Recently in Info Literacy Category

In New York Magazine, Rex Sorgatz lays out a few simple steps for finding internet fame, The Microfame Game and The New Rules of Internet Celebrity -- New York Magazine: "It's easy to be cynical about this new class of celebrity. The lines between empowerment and self-promotion, between sharing and oversharing, between community and cliques, can be blurry. You can judge for yourself whether the following microcelebs represent naked ambition, talent justly discovered, or genius marketing. The point is that renown is no longer the exclusive province of a select few. Nano-celebrity is there for the taking, if you really want it."

While some personalities seek out internet fame, others have it unwittingly thrust upon them.

At Concurring Opinions, Deven Desai asks, Do We Need an Internet Ed. Class?
"Internet Ed. at an early stage might address the possible generation gap in understanding what is privacy and how the Internet works. Like driving, using the Internet can open up tremendous possibilities for fun and for work. Like driving, irresponsible or uninformed Internet use can lead to undesired consequences. Like driving, horror stories of how a picture from a drunken party ruined someone’s job prospects may not deter irresponsible Internet behaviors across the board. Still, by setting out the way in which irresponsible or immature behaviors such as sharing too much information about one’s personal life, not checking about how a site uses personal financial information, and childish rants can affect one’s life, people would have some sense of the possible repercussions of their acts."

I agree that education about how to avoid undesired online notoriety (or maintaining personal privacy) is important, but only half of an "internet ed" class-- the other half is on information literacy-- the skills of finding reputable sources of information and assessing the quality of sources and channels. This includes not only sources of academic research, but also e-commerce sites and social networking sites.

William Patry takes a look at some "non-partisan" copyright groups educational materials: The Patry Copyright Blog: Non-profit, non-partisan education in copyright: "It would be sad indeed if a balanced educational plan for copyright was unachievable, especially where there is a will to develop one."

As Patry discusses, the copyright debate is not partisan in the traditional sense-- it is not a Democratic-Republican party issue. Rather, it is partisan among the various interest groups, with the public interest often never considered in policy-making, or often relegated to just another special interest.

But, that's a topic for another post.

This raises the question of how and when copyright should be taught to students. In the increasingly wired and creative classroom, Copyright is something that will come up as students scour the internet to download photos, videos and music to use in their school projects and presentations.

But at the same time, issues of plagarism/attribution, information literacy and ascertaining the veracity of sources also arise. For today's students, web research and vetting sources should probably be taught along with basic copyright principles.

What needs to be taught in an introduction to information literacy and intellectual property curriculum? When is the best time to start to teach it? Elementary school? Middle School? High School?

Criticism 2.0?

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With the rise of bloggers into the mainstream media, critics of blogging, like Andrew Keen, worry that amateurism is destroying culture and that the blogosphere is a bunch of silly "user-generated nonsense."

The problem with blogs giving voices to otherwise unpublished critics and commentators is that these critics are not working with the same thoroughness as the professional critics working for the mainstream media.

Adam Roberts' The Amateur Gourmet is an entertaining food blog about restaurants and cooking. Roberts even converted the blog into a book deal. But the Amateur Gourmet notes the difference between the amateur restaurant critics and the professionals, Going Back: "Obviously, food bloggers don't have the resources that professional critics do. We don't have a newspaper picking up the tab when we go out to eat, it'd be impossible for most of us to eat our way through a menu without spending half our savings. So we go, our cameras in tow, and snap pictures of the two or three dishes we consume at this one meal and then scurry back to our computers to write it up." After revisiting a restaurant he previously "reviewed," Roberts finds that his initial impression didn't quite capture the inconsistency of one Park Slope eatery.

If he reviewed after each time he went, then Roberts might ahve presented a more complete view of the restaurant. But readers can get this more complete view by using the web to search for multiple amateur and blogger positions.

The problem with Web 2.0/the blogosphere/UGC is not that it gives any idiot a voice. Rather, it shifts the burden of creating an overall final opinion from the publisher to the reader. Reading many reviews of bloggers who each visit a restaurant once may provide a more complete impression of a restaurant than one canonical review by a professional reviewer. Reading a selection of film reviews at Rotten Tomatoes can present a more complete impression than just reading Roger Ebert's review. But the reader has the burden of filtering out idiocy shifts from the editor to the reader.

