Category Archives: Wiki

Michigan Wikipedians – U of Michigan student Wikipedia association

Michigan Wikipedians is a University of Michigan student association.

Michigan Wikipedians (or MWiki) is a Wikipedia student organization at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The group was the first student Wikipedia club in the United States. The club is open to all students and faculty of the University of Michigan, as well as community members who are interested in Wikipedia. It meets every Monday at 8:00PM at the Language Resource Center in the basement of North Quadrangle.

I went to an organizing meeting Monday 30 September 2013, here’s a few things I saw.

Use this template to link Wikipedia articles to their ArborWiki counterparts, especially if the ArborWiki articles contain more information (including information of local interest more appropriate to ArborWiki than Wikipedia).

Combine this with the corresponding pages that link to this template and you get a short list of forward links from Wikipedia to Arborwiki. There’s a similar page of Arborwiki entries with pages in Wikipedia that completes the loop.

Meetings are every Monday on the U of Michigan campus. I’m hoping to make it there 2d Mondays – 1st and 3d Mondays are Ann Arbor City Council, and 4th Mondays are a2civictech – and hope to see you there.


A localwiki for the Marquette, Michigan area

There’s no better way to learn about your home town than by trying to start a wiki for it. In that regard, I’m happy to announce a new Localwiki installation for Marquette County, Michigan.

The Localwiki crew has developed a new hosting platform for people who want to start a wiki for their area, but who don’t have the resources or the time or the skills to launch their own server. It runs on, and currently has about two dozen sites up and running. Your town or region could be next!

When I originally envisioned doing a wiki for Marquette, I was thinking ambitiously and thought “hey, I’ll do the whole U.P.” I’m glad I didn’t, not at least yet. There’s enough small amounts of nitty-gritty detail about local history, ghost towns, old mines, and bits of industrial archaeology that I have just enough knowledge to tackle for the Marquette area, but don’t have any clue where I’d start for Houghton or Escanaba or the Soo. Someone else can tackle that.

Marquette County is the biggest county (by area) in Michigan, so there’s plenty of geography to cover. It’s also home to some political subdivisions like Humboldt Township that have less than 500 inhabitants, no post office of their own, and no chance ever that anyone there would start a wiki just for that place alone.

Just like Arborwiki, which covers Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, I see this as the very first step towards a project that could last a long time. At a few pages a day for a few years you could start to get to the point where you had enough material to be useful for a visitor, a local, or a historian, and where people who would never be notable enough for a first draft biography on Wikipedia might get properly noted or memorialized. I’m looking forward to learning more so that the next time I visit I’ll be that much better informed.

Jay Gatsby – the Wikipedia page from 2009, as edited by Dan Murphy, before the wikivandals took over

Dan Murphy wrote this biography of the fictional character Jay Gatsby for Wikipedia in 2009. Since then, the anonymous hordes of Wikipedia editors have not improved upon the page. Here is the 23 October 2009 version of "Jay Gatsby", which is much better written than the current edition.


Jay Gatsby is the titular character of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. The character has become an archetype of self-made American men seeking to join High society and the name has become synonymous with successful businessmen with shady pasts in the US.

Character biography

James "Jimmy" Gatz, a bright young man from a poor family in North Dakota, despised the imprecations of poverty so much he dropped out of St. Olaf College in Minnesota after only a few weeks because of his shame at the janitorial job he had to take to pay his way. While training in 1917 to join the infantry and fight in World War I he meets and promptly falls in love with the beautiful Daisy, who represents everything he is not: she is rich, from a patrician East Coast family and born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. After the war, from which he emerged as a hero for his participation in the bloody battles of Marne and Argonne, he attends Trinity CollegeOxford. While there he receives a letter from Daisy telling him she has married the equally aristocratic Tom Buchanan. Rather than admit defeat, he commits his life to becoming a man of the sort of wealth and stature he imagines could win her love.[1]

Gatz returned home to an America transformed by prohibition in 1919, a period in American history in which gangsters earned the sort of vast wealth previously the domain of the connected upper classes, an era in which "all the old boundaries that separated the classes were being broken, and a new wave of instant millionaires, like Gatsby himself… mingled with the polo-players who inhabited the stiff enclaves of the established rich of Long Island's gold coast."[2] This era later came to be known as the Jazz Age, after Fitzgerald's own coinage.

