December 05, 2006
Dial D for Delete
David Segal wrote a most amusing story that appeared on the front page of this past Sunday's (December 3, 2006) Washington Post Style section about what happens when nobodies attempt to muscle their way onto Wikipedia.
Long story short: It ain't pretty.
In fact — it ain't nothing.
How do you spell "delete?"
Here's the article.
- Look Me Up Under 'Missing Link'
On Wikipedia, oblivion looms for the non-notable
The Shiny Diamonds, a spunky band from Canada, make music they call "mind-blowing thrash folk." On Wednesday, the lads and their songs were tagged with a less flattering description: "non-notable."
This was not some hasty, capricious opinion, either. No, this was the official verdict of a squad of stern-sounding editors at Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, which recently began the process of booting an entry about the Shiny Diamonds off the site.
One Wiki editor counted a mere 97 Google hits about the group and noted on a Wiki page that all those citations "seem to be myspace or other self-promotion." Three other Wiki editors soon weighed in, each recommending "delete," which in Wiki-speak translates roughly as "Beat it, losers."
Up in Vancouver, B.C., where the band's lead singer was reached by phone, the news hit kind of hard.
"Dude, I don't know what they were thinking," said Tim the Mute, which, you won't be surprised to learn, is a stage name and the only name he would give. In mid-sentence, Tim's cellphone went dead and a few minutes later, he sent an e-mail.
"I urge whatever Internet-snob wiki-geeks who deem our band 'non-notable' to look at their own lives," he fumed. "The Internet is about sharing and the point of Wikipedia is that there's room for everything."
That, it turns out, isn't exactly true.
Casual readers might assume that Wikipedia's goal is a complete account of all earthly knowledge, but the site maintains a rather elaborate set of criteria for admission. The several thousand unpaid volunteers who write and edit Wikipedia spend a lot of energy ensuring that people, bands, companies, and everything else meet what it calls "notability guidelines."
Let's sum it up this way: Not everyone is Wiki-worthy.
In fact, Wikipedia jettisons more than 100 entries every day, many of them from people who posted autobiographies after registering on the site. (Writing your own entry, as we will see, is "strongly discouraged.") The list of nominated rejects is posted each day on a page titled "articles for deletion," and because all of Wikipedia is transparent and public, anyone can watch the editors' votes roll in, and witness those ultimately deemed non-notable slink away, in real time, after getting cyber-gonged off the stage. Type "wikipedia deletion log" into Google for a peek at the latest.
There goes T.C. Congi, described as a "random school kid" by an editor. Buh-bye, Muhammad Islam, also "being considered for deletion," the son of the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens. ("Being the offspring of a famous musician is not enough to merit notability.") Still on the bubble is Kim Eternity, a "minor porn actress" who "doesn't seem to have any awards" and who has done "nothing noteworthy in her niche," various editors wrote. Supporters pointed out that Ms. Eternity, among other achievements, had appeared in several issues of Voluptuous magazine.
The proceedings are generally courteous, a quality prized in the Wikipedia ranks, but a tone of you've-gotta-be-kidding occasionally seeps in. "Vain vanity in vain," quipped one editor, voting a 28-year-old illustrator named Peter Mitchell off the island. "Crystalballery, vanity, unencyclopedic, non-notability," snapped an editor after reading an entry on an Israeli model named Esti Ginzborg, which included the claim that "Many say she has a bright future."
"Who cares?" the editor countered.
It's like the minutes to a meeting of the planet's own co-op board. And you'd be surprised at how many people want in. Wiki-worthiness has quietly become a new digital divide, separating those who think they are notable from those granted the imprimatur of notability by a horde of anonymous geeks.
Now, the presence of any quality control system on the site might surprise those who are familiar with the conventional rap against Wikipedia — that its pages, which every registered user can alter, are rife with mistakes. The upside of the site's collaborative style is reflected in the astounding breadth and growth of the site, which launched in 2001 and currently features more than 1.5 million entries in English, on everything from La Modelo, a prison in Colombia, to the Cobden Club, a British gentlemen's club founded in the 1870s.
But just because the premises are spacious and a little unruly, to put it politely, doesn't mean that the Wiki mandarins will let just anyone stay. Musicians and bands must have charted on "any national music chart, in at least one large or medium-sized country," or released "two or more albums on a major label or one of the more important indie labels," or "been the subject of a half-hour or longer broadcast on a national radio or TV network." Politicians must have received "significant press coverage," while sports figures must compete in a "fully professional league" or "at the highest level in mainly amateur sports." If a person clearly doesn't belong — the T.C. Congis of the world, if you will — an editor might mark him or her for "speedy delete," which shortens the mull-it-over period. Here, Wikipedia can be ruthlessly efficient, because Wikipedians are constantly on what they call "new-page patrol." That entry on illustrator Peter Mitchell, for instance, lasted a mere eight hours, he said. (A "speedy keep" is possible, too, if for instance some joker nominates George W. Bush for deletion.) Otherwise, the administrators wait for a consensus of "delete" or "keep" to coalesce over a span of days.
