How Is There Diversity In Knowledge?

The following conversation took place after a tweet of mine about “robot-writing” and Wikipedia / Wikimedia was retweeted and shortly after received a reply by @vrandezo who works at Wikidata. We talked about a lot of topics and in these took quite different stances.

In retrospect much of our differences may be due to our different conceptions (or preconceptions) of what constitutes “diversity” in knowledge, in knowledge sources, in lexicography in general, and how to preserve or “mirror” that in a collaborative medium like Wikipedia. There seems to be a divide on where to “locate” the diversity – does it reside primarily in the amount of people’s opinions and can be neutrally expressed and added to a corpus of other opinions and statements? Or does it lie in (or include) the viewpoints and perspectives under / with which these opinions are formed? In the first case, it may make sense to invite as many people as possible to participate and contribute. In the second, stances on topics, perspectives and editorial guidelines will have to be taken into account (as most spezialized dictionaries and encyclopaedias do) and may cause a selection in contributions.

The question has impact on others. Should (and can) Wikipedia aim to “include” all human “knowledge” at all? How neutal is the “neutral standpoint” under which articles have to be written? If specialized encyclopaedias are indeed embodiments of certain perspectives on a given subject, does Wikipedia (cum Google) then oust diversity in knowledge sources and with that knowledge proper? And above all: What about the assumption that editoral stances, perspectives, viewpoints are not themselves opinions or may not be treated as such? Gripping questions.

I didn’t want to lose the exchange between @vrandezo and me in the void of the twitterverse. So I asked him to give his permission to put our to-and-fro into a blog post. He kindly assented. The tweets are reprinted without any changes in orthography or style. The main effort lied in making the criss-crossing of our tweets more accessible. This included at times to repeat a tweet (as “outdents”), when ongoing replies would have hampered readability.

As @vrandezo releases his tweets under CC-BY-SA, so in this case I do the same. (I usally prefer the more restrictive CC-BY-NC-ND.) This post thus stands under a broad Creative Common-license. You are invited to play with it.

simsa0

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@simsa0
Robot-writing benefits Wikimedia: Data-mine the web, robot-write the articles, get rid of editors, call it a relief for humans, help Google.
2:52 PM – 21 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
To enable robot-writing for Wikipedia on a grand scale, you need standardized data sets. That’s were Wikidata comes in.
2:53 PM – 21 Aug 13

‏@MagnusManske
@simsa0 Even with larger datasets on #wikidata, you can only generate stubs, e.g. from https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q181  Humans needed to flesh out
3:34 PM – 21 Aug 13

@simsa0
@MagnusManske This may be the case right now; but wait 5 years.
7:35 PM – 21 Aug 13

