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John Simkin
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There is an interesting article about Wikipedia in today’s Guardian. It asked 7 people to check the entries for their specialist subject (they had all written books about the subject). They were asked to rate the entries out of 10. This was the result: Bob Dylan (8/10), T. S. Eliot (6/10), Samuel Pepys (6/10), Steve Reich (7/10), Haute Couture (0/10), Basque People (7/10) and Encyclopedia (5/10).

I decided to check out the subject I am an expert in: myself. Indeed, I found an entry for John Simkin.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Simkin

I would give it a rating of 6/10. It is completely accurate but fairly brief. All of the information seems to have been taken from my website. It can be edited so I think I will add to it.

Interestingly, the Democratic Underground also has an entry on me. It seems to be taken from Wikipedia.

http://demopedia.democraticunderground.com...php/John_Simkin

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There is an interesting article about Wikipedia in today’s Guardian. It asked 7 people to check the entries for their specialist subject (they had all written books about the subject). They were asked to rate the entries out of 10. This was the result: Bob Dylan (8/10), T. S. Eliot (6/10), Samuel Pepys (6/10), Steve Reich (7/10), Haute Couture (0/10), Basque People (7/10) and Encyclopedia (5/10).

I decided to check out the subject I am an expert in: myself. Indeed, I found an entry for John Simkin.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Simkin

I would give it a rating of 6/10. It is completely accurate but fairly brief. All of the information seems to have been taken from my website. It can be edited so I think I will add to it.

Interestingly, the Democratic Underground also has an entry on me. It seems to be taken from Wikipedia.

http://demopedia.democraticunderground.com...php/John_Simkin

Most of those scores are encouraging given the size of wiki...

Anyone interested in applying for the work required to widen John's doors at around head height should apply in writing to the address on his website. :tomatoes

A brief google on my own name shows just how anonymous the 'real me' is :lol:

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A brief google on my own name shows just how anonymous the 'real me' is :lol:

I assume this is not you:

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/person/0,9290,-6733,00.html

http://www.edwaller.com/

http://www.sibeliusmusic.com/cgi-bin/user_....pl?url=ewaller

You should write your own biography at Wikipedia. I see another member of the Forum has done this (Paul Patrick). I think this idea will become very popular. In a way, it is like writing your own obituary. However, there is nothing to stop anyone else from editing it. I will now have to constantly check my Wikipedia entry in case someone like Andy Walker decides to make some alterations.

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Am very happy to confirm I am:

Not a LibDem (even though this = most left-wing party in parliament with the exception of the 1 Respect MP)

Not dead (with commiserations to the family)

Not a musician (although having played some of his compositions, I might add "either"!)

My own entry in Wiki... tempting... but I'll leave it for now, and probably write it after the revolution...

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I checked out this article on Computer Assisted Language Learning, which is my specialist area:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_assi...nguage_learning

I have to give it 9/10 as I wrote most of it. However, when I first looked at this entry around a year ago it was hopelessly out of date and the links and bibliography were pathetic, and I would have given it only 2/10. The article has been added to a couple of times since I amended it. Someone appears to be giving it more of a slant towards English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in a North American context, but they have not changed anything that I wrote. The original entry was written as if Europe did not exist.

I also checked the entry for Stephen Krashen, a well-known writer on Second Language Acquisition:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Krashen

Sorry, this only gets 1/10. You cant' start an encyclopaedia article with "One of the more silly ideas he puts forth is common sense in science". The remainder of the article gives no idea of what Krashen is all about - whether you love him or hate him.

In my training sessions on using the Web I always ask people to treat any website with caution if:

one cannot ascertain who wrote it and what credentials its author(s) has/have;

it does not contain a contact name and/or address for feedback;

it does not contain information on its last update.

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I find Wikipedia to be a good starting point for College essays and topics. The only qualm I have with it is that some authors tend to try to control their article and not allow others to make alterations, most notably in the Lee Harvey Oswald thread where the validity of the article was disputed.

