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CalacanisCast Beta #11





Hey everybody, it’s your pal Jason. This is another CalacanisCast Beta.


CalacanisCast Beta #11.


And…we’re going to have a topic today: Control by Obscurification, Control by Obscurification: The New Radical Opaqueness.


We’re going to talk about Wikipedia. We’re going to talk about Digg. We’re going to talk about how people run systems, social systems, user-generated content… But we’re going to break it down. We’re going to keep it very real. The fact is there’s a lot of systems out there that maybe aren’t as open as we all thought they were. And, I’ve got a lot of inside information on Wikipedia, and Digg, and Netscape obviously ‘cuz I worked on it when I was with AOL…


I think we should just have a real discussion about this! Let’s just, you know, forget all the hype and the PR. We’re all here today on the CalacanisCast Beta #11 and there’s no reason for us to have airs about us. We ‘ll just talk in a real fashion because let’s face it there’s only a couple of thousand people that listen to the show so this is like our own little private place to talk about things in a very honest way. And that’s what I always saw the blog as when you go to Calcanis.com I want you to be able to talk honestly. Post anything you want in the comments with the two caveats like be intelligent, be honest, don’t curse because my… I ‘ve got nephews and stuff like , you know, who read the blogs and if you want to curse just say it in a more interesting way ‘FU Jason!” Say something like “I think you’re wrong and here’s why I think you’re wrong…” You know, not that you have to be totally civil. I like to mix it up! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But ummm…..


Ok so, let me start by just saying thank you to Podtech, Podtech, Podtech.net. Everybody knows Podtech.net is the sponsor of the CalacanisCast…Podtech.net. And…you know they’re donating fifty thousand dollars a year to Bay Ridge Preparatory School’s Opportunity Fund. And the Opportunity fund is for kids who, to let’s just say wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to a private school. Foster kids specifically you know, getting bounced around Brooklyn from different family to different family. Well at least now they don’t have to go to a public school with 45 or 50 kids or 40 kids in a class. They go to private school with ten, fifteen kids in the class. We’re talking about like a $12,000 of $14,000 a year school donation. -- Bay Ridge Preparatory School - A grade school in Brooklyn that I am on the board of and so the reason I am doing this podcast is 1) I like to talk to you guys and 2) my good friends at Podtech.net asked me to do it and supported it with a fifty thousand dollar donation for the fifty shows that I am going to do for this year! This is show # 11. Also GoDaddy. GoDaddy. GoDaddy, GoDaddy---the best place to register your domain names. They’re a sponsor of the show as well and depending on how it goes it could be a donation of up to seventy five thousand dollars also going to Bay Ridge Preparatory School’s Opportunities Fund. GoDaddy which is great, and when you go to GoDaddy to register a domain name the way you could let them know that you are coming from the CalacanisCast Beta is to type in “Jason 1’ J-A-S-O-N and the number 1 no spaces. JASON1 When you order a domain name and you have to buy domain names right? Why not go but a domain name right now? Come up with a good idea for a domain name and just save it. Maybe have them put your name. Buy your name. Buy your-name .com. Buy your-name .net . Buy…..ahhh… your-name-sucks .com you know so nobody else can own that. There’s all kinds of domains you have to buy so go out and buy some domains and use the JASON 1 code so GoDaddy knows that you’re listening.


I’ve been getting a lot of emails from people saying ‘hey you know I was just thinking of registering some domain names and I used the JASON1 code just because I want to support the show and let GoDaddy know that, hey, I’m really psyched that they’re supporting the show and Bay Ridge Preparatory School’.


So, let’s get right into it!


Control by Obscurification: The New Radical Opaqueness


What I want to talk about now is the Wikipedia [www.wikipedia.org] specifically. Wikipedia everybody knows is the online dictionary, or encyclopedia I should say! And it’s becoming, you know, the number one site on the Internet. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be the number one site… It has the greatest collection of content anywhere on the Internet. Google loves it and is ranking it extremely well and anybody can participate in it. So for all those factors it’s becoming the number one site… it should be the number one site we all believe that.