With readers who know how to properly evaluate the credibility and veracity of reviews, the aggregation of internet reviews can provide a fuller picture than the traditional, Keen-preferred, media. But for those in the media elite, the traditional model gives their voice more weight, and it is preferred.

But even in the blogosphere, a good reviewer carries more weight than some amateur. This is the basis of Google's PageRank-- that Roger Ebert's links are given more weight and authority than Joe Blow movie reviewer. For restaurants, there will always be a need for localism. But will the internet affect off the television and movie reviews in local newspapers? Do readers need to read their local movie critic if they can go on the web and read reviews from Roger Ebert and Elvis MItchell? Or does it help smaller newspapers attract top critics? If Alan Sepinwall has a larger online profile because of his excellent blog as opposed to his work for the Star Ledger, doesn't that help the Star Ledger. Perhaps critics who develop their reputation online are becoming more sought after-- that a small town paper can raise its profile by hiring a top critic or columnist-- and that moving to an outlet that's not the NYT, WSJ or Washington Post might not be detrimental.

Transparent Wikipedia

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John Borland, Wired, See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign: "On November 17th, 2005, an anonymous Wikipedia user deleted 15 paragraphs from an article on e-voting machine-vendor Diebold, excising an entire section critical of the company's machines. While anonymous, such changes typically leave behind digital fingerprints offering hints about the contributor, such as the location of the computer used to make the edits."

The data is available to search at List anonymous wikipedia edits from interesting organizations.

How do you properly attribute authorship to a collective work? Or does that go against the wiki-ethos, even if it means that articles are less likely to have a "neutal viewpoint." If the Wikimedia Foundation ever needs to raise money, it could auction the rights "last edits" for articles for a certain period of time to the highest bidder. If such biased edits were published with attribution, those astroturf articles might be more honest and attributable sources than the more subtly biased "neutral viewpoint" articles.

This anecdote from law student blogger Above Supra perfectly captures the problem with Wikipedia as a source. DIY Sources:

"The other day I was working on my draft of an amicus brief. I had to begin by explaining some fundamentals of the internet, such as describing the difference between a static and dynamic IP address (I've changed the facts to protect the innocent). I've read cases where the judge footnoted to a Wikipedia article, so I checked out the Wiki definition of the terms I wanted to use. As it happened, the definitions didn't adequately cover the issue.

"What did I do? Naturally, I signed into my Wiki account and edited the entry. Only then did the absurdity of citing to a 'customizable source' hit home.

"Needless to say, I didn't use Wikipedia as a source for the brief."

In a 2006 paper, Ken Myers discusses fitting Wikipedia into the ยง230 safe harbor, Wikimmunity: Fitting the Communications Decency Act to Wikipedia: "In the wake of the Seigenthaler biography controversy, many commentators suggested that Wikipedia should be able to escape liability for defamatory content pursuant to the immunity provided for in 47 U.S.C. Section 230(c)(1), enacted by Congress as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Unfortunately, those commentators do not provide a detailed roadmap to that conclusion."

Wikigroaning

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Something Awful: The Art of Wikigroaning: "First, find a useful Wikipedia article that normal people might read. For example, the article called "Knight." Then, find a somehow similar article that is longer, but at the same time, useless to a very large fraction of the population. In this case, we'll go with "Jedi Knight." Open both of the links and compare the lengths of the two articles. Compare not only that, but how well concepts are explored, and the greater professionalism with which the longer article was likely created. Are you looking yet? Get a good, long look. Yeah. Yeeaaah, we know, but that is just the tip of the iceberg."

For example, compare:

  • Dept. of Homeland Security with Homestar Runner

  • Henry VIII with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

  • Hammurabi with Emperor Palpatine

  • Is there an inverse relationship between actual importance of a subject and the thoroughness of that's subject's Wikipedia article? Perhaps that is why Wikipedia can be so much fun to read and yet ultimately useless for real research.

    Does this occur because important subjects are already studied in-depth in books and scholarly journals, while there is no equivalent place to publish in-depth studies of pop culture?

