Stories
Slash Boxes
Comments
NOTE: use Perl; is on undef hiatus. You can read content, but you can't post it. More info will be forthcoming forthcomingly.

All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

use Perl Log In

Log In

[ Create a new account ]

Shlomi Fish (918)

Shlomi Fish
  shlomif@iglu.org.il
http://www.shlomifish.org/
AOL IM: ShlomiFish (Add Buddy, Send Message)
Yahoo! ID: shlomif2 (Add User, Send Message)
Jabber: ShlomiFish@jabber.org

I'm a hacker of Perl, C, Shell, and occasionally other languages. Perl is my favourite language by far. I'm a member of the Israeli Perl Mongers, and contribute to and advocate open-source technologies. Technorati Profile [technorati.com]

Journal of Shlomi Fish (918)

Tuesday May 29, 2007
05:42 AM

Why I Sometimes Really Hate Wiki'ing

[ #33364 ]

As part of the Hackers-IL wiki, I started writing a brief history of Linux in Israel. Now at first the opening paragraph read:

Israel has been a Capitalistic, prosperous country for a long time. While it has many problems (such as heavy taxation, irrational and abundant regulations, quite a lot of terrorist activity, etc.), it is relatively peaceful, has an abundant food supply...

At a point someone was unhappy with it and changed it to read only "quite a lot of terrorist activity"). Now, having seen, it I felt that it was then inaccurate and misleading, because Israel has much more serious problems than the occassional act of terrorism, despite what many people have been misled to believe by the International media. So I completely removed the "such as" parenthesis.

Why am I telling you all this? Because this convergence to mediocricity and Political-Correctness of wikis happened again, this time at PerlNet. Read on for the details.

I have a copy of the Linux Journal that a friend bought me when he was abroad. Its focus was on blogs, wikis, audiocasts, etc. One of the most amusing articles there was a rant by an editor about why he hates wikis. And in it, one keeps seeing edits and re-edits of the text by the surfers, as if it were a wiki article. Paul Graham also wrote about it in a different context:

My experience of writing for magazines suggests an explanation. Editors. They control the topics you can write about, and they can generally rewrite whatever you produce. The result is to damp extremes. Editing yields 95th percentile writing—95% of articles are improved by it, but 5% are dragged down. 5% of the time you get "throngs of geeks."

On the web, people can publish whatever they want. Nearly all of it falls short of the editor-damped writing in print publications. But the pool of writers is very, very large. If it's large enough, the lack of damping means the best writing online should surpass the best in print. [3] And now that the web has evolved mechanisms for selecting good stuff, the web wins net. Selection beats damping, for the same reason market economies beat centrally planned ones.

Now a wiki gives the power of editing to the masses, so it may get worse. Often you'll see a state of livelock, where two or more people keep changing one another's content. Or alternatively to satisfy everybody, the wiki converges to a commonly acceptable pseduo-"politically-correct" content.

I admit I've been guilty of such abuse as well. For example I once edited the Wikipedia article about the Iberians to say that they were an Afro-Asian people, while they in fact were not. This eventually got reverted, and the article as it stands now is otherwise much richer than what was there when I first read it.

Now for PerlNet. The Freenode #perl FAQ is hosted there because I'd like it to be a wiki page, and perl.net.au is my favourite "central" Perl wiki. One of the sections there describes the channel regulars. I wrote this in the about "beth" there:

beth, also known as Beth Skwarecki is a Biology graduate from Ithaca, New York, the United States, who studied Perl in order to deal with Bio-Informatics. Surprisingly, she knows her Perl (and UNIX) pretty well. Due to her knowledge and good looks, she had been unofficially considered as the channel diva.

Now, Jarich (an admin of perl.net.au) changed it to read:

beth, also known as Beth Skwarecki is a Biology graduate from Ithaca, New York, the United States, who studied Perl in order to deal with Bio-Informatics. Beth is the unofficial #perl channel diva.

Now, while the original version probably left somethings to be desired, I feel that the new version as it stands now, is much lamer, lost most of its colour, and is much more cryptic. (Why is Beth the unofficial #perl channel diva?)

When talking with Jarich on the IRC, she asked me if I had rights to put beth' waterfall photo on my website. I told her that I originally found this photo on beth' site, and downloaded it to my machine so it was temporarily used as a wallpaper for one of my virtual workspaces. Then I uploaded it to my site because it was a great photo and I could no longer find it on the site of beth, and Flickr and Google weren't any help. (And in case you're wondering and haven't clicked on the photo yet, Beth is fully groomed there.)

