Wikipedia:Meetup/Seattle4

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Space Needle and logo.jpg   Seattle meetup 6      
  Date: April 8 and April 18, 2009
  Place: UW Seattle campus
  Seattle meetup 5 occurred June 19, 2008

Seattle meetup 4

Date
Sat. 9 Sept 2006 2pm
Place
Continental Pastry Shop, 4549 University Way NE, University District; most of us later adjourned up the street to Pizza•Mart in the 5000 block.

Previous Seattle meetups[edit]

1 2 3

In attendance[edit]

Missing in action[edit]

  • DVD R W (talk · contribs) apparently came looking for it, didn't find the place, hadn't written down the address, and apparently didn't track down some geek with WiFi to look it up for him.

Report[edit]

Initial draft of this report is by Jmabel; please, those who were present treat this as a wiki. When in doubt I've stuck to calling people by their usernames; if anyone wants to substitute their own real name, feel free.

Ambience[edit]

Despite meeting at the Continental Pastry Shop, no one except Lukobe had pastry (the baklava was excellent -L). We variously consumed espresso, juice, soda, beer, at least two distinct preparations of lamb, potatoes both roasted and fried, some salads, and later (at A Pizza•Mart) pizza. And more beer. And a pretty good Cuervo Driver. Both venues worked out well for this small gathering; if we'd gotten past about 10 people we might have had trouble hearing each other.

Discussion was spirited and friendly, though a bit disgruntled over some developments in Wikipedia since we last met in January. We talked about a lot of stuff. The most recurring theme was that we all seemed to think that there is a danger that instruction creep is winning out over discretion and judgment; there was also some concern that a power structure is developing in Wikipedia that is not always well-correlated to knowledge and ability. We also spent quite a bit of time talking about linkspam, paid editing, and public relations, and there was some discussion about the "five pillars of Wikipedia" and about Pacific Northwest topics. We'll come back to these anon; first, let's get other things out of the way.

Briefly noted[edit]

A few topics that were touched upon but not really pursued:

  • At the express advance request of Brassratgirl (talk · contribs) (not in attendance, living in California), we discussed the possibility of Seattle hosting Wikimania 2009. There was what might be best described as modest enthusiasm for the idea. Everyone would be glad to have it here, but no one wanted to spearhead it. The guess was that if this is to happen, some local person is going to have to make this their main focus in life for 6–12 months in 2008–2009. In short: if someone wants to make this happen, we'll all attend, and probably help, but someone would have to decide they want to take this on as their personal commitment. That person was not at the meetup.
  • It might be useful to have project pages in Wikipedia-space about what you can do when faced with a particular problem or difficulty, instead of just about individual processes. People generally start from a problem, not a solution. For example, we could write about what you can do when:
    • You encounter an article that obviously has serious problems, but it's not in an area that you know anything about.
    • You are trying to get material into an article, you are confident that it is valid, but you are facing a wall from people who feel they own the article and don't like what you want to add.
    • Conversely, what can you do when you think an article is filling up with cruft?
  • Eclecticology made some remarks about overuse of templates as often reducing the extent to which "anyone can edit", because the source text of articles gets farther and farther than plain text. Two particular peeves were elaborately parameterized templates (to which Jmabel adds "especially positional rather than named parameters), and obscure categories implicitly added to articles by using templates.
  • Eclecticology also talked a bit about Wiktionary and how there seems to be contention between two models: a "historical, evidence-based" method, which he favors, versus something more oriented toward a translation tool.
  • Somewhere along the way, Jmabel said, with reference to Jimbo's "God-king" status: "Divine intervention doesn't scale."

Linkspam, paid editing, PR, cruft[edit]

The first lengthy discussion was about linkspam, paid editing, and public relations flacks. There was a general sense the Wikipedia is attempting a "Just Say No" policy and that, like the U.S. government War on Drugs, it isn't working. While there was no love of public relations flacking, the general sense was that efforts to ban it merely drive it underground, and that we need to have some way for people to participate openly. It was generally (but not universally) agreed that if you are flacking without identifying yourself as such, that should be considered a pretty serious problem. There seemed to be a sense that if things were out in the open, then the usual editing processes would take care of anything egregious.

