that range from the temple to the astronomical observatory, from the theater to the university.”

In its seven years of existence Wikipedia has become one of the top 10 global Web sites. It has many fewer visitors than Google, yes, but it is in shouting distance of Amazon and eBay, with more than 60 million Americans visiting in January. Hundreds of thousands of people — some anonymous, some using pseudonyms, others exactly who they say they are — have thus far come together to collaborate.

A single article, say about the Mumbai attacks last year, can have more than 1,000 contributors. Their discussions on how best to write the article can occupy pages, all guided by one of Wikipedia’s founding principles: “Assume good faith.”

Wikipedia encourages contributors to mimic the basic civility, trust, cultural acceptance and self-organizing qualities familiar to any city dweller. Why don’t people attack each other on the way home? Why do they stay in line at the bank? Why don’t people guffaw at the person with blue hair?

The police may be an obvious answer. But this misses the compact among city dwellers. Since their creation, cities have had to be accepting of strangers — no judgments — and residents learn to be subtly accommodating, outward looking.

Mumford elaborates: “Even before the city is a place of fixed residence, it begins as a meeting place to which people periodically return: the magnet comes before the container, and this ability to attract nonresidents to it for intercourse and spiritual stimulus no less than trade remains one of the essential criteria of the city, a witness to its essential dynamism, as opposed to the more fixed and indrawn form of the village, hostile to the outsider.”

The marvel of Wikipedia — and cities — is that all the intercourse and spiritual stimulus don’t make living there impossible. Rather, they are exactly what makes living there possible.

Mr. Lih at one point enlists the urban reformer Jane Jacobs to back up this point. For him, urban stability is replicated through the transparency of wikis — every change ever made at Wikipedia (every discussion as well) is recorded. Ms. Jacobs, he writes, “argued that sidewalks provided three important things: safety, contact and the assimilation of children.” She may as well have been talking about wikis, he says: “A wiki has all its activities happening in the open for inspection, as on Jacobs’s sidewalk. Trust is built by observing the actions of others in the community and discovering people with like or complementary interests.”

It is this sidewalk-like transparency and collective responsibility that makes Wikipedia as accurate as it is. The greater the foot traffic, the safer the neighborhood. Thus, oddly enough, the more popular, even controversial, an article is, the more likely it is to be accurate and free of vandalism. It is the obscure articles — the dead-end streets and industrial districts, if you will — where more mayhem can be committed. It takes longer for errors or even malice to be noticed and rooted out. (Fewer readers will be exposed to those errors, too.)

Like the modern megalopolis, Wikipedia has decentralized growth. Wikipedia adds articles the way Beijing adds neighborhoods — whenever the mood strikes. It is open to all: the sixth-grader typing in material from her homework assignment, the graduate student with a limited grasp of English. No judgments, no entry pass.

One of Wikipedia’s governing principles is N.P.O.V. (neutral point of view), in much the same way Venice or Amsterdam or New York City in their heyday were uninterested in the religious, ethnic or political fights rampaging across the world. They, like Wikipedia, were polyglot homes for all who arrived on their shores.

But perhaps the most convincing argument for Wikipedia as an urban outpost on the Internet is the deep unease — even anger — it engenders. Alone among the miraculous and destructive creations of the Internet — Google, Facebook, Flickr, eBay — Wikipedia can cause the professional classes to seethe. Or run away fast, arms flailing.

People don’t treat ineffectual inventions as taboo — that is reserved for things like evolution, alcohol or, yes, cities. And just as the world has had plenty of creationists, temperance societies and ruralists, there is a professional class of Wikipedia skeptics. They, too, have some seriously depraved behavior to expose: Wikipedia represents a world without experts! A world without commercial news outlets! A world lacking in distinction between the trivial and the profound! A world overrun with facts but lacking in wisdom!

It’s all reminiscent of the longstanding accusations made against cities: They don’t produce anything! All they do is gossip! They think they are so superior! They wouldn’t last a week if we farmers stopped shipping our food! They don’t know the meaning of real work!

