Why Wikis are Rad, pt 1

I heart wikis. No, seriously, I think they are amazing. It does help that I spend most of my day working with wikis, trying to push their adoption across an enterprise. So, here is a new series that will explain why wikis are rad:

Interactive Text. This is a digital medium, so there is no reason not to have all important words as links to other relevant topics, articles, or definitions. Yet almost every article from a newspaper, blog topic, and website has a link ratio of around 100:1 (100 words for every 1 link). If you take a look at almost any wikipedia page, you will find that ratio much better, on average being 100:10.

So, what’s the big deal? Well, interactive text creates a much richer experience for the user. Test it our for yourself, go into the Quantum Mechanics page in Wikipedia. Notice all of the links. Every time you come across a heady concept, unfamiliar word, or even just an interesting topic, notice the link to more information. Us wiki-fanatics call that deep-dive research. You can go from almost no knowledge to a strong cursory knowledge of any topic within minutes.

Many newspapers are starting to do this. Some, like the nytimes, do it very well, but adoption is very slow. We seem to be locked into a previous paradigm. Meaning that most webpages still try to mimic a basic word document (some even mimic a typewriter look). Another lock for us is that we still tend to think serially, i.e. one thing at a time. When reading an article we like to finish the article before moving on to the next one. This is a one foot in front of the other method.

Well, you can bet that our kids are not learning this way. They are doing several things at once. I myself am getting to be that way too. In wiki world my focus is not on completing a narrative, but understanding. I read and click on through several pages until I understand or accomplish my objective. Some would say this leads to a deterioration of focus, I would say it cuts out the fluff.

Fluff or deterioration, wikis are bringing a whole new way of learning to our fingertips. Personally, I love it and I think it is rad. You may need to decide for yourself. If you want to do so, I would recommend finding a great article on the web. Try reading it with all of this in mind. How many words, terms, and phrases have an ambiguous meaning to you. How many factual statements are made with a footnote or no reference at all. How many people are mentioned. All of these things could be links to enrich your experience, give you a deeper understanding, and/or improve the readability.

My recommendation: As China Roars, Polution Reaches Deadly Extremes (nytimes) vs. Environment of China (wikipedia)

Remember, if you can pick-up what I’m saying but this still seems foreign to you, that is okay. The future of our world are the kids, and which way will they prefer…

P.S. Skeptics may be wondering what makes this is wiki specialty? Wikis are a database of many, many pages. The system makes linking those pages together very simple. Often as little as 4 characters are needed to make a link. And, since the database is interactive, you can build the link right on the page and you can also make links to non-existent pages. With many people doing this in one wiki database, the work can snowball itself leading to fairly complete series of links off a page.

Robots Killing People

On the 20 anniversary of Robocop, I wanted to tell you about the dark side of robotics. We all now that robots and machines are being built for all kinds of uses. A recent blog post discusses how robot arms (like Luke Skywalker’s) are within a few years of being a reality. There are plenty of robots out there that help human-kind, but what about the ones that hurt human-kind?

Here is your first taste: Foster-Miller has developed a remote controlled armed robot that is being deployed in Iraq. The machine has treads for movement, several cameras to guide the operator, and is capable of mounting a machine gun, sniper rifle, or rocket launcher. More articles about this: USA Today, Jane’s, and Wikipedia.

It was only a matter of time before this happened and is almost a natural innovation. Put robots in the dicey situations instead of a human life. Save lives, rebuild remote machines. I even have a video below that touts the ingenuity and lifes-saving tools that these machines represent.

But, I am scared. Will anyone mark down the day when a robot has killed a human? Will we even get it reported on (or perhaps it has already happened). What roads does this take us down…Will the military only buy the initial 1-2,000 they contracted, or build a whole army? What about immensely wealthy individuals, what will stop them from fielding their own army?

