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Archive for March, 2009

Andrew Lih on Wikipedia

I just read Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution, in preparation for an interview I’m doing on March 25 at the Berkman Center. (Actually, the actual location hasn’t been announced yet. But somewhere at Harvard.) It’s a terrific book.

Andrew tells the story historically, providing tons of context and background. As the title makes clear, he thinks Wikipedia is epochally important, but the book isn’t about touting Wikipedia and gesticulating towards its implications. Rather, given that Wikipedia is at least rather interesting, how did it get there? The simple story we’ve heard so frequently — it’s the encyclopedia we all wrote in our spare time — masks a complex mix of personality, theory, politics, social interaction, software and hardware. Andrew doesn’t shy away from the controversies and tells the story from a neutral point of view … neutral given that he implicitly thinks Wikipedia is overall pretty awesome. In that he mirrors Wikipedia itself: It is (overall) neutral given that the contributors agree that a group-authored encyclopedia that aims for NPOV is worth working on.

If you want to understand Wikipedia, I highly recommend this book, especially in tandem with How Wikipedia Works by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yates, a terrific and detailed explanation of the intricacies of Wikipedia’s structure, ethos, rules, and hierarchy.

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The visual display of unfathomable numbers

These images from Chris Jordan make clear the vastness of the various sorts of stuff we squander. (Thanks to Joachim for the link.)

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Shirky’s classic post on the fate of newspapers

This post by Clay Shirky will be at the center of future discussions about the newspaper revolution. It is itself a pivot point. And it’s beautifully written, with a pause-worthy insight in every paragraph.

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Joho the Blog » everythingIsMiscellaneous 2009-03-11 13:52:47

Berkman MediaCloud tracks feeds ‘n’ memes

The Berkman Center has launched one of its most exciting projects. MediaCloud is subscribing to hundreds of RSS feeds, including many from the mainstream media, is automagically performing topic analysis (actually, entity extraction using Reuter’s OpenCalais) on it, and is building a gigantic database so researchers can see how ideas and information move through and across the Net.

Here’s what the announcement says:

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society is pleased to announce the launch of Media Cloud, a new project that seeks to track news content comprehensively — providing free, open, and flexible research tools:

Researching the nature of news, and media information flows, has always faced a difficult challenge: there is so much produced by so many outlets that it is hard to monitor it all. Researchers have used painstaking manual content analysis to understand mass media. On the web, the explosion of citizen media makes such an approach far more difficult and less comprehensive. By automatically downloading, processing, and querying the full text of thousands of outlets, Media Cloud will allow unprecedented quantitative analysis of media trends.

Today’s launch allows a first view into some of what is possible on the Media Cloud platform. At you can generate simple charts of media coverage across sources and countries. The actual capabilities of the system are much greater, and the Media Cloud team is actively looking for other researchers who will bring their own questions as the tools are further developed. Ultimately, Media Cloud will provide open APIs that can support a variety of lines of inquiry.

Visit the Media Cloud site, try the visualizations, share your research ideas with the team, and sign up for the Media Cloud mailing list to hear about functionality enhancements and other project developments.

The Berkman Center is proud to be incubating the project in its initial phases and is now seeking partners to help Media Cloud realize its full research potential….

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Future of News: The Tag

To encourage people to start using the FutureOfNews tag at, The Knight Foundation is giving away an entrance badge to the SxSW conference to someone who uses that tag today or tomorrow. Knight hopes that we’ll keep using the tag forever after on pages of interest to those who care about the FutureOfNews.

The winner will be announced on their site, at 5pm EDT, Wed.

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Wolfram computes it all

Stephen Wolfram is promising “A new paradigm for using computers and the web.” It involves “a mixture of many clever algorithms and heuristics, lots of linguistic discovery and linguistic curation, and what probably amount to some serious theoretical breakthroughs.” He doesn’t lay it out explicitly, but says “…armed with Mathematica and NKS I realized there’s another way: explicitly implement methods and models, as algorithms, and explicitly curate all data so that it is immediately computable.”

Wolfram is very very very very very smart. No one doubts that. He’s smart enough that he would not be posting and hyping this site unless there’s something there. I don’t understand it, but, frankly I’m looking forward to it.

The site is called WolframAlpha, and it opens in May.

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Pluto is a planet in Illinois

The Illinois state legislature has declared Pluto a planet.

Ah, when will the madness stop? The delicious, delicious madness.

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Radio Berkman: Peter Suber on open access

Peter Suber gave a terrific talk last week, hosted by the Berkman Center. Afterwards, I sat down with him for a podcast on the politics around open access.

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