UPDATE: This post began as a conspiracy theory and lesson for how decentralized information warfare is upon us, but now it seems to be true. See below.
Participating in a Wikipedia article (Bronze Soldier) that is a breaking event where you understand some of the historical context and can gain access to needed language skills is a greater participatory experience than anything I've participated in by blogging. Except when I'm generating first-hand reports. But the interesting thing is the potential modern propoganda at play. I wanted to share this with the obvious caveat that you can get a more conservative story from mainstream sources, it might help Wikipedia literacy for a breaking event and that it might be a form of modern propoganda. If I was truly conspiratorial would think stems from political institutions, and I do need to disclaim that the following may just be a conspiracy theory.
As of edit 04:07, 1 May 2007 the page took two interesting turns around a disinformation angle:
A number of video clips, usually taken via cellphone camera, have appeared on Youtube under the keyword 'eSStonia', ostensibly to corroborate the police brutality claims. Interestingly, most of them are mislabelled, apparently in an attempt to frame
the incidents recorded in the clips in a pro-rioter way. For example,
the clip labelled "eSStonia - Police car crushes pedestrians crowd"
features no pedestrian-menacing cars.
I noticed these clips at the top of YouTube's most viewed the day after and thought the same. If you want to deceive in time-based media, a cheap tactic while things are breaking is to send the quick and dirty message to people who won't really spend time. This is similar to the episodic framing that mainstream media is prone to, and I hoped blogging could counter. But this disinformation, potentially from one random idiot, is otherwise of great effect at low cost.
Since the riots took place in the centre of the city, after hours of
tense situation, many thousands of frames of photographic and video
material of the events are available, both from journalists and
security cameras and from witnesses among general public (who usually
used cellphone cameras). The police have gathered a number of such
photographs depicting unidentified suspects on a website at  (not available from outside Estonia while a foreign DDoS attack on Estonian government servers is underway) and asked the public to identify such unidentified people.
The President's website (which I started a long time ago) and others are indeed inaccessible, but the above footnote is DDoS inaccessible, which may be a clever disinformation edit in-and-of-itself. this claim can be verified through other means than an Estonian TV broadcast found in the discussion page (time-based and language barriered comprehension).
But really, I share this because many people don't know how Wikipedia works, or have that bullshit detector that starts to blink in the corner of their eye when things don't make sense. Because I would expect such tactics not only out of individuals for no good reason, but institutions for good reason, and you should assume it is the case. If you can follow the evolution of a page, and understand that something breaking could be broken, you will otherwise find this Wikipedia article to be one of the very best sources for understanding the event. But it is one source and you have to give it, and yourself, time.
These things happen every minute on Wikipedia. Meanwhile my edits have survived because they were factual and well sourced. And I'll be happy to find them and other good ones there in the future. It was interesting to read how Clinton opined that "History may be kind to my friend Yeltsin." I hope history is kind to how I wrote it when everyone is my editor.
UPDATE: The Estonian government says Russia is behind the cyber-attacks, according to the BBC. For more see Robin Gurney, David Phillips and F-secure's weblog (a Finnish security company, source of the chart to the right). For perspective, just consider how 50 years of occupation and being lied to in the news and history books would sensitize you to the Russian government's accusations and this kind of cyber-warfare. As I've covered, Estonia has leap-frogged in its adoption of the internet, especially as a source for news. Zone-H reports of widespread email outages, as well as the web:
Considering that in Estonia technology and the Internet is covering a role more and more relevant in ordinary life , we cannot be surprised that the Net has become the public screen of this conflict. Several
governmental web sites have been DoS attacked from abroad. Ddos attacks
has been led from simple pings with large packets . Other attacks were
carried out from botnets with syn and udp floods. Finally, some
prominent Estonian websites - such as Foreign Ministry site, that is
very useful for foreigners - have been completely inaccessible from
abroad for some hours.
However, the most creative successful attack was carried out against www.reform.ee, the website of Prime Minister Ansip political party. A fake statement that pretended to come from the Prime Minister himself was placed on the home page, telling that "party apologises and promises to bring monument back to its location".
This may just be modern life with individuals behind the cyber-attacks. An un-sourced claim on the Wikipedia discussion page says attacks came from a range of Russian government IP addresses. But if you wanted to change perception of such a fast moving event in a coordinated fashion, wouldn't such tactics be employed? I'm sure large governments are prepared to counter such moves. But small countries, even if they are members of, say, the EU, should prepare against dis-information and to have their own communications with their peoples and the world not denied.
Matt Mahoney spends most of his time working with enterprise wiki customers, cultivating adoption and best practices. In his most recent blog post, he provides a practical look at how enterprise wikis differ from Wikipedia. Wikis evolve in the context of corporate culture and inter-personal communication styles, for good or ill. The sense of ownership people have over pages is different than the norms that have arisen for Wikipedians. After discussing work conversations and group memory in wikis, he leaves us with some tips:
5 Simple Tips * Assign responsibility for workstreams, and as a result, pages * Use comments to add your thoughts without crowding out the person stewarding the task * Rely on abundance, use talk pages for lengthy discussion, then re-factor the discussion into a joint page * Pair live on IM or a screen-share, alternate note-taking * Have a meeting, take notes, post the output
UPDATE: An interesting related project by Penguin Books is A Million Penguins, letting anyone edit a book to be published. The wiki is down at the moment, but PaidContent notes it began with “It had snowed, and was now raining. Gritty slush covered the pavement. Sharp crystals of snow decorated grass.” Reuters notes the challenge is finding “believable fictional voice” within the mass collaboration. This was a big challenge for group editing of the Wired Wiki story.
