Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

Don’t do more

August 5, 2010
Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, recently blogged about Wikimedia as “a sort of social movement“. Gardner asked why it is that Wikimedians don’t do more to encourage internal solidarity and support kindness, understanding, generosity and a sense of common purpose. Interesting question.

What sort of social movement is Wikimedia? If you read the Wikimedia Foundation’s statements on Mission, Values, Vision and Bylaws you find no description of Wikimedia as a social movement. If you search the Foundation’s website you can find this quote from Wikimedia Foundation Trustee, Matt Halprin: “The Wikimedia Foundation is a critical player in the growing social movement toward greater transparency and openness.”

Gardner wrote, “Our goal is to make information easily available for people everywhere around the world – free of commercialism, free of charge, free of bias.” If you read the Wikimedia Foundation’s statements on Mission, Values, Vision and Bylaws you find no description of Wikimedia bias. If you search the Wikimedia Foundation’s website you can find this quote from Doron Weber, Director of the Sloan Foundation’s Program for Universal Access to Recorded Knowledge about Wikipedia: “…Wikipedia represents a quantum leap in collecting human knowledge from diverse sources, organizing it without commercial or other bias…..”

How does the Wikimedia Foundation measure up for transparency and what about bias in Wikipedia? Wikipedia allows anonymous editors to publish biased information about living people. For example, on March 8, 2006, an anonymous Wikipedia editor created a Wikipedia biography article about a university professor. That anonymous Wikipedia editor violated Wikipedia’s rules that are designed to keep Wikipedia free of biased biographies of living people. When a colleague of the university professor sought to correct the biased Wikipedia biography, he was blocked from editing Wikipedia and his user page was defaced and locked. Rather than follow Wikipedia policy and correct the biased biography, a gang of Wikipedians attacked and harassed the person who tried to correct the bias.

The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians, not content to simply block their fellow Wikipedian who had tried to keep Wikipedia free of bias, stalked him to his personal blog and subjected him to vile online harassment. The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians also followed Moulton to Wikiversity and harassed him there, with the stated objective of getting Moulton banned from participation at Wikiversity. The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians was successful by gaming Wikimedia Foundation Board member Jimbo Wales into violating Wikiversity policy and imposing an infinite duration block on Moulton, a block imposed against consensus and with no public discussion of the block. The decision to impose this policy-violating  block on Moulton was made by a few Wikipedians acting in secret. So much for the “transparency and openness” of the Wikimedia Foundation. Moulton, who only tried to help Wikimedia, is still subjected to continuing harassment by Wikimedia functionaries. Why are a few “special” Wikipedians and anonymous editors still allowed to force their personal biases on the world by using Wikipedia as their publishing platform? What is the ethical nature of an organization that allows anonymous editors to publish false claims about living people? Why are honest Wikimedians like Moulton harassed and driven away when they try to remove bias from Wikimedia? Should anyone take Sue Gardner seriously when she talks about the Wikimedia Foundation having a goal of being free from bias? (related blog post)

In 2010, a Wikiversity community member created a learning project aimed at finding an ethical means to improve Wikimedia projects. The Ethical Breaching Experiments learning project was deleted by Jimbo Wales, without community discussion, in violation of Wikiversity policy and against community consensus. The creator of the learning project was blocked from editing by Jimbo Wales, in violation of Wikiversity policy. In an effort to impose his misguided disruption of Wikiversity on the community, Jimbo Wales threatened Wikiversity with closure. Sue Gardner threw her support behind the misguided actions of Jimbo Wales.

Sue Gardner asked why it is that Wikimedians don’t do more to encourage internal solidarity and support kindness, understanding, generosity and a sense of common purpose. Yes, Sue, why don’t you? Why did you support Jimbo Wales in his misguided disruption of Wikiversity?

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Community discussion at Wikiversity

July 12, 2010

Ever wonder how a group of collaborators in a wiki community can reach consensus about contentious issues? The Wikimedia way is to block a wiki participant who disagrees with you. If your block stands, it will intimidate everyone who does not agree with you. Below is a recent community discussion at Wikiversity, presented in wikitwit format.

A community discussion at Wikiversity

A community discussion at Wikiversity.

Background. In 2008 the Wikiversity community was invaded by a wiki-hitman from Wikipedia. The hitman created a puppet account and declared his mission to be getting another Wikiversity participant banned. The hitman was successful and was even rewarded by being made a Custodian. I’ve previously blogged about the way Moulton was banned from participating at Wikiversity.