However, their new executive director said that they may be having a cash crunch. It seem like her comments got spun a little out of control. Maybe, maybe they don’t have three to four months to live, which is what she said. And people have sort of gone back and said “Well, that’s not exactly what she said.” But anyway…this all started earlier this week or maybe it was last week the Florence Devouard, who is the Chairwoman of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, said they have the financial resources to run the service for three to four months. And, you know, they just had million dollar campaign there to raise capital but, as you know on this podcast I’ve been talking about “hey why don’t we put some advertising on the Wikipedia” and of course people got very upset - some group of people got very upset - I would say the vocal minority of people were really upset by that concept of advertising in Wikipedia. They think of the Wikipedia like they think of the Louvre, or the Grand Canyon , this great public resource, this great public thing that really shouldn’t have commercial advertising on it. And you know, I can appreciate that. Not everybody as you know is as pro free content via advertising as other people are. There are some people who are really very upset that NPR or PBS have like little bumpers on their shows thanking their sponsors and there are some people who say ‘Great! I don’t care. Double the size of it and stop interrupting the programming for the fund drives”. So different strokes for different folks! I believe that the majority of people would deal with a modest amount of advertising in exchange for free content, sustainable content. But it’s not about my opinion. The Wikipedia is supposed to be a consensus building organization. Their belief is that they should come to consensus. That’s how the pages on Wikipedia are produced. You’re supposed to come to a consensus of what the “truth” and I’m using air quotes there…you know quotes with my fingers! Because truth is an ideal it’s not often a reality.


And so they keep talking about consensus but the fact is….and I know that some people are going to take this the wrong way. The fact is the Wikipedia is not run by consensus! Better stated: it’s run by the consensus of the people who are able to technologically understand how consensus is reached at Wikipedia. So let me go…let me say that again so people don’t freak out and says that “Jason says that Wikipedia is run by a bunch of Nazis!” I’m not saying that Wikipedia is run by a bunch of Nazis. What I am saying is that Wikipedia is not run by consensus. It’s run by the consensus of those individuals who have the technical know how to get through the tech process under which consensus is achieved. Now go to the Wikipedia right now and type in a search, like for George Bush - I’m going to do it right now myself… I’m typing in ‘George Bush” and you can pick obviously Jr and there’s a discussion page and that’s where people discuss consensus. So if you want to put something into the George Bush page or any page on Wikipedia, that’s how your supposed to do it. If you have a debate you’re supposed to go to the discussion page. Now to edit the discussion page the Wikipedia people, you know the tech folks there, they don’t use something like a message board. No, they use the…and I’m going to get a little wonky here…They use a …


Oh my god this is so funny! I just pulled a George W Bush and there’s a picture of a monkey for his picture! I’ve got to take a screen grab of this bear with me. Oh my god! this is just total genius! So, anyway speaking of the Wikipedia… I don’t know maybe they’ve come to a consensus that maybe George Bush is a monkey. But there is a … I, I kid you not…I’m going to put this on my site… I just took a snapshot of it and BushMonkey.gif. I saved it. Ok, you’ll see it on my blog soon!


Anyway if you go to the discussion page for George W Bush you can see that there’s this huge bunch of garbage. Skip to table. This is the talk page for discussion and comments on the George W Bush article.



“This is not a forum for general discussion about the article subject. Please sign in and date your post by typing for tildes.” Whatever that means? Put new text under old text. Click here to start a new topic. New to Wikipedia? Welcome. Ask Questions. Get Answers. Be polite, Assume good faith, etc . It’s got all this information. Now nobody would ever know that you would have to go click on the top and edit this page in order to join this discussion. That’s just not…this is the Wikipedia it has its own vernacular, it’s own process… for having a discussion so you’ve got to go all the way to the bottom of the page, right? Or actually you’ve got to go to the top of the page. You’ve got to hit the ‘Edit’ key on the top. Then you have to go to the bottom and …man, look at the Wiki markup language… This is just like looking at HTML or even C++ code to the average individual. The average individual cannot take part in this discussion. So then, what’s left, is the discussion is left to the one to five percent of people; I would say probably the one percent of people who could figure out what the hell Media Wiki, which is the software that runs Wikipedia and many other Wiki’s out there. They have to figure out how to basically edit HTML. It’s called Wiki Markup Language. But it’s basically like HTML. It’s a tag-based language. It’s extremely difficult! So that’s number one. So why can’t this be a message board like every other discussion going on on the Internet, I don’t know, but that’s the reason.


