News flash: Wikipedia is run by people!

It’s been awhile since we had any Wikipedia controversy, so maybe it’s about time for a pile-on — you know, something about how Jimmy Wales doesn’t care about quality, or how he runs the “open source” encyclopedia as his own personal fiefdom, or how people run around using strange technical terms that no one outside the Wikipedia cabal can understand (okay, that last one is totally true). This time it’s the revelation of a top-secret… wait for it… mailing list only for insiders! According to a breathless piece in The Register:

“Controversy has erupted among the encyclopedia’s core contributors, after a rogue editor revealed that the site’s top administrators are using a secret insider mailing list to crackdown on perceived threats to their power.”

I just love the language throughout this story: words like “erupted” and “rogue editor,” combined with phrases like “ruling clique” and talk about how the “rank and file” are in revolt. It sounds like the author is describing France in the 1600s — with Jimmy Wales (presumably) playing the role of Cardinal Richelieu. Wikipedia is said to rife with dissent and “tearing at the seams.” Insiders are quoted by The Register as saying that senior editors are enraged, and that Jimmy is playing down the whole matter as a tempest in a teacup (in other words, failing to act).

Wow. I’m gobsmacked. Wikipedia has an internal mailing list for senior editors? Quelle horreur. Despite the attempt by places like The Register and perennial gadfly Seth Finkelstein to turn this into some kind of scandal, I just don’t see what the big deal is. Wikipedia has editors — pretty well everyone knows that by now. They ban people and edit things, and occasionally make mistakes, as the editor in this particular situation has admitted. This is no Essjay controversy, that’s for sure.

As for the “cabal” comments, Wikipedia knows that it has a cabal — insiders even call it that, in a gesture of self-referential irony. There’s also this entry on the topic, among others. As Stan Schroeder at Mashable notes in his post on the subject, this kind of phenomenon is endemic in almost any large, self-organizing social group. Does Wikipedia have problems? Sure. But a secret mailing list isn’t one of them.

Gmail colours: Is this really news?

I know that pretty much anything Google does is worthy of comment — and not just a little comment, but a ton of comment — but isn’t all the hubbub about coloured Gmail tags just a little over the top? I mean, I’m a big fan of Google and of Gmail, but still. Adding coloured tags? I know that Fred Oliveira thinks it’s a big deal, and MG Siegler at ParisLemon seems similarly excited, but still. Colour me unimpressed. What’s next — a storm of blog posts when Digg decides to change the shape of its buttons to a modified trapezoid instead of an oblate spheroid?

Look kids, it’s Yo Gabba Gabba!

Interesting piece in Ad Age magazine about how Nickelodeon has noticed huge traffic to some of its Nick Jr. shows, including one psychedelic Teletubby-style offering called Yo Gabba Gabba (wonder if The Ramones are pondering a trademark suit). The show has accumulated about 4.4 million TV viewers since June, according to Nielsen, but more than 17 million streams through the Nickelodeon website.

As the Ad Age article notes, some of the attraction of Yo Gabba Gabba for the older kids who are tuning in — including teenagers and twenty-somethings — likely comes from the cutting-edge bands and artists they have on the show, including rapper Biz Markie and The Shins. Other guest appearances include Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of Devo (who did the theme music for another popular kids show with adult appeal, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse) and actor Elijah Wood.

Of course, my blog friend Steve Bryant of The Hollywood Reporter’s Reel Pop notes that many kids shows — including Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Teletubbies — are also very popular with university students who enjoy a little recreational drug use. A burgeoning niche audience? Nickelodeon isn’t saying, but as Chris Albrecht notes at NewTeeVee, the point is not to have your demographic all nailed down beforehand; just make a good show, and let it find its audience.

Picture this: Digg adds photos, taxonomy

Kevin Rose and the gang at Digg have finally done some housekeeping and are adding some features that people like my blog friends Stan Schroeder at Frantic Industries and Allen Stern at Centernetworks (and plenty of others) have been asking for for some time now, including a dedicated image category — which will please those Diggers who get upset at posts that consist solely of a link to a LOLcatz image.