When a gang of thugs from Wikipedia invaded Wikiversity and tried to get Moulton banned, he objected to the false claims that were published about him by that gang. Moulton’s common practice is to use the names of people who persistently publish false claims about living persons. Some of the invaders from Wikipedia objected to Moulton’s use of the real names of other editors, although doing so was not against Wikiversity policy.

At the time, I proposed that the dispute over using real world names be dealt with by crafting a Privacy Policy. It is now two years later, and there is still no Wikiversity policy against using the real name of a fellow editor. Indeed, the professional academics on the site routinely call each other by their real names.  Of course, lack of a policy does not prevent a few Wikimedia functionaries from erratically imposing policy from Wikipedia upon the Wikiversity community. On that basis, Jimbo Wales banned  Moulton from editing at Wikiversity. I view the banning of Moulton as unfair and disruptive, depriving the Wikiversity community of Moulton’s expertise and knowledge. I view the persecution of Moulton to be a serious violation of Wikiversity policy. It is against the civility policy to call for unjustified blocks and bans.

Recently there was a fresh initiative to make the Privacy Policy an official policy (so far it is only proposed). I was participating in the process of developing that policy and it was natural to discuss the need to protect Wikiversity participants and other living people against the publication of libelous claims by anonymous wiki editors. I said, “Wikiversity participants need common sense protections against the unsubstantiated claims of the anonymous editors“. I also made this point: “Calling IRC chat ‘private correspondence’ is false.” In the context of these issues arising from the proposed privacy policy, I mentioned:

“The main problem is a gang of abusive sysops who make unsubstantiated claims about honest Wikiversity participants. When the honest Wikiversity participants object and challenge the unsubstantiated claims, the abusive sysops ignore the objections or impose blocks and censor community discussions so as to silence the objections.”

and

“The problem is that #wikiversity-en has been systematically disrupted during the past two years by abusive sysops who misuse their channel operator power.”

Another Wikiversity participant objected to my mention of how Wikiversity sysops have previously abused their power and he blocked me from editing. Rather than come to my user talk page and discuss his concerns, he blocked me and posted accusations about me on a page that I cannot edit. This situation is what prompted the ludicrous discussion illustrated in the figure above.

The discussion. During the discussion (see the figure above) I was forced to post my comments on my user talk page while other editors used another page. During the discussion, Moulton tried to participate, but his contributions to the discussion were reverted by the sysop who had blocked me from editing.

I think that Moulton was improperly blocked and should be allowed to edit at Wikiversity. I view continuing efforts to ban him from Wikiversity as a serious violation of Wikiversity policy. I don’t believe that the “block” tool should be used to end discussions at Wikiversity, but it would have made more sense to block the wiki-hitman who attacked Moulton. Moulton and I preferred to study the wiki-hitman’s behavior.

I think the Wikiversity community still has much to learn from the events of the past two years. In particular, Wikiversity policy needs to be developed so as to protect the Wikiversity community against invaders from Wikipedia. Doing so would allow the Wikiversity community to return to its roots, the peaceful community of collaborating learners, as it existed from 2006 to 2008.

Wikiversity:Community Review/Problematic actions

Great moments in online learning. Part II.

March 21, 2010
Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

This is the second part of a series that started with a discussion of censorship at the Wikiversity project. In Part II, I want to focus on the use of blocks and bans to intimidate participants at Wikiversity.

In 2008, Moulton became a Wikiversity participant. He participated in a range of learning projects and the Wikipedia Ethics research project. Moulton worked in accordance with scholarly ethics and the Wikiversity research guidelines. I’ve previously blogged about Moulton’s participation at Wikiversity.

Before coming to Wikiversity, Moulton was banned from participation at Wikipedia. He had stumbled upon some biographies of living persons (BLPs) that violated Wikipedia policy and he had tried to correct them. Unfortunately, he had also stumbled upon one of the gangs of Wikipedia POV pushers that takes ownership of encyclopedia articles in order to advance their agenda. Rather than correct the defective biographical articles, the gang managed to get Moulton banned from editing at Wikipedia.

Moulton became interested in the idea that it is unethical for Wikimedia participants to allow anonymous wiki editors to publish lies about people (famous example), thus, the Wikiversity “Wikipedia Ethics” project was born. Wikiversity was then visited by some of the Wikipedians who had previously banned Moulton from Wikipedia rather than repair the faulty biographies that Moulton had identified. One Wikipedian in particular stated his purpose for participating at Wikiversity as an attempt to get Moulton banned from participating at Wikiversity. That Wikipedian was successful in getting Moulton banned from Wikiversity and he was even rewarded by being made a sysop at Wikiversity.  An effort was made to deleted the “Wikipedia Ethics” project. Of course, Moulton never violated any Wikiversity policy, but he was banned on the basis of trumped-up charges. Such abusive treatment of a scholar who tried to help the Wikimedia projects was a  great moment in online learning.

