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Calacanis Cast Beta #18 transcript


Special guest: Andrew Lih


Andrew Lih is currently writing a book in which he shares his truly impressive knowledge of all things Wikipedia. In this CalacanisCast, Jason and Andrew discuss the past, present, and future of the web's newest super-site.











*Note - by popular demand there is now an independent audio feed!

CalacanisCast 18 Beta


Jason: Okay everybody, welcome to another edition of CalacanisCast Beta, this is the 17th show. I think when I hired Tyler to be the Producer, we were at Show 12 or 13. So in two weeks we've done like four shows or something. We have one on the CAN, we've got that talk I did over at USC in the CAN. That's maybe a two-parter I guess when I'm on vacation, 'cause I'm gonna go on vacation for a week in Spain when I speak at that conference, so maybe we'll do that that week.


Tyler I'm not doing the Spain, is that what you're saying?


Jason: You're not coming to Spain, sorry Tyler. Actually, you know, it would be cool if you could videotape that. Maybe there is a, maybe we can come up with an excuse to buy you a ticket to come with me. I'm sure my wife would love to have you with us for the flight and you know, everything. So this is I guess the second episode of the week, and we talked to the CEO of Revver the other day. And that was quite interesting given . . .


Tyler Steven Starr.


Jason: Steven Starr, given the Viacom billion dollar lawsuit. So actually some interesting stuff came up since then. Mark Cuban obviously is pretty happy about it because he feels vindicated. And some people are saying like you know, it's obviously a negotiating tactic, but that, you know, there's sort of, you know, it doesn't matter to Google if it goes all the way or not, 'cause it's gonna take five, ten years to sort this all out. So there are people saying this might go on for a long time. It's kind of interesting, you know. If it isn't, what does your sense tell you?


Tyler (Inaudible.) I mean this is something you will look back on twenty years from now.


Jason: Yeah, and say like "This is when it really hit the fan." Technology versus media. I think the DRMS is probably gonna get really cleaned up a little bit because of this. The definition of hosting something changed a little bit. Like maybe the people who are uploading stuff have to have some sort of paid relationship or something. I don't know, they have to come up with something.


Tyler Yeah. They have to have one of those things, you know, the boundaries of businesses.


Jason: Yeah, it's interesting times with then. And then of course like that made you send people off-shore to do things in other places where the laws are a little looser. And so . . .


Tyler Great point.


Jason: Yeah. So . . .


Tyler The exposed little facts . . .


Jason: Well I mean it's like the fishing industry or whatever, they had all those problems with people over-fishing. And so what happened, all the US fisheries just left, went to South America or registered in Asia where they could go get swordfish or whatever, and you know, it's like you just have to think globally when you make these laws, because you don't live in the bubble. And Americans get all caught up like we're in this bubble. But the guys from Kazaa, the --- are doing whatever the heck they want. And you know, we sort of live in the American bubble . . . But you know whatever. So as you know, I read a lot about Wikipedia. I'm fascinated with the Wikipedia as everybody is. I believe Wikipedia will become the number one site on the Internet within the next year or two. And I think that the number two competitor to it in the next three, four or five years will have ten times less traffic that it. Why do I believe this? I think that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg of its international growth for Wikipedia, although it's had some bright spots, it's still very nascent. So I think it's incredibly influential. I have tremendous respect for the people who built it, and I've spent some time thinking about it and trying to get involved and I'm basically getting a major education. I think I'm, you know, not to be a conceited guy, but I've been around the Internet business for a long time. I was there at the beginning, I was there when it was multimedia. And very rarely do I meet people who I feel like I'm learning from. But when I get involved with the Wikipedia community and Jimbo Wales and the folks from there, and listening on their conversations, I actually feel like I'm learning stuff. It's really interesting to be, you know, somebody who's considered an expert at the Internet, and then go somewhere where you're like, "Wow, these people are really figuring out some interesting stuff." And so I'm very happy that we have one of those really smart people on the phone with us from Shanghai. Andrew, are you in Shanghai?


Andrew: No, I'm in Beijing, China.


Jason: Beijing. So on the phone we have Andrew Lih, who I met back in the Silicon Reporter days when he was a Professor at Columbia's Journalism school.


Andrew: That's right. Actually before that I was in the dot.com industry, so Jason and I were probably the first dozen folks in New York City in the dot.com base back then.


Jason: Yeah, '95/'96 when Mosaic was breaking. That was an interesting time, wasn't it?


Andrew: Yeah. I mean the way I got started in it, I was doing graduated studies in Columbia. And we just run in . . . And I had been using the Internet a long time 'cause I was in Computer Science. And we ran this thing called Mosaic. And we fired it up one day and said, "Whoa, this is gonna change the world, because people had been used to using Command line FGP and things like that. And then suddenly you had this thing that you could click on stuff to go places. And immediately when we saw that back in '93/'94, we knew that this was gonna change everything, and we started creating a City Guide online for folks just about New York, this was just on our casual, you know, our time off.


Jason: Right.


Andrew: And it started to get very, very popular. And suddenly there was a business in it. And that's how we started off with a guide called the Paperless Guide to New York City. And it was so early on that actually grabbing the domain name "www.ny.com" was actually really quite easy.


Jason: Oh wow!


Andrew: That was really early.


Jason: That's, you were there at the beginning. Yeah, those were interesting days. Do you remember the day when images were supported in Mosaic and Netscape?


Andrew: Right, right. And it was always kind of an optional thing back then.