In addition to such canonical examples as Congressional staffers editing their boss's sites, Alan Au brought up Scientific American (talk · contribs), apparently an employee of Scientific American who for a while in July 2006 was adding links to Scientific American articles that most Wikipedians seem to have viewed as a valuable addition, but others felt smelled of spam. We also talked about the Seattle-area local history site HistoryLink.org [1]: at one point a few months ago, they seem to have tried to attach a rather spammy "plug" for their own (generally excellent) site to every link from Wikipedia into their site, and (far more annoyingly) removed the actual captioning of exactly what article was, in each case, being linked to: in other words, a site which is, itself, an excellent, well-footnoted, scholarly site, and which all of us would have welcomed as an active collaborator, was coming into Wikipedia and messing up our citation apparatus, probably in an attempt at SEO.

There was also discussion of MyWikiBiz (talk · contribs) (who proposed to do a Wikipedia-focused PR business) and of several (unnamed) contributors who have made remarks on their respective user pages about working in Search engine optimization, and offering their services, possibly with an implication that for pay they would spam Wikipedia on someone's behalf.

Jmabel referred to his own recent take on the topic and to a piece by (non-Wikipedian) Brian Wasson earlier this year in PR Tactics (the member newspaper of the Public Relations Society of America) called The wide world of Wikipedia, and why PR practitioners should take note. GTBacchus talked about having recently, in Portland, attended an presentation about what wikis and blogs mean to the marketing world, as part of a series there called "100 Geek Dinners". (Basically, what wikis and blogs mean to the marketing world is to expect more open, two-way communication.)

GTBacchus also mentioned AboutUs.org [2], currently in beta, a domain directory wiki that actively welcomes having organizations write about themselves. (Very unclear about the licensing status of its material, by the way. Can anyone see anything clear on this?) He suggested that as a place we might want to refer some vanity users and shameless self-publicists.

There seemed to be a general distaste for MyWikiBiz's approach (SchmuckyTheCat characterized some of his comments on AFD as "If you had hired me, your article would not be deleted [because I would have done it right]"). We all agreed that using deletion debates as a self-advertising medium for one's PR services would be inappropriate.

There was talk about how to handle half-legit, half-spammy links. Two solutions referred to were on Social network, where many spammy links have been spun out to the more appropriate List of social networking websites and an (unnamed) page about gay porn where it was decided that the page simply would not have external links, and that if a particular production company was not notable enough to have its own Wikipedia article, then it didn't merit being mentioned at all.

This also led to a digression about "cultural references" and cruft, especially on (GTBacchus here) "a serious topic, like the UN", which was accumulating references about mentions in science fiction or comics. Jmabel referred to the danger of Wikipedia turning into The Cruftopedia.

GTBacchus pointed out that one of the reasons we get cruft is that "these edits are easy to make". Some kid comes along, he wants to contribute something, so he adds cruft, with basically good intentions, because this is what he knows.

As with half-legit, half-spammy links, there was some discussion of what to do about cruft. Jmabel mentioned his own recent edit at Oscar Wilde, where he spun out References to Oscar Wilde in popular culture and wrote a section (prose, rather than a list) summarizing Wilde as a pop culture icon.

"Pillars", POV, and Power[edit]

The next set of topics were a little hard to extricate from one another. In the beginning of the meeting, when we were introducing ourselves (except for Alan Au, all of us had met at least one of the others before, but several combinations were meeting for the first time) and introducing possible topics for discussion, we hit on Wikipedia's policies on original research and Verifiability (Jmabel), Wikipedia's implicit power structure (SchmuckyTheCat), and "The civility pillar that we could lean more heavily on" (GTBacchus). The conversation on linkspam, etc., eventually segued into these topics, which were really taken up jointly rather than severally.