    Do people who study important subjects not have the time to write for Wikipedia, while the people who do have the time to have their material get anonymized into the giant Wiki blob are more concerned with ephemera?

Inside Higher Ed: A Stand Against Wikipedia: "While plenty of professors have complained about the lack of accuracy or completeness of entries, and some have discouraged or tried to bar students from using it, the history department at Middlebury College is trying to take a stronger, collective stand. It voted this month to bar students from citing the Web site as a source in papers or other academic work. All faculty members will be telling students about the policy and explaining why material on Wikipedia — while convenient — may not be trustworthy."

The New York Times: Courts Turn to Wikipedia, but Selectively: "A simple search of published court decisions shows that Wikipedia is frequently cited by judges around the country, involving serious issues and the bizarre — such as a 2005 tax case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals concerning the definition of 'beverage' that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars, and, just this week, a case in Federal District Court in Florida that involved the term 'booty music' as played during a wet T-shirt contest."

While universities are discouraging undergraduates from citing to Wikipedia, courts are more frequently relying on the site. Undergrad students are expected to be researching from primary sources, not from encyclopedias. So, just like the Encyclopedia Britannica should not be cited in a university level term paper, neither should Wikipedia. But in court? Wikipedia should be considered a valid citation for those facts that are considered to be common knowledge, obvious, or where no better citation can be found, such as for booty music.

In Salon today, Farhad Manjoo applies Chris Anderson's "Long Tail" theory to news: Chasing tail. While Anderson's book is concerned only with the business implications that come from the ability to sell lots of niche products, Manjoo considers the web's ability to connect citizens with niche newspapers, magazines and partisan blogs to be part of the same phenomenon.

Unlimited choice and easy access shake the world in unpredictable ways, causing people to splinter along the lines of niches they enjoy, and sometimes to lose touch with the world beyond. Today it's possible to stop reading newspapers and instead get all your news from the Fox News channel -- indeed, this is something many millions have done.… To put it another way, I worry about the filters. Because the long tail has everything in it, the only way to find anything useful there is by using some kind of filter.

The web allows for a democratization of information, which, in turn, creates the need for more information literacy. In other (less annoyingly pretentious) terms, the fact that it's cheap to publish on the internet puts a great deal of biased, incomplete or simply wrong information on the same level as balanced, thorough and authoritative information. Individual citizens, students and researchers need to be more attentive to sources and details when sifting through such information and spend more time verifying and fact checking claims.

Where in pre-internet environment, a number of filters sat between crackpot theories and a researcher. Those filters (reporters, publishers, librarians) still help to judge accuracy and reliability, but the unfiltered internet makes it easy to find the unfiltered and unreliable and individuals now need to have the skills to determine what is credible and what is not.

On the other hand, sometimes more filters can distort the truth. Salon.com editor Scott Rosenberg discusses the difference between blogs and comments at his personal blog, Wordyard: Lanny Davis, bile, and the distinction between "blog" and "comments": "The simple distinction between the proprietor of a site — the 'blogger' — and the poster of comments is being forgotten or deliberately ignored here to score a political point.… In open online environments, it simply makes no sense to hold the publisher/blogger/site owner responsible for every opinion, attitude and flame that visitors post. If that's where we're headed, we might as well just shut down the Net and go home."

47 USC §230 provides a "safe harbor" for the hosts of online forums (such as blog comment pages), so that the publishers are not considered the publisher or speaker of comments posted by unrelated third parties. Of course, although the law exempts site owners from liability, it does not prevent unwitting or unscrupulous commentators from attributing to a site owner the words of an unrelated comment poster.

Previously: Information Literacy

Wikiality

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On Monday's Colbert Report, Stephen discussed the Wikipedia process in The Wørd segment ("Wikiality"):

Last week, The New Yorker published an article on Wikipedia: Know it All: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise? "Wikipedia remains a lumpy work in progress. The entries can read as though they had been written by a seventh grader: clarity and concision are lacking; the facts may be sturdy, but the connective tissue is either anemic or absent; and citation is hit or miss."