Gatz, who renamed himself Jay Gatsby, made a fortune in bootlegging thanks to his association with gangsters like Meyer Wolfsheim (patterned after real-life American gangster Arnold Rothstein) and sets himself up in a mansion in the fictional West Egg, Long Island, a haunt of the nouveaux riche and across from the old-line money East Egg, where Tom and Daisy Buchanan live. Gatsby hosts wild parties, open to all comers, there every weekend, in the hopes that Daisy will attend and he can win her heart. He eventually catches up with Daisy, but fails to convince her to leave Tom. After his failure to change Daisy's mind is clear to all but him, Daisy drives Gatsby's car with Gatsby in the passenger seat and she accidentally strikes and kills Myrtle, the lover of her husband Tom, in a hit-and-run accident. Myrtle's jealous husband George tracks the car back to the Buchanan home, where Tom lies and tells him that Gatsby was the driver of the car that killed his wife. George goes to Gatsby's house, finds him floating in his lavish pool, and murders him before taking his own life. Almost none of Gatsby's high society friends attend his funeral and in the meantime Gatsby's underworld connections begin picking through his belongings in his mansion.[3]

Gatsby as a reference point

The figure of Jay Gatsby became a cultural touchstone in 20th century America. Chris Mathews in his book American even forgives Gatsby his serial lies. When the poor native son Gatsby tells Nick Carraway, his only true friend and a relative of Daisy's, he was brought up wealthy and that he attended Oxford because "all my ancestors have been educated there" Mathews sees him as the eternal American striver. "Gatsby needed more than money: he needed to be someone who had always had it… this blind faith that he can retrofit his very existence to Daisy's specifications is the heart and soul of the The Great Gatsby. It's the classic story of the fresh start, the second chance."[4]

"Jay Gatsby… appears to be the quintessential American male hero. He is a powerful businessman with shady connections, drives a glamorous car… and pursues the beautiful, privileged Daisy," Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson write.[5] In the Handbook of American Folklore, Richard Dorson sees Gatsby as a new American archetype who made a decision to transform himself after his first chance encounter with his mentor Dan Cody, who opens the door to riches in boot-legging. "The ragged youth who some months later (after Gatsby drops out of St. Olaf) introduces himself to a degenerate yachtsman as Jay Gatsby has explicitly rejected the Protestant ethic… in favor of a much more extravagant form of ambition."[6]

Referring to real life figures as Gatsby has been common in the United States, usually in reference to rich men whose rise to prominence involved an element of deception. In a story on R. Foster Winans, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column who was fired after it was discovered he was giving advance knowledge of the columns' contents to Peter Brant, the Seattle Post Intelligencer described Brant as "Winan's Gatsby." The article noted that Brant had changed his name from Bornstein and said he was "a man who turned his back on his heritage and his family because he felt that being recognized as Jewish would be a detriment to his career."[7] The Heard on the Street column often effects the prices of the stocks it mentions.

The character is often used as a symbol of great wealth. Reporting in 2009 on the collapse of home prices and tourist spending in the exclusive Hamptons on Long Island, not far from the fictional setting of Gatsby's home, the Wall Street Journal quoted a struggling hotelier as saying "Jay Gatsby is dead."[8]


“Wikipedia is the great postmodern novel” – Qworty and wikipedia as unreliable text

Credit to Salon's Andrew Leonard for the article "Revenge, ego, and the corruption of Wikipedia", which unmasks wiki-troll Qworty and his pattern of anonymous mean-spirited edits to settle old grudges. Qworty – his real name is not important to my discussion of him – was a prolific Wikipedian. He routinely sabotaged the biographies of rival writers by doing things like removing lists of literary prizes they had won after they had died. Because Qworty generally played within the rules of the Wikipedia game, even his most egregious efforts had their defenders:

In the aftermath of the Filipacchi episode, Qworty did not lack for defenders. Qworty, like many other Wikipedia editors, took seriously his responsibility to root out what he considered self promotion, unjustifiable praise or outright puffery. Just the facts, ma’am! He described himself, on his own Wikipedia user page, as particularly focused on identifying and fixing “articles with potential conflicts of interest.” Wherever he found people manipulating Wikipedia to their own advantage, he would intervene.