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John writes:

"I find Wikipedia to be a good starting point for College essays and topics."

Yes, as a "starting point", Wikipedia can often point you in the right direction. But, as with any source, you should never rely on one source. I always point out to my students that they should look at a variety of sources, going back, if possible, to original documents in the original language. If one finds that there is more or less universal agreement about a topic then it is likely that the facts are uncontroversial and probably correct - note "probably". Where there are opposing views one has to be cautious.

I have also noticed that some contributors to Wikipedia try to control the content. When I first amended the article on Computer Assisted Language Learning it was amended back (in part) by someone else to its original form, even though it was obvious to anyone who knew anything about the subject that it was wrong. So I persevered in making it accurate - and seem to have succeeded now.

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  • 1 month later...

Article in today's Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/st...1661693,00.html

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has been forced to change the way it operates after claims it had become a breeding ground for "false and malicious" information. After a week of blunders, the operators of the site - which allows anyone to write and edit articles - are banning anonymous users from creating new entries.

"Just recently we've instituted changes," said Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder. These would give the site's 600 volunteer editors a better chance of catching and removing offensive material. "The idea is basically to slow down the pace of new page creation."

The furore began last week when a journalist, John Seigenthaler, a former assistant to the former US attorney general Robert Kennedy, attacked Wikipedia in a scathing editorial in the newspaper USA Today. He was angered by an entry insinuating he had been involved in political killings. "For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother, Bobby," said the unedited biography. "Nothing was ever proven."

Seigenthaler contacted Mr Wales to get it removed. "At the age of 78, I thought I was beyond surprise or hurt at anything negative said about me. I was wrong," he wrote. "For four months Wikipedia depicted me as a suspected assassin."

Concerns were echoed by other critics, as the former MTV presenter Adam Curry, now a dotcom entrepreneur living in Surrey, was accused of "vanity editing" an entry. Mr Wales admitted there were problems with the system but said readers should be more sceptical."You should take Wikipedia with a grain of salt," he said. "It's a work in process."

The website has grown rapidly since its inception four years ago. Users are free to rewrite information, overseen by volunteer editors, based on the assumption that the wisdom of the many is more accurate than the wisdom of the few. There are now more than 850,000 articles in English alone, but while Wikipedia has been lauded for pioneering internet-based knowledge, cynics are concerned. "The real story is why would anyone presume anything written in there is accurate," said Michael Gartenberg, of Jupiter Research. "Where's the accountability?"

Registering users could result in court actions. In the long term, administrators plan to "lock down" articles that have achieved a recognisable level of accuracy.

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Yesterday I received this email from Stewart Alsop.

Apparently you are the author of this, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOCKINGBIRD. You might be interested to know that there is identical language in a column written by Alexander Cockburn in The Nation magazine recently. http://freepress.org/columns/display/2/2005/1269.

It is interesting to me that he doesn't give you or Wikipedia credit for his statement, "One of the most important journalists under the control of Operation Mockingbird was Joseph Alsop, whose articles appeared in over 300 different newspapers. Other journalists willing to promote the views of the CIA included Stewart Alsop (New York Herald Tribune), Ben Bradlee (Newsweek), James Reston (New York Times), Charles Douglas Jackson (Time Magazine), Walter Pincus (Washington Post), William C. Baggs (Miami News), Herb Gold (Miami News) and Charles Bartlett (Chattanooga Times)." While you say that your entry does not violate copyrights and I know that Wikipedia is published under Creative Commons, I still think it is usually respectful to cite sources than to borrow them wholesale, which I was taught to categorize as plagiarism.

I am interested to know how you conclude that my uncle, Joseph Alsop, was "under the control of the CIA", or that my father, Stewart Alsop, was willing to "promote the views of the CIA". You might want to do more than cite other sources when making disparaging remarks about people who have been dead for more than 30 years and who had pretty significant reputations for both intellectual and moral honesty. Perhaps you might even want to imagine being their son and seeing these kind of accusations made about your father and uncle when they are no longer around to defend themselves. Indeed, you might even want to do some research and read what they actually wrote rather than depending on third and fourth-hand sources.

