Editing Wikipedia

In 2005 (on the Internet it is easier to keep track of time) I had noticed that the Italian Wikipedia entry to my favorite movie (at least at the time), Full Metal Jacket, wasn’t really good so I decided to contribute with few extra lines to describe the film.
Few days ago I went back to look at the “edit history” of Full Metal Jacket and I found my entry (it was anonymous but I could recognize what I had written). I was kind of embarrassed for my choice of wordings, but it’s OK. Part, not all, of my contribution resisted the many modifications of the past few years.
I have been a huge movie fan since watching all the Stanley Kubrick’s films when I was a child.
A “movie dictionary” I received one particular Christmas became my favorite reading for part of my childhood.
Inspired by those memories, I decided I was going to contribute to some of the movie entries and I joined the “Project: Cinema” in the Italian Wikipedia. It is now in my watchlist so I get to see what’s going on in terms of, for example, guidelines changes or new stub articles added.
My choice went to the Italian Wikipedia because there are less contributors compared to the English one and there typically is more room for improvement.
In any case, I will contribute to the English Wikipedia whenever I’ll find the chance.
My profile for the Italian version is unreasonabledude. Here is aslo my profile for the English version.

Driven by the fact that The Social Network is not out in the Italian theaters yet, and considering that it is the last movie I watched, I thought I could use my insights to improve the Italian entry for the film.
Since some of the information I found was actually wrong, I couldn’t resist and I already modified the part of the page dedicated to the plot of the movie. Here you can check the differences between the previous and the current version once I made the first major corrections.
In particular, I discovered that the plot wasn’t accurate: for example, it said that Zuckerberg was accused to have stolen “theFacebook” idea from Chris Huge and Dustin Moskovitz, his two roommates at Harvard, while he is instead accused of stealing the idea from twins Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss and their business partner Divya Narendra.
On another note, whether or not this is what really happened in reality, this is what happens in the movie and the entry is about the movie.

So I corrected the mistake and I added much more to the plot, which was only few lines long. My first thought was: probably I shouldn’t say much as I don’t want to spoil the movie to the Italian public.
But then I read the guidelines of “Project: Cinema” and it clearly said that, Wikipedia being an encyclopedia, the plot should be fully disclosed. In fact, arbitrarily deciding what to insert within the plot and what not, would be against the concept of neutrality.

The plot was also written with inconsistencies in the choice of tenses (sometimes the past was used, sometimes the present): I followed the requirements of the project and used present tenses. Also, I emphasized “description” over deduction, which means that I didn’t try to infer anything from the events in the movie, but simply state facts.
To write the plot, I used my memory, having just recently watched the movie, and the English version of the article as a reference. It is quite hard to quote sources on a movie plot.

Obviously, improving the quality of the article goes beyond improving the way the plot is written: in the next few days there are many modifications that I will need to do.
First, the article almost completely lack citations and sources. The English version has 50 notes, against the 3 of the Italian version.
The entry doesn’t fully follow the template of the “Project: Cinema” in that it is lacking of some of its attributes: for example, a part on critical reception. Also, the description of cast is not completed and there is no mention of the current success of the movie in the American box offices. For this I will use IMDB (the Internet Movie Database) as a source.
The English version of the article provides a very extensive list of other sources that I will be able to use to prove some of the claims already made by the article and some of the things that I will write.

I also intend to create a sub-session called “historical inaccuracies” (mentioned as a possible sub-session in the in the “Project: Cinema” guidelines), where I will write about how the real subjects of the movie reacted to some of the claims asserted in the movie (in the English version, they call this session (or a session, which has a similar intent) “Response by the principles (Film and Facebook)”.

There is one picture on the movie entry: it is a screen-shot taken from the original trailer. A comment on the fact that it is deemed “copyright-appropriate” is made. Since a comment on the same line is made on the English entry, but the illustration is the actual poster of the movie, I will verify whether this can really be claimed as “fair use” and, if so, I will use the poster image as it is more representative of the film and it just looks better.

In the process of editing Wikipedia, I noticed something that I hadn’t considered before.
First, I was somehow having trouble in finding sources external to Wikipedia because I am so used at using Wikipedia as the source of many of my claims!
Second, I can see why some people get “addicted” to the project.
You surf the discussion pages and find so many interesting stuff: “Oh cool, a newspaper made out of the news of Wikipedia…let me contribute!”. And so I did. Or “That looks like a typing mistake on the Spanish article of Eva Peron. How cool would it be to contribute in multiple languages?”. And so the addiction starts!
And it feels good to know that what you write is published for a wide audience and it might help other people.
With the “Social Network” getting in the Italian theaters on the 12th of November, an increasing number of people will look at the Wikipedia page to form opinions as to whether watch the movie or not or to check some of the points they hadn’t understood from the plot! Again, I see why people would want to collaborate. It is a chance of being heard, even if it is just through stating facts and not opinions.
Wikipedia is cool!