@simsa0
@MagnusManske When data-sets get read-/writeable by humans & machines, they enhance automatically (due to licenses that allow alteration).
7:55 PM – 21 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 @MagnusManske You expect us to create full-fledged articles in several hundred languages in five years? I thought I’m an optimist :)
9:52 PM – 21 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo I am a pessimist, and I think so, yes. :)
9:57 PM – 21 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 No, I am afraid Wikidata alone cannot get us there, as Magnus said. But you might find this interesting: http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/A_proposal_towards_a_multilingual_Wikipedia
10:54 PM – 21 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 But why pessimistic? Enable everyone to share knowledge to everyone else, across languages – wouldn’t that be great?
10:57 PM – 21 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo 1/4 It’s not “knowledge” but “reliable information” that is shared, at most (given article-biases). So I don’t share your premiss.
2:31 AM – 22 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo 2/4 I don’t want to denigrate the immense effort of its participants, but IMO WP does more harm than good to “knowledge”.
2:31 AM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo 3/4 And I am pessimistic b/c I expect WP / Wikidata to be successful, thereby (cum Google) ousting diversity in knowledge sources.
2:31 AM – 22 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo 4/4 But thank you anyway for your replies. I imagine you have a busy schedule, so I don’t want to waste your time.
2:31 AM – 22 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 Re 2/4: Are you saying the world would be better off without a free encyclopedia? If millions would not have access to it?
11:45 AM – 22 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo 1/2 Wikipedia is produced & consumed in affluent Global North West (that does doesn’t need it due to other means of information).
12:21 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo 2/2 WP makes no difference to those elsewhere. Given WP otherwise negative impacts, world would indeed be better off w/o it.
12:21 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 Re 3/4: I am very concerned about knowledge diversity. Read more here:
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/the-problem-with-wikidata/255564/ including my answer in the comments.
11:46 AM – 22 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo a/d I know this piece. But it’s not about incorporating diff worldviews in what is still One platform, but that WP cum Google…
12:40 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo b/d (w/ or w/o Wikidata) ousts other knowledge sources, makes them unfindable. This is not solely a problem due to WP. So there…
12:41 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo c/d …is an urgent need to persuade publishers of other specialized dictionaries to make theirs online available. They won’t …
12:41 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo d/d …do so until being refunded (e.g. via national endowments?). This is more important than write for WP & reinvent the wheel.:
12:41 PM – 22 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 go ahead and fix the publishing system. Until then we work on free alternatives. and both Wikidata & pedia ref sources, not hide ’em
2:40 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 re 2/2: I disagree that Wikipedia doesnt make a diff besides in the Gl.NW, e.g.
http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Unlock_the_Secrets_of_Wikipedia_Zero and own exp. w/ small langs
2:35 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@simsa0 22 Aug
@vrandezo Views from GS indeed grew since 2011, but editing? Problem isn’t access but irrelevance of topics, bias, preference of orality etc
2:49 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo 22 Aug
@simsa0 do you have numbers or sources substantiating that these are the problems and that editing from GS has not increased rel to GNW?
3:13 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 go ahead and fix the publishing system. Until then we work on free alternatives. and both Wikidata & pedia ref sources, not hide ’em
2:40 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo 1/3 Don’t be a vicitim of your own PR ;) In many encyclopaedias sources are listet, and the sources are usally better than WP’s |
3:14 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo 2/3 There are 2 copyrighted but open accessible encyclopaedias in philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/ & http://www.iep.utm.edu/
3:14 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo 3/3 …that list their sources & whose articles are on all accounts better than those of WP en / de / es. So I choose them, not WP
3:14 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 do you have numbers or sources substantiating that these are the problems and that editing from GS has not increased rel to GNW?
3:13 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0 22
@vrandezo a/b On July 29th, 2011 edits have been thus
http://stats.wikimedia.org/wikimedia/animations/requests/AnimationEditsOneDayWp.html Have edits from GS significantnly increased since then?
3:29 PM – 22 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 You claim it hasn’t. I ask u for numbers supporting ur claim. Also: You sure Wikipedia has less editors from GS than plato.stanford?
3:42 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo b/b | For bias in topic,gender,ethnicity see e.g. (admittedly ad hoc ex. stemming from a diff discussion) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Deeceevoice
3:29 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 You claim it hasn’t. I ask u for numbers supporting ur claim. Also: You sure Wikipedia has less editors from GS than plato.stanford?
3:42 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo 1/4 Calm down. No need for shoot out. | 2nd question  : Editoriai principles differ, so sense of question unclear to me.
4:12 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo 2/4 > 1st question: Just indications. One reason: Every question ABOUT wikipedia is translated by Google cum WP as query INSIDE
4:12 PM – 22 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 No, indications are not good enough. You might be right, but we should actually check the data. Otherwise discussion is moot.
6:48 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo 3/4 … existing WP-articles of diff. topics, making it hard to find info. So just compare http://stats.wikimedia.org/wikimedia/animations/requests/AnimationEditsOneDayWp.html and
4:12 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo 4/4 http://rcmap.hatnote.com/#en,ja,nl,ar,as,pa,sa,mr,gu,kn,te,hi,fa,it,es,de,ru,fr,sv,bn,id,ta,or (w/ all language-options ticked). Looks pretty the same.
4:12 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo Off now for a while, have to go fetch some water from the wood. We can continue later.
4:14 PM – 22 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 Never meant to shout. Twitter only gives you 140 chars, no place for smileys :) Point of 2nd q: is there anything better?
6:47 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 No, indications are not good enough. You might be right, but we should actually check the data. Otherwise discussion is moot.
6:48 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo If you need numbers, then we should ask @Infodisiac .| 2nd question  : Anythiung better than what? (Sorry, I don’t get it.)
7:23 PM – 22 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 Do you know of *any* encyclopedic resource written by a more diverse set of people than Wikipedia?
10:55 AM – 23 Aug 13