Stewart Alsop

My reply to Stewart Alsop:

As I point out in my Mockingbird article for Wikipedia (note 6) this quotation comes from Deborah Davis’ book, Katharine the Great, 1979 (page 226). It is possible that Alexander Cockburn did get his information from my Wikipedia article or the Operation Mockingbird page on my website:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKmockingbird.htm

However, Cockburn acknowledges that he got the information from Carl Bernstein’s Rolling Stone article (20th October, 1977). This was indeed the breakthrough article and definitely inspired the passage that appeared in Katharine the Great. For example, the article includes the following passage:

“In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America’s leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA. Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services - from simple intelligence¬ gathering to serving as go-betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors-without-portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested it the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles, and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements America’s leading news organizations.”

I am not sure if you are accusing Alexander Cockburn or me of plagiarism. However, it is clear you do not understand the meaning of the word. The passage you refer to in the Wikipedia entry is in quotation marks. It also provides a note that explains it is taken from the book Katharine the Great. The passage in Cockburn does not include quotation marks but he makes it clear that he is relying on Carl Bernstein’s article that appeared in Rolling Stone.

You are clearly upset by the fact that Cockburn and myself have pointed out that the writings of your father and uncle came under the influence of the CIA. I think you should take this matter up with the person who made the original accusation. Carl Bernstein is still alive and I am sure he would be willing to defend what he wrote in 1977.

If you are interested in this issue you should read what is commonly called the Frank Church report (Foreign and Military Intelligence: Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities) that was published on 14th April, 1976. See section X, pages 191-200, on the CIA and the media (the report is cited in my article). The report does not actually name the journalists concerned but I suspect Bernstein got his information from members of this committee.

My fear is that Stewart Alsop is trying to persuade Wikipedia to take my entry for Operation Mockingbird from the website (he must have contacted Wikipedia to have got my name). Considering that at first they kept on deleting my article, I don't suppose it will remain for much longer.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Article in the Times (30 December):

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/article/...1962714,00.html

Wikipedia chief considers taking ads

By Rhys Blakely

The founder of Wikipedia, the charitably funded online encyclopaedia, says that the website is considering carrying advertisements in a move that could raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenues.

Jimmy Wales told Times Online that despite widespread "resistance to the idea" of advertising on Wikipedia, "at some point questions are going to be raised over the amount of money we are turning down."

Wikipedia would be in a prime position to exploit the current boom in online advertising. It expects to record around 2.5 billion page impressions this month and traffic volumes are doubling every four months. According to figures released this month by Nielsen/Netratings, it was the ninth-fastest growing site on the web in 2005.

However, "wikitopeans" - the members of the public who create Wikipedia's articles on a voluntary, unpaid basis - are likely to oppose any suggestion of commercialisation of the site.

The site has only three full-time employees. Mr Wales, an ex-futures trader who now heads the non-profit Wikimedia foundation that owns Wikipedia, does not draw a salary.

The Foundation's mission is to provide a free online encyclopaedia to everyone in the world in their own language. Mr Wales said that both he and the site's community of vounteers would have to ask themselves "how the charitable mission could be supported by money raised through advertising".

Wikipedia’s continued growth is despite recent accusations of irresponsibility and inaccuracy. Last month it emerged that a Wikipedia article on John Seigenthaler had falsely linked the founding editorial director of USA Today to the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

In his interview, Mr Wales admits that the site cannot be considered authoritative. "If what you’re after is 'who won the World Cup in 1986' it’s going to be fine – no problem," he says. "If you want to know something more esoteric, or something controversial, you should probably use a second reference – at least."

Here is the full interview:

Question for World's Encyclopaedia

By Rhys Blakely

"In my vision of the future of journalism what we will see is an increasing amount of citizen participation in the gathering of news and in feedback and in reporting and analysing the news. At the same time, we’ll have professional organisations managing the process"

"It is pretty weird," the founder of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, says. "A few years ago, I was just some guy sitting in front of the internet. Now I send an e-mail or edit an article and it makes headlines around the world ... I used to be just a guy – now I'm Jimmy Wales."