She also said that I was patronising the fact that she surprisingly knows Perl very well just because she's a woman. However, the reason I said that was because Perl is the first language Beth has learned (and so far only one), and she hasn't been working with it too much, and because she otherwise hasn't been a computer geek for too long. (And has many other interests and talents besides computing.). So I'm not patronising her because of her sex, but rather say she is surprisingly doing very well. I indeed did not specifically mention it in what I wrote, but would rather see such an explanation added than the sentence deleted.

And naturally the new paragraph does not explain why she is considered the unofficial channel diva. And Jarich told me she further believed that the other paragraph that gives a link to most of the other "real-life" interests of Beth is patronising, just because one of them happens to be knitting and sewing. Beth has chosen to put all her life online on her home site, blog and Flickr stream. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't mind those two paragraphs on the Freenode #perl FAQ.

I've ranted about this for a long time now, disproportionally to the length of the original text, and the time it would take me to reach a compromise. I was trying to illustrate a point about wikis and collaborative work in general: while it is important that everyone will have access and possibly even modification rights to every aspect of the project, one should make sure that people don't step on each other toes. Even if something is shared, there is the concept of propriety.

As Paul Graham notes later on in his articles, the top 1% of blogs, due to the fact they are un-edited and written by the top 1% of bloggers, eventually achieve or exceed the quality of the articles in the magazine, who due to their heavy editing, often lose a lot of their edge. Wikis suffer from a similar problem.

I still think wikis are a great concept, and have proven and will probably prove to have a huge potential. However, I think that there are some temporary growing pains for some wikis, in which many people misbehave or abuse their power. And what I described here is not the only problem faced by wikipedia and other popular wikis. I hope that the text of the wikis of the future, won't fall to the Paul Graham "95%-high-quality" syndrome, and instead will be better than that.

The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
 Full
 Abbreviated
 Hidden
More | Login | Reply
Loading... please wait.
  • The original statement written about "beth" does come off like "wow, she is a woman and she knows Perl." It does read, at least to me, in a condescending way. While you explain why she is the unofficial diva, you should restructure that sentence a little to mean what you think it means.
    • Hmm, I read it as "she does surprisingly well for someone who's just a Biology graduate (and not a programmer)".

      In other words, perhaps you read in it what you are secretly thinking.
      • perhaps you read in it what you are secretly thinking.

        No, I don't think so at all.

      • To me it read like a non-sequitur – I had no idea why that would be surprising. I did wonder whether the writer was surprised because she’s a woman, but there was no clear referee for the surprisingness in that text, so I drew no conclusion. It just seemed random and pointless.

        The text was quite clearly in need of editing, contrary to Shlomi’s apparent conviction that editors only serve to castrate writing.

        • Well, I agree, the sentence felt quite dead to me too. A bit of meaningless rambling.
    • Yes, you are probably right. In this case, however, the right thing to do would be to complain about it in the Page talk page, or to me by email, or perhaps add an inline paragraph in the text with "FIXME" so I'll notice.

      Removing the offending text just because it's offensive, and converting it to a more boring version is similar to removing a feature from a program because it introduced several bugs. It's the wrong way to think about the problem.

      And I hope you agree that in the first case (the Isr

      • Removing the offending text just because it's offensive, and converting it to a more boring version is ... the wrong way to think about the problem.

        Do you seriously mean that?

        Writing something that may be offensive about another person, in public, who doesn't want to talk to you is okay, as long as it's not boring?

        Shlomi, this is why you get banned from various places. Your approach to dealing with other people is broken. Even if you don't understand that other people have feelings or why they fee

  • You could remove the comment that she's a Diva, since that's clearly patronising.

    I've noticed that the other solution to controversy on wikis is just to remove more and more content altogether, until it becomes.

    Beth is a member of the irc channel.
    • I'll consider the diva thing. But it is a fact that we still consider her this way. Perhaps phrasing it in a different way is possible.

      I should note that in Hebrew it sounds strange to call a woman a "guru", because Hebrew has gender-distinction and "guru" is a masculine word. Now we could say "guru'ith", but it sounds incredibly strange, and "diva" is much nicer, and sounds more sexy. According to the wikipedia, a Diva is used to describe "any extremely independent and talented woman" [wikipedia.org]. There's also Di [wikipedia.org]

  • I'm pretty sure she wouldn't mind those two paragraphs on the Freenode #perl FAQ.