Jason: Right, and then all of a sudden it was like, "Oh my God, images." And then backgrounds came on line, the flashing tag, the blink-tag unfortunately.


Andrew: The blink-tag, oh my.


Jason: It was very interesting to watch that. For you guys in the audience, Andrew is no longer a Professor of Journalism, but he's now moved on and he's writing a book about the Wikipedia which I really can not wait to read. I was talking to my book agent, John Brockman, who happens to be your agent.


Andrew: That's right.


Jason: And he was telling me like "Oh yeah, I got this Wikipedia book coming out, it's gonna be big." I was like "Oh, who's doing that?" And he told me "Andrew." And I was like "Oh!" I mean, I haven't written any books yet, but is this your first, or . . .


Andrew: It is the first. I've written a lot about Wikipedia in different areas, newspaper articles, academic type, I should say "publications". But this'll be the first in the long treatment of Wikipedia, not only for me but I think in the general marketplace for books.


Jason: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean this Wiki-nomics or whatever, people talking about the economics and wisdom of crafts, I mean people have been touching on it, but you're focusing on the project itself.


Andrew: Exactly, you're right. There's also another book called "Infotopia" by Cass Sunstein which is quite good, 'cause he's an academic. But no one has really done explicitly a whole book on Wikipedia, and in fact it's quite surprising, because I think even one book is not quite enough to cover all the dynamics of the community. Buy the idea is to have a book for the layman or the lay person that explains a lot of the things that perhaps your listeners and most Internet users have become accustomed to, like Wiki-editing and Collaboration and Edit-histories and things like this that for the average person who runs into Wikipedia, this would be all, really really wild stuff. So explains that . . .


Jason: Yeah. It really is a culture unto itself, the Wikipedians and the Wiki-culture who at the Wiki-Media Foundation. That's the name of it, right, Wiki-media Foundation?


Andrew: That's right. So the Wiki-Media Foundation is a non-profit that oversees the, I guess the financial and operational underpinnings on the project.


Jason: Okay. And it's a total culture unto itself. And I basically, you know, came to that culture like, you know, very interested in the project, and went to the Wiki-Mania over the summer, and man, it is like running, like when you're like a rabbit entrepreneur like I am and you run into that culture, it's like a stockbroker running into church, you know. Like it's two totally different cultures, right? I mean I basically came off really bad I think to the Wikipedia community when I first started talking about Wikipedia.


Andrew: Right. Well I think there is something valuable in folks like you going to Wiki-Mania. And that I was just talking to someone the other day. I do think it is useful to have folks like you who come from a different angle to actually challenge some of the more sacred cows within the Wikipedia culture.


Jason: Yeah.


Andrew: So there is the fear, because it's such an open and such a transparent community, but with any community, you always have norms that are established that often go unquestioned, even though there are a lot of folks who may not except everything, but you do have this kind of, you know, group thing that evolves. And you do run that risk even in Wikipedia with a lot of transparency and openness. And to actually reopen the question of, you know, "What is the long-term financial liability of this project, and is advertising in the future?" Even though the majority of folks think this is really stuff that we can't imagine happening, but it is useful to ask the question, because that question was closed off several years ago and no one's really revisited that whole question.


Jason: Yeah, I mean I came to it and I was like, having you know, inside information on what happened at the Mozilla Foundation, and knew early on that they were making tens of millions of dollars from the search box. I just said to myself, "Well why wouldn't Wikipedia just, you know, at least monetize the search?" Because the truth is, the Wikipedians, you know, the hardcore people, that's a term they use, and the Administrators, they all use Google Search anyway, because Wikipedia Search is deficient.


Andrew: Right.


Jason: So they leave Wikipedia, they go do a search on Google with the operator at the end site:"Wikipedia.org", which is what any sophisticated users do. So that money's usually being made anyway. And so . . .


Andrew: That's right.


Jason: Why wouldn't you turn it on?


Andrew: I absolutely never use the Wikipedia Search. I have a shortcut in Firefox that does a Google Search in the Wikipedia domain or whatever domain I'm looking for within the Wikipedia space. So you're absolutely right that most people do use the Google Search for Wikipedia, because its internal search is just not quite as useful.


Jason: And "Search" is probably the most loaded page on Wikipedia, with the exception of the Homepage, I think. I looked at the stats, I think that was the most loaded page.


Andrew: Yes, if you look at the top, of the special searches, it's one of the special things that they're . . . So you're absolutely right in that there's a lot to be learned from other folks who've gone down this road before, learning from the successes and the mistakes. One of the concerns is that the Wiki-Media Foundation should have on its Board in the long-term more people with experience. But one of the interesting things is that the Board is largely elected from the community, which is a good thing to keep the community spirit. But it also means that the Board may not necessarily have a good mix of the experience and skills needed to look at the long-term foundational and non-profit issues.


Jason: Yeah. So I'm slowly getting myself, I basically throttled myself back, because I realized I was coming on too strong and that there is a . . . You're dealing with an extremely intelligent group of people, am I right? I mean the people who are drawn to the project are intelligent and deft at debating stuff.


Andrew: Yes. You're talking about folks who also self-select, and the people who wind up staying on the mailing lists are the ones who especially enjoy that debate as well.


Jason: Right.


Andrew: So you do have a bunch of the Wikipedians who are not necessarily interested in the mailing lists and the dialog and the debate, and they're off editing the Wikipedia. But as you said, the people on the mailing lists love to debate a lot the minutia and the policy. It really is a learning experience too.