The last chapter of Don Tapscott's new book, Wikinomics, invites readers to write it: “Join us in peer producing the definitive guide to the twenty-first-century corporation on www.wikinomics.com.” Today we launched a Socialtext wiki for the Wikinomics Playbook, where people can not only learn about the power of mass collaboration, but participate in it. The book is already one of the fastest selling business titles and is an excellent primer on how models of collaboration are unfolding from open source to blogging to wikis in the enterprise to enable people to participate in the economy like never before.
The second to last chapter is about enterprise wikis. Half of it discusses how Best Buy is using a wiki knowledge-base for the Geek Squad. The other half is an interview with yours truly and shares some of Socialtext's success stories. The first chapter is available online as a pdf.
This is a great example of how a book can be augmented with a wiki, as most books are out of date by the time they are published, never quite finished and have the potential for participation. Last month we helped Larry Lessig share the entire Code 2.0 book in a wiki. I expect that soon such commons-peer production, a wiki for every book, will be common.
I was asked by a journalist to comment on China selectively granting access to Wikipedia, so I thought I would share my response here.
The recent opening of the Great Firewall of China to Wikipedia, selectively by language, ISP and municipality seems ripe with contradiction. The GFC is obviously not part of the One China policy. The revolutionary risk has always been a widening gap between hypergrowth cities and forgotten rural hinterland. One has to wonder if selective filtering against open information is a purposeful and protective measure, but dividing information always fails to conquer.
Or this could be seen as a positive, if not necessary step, not towards the political freedoms demanded at Tianamen, but economic necessity. The pattern of wealth creation, in it's most current internet wave, is share control to create value. Market-Leninism fails to compete in a knowledge economy where markets are conversations. When the world's greatest source of free knowledged cannot be accessed, the long term impact must be considerate.
The argument over whether to keep the Enterprise 2.0 article in Wikipedia continues, in this incredibly rich discussion page. Bear with me here, as the innards of Wikipedia may not be clear cut enough for the blogosphere's preference for individual voices engaged in disappating debate. Samuel Klein, the Admin who undeleted the article, explains his decision and offers an opportunity for understanding:
I'm going to post a set of instructions for all of you bloggers, on How To Criticize Wikipedia
-- so that you can do it productively if you want to. Wikipedia is one
of those rare communities where eloquence, discussion, and an idea
about how things can be better can lead to an immediate improvement in process and content.
This experience has helped further my understanding of core rules (Neutral Point of View, Verifyability and Original Research). The process of administrating them is decidedly non-bureaucratic -- this is not Kafka, this is made of people. And to SJ's point, while process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity, the openness of process execution and distributed decision making authority favor change. Simple rules and open social interaction yield complex emergent behavior.
One man's complex behavior is another's philosophy. Deletionism holds that the path to quality is through vigiorous defence of rules to keep articles out. Inclusionism favors keeping and amending problematic articles. User Pages tend to self-identify and associate with these philosophies.
In this debate, Deletionists have run up against what I'll call the Networkists -- a group of highly networked domain experts activated through blogs. Most are only casual contributors, so far, and some have had negative experiences (and some for good reason) making reverted contributions. If I had to offer a philosophy of Networkism, it is that the participation of domain experts in creating articles and debating their deletion increases the quality of the process, and most domain experts will not become core members of the community. Now this is all fiction, but over time it will be easier for both Wikipedia to attract domain experts and for them to activate and self-organize, so there may be something to learn from here.
Many Articles intersect with networked groups, and in many cases those groups mean ill towards Wikipedia. I see value in the role, not the philosophy, of a Deletionist, because practically they are the first and most persistent ones to debate against outside groups. But unlike the Recent Changes patrol reverting vandalism, where domain expertise is not required, their activity directly excludes potentially valuable members of the community.
Blogs as Sources
A second issue which has arisen is the role of blogs as reliable sources, a guideline for verification and no original research rules. While the guideline rightly suggests there is a difference between blogs (Reliability is a spectrum, and must be considered on a case by case basis...For example, the blog of an academic department is not merely a
personal blog, but should be looked at in the totality of the source.) -- media literacy of the blogosphere is under-developed. Having an institution behind a blog is a traditional fact checking measure. Other sources are reliable because there is an editorial process prior to publication. But with blogs, this process happens post-publication. A blog or a post cannot be judged reliable in isolation.
With the Enterprise 2.0 Article, verification is provided by an article in the MIT-Sloan Management Review, an HBS case study, a BusinessWeek article and reference to a Don Tapscott book. But for some, this is not enough. So I leave it as an open question. Should Dan Farber or Dion Hinchcliffe blogging under the ZDNet masthead qualify as a reliable source, or is what makes them reliable what links to them say?