From Wikimania

20060804 A More objective Yoblog on Mania Day #1

(10:25 AM: Amazingly, it’s currently pouring right now—the weather forecast for rain is actually right, this time! But, I’m too lazy and unprepared-with-poncho to go back to close my window—which had been my room’s only source of quasi-salvation from the 100+ degree F heat for the last few days.)

Wikimania started with a somewhat incoherent speech from a stammering S.J.. The Jimbo Wales plenary followed afterwards. With good humor and a bit of bravery, Wales started his talk with the showing of a Colbert Report video clip denouncing the “truthiness” of a crowdsourced encyclopedia.

The new word, according to Colbert, is “wikiality,” a reality you can create—if enough people believe in the same thing. Despite the fact that Colbert’s clip is, as always, mostly carefully-edited punchlines that sum up to a bunch of laugh, low on content, Colbert does have a point; knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, has always been possibly incorrect orthodox vs. possibly correct hereticalism. Recall Galileo and his then radical proposition that the solar system was heliocentric, rather than geocentric; back then, though this idea was already backed by facts, virtually no one believed him, and he was denounced by the “scientific authority” of the time, i.e., the Catholic church. Similarly, nowadays, although the view of seeing the universe as a bunch of parallel universes, viz., multiverses, is indirectly backed by implications from quantum computing, this view is not widely accepted among physicists. In fact, not even all quantum computing in-groupers believe in this. This view is a modern version of an unorthodox view, yet in many respects, this multiverse theory is one of the best ways to make sense of reality (c.f. T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). The point is that despite the triteness of Colburn’s words, he’s right about common knowledge sometimes being wrong, but believed right, by virtue of the numbers who believe in it. However, Wales stopped the clip right after Colbert defined “wikiality,” leaving out Colbert’s reference to Galileo. Interestingly, he also did not bother to show those present who haven’t seen the full clip that Colbert actually directly invited (gasps) open vandalism for humanitarian means—starting with the entry on African elephants. (The idea is that the world is messed up, but if enough people believe that it isn’t, we’d create a “better” wikiality that’d supercede our current dystopia.)

(Incidentally, I initially found this particular Colbert clip on Wired’s Monkey Bites blog entry. Today, a Wired reporter present at the event has posted an article that, in part, atones for that particular blog entry.)

Wales announced that Wikimedia is now hiring a group of paid individuals, somewhat like a company now; he also introduced WM’s eight-month old official lawyer. He’s hoping to gather an advisory board or whatever of famous people to help affirm WM (I’d be vague on this, since I need to stay out of wikipolitics for ‘’’your’’’ own good). Wikipedia’s goal now, according to Wales, is quality, not quantity—it’s time to edit the million of entries. He went through some of the 10 impossible things from last year, then thanked the sponsors.

Afterwards, the gathering of several hundred attendees broke up into their respective program tracks.

Each track had its own pull of intrigue, as do all presentations with vague abstracts. While each attendee was given a schedule, we were not given a copy of the abstracts. Because of this, some attendees chose their lectures based solely on name, and only those who had access to the Internet could pull up the respective abstracts.

For the morning session, I went to the Barcamp/Semapedia Workshop. Barcamp is an online in-person [w:unconference] planning system based on pbwiki, a free password-protected wiki solution. Barcamp meetings are ad hoc and informal. The emphasis is on the second bit, since Bar Camp’s “Rules,” which help make each barcamp gathering a timely matter, tend to favor the theme of chaos. .

I was particularly interested in how the organization started, particularly the funding bit. The barcamp guy got lucky—the timing was right. He got his first sponsor in the era of the advent of google’s dominion metastasis, when, for a brief period, funding for such things might have been as easy as it was in the early days of Web 2.0 (pre-2000); and, as always, after one money guy joins the club, the rest spill in. Group think.

Also mentioned was a similar idea called TeqUps, which is like barcamp, except it seems to be a local gathering of people interested in tech. MashupCamp, a gathering of those into ajax-ly MashUp’s and the like, was also mentioned.

Semapedia turned out to be one of those interesting commodities that are essentially useless, but cool—it’s a bit like having a pencil with both its tip and eraser on one end: convenient, but we’re not that lazy yet... Through a unique symbol-based barcode called Semacode, uniquely creates a one-to-one relation between the barcode and a Wikipedia article. Using the software from Semapedia, this code can be scanned up by a photo-capable cell phone to load its corresponding Wikipedia page on the same Internet-capable cell phone. This has been used in Japan for advertisements, e.g., a poster about orange juice might have a Semapedia symbol on it, so that anyone interested in finding out more about orange juice can, with the click of a phone-camera-button, find out more about it through its corresponding Wikipedia page.

Semapedia is essentially dependent on Wikipedia’s accuracy. Semacode, which was something I’d only heard of but didn’t get to know before this, however, seems to have some interesting applications in the arena of quas-digital gaming. One example, off the top of my head: Suppose you have a physical world scavenger hunt. The various items are hidden in a certain part of the city, for example, and they’re tagged with semacodes. As ultimate proof that they’ve found a particular item, the scavengers can just scan up the find, perhaps using a variant of the Semacode DataMatrix software. Also, maybe semacodes can be used in a form of “laser-tag” (technically, cell-phone-camera tag). Players merely place semacode stickers on their bodies to get tagged.

Unlike the Lightning Talks at Hacking Days, the Lightning Talks at the Mania session turned out to be a verbal message board, where basically anything and anyone goes—though each talk was strictly limited by the five-minute time set by a monitor (déjà vu: student presentations for a course.) No use of mike, so in order to hear anything, you had to crowd close to hear the speaker. Many of the talks were really just announcements, and the Chinese Firewall talk turned out to be as censored as if the talk were bound by some airborne version of the same firewall. I attempted to do my usual lecture hopping, anyway, except, I hopped out too late to catch the Diplopedia talk.