The main excuse for banning Moulton was that he insisted on using the names of wiki participants who published lies about him. There was no policy at Wikiversity against using the names of participants, but Moulton was banned any how. It is a true embarrassment for the Wikimedia Foundation that a scholar would be treated in this way. There should have been a mature discussion of the idea that true collaboration and authentic scholarship cannot be performed by people hiding behind screen names such as “KillerChihuahua” and “Salmon of Doubt”. Following this atrocity, some honest Wikiversity participants left the project out of disgust and others curtailed their participation.

Wikipedia has a serious problem with not welcoming criticism and fixing its deficiencies. The more that Wikipedia fights against Wikimedians who want to improve the Wikipedia project the more it creates new problems for itself.

In 2010, Privatemusings created a new Wikiversity project called Ethical Breaching Experiments. I suppose that Rosa Parks performed the equivalent of a ethical breaching experiment when she refused to follow the rule that a black person must give up a bus seat to a white person.

The stated goal of the Ethical Breaching Experiments project was to explore the idea that it might be possible to find a breaching experiment that: “causes no harm in its execution, whilst yielding results useful for the greater good, or which inspire positive change”.  The question was, could a breaching experiment be “designed and executed to best inform policy and practice on WMF projects”? The project was deleted and Privatemusings was blocked from editing even though he violated no Wikiversity policy, just as Moulton had been blocked without having violated any Wikiversity policy and just as Rosa Parks had been arrested without having violating any law.

I believe that Privatemusings did find a perfectly good ethical breaching experiment: the Ethical Breaching Experiments project itself. The project shows that Wikipedia is unable to permit well-intentioned individuals from exploring the weaknesses of the Wikipedia project. Certain authority figures of the Wikimedia Foundation seem to go out of their way to attain the same moral standing as others who, down through history, have wildly lashed out at and punished the brave seekers of justice who, ban by ban, arrest by arrest, execution by execution have brought light and liberty to the world.

Wikiversity could be an exciting environment for research into the problems of Wikipedia and a source of ideas for how to make improvements. Instead, knee jerk punishment of Wikiversity scholars drives away honest Wikimedia participants and attracts more abusive personalities who are all too willing to use vandalism fighting tools to punish people who dare to think and explore issues like ethics and justice.

Wikiversity is a place where if there is a problem with a project such as the Ethical Breaching Experiments project, then anyone can click the “edit” button and improve the project. At Wikiversity the culture should be that of a gentle learning environment where there is thoughtful discussion. It is sickening to watch  barbarians rush into Wikiversity and delete content and punish learners, with the barbarians having made no attempt to follow the community rules and first engage in thoughtful dialog. It is amazing that these barbarians imagine they can build an authentic learning community upon such practices. All they will produce is a herd of sheep who bleat “two legs bad” or “two legs better” upon command. As long as foolish censorship and abuse of learners is practiced at Wikiversity,  authentic scholars and honest learners will decide to go elsewhere for their online collaborative learning.

Related Learning Project

Part III in this series.

Social Networking Sites as Silos

March 2, 2010
Learn button

Learn Buttons

I previously blogged about the distinction between open-to-all learning communities and restricted access communities. Beyond limits on participation, most software-based communities have a problem with the free flow of information between communities.

One of the popular tools for helping to prevent online communities from being information silos has been content syndication. The first “feed reader” that I used was Bloglines. Many social networking sites allow participants to aggregate feeds and share those aggregates with other participants. One of these that I recently started experimenting with is Tumblr. There now exists a confusing collection of makeshift solutions to the problem of sharing information and social contacts between online communities. Can there be widely-adopted open standards for social networking?

One attempt to create such standards is the DiSo project. Look at the slogans for the DiSo (dee soh) project (“creation of open, non-proprietary and interoperable building blocks for the decentralized social web”):

  • Open, Distributed, Social.
  • Silo free living.
  • Information, Identity, and Interaction.
  • I hope that a coherent set of software tools will become available for helping us organize our online social networking. There seems to be a large gap between the needs of online learners and the desire of internet social networking companies to make a profit. Even non-profit organizations that are dedicated to online education struggle to facilitate the social aspects of learning. It will be interesting to see how online social learning networks continue to develop. I suppose things were just as confused when the first bricks-and-mortar schools were created. Most building were used for other things besides facilitating learning. With time, people figured out how to make specialized buildings that were well-suited for learning. At this time, most social networking sites are very much oriented around entertainment and commerce.

