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A page for archiving/referencing some comments I (Brennen) post to other places. Highly incomplete.

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= reddit =

:> They've had the opportunity on a small scale, as is evidenced by September 11th. We're currently, via our security measures as well as our counter-terrorism efforts, doing everything in our power to prevent them from having that opportunity again.

:I call bullshit. September 11th was ''only'' an opportunity to "destroy western civilization" if the reaction which it set off within said civilization results in its total decline - if the actions of people who have been convinced that The Islamic Terrorists actually threaten the very survival of civilization are sufficient in themselves to undermine civilization. No doubt the US of A is making great strides towards the stupidest, least appropriate, and most self-damaging responses available to terrorist activities, but I tend to feel like there's a lot of ground left to cover.

:If anyone can provide a shred of evidence that ''invading Iraq'' is working as a ''counter-terrorism effort'' by any sane measure, I will eat this keyboard.

:> As for specifically how they'd do it, imagine if all our preventive measures and safeguards weren't there.

:Why and how would those "preventive measures and safeguards" go away? Do you honestly imagine a future in which the police forces, militaries, and civil infrastructures of dozens of incredibly wealthy nations vanish into thin air? Is Allah going to part the waters so that teeming masses of bloodthirsty Islamic Terrorists can hike across the sea floor and murder us all in our beds?

:''What the fuck is wrong with you people?''

= maelstrom =

:Regarding Web 2.0 bullshit (and if it weren't so intuitively bullshit, then nothing would have convinced me that it was bullshit faster than working as a data monkey for a self-described Web 2.0 startup), the insight that reality is not especially hierarchical doesn't seem to have carried into noticing that things like karma and uber-threaded discussion systems are really, really hierarchical.

:Re: tagging, I don't know where the idea that freely attaching categories to things is some kind of MagicalStructureJuice came from, but if your system supports bi-directional links, you kind of get tags for free. Whether this is useful, I'm not sure. I've got a bunch of wiki pages for entities like authors and books, mostly consisting of little more than a link to the page for things that are authors or the page for things that are books. Is this doing anyone any good? I usually feel like when you've got more structure than stuff filling said structure, you're in trouble. It's almost like really good text has its own emergent structure, while text with a really heavy framework is usually trying to get meaning/structure for free. Like the contrast between a well-written essay and the kind of essay that's usually produce by the "outline everything first and then connect the dots with words" mode of writing they tried to beat into our heads in jr high. (Except that here I suppose the structure itself is the data.)

Re: Wikis as a totally new technical paradigm, the first wiki's immediate antecedent was a HyperCard stack -- and the HyperCard document model was pretty much here it is, it's kind of like an application, or at any rate it's not just a document because it's got rich content and scripting and linking, and anyway you just go ahead and edit that now. Granted that other documents passed around in the same way are editable by their users, but I think HyperCard stacks encouraged it it a way that's importantly different. And of course they were rich hypertext with lots of switching between cards. So what wiki really added to that was "here's the document on a network". (Well, and lightweight markup. And of course you didn't get the scripting or the multiple media, tho modern fat wikis like MediaWiki are rapidly approaching Turing completeness.) I think the other thing is that Ward Cunningham & co. are programmers, and it seems like the version tracking stuff has been in there for a very long time. I can't remember when I first encountered WardsWiki, but it was long before the birth of Wikipedia, and I'm pretty sure they were doing diffs then.

Anyway. On the centralized Wikipedia: I think the really big win you get with a "main wikipedia" is the sheer critical mass of the thing. Gazillions of contributors introduces problems (the big one, frex, where no matter how many times you remove a known fallacy from an article, someone can be counted on to show up and "correct" things as soon as you quit paying attention), but it also makes for an astonishingly broad knowledge base. When was the last time you went to Wikipedia looking for a topic and didn't find at least a few lines of stub article? It happens to me, but not often. I'm not sure I want to lose the benefits of that scale, and I definitely don't think the appropriate solution is to have a swarm (or even a handful) of total wikipedia forks. Modularity would be key. If you decide Emacs needs to be forked, you don't go and pull in the kernel, X, and gcc while you're at it. Or maybe you do, but it seems like a losing proposition. Maybe distributions, a la Linux, are something of answer here - "This is my wikipedia distro, which bundles Bob's History Changeset and the Free Software Documentation Consortium pages with John's Fanboy Filter." Or something more like user-defined schemes for pulling together streams of articles from different maintainers.

The convenience of a central and relatively well-integrated search space is big, too. I go to Wikipedia before I go to Google on a lot of topics now.

But this is a trivial objection to the main point. I think probably that the right role for a big-W Wikipedia in an ecosystem of little-w wikipedias would be to synthesize, integrate, and provide a structured guide to a lot of work being done elsewhere. And I do think there's a lot to be gained. NPOV is a worthwhile goal, in some sense, but it's also schizophrenic, it has a tendency to undermine good writing (not because it's impossible to dispassionately summarize differing views with something like fairness, but because this requires a lot of skill and a lot of thought - and because if you take it literally, I guess it does become impossible - truly neutral language doesn't carry any meaning), and its worthwhile goals would sometimes be better served by providing a structured point of entry to a set of well-expressed real points of view. No Original Research may have its place in an encyclopedia, but personally I'm fucking sick of just synthesizing secondary sources and I think we need a wikilike or collaborative way to do original research, peer review it, and feed it into the wikipedia system. I'm sure somebody's working on this, but I definitely want it to become a larger part of the process.

I'm rambling. Generally I also think that a set of technical mechanisms and a structure of trust will emerge. We're a couple of years past the question of "can this thing work?" and well into the territory of "how will this thing evolve?"

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