Yeah, I am freaking out. Any serious Star Wars fan knows that an entire galaxy can be brought to its knees by this type of scenario (clone wars). One of these things is no big deal, but what about hundreds of thousands of them…Not to mention that this changes warfare completely. All of those intense stand-offs, where both sides are locked in place, trying to gain an advantage. Ok, well just send in the robots. Give the machine an armor plating and have it roll right into firing position. What kind of strategy will a hybrid army of humans and robots use? In fact, what happens when you take out the human element. What kind of war will be fought when we aren’t afraid of losing lives…

This also upsets the balance of the nations. Can Bahrain ever hope to field an army as massive as the United States? Not a human army, but they can sure buy a robot army. Then you could have this scenario where our soldiers are sent in to battle and they face-off with these machines.

Finally, how will history judge us when the first human is killed by a robot, or a remote controlled machine. You can sure bet that the first death will be that of an Iraqi or an Afghani. Will we as Americans even care? Nope. We barely pay attention to the war, or the meat grinder it has become. Thousands of people have died and are still dying. It has created a sort of emergency situation in our minds and hearts. End it quickly, will it ever be over, stop losing lives.

The perfect scenario to build a robot army. No one will complain about a robot being deployed to save lives. Deploy a few of them at first around the country. Then as they prove successful include one in each unit. Long term, create entire units of these machines, controlled by soldiers in front of computer screens. Our hybrid army is here.

I think it is safe to say that the longer the war goes on, the more this becomes a reality.

Okay, okay, I am done with my doomsday scenarios. I trust in us and our benevolent adavancement. I just wanted to make sure that we take a serious look at what is going on. Let’s not gloss over the fact the robots are going to soon kill people.

Enjoy the clip, and let me know if you felt as eery about it as I did. A fast action, interesting story about an armed robot, or a propaganda-like spin on machines that kill humans…

Future Weapons: SWORDS

Believe It

Robot UprisingAh yes, my Google stalking has reached new heights. Now I can hang out in the Googleplex and watch presentations at Google.

Check out the site, Googleplex, and I recommend watching the one by Daniel Wilson about “How to Survive a Robot Uprising!“.

He is hilarious and is great to watch….during a robot uprising, throw mud on the sensors of a robot, because it will disorient them.

Anyway, enjoy the videos!

The Digital Xmas List

My parents just came through on vacation and in between all of the tourist hits, we lurched our technological relationship forward. I talked my dad into using google reader and twitter, we went to Best Buy to walk through getting a nice huge LCD for them, and we ventured into online shopping.

I showed them all about amazon shopping, including the bestseller lists, discounted shipping, recommendations, and all the various ratings. All of these options make Amazon the bang-up place to do your shopping. But, that is not all. The final, creme de la creme, was convincing them to use the Amazon lists feature.

For years I have been subjected to undersized tshirts, dorky sweaters, and unhealthy harry and david food deliveries. Often it is my fault for not having a running list of things I want. I can’t tell you how many times I am speechless when the question comes up: “What do you want for your birthday?”. Replace birthday with christmas, easter, new years, valentines day, etc.

So, to avoid getting the clearance items from the JC Penney catalog and to overcome my lack memory, we are now using an Amazon Wishlist. This feature of Amazon allows you to create a personalized list that can be shared. Items can be added to it as you browse through Amazon. So, from now on I will casually add things I want throughout the year. The public list will be sent to all parents, relative, friends, and all else.

Anytime throughout the year I have a list ready to go. Moms and girlfriends can send me great gifts anytime they want. They can even send it with one click on no shipping charges, if they are savvy enough. And…I will be able to call the list up anytime a non digital relative pops up.

This is one area where I feel that sharing on the web is going to make me a happier person. So, check out my wishlist and I hope someone out there wants to buy me an Xbox 360 ๐Ÿ™‚

Dreaming of Gadgets…

I love toys and gadgets and every once in a while I like to get my wishlist down on paper. So, all this week I went about writing down my top 10. I’m sorry I can’t help it…I love these kind of lists.