Jason: Right. I think that that's what probably has made the project so successful, but maybe a little balance is, you know, is necessary. 'Cause I revised my position on advertising. I actually just said, "Put up a Leader Board up and call it a day." And then they came back with incredible arguments. One of them was like "We don't want to be beholden to anyone like Google." So then based on that I came out and said, "Hey, well what if we did . . . and I could help set up this deal for the Foundation. What if we had Google, Microsoft and Yahoo's syndicated ads, and we rotated them randomly across, you know, the search pages?"


Andrew: Right.


Jason: And if any one of those people ever tried to, you know, lay into us in any way, the Foundation where you influence the project, well you just bounce them, and you still have the two or three other people there. So that was one thing. And then I moved the whole concept to, "What if it was just opt-in advertising?" So you could say, "I would like to see one, two or three ads, or no ads, I'd like to donate, or no ads and I don't want to do anything, I don't want to make a decision about that". And what was interesting about that, was that's when Jimmy Wales, who I've had a little bit of tension with and we're trying to work it out on the back channel, but you know, basically disengaged talking to me, 'cause I think what happened was that my position became so reasonable, it was hard to argue with.


Andrew: Right, right. I think there's two interesting points to that Tyler One is there is an interesting business model there as you said, which is what I would liken to like Affinity credit cards, right? So that in your every day usage of Wikipedia, you can choose to surround yourself with ads of a certain type and generate revenue for the Wikipedia Foundation. And it's up to the user to select who that is, right?


Jason: Right.


Andrew: And that's kind of what you suggested, putting and so some scripting or some tension in Firefox. You get to see ads, and if you click on them, you generate pennies, but those pennies go to Wiki-Media Foundation. And given the traffic of Wikipedia, my goodness, even pennies or fractions of pennies per click will generate lots of revenue.


Jason: Sure.


Andrew: So that is quite interesting. And it removes itself from the Foundation of being, or the project of being beholden to these content folks or these advertisers. So that is an interesting side of it. It's something that I think you had some writers on your blog experiment with, but they concluded it wasn't quite viable given the way that Google does things, right?


Jason: Right. Right, well that was in terms of making a third-party extension that did it. But what they could very easily do is, the Foundation could just say, you know, on your User page if you're logged in or just at the beginning say "View it With Advertising", "View it Without Advertising", you choose. And I would think that more than fifty percent would probably choose to view it with advertising. And if ten percent of the people chose to do it with, watch with advertising, you'd probably talking about I think $10 million bucks, that's my guess.


Andrew: A month?


Jason: I think if you, you basically are gonna, you'll probably wind up making $15 per thousand pages, 15,000 CPMs. So you know, that ads up pretty quick, a million pages making you $15,000, 10 million pages making you $150,000, a hundred million making you a thousand pages making you .5, just go right on down the line. It would wind up being a lot of money, 'cause I don't think they even know how many pages Wikipedia's getting 'cause they have to turn the log files off 'cause the log files are too big.


Andrew: You know, that's the scary thing, is that just the log files on Wikipedia takes more CPU than most Internet providers. So that's pretty scary.


Jason: Eight billion pages when I was at Wiki-Mania, somebody was estimating. Eight billion, and over fifty percent come from Google.


Andrew: That's right.


Jason: So Google is actually becoming like the real benefactor to, I think it's the primary benefactor to Wikipedia. Whether people wanna like admit it or not.


Andrew: Well there were some blog-posts and debates about that just recently, about whether Wikipedia is too dependent on Google. And I don't think it's necessarily a unique relationship between Wikipedia and Google. I think a lot of sites are dependent on Google. I mean you actually have companies suing Google for their listing or their ranking going down.


Jason: Right.


Andrew: So I don't think it's a unique thing. I also think it's not such a delicate thing, because Wikipedia is linked to by so many folks on the Internet that if Google went away tomorrow, Wikipedia would still be very, very high on the link to for not only search engines but just from blogs and other pages all over the Internet.


Jason: So let's talk a little bit about Jimmy Wales, I'm fascinated by the guy. And obviously I mixed it up a little bit with him, and I've tried to like tone it down actually. But he doesn't seem like he . . . 'Cause he sort of telegraphed to me . . . He said in the public that he prefers not to have advertising, but he telegraphed to me over email that, you know, my position on advertising, you know, might surprise you sort of. You know, like I think that he actually would, you know, be pro- maybe having it on the search pages or open to some possibilities. But he doesn't actually want to bring it up I don't think, because I think maybe he is concerned. I'm reading into this now, I don't know his position, but maybe he's concerned that it's such a polarizing issue that he'd rather not bring it up.


Andrew: I think you're right. There's two intriguing things in the history of Wikipedia that are related to advertising. One is the fact that Wikipedia was started as a project called "New-Pedia" by Jimmy's original company , it was a commercial company.


Jason: Right, for profit.


Jason: When he started the company, "New" . . . For Profit, exactly. And when they started "New-Pedia", their intention all the time was to eventually have a revenue model of either advertising or something else.


Jason: Subscripture.


Andrew: So when they started idea of online encyclopedia, advertising or revenue generation was always in the mix. And only after New-Pedia was failed or was failing and they moved to the Wikipedia model and it took off like gangbusters, and they realized that the reason why it took off so rapidly and became so popular was the non-commercial nature of it. They realized that it could no longer easily have this kind of commercial bend to it, that you really had to release it to the public and to the users, because that's what made it beautiful and that's what made people passionate about it. And I think that still is kind of the spirit within the community, that can you point to another site in the top twenty that is this pure in terms of not being commercial and not being beholden to commercial interests? There really is nothing close to it.


