In the news
Agatha Christie spoiled, Wales on Wikileaks, University students improve Wikipedia, and more
Agatha Christie's grandson complains: Wikipedia spoils the world's longest running play
is a murder mystery play by Agatha Christie, which opened in the West End of London
in 1952 and has been running continuously ever since.
When she wrote The Mousetrap
, Agatha Christie
gave the rights to her grandson, Matthew Prichard, as a ninth birthday present. Prichard and the rest of the family of Agatha Christie
—whose book sales are surpassed by those of only the Bible—told The Independent On Sunday
that they are disappointed that the Wikipedia article on the play
reveals the twist ending. The play has had the longest initial run of any, with more than 24,000 performances so far; at the end of every performance, the audience is asked not to reveal the identity of the murderer. The newspaper complains
that readers of the article are informed "without warning, the identity of the murderer".
Prichard described the situation as "unfortunate", and intends "to take the matter up with the play's producer for the past 23 of its 58 years in the West End, Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen.... My grandmother always got upset if the plots of her books or plays were revealed in reviews – and I don't think this is any different ... I think it is a pity if a publication, if I can call it that, potentially spoils the enjoyment for those people who go to see the play. It's not a question of money or anything like that. It's just a pity."
The Independent on Sunday states that the English "Wikipedia's policy on spoilers appears to differ in other countries, and in France and Italy the play's twist is alluded to but not revealed...."
The English Wikipedia policy on spoilers is that:
articles on the Internet sometimes feature a "spoiler warning" to alert readers to spoilers in the text, which they may then choose to avoid reading. Wikipedia has previously included such warnings in some articles on works of fiction. Since it is generally expected that the subjects of our articles will be covered in detail, such warnings are considered unnecessary. Therefore, Wikipedia no longer carries spoiler warnings, except for the content disclaimer and section headings (such as "Plot" or "Ending") which imply the presence of spoilers ... It is not acceptable to delete information from an article because you think it spoils the plot. Such concerns must not interfere with neutral point of view, encyclopedic tone, completeness, or any other element of article quality.
The spoiler warning template was removed from many articles and was eventually deleted in 2007, accompanied by much debate (see Signpost coverage and archived discussions). In 2007, David Gerard, a "long time Wikipedian" and press contact for the English Wikipedia, removed the warning template from the English Wikipedia article on The Mousetrap. The Independent on Sunday does not mention him, but states:
When asked what the site's policy on the matter is, a spokesman said: "Our purpose is to collect and report notable knowledge. It's exceedingly easy to avoid knowing the identity of the murderer: just don't read it. Asking Wikipedia not to reveal the identity of the murderer is like asking a library to remove copies of The Mousetrap book from shelves because someone could just go and read the end."
The spokesman referred to appears to be a Wikipedia editor, Cyclopia, and the quotation to be taken from a comment made earlier this year, in 2010. This has caused controversy in more than one venue on the English Wikipedia (for example, see ANI and other discussion).
Also quoted in the newspaper was an anonymous Wikipedia user whom the newspaper referred to as "another approved Wikipedia committee member":
I would argue that, however trivial it may appear, the revelation of the ending breaches an oral contract between the actors and the audience. Such is the fame of the secrecy that an audience member cannot reasonably attend without knowing their role to play in guarding it, and thus an oral contract, implied in fact, has taken place. Given the importance of Wikipedia on the internet, I believe that they have a duty to protect this contract, as its breach is completely disrespectful of an old and well-kept tradition.
Prichard concluded by saying that he didn't "pretend to be an expert on Wikipedia or modern technology ... [but] from the point of view of the theatre-going public, I think it does spoil the enjoyment of those going to have an entertaining evening at the theatre – one part of which is to guess who the murderer is."
Wales praises success of Indian-language Wikipedias
In the interview, Wales announced plans for a quarterly newsletter to be published on more than 20 different Indian-language Wikipedias.
In a wide-ranging interview with Mediaweek, a trade magazine based in New York City, Jimmy Wales has stated the Wikimedia Foundation is keen to help the smaller, foreign-language Wikipedias grow; in particular, he said that Indian-language Wikipedias are seeing "a lot of success" and are "growing very quickly".
Suggesting a reason for the vast growth of Wikipedia in India, Wales said there was a large IT sector in the country, "so there's a lot of people who are on computers and, of course, they work in English but they still have their mother tongue and they would love to do more things in their mother tongue." He said that India's "tech elite" speak English, "so it makes it easier for them to communicate with each other and to collaborate". He announced plans for a quarterly newsletter to be published on more than 20 different Indian-language Wikipedias. Each Indian-language Wikipedia will contribute to the newsletter, and share "what is going on in their Wiki, what problems they're facing ... and it's a way for them to communicate with each other, and of course it's in English, so it's nice that they're able to do that.... all around the world the smaller language Wikis are growing faster than the large wikis for obvious reasons—there's a lot left to do and a lot of opportunities." He also noted recent growth in the Russian and Arabic language Wikipedias.