I also sent out the bat signal in my social network to see what everyone else wanted. Here you go:

My Top 10 most wanted

10. MacBook – who doesn’t want one?, chances of getting: did i win the lotto yet?

9. Vespa – vrrm, vrooom, saucy italiano coming through, chances of getting: same as me getting emo pants (none)

8. Smart Car – convertible (passion cabrio) — chances of getting: none, but easily fits in my future mansion

7. HD-DVD/blue ray – i want one bad!, chances of getting: confirmed, most likely by xmas

6. Mini Cooper — my next car purchase, uk flag or just abig red x?, chances of getting: slim, just paid off my acura

5. 300 — 2 disc special edition, chance of getting: imminent

4. slingbox – slingcatcher soon to be released, chances of getting: imminent, upon release

3. Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist, Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – music i need from the virgin festival, chances of getting: within the week

2. iPhone/Nokia N95 — 499-599, chances of me buying: slim to none (until Jan, when my verizon contract is up)

1. XBoxbox360/PS3/wii – just give me one, anyone, idc, chances of getting: number one on my xmas list!

Friends, most wanted…

PostModernshe: iPhone

Immunity: a professional digital video recorder, HVX200

Mcpaige: someday = (Type R + turbo + SH-AWD); if somday =< 30 K; i = want; else ๐Ÿ™ Mugen won’t cut it; http://tweetl.com/0ra?civic

FantomPlanet: A “death knob” for my steering wheel. http://tinyurl.com/2xqcew

Bill Ives: time to use my paint brush

ProudPapa: A robot to do all my chores.

Ckras: the semantic web

ScienceVixen: Segway

Thomas Vander Wal – a killer unlocked mobile device that works globally using latest technologies

Colleague at work: a cochlear implant that improves perfect hearing and provides data

Dad: webcam

Mom: iphone, LCD TV

Mike: time to sail

Please, leave your most wanted in toy/gadget in the comments.

KML and You

Chances are that you have used an online map to find something. You were probably looking for directions, stores, or places to eat at. Most of this information comes from computer generated maps and directions, satellite images, and kml files. The generated maps and satellite images are easy to understand, but what in the world is a KML file? I will explain below and also show you how to create your own.

Google Maps KML Example

A KML file is a layer of information that you can place on top of a map, usually represented by pins, dots, or circles. So, when you type in a search term using Google maps you get a map with pins all over it. Each one showing you a business that came up in the search. This is possible because “mappers” have begun combining map and business data.

For example, if I have a listing of 200 restaurants and their addresses in the Los Angeles area, I can then combine that data with a map of the Los Angeles. With some quick mashing together I can get the restaurants to be displayed on the map as pins. Combining data sets like this is commonly known as a “mashup“. And, the resulting pins are the KML file.

Some of the really fun stuff starts happening when you mash together all sorts of different data sets. Here are some fun ones: flickrvision, twittervision, sunset tracker (and more), a Nintendo Wii finder, digg/delicious/slashdot combiner, music, more, and more. Take a look at these fun web creations.

Back to KML files…so you know what one is, but did you know you could create one yourself? Google Maps allows you to create your own. I just did one and it was fun. I zoomed into my neighborhood and then began listing all of the local free wifi spots. Of course, I didn’t know everything so I searched and found other user created maps about local free wifi. I added them into mine and now I have a list of about 15 free wifi spots in my area. The best part about the whole thing is that my map is being added into the search for other people to use!

I can imagine that eventually these user created local maps will be more useful than the current computer generated ones. Google is already pioneering this by allowing you to annotate any KML you can pull up. So, for example, you do a search on “car wash” in your local area and get 5 business’. For each pin, you can click on it and perform a series of actions. Including review the place, find their address, phone number, and even have it call them (first calls your phone, when you pick up it is calling the business).

This kind of user generated content really adds to our community knowledge and truly shows off the value of social software. So, take a look at my “free wifi” map and create your own, instructions below:

Create your own Google Map using KML

– Go to Google Maps and click on the tab “My Maps” (you may need to log-in or create a google account).

– Click on the option for “create new map”, give it a title and description, and make it public/unlisted.