Digg is also cleaning up its taxonomy (which is Latin for “where did I put that thing?”) as Adam Ostrow details over at Mashable, so that Offbeat becomes its own category and News, Video and Images will share the same sub-categories. And the new photo category has a couple of interesting features, including a link-up with Photobucket, so that images uploaded to the latter can be easily submitted to the former.

The other interesting feature of the photo category is the fact that Digg will be doing some image recognition to make sure people aren’t uploading the same photo over and over. And the engine powering that image recognition comes from Toronto’s very own Idee Inc., run by my friend Leila Boujnane and her team. Congrats to them.

Is Kindle the iPod of books?

Several weeks ago, Amazon introduced the latest in a long line of “e-book” readers, known as the Kindle. Available for $400, it comes equipped with an easy-to-read “E Ink” screen and a wireless connection that allows users to download books that they purchase from the online retailer. Kindle users can also upload their own files to the reader by e-mailing them to a special address associated with the device, or by using a USB cable.

Could this latter feature help the Kindle do for books what MP3 players did for music — that is, provide a platform for copyright infringement on a vast scale? Mike Arrington of TechCrunch seems to think it might. In a recent post, he speculated that the Kindle could become the vehicle of choice for reading “pirated” e-books downloaded via BitTorrent.

Although it is primarily used for the swapping of music, movies and software, there are also books available using the P2P standard, including some versions of recent best-sellers such as the latest Harry Potter novel. Downloading them and emailing them to a Kindle is child’s play, Arrington says, since the device automatically translates Word documents, PDFs and other file formats.

“Users may buy a book or two on Kindle, but many users will simply steal the content they want to read. Thanks to Amazon, that’s really easy to do on their slick new device,” the TechCrunch editor writes. “Should users do this? No, and we do not encourage this. But will they? I think we all know the answer to that.”

There are some hurdles when it comes to books that music doesn’t face, of course. For one thing, books still primarily come in paper form, while music is already digitized on CD and is easy to “rip” and upload. Books either have to be scanned — which is time-consuming — or the e-book format they are in has to be cracked. And not everyone likes to read books multiple times, whereas people often keep music around on their MP3 players for months or even years.

All that said, however, it seems likely that books will be dragged kicking and screaming into the age of digital media just as everything else has, and the Kindle could be the vehicle doing the dragging.

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

Who clicks on all those Web ads?

Interesting post by danah boyd — a sociologist who has become known for focusing on social networks such as MySpace and how young people use (and abuse) them — about the billion-dollar question: Who is clicking on all those Web ads, and what does that say about Web advertising and about the online economy in general?

I know I’ve never clicked on a Web ad of any kind, or at least not out of a genuine desire to buy something. So who does? Research suggests it’s primarily lower-income Web surfers, and predominantly women. And the same research suggests that 99 per cent of people don’t click on ads, and only about .2 per cent click a lot.

Are they carrying the entire Web on their shoulders, and if so what does that mean? Read the whole thing.

NYT’s Keller: Still not quite getting it

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, gave a long and passionate speech in London last week at a memorial event hosted by The Guardian — the full text of which is here — and in it he said many valuable and wise things about the practice of journalism (although he kind of glossed over stuff like Jayson Blair and Judith Miller, but whatever). However, he also said a couple of really dumb things about blogs and social media. Those dumb things are ably skewered by Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine, who Keller referred to in his speech.

In a nutshell, the NYT executive editor says Jeff and his ilk are of the view that bloggers and “citizen journalists” can more or less replace traditional journalists — and then Keller goes on to say that can’t possibly happen, because journalists like those at the Times have standards, training, put themselves in harm’s way in pursuit of the story, etc. etc. The only problem with all that, of course, is that hardly anyone — and especially Jeff Jarvis — is arguing anything like that.