Wales talked at length about his Wikia venture, which he co-founded in 2004 with Angela Beesley. Wikia, which is funded mostly by advertisements, involves people Wales described as "hardcore fans", who set up specific databases of information on a particular topic—much like Wikipedia but on a single topic: "Instead of just chatting to each other on a messageboard", fans are being productive and producing "something that other people can look at". Citing as an example Lostpedia, a wiki devoted entirely to the US television drama Lost, he said that there are "hundreds of people who have unbelievable in-depth knowledge of [its every element are] sharing that information, writing it, fact checking each other, improving the articles [and have] written 7,000 entries about this TV show". "There's a symbiotic relationship between the fans and the writers [of Lost], and they're able to create a more complicated universe and a much more consistent universe because they know the fans are documenting everything for them and that fans keep it all in order for them."
Wales said the "quirkiest" wiki he had found was the Canon Hacking Development Kit Wiki, "where people are sharing software and tips on how to hack your Canon camera". Among his personal favourite wikis, he listed the Recipes and Runescape wikis.
Wales wanted to clear up any confusion regarding Wikipedia and Wikileaks, saying that the latter has "absolutely nothing" to do with Wikipedia, and that Wikileaks "isn't even a wiki". He stated that the Wikimedia Foundation finds it "a little uncomfortable that they're using the name 'wiki' when their ideals are very different from ours.... what we're involved with has nothing to do with leaking secret documents—certainly for Wikipedia itself, everything needs to be from a public, third party, reliable source. Wales joked that he had no need for secret documents: "I don't want them". However, he did say it was good to know that Wikipedia has had such a "cultural impact" that Wikileaks' name was a "homage" to Wikipedia. Speaking to The Guardian a few days later, Sue Gardner made similar remarks, adding: "My mother asked me if I ran WikiLeaks. I told her I did not"; Wikileaks founder Julian Assange retorted that "'wiki' was around a long time before 'Wikipedia'".
University of Michigan tasks students with improving Wikipedia
The University of Michigan announced this week in a press release that "teams of students are given the task of revising a Wikipedia entry on an esoteric subject, making it understandable not only to fellow scientists but also to general readers.... In the process, students learn teamwork and improve their communication skills while mastering chemistry". The project is run by Anne McNeil, who was recently invited to make a presentation at the Wikimedia Foundation headquarters in San Francisco.
The university's website says that "McNeil, assistant professor of chemistry and of macromolecular science and engineering, had two main objectives in mind when she came up with the Wikipedia project.... One was a general desire to improve public understanding of science by training young scientists to clearly communicate advanced concepts; the other was the necessity of unifying a class that was split right down the middle ... Students were split into small groups, each of which submitted suggestions of three topics that related to the course material and weren't already adequately described in Wikipedia".
"The visibility appealed to them", McNeil said. "Instead of doing a class presentation, where only the class benefits, everybody was excited that other people would see the results of their hard work, and that seemed to motivate them to work even harder to make sure their entries were accurate, well-written and understandable.... The students learn a lot and they're really proud of what they produce, but in the process they're also improving the chemistry knowledge that's out there in the world, which benefits the chemists who rely on these sites, as well as general readers seeking to broaden their knowledge."
- Ex-wife tells court WP not an authority: The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that the Philippine Office of the Solicitor General lost a case in a court of appeal "for relying on Wikipedia as an authority". The case concerned a 1988 marriage that was annulled in 2007 on the grounds of psychological incapacity; the office had sought to overturn the annulment. To counter the expert testimony offered by the ex-wife, it appears to have cited the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders according to Wikipedia. The ex-wife cited Wikipedia's own disclaimers, and the justices said that the state should instead have consulted "qualified psychiatric experts".
- Author's 10% donation to WMF: US media theorist Douglas Rushkoff has announced that 10% of the proceeds from his new book (Program or be programmed: ten commands for a digital age) will go to the Wikimedia Foundation and Archive.org.
- WP editing "difficult and bothersome": In a blog post, an intern at a US publishing house described her experiences as a Wikipedia newbie while writing the article about the company's magazine Global Traveler. She noted that Wikipedia had "a ton of rules" and found the user-interface confusing: "Everyday tasks done on the word processor become difficult and bothersome. Pressing ctrl and “B” no longer makes something bold. The Wikipedia user has to use apostrophes (‘’’) to initiate the bold and then another set of three apostrophes to end it. Similar programming techniques are used to get italics, bullets, lists and headings." She said that her experience had given her "a new-found respect for the articles that people put up."
- New WP iPad app: MacWorld published a review (republished by BusinessWeek) of "Discover", an iPad app that displays Wikipedia in a magazine style (see earlier Signpost coverage).