Jason: Right.


Andrew: So among the Yahoo, Google, eBays and you know, .coms and everything, you've got this pristine user-playground, or I wouldn't say "playground", this user garden on the side.


Jason: Yeah, it's a garden yeah.


Andrew: That is untouched and pristine, and I think people really, really treasure that, and they will fight very hard for it to be kept that way. So that's what's so interesting about it is that that is something that the community is fighting for. And there has been something in the past that has caused this to be a real warning sign, and that's when there were ideas of putting advertising into Wikipedia, and it was back in 2003 or 2002, I have to look up the exact date. And the Spanish Wikipedians back then were so outraged by just the possibility, they forked off . . .


Jason: Right.


Andrew: And branded their own version of encyclopedia, "Libre". So this whole, you know, if you look back in Wikipedia history, people always refer to what they call the "Spanish fork". And we're not talking about a wooden utensil here, we're talking about the fact that the Spanish Wikipedians actually voted with their feet, and they actually took off and said "We're starting and we're copying the of GFEL content of Wikipedia, because we don't even like the idea of you guys talking about advertising." And I think that's always been this warning sign in the community, that you know, one should not speak of advertising or a revenue-generating opportunity in Wikipedia.


Jason: Right.


Andrew: And there's a fair argument for that.


Jason: That's interesting. You know, it's so funny 'cause you said, you know, there's people who come at it from a totally different vantage point like myself, and then you don't know the history, and the history has that whole contingent of people so far deep to the other, you know, so polarized that you have a, you know, two massively polarizing forces, and it just short-circuits the whole conversation. I had no idea what I was getting into when I got in there, and it's just like Holy Christ almighty, like these people were really angry! People wrote me emails like "You would put advertising like in the Grand Canyon and you would put it in the Louvre above the Mona Lisa." And I was like, "No, I wouldn't put it in the Louvre", I get your point, you know. I wouldn't put it in the Grand Canyon either, but I certainly would put like maybe a little sign in like, you know, a park in Manhattan if it got the park cleaned and put in a carousel for kids if that was free. I don't know, there's all kinds of bargains you can do, right? I mean you can make some of these decisions, you know, without corrupting things. I mean these people who have The Shake Shack in Manhattan now, I guess they must pay rent, and that rent must go towards making Madison Square Park just as beautiful as it is. So I don't know. Well it is interesting, and you know, there's always this interest, I'm always fascinated by Jimmy Wales' position within the organization. He's no longer running the Board.


Andrew: Right.


Jason: He's not on the Board, is he?


Andrew: He is still on the Board, but his title is "Chairman Emeritus".


Jason: Right.


Andrew: So he is in terms of a title, just another Board member. But certainly within the community he has much more sway. There is pretty much only one position I guess you could say that he has official powers that go beyond that of a normal Wikipedian, and that is the ability to appoint the Arbitration Committee Members. The Arbitration Committee is kind of like the council of last resort in Wikipedia when you have just conflicts or whatever that just cannot be resolved through community dialog. And just for lack of better process, Jimmy, before there was a Board, was the guy who just appointed respected members of the community to this Arbitration Committee.


Jason: Right.


Andrew: And he still serves that purpose right now. And I don't think too many people have a problem with it, because they just realize that this whole idea of an Arbitration Committee is just a real bad necessity, and who wants to add process on top of that? So they are more than willing to have someone they trust in general as the Founder of Wikipedia to actually serve that function. And anyway, he's not the King for making these decisions, he appoints the Council that actually does it. So that people are willing to accept that.


Jason: Yeah, he's got a fascinating way about him. Like you know, the . . . And I was talking earlier about the sort of lessons I've learned from Wikipedia since going to the Wiki-Mania Conference. Like the sort of "assume good faith" concept is, you know, just such a wonderful, wonderful way to run your life, a business, an online site. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what that is and the culture of it.


Andrew: Right, right. There are some interesting, you know, cultural norms that have been established within Wikipedia. And for the outsider who reads mailing lists, or even the Wiki-Talk pages, sometimes just there's these bazaar TLA's, three-letter acronyms, that pop up all the time, and one of them is AGF, or "assume good faith".


Jason: Wait a second, did you say TLA is . . .


Andrew: Yes.


Jason: That's a three-letter acronym for a three-letter acronym.


Andrew: That's right. In the tech community they love three-letter acronyms or TLA's, so because Wikipedia kind of started from the whole tech-bent or the flash-stock community . . .


Jason: Sure.


Andrew: Even the folks who come into Wikipedia later on who are not techies but are literary folks or history folks or whatever, it's really interesting to see the blend between the two cultures. That you have folk actually have folks who, you know, never used TLA's before, or never used words like "flash-dotting". Suddenly, you know, you have this hybrid culture, which is beautiful, I think it's fascinating to see it. So sprinkled throughout Wikipedia are these three-letter acronyms. AGF, "assume good faith", another one is IAR, which is "ignore all rules", which is another famous one that unfortunately is used all too often. But it's the idea . . . Those two I really think are interesting 'cause they embody some part of the Wiki spirit. One is, always kind of, you know, give people the benefit of the doubt. In general people are good. And you should always, you know, assume stupidity before malice, as the saying goes, right? And be nice to people when they make stupid mistakes first. If they make it five, six, seven, eight times and form a pattern, maybe you could come up with some judgment on them. But in general, try to assume good faith. Another one that was interesting which Larry Stanger, who is the Co-founder of Wikipedia depending on who you ask, one of the guys who started Wikipedia with Jimmy, he actually came up with, this (inaudible) one called "ignore all rules", meaning that it's really easy in this many, this multi-cultural, this big project, have too many rules and it just confuses the heck out of newcomers. So he came up with something called "ignore all rules". If you walk into this thing and you're just perplexed by the complexity of the community and the rules of it, just ignore them for now, just start writing, just get to work. People will assume good faith, they'll help you, they will clean up whatever things are going on. But don't let it inhibit your participation in Wikipedia, and just plunge right in and become part of the community, and you'll l earn along the way.