This argument represents a true clash of ideas. It is clear from Mr. Lih’s account that nearly every time Wikipedia has come to a fork in the road where the project could have chosen to impose more restrictions on who could edit what — even insist on a bit of expertise — it has chosen not to. That has made all the difference. The vindication of those choices — by Wikipedia and cities — is proved each time some yokel overcomes his fear and decides to make a visit and stay awhile.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

How to Twitter

How to Twitter
The social rules and tips for gaining 'followers'; why opinionated people win


When I first joined Twitter, I felt like I was in a noisy bar where everyone was shouting and nobody was listening.

Twitter Applications

There are thousands of third-party applications built to enhance the Twitter experience -- these are just a few of the popular ones.

Twitpic: Post a photo on Twitpic, and then share the Twitpic link via Twitter.

Twhirl: Desktop software to help you manage your Twitter account, find your @replies and shorten URLs so they can be shared on Twitter.

Tipjoy: A service that lets you send small amounts of cash across Twitter, and then tweet about your donation.

Twibs: A list of businesses on Twitter with links to their Twitter accounts.

TweetDeck: Desktop software that lets people split their tweets into columns, such as @replies, direct messages, groups and keyword searches.

Twitterholic: Ranks Twitter users by number of followers.

Twitturly: Tracks which URLs are most popular on Twitter, based on how many times they've been shared by Twitter users.

Monitter: An easy way to keep tabs on multiple searches on Twitter at the same time.

Soon, I began to decode its many mysteries: how to find a flock of followers, how to talk to them in a medium that blasts to lots of people at once and how to be witty in very tiny doses.

Twitter is a mass text-messaging service that allows you to send short 140-character updates -- or "tweets" -- to a bunch of people at once. They are your "followers." It was designed to be read on a cellphone, though many people read it online, too.

Suddenly a lot of non-tweeters are starting to feel left out. On "The Daily Show" this week, host Jon Stewart reported on Twitter with a wink (or was it a twink?) at the narcissism of the personal broadcasting system. It has a world-wide audience of six million unique visitors a month, up from 1.2 million a year ago, according to ComScore Media Metrix.

But I have to admit I didn't understand the appeal of Twitter when I joined, at the prodding of friends, in November. One answer that explains its popularity: It's not about chatting with your friends -- it's about promoting yourself.

My name was available, so I set up a profile at On Twitter, however, you do not exist without followers, who subscribe to receive your messages. So I set out to follow some people in the hope that they would follow me.

I had to learn the crucial distinction between a "follower" and a "friend." On Facebook, if I'm your friend, you're my friend, and we can read all about each other. Relationships on Twitter are not reciprocal: People you follow do not have to follow you or give you permission to follow them. You just sign up and start following them. It's a bit like stalking. Heather Gold, a comedian and Twitter devotee, points out that for all its flaws, the term follower "is more honest than friend."

At first, I was the loneliest of social creatures -- a leader without followers. I tried searching for my actual real-world friends using Twitter's "Find People" function, but it was down the day I joined. (Twitter is growing so fast that short outages are not unusual.)

So I asked a few colleagues for their Twitter addresses and began following them. I also searched their public lists of followers and who they followed.

Eventually, I cobbled together a mix of people I could follow: media colleagues, friends, bloggers and various people who are known as great "tweeters," such as the chief executive of online retailer, Tony Hsieh, who has written quite movingly on his blog about how Twitter has changed his life. He says that being forced to bear witness to his life in 140-character bursts of prose has made him more grateful for the good moments and more amused by the bad moments.
Celebrity Tweeting

Twitter is gaining popularity as a way to reach fans, plug new projects and act like BFFs. Some recent updates from high-profile Twitter users:
[Celeb Twitter]

I discovered that a better way to get followers was to tweet. Every time I tweeted, I got a surge of followers.

Where were they coming from? The likely answer illuminates Twitter's greatest strength: It's easily searchable.

During the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November, people scoured Twitter for postings from eye witnesses. When US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River, one of the first pictures was posted as a link on Twitter.

Similar news items may have appeared on other social networks, but they were not as easy to discover. On Facebook, most people's information is viewable only by their approved friends. MySpace profile pages are searchable, but not its blogs or status updates, and it is hard to find anyone you know because most people obscure their real names.