Andrew Leonard caught wind of Qworty's excesses and decided to investigate further. What he found led to a remarkable revelation: Qworty was playing a game with Wikipedia, a game different from that of neutral points of view and building the knowledge of the world.

Qworty's user page has been blanked, but thanks to Wikipedia's infinite memory, it lives on in past revisions. Before the page was shut down, it was replaced by a  postmodernist manifesto of sorts.

So when you ask “Who is Qworty?” be aware of the affective fallacy and the intentional fallacy. Be aware that not everybody has reacted to my words in the way that you do (because not everybody is like you), and be aware that anybody who is trying to guess my intentions as a writer is blowing the purest gas.

So who is Qworty? Qworty is one of the creators of text on Wikipedia.

And what is Wikipedia? Wikipedia is the great postmodern novel, the book that James Joyce might have written if he had lived long enough and could somehow convert himself into the finite number of monkeys who are writing this postmodern novel that is subtitled “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

Wikipedia is pretty busy telling you what it is not—WP:NOT—so the question must be engaged, just what is Wikipedia, besides a poorly understood post-modern novel in perpetual progress?

The postmodern encyclopedia does not like being described as such, and Qworty (after some thrashing about) has been banned from Wikipedia.

Categorization and its discontents

image from
Wikipedia is going through one of its periodic existential crises, this time over the use of categories. A diligent editor created a category of "American women novelists" and began adding female novelists to it, and then removing them from the category "American novelists". A predictable hue and cry ensued. James Gleick tells the story in some detail in the NY Review of Books, under the title "Wikipedia's Women Problem".

Categorization is hard in a Wikipedia world. The namespace for articles is flat, so there's no implicit categories assigned simply by what a page is named. On the other hand, categories can contain subcategories, and the Wikipedia editors take advantage of this to create elaborate categorical structures. Everything is part of something else, in some extended rhetorical tangle. (The image is from the article Wikipedia:Categorization.)

Categories don't have to have subcategories, of course; that's a convention that's not universal to all wiki software. Localwiki's equivalent structure looks more like tags, and tags are in one big flat namespace with no explicit hierarchy.

Fundamentally the choice is how to best improve findability of articles, and how to incorporate a distinctive feel to a system. Wikipedia has "Category:Doughnuts", with one subcategory "Doughnut shops" which in turn has a subcategory "Tim Hortons" which in turn has 12 pages, including Timbits. Arborwiki has a page Donuts, which includes pages tagged with the tag "donuts", and is in turn tagged as "Pastries that are not strange". (And yes, there is a "Pastries that are strange" tag as well.)

Wikipedia has a problem when the technically correct task of splitting a big category into smaller parts runs smack into the political minefield of deciding which part of the category is to be primary and which is to be secondary. No one wants to be secondary, and no reasonable system would always yield category warring. Perhaps Wikipedia has bumped up against some size limit where it's impossible for any one person to understand the complexity of the classification system it has built.

Related articles

Wikipedia bumps women from 'American novelists' category
Wikipedia working to get rid of women in category: American novelists
What's In A Category? 'Women Novelists' Sparks Wiki-Controversy
American novelists are dudes, according to wikipedia
Is Wikipedia Ghettoizing Female Writers?
Wikipedia's Sexism –
[eim][misc] Too big to categorize
Losing the categorical imperative
What's In A Category? 'Women Novelists' Sparks Wiki-Controversy

Locality vs notability




In Wikipedia, every article is measured against a broad global sense of "notability". An individual or a topic has to be notable and newsworthy enough to be included, and though the standards vary there is some global consensus to what it means. If an article doesn't meet the grade, it's subject to deletion.


