Yearly Archives: 2010

Citation needed

The world can be divided in 2 classes: those who understand this XKCD comic and those who don’t.

If you are in the second class and want to move in the first class, you can read the page “Citation needed” on Wikipedia ;)
(credit: the image is from XKCD, an amazing webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language I suggest you to read. Every comic is licensed under a Creative Commons License so that it is legal to reproduce it here, yay!)

Social Networks of elephants, whales, dolphins, baboons, bats, zebras,…

Social networking of animals is fascinating. I would love to have more time to play with social networks of animals.
Today, thanks to an anonymous edit in the open wiki I created for collecting information about research on trust metrics,, I re-found a paper I once added in the list of trust network datasets (subcategory “animals”): Matriarchs As Repositories of Social Knowledge in African Elephants.
I just re-skimmed through the abstract to re-find out that: despite widespread interest in the evolution of social intelligence, little is known about how wild animals acquire and store information about social companions or whether individuals possessing enhanced social knowledge derive biological fitness benefits. Using playback experiments on African elephants (Loxodonta africana), authors demonstrate that oldest elephants possess enhanced discriminatory abilities and this influences the social knowledge of the group as a whole. These superior abilities for social discrimination may result in higher per capita reproductive success for female groups led by older individuals. Our findings imply that the removal of older, more experienced individuals, which are often targets for hunters because of their large size, could have serious consequences for endangered populations of advanced social mammals such as elephants and whales.

The paper is cited by 166 other papers according to Google Scholar, by papers whose titles promise nothing but interesting readings: “Sperm whales: social evolution in the ocean” (cited by 128; according to Wikipedia, the name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal’s head, due to its resemblance to semen, so nothing related to sex, I’m sorry), “Identifying the role that animals play in their social networks” (cited by 144), “The socioecology of elephants: analysis of the processes creating multitiered social structures”, “Quantifying the influence of sociality on population structure in bottlenose dolphins”, “Social relationships among adult female baboons (Papio cynocephalus) I. Variation in the strength of social bonds”, “Cognitive adaptations of social bonding in birds”, “Relatedness structure and kin-biased foraging in the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum)”.

In Trustlet, I noted down time ago these other papers: Relations, Species, and Network Structure (with 80 small networks of animals(size from 4 colobus monkeys to 73 high school boys), Social Networking for Zebras , Mapping pigeons navigations.

Understanding social networks in Facebook or Wikipedia is so old school … I think I need to find funds for going to study social networks of animals, with a field study in Lesotho maybe! That would be extremely interesting! ;)

Nazis and Norms in Wikipedia

Joseph Reagle finally published his book Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia (2010, The MIT Press). It has a foreword by Lawrence Lessig and praises by Jonathan Zittrain, Clay Shirky and Jimmy Wales. Wow!
The first chapter is titled “Nazis and Norms” and start with the following epigraph:

Show me an admin who has never been called a nazi and I’ll show you an admin who is not doing their job. —J.S.’s Second Law

which sort of resembles Godwin’s Law:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

Note for myself: it is good to start a book with a strong, emotional point (in this case Nazism) in order to get a grip on the reader from the very first lines.
Ok, now I need to reserve some time to read the book by Joseph Reagle. A pity the book is not released under Creative Commons so that I could download it and print it straight away.

Facebook reaches 500 million users and now tells stories

500 million people share their lives on Facebook, incredible eh? (see this blog post by Mark Zuckerberg).

For the occasion, Facebook launched Facebook Stories (
“Facebook is all about the individual and collective experiences of you and your friends. It’s filled with hundreds of millions of stories.

On 12th Febraury 2010, I made the following picture: at that time Facebook reached 400 million users and, if it was a country, it would have been the third country in the world. Today, 17th September 2010, it is at 500 millions. Anyway it will take some time before becoming the second largest country in the world, considering India has more than 1 billion citizens.

The sky is not falling on Content Industries. And on French button manufacters neither.

Techdirt reports about the paper “Is the Sky Falling on the Content Industries?” by Mark A. Lemley of Stanford Law School.
Mark makes many example of a recurrent pattern:
1. New technology
2. Legacy settled industry freaks out saying the world is ending
3. Industry flocks to DC & the courts to demand fixing
4. Turns out that the new technology actually increases the market

The examples are:
* photographs (would destroy painting),
* musical recordings (would destroy live music),
* radio (would destroy recorded music)
* cable TV (would destroy regular TV),
* photocopier (would destroy books),
* VCR (would destroy the movie industry),
* audio cassettes (would destroy music)
* MP3 player (would destroy music),
* file sharing (would destroy music),
* DVR (would destroy TV)

There is even a

Pornographers complain of a once-lucrative market flooded by amateur pornography (see Copyright Infringements in the Porn Industry); even sex, it seems, fears it can’t compete with free. But I wouldn’t list “lack of sufficient pornography” as among our larger societal problems.

