Monday, November 19, 2007

Wikipedia Anonymous

Part of An Oil Book Relied on Wikipedia -"Black Gold: The New Frontier in Oil For Investors" by George Orwel, copied five paragraphs from a Wikipedia article on the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. Snooze. Mr. Orwel stole his own name and couldn't even spell it. He stole the title of his book from the Beverly Hillbillies (George - How could you pass up Black Gold or Texas Tea - Investor's Dilemma), but couldn't seem to decide whether it was history, geography, journalism or a "how-to" investment guide. Five paragraphs from Wikipedia is petty larceny for this guy.

Is Wikipedia a source of questionable veracity? Unquestionably, but, let's face facts. If Mr. Orwel is willing to steal for his book, is he really going to worry about a small thing like accuracy. While the merits of Mr. Orwel's conduct and book are both questionable, the fun here is deep in the story:

"The principal author of the Wikipedia article, reached via his user page there, wrote in an e-mail message that he considered the damages “insignificant,” and had “made no effort to contact the author or publisher.” He described himself as follows: “I’m male, in my 40s, have a Ph.D. in physics, and work as a professor at a university in California. I view my Wikipedia writings as a form of procrastination from real work, so I’d prefer to remain anonymous and not reveal the extent of my procrastination to colleagues.”

Funny guy and funnier motive. I don't feel like writing up that article for Black Hole Monthly just yet, I'll post something on Wikipedia instead. As Good As News confesses to some closet Wikipedia posting of its own: subject - additions to the article on my town in suburban New Jersey covering history and famous natives and residents; motive - local pride and a cynical desire to maintain local real estate prices (yet another reason you should not trust Wikipedia); surprising side effect - just one day after I created a local hall of fame featuring athletes, authors, composers, politicians, etc. I found a completely unfamous "notable" , hiding alphabetically among the elite I had carefully chosen. She subsequently disappeared.

Is there a legion of Wikipedia impostors, planting themselves as celebrities, authorities, somebodies - just to see their name in lights, find out how long it will take some one to notice they are not famous, put one over the editors?

What about enormously successful Brian Grazer, Ron Howard's business partner, Hollywood Producer of Varied Interests, Many Hits, but Little Fame. No, he's not faking Wikipedia entries, he belongs there. When Mr. Grazer visits, he leaves a calling card. Grazer plants a small portrait of himself, nestled discretely among the the host's family photos, then waits to see when it will be discovered and what will happen.

Gee, your Uncle Fred has lost a lot of weight, is he OK?

I thought that was your second cousin from San Francisco, the one who was a Goth all through high school and college.

No, wait, doesn't this look like that guy who came to dinner with Frannie last month, Bobby Phaser, Brian Glasser, something like that?

A little, but what kind of lunatic would do this, doesn't he have a family of his own?

We better warn Frannie, who knows what other fetishes this guy might have - she could be seeing a serial killer.

Want a quick bump in status? Print Mr. Grazer's picture (from the top of this post), frame it in a cheap, heart shape frame and place it quietly next to Uncle Frank in your family photo - corner. Then tell all your friends you just had dinner with a famous Hollywood producter.


Michael H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
From the SF Weekly web site said...

I edited this story and I can assure you that Mary did not get fired for this story or any other. Mary decided to leave the paper to take a job with a local documentary filmmaker. She gave her notice before the Wikipedia story was published. She disclosed to me early in the reporting process her sister's fights with Griot and her sister's role is mentioned high up in our story. Bottom line: We stand by the story.

Comment by Will Harper, Managing Editor, SF Weekly on Feb 26th, 2008, 13:55 pm

Michael H said...

Thanks Will Harper. First, Ms Spicuzza's sister was prominently mentioned in the story, not an undisclosed source - a point I accepted without considering it carefully enough. Second, I'm glad to hear she was not fired.

Anonymous said...

What is the best way to email the author of this blog?

Thank you.

Michael H said...

I moderate all the comments. If you want to transmit information that is not for publication, you can include it in a comment and specify "not for publication". I'll read it, but I won't publish it.

Michael H said...

This is a comment from anonymous, originally published May 25, 2008 now edited to delete some information that I learned today may be inaccurate:

I'd be interested in your take on aan article explaining how she tried to out him. You can read it here:

You can read an interesting take on the matter by the editor she tried to "out" here:'_noticeboard/IncidentArchive372#Attempted_Outing_of_Wikipedia_Editor_User:Griot_by_Tawdry_Tabloid_Journalist

Wikipedia just keeps getting more interesting....

May 25, 2008 12:45 AM

Michael H said...

Here is my original response to the comment from anonymous, now edited for the same reason.

Thank you anonymous. As Good As News readers, please consider the request for "'your take" a personal assignment.

Both links were interesting. I disclaim any Wiki expertise. Griot seems to have a genious for provocation by irritation.

As to Wiki, for entries of any complexity, the Wikipedia goal of neutrality seems difficult to define, much less achieve. Again, I disclaim all knowledge of Wiki rules and procedures, but because the neutrality goal is so difficult, I wouldn't be surprised to see movement in the direction of articles that included competing versions of fact and opinion. Algorithms could identify editorial battles and procedural rules (similar to the three edit time out cited in the link) could call for a dual version "draw" to end the battle, subject only to deletion of facts that are demonstrably false and opinions that offend based on race, religion or