Now, if you want to talk to people at the Wikipedia you have to go find their page so you click on somebody’s name like I’ll click on this guy LordJaffo6 and I have to go edit his page… I have to go to his discussion page if I want to talk to him. I can’t just send him a site-mail or something. I have to go edit his page and put a note on there. And in order to go indent the note I’ve got to put two colons or three colons and then if you want to sign in you’ve got to put four tildes which if you don’t know what a tildes is that’s the curvy-like dash on the top left of your keyboard on windows. I mean, this is hard stuff! And what the Wikipedia has done, I believe unintentionally at the start, and I believe maintained intentionally, is they’ve blocked people from being part of the community.


And now the Wikipedia people are all going to get upset at me. “Oh no anybody can go learn this stuff.” Yeah, and anybody can go learn tag-HTML and code HTML or C++ that doesn’t mean if your goal is to run this open system that you have to put up these technological hurdles. Why doesn’t The Wikipedia use a message board to have these discussions and debates? The answer is if they did, the Wikipedia would be crushed under the weight of the other ninety-nine percent of the audience participating. The Wikipedia is not produced by a large number of people. It’s a very small number of people who figure out how to use the Wiki Markup Language.


Now, so I talked about the discussion page, which I’m sure ninety percent of the audience here or eighty percent of the audience didn’t even know the discussion page exists. It’s on the top - every page on the Wiki has a discussion page. Why that can’t be a message board? I have no idea. They could very easily change it to a message board. It’s nonsensical that they don’t. And it’s absolutely a power play by the powers that be - the existing consensus audience at Wikipedia - that it is not. They’re blocking participation and debate! That’s right. I’m saying it very clearly because there’s no other explanation or debate. You can very easily put a message board there.


Number 2) if you want to edit a page on the Wikipedia, you have to also learn the same Media Wiki software and the pages are getting more and more complicated. Now I went to the Wiki Mania conference in Boston over the summer. I spent a week there. And that’s the longest I’ve spent at a conference I think in my life! I went to three days of the pre-conference which I think was called ‘Hacking Days” and I got to talk to the programmers and that was really insightful. And then I went to three days of the actual event and then I went to a one day, a post day, and that was about journalism. What I found out was the technology people at the Wikipedia really are running the shop. And I’ll give you a couple of examples of that…


1) They don’t want a WYSIWYG. And there were some people there who had WYSIWYGs. What a WYSIWYG is What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get. That basically means if you highlight something and hit the bold key it becomes bold. They don’t really want to have a WYSIWYG here they want to keep the code on the site. And the reason the said during these discussions…and I was just a fly on the wall And I heard this discussion about the WYSIWYG come up at least five or six times during the course of the event. The majority of people who were opposed to putting a WYSIWYG on because it would increase participation to the point under which Wikipedia would be unmanageable. That’s what they said! That’s to me… is a little bit insincere. You know you’re supposedly running this big open service, and I love the Wikipedia, but it should be a WYSIWYG. Why can’t it be a WYSIWYG? I know there are all these technical reasons but it’s like that nerdy guy in the IT department who comes up with all the technical reasons about how or why people in the business can’t do what they want to do and it takes some business person to come along and say hey listen the IT department works for the rest of the people in the company and not the other way around. This is a technological typical technology people being overbearing and running the shop. The inmates are running the asylum…so to speak!