The New Yorker article goes to the information literacy critique of Wikipedia. On a macro level, Wikipedia has generally good rate of accuracy (at least if we were thinking of it as a baseball batting average.) But Wikipedia has a far lower level of accuracy for any individual fact.

At Freedom to Tinker, David Robinson contemplates: The New Yorker Covers Wikipedia "When reading Wikipedia, one has to react to surprising claims by entertaining the possibility that they might not be true. The less plausible a claim sounds, the more skepticism one must have when considering it."

The Onion's take is (as usual) dead on: Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence: "Wikipedia, the online, reader-edited encyclopedia, honored the 750th anniversary of American independence on July 25 with a special featured section on its main page Tuesday."

Marshall Poe, in The Atlantic Monthly, thinks that the hive mind works well: The Hive: "Can thousands of Wikipedians be wrong? How an attempt to build an online encyclopedia touched off history’s biggest experiment in collaborative knowledge."

ikkyu2, a neurologist and contributor to Wikipedia articles on neurology cogently discusses Wikipedia's expert problem: What's Wrong with Wikipedia: "I still like the Wikipedia, but not as an encyclopedia. It's just an enjoyable, relaxing way to fool around and waste some time; enjoyable for its own sake, but not useful as a finished product. I would never recommend it to my patients nor to anyone else as a source of reliable information."

Windy City Mike: Why I Quit Wikipedia "The problem is: Wikipedia believes truth derives from consensus. It doesn’t. Pablum derives from consensus; popular belief derives from consensus. And if you’re lucky, the least offensive common denominator of the truth derives from consensus.…Wikipedia articles do not represent truth; they represent popular consensus."

Anil Dash looks at Wikipedia through the spectrum of community governance: Antipedia: "The real issue is that Wikipedia is a not-so-small community of people, facing the same challenges of governance, accountability, and policing that any community this size would face. I can't help but think that most of these issues arise because Wikipedia essentially runs with the equivalent of a Declaration of Independence but no Constitution."

Previously: The Problem with Wikipedia (Apr. 19)
Wikipedia and Authority (Dec. 19, 2005)
Wikipedia Woes (Dec. 16, 2005)

The Problem with Wikipedia

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Jason Scott recently gave a talk about The Great Failure of Wikipedia. The audio is available at the Internet Arcive: The Great Failure of Wikipedia (April 8, 2006). Scott uses specific examples to discuss the problems that face Wikipedia. Despite the appearance of veracity and authority, Wikipedia faces significant challenges before it embodies "the availability of the sum
of human knowledge to everyone on Earth for free."

Wikipedia remains a great place to be an information tourist, but falls short as a serious information resource. The anti-expert bias that Scott notes in the Wikipedia editorial process will continue to keep the actual Wikipedia from becoming anything more than a novelty for information professionals.

In the NY Times, Randall Stross writes: Anonymous Source Is Not the Same as Open Source "Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, currently serves up the following: Five billion pages a month. More than 120 languages. In excess of one million English-language articles. And a single nagging epistemological question: Can an article be judged as credible without knowing its author? Wikipedia says yes, but I am unconvinced."

At Concurring Opinions, Laura Heymann notes a case in the US Court of Federal Claims that discussed the reliability and admissibility of Wikipedia articles: Concurring Opinions: Wikipedia in the Courts: "In an opinion released in February, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims scolded a special master in a vaccine injury case for sua sponte supplementing the record with ‘medical ‘articles’ on afebrile seizures’ that she located on the Internet."

Lore Sjöberg, Wired: The Wikipedia FAQK: "The Wikipedia philosophy can be summed up thusly: 'Experts are scum.'"

danah boyd offers some insight on the Wikipedia editorial process: on being notable in Wikipedia: "People wanted "proof" that i was notable; they wanted proof of every aspect of my profile. Then, when people in my field stood up for my entry in the discussion for deletion, they were attacked for not being Wikipedians."

Do any readers have academic Lexis/Westlaw or Hein access? Could you run a search to see if any law review articles cite to wikipedia, and if so, how many?