    If we are going to have efficient social networking tools for learning we need more than “like” buttons. In particular, I want something along the lines of a “I don’t understand X” button. That would be the foundation for for getting help for navigating a learning path through a collection of linked online communities.

    Does this really change everything?

    February 21, 2010

    Social learning

    When I was first being exposed to the wonders of marketing memes, a popular slogan was “New and improved!”. The internet has not only accelerated and amplified communication, it has also inflated the standards for marketing hype. These days, new information technology products routinely roll out with flashy taglines such as “This changes everything!”. In the specific context of human learning, does online learning have the power to “change everything” or does the internet simply allow us to keep learning in the same old ways, maybe in just a faster and cooler iLearn kind of way?

    Most animals can learn, even insects. The first “this changes everything” revolution in learning may have been the evolution of social learning, the ability of animals to learn by interacting with other members of their own species. The human species has evolved along a lineage where the capacity for learning from members of a social group has been taken to extremes. We are genetically programmed to develop brain circuits that include mirror neurons, cells that are active either when we perform a particular behavior or when we see other people perform that behavior. Such innate features of our brains allow us to anticipate the behavior of others by assuming that other people have minds like our own. Young chimps and human children can effortlessly learn complex behaviors simply by observing and playing with others. Social learning allows chimp tribes to pass memes from generation to generation, the first glimmer of a transmissible culture.

    Another “this changes everything” revolution in human learning came from the evolution of an innate capacity to learn language. Young chimps can learn the basics of human language, but at the age where the vocabulary of a human child explodes and the capacity for parsing complex grammar expands, chimps hit a wall and cannot attain a full ability to use language. Spoken human language behavior is fundamentally social, a communications system designed (evolutionarily) to be used during direct person-to-person interactions.

    Darwin: 20 years of pain giving birth to "Origin of Species"

    The invention of written language perverted the human learning landscape. Writing made possible text artifacts that are easily separable from their human contexts. The existence of texts created a need for priests and teachers who could interpret written texts and translate them for the uninitiated. Historically, texts have been rare, expensive and difficult to share. Our new internet culture is contaminated with many habits pertaining to the written word that developed before the era of electronic communications. The old “printed text model” was 1) a few creators of texts, 2) a cumbersome and expensive industry for distributing texts and 3) many consumers of expensive texts. Large amounts of effort have gone into forcing that model of text creation and consumption into the tubes of the internets, but does doing so really change everything?

    Some observers have divided the internet era into two parts. The “web 2.0” has seen introduction of a new model for internet content. 1) everyone creates internet content, 2) expensive and lumbering middlemen for content distribution are not needed and 3) we all need new tools to assist us in searching through the avalanche of online content so that we can find exactly what we are each individually looking for.

    Another feature of the early internet was the static webpage, created by one author. Newer web 2.0 technologies facilitate the collaborative creation of webpages and other kinds of cultural artifacts. The ability of the internet to bring physically distant collaborators together in a shared creative workspace is a feature that strikes me as having the potential to “change everything” and shake us out of the strange perversion of learning that written language has inflicted on our species. I can’t think about the tortured and isolated writer without remembering Wittgenstein‘s heroic creation of his Philosophical Investigations, or Darwin struggling to give birth to On the Origin of Species, or Rosalind Franklin struggling alone in her notebook, trying, and failing, to understand the structure of DNA. I have fantasies about alternate universes where such people had access to an internet and collaborators and did not have to labor in isolation with their words.

    Learning to be the lone, suffering writer.

    Another cultural artifact of the print era is the practice of placing texts under copyright “protection”. In the internet age, the alternative is for creators of cultural works to liberate their creative works and cooperate in building an open community of freely shared culture. Freely sharing cultural works does not imply that the creators of cultural works will not receive payment for their creative efforts. There can be new economies in which widely shared cultural works are identified and their creators compensated financially.

    Is human learning better promoted by using the internet to perpetuate the old printed text model or should we be emphasizing new collaborative, learn-by-doing opportunities that can be facilitated by our global communications network? Should the internet be a means by which ancient bricks-and-mortar educational institutions continue to propagate scarcity models for cultural works or should the internet allow a flowering of opportunity for everyone to participate in the creation of cultural works?

    Images. hunter gather mother and child by Hans Splinter, learning to write by Steven Ye.