And... oh but if you want to talk to the folks… this is the other big secret. So you have a discussion page that’s running HTML code basically it’s Wiki Markup language. I know it’s technically not HTML code but its code! It’s a markup language. Then you have editing of it that’s not ---so that should be a message board. The editing of it should be a WYSIWYG but its not. And then, if you wanted to discuss something with people live it’s an IRC - Internet Relay Chat - which, if you don’t know, you need a client for, you’ve got to download software… It is the most extremely hard chat software in the world and chat software has been easy to use for ten years! But all the people…the technology people who run Wikipedia are all using IRC. Therefore, you can’t be involved in the real discussions that are going on where all the admins and everybody are hiding in this IRC chat room making decisions. That’s how consensus is built at Wikipedia….and that’s why it’s not true consensus. And let’s just be honest about it.


And if that’s the way Wikipedia wants to run…if they want to put technical roadblocks up and control the Wikipedia through technological hurdles, that’s fine! Maybe, maybe everybody shouldn’t be able to edit the Wiki? But let’s be honest about it. I mean Jimmy Wells runs around town and obviously the guy’s very talented but he talks this whole story - and it’s so annoying - that ‘Oh it’s so open’. You know what, dude…it’s not open! It’s not. That is just so wrong! It’s open if you have extreme technical ability. If you know how to use IRC. Ask a hundred people on the street if they know what---a hundred Internet users, if they even know what IRC is… 90 – to – 95 percent will not know what it is. The remaining five percent will---well four of the five percent will have never used it and one percent may know what it is and may have used it in their life and maybe one tenth of one percent have used it on any regular basis. IRC is the way that Wikipedia keeps the riff-raff out! And their definition of riff-raff is you’re not technologically able to keep up with us.


The discussion pages and the edit pages, not having message boards and not having a WYSIWYG are the way the technological people running Wikipedia keep you out. It’s control by obscurification! They’re making it a very obscure technology to participate in.


So Jimmy Wales, if you’re listening, the next time you go out and say “Oh the Wikipedia anybody can edit” why don’t you just say “Anybody who understands Wiki Markup Language or takes the couple of hours it takes to learn how to do this…and it could take a couple of days cuz some of these pages are becoming very complex with tables…can learn how to do it? Because we both know that the Wikipedia is not an open platform by consensus.


Still a great product! Yes, still anybody could work hard to get in there and learn how to do it and perhaps it’s better than anything that’s come before it. As a matter of fact, I would say that! It’s more open and better than anything that came before it but it’s not as open as it could easily be. And it’s intellectually dishonest for people from the community to say that the Wikipedia is open. It’s absolutely intellectually dishonest! And the people at the Wiki Mania conference who sort of brought up that point and tried to champion stuff…they were voted down! Not that there was a literal vote but they were sort of smacked down by the rest of the audience like: “Oh no, you know. We have to keep doing this. It’s not technologically possible” - you know it’s just sad! I’m just going to leave it at that. You can make your own decision.


Now: digg, another very important site. I’d say Wikipedia and digg/Deli.cio.us or Netscape … you know those are some of the most important sites on the Internet today and they will be over the next five or six years I believe, because they are letting people participate. Now digg did something interesting. They are becoming radically opaque. They were radically transparent. The goal was anybody could participate, anybody could program the front page, and everything is available via API. And that’s what Kevin Rose promised.


All the data… everything’s out there. We’re totally open. Then digg got to scale, then the people coming in to game digg came in. The people who were the top users were spending hours per day on there and they got really powerful. And so what Kevin Rose and the folks at digg did was they sort of pulled a power-play they said ‘you know what… you guys are so powerful that we’re going to take away your power by getting rid of the top ranked user’s list. And the top ranked user list was the reason why these diggers, the top diggers, were motivated by the site. Recognition is the number one driving force in these systems.


Affiliation is the second and that’s a strong one too. So that’s why people haven’t left digg and in some big way the recognition is gone. They still get recognition, they get their name on the story, they get their name on the homepage, they just don’t get the the leader-board where it has the top 100 users… because digg turned it off.



