Saturday, August 25, 2007

My Wikiphilia

I love Wikipedia.

A while ago, a friend and I were wondering: which episode of Beavis and Butthead is it that Beavis claims he is being sexually harassed by a classmate, because she is so attractive that she "gives him a stiffie"?

A google search brings up the relevant Wikipedia article immediately. In the entry, "Sexual Harassment (Beavis and Butt-head episode)," you learn everything you need to know: the girl's name is Kimberly; it happens in social studies class; the boys take their claim to court; it all ends badly when they're called into judge's chambers to be reprimanded and they accuse her of sexually harassing them.

There's even a cute picture of the two of them getting all excited, and a link to "frivolous litigation" in case you wanted to check out what, exactly, they get in trouble for at the end.

Beavis in more light-hearted times, enjoying some nachos at the beach.

Well. Civilization has arrived. We no longer have to stumble around in ignorance. There are Wikipedias in over 200 languages. You can see the list, here.

But as every Wikipedia user knows, Wikipedia can be infuriating. Sure, if you want to know the chemical make-up of arsenic, or the population of Nepal, or whatever happened to Marc Bolan, you're in business.

But if you want to know about the concept of autonomy, or the history of Al-Qaeda, or whether the Landmark Forum is a cult-slash-pyramid scheme, you'll get the familiar directive: please see the talk pages.

In its early stages, the Wikipedia guys were kind of purists about the user-generated content business. They were totally anti-hierarchy. As time has gone on, though, they seem to have become more pragmatic. Some users are known, and thus trusted. Some users are so trusted they have the power to block edits. And so on. This is good, I think: a little hierarchy is necessary when subjects are controversial.

So some of these endless talk page discussions may end in high-quality entries, eventually.

But user-wikis are also just better suited to some things than others. On this page, Wikipedians explain that they have more, and better, entries in the sciences and technology than in arts and humanities. They say that's because early users were likely to be geeks.

But I don't think that's the whole reason. It's in the nature of, say, chemistry, that a student with a good textbook can put up high-quality information in minutes. Writing about ideas is harder. If I am going to write a short, informed, readable article on autonomy, I'm going to use a lot of mental energy, a lot of time, a lot of care, to get it right. (Likely depleting my active self; see previous post here).

If someone comes along with Autonomy for Dummies and edits my entry, I'm going to be mad.

Sometimes, too, I just miss the feeling of identity on Wikipedia. Who is this Wikipedia ghost, who took the time to transcribe Beavis's misadventures?

And in case you were considering a sex-harassment suit, please remember, as Wikipedia says here, "As some articles may contain errors, please do not use Wikipedia to make important decisions."


GuruTruth said...

I see that you must have had some interesting experiences editing Wikipedia. Here is a bit more information about the controversial privately owned for-profit company that currently goes by the name of " Landmark Education " and sells the course the Landmark Forum.

This is most likely stuff that, though both factual, backed up by references, and "notable", you probably won't see it on Wikipedia :

Landmark Education is conducted in a Large Group Awareness Training setting, information about it and its "The Forum" course, previously known as "The Forum" under Werner Erhard and Associates, the "technology" of which was developed by Werner Erhard and utilized in his prior "EST Training" or "Erhard Seminars Training" - is available through the links below:

A documentary came out in France, Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus, which details some of the for-profit company's interesting practices. The film aired to 1.5 million people in France. One month after it aired, the company shut down in France. The company attempted to use the Digital Millenium Copyright Act in order to get this video off the internet. More about this at Landmark Education stumbles stupidly to hollow settlement, Landmark Education wants to make French news report a “forbidden video” on the Net and at Why did Landmark Education leave France? as well as at the Electronic Frontier Foundation's legal page, Landmark and the Internet Archive and in an article from Reuters which went into The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, among many other papers, at Google faces legal challenges over video service.

Landmark Education has been labeled "sect" by the government of France, a "sect" by the government of Austria. They were investigated multiple times by the United States Federal Department of Labor - and an investigation in 2004 by the Federal Department of Labor in France led to Landmark Education shutting down their operations in all of France due to unpaid labor practices.

Landmark Education is currently a defendant in a wrongful death case in Oklahoma, and also a young man named James Brian Rowe went missing in Colorado directly after attending a Landmark Forum in 2004. His family has not heard from him since.

More information about the company's history itself, at The Rick Ross Institute, the Skepdic site, Cult News, Introduction to the Landmark Education litigation archive, Landmark Education litigation archive, Apologetics Index, and Cult Awareness and Information Centre. The book OUTRAGEOUS BETRAYAL by Steven Pressman is also a great resource. Chapter 4, A Door to Door Mind Salesman, and Chapter 7, Enlightenment in Two Weekends - The est Training are available online.

For more information about other Large Group Awareness Training organizations and their methodologies, visit:

The Truth about Human Potential Seminars

Charlie said...

Wikipedia is the worst form of Encyclopedia except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

I also advise you two to ease off the Land---- For-- references.

Captain Colossal said...

I would prefer not to see anymore of the eyeball, myself, but I enjoy the supposedly connective first sentences.

I also love Wikipedia. When I'm choosing what to link to, here, sometimes I think I should link to something other than the Wikipedia entry, for variety. But usually there's nothing else as satisfying.

Noko Marie said...

I'm just indignant that the eyeball didn't seem to read my post with care. In fact I said I didn't have interesting experiences editing Wikipedia;I had interesting experiences reading it. But don't we all?

For all my affection I've never actually edited a Wikipedia entry. Maybe it's just easier to love with a little distance.

GuruTruth said...

My apologies if "the eyeball" misinterpreted part of your post, above. But if you have a chance, please do check out some of the material and links to text / audio / video resources from the earlier "eyeball" post.

There truly is a treasure trove of information on the controversial organization now currently known as " Landmark Education " in the earlier post - and most of that is stuff you won't find on Wikipedia.

Charlie said...

Whoa. gurutruth is actually a real person. I bet I can summon gurutruth back. Landmark Forum Landmark Forum Landmark Forum Landmark Forum Landmark Forum Landmark Forum Landmark Forum Landmark Forum Landmark Forum.

Noko Marie said...

Hi Gurutruth, no apology necessary.

Actually the first time you commented I did check out your blog.

It maybe wasn't obvious from my post but I have never been tempted to get involved with any organization like LF, and I'm not really intersted in such things. I just put it in there to illustrate the point about Wikipedia.

As I said in the post, it seems to me Wikipedia is improving, especially with respect to these highly contested topics. Here's hoping for the best!

GuruTruth said...

noko marie,
Thanks, no worries. Yeah, perhaps Wikipedia will improve, perhaps not - there are Web sites on both sides of the issue - Wikitruth, Wikipedia Watch, Wikipedia Review just to name a few of the critical ones. But lately this new business with the Wikiscanner thing and all the press that got is encouraging.

Hopefully in the future Wikipedia's policies related to this Wikiscanner and the truth it exposed about how controversial organizations edit the articles about themselves in attempts to whitewash the truth - will be adjusted to take the actions of these organizations, companies, cults, etc. under advisement.