Now, a gaggle of unknown followers were finding something in my tweets -- and following me!

I quickly found that my general musings about life such as -- "thank god they have wifi on jury duty" -- fell like a dead weight, eliciting no response. A larger problem was that it was hard to tweet when I didn't know whom I was tweeting to. Unlike Facebook, where I know each and every one of my 287 friends, I have never met or heard of the majority of the 221 people following me on Twitter.

To understand the medium, I studied others' tweets. Former Time magazine writer Ana Marie Cox's tweets are a poetic mix of moments like this: "Afternoon walk. Beautiful day, I now see."
[Twitter] Stuart Bradford

And she included wry political commentary. Forwarding a tweet from Sen. John McCain during the presidential election, she wrote: "See, if only he had sent this a year earlier... RT@senjohnmccain "YEs!! I am twittering on my blackberry but not without a little help!"

I spent a surprising amount of time trying out tweets in my head before tweeting. I aimed to tweet once a day, but often came up short. I found it difficult to fit in both news and opinion. Without a point of view, though, my updates were pretty boring. So, for instance, I changed "eating strawberries during a snowstorm." Into "eating strawberries during a snowstorm. not carbon efficient but lovely."

Another trick: including a short link to a Web site, or my own stories (using link-shrinking services like TinyURL), let me use most of the rest of the 140 characters to compose a thought.

I found a good way to get followers was to get "retweeted" -- meaning that someone would pick up my tweet and send it to their followers preceded by the code "RT @juliaangwin." When I tweeted about being interviewed by recently, two colleagues retweeted my tweet. Seven of their followers then retweeted it. As a result, I gained 22 new followers.

People also seem eager to answer questions on Twitter. I came across 25-year-old Justin Rockwell, who was spending so much time answering people's tweets about how to build better Web pages that he says he decided to try it as a business. He now makes about $350 a week scouring Twitter for people tweeting about their problems building Web pages. Using the Twitter ID ThatCSSGuy (which refers to a Web program called CSS), he offers to help solve their problems and asks for a tip in return.

But I found it difficult to acknowledge answers I received on Twitter. Twitter's reply features felt clumsy. The easiest way to reply to a tweet is to hit the @reply icon which broadcasts your answer to all your followers, essentially Twitter's equivalent of the "reply all" email function. As a result, I often didn't reply because I didn't want to spam everyone with a bunch of "thanks for your feedback" messages. So I was silent -- which made me feel even more antisocial.

Twitter wasn't designed for these kinds of social interaction or conversations. As Twitter co-founder Biz Stone told me, "Twitter is fundamentally a broadcast system." The messaging features were add-ons.

Twitter is useful precisely because so many people are talking about different things at once. When he was president of Sling Media, for instance, Jason Hirschhorn constantly monitored the keyword "sling" on Twitter. "It's an up-to-the minute temperature of what people are saying about your brand," he said. He left the consumer electronics company last month.

There are more than 2,000 Twitter applications made by other people to help you sort through all the tweets. One of my favorites is, which tracks the most popular URLs (or Web links) being shared across Twitter. Others such as Tweetdeck and Twhirl, help you manage and organize your tweets.

Still, the beauty of Twitter is that you don't have to commit to it; no one expects you to read all the tweets rolling in. As a result, Twitter makes for very good people watching -- even if you don't go home with anyone you meet there.

Marissa Mayer On Charlie Rose: The Future Of Google, Future Of Search

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Koobface Worm threat

The email at bottom is real. So is the "Koobface Worm," now circulating via Facebook.
Check this link for a quick rundown:

If you have a non-Mac PC, please be forewarned!
This is from CNN's web site page. It was also on CNN today. I checked and double checked to make sure this was not only true but current.

It's new, it's bad and it not only includes Facebook but all other 'social sites'.

Click on below, listen, watch and be very careful before clicking on any video.
You don't have to belong to Facebook, etc., to be hit with this virus.
If someone forwards you a video that came from Facebook, etc., then you've been hit.

Hope you all find this useful and you might want to forward it on also.
Video - Breaking News Videos from