SchmuckyTheCat recounted an incident in which an administrator referred to "spineless moronic trolls" and appears to have included him among those. (As an eyewitness to the meeting, I can assure you that he has a spine, although his left shoulder is another matter: only slowly healing from a recent automobile/motorcycle accident. By his account, he was not in the automobile. He was not in the wrong. But he was in the hospital. And he is certainly not moronic, and if he is a troll, then we need more trolls of that sort. - JM) He tried to start an RFC; two other people signed on to it; it was nonetheless summarily nuked. He expressed concern that "admins are allowed to behave badly" toward other users, and asked (not entirely rhetorically) "Are there people with carte blanche?"

He also felt that Wikipedia has tended to suppress from its pages mention of outside criticism, especially of individuals in its power structure; there didn't seem to be consensus either way among those present as to whether that is an accurate charge; Jmabel mentioned Criticism of Wikipedia and someone (maybe Schmucky himself? not sure) mentioned that Wikitruth has an article, and of course there is Wikipedia:Why Wikipedia is not so great, and a few others. There did, however, seem to be consensus that there have been some abuses of power lately.

GTBacchus remarked on the "gap between written and actual policy" and also that perhaps "Ignore all rules should be used more heavily than it is. Much later in the day Jmabel remarked on how Wikipedia seems to be developing what amounts to an internal legal code, but no recorded body of case law, so it is very hard to tell whether it is being applied evenhandedly. With reference to that "legal code" someone (GTBacchus?) spoke of the possibility of a "policy council" to try at least to make sure that policy pages stay reasonably consistent with one another.

Both Eclecticology and Jmabel expressed a sense that at times the Foundation or Jimbo as an individual are intervening rather arbitrarily rather than trusting "the people on the ground". Jmabel cited the case of Anittas (talk · contribs), about whom he and others had filed two RFCs early in 2006; Jmabel and fellow administrator Ronline (talk · contribs) had both felt they were moving toward a modus vivendi with this sometimes uncivil but intellectually capable and honest user; Jimbo, without consulting either of them, and after several months in which there had been no significant incidents involving that user, belatedly noticed the earlier problems and banned him without further discussion. Eclecticology remarked, "Jimbo dropping in out of the blue to ban somebody shouldn't be happening" and that the role of the Foundation vs. the normal day-to-day processes really needs to be better sorted out. He later remarked on the question of when, exactly, Jimbo is speaking ex cathedra.

Most of that was early on; we got back that way later. But first we got into a long conversation about "original research", verifiability, etc.

GTBacchus referred to a recent piece, mainly by Llywrch (talk · contribs), Wikipedia:These are not Original Research. In that essay, Llywrch states the view that:

  1. obvious deductions,
  2. typos and proofing errors (with reference to sources), and
  3. caveats to the statements of authorities (discoveries that post-dated their writing, for example)

are not original research in the sense disparaged by WP:NOR, further remarking "…point to the problem, but do not attempt to solve it with your own arguments. Stating emphatically that because the authority is wrong because of these facts is original research, because you are introducing a novel interpretation of the facts."

There seemed to be a general consensus that there was no bright line between what is and is not original research, and that Wikipedia policy does not really acknowledge the existence of an enormous gray zone. Jmabel said, "Even if you're stenographically echoing sources, you have to judge which sources to echo." GTBacchus and Eclecticology pointed out that there is originality simply in deciding what counts as significant (should an article on the French Revolution mention Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities? How about a Dr. Who episode set during the Reign of Terror?) Jmabel pointed to (and defended) recent edits in Human sacrifice in Aztec culture, contextualizing the (in his view, and that of the editor who made the juxtaposition, implausibly high number of executions per day reported to have occurred the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan by juxtaposing them with the numbers for the Auschwitz concentration camp at its height. Another editor had argued on the talk page that unless you could find this juxtaposition in a source, it constituted original research.