Depending on your point of view, there are, at least, two very different Jimmy Wales.

For hard-core "wikipedians" there is the founder of one of the wonders of the internet age – a massive, charitably-funded online repository of knowledge, compiled completely by volunteers whose long-term aim is to create versions in all the languages of the world.

In contrast, for John Seigenthaler, the founding editorial director of USA Today who last month was linked with the assassination of President John F Kennedy by a libellous Wikipedia article, there is an irresponsible rogue running a haven for "volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects".

For Mr Wales, neither of these will do.

He calls the Seigenthaler entry the "worst" article on Wikipedia – "not the only bad article on Wikipedia for sure, but … the worst". But while he "definitely worries a lot about how to make sure that articles on Wikipedia are right", he suggests his biggest fear was that the incident would overshadow the rest of the work on the site "which is actually pretty good".

Indeed, according to a recent study by Nature, the scientific journal, Wikipedia is actually no more unreliable than the venerable Encyclopaedia Britannica – the standard to which the website aspires. The report, Mr Wales acknowledges, came in the nick of time – just as the Seigenthaler crisis risked rubbishing Wikipedia's reputation for good.

"It was good to have this thing out there that said it’s not just this crazy place on the internet where people just post nonsense - that Wikipedia’s actually pretty good in parts," he explains.

That "pretty good" refrain sums up the cautious Wikipedia champion. Never mind the Nature commendation. Or that the site now carries more than 2,500,000 articles and has 80 "live" language versions - from Asturian to Waloon, via Scots, "Simple English" and Telugu - with another 100 already in the pipeline. "If what you’re after is 'who won the World Cup in 1986', it’s going to be fine – no problem," he says. "If you want to know something a little more esoteric, or something that’s going to be controversial, you should probably use a second reference – at least."

To understand Wikipedia's place and potential, Mr Wales argues, you have to accept these kind of qualifications. As one reader wrote to the Editor of The Times, to criticise a website which anybody can edit for being "non-authoritative" is a bit like criticising a "newspaper for being flammable".

Similarly, Mr Wales is reluctant to over-hype the worldwide web as a whole. He recently read The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage, a history of the telegraph that describes how in the 19th Century the then new technology was lauded in remarkably similar terms to those used by today’s internet gurus.

"We all like to think that we are living through a time of very rapid change, but that was true in the 19th Century as well," he says.

"On the brink of the 20th Century, people thought that because they could suddenly communicate nearly instantaneously across continents, this could be an end to war. And then the 20th Century came and was a fiasco as far as wars were concerned."

The "outlaw" Jimmy Wales, it turns out, is a very reasonable revolutionary. A finance graduate, he ended a six-year spell as a futures trader in Chicago in 2000. According to one report, he earned enough money in the commodities markets to "support himself and his wife for the rest of their lives".

Mr Wales says that is true – but only because he "lives in a normal house and drives a Hyundai". As a trader, he was involved in computer programming, through which he became interested in the "open software" movement - where volunteer collaborators build "free" software - and began thinking about using similar methods to build an online encyclopaedia. Now 39, he is the head of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit body that owns Wikipedia, but works unpaid. The Foundation employs just three people to carry out its mission: to provide every person on earth with a free online encyclopaedia in their own language. The real work, after all, is done by the site’s volunteer writers.

The demand for their output is already phenomenal: Wikipedia, which started in 2001, will notch up around 2.5 billion page impressions this month. According to Mr Wales, its traffic volumes are doubling every four months.

The combination of ultra-low overheads and massive readership would excite any media executive. And while the site does not carry any advertising, Wales admits it might. "There is a great deal of resistance to the idea, both from the community and from me. But at some point questions are going to be raised over the amount of money we are turning down," he says.