And I think that's what's so interesting about it, those two rules are quite interesting in that they try to see the best side of people and encourage people to participate before having to read everything and understand everything and look on the sidelines. Wikipedia definitely encourages you to get your hands dirty, don't bite the newbies, let them play around, and as long as they're not vandals, try to nurture them and to become productive members of the community.


Jason: Yeah, it's definitely, I always tell people it's very Christ-like, it's very Christian, very Christian atmosphere.


Andrew: Yeah, well I think it depends, some people say it's Christian, some people say it's a secular humanist. I think it probably takes the best, it's an amalgam of the best of all the different philosophies, in that people are generally gonna do productive and good work if given the opportunity. And all you could do is find the right ways to keep out malicious and intentional bad-doers in the community, and the good will (inaudible) the top. That's the general philosophy there.


Jason: So let's, you know, there's always these statements people make, like "It's about to collapse. It's about to end", you know. Like everybody's always talking about the death of Wikipedia, like every three months there's some article that it's gonna end, whatever. But one of the things that actually in terms of evolving in order to survive, or you know, that Wikipedia is considering, is credentialing people. I've been watching very intently the discussion online, and Jimmy Wales' has sort of republished and is pointing people back to a proposal he had to credential people after the S.J. Affair, which we all know was a twenty-four year old kid who basically lied about his credentials, said he was a PhD in Theology, happened to be an incredibly good editor of the Wikipedia, so did good work, but lied about it, then used those credentials in a sort of nefarious way, liked to arguments. . Jimmy first backed him up, then didn't back him up, because he realized the guy did some bad things. And then basically it's led to this whole debate again about anonymity.


Andrew: Right.


Jason: So what are your thoughts on anonymity and the Wikipedia, is it gonna end, is it gonna be credentialing? What does your gut tell you?


Andrew: I don't think there will be any significant credentialing in the near future. I think there will be proof of identity when it comes to giving folks the highest responsibilities in Wikipedia. So I think one of the things about the S.J. Affair that really bothered folks was not only the trust that he betrayed in the community somewhat, but what happened was he had two very high responsibilities in Wikipedia, one is called "Check-User", which allows you to see the IP address of any user within the system, which is a very sensitive thing in terms of privacy, which ironically S.J. treasured quite a bit. They used to quote it on his user page before this all broke. And another one is called "Oversight", which allows the person with those privileges to read any database entry related to an article. Mainly this was to control copyright violations, or if you posted the phone number of Britney Spears on there, then you know, you want to get rid of that as quickly as possible.


Jason: So it's not in the History file.


Andrew: Yeah, that's right, it's not even in the "Edit History". To delete stuff from the "Edit History".


Jason: Wow.


Andrew: Which is quite unusual, because for folks who are not familiar with Wikipedia, every single edit is logged and saved in the Wikipedia, even if someone vandalized it right now, if you undo that change, that vandalism is still there in the History file. But some stuff is too sensitive to even keep in the History file, so for folks with Oversight, you could actually delete those individual History entries.


Jason: Wow, so like somebody could go in and put in somebody's Social Security number, and you don't want that to be in the History.


Andrew: Right.


Jason: 'Cause now they've accomplished their task, they've gotten their Social Security number published, even if it's just in the History file and it's been reverted. Interesting.


Jason: Exactly. And you still provide a hyperlink to that exact revision.


Jason: Wow!


Andrew: And people can still read that.


Jason: So this guy could erase this History?


Andrew: He could erase History, he could check the ID of, or check the originating IP of any user in Wikipedia, which is quite sensitive.


Jason: Sure.


Andrew: Because there are some folks who don't want their ID to be revealed. So this was something that was quite disturbing to folks, because we had someone with the highest privilege without any type of ID about who they really were, and then when they found out that he actually lied about all these other things, they said "Well, how do we trust this guy with the highest powers here?" So I think at very least, this has caused the Wikipedia community to say, "Wait, for these privileges, we really need to know who we're giving these to." And this is a wake-up call in that respect. The weird thing about this case, they betrayed trust on at least three different levels which really just became too big for him to stay in the community. If it was any one of these terms, in terms of lying to the New Yorker, using your false credentials to win arguments, or having Oversight and Check-User and we didn't know who you were, if it was just one of these three things, maybe he could, you know, recover from them. But all three together, and then S.J. did not really, I would say he was not really contrite, he never really formally apologized for what he was doing. I think the community was really quite saddened because he was a very prolific editor. I would even dare to say he was a very, very good editor, and even with those few cases where he pushed his credentials falsely, it was never in a way that was bullying or really badly affected articles. And even after he was, he left the community, some folks did some, you know, crunching of the numbers of his edits. And even though the New York Times falsely, or not falsely, incorrectly said that he had edited more than twenty thousand articles, he actually had around twenty thousand edits, and let me just take a look at the numbers here, it said that some folks didn't know this and they said that he only made edits to one thousand four hundred articles, because most of those edits were actually administrative stuff like welcoming new users, or (inaudible).