– Use the map to find the location you want. On the upper left of the map notice the hand, pin, line, or shape options.

– Click on the pin and place it where you want. Fill out the info-box that pops up and hit ok.

– Save your map and you can come back and update or view it anytime.
That’s it! You have created your own KML layer and your own map. If you made it public it can serve as a reference for other map users. Here are some other options:
– Local shops or businesses: If you want to locate some shops or businesses you can do a search on them. The results will be displayed on the map as pink pins. Click on the pin you want on your map and select “Save to My Maps”.

– View other user maps: If you were wondering what other maps people have created and shared, you can view them. Just enter a search term and then scroll to the bottom of the search results and click on “See user-created content”. Other user maps will appear as letters in blue pins (yours are blue with no letters, but dots).

Google Maps User Guide to creating your own map

Interesting Links from Robotchampion

The Presidential Elections of 2008 brought to you by Wikipedia

During a recent interview of Jimmy Wales, that I live blogged, an important realization dawned on me. In the next presidential elections Wikipedia will be one of the primary places for Americans to get news and information. A quick Google search on any election related topic provides a Wikipedia page among the top 5 results (often number one). So, what does this mean?

First, it means that you should get in now. Take a look at the page for the 2008 presidential elections, make some contributions and start watching the page grow. It is going to be a fascinating case study of how a wiki can work. Not to mention the potential impact that your contributions can have. Just think, a word you add could be viewed by millions of Americans.

Second, it means that the American political landscape is changing. Or, as the Emperor said “with each passing moment you (politicians) make yourself more my servant (web 2.0).” Debates are being held via youtube; candidates are communicating using blogs, second life, twitter, RSS, and more. And, now Americans are going to get a substantial bit of their information from us, the users. We are volunteers, fanatics, unpaid campaigners, and all other disruptive sorts. Watch out national newspapers, campaign websites, and lobbyists you have some competition.

Third, Wikipiedia will have the perfect opportunity to shine and embed itself in the mind of the American public. In the aforementioned Jimmy Wales interview, someone asked him about the potential for vandalism due to the controversial nature of the topic. In usual fashion with full wiki confidence, Jimmy easily shrugged it off. And, as any Wikipedian knows he has full reason to.

Vandalism in the space is easily controlled and minimized. Reverting malicious additions by the way of the history tab or a bot. Diffusing debates via the discussion pages. Catching almost every edit through a strong user community and page watching.

Fourth and final, this helps our country to become more democratic. The people of America will be building the knowledge, debating the facts, and creating a neutral repository of facts for the country to learn about. This “virtual town hall” has the potential to get ordinary citizens involved in politics in a way our forefathers could have never envisioned.

So, join the fray, add your brain to the meld, and have some fun. And, oh yeah, enjoy the 2008 Presidential Elections brought to you by Wikipedia.

Live Blog – Jimmy Wales interview on American Perspectives

LiveBlog of Jimmy Wales on American Perspectives on CSPAN. The video should be hosted on the American Perspectives site and as a podcast.

It was a great interview and worth watching for any Wikipedia fan or newcomer. Here are my main take-aways with my full notes below.

  • Jimmy’s favorite stat – Number of users who make 100 edits/month. There are about 3,000 in English version of Wikipedia
  • “Wiki is not paper” it should be held to different digital standards.
  • Wales doesn’t feel that wisdom of crowds and swarm intelligence is an accurate description. Most articles are written by the people who know, it is their hobby, they know each other. These are the communities that build and grow articles.
  • The rules of wikipedia should always be something you don’t have to consult in order to work. They should always be obvious.
  • Wikimedia Foundation – 7 full time employees as the 9th most popular website (beat that ratio!)
  • Wikipedia is the encyclopedia, so Wikia is the library (for everything else).
  • Chinese citizends who illegally use Wikipedia told Jimmy – “we are with you forever”.
  • 2008 Elections – Wikipedia is going to be the primary source of news…

Nupedia – top down, had to apply, people were facing in resumes, hurdles to entry were high, 2 years long, “complete failure”. Good – began a discussion about how to run a encyclopedia, what it should be about.