Even with those detailed definitions of "notable," there is plenty of room on Wikipedia for disagreement, and not just among editors. Wikipedians are frequently deluged with protest e-mail from the newly deleted.
"Sometimes a person or an institution is deleted and we will hear about it," says Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, speaking from the headquarters of the Wikimedia Foundation in St. Petersburg, Fla. "There was an entry for a church, for instance, that we deleted — because it wasn't a church, it was a Web site."
E-mails from the church's supporters didn't help. "This isn't a poll," Wales explains. "It's a discussion among known editors."
So who are these editors, the nameless sages who can bestow or withhold the cachet of Wikidom as they please? In Wiki terminology — and this is a realm piled high with terminology — these editors are called "administrators" and they get their jobs after being nominated and voted in by the great mass of Wikipedia contributors. (Fairness and diligence and a track record for good writing and editorial decisions earn you the nod.)
There are just over 1,000 administrators at any one time, and none of them are paid. Generally, they are men in their 20s or 30s with jobs in the computer field, according to Wales, who is guessing based on his own informal travels to meet admins, as he calls them. It's also safe to assume these are people with a lot of time on their hands.
The thumbs-up-or-down debates can rivet those in danger of Wiki deletion. Chicago composer and writer Matthew Dallman noticed last week that the fate of a biographical entry about him, which he says he didn't write, was being debated and on Wednesday, it was gone. On Thursday, it was back.
"It looks like the votes are running five to three in favor of deletion," he said on the phone from his home in Chicago. "I've been watching for a few days and I've got to say, it's really perplexing and very surreal. There's this debate going on about me, but Wikipedia seems to dislike self-promotion, so saying anything on my own behalf would probably undermine my cause. It's like I'm on trial and I can't testify."
Ultimately, though, Dallman couldn't resist rising to his own defense, and on Friday he lobbed an e-mail into the ongoing debate about his entry, staking his claim to prominence.
It's a pretty common tactic, and it rarely seems to work. Andrew Klein kept an eye on the drubbing given to an entry about "Cake Pony," a Web comic strip that he writes and illustrates with his girlfriend, Lauren Wong. The editors questioned the strip's notability and huffed that Klein had written the piece himself, a major strike against. (The theory is that if you or your comic strip were truly notable, someone else would write on your behalf.)
Klein submitted a sort of plea for clemency. "Article contains valuable and factual information about a popular internet meme," he asserted.
Survey says: Drop dead!
"No one has ever heard of it and the article isn't funny," one editor wrote.
"That's the way it goes," sighed Klein on the phone Wednesday. "It's their site and you've got to play by their rules."
Plenty of deletees, of course, have no idea they've been chucked. Like Bill Slavick, who was expunged from the site this week soon after an editor described him as a "failed candidate for US Senate in Maine who got 5% of the vote."
Speaking on the phone from his home, Slavick, who is a 78-year-old retired professor of English, sounded unmoved.
"I don't care," he said.
You don't care? "No. Someone called me a few months ago and asked if it was OK to send in this biography and I didn't have any big objection."
Slavick would, however, like to clarify one point. As an independent candidate, he participated in three debates in this fall's campaign, two of which were televised. The verdict, by his reckoning, is that he won all three.
"In Maine," he says, with a hint of pride, "I'm notable."
Marilyn Monroe Stiletto Bag
From the website:
- Marilyn Monroe Shoe Purse
Ooh, that girl had glamour like no other!
And this Marilyn Monroe Shoe Purse captures all of it.
Purse is dotted with rhinestones, laced up the sides and features a realistic heel and sole to stand upright.
Red embroidered signature and lipstick kiss print add extra zing.
Purse comes with zippered top, removable shoulder strap and inside cell phone compartment.
8" high purse with a 4" spike heel.
[via Eclectic Detective]
'A person can never be completely random' — Bryan Bennett, North American Champion of Rock Paper Scissors
Last month he finished second in the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships, held in Toronto.
Bennett (above), 24, hails from Glen Ridge, New Jersey, where he began honing his skills as a boy, just for the fun of it.
Peter Applebome interviewed him for a story which appeared in the November 26, 2006 New York Times, and follows.
- A Rock-Paper-Scissors Hand, and a Zen Master's Heart
Of this we can be sure: Rock smashes scissors. Scissors cut paper. Paper covers rock.
Beyond that, all is a mystery of feint, instinct and indirection, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. Or so it goes in the world of Bryan Bennett, the newest member of the New Jersey sports pantheon after battling his way to a plucky second-place finish over 500 competitors this month in the World Rock Paper Scissors Championship in Toronto.
Mr. Bennett was not hard to spot on Friday in this town of strivers of all sorts and flavors. He was the one with the second-place silver medal hanging from a blue ribbon around his neck and the black T-shirt reading, ''Rock, Paper, Scissors — Power, Stealth, Ingenuity.'' But for a succinct lesson in how he got to be a master of his game, like Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant or Peyton Manning, it's not so easy to put into words.
