Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2005-01-31/Heavy metal umlaut

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Heavy metal umlaut made into blog movie

By Michael Snow, 31 January 2005

Jon Udell, a columnist for InfoWorld, posted a Flash-based movie about Wikipedia on his blog on January 22. The movie shows the history of Heavy metal umlaut, one of Wikipedia's quirkier featured articles.

Udell has been posting short movies centering on computer software (or screencasts, as he calls them) on his blog for several months. He indicated that he was inspired to create this particular movie when Tim Bray and David Weinberger both mentioned the Heavy metal umlaut article in their blogs. He wrote, "Creating this animated narration of a document's evolution was technically challenging, but I think it suggests interesting possibilities."

As you watch the progressive revisions pass by, which Udell calls "hypnotic", he narrates and discusses the development of the article. He focuses particularly on two aspects: a passage in the lead section explaining the reason for this use of umlauts, and the visual representation of the n-umlaut in Spinal Tap. The introductory passage goes from suggesting that heavy metal umlauts evoke Nazi Germany, to calling them Gothic, and finally more generically referring to "a tough Germanic feel." Meanwhile, the highly unusual n-umlaut goes through various attempts to render it typographically, until finally the Spinal Tap logo is used instead.

A rapid sequence of vandalism came when the article was featured on the Main Page on 26 June 2004. Udell notes the vandalism and spends some time discussing it, noting how quickly the vandalism comes and goes. He says that he assumed the vandal self-reverted because it happened so fast, and expresses surprise that it actually proved to be different editors reverting the vandalism. Apparently he is unaware of how closely the daily Main Page featured article is watched while it appears there.

Over the next few days after Udell posted his movie, several attempts were made to put a link to the movie in the "External links" section of the Heavy metal umlaut article itself. Other users reverted this, since it arguably violates policies about references to Wikipedia within articles, which are generally avoided. At last check, the link had been restored, but the text accompanying the link no longer mentions specifically that the movie is about the Wikipedia article itself.

Other bits of amusement

Joichi Ito remixed some of the audio from Jimmy Wales' appearance at the Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility conference (see related story) with a soundtrack that you can listen to on his blog.

Also, Stirling Newberry posted a piece on The Blogging of the President recreating the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Written in the style of a Wikipedia talk page (specifically Talk:Declaration of Independence), replete with votes to keep or remove certain passages, it showed some of the Declaration's signatories debating various passages. It shows that Wikipedia did not invent the collaborative writing process after all, but this is still fairly unusual for a historical document in that we have fairly detailed stories about how it was drafted, even if it lacks a complete revision history.