Previously: Wikipedia Woes, Wikipedia and Authority

(edited 4/24 to add Concurring Opinions, NYT and Wired links)

Wikipedia and Authority

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I initially posted this as a comment, following up to a comment by "Y456two" on Wikipedia Woes, but here it is as its own entry, because, well, it is rather long.

This portrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what Wikipedia is. Adding editors amounts to turning Wikipedia into the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Why would you want to do that? Don't we already have an Encyclopedia Brittanica?

No-- it represents the fundamental gap that separates what Wikipedia is from what it seeks to become. A user driven Wikipedia edited by panels of subject experts in various fields will be both more comprehensive AND more authoritative than a traditional encyclopedia.

If you believe that the masses are not smart enough to make their own judgements about the veracity of what they read, then, yes, absolutely, we should have a heavily regulated Internet, publishing industry, and media (sounds like China, don't it?)

I do think that heavy internet users and information professionals over-estimate the information literacy of the average internet user, but private editorial control on a private web site is a long way from state regulation. Why do we trust articles in the NY Times more than the Washington Times or the West Podunk Pioneer Press? A reputation for accuracy and veracity. Why would one prefer to buy from a seller on eBay with a +300 feedback rating than one with no feedback rating? A reputation for being an honest dealer.

What do we know about the authors of a wikipedia entry? Why is it authoritative? We only know that wikipedia as a whole is generally accurate. But because each article is written by a different group of authors, researchers do not have an easy way of figuring out which articles are accurate and which contain blatant falsehoods or smaller inaccuracies.

Adding a series of editorial boards comprised of acknowledged experts in various fields to monitor wikipedia entries will go a long way towards increasing the accuracy and trustworthiness of wikipedia as a whole. And it is possible to do this without becoming a Britannica clone-- in fact, doing so would take advantage of the same internet and collaborative technologies and processes that make wikipedia possible. It just happens to also acknowledge the fact (and, yes, it is a fact) that some people simply have more knowledge and experience in various subject matters than others. In the wikipedia model, these boards would not be simply appointed from the get-go, but could be composed of flexible memberships, with new members joining either by distinguished work in academia or business as well as by distinguished contributions to wikipedia itself.

At the very least, Wikipedia could post a list of the contributors who wrote or edited each article. This would make it possible for researchers to find out more about the authors of each individual article and make an educated decision whether to trust the accuracy of the wikipedia article.

I could say that the 'blogosphere' needs editors. I could claim that the problem with blogs is that there isn't some credentialed editor who controls what is posted.

Unlike Wikipedia, the "blogosphere" is not a single entity. Individual blogs have attributes that establish their reputation for accuracy and veracity. For example, you can read my biographical information and see that my posts carry less intellectual heft than those of Prof. Goldman, for example. Unlike the millions of individual blogs posted by named or pseudonymous authors, Wikipedia presents itself as a centralized authority and strips away many of the signs that make it possible for an individual researcher to decide whether a single article is reliable. We can't look to the author's biography. We can't judge the publisher's credibility, because this publisher will post anything. We can't look at the professionalism of the page design. The Wikipedia brand takes credibility from articles that justifiably grant credibility and it also lends credibility to articles that are not worthy of it.

The problem with Wikipedia is that it lends its brand to anyone. In the trademark context, a trademark owner who nakedly licenses a mark to anyone without keeping track of the quality of goods sold under that mark may lose the right to defend the mark. Since a trademark is meant to protect consumers and indicate the source of a good or service, nakedly licensing the mark strips away value from the mark. By allowing anyone and everybody to edit entries on wikipedia, wikipedia may squander any credibility it has attained.

As for Eric Goldman, I suppose he would be surprised to know that Usenet continues to thrive and be useful to millions of users every day.

I would challenge the idea that Usenet continues to thrive. I have yet to even load a Usenet news reader on my Powerbook, which means that I haven't delved into that thriving medium in at least nine months and haven't missed it a bit. People may still use newsgroups, but they have long since ceased to be relevant. How many average internet users can recognize that "alt.nerd.obsessive" denotes a newsgroup?

Here is the heart of the issue: do we trust people?