“A fair number (of nupedians) transferred from Nupedia to Wikipedia” but not all. Main focus was to keep the licensing open.

Wales said that he was panicked when starting Wikipedia, he thought someone would beat him to it.

The online encyclopedia has a level of commitment involved, he likes to watch the statistics by following the people who make 100 edits/month. This includes about 3,000 people in the English version (maybe 9,000 worldwide).

Over 6 million articles in all, over 30 wikipedia’s with 1,000+ articles. After 1,000 articles they have a community and can start building.

Open systems help to include passionate amateurs.

“Wiki is not paper “. No reason to limit content based on size, no need to print out a 50 page manual. A better focus is verifiability. How to verify facts that are added.

Transparency – “part of what makes a wiki work is transparency”. Everyone can see what you have done, you can build a reputataion, leads to trust. Same a normal workplace. Doesn’t feel that wisdom of crowds and swarm intelligence is an accurate description. Most articles are written by the people who know, it is their hobby, they know each other. These are the communities that build and grow articles.

Authority – how do see it becoming a “valid” authority – “in general no, and I don’t think it should…if I tried to cite Britannica as a source I would be laughed at”.

No original research: community is not qualified to validate or review original research. Wikipedia instead points people to other sources or serves as a starting point.

Ignore all rules – the rules of wikipedia should always be something you don’t have to consult in order to work. They should always be obvious.

Instead, should be social standards like: “assume good faith” (encourages dialogue and avoids flame wars). Incentives for good work are built into the system.

Circular incentive mechanism – keeps everybody honest.

Wikimedia Foundation – spent 1 million last year, 2 million this year, bulk of it goes to hardware and bandwidth. Mostly reliant on small donations from all over the world (mostly US, Europe, and Japan). 7 full time employees as the 9th most popular website (beat that ratio!)

Highly Distributed Community not an organization – centralized organizations into communities.

The community has not done a great job pushing the software forward. User interface is a bit clunky, but supposed to be easy. Created Wikia to push the design of the software. Need to make editing as easy and intuitive as a word processor. Would like to make it possible for a whole set of people to get involved that normally wouldn’t.

There is an extension architecture that allows people to create extensions.

Wikia – “building the rest of the library”.

Uncyclopedia – a parody on wikipedia, very successful.

Are the communities different on the different wiki’s? Yes, completely so. Armchair GM has created “foes”, people who argue and battle each other. Have also included social software features (digg articles).

Search – a political statement, more than anything. “What we as citizens of the world should expect…a certain amount of transparency, openness”. In early design stages, hired Jeremie Miller (founded Jabber). Get everyone to build a search engine, especially since they are so important right now, find something better than algorithmic searches.

Any small number of workers cannot keep up with a large community.

Question time from the crowds:

Announcer – citizens of the world…wiki methods are not accepted everywhere…China has completely blocked wikipedia. Jimmy – we don’t like it, Chinese Wikipedia is 11th largest (mostly from diaspora, but a growing amount from within China). Chinese “we are with you forever”.

Do you think the China community would make different rules – Jimmy sets core policies (neutrality, etc) but all local communities set the rest.

2008 Elections – first time wikipedia will be a primary source for knowledge, how will you add it? really important part of a democratic system, when it becomes a high profile…not a big deal. Heavily monitored, can be reverted, usually within a few seconds, keep doing so you will be blocked. Instead go to talk page. A much stronger community that is concerned about quality than pushing an agenda.

When wikipedia works well there is a lot of discussion. Everybody gets their viewpoint out. But, then these discussions can be migrated into a wikia system to push the agenda. Start advocacy documents then wikia is a good place.

Hardest part about getting the community going, how to get the critical mass, hardest part? Finding the one or two people who are passionate enough to stick with it while the community grows. Having patience and a clear vision.

Are you going to License the software for companies to use? No, duhh, we are open source and anyone can use it.