Jason: Yeah, that's how people get editing counts up on Wikipedia. If you wanna like, 'cause it is, let's face it, it is a scoreboard, and people who are there like the recognition of saying "I have ten thousand edits, etc." And so if you welcome somebody when they create a new account by putting a welcome message, you get a point. So it is like a little bit of a video game, right?


Andrew: Right. Yeah. I mean but basically there is this culture in the Wikipedia that says "Do not use edit counts", or what they called "edit-count-itis", you know, basically to say that edit counts don't mean anything. If you can wrack up a hundred, two hundred edits in an hour really easy, but are they meaningful edits, right? So he made about fourteen hundred edits to articles. If you take out what he was doing to erase vandalism, it was only about six hundred actual changes to the content of articles, and only three hundred and fifty pages. So this is quite fascinating, even for administrators in Wikipedia, this is quite an unusual portion, meaning that ninety percent of his edits were just purely administrative stuff, it wasn't even editing the concept.


Jason: What would you say, like an edit, whatever, you know, edit queen, you know, he wanted to get his edit numbers up, the kid obviously was a little bit immature, young, naive, whatever. But the irony of it is, for me at least, the way that he got busted I believe, is that Jimmy Wales hired him for his for-profit company, and they found out when they went to hire him that he was twenty-four years old. And how does a twenty-four year old, living wherever he was living in the South also live in Middle America and have, you know, multiple graduate degrees? Isn't that how it, that's how it broke , right?


Andrew: Yeah, right after, I think he was employed by Wikia.com in January of this year. And then at that point since he had to interact with his colleagues and had to supply his Social Security number for tax purposes and so forth, have to come clean at some point. And then he actually did post on his user page, "By the way, I'm a twenty-four year old fellow from Kentucky and I went to Center College", you know, "and didn't get a degree." And then what happened was, there must have been a look of horror on the face of the New Yorker magazine who did the original profile.


Jason: Right, 'cause they should have checked. I mean . . .


Andrew: Right, right.


Jason: They're famous for being ridiculous with fact-checking. I had a story written about me in the New Yorker many years ago. I guess 2000 or whatever, it was a big piece, it was an eight thousand word piece, ridiculous, like ten pages. And in that story, they called me for fact-checking no less than six or seven times. And it wasn't one fact-checker, it was two. They did double-blind fact-checking, the same facts checked by two different people. And not only did they call me, they called third parties to verify information. I mean this is the most storied, most reputable fact-checking organization in the world, and they took the Wiki, the Media-Wiki's word on it, Jimmy Wales' word on it, whatever, Wikia's, some combination of word on that this guy was who he said he was.


Andrew: Right. I think that is the biggest part of the story I think. And I did a lot of emails with you know, both the reporter and the New Yorker, a Deputy Editor about this, because, maybe it's just still the Journalist Professor in me, I wanted to find out "What were you thinking?", because you know, it was also scary for me, because I'm writing a whole book on this. And obviously if the New Yorker is fooled by a Wikipedian, I'm feeling a little nervous myself. The thing is, over the last three years, I've met most of, almost all my subjects in person, face to face, so I have fewer fears about it. But as you said, everyone knows the New Yorker's fact-checking is pristine, it is the crown jewel in reputation.


Jason: Gold standard.


Andrew: Absolutely. I think this is sadly, sadly a case of (inaudible) foolish. Because I do know from folks who the New Yorker called for fact-checking. They were checking down to the level of, "Was Wikipedia really ranked this in this year in terms of traffic? How many page-views do you get a day?" They were going down to the minutia of these numbers. Yet . . .


Jason: Do you know what that says to me though that's interesting? It says to me that the New Yorker actually respects the Wikipedia and the Foundation.


Andrew: Absolutely.


Jason: They really trust it. This actually, it is a testament to how much they test the Wikipedia.


Andrew: I think they do. I think, you know, the article in general was an article saying that they were fascinated with how it worked in the community, it was quite interesting. And in general I think it was a good article talking favorably about the processes, they exposed some of the nuances of the community and the quirkiness. But for this one in terms of accepting the word of a source and not following up on it. I mean they really should have done the kind of "Deep-Throat" treatment, saying you know, we won't say your name, you have my undying confidential source agreement here. Tell me your real name, I just need to fact-check it and no one will ever know, I take it to my grave." Same thing they had with Mark Felt and "Deep Throat". I don't understand how this could have slipped by them given how stringent they were in other parts.


Jason: Yeah, crazy. So do a lot of the people who worked on Wikipedia work at Wikia now? 'Cause I know, Angela's the Co-Founder.


Andrew: Right.


Jason: She works there.


Andrew: I think certainly a lot of the prominent . . . I don't wanna say a lot, I'd say the bulk of the initial employees for Wikia came from the Wikipedia community, and that's only natural, because it's the most experienced with the software, the culture, and a lot of the kind of side, I guess side Wiki-spin-offs from Wikipedia. And it's been, it had been brewing for a long time in that Wikipedians who have been working within the community for a long time realized there's a lot of content that just doesn't fit into Wikipedia, right?


Jason: Right. Everything else on the bookshelf as Jimmy would say.