As Jeff notes — and Dan Gillmor does as well — Keller’s argument is a straw man, designed to pump up traditional journalism at the expense of some pseudo-horde of random “citizen journalists” who want to take their jobs. Why can’t we admit that in some cases, people who haven’t been anointed with the title “journalist,” either by someone at a journalism school or by an editor at an established news outlet, can at least help to produce journalism? Why is that so hard?

Tay Zonday: Cheesy sellout 2.0

I’m glad I’m not the only one who was sad to see Tay Zonday’s Dr. Pepper commercial. Jason Calacanis and Jakob Lodwick (now ex- of Vimeo) seem to feel the same, and so does my friend Rex Sorgatz of Fimoculous and a few others I came across in my feed reader. If you’re not familiar with the phenomenon that is Tay Zonday, I can’t sum it all up here, but suffice it to say that he appeared out of nowhere — a young black kid with a bizarre singing style — and became a YouTube star.

And then he went and made this craptacular Dr. Pepper commercial. Filled with the same cheesy dancers and rappers and bling you can find in any other rap-inspired ad, combined with the oddly exaggerated, deep-voice singing of Tay — it doesn’t work as a parody, it doesn’t work as a tribute, it doesn’t work as a commercial period. All it seems to accomplish is to make Tay Zonday look like just another wanker looking for a quick payout. I mean, he gets to be on TV and shoot a video with a bunch of dancers, so good for him. But still, it’s kind of sad in a way.


Court docs: Zuckerberg’s a total geek

Kara Swisher writes about how a court rejected Mark Zuckerberg’s recent attempt to squash some public documents that were submitted in the court case between the Facebook founder and the trio of Harvard types who claim he stole the idea (and some code) for the social-networking site from them — a story that is detailed in a recent magazine piece in a publication called 02138, which is aimed at Harvard alumni.

The documents Zuckerberg was concerned about are all available on the magazine’s website (most in the form of PDFs) and they include the Facebook co-founder’s application to Harvard — one of the ones he wanted removed, since it contains his parents’ home address in Dobbs Ferry, New York, among other things — as well as excerpts from Zuckerberg’s online journal, two statements he made in the case, an email he sent to Harvard about the dispute, and Facebook’s financial statements from 2005.

The online journal excerpts are particularly hilarious — they detail how Zuckerberg decided (after breaking up with a girlfriend, apparently) to whip together something that would pull people’s pictures from their online Harvard profiles and then post two of them side by side so people could vote on who was more attractive:

“I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10 pm and it’s a Tuesday night? What? The Kirkland facebook is open on my computer desktop and some of these people have pretty horrendous facebook pics. I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.”

That’s at 9:30 in the evening. Over the next five hours or so, Zuckerberg whips up a script that will hack into the various residence houses at Harvard and pull the photos out, using holes in the Apache server settings. It makes for pretty funny reading (according to the magazine piece, he was reprimanded for his exploits and briefly suspended).

Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard-trained hacker. In case you’re interested, his Harvard application also notes that he was the MVP on his fencing team at Exeter Academy in 2000; a finalist for the New York Regional Fencing championships; got gold medals at the Science Olympiad in Practical Data Gathering, Astronomy and Physics; and was the high scorer at the American Regional Math League in 2001.

Google planning to upgrade Apps

According to a report at a search blog from a conference in Ann Arbor, Google — not usually known as a company that tends to blab about what it has planned for the future — has been doing just that about Google Apps and some of the new features it expects to release next year. Among other things, Gmail and Google Calendar and other apps are apparently going to get offline support through Google Gears, which is something that many (including yours truly) have been waiting for.

One other piece of good news: Google’s lame Page Creator service — which I find it hard to believe anyone actually uses, apart from maybe kids in a sheltered workshop for the developmentally delayed — is reportedly going to get an upgrade, and will become part of a tool/service that is powered by JotSpot, the wiki company, and will let businesses create project sites where employees can collaborate on research.

A move by Google into Enterprise 2.0? Makes sense to me. And once offline support is available for Google Docs and its other apps, it will be able to make a serious push into that market.