Now, they’re also turning off how many… I believe… the rankings and stuff like that so you cant even get into the system with an API or scrape the data and make a top list like somebody had done from Netscape, one of the programmers did in sort of a rogue project. So, it seems that if you want to control these systems and there’s a little trend that you can see here - Digg and Wikipedia have gotten very powerful and now instead of increasing the transparency and empowering the audience they’re actually starting to have to pull away a little bit. They have to slow things down and throttle it so that these systems are actually - and I think we should be honest about it - I’m not saying it’s the wrong decision - I’m just saying you have to be honest about it… They’re not completely open systems. They’re not a free-for-all. Rules are being introduced and this is sort of like, you know society. You create a utopia and then some people come in and ruin the utopia so you’ve got to create laws and that’s what we’re seeing right now.


And so that’s my thought for the day. I think Wikipedia is an amazing site. I think it’s the most important site ever created on the Internet. I think it is! I think Jimmy Wales is a genius for creating the site and I guess he’s the co-founder of it or founder of it depending on who you believe. That’s something that people go back and forth on but ahh….You know the guy’s obviously a bright guy. Kevin Rose, that’s one of the smartest people I have met and motivated folks in the industry. I think these two guys are brilliant guys. But, they should be honest about how these things work. And I don’t think it’s just Jimmy Wales. I think actually Kevin has been pretty honest about it and so I have to give him points for that. He’s being honest. We don’t want, you know these top rankings where it causes more trouble than what its worth. I respect him for that. And I don’t have any problem with them taking it off to be totally honest. I just think it’s an interesting thing that open systems can only go so far before the open-ness actually has a detrimental effect…a detrimental effect and then you have to become opaque. You cannot be transparent forever. And Google’s not 100% transparent either. We don’t know how the Google Index ranks stuff? They’re opaque. So there’s this whole balance between being transparent and being opaque that you have to ride a fine line. I think Digg’s doing it well. I think Wikipedia’s doing a terrible job at it! I’ll be totally honest about that. I think the Wikipedia folks and I saw this in person…I’m going to go the next WikiMania! I don’t care if the Wikipedia hate me, you know? I know some of the folks over there hate me because I‘m introducing advertising to the whole concept but why shouldn’t we, as the consumers of Wikipedia, put it up for a vote? Why don’t we have a vote? And I’m not talking about a vote with a discussion page. You know…or an IRC. I’m talking about a vote button where it says “Would you like to support the Wikipedia by viewing one advertisement? one text advertisement? one text advertisement per ten pages? no advertising I’d rather donate? or I don’t care do whatever you want I love the Wikipedia? And let’s have a really honest vote. Why wouldn’t the Wikipedia have that vote?


You know, all the Wikipedia people came and attacked me about my proposal to put an advertisement on the Wikipedia and then I so deftly, I’m giving myself a little credit here, evolved my proposal to meet their needs. I listened to them very intently and they said ‘well, we don’t want to be under the thumb of Yahoo or Google.” I said, “OK great. Here’s how we’ll do it. We’ll have five or six different ad networks giving us their text ads. We’ll rotate them randomly and we’ll give each party 20% of the advertising space. If any of the parties ever call us and say ‘We need you to do this, we need you to do that” we will turn them off!


And then the next argument, ‘well, what if ads come up that we don’t want to have?” Well, you can block ads you don’t want to have so if you don’t want to have ads from systems from IBM for some crazy reason IBM does something terrible… Or you know, for gambling, you can just turn those off! So again, these Wikipedia people have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to the ad technology. And then I said, ‘what if the users could opt-out?” So underneath every edit it says “I don’t want to see ads on Wikipedia and they could click and turn them off.


Then I said, ‘What if you had to click to turn them off so there was a notice when you came to Wikipedia that said “Donate to Wikipedia, I’d rather not donate right now, or show me an ad instead of donating” and you know all the Wikipedia critics who were criticizing me about advertising went away because they’re argument then became… the small vocal minority has to tell everybody at Wikipedia what to do. And that’s more evidence to what exactly what I am talking about is that “control by obscurification”. The Wikipedia folks will not let this go to a vote.


They will not have an open discussion about it. Jimmy Wales, when I email and talk to him about it is like very sort of…you know..This guy’s sort of like Jesus, he answers questions in riddles like “That’s an interesting question. I wonder what would happen if we did that?’ And you know it’s like, Jim. Just be honest. Let’s have an honest, intellectual discussion about it and let’s be honest about the lack of accessibility on the Wikipedia.