All this reminded of an old post at techdirt History Repeats Itself: How The RIAA Is Like 17th Century French Button-Makers. In short, 17th century tailors in France were beginning to make buttons out of cloth (new technology), and button makers (settled industry) start complaining. The last piece, from the book “The Worldly Philosophers” of Robert L. Heilbroner is even more astonishing

The government, indignant that an innovation should threaten a settled industry, imposes a fine on the cloth-button makers. But the wardens of the button guild are not yet satisfied. They demand the right to search people’s homes and wardrobes and fine and even arrest them on the streets if they are seen wearing these subversive goods.

In this January 2007 (!) post, Techdirt concludes, and I totally second:

Centuries from now (hopefully much, much sooner), the actions of the RIAA, MPAA and others that match those of the weavers and button-makers of 17th century France will seem just as ridiculous.

Dead-tree 12 volumes book of all Wikipedia changes to page “The Iraq War”

Amazing project.
“The Iraq War: A Historiography of Wikipedia Changelogs” is a twelve-volumes book. It contains all the changes to the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War. The twelve volumes cover a five year period from December 2004 to November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages.
It contains every change, from small typo fixing, to important changes up to vandalism edits such as when someone erases the whole article and just writes “Saddam Hussein was a dickhead”.
The Iraq War: Wikipedia Historiography
The author, James Bridle, explains on his blog that:

In a world obsessed with “facts”, a more nuanced comprehension of historical process would enable us to better weigh truth, whether it concerns the evidence for going to war, the proliferation of damaging conspiracy theories, the polarisation of debate on climate change, or so many other issues. This sounds utopian, and it is. But I do believe that we’re building systems that allow us to do this better, and one of our responsibilities should be to design and architect those systems to make this explicit, and to educate.

One of the ways to do this might be to talk more not only about history, but about historiography. History not as a set of facts, but as a process, and one in which, whether we agree or not with the writers, our own opinions and biases are always to be challenged.

Wikipedia (…) is not only a resource for collating all human knowledge, but a framework for understanding how that knowledge came to be and to be understood; what was allowed to stand and what was not; what we agree on, and what we cannot.

As is my wont, I made a book to illustrate this. Physical objects are useful props in debates like this: immediately illustrative, and useful to hang an argument and peoples’ attention on.

and concludes with

And for the first time in history, we’re building a system that, perhaps only for a brief time but certainly for the moment, is capable of recording every single one of those infinitely valuable pieces of information. Everything should have a history button. We need to talk about historiography, to surface this process, to challenge absolutist narratives of the past, and thus, those of the present and our future.

George Orwell said “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” Now, for the first time in history, we have the possibility of controlling present, past and future together, thanks to Wikipedia.

(Credits: I discovered the project via an email by Dror Kamir in the very interesting mailing list of Critical Point of View (CPOV) Wikipedia Research Initiative (Critical Point Of View is a clever play with one of the pillar of Wikipedia that is Neutral Point Of View)

Two images (released under Creative Commons) of the book:
The Iraq War: Wikipedia Historiography
The Iraq War: Wikipedia Historiography

And the entire slideshow:

Edits of Feminism in Wikipedia in time

Top 50 Editors in Feminism articles in Wikipedia and their editing patterns visualized in time (from 2002 up to 2009).

The image is from “The Feminist Critique: Mapping Controversy on Wikipedia” (pdf), a report prepared by Morgan Currie for the new media masters program at the University of Amsterdam. The document is 49 pages but don’t be afraid: it is very interesting and the last 20 pages or so are just a copy and paste of raw data and tables used for the report.
The image embedded above is just one of the many thought-provoking images and graphs.
All the scripts used for producing the report and the graphs are available as free software thanks to Papyromancer who wrote the software and released it on github. Great!

MIT personas search for “Paolo Massa”

Below a video of a search in for myself “Paolo Massa”.

Personas shows you how the Internet sees you. It is a critique of data mining, revealing the computer’s uncanny insights and inadvertent errors. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current future world where digital histories are as important, than oral histories, and computation methods of condensing our digital traces are largely opaque and socially ignorant..

Amazing visualizations of activity on Wikis

Warning: this webpage loads many processor-intensive animations. It might break your browser and probably you will have to close browser window (tab) after use.

The first visualization is made by Erik Zachte and available at
The animation (embedded below) shows 4 aspects of the development of different Wikipedias in different languages (en, it, fr, …): X-axis: Age of a project, Y-axis: Number of articles per project, Circle size: Number of editors per project, Color: Maturity of content (blue=mostly stubs, violet=mostly larger articles)

Interactive version, all projects (requires Firefox 3+, Safari 4+ or Chrome)

Static version, Wikipedia only (8 Mb Flash)

The other 3 visualisations are made by Matt Ryal with JavaScript (Processing.js and RaphaëlJs). They are about activity on wiki and blogs of Atlassian’s Extranet.
I embed them here but you can check Matt’s post for more details and better visualization.

Activity — a rippling visualisation of comment activity on the wiki. Based loosely on the Apple Arabesque screensaver.

Comments — a falling bar-graph visualisation of comments by blogpost. Based very much on a Flash visualisation by Digg, but reimplemented in JS (this is about blog and not wiki).

Contributors — a tree graph visualisation linking commenters and blog post authors. (this is about blog and not wiki)