Andrew: Right, right, exactly. Like the cling-on manual for cooking or something like that, you know. Amusing, interesting, amazing community interest in it, but not fit for Wikipedia, right? So where can we put the stuff? And I think that was the real genesis of the Wikia idea.


Jason: See this is the debate I've been having with Jimmy, which is I told him, I said "You know what, you have a little bit of a conflict of interest, don't you think?", and he got really offended. And I was like "But you have a for-profit Wiki company, and the Media Wiki Foundation could be doing any number of projects that conflict with what you're doing, so that's a conflict number one. And number two, the people who work on Wikipedia are all working at Wikia now, so you're actually in some ways competing for talent as well. And he's like, "Well nobody's ever questioned my integrity." I said "Jim, I'm not questioning your integrity at all. I think that you're like one of the most fascinating, you know, inspirational people I've met in business, but it is a conflict, and it's gonna come up at some point." How come it's never come up, am I just a conspiracy theorist or something?


Andrew: I do not think you're a conspiracy theorist, I think they are definitely legitimate questions, and there are a lot of ties between Wikipedia and Wikia, and that's just the natural extension of the fact that Wikia was started with Wikipedians. And I think looking forward, the Wiki Media Foundation has to figure out what is its policy and how to keep those lines clean, and it's not just for any logical reasons, but I really think it is for 501C3 non-profit status reasons.


Jason: Oh yeah.


Andrew: That has to be thought about deeper. But I think that they haven't either had the time or the real impetus to really think about that very deeply at this point. But I think it is not paranoia. I think that you're absolutely correct that it is a legitimate thing to think about, because it could pose real problems coming forward.


Jason: Well I mean the argument somebody could make is, "Jimmy is anti-advertising on Wikipedia, yet he's running a pro-, he's pro-advertising on his for-profit company." And if Wikipedia had advertising and had the $50 million a year or $75 million a year that the Mozilla Foundation had, they could actually hire a hundred Wikipedians to work full time on Wikipedia and other sub-projects, host Wiki's for free, whatever, and that would put a dent into Wikia's business certainly. So I think that it's actually it's on the cusp of being very dangerous. I think they should be very clear about it. He should recuse himself so he doesn't, you know, when it comes to discussions about advertising, because gosh, I mean that really looks weird to me. But I guess that's sort of what you're saying, like when you have somebody that's an outsider that comes to it, you start to see things that maybe people inside don't see, because they've been there for so long and you're not allowed to bring up these topics I guess.


Andrew: Yeah well and it's also, it's just that also a lot of the Wikia employees as you said, you know, because of Wikipedia's space, a lot of Wikipedians are very good friends with the Wikia employees now, and that is not fully a problem in itself, but it could cloud the ability to really see it from a fresh viewpoint. And I think that's why, you know, folks like you and outsiders are definitely useful in pointing out things with a real broad perspective. Because from the inside out it's hard to see a lot of these problems. Absolutely.


Jason: I joined the mailing list last week as you know. I posted I think once or twice. Tried to be a little bit calm in my postings, you know. And I'm gonna come to Wiki-Mania 2007, which is in Taipei, right, in Taiwan?


Andrew: That's right, August. We're gonna, we're right now proposing something that's gonna be quite radical, and definitely welcome your listeners and you to give some feedback. In the previous Wiki-Mania's it's always, it's actually been quite conventional in terms of the conferences, right, and it's always been panel sessions?


Jason: Yeah, presentations.


Andrew: It's always been, the informal part has been more interesting where you gather and talk to Wikipedians and hover around laptops, and as most of these unconference like things, your learning takes place when you rub shoulders with the participants. And we're gonna try to structure, no I wouldn't say structure, but we're gonna try to facilitate that more. No, I don't want to structure grassroots stuff.


Jason: Right, "We're gonna structure some unstructured stuff."


Andrew: Exactly. "Guys, start grassroots now!" No.


Jason: Right. No, be a framework.


Andrew: Yes, to provide a workspace and a lounge that fosters this.


Jason: Yeah, great idea.


Andrew: What happens is a lot of the Wikipedians are so comfortable with, you know, the new free documentation license and creative comments and CT by SH 8.0, and this is just bewildering to the average person. It's even bewildering to average Wikipedians. They're not interested in the particulars of a creative comments license, or you know, a floating to the multi-media creative comments, you know, comments at Wiki . . . Media.org site is really hard. In fact I think Jason, you were there and my Mike T. at the latest, in the . . .


Jason: The hacking days.


Andrew: Wiki. The hacking days where they actually had a user-interface expert tell a whole room full of Wikimedia folks, "People hate the comments, they can't figure it out, they don't know how to upload images guys, it's really hard."


Jason: And also that same discussion, it was, people were talking about like there not being a WYSIWYG and the guy from FCK Edit, which is the best WYSIWYG Editor out there, was presenting the, you know, "What you see is what you get", which would make it phenomenally easier for people to edit and also have discussions on the Wikipedia, and there was a large contingent of people who were like "We can not allow a WYSIWYG on Wikipedia." And it wasn't for technical reasons, and there are technical arguments about previous edits and all that kind of stuff. But it was mainly because they thought it would create too many edits.


Andrew: That's right.


Jason: It would be too empowering.


Andrew: That's right. There was this weird sub-current that basically says, "If we have a WYSIWYG editor, that means really anyone can edit."


Jason: Exactly!