We trust people to the extent that the people have as full information as possible to make decisions. As another analogy, this is the driving principle behind securities law-- we have a policy bias towards requiring publicly traded corporations to disclose information-- because this allows investors to make informed decisions. The more that identifying information is witheld, the less reason we have to trust

Wikipedia Woes

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Wikipedia is one of the best sites on the internet-- volunteers compile information about esoteric topics and the entire compilation is a giant guide to the universe. The beauty of the site is that the internet community has created a vast encyclopedia without a single editor.

Nature compared Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica and found that the upstart contains only slightly fewer errors: Internet encyclopaedias go head to head: "The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three."

Wikipedia is becoming more frequently cited as a trusted source, despite potential for inaccuracies and often amateur writing and organization (just like this blog!) Evan Brown reports at InternetCases.com: Wikipedia and the courts: "lthough not everyone is convinced that Wikipedia can be trusted to always tell the truth, it is interesting to note that in the past year or so several courts, including more than one federal circuit court, have cited to it to fill in background facts relevant to cases before them. "

The problem with Wikipedia is that the internet community has created a vast encyclopedia without a single editor. Entries can contain factual inaccuracies or present topics in a skewed, biased manner. Wikipedia needs editors. Who chooses the experts for a particular field?

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr finds an interesting relationship between the level of general interest in a subject and the accuracy of that subject's Wikipedia entry: Checking in on Wikipedia's Patriot Act Entry:

I have found Wikipedia entries to be quite helpful when the topic is something esoteric. It seems that when fewer people care about a topic, the better the entry tends to be. When lots of people care about something, lots of people think they know something about it — or at least more people feel strongly enough that they want to get their 2 cents worth into the entry. When lots of people have strong opinions about a topic, even uninformed ones, the Wikipedia entry for that topic ends up being something like Tradesports betting odds on who Bush would pick to replace Justice O'Connor. It's an echo chamber for the common wisdom of the subset of people who use the site more than anything else. And if the views in the echo chamber happen to be way off, then so is the entry.

This suggests that the common wisdom may be entirely backwards. Instead of greater interest leading to greater accuracy, the more people who have a strong interest in a topic, the more likely it is that discredited or inaccurate theories will find their way into that topic's Wikipedia entry. Vocal critics of a widely accepted theory may be more likely than well-respected experts to spend time crafting the Wikipedia entry, so that the end result is that the Wikipedia entry is more likely to reflect the generally discredited minority view.

In an op-ed piece in USA Today, John Seigenthaler discussed A false Wikipedia 'biography': "I had heard for weeks from teachers, journalists and historians about "the wonderful world of Wikipedia," where millions of people worldwide visit daily for quick reference "facts," composed and posted by people with no special expertise or knowledge — and sometimes by people with malice."

Mike Godwin thinks that this problem is not limited to Wikipedia, but is endemic of the Internet as a whole: Wikilibel: "To me, the notable thing about this incident is that it seems to have given John and others doubts about Wikipedia in particular, when in fact the problems he sees are endemic to the Web and the Internet at large."

Unlike posting a random website on the internet at large containing the same defamatory text, posting the information at Wikipedia gives it credibility. The first place most internet users look to assess the credibility of a piece of information is the source. Because Wikipedia contains a growning number of thorough, accurate and well-written entries, Wikipedia as a whole is gaining a reputation as a trusted source for information. According to the Wikipedia entry about Wikipedia, "Articles in Wikipedia are regularly cited by both the mass media and academia, who generally praise it for its free distribution, editing, and diverse range of coverage." An incomplete, incorrect or defamatory article posted to Wikipedia gains from the authority of the accurate entries.

Eric Goldman believes that Wikipedia Will Fail Within 5 Years: "Wikipedia inevitably will be overtaken by the gamers and the marketers to the point where it will lose all credibility. There are so many examples of community-driven communication tools that ultimately were taken over—-USENET and the Open Directory Project are two that come top-of mind."

Unless Wikipedia starts to implement a strong editorial policy, the entire project will become suspect because of entries like the one about Siegenthaler. Wikipedia is at a critical point in that it has enough entries and reputation that by continuing to allow anyone to edit any entry may harm the future development of the project.

As with any controversial topic these days, some lawyers are already preparing a Wikipedia Class Action.

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