On a Localwiki, every article is measured against an individual sense of "locality". An individual or topic has to be relevant to that location that is being covered. Standards vary widely, but the general feeling I get is that if you put the subject's dot on a map and the dot is too far from the center of gravity of the Localwiki, it will be rejected.

This gives curious and interesting results. It means that the closing of an otherwise un-notable buffet restaurant in a strip mall is notable enough for a Localwiki simply because it's local, but also that people making worldwide headlines don't have a place in a Localwiki (unless of course they have some particular and peculiar tie to a single location). 

I find myself wishing that more places had local wikis – the process of editing is much less demanding when you simply need to identify that something is of local interest vs. going up against the global test. And locality is still ambiguous, but not so much as to be impossible to gauge.

Deletionism, or the grim reaper

There is a tremendous appeal to the deletionist point of view.

I spent some time this evening improving Wikipedia by suggesting that some of its less well written articles be removed. The task was relatively simple; hit the "random page" button, read the article, decide if it is so horrible as to be unencyclopedic, and if it is then paste in the "please delete this" template and hope for the best.

Combing through a series of random pages on Wikipedia is more grim than I had expected. Many of the articles were very short, to the typical tune of "X is a village with 42 inhabitants" or "Y was an indifferent soccer player on a minor league team". A surprising number of articles were years old and read "Z will be a television series on a minor television network" with no one bothering to follow up to see whether the series was kept or cancelled.

I haven't always been a deletionist. There was a time when you'd find me in Wikipedia more often than not improving some minor but notable page to make it incrementally better in the hopes that it would not be deleted, or arguing to keep some minimally important article from being deleted. The experience of working through random pages was sufficiently enlightening about the general quality of the work there that it seemed more productive to argue instead to wipe out some of the less well considered contributions.

My weblog is similarly full of indifferent contributions, posts which seem to have been a good idea at the time but which don't have much to argue for themselves now. For a long time I had a habit of writing very short and poorly edited posts just in order to get something out quickly, and I'd love to revisit those and improve them by taking them offline.

A help to solid improvement of a large body of work is some way to randomly index your way through the system and work on the next random piece that comes up in front of you. The standard Typepad system does not have any sort of "random post" structure, so I'll need to somehow improvise. What I think I can do is export the entire contents of my blog, write a script to pull out just the titles and URLs of the posts, then generate something that pulls a random line from that list. If I can do that then I can go back randomly and be ruthless in pruning out things that don't belong any more.

Ideally there's some basis for the notion that rather than writing new words all the time, I should be looking at ways of improving some of the old ones instead. That germ of a good idea, half explored in 150 words 5 years ago, might make a good 750 word essay now. That poorly executed quick post of 7 years ago might be deleted to make room for a better issue now. No one will miss the old words, and I might be able to free up space in my memory for something more positive.

The deletionist point of view, when applied too aggressively, can also be pretty grim. The grim reaper decides that one person's hard work is unworthy of inclusion and attacks everything they do until that contributor goes away. If you get hit by a deletionist of that type, your only best approach is to move your contributions to some other medium where you can contribute without attracting undue attention.

My randomized approach to editorial review is much more like the "chaos monkey" used by some cloud-based online services to ensure that their carefully constructed and complicated system is resilient in the case of failure. The chaos monkey takes down parts of a redundant system at random, forcing it to respond in the way that systems designers had planned for an outage. Because you are exercising the failures in a controlled way you can be prepared for uncontrolled failure at some future time.

I was able to download the entire blog corpus, and to write the little script that pulled out a random title from the total. It's now also time to start doing other textual analysis on this word-hoard, looking for words that are used unusually frequently, or subjects that come up more often than I had imagined. With the right tool set there should be lots of good meta-information that I can reuse and turn into new ideas. After all, there's more than a decade worth of stuff buried in almost 10 megabytes of text, and I'm sure that at least 10% of it is deletable without the slightest loss to anyone.