Jmabel made the case that there is too strong a prohibition against original research, and that in practice good contributors are constantly drawing on their general knowledge without citing for each tidbit. "When I'm editing on the French Revolution and a source refers to 'Hébert', I'm going to write "Jacques Hébert" for the benefit of the reader. I'm not doing inappropriate original research by knowing the topic well enough to know who that name refers to."

Alan Au expressed the view that "It's OK to speculate to some degree, as long as you are clear that it's speculation: 'could have been a source', 'could have been a reference to'." Jmabel felt that can be a slippery slope, but acknowledged having done so at times, usually after some discussion on a talk page.[1]

SchmuckyTheCat talked about having on one occasion called up an early Starbucks employee to sort out where exactly the original Starbucks store was (a block north of and five years earlier than the one the company now calls the "original"); apparently he was chewed out for doing "original research", even though, facts in hand, one could easily go back to a city directory from the time and confirm this. He added that while verifiability has to be possible, "I don't think that verifiability has to be easy." Apparently, all present more or less concurred. Jmabel and SchmuckyTheCat both gave the example of citing museum wall text. You can take a photo of it, you can make it available to anyone who doubts your word, they can contact the museum if they think you are actually guilty of forgery, but if a contributor has seemed generally honest, why should anyone suspect such a thing?

Eclecticology said that we (Wikipedia generally, not the people at the meetup) seem to have forgotten where "No original research" came from: it was a response to "really weird ideas about physics". SchmuckyTheCat agreed, saying it had now gone really "overboard". GTBacchus caricatured a prevailing view as "If it's not on Google it doesn't exist", which Lukobe refined to "…the first page of Google…" Eclecticology again: "Most people [active in Wikipedia] get most of their information from the Internet and are distancing themselves from real books. We're on the road to Fahrenheit 451."

Still, all agreed that if not carried to extremes, the warning against original research is a good one. GTBacchus and Eclecticology had a bit of back and forth about the degree to which it is OK to be a secondary rather than a tertiary source, with GT pointing out the value of secondary sources, when available, that have already made presumably sound judgments. SchmuckyTheCat threw in "I don't have a problem with our being a secondary source as long as we are not saying something novel or interpretive" and went on to say that you should be able to recount the broad outlines of the plot of a movie you was or a novel you read, without finding a secondary source to cite. Jmabel added out that any time we paraphrase, rather than quote, a non-fiction source, we are doing much the same thing.

Several people remarked that a lot of this comes down to trust. In practice, remarked Jmabel, when we are each looking at our watchlist and see a semi-reasonable but uncited edit, we approach it differently if it comes from a contributor whose work we know and who we have seen do good work on the topic than if it comes from an IP address with no record of editing "and that's how it should be. And of course, it's not at all what the policies say." SchmuckyTheCat: "Does anyone think the current policies are in line with what's really going on?" Eclecticology: "I quit reading policies" (but judging by some other remarks, he hasn't, quite). Alan Au: "I've stopped citing NOR and now cite Verify," to which Lukobe countered (objecting to the rigor with which some apply 'verifiability not truth', "What if you know the source is wrong?"

The theme of trust (and competence) was picked up later in the day, with Jmabel remarking on "the missing 'pillar': intellectual honesty," and expressing the opinion that while you can't see into someone else's soul, so we cannot so easily call someone out on breaking a rule, but it still has to be one of the bases of producing a useful encyclopedia. "I'd rather deal with a mildly uncivil, intellectually honest person than surface politeness from someone I can't trust."

GTBacchus remarked on how from some editors there is "Less of 'are we producing a good article?' and more of a formal game." (Later, he described this as, "Here's all these rules written down and I quote the right one and I win, right?") Jmabel concurred: "It's as if they think that people who don't understand the topic can still produce an article by following an algorithm." He referred to an piece by a historian whose name he couldn't remember at the time[2] who found Wikipedia quite factually accurate on historical topics, but lacking in sound judgment as to what is important, and therefore tending toward both antiquarianism and "waffling", imprecise prose. SchmuckyTheCat complained about how many articles are just "statement, statement, statement: an amalgam of fact", not very readable; Lukobe added how, when each of those statements also has a templated citation, then the article may not be very editable, either. Lukobe talked about how some articles go along quite well up to recent times and then there is this "undigested material" (might not have been his phrase, can't recall) about current events.