Joy in the bazaar

Yesterday Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, talked to us students in one of my classes (The Economics of Information: Strategy, Structure, and Pricing).
When asked what he thought was going to be of Google and in general of the web in 5 years, he chuckled and said that if 2 years were a whole generation in internet terms, 5 years were an eternity.
The cathedral and the Bazaar” by Eric Raymond and “What is Web 2.0” by Tim O’Reilly were first published in 1997 and 2005 respectively. 13 and 5 years might truly be an eternity, but I was impressed by how relevant these essays still are today. It feels a bit like watching “2001: Space Odissey”, no matter how old it might be, one still perceive it as futuristic!

O’Reilly’s article defines “Web 2.0” and puts together many of the concepts we have seen in these first 5 weeks of the Media, Politics and Power class.
Web 2.0 is the passage from Britanica online to Wikipedia, from personal websites to blogging and from publishing to participation. Web 2.0 is web as platform. To me, it stands for participating instead of being imposed.

“The cathedral and the bazaar”, while very technical in certain parts, is almost philosophical in others. The essay sets a series of 19 rules to create good open source software.
Basically it is the story of how Raymond, inspired by Linux’s experience, transforms Fetchmail, an email program he had “inherited”, into a successful open collective effort, a program that he wouldn’t have been able to develop by himself.
The teachings from this essay might well be applied to other aspects of society, even politics, where the open source collaboration/sharing model could bear very interesting fruits.
For example, I wonder whether we’ll eventually be able to write laws through something like Wikipedia.

Now, substitute the word “software” with anything you want (laws, encyclopedias, etc…) from the quote below and you’ll get the idea.
“I believed that the most important software […] needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time”. “Linus Torvalds’s style of development – release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity – came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here—rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches”.

Many still struggle in understanding what is behind some of the greatest web success stories of the last few years: open source projects such as Linux or outstanding collaborations such as Wikipedia.
Perhaps, Raymond’s main point in the essay is that “with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”.
I have always had a certain form of idiosyncrasy towards what is generally defined as “the wisdom of crowds”. The word “crowd” immediately reminded me of sheep in a herd.
But this was a total misunderstanding of the concept. The “wise crowds” exist and are those formed by independent and diverse members, those that for example collaborate through the internet.
In Raymond’s words, “provided the development coordinator has a communications medium at least as good as the internet, and knows how to lead without coercion, many heads are inevitably better than one.”
I have been always romantically fascinated by the concept of “hero”, the single individual who takes charge of changing the world. But I have learnt that true change is inevitably the work of many committed people.

What is true for software is also true, for example, for other forms of online collaborations.
When looking at Wikipedia, people usually wonder how it is possible that by allowing anyone to contribute, one can find such authoritative articles.
I’ll give you a personal example.
Up to few years ago (two to be precise), I was convinced that Lake Como was the deepest lake in Europe and whenever I was asked where I was from, I would say something like “I come from Como, a town mainly famous for its lake, which is the deepest in Europe”.
It turns out it was false! There are something like 4 lakes in Norway that are deeper than Lake Como.
When I found this out it, I was devastated (OK, not really!). I had been spreading a false information for such a long time!
As a joke to my friends, who were now making fun of my apparently “overrated” lake, I decided to modify the entry on lake Como on Wikipedia so that lake Como could be the deepest in Europe, at least “on paper”, for the time necessary to show it to my friends. But some Wikipedian changed my entry within minutes.
This is one of the factors that make Wikipedia and the open source so good: there is a huge number of people committed to its quality. Also, at least in Wikipedia’s case, It takes much more time to make a stupid modification than to correct it: for a disturber, the game simply isn’t worth it.
Also, to quote Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution, “It’s the community’s way of saying, ‘Yes, your test works, and you can’t imagine how fast we work around here. Aren’t you impressed?’ “. I was. And I am now very glad our class gets to participate in the Wikipedia Public Policy Project.

But the most important lesson I want to take out of this essay is that “Enjoyment predicts efficiency” and that “joy is an asset”.
These open source initiatives can be successful only if they come from the passionate commitment of people who enjoy what they are doing.
I guess we need to focus a little bit more on what we actually like to do.