Wiki as a planning event up to the event is quite useful. After the conference it fizzles out. Lose focus after the event.

Copyright Issues, Business interfering – articles are so large and “copy” small chunks it is hard to quantify the pieces that violate the law. Created a wikia community about the law and preventing any issues. Business – the worst thing you can do as a PR person is make the company look bad, so most read the rules and avoid causing problems. More problems come from smaller groups. They encourage PR firms to go to the discussion page, leave a suggestion, provide references, comment on how it adds to neutrality.

How to deal with troublemakers? A real community of people who trust each other. Establishing norms and values, then provide some sort of punishment for continual violations.

How do you create the line for deleting articles? Ever more important to provide sources, be polite (a lot of arrogance “must be deleted because I have never heard of it”). Keep in mind that not everything belongs in an encyclopedia, but in a library everything can belong, and that is what wikia is for. Different communities (wikipedia, wikia) provide different standards. Wikipedia has the highest standards (German version has the most).

Sites for swag (shirts, mugs, buttons) for Wikia or Wikipedia.

hahaha….commercials…i forgot about you

There I was driving my car when panic hit. I realized my ipod was at home. Of course, I have long since sold all of my cd’s (holdover from a prior non-digital age). So, I was left with either silence or the radio.

My brain was not ready for silence and so I braved the radio. What was I hit with? Commercials, lots of them, on every single station. Aggh!

Even worse, these were not the commercials that I am now used to. They were the type that do not relate at all to me, increase their volume, and involve stupid slogans/hijinks. These are the commercials from my prior Web 1.0 years. Right then and their it struck me!

Commercials are changing. We as consumers are finding more and more ways to avoid them. Some of us can avoid them entirely. They used to be unavoidable, but now we get content from the internet via streaming tv, music on an ipod, and news from podcasts. These platforms still have commercials but they are nothing like the ones on my radio, those had the strong odor of scat. So, rather than listen I just went with silence and millions of folks making the same choice.

With all of this going on one could say that commercials are dead, but a more accurate statement is that they are morphing into something new. They are changing into useful and interesting creatures. Each one that I hear on these new platforms is interesting, relevant, and high quality. How did this happen, why are commercials interesting now?

That’s simple. The industry is changing in some very important ways. First is the technology. Ipods, Tivo’s, slingoboxes, apple tv’s, and others are allowing consumers to skip the commercials. If the commercials get in the way of the content we will skip them. Advertisers better start making them fun and interesting otherwise we will fast forward ya. This is starting to happen, ever wonder how many hits the “apple vs pc” commercials get?

Next, users choose what they want to watch. We are getting away from the “check your local listings” or you have to watch it on Tuesday night at 9pm to see it. Now, we can just go online and watch it, anytime. This means that I must be really interested in the show if I am streaming it on the internet. Advertisers are realizing this and attaching more relevant commercials to the show. Watching a show about cooking, ok here are some cooking deals. Listening to a podcast about the stock markets, here is a deal on the wall street journal. This is the holy grail of advertising: knowing exactly what people are interested in and providing them with interesting products.

Another change is the effectiveness in delivering content. Distribute everything across the internet. No need for local affiliates and their crappy commercials. No need for shipping, delivering, or any other costs to get the content to you. Lower costs means less need for commercials to turn a profit.

The final change is that big budget productions are now competing with user generated content. If my local podcast can get me my news, why would I go for the studio produced multi-million dollar reporter shows? If some guy can create a funny 10 minute video, why would I want to go for the TV episode with 30 commercials on it?

The result is a new breed of commercial. One that is highly targeted for me and very high quality. I am not spammed with commercials instead shown a few good ones. Most of shows in this new format give you 2-5 commercials per half hour (compared to 15-30 per half hour before).

And, for the user we can start to like commercials again. I know I do. In fact, to me they are not even “commercials” anymore. They are supplemental content. They add value to my experience rather than annoy me.

Hopefully, this all made sense.

So, I hope you are enjoying the same freedom that I am. Or, are you still watching “Crazy Eddie” and his crazy deals?