Mr. Bennett is a relatively self-effacing young man of 24 from Glen Ridge who works in Montclair at Parabox Media, which has operations that include an online DVD sales business.
Like a lot of top competitors, Mr. Bennett marched to greatness by a familiar path. He started playing as a kid, just for the fun of it. He honed his skills as he got older through a combination of practice, study and high-level competition.
And — well, maybe this is not the entirely familiar path — he really broke through in college playing for bigger stakes: the next round of beer, who got to hold the TV remote, bragging rights at the bar.
Mr. Bennett was pursuing media studies and the ancillary attractions of college life at Catholic University in Washington when he got hooked on Rock Paper Scissors — once a harmless pursuit for children, now another lesson that anything in the world can be considered a sport.
He developed his craft with friends and roommates and at local watering holes. Washington -- perhaps because of the constant need for conflict resolution provided by the dominant local industry -- turns out to be quite an R.P.S. hotbed.
Mr. Bennett learned the Way under the tutelage of Master Roshambollah, the Zen master of the local R.P.S. scene. He studied the arcane teachings of ''The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide'' by Douglas and Graham Walker.
And when he and some friends decided to put on a local competition, he was thrilled to learn that he had been beaten to it — by the World Rock Paper Scissors Society, based in Toronto.
He competed twice in the world championships without much success before breaking through this year, losing in the finals to Bob (the Rock) Cooper, a 28-year-old sales manager from London, who made off with the $7,000 grand prize. Mr. Bennett took home $1,500.
Mr. Cooper, perhaps befitting his top-dog status, has a succinct epigram about the R.P.S. Way: ''It is not about predicting what your opponent will throw; it is about predicting what your opponent predicts you will throw.''
Mr. Bennett offers guidance but no easy truths. Jocks and meatheads like to start with rock. Women are often partial to scissors. More ethereal types prefer paper. That's fine, except that if everyone knows this, it no longer applies.
It helps to know some of the famous patterns: fistful of dollars (rock, paper, paper); paper dolls (paper, scissors, scissors), or the full-bore machismo of avalanche (rock, rock, rock).
Mr. Bennett likes playing against men rather than women (easier to read), and relies on his readings of body language and playing patterns when choosing his throws. He considers the notion of random throws a philosophical fallacy: ''A computer can be a random-number generator; a person can never be completely random.''
And though he doesn't want to provide too many clues to his game, he sounds like a bit of a rock man to me. ''A lot of people feel comfortable with it,'' he said. ''It's a powerful throw. Like Bart Simpson once said, 'Good old rock. Nothing beats rock.' ''
Mr. Bennett is enjoying his 15 minutes, though he says not everyone is totally taken with his achievement. ''You get some people who refuse to play, think it's stupid,'' he said. ''If they want to make fun of me, fine. Make yourself feel better. I could care less.''
For now, Mr. Bennett is trying to bring his game to the next level, keep his arm in shape and hone his skills, which means rigorous training at local tap rooms.
And asked about alternative conflict resolution techniques — coin flips, for example — he has trouble hiding his disdain.
''That's completely luck,'' he said. ''A lot of people think Rock Paper Scissors is luck, but it's luck you can control.''
StashCard — 'What's in your PC card slot?'
From the website:
A secret drawer for your laptop.
You know that unused PC card slot in your notebook?
Now there's a good use for it.
The StashCard is a secret compartment that slides into your PC slot to stash away all sorts of stuff.
Memory cards, money, stamps, keys, photos and so much more.
What will you be hiding in your StashCard?
Official PC slot accessory of Martha and the Vandellas.
NationMaster.com — A treasure trove of comparative data about the nations of the world
Best of all, it's free.
Talk about a great help for reports for school, business or what have you.
There's also StateMaster.com, which drills down in several thousand statistical categories and compares how states rank.
Custom Printed Toilet Paper
"Anything you want printed on toilet paper, we can do."
Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton: eat your hearts out.
What impresses me is you can order as few as four rolls.
[via Shawn Lea's everythingandnothing]
Elvis Reese's Peanut Butter & Banana Creme — Coming July, 2007
The Memphis Flyer website last week (Monday, November 27, 2006) ran an item asking if images it had been receiving of a purported limited-edition Reese's cup (above) featuring the King's favorite taste — peanut butter and banana — were "real or an Internet hoax?"
Andrew Martin reported in yesterday's New York Times that the Hershey company indeed plans to roll out its first ever limited-edition candy to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the King's death, which occurred on August 16, 1977.
Short story shorter: the Elvis cups will hit stores in July, 2007, well in advance of Elvis week in August.
From the website:
- Bird Peeler
Practical peeler is both fun and functional!
Potato peels and eyes quickly disappear with this peeler.
Best of all, the rounded shape of the bird handle is more comfortable to hold than others — even ergonomic styles.