"In my vision of the future of the newspaper industry and of journalism in general, people who think that traditional media organisations are going to go away are just kidding themselves," he says. "That doesn’t make any sense to me. On other hand, people who think that journalism can just stay the way it is are also just kidding themselves.

"What we will see is a set of hybrid models with an increasing amount of citizen participation in the gathering of news and in feedback and in reporting and analysing the news. And at the same time, we’ll have professional organisations managing the process – basically being the core framework."

The example Mr Wales gives comes from a spell of consulting he carried out for the BBC last year.

"In the sport division of the BBC they are very interested in thinking about how they can have better coverage of minor sports. Sometimes they are criticised for focusing only on major sports. They don’t carry coverage of every sport and every local club around the country – they don’t have enough money, it’s impossible.

"So what they’re saying is, 'wouldn’t be interesting if we had a model where we could cover the major sports with our traditional people and enrich the whole experience by bringing in people to allow other sporting communities to report on themselves?'

"I’d say that makes a lot of sense. In a similar way, if people out there are willing to make webpages and content, then it makes sense for the newspapers to get involved with that."

Alongside blogging, "wiki" technology (the name, according to Wikipedia, is derived from the "wiki wiki", or "quick", buses found at Honolulu Airport) is one obvious route for newspapers to explore if they want to involve their readers online.

The software could be the key to involving potentially limitless numbers of contributors to co-operate on a single piece of content. It works, Mr Wales explains, by incorporating a series of "incentives" that encourage positive amendments. For example, it requires just a single mouse click to undo a piece of "vandalism" on Wikipedia – far less effort than it takes to spoil an article in the first place.

Old media companies, however, have an awful track-record in experimenting with wikis. The biggest disaster came in June, when the Los Angeles Times conducted a live trial to discover whether Wikipedia’s software could be used by users of the newspaper's site to collaboratively write a comment piece on the Iraq war.

"Plenty of sceptics are predicting embarrassment," the paper had said prophetically. "Like an arthritic old lady who takes to the dance floor, they say, the Los Angeles Times is more likely to break a hip than to be hip. We acknowledge that possibility. Nevertheless, we proceed."

So it turned out. In a matter of hours the LA Times's "Wikitorial" proved an unmitigated failure, being swamped with obscene messages and photos.

Mr Wales applauds the paper’s "brave experiment". But he also makes it clear he would have done things very differently.

"They used our software, but made a few mistakes when they set it up," he says. "They hid all the community features – so they hid ‘recent changes’ for example, so it was impossible for the community to monitor the site’s development.

"Also, they didn’t take the time to build a community. They just started promoting it wholesale to the general public. So that rather than having a core community of people who cared about the site and to look after it they just had people wandering in with no real personal stake in it.

"And the final point I would make is that they chose just about the most difficult thing there can be to write collaboratively: opinion. And in particular, opinion on the Iraq war – that’s a tough topic. It’s not as if there’s a simple for-or-against argument to be made. There’s a million possible variations and it’s not immediately clear how a community can converge on something."

Such moderation has played a major part in the development of the Wikipedia project. Long-standing plans to ring-fence "completed" articles, once they have been reviewed and checked, were given fresh impetus by the Seigenthaler crisis. The software to allow such "stable" articles, which will be closed off from further revision, is now in the final stages. But there will be no hurry to implement it.

"Exactly how we’re going to do that is going to be open to the community," Mr Wales says.

"As we go along, there will be a lot of debate. It turns out that for us there is almost never a simple answer to anything. Just a lot of questions, a lot of discussions and some fairly detailed policies."

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Nearly three months ago I started a new website at www.wikipedia-watch.org that is attempting to encourage more accountability at Wikipedia. I have had continuing problems with my own bio at Wikipedia. I consider the entire bio to be an invasion of my privacy, and I'm unable to get it deleted.

If any of you have similar problems with Wikipedia, you should contact me at the email address shown on the www.wikipedia-watch.org site. I want to expand this website so that it is more far-reaching than it is currently. Right now most of it is just about my bio.

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