Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Republic of China (Taiwan)

Without delving too much into politics, let's just start off by saying that Wikipedia has two articles, one on Taiwan, the island, and another on the Republic of China, the country ("wayward province," if you're into the hilarious PRC interpretation).

In any article that mentions either of these topics, there's an incessant edit war over the link. One group obessively changes any mention of "Taiwan" to "Republic of China." The next group stops by and changes it to "Republic of China (Taiwan)." Then it'll usually get reverted back and forth between those two, until somebody eventually changes it back to "Taiwan" and starts the whole cycle over again. What's more, it seems to me that every fool who gets into these little wars is absolutely convinced that anyone who disagrees with them is evil.

The arguments clutter up page histories; instead of talking things over, people edit war. Instead of setting up a central discussion forum, people feel the need to re-hash the same battle across countless individual pages.

This is just one more case of ridiculous nationalism. Instead of having the argument they clearly want to be having ("Is Taiwan a country, or isn't it?") they waste their days away arguing over what we're going to call the thing. As with any discussion involving issues of international strife, every side wants the other sides banned for trolling and "POV-pushing."

Remember, the only neutral opinion is mine.

I suppose this is one example of an area where Wikipedia hasn't scaled so well -- it's prohibitively difficult to get everybody together into a forum of the nature that solves this widespread of an issue, and once they're all there, the discussion becomes difficult to manage. It becomes the proverbial tl;dr. Many Wikipedians helpfully respond to such wordy exchanges between large numbers of people by saying, among other things, "Oh, consensus is difficult to call, on this one. I see lots of productive discussion. Keep it up!" Off the top of my head, deletion debates on Esperanza and Fromowner were reaching this level. Certainly RfA reform has already passed it. Which isn't too surprising, really -- get a hugely visible website, pick an issue a lot of people at that site care about, and presto, you'll get a huge discussion with (left unchecked) little in the way of direction or conclusion.

It's all enough make me long for a few more Pastafarians, terribly offended that we're calling their deeply held, personal beliefs a "parody" religion.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

09 F9... 88 C0

As I imagine the few readers I have are pretty well "into" net culture, you've probably heard of this already; the few of you who haven't, I've probably mentioned it to in person or otherwise. For those of you who haven't yet heard of it, let's suppose the EFF's summary is as good a start as any: "09 f9: A Legal Primer"

I wasn't actually aware of this until somewhat recently, and I hadn't thought too much of it until just the other day, when it was suddenly exploding all over the place. I don't know exactly what prompted it -- possibly the MPAA & Co. sending out a series of takedown notices got some attention, or else that was a reaction that only got more press. It's hard to say. One way or another, the story was frontpaged on Digg, taken down, frontpaged again, and a perfect storm came together. I heard from a Slashdot admin that they were responding aggressively to the issue. On 4chan, of course, the key was up and down the threads (but we should've seen that from a mile away -- it's /b/, for chrissake). Couldn't say what was going on, as regards Fark or Something Awful.

Now that some of the preliminary dust has settled, the big story seems to center on Digg, where the staff have announced:
...after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.
Chilling Effects has posted copies of two takedown notices (linked above). I've seen some interesting stuff written about this, so far, including one blog calling it "Web 2.0 vs. The Cartel" -- I knew it was love at first sight when somebody linked me to iowahawk's take on things.

As far as my take on this as a Wikipedian, Gmaxwell has posted an essay at Wikipedia:Keyspam, and I heartily endorse this product or service. I was pretty directly involved in the efforts to cut down on the keyspamming; didn't participate directly in the on-wiki discussions regarding the key, just tracking down and cleaning up after vandals and spammers.

To those and a number of people, I can only expand on something I said on IRC, last night: oh, how I wish I were so noble as to put somebdy else's servers in legal limbo to show off how anti-censorship I am.

It always amazes me, the sense of entitlement some people have, and this incident has been no exception. They fully expect hundreds, thousands of people to just lay back or even cheer, as they put entire communities directly in the path of lawyers, subpoenas, and takedown threats. When the communities take steps to protect themselves, they're decried for selfishness and censorship. Never mind that articles like The Live Album, Gareth Batty, or Astronomical transit (to name just a few) have nothing to do with the issue -- we've got the key! We've got to spam it!

I lost track of how many people I blocked from editing. Some of them were abusing dynamic IP addresses to come back again and again. It reached the point I was literally checking every edit from some wide IP ranges. To be honest, I'm a little surprised I haven't been mentioned as some Nazi conspirator, given the tone and methods these spammers seem to favor.

Unfortunately, it's very easy to put someone else in danger, very easy to risk damaging or disrupting a community you've never contributed to or been a part of. It's very easy to take risks when you won't be anywhere near the people may have to deal with the consequences.

Now, a number of people have presented legitimate arguments for posting the key; these are people open to debate as to whether Wikipedia can fairly cover the subject with or without direct mention of the numbers themselves. These people are acting responsibly and in good faith. These are the people who have come out of the woodworks to improve Wikipedia, and I do appreciate those efforts.

To these spammers, though -- there's really no point in what you're doing. You're only damaging the situation for so many people. If you want to take risks and make stands, do it on your own dime, on your own behalf, and for a good reason.