Wikipedia is blocking people’s participation through technological obscurification. The technology is so hard to use that the majority of the people can not participate. Is that the intent of it? And now that becomes such an important part of what we do as an industry, shouldn’t it be a little more open? Why can’t we have message boards on the discussion pages? Threaded message boards, like every other discussion going on on the Internet! Why can’t we have that? And why can’t we have WYSIWYG like every other blog software on the Internet? Why do we have to show people all this code? Why? I think you know why. Why do we have to have IRC chat? Why does everything have to go through IRC chat? That makes no sense. Nobody uses IRC chat. That’s for like, the one percent of the geek world communicates with IRC chat. .001 percent of the world communicates with IRC chat. It’s the oldest and-----and yes, make all the discussions in the world about why it’s a great technology and nobody controls it, there’s no central servers and blah, blah, blah….freedom of speech… Bottom line is Wikipedia has enough money to put up a server that has chat software. There’s free software that you can even embed IRC chat into a web browser window, so, I mean, you know, it’s total BS and let’s just be honest about it.


I know the Wikipedia folks are professionals but I… I’m a member of the Wikipedia community OK. I went to the event. I’m on it every day. I edit pages under my handle “Jason Calacanis”. I don’t hide. I edit my own page when I see a glaring omission or error but I’m very honest and upfront about that and I think I’m a member of the community you know I should have my say and my say is let’s make it easier for people to use, have more people participate not less, and let’s let people make a decision about how they want to donate with their eyeballs watching an advertisement or by donating money. Not everybody has money to donate. Some people would like to look at ads. Some people would like to support the Wikipedia by doing that, so… Anyway, that’s the entire show.


I’m glad that you guys were able to come and join me and, ahh….hey I’m getting less fat!


For those people reading my blog I was 191.2 pounds today. And you know I tipped the scales at 207 lbs and I was depressed about that. I got a treadmill which is, like the most expensive thing, I guess. Yeah, it’s one of the most expensive things I’ve ever treated myself to in my life but you know what? I’m not getting any younger. I’ve got to take care of my health, it’s an investment. Screw it! I want to be healthy! I got the treadmill and I’m throwing myself on their almost every morning. I went for a walk or run on the 2nd, the 5th, the 7th, the 8th, the 9th - that was a good run - The 11th, the 13th and I’m averaging 422 calories, 2.7 miles in 45.9 minutes. And my weight for this month has averaged 192.6 which is pretty good considering I was a 195 average last month. I want to get down to 185lbs. I’m eating a lot healthier and I’m getting great feedback from you guys!


I’m going to do CalacanisCast beta 12 where I do all those great voicemails that people left and I’m going to do that soon. Thank you for listening.


To the Wikipedia folks…don’t get all upset. I’m trying to help the situation. I’m not busting your chops for no reason. I actually believe what I’m saying and you guys are intelligent folks who could be involved in an intelligent discussion with me. And that’s what I encourage the Wikipedia folks to remember. Intelligent people can disagree about something and have a civil discourse about it. Let’s discuss it! Let’s discuss it openly. Don’t just take what Jason is saying here and dismiss it. I might have a point. I could have a point! It doesn’t hurt to consider my point.


Anyway, thank you Podtech. Thank you Podtech. Thank you Podtech.net. everybody go to Podtech.net. They do great podcasts over there including my pal Robert Scobel, who has been off the rails recently. He’s gone a little crazy. Everybody knows that and I’ll see you guys on the next show. Oh, also GoDaddy. GoDaddy I love you! The best registrar! I have 2000 domain names under GoDaddy. I only buy my domain names through GoDaddy. Michael Jackson over there is my account manager where I buy dozens of domains at a time all kinds of good domains. And…I love you GoDaddy! I love you GoDaddy! GoDaddy!


Jason1 is the code and I’ll talk to you guys later. 30 minutes 33 seconds.


Peace out.

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