Alan Au also chimed in on "overcitation". Jmabel said, "If you [meaning "one", not present company] are going to remove the obvious if it isn't cited, I'll overcite while I've got the source in front of me" and went on to say his real beef is with people who invoke verifiability to "remove material that they don't find amenable, even when they have no actual doubts about its accuracy." There was some discussion of the importance of balance in the standards demanded for sources on different sides of an issue (you shouldn't remove things you don't like politically "because the citations are bad" and keep equally poorly cited material that fits your politics).

Eclecticology and son

At about this point, we were all getting a bit tired and there was a bit of coming and going; we turned for a bit to discussion of Pacific Northwest topics (see below); after that, conversation returned to the same general themes, but with a little less clear thread. The following remarks are from that tail end (including while some of us walked north toward pizza and beer).

SchmuckyTheCat talked about a pattern where "You [meaning "one", not present company] add in 1000 citation requests, do some recent edit patrol and then you ask to be an admin" without ever having built any articles.

Someone (who?) remarked that "recognition of expertise happens despite the rules."

SchmuckyTheCat: "People who are on the up-and-up use discretion."

Jmabel: "Radical egalitarianism serves us well in some subject-matter areas but not in others."

Alan Au: "Anyone can edit but some edits don't stick."

Eclecticology: "Some editors are more equal than others." (After which there was some back-and-forth, with Jmabel expressing the view that some editors should be "more equal than others" because of their track records, and the issue was deciding who.)

This is also where we got back to the question of intellectual honesty as the unspoken sixth pillar. Someone (who?) remarked, to general agreement, that intellectual honesty is "much more important than these easily measured things." Eclecticology remarked that sometimes it isn't even a matter of intellectual honesty so much as lack of "intellectual infantilism."

Pacific Northwest[edit]

Finally, we touched upon local stuff. The general sense is that Wikipedia's coverage of Seattle is generally good (although more could be done on historical topics vs. just the present-day city). We discussed that WikiProject Seattle might want to broaden its focus, because it has been a bit moribund. Maybe more on other nearby towns? SchmuckyTheCat said that whenever he finds himself in a small town he tries to take a few good photos and to pick up some basic information from the Chamber of Commerce to see if he can expand on the auto-generated census data we have.

We talked a bit about wanting to track down some good materials on orthography of Northwest Native languages. Eclecticology seemed the most likely to be able to pursue this, although he said it's not going to be easy stuff to come by. This is one of those cases where some of Wikipedia's own difficulties suggest the need for Wikipedia and or Wiktionary articles: just like our German legal citation article arose from trying to get Paragraph 175 right, our own difficulties in writing "Dkhw'Duw'Absh" correctly suggest the need for better online materials on that sort of thing.

GTBacchus, SchmuckyTheCat, and Jmabel plan to try some photo expeditions in and around Seattle. Please make requests at Wikipedia:WikiProject Seattle#Photos wanted.

Several of us would like to make it down to Portland when Jimbo is there in November. We're hoping that will be a weekend…

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In the featured article on the Borges story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", we have "While there is no … clear referent for Tlön, the unusual consonant cluster tl- at the beginning of a word does exist in the Berber language (for example in the place name Tlemcen) in Maghreb Arabic. Berber is spoken in parts of Algeria (including the M'zab valley), home to one of the referents for Uqbar" and (possibly more arguably) "Tsai Khaldun is undoubtedly a tribute to the great historian Ibn Khaldun, who lived in Andalusia for a while; his history focuses on North Africa and was probably a major source for Borges."
  2. ^ It's Roy Rosenzweig (June 2006). "Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past". The Journal of American History. 93 (1): 117–146. Retrieved 2006-08-11.  (Center for History and New Media)