    Perhaps you should ask.

    • I tried asking her, but she never responds to what I say, and like I said has been incredibly inactive. I know for a fact that she doesn't /ignore me, but she may find my questions and the interest I show in her a bit annoying. She also didn't reply to my email. If she complains, I'll paraphrase what I said, but if she is worried about what people would think about her from the Freenode #perl FAQ, she should be twice as worried from the stuff she puts on her own.

      Don't get me wrong, there's nothing part

    • It is not surprising that I know Perl and unix well. Why would it be? I've been using them for many years. I'm a programmer/sysadmin by profession. This is what I do.

      I did not study Perl "to deal with bioinformatics". I learned Perl around 1998ish so I could code CGI scripts for fun and profit. I've used Perl in a number of situations, bioinformatics being the latest of many.

      My "good looks" have nothing to do with anything. I am not a "diva", whatever you meant by that. The photo thing and the "sexy" commen
      • It is not surprising that I know Perl and unix well. Why would it be? I've been using them for many years. I'm a programmer/sysadmin by profession. This is what I do.

        Hmmm... I believed you were a Biologist by trade, due to the fact you studied Biology. Sorry about that.

        I did not study Perl "to deal with bioinformatics". I learned Perl around 1998ish so I could code CGI scripts for fun and profit. I've used Perl in a number of situations, bioinformatics being the latest of many.

        I see.

        My "good looks" have nothing to do with anything. I am not a "diva", whatever you meant by that. The photo thing and the "sexy" comment are, as jarich said, very ick. Thanks to those who removed that material. There was no reason for it to be there.

        OK. Sorry about that. (And for the record - the word "sexy" did not appear anywhere in what I wrote on the wiki, or here).

        As for bei

  • You astound me time and again, Shlomi.

    • Firstly, ob the text about beth, I agree with Alias: pointing out her looks and that she is the “channel diva” is what seems patronising to me. And if she’s not replying, just maybe you should not assume it’s fine to put these things in the wiki?

      Something appropriate, according to how you’ve described her here, would read like this:

      beth, also known as Beth Skwarecki, is a Biology graduate from Ithaca, New York, the United States, w

  • Allow me to now invoke my corrolary to Godwyn's law, as applied to Perl-related discussions: whenever people start to criticse the personal character or behaviour of Shlomi Fish (= me), then every discussion is over, because it has deteriorated and will only deteriorate further.

    I'd like to thank the first three top-posters, and others who kept this discussion on the original topic (i.e: a wiki editing pattern and good wiki netiqutte), without throwing personal accusation of me or anything. But it is ob

    • Wait, what? You start a rant criticising others’ editing, and expect to get no criticism in return? And the colour of the sky in your world is what, pink?

      Corollary to Godwyn’s Law of The Perl World: whenever Shlomi Fish goes on a rant, the discussion is over before it started.

    • If your behavior is part of your argument, it's fair game for the discussion... that is, if you want explanations of why people react the way they do.

      • Meh, thank you chromatic. I should really wait until my exasperation subsides before I reply, sometimes.

    • Wait a minute. By adapting Godwin's Law to refer to yourself, doesn't that imply that you are, in a sense, equating yourself with Hitler? I think you just managed to Godwin your own discussion.
  • When you asked me why I made the change I wrote:

    (15:30:24) jarich: rindolf: Saying that it's surprising someone knows Perl and UNIX "pretty well" is offensive, because it suggests that the default assumption should be otherwise.
    (15:30:47) jarich: since you don't link to photos for the others, I think it's odd to link to a photo just because it's of a female
    (15:31:11) jarich: I'm not quite sure the diva bit needs to be mentioned at all

    [comment from other user]

    (15:36:15) jarich: well "beth" is likely to

  • I told [Jarich] that I originally found this photo on beth' site, and downloaded it to my machine so it was temporarily used as a wallpaper [....] (And in case you're wondering and haven't clicked on the photo yet, Beth is fully groomed there.)

    That is a very creepy paragraph to read. Beth is probably taking precautionary measures, like carrying pepper spray on the off chance that you show up on campus one day for an unexpected stalker visit.

    This has nothing to do with some general trend toward blandn