Andrew: In fact it being a little hard to edit right now is actually a higher bar and it keeps out the bozos. Which I'm a little bit queasy when I think about that. Because as you, you point it out very well in your blog-posting. If you double-click an article to edit now, it looks like database codes. It's really archaic.


Jason: Yeah, even for a technical person and threaded message boards. I'm thinking of creating a threaded message board for Wikipedia. Like I have programmers who work for me. If I created that, do you think they would use it, or would the community hate me too much?


Andrew: Somehow this community is not too fond of threaded message boards as a separate entity, but there is actually an extension for the media Wiki system that can do a threaded discussion. And it actually has been prototyped for a while now, I'm just not sure if there is the will to put it into the community, because the culture is so ingrained right now of a very basic discussion system.


Jason: At the end of the day, you know, it's better that there is a culture even if it's got some nuance to it than there isn't, you know?


Andrew: Right.


Jason: So I think that you sort of take the good with the bad. It's very easy for, you know, you and I to sit here as, you know, journalists and former journalists and you know, sort of thinkers and point out all the flaws. But the fact is they have a great community, they do great work for free.


Andrew: Right, exactly.


Jason: And have created what I think the most important product ever created in the history of mankind.


Andrew: Right. And the idea of the Wiki-Mania Conference is to actually have a lounge where you actually can have workspaces for folks and say, "Hey, if you've never knew how to uploaded the comments before, here it is. It's open twenty-four hours, you can test it out, we'll have folks there to train you to upload this stuff."


Jason: That's cool.


Andrew: There's also other things where we plan to have a podcasting, daily podcast out of there.


Jason: Oh, awesome. I'm gonna come. I'm gonna come.


Andrew: Yeah, it's gonna be great.


Jason: And I think I'm gonna try to sponsor a scholarship for somebody to come, 'cause I know that they were asking people.


Andrew: That would be great.


Jason: Maybe I'll try to help somebody out who would like contribute well to the program. But I wanna do one on advertising possibilities, optimum advertising. Maybe you can help me organize that at the event. You could ask me the hard questions.


Andrew: Absolutely. Yeah, they're still looking for, I mean they put out a call for sessions, and I think definitely they, it'll rub people the wrong way, but it's a question that has to be asked, is . . .


Jason: Yeah, I gotta figure out how to do it in a way that it's a discussion, not you know, how do I do that? I gotta figure out a way, like the possibilities, what it might look like, what not . . . Oh, you know what I'll do is? I'll do what not to do.


Andrew: That's a good one.


Jason: And then I'll leave at the end of the presentation, you know, five minutes of what possibly could be considered. So I'll name the presentation "How to Ruin the Wikipedia With Advertising." And then there'll be like a subtitle, "And Some Ways to Do It Without Ruining It."


Andrew: Well there's a very famous essay in Wikipedia history by a user called the Conk Theater that caused all kinds of problems, but it was a very useful discussion that ensued. It was called "How to Destroy Wikipedia". So you could actually make, "How to destroy Wikipedia 2", you know, "Advertising and Commercialization".


Jason: Yeah, that's a great idea. Okay, well that's it, that's a deal. Well Andrew, I am so psyched that you were on the program. You're a gentleman and a scholar. And it's just great to have somebody like you who really understands the Wikipedia to sort of guide me through it. I "IM" sometimes and say, "What should I do?", you know, like "How do you . . ." I don't wanna be like a jerk in community, it's like I already got a bad reputation, so . . .


Andrew: Right. But it is, its' a complex community, and one of the things that we're gonna do at Wiki-Mania is to extend the Conference out to cyberspace so that, not everyone can get to Taiwan, but we really want to have an interactive space either by like something like either Stick-Um, you know, the video camera thing, or the, you know Group Chat or Skype, what do you call it? Skype Cast or something. And we're still looking for ideas, so . . .


Jason: Maybe I'll bring Tyler. Tyler, do you wanna come and videotape it all?


Tyler Taipei?


Jason: Taipei. You're in?


Tyler I'm in.


Jason: Alright, so I'm gonna bring Tyler with me and we'll tape a bunch of stuff.


Andrew: There you go.


Jason: Alright Andrew, have a great . . . How's everything going in Beijing by the way?


Andrew: Things are going great. About one-plus years to the Olympics here, 2008, so the entire city looks like it's just one big Olympic project.


Jason: Wow! Yeah, I saw some stuff on like Discovery HD, they were knocking down all these two-story homes that were hundreds of years old for like, I don't know, dozens of square miles of them to build things. Is that true, or . . .


Andrew: It is. It's actually quite sad.


Jason: Yeah.


Andrew: And there are some preservation efforts going on which are fairly successful. But in general, anything lower than five stories is being plowed over to make room for high-rises, glass architecture. It is quite fascinating seeing the weird stuff being erected here, but it's gonna all be real fun for 2008 Olympics. Everything in the city is geared towards that right now.


Jason: Awesome. I think maybe I gotta come out for the Olympics out there. I spent some time in Shanghai and Hong Kong and man, China is a trip. I mean Shanghai was nuts. I mean it was like everybody in the world was in Shanghai partying like it was literally like the end of days, you know, like crazy. Alright man, great talking to you, and thanks for taking the time, and I'll see you on the mailing list.


Andrew: Alright.


Jason: Oh, and great job on Wikipedia Weekly, everybody check out Wikipedia Weekly, great Podcast that Andrew posts and co-hosts.


Andrew: Alright, sounds good.


Jason: Take care Andrew.


Andrew: Take care. Bye-bye.


Jason: Alright, take care. Bye-bye.

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