@simsa0
@Infodisiac You did an animation of all edit events of all WPs at 07.29.2011 http://stats.wikimedia.org/wikimedia/animations/requests/AnimationEditsOneDayWp.html Is there a recent,new one? cc @vrandezo
7:32 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo “Wikimedia Traffic Analysis Reports”, views:
http://stats.wikimedia.org/wikimedia/squids/SquidReportPageViewsPerLanguageBreakdown.htm edits:
http://stats.wikimedia.org/wikimedia/squids/SquidReportPageEditsPerLanguageBreakdown.htm  | via http://infodisiac.com/blog/2012/11/wikipedia-page-reads-breakdown-by-region/
7:50 PM – 22 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo In sum, WP stays a phenomenon of the affluent middle classes, primarily in GNW, burt also in parts of prosperous Asia.
8:07 PM – 22 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 WP is still wide ahead of any other encyclopedic knowledge source outside of GNW+someAsia, and it is steadily improving its reach.
11:00 AM – 23 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo “Wikipedia page reads, breakdown by region” by @infodisiac http://infodisiac.com/blog/2012/11/wikipedia-page-reads-breakdown-by-region/ should settle it. If u need more,it’s your turn.
7:55 PM – 22 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo 23 Aug
@simsa0 Those numbers show an increase in views to 150% over three years in Africa. And with Wikipedia Zero we expect even more growth.
10:58 AM – 23 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo [1/4] If traffic is all you want, then the signs may encourage you. And I didn’t dispute increase in traffic (or even views). But
1:50 AM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo [2/4] just a rise (double+) in traffic doesn’t mean much. In fact, not only traffic but edits (in contrast to views) remained low.
1:50 AM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo [3/4] And this seems to hold for large parts of GS (Africa, Asia) : neither are Big WPs edited by GS, nor does GS develop “own”
1:50 AM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo [4/4] WPs, thus cementing one-sidedness in content selection, systemic biases, etc in Big WPs (that all stem from GNW).
1:50 AM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo I am out of town for a few days. Answers will take while. Thx nonetheless for replies.
1:03 AM – 24 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 Do you know of *any* encyclopedic resource written by a more diverse set of people than Wikipedia?
10:55 AM – 23 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo [a/b] No, but I find this to be an ignoratio elenchi. Huge number of “contributors” doesn’t eo ipso correlate w/ quality or …
1:03 AM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo [b/b] …  multitude of perspectives, quite the contrary. Cf. http://www.renekoenig.eu/Publikationen/RK_Extended%20Abstract.pdf by @R_Koenig [Diff topic, but helpful here.]
1:03 AM – 27 Aug 13

@brightbyte
@vrandezo @simsa0 I think that WP has been increasing the diversity of knowledge available to any single person. The question is…
11:11 AM – 23 Aug 13

‏@brightbyte
@vrandezo @simsa0 The question is whether WP decreases the global diversity of human knwldge. Consolidation, by nature, reduces complexity.
11:14 AM – 23 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@brightbyte @vrandezo [A/D] Every serious def of “knowledge” contains the truth-predicate. As WP isn’t about truth,it’s not about knowledge.
11:39 AM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@brightbyte @vrandezo [B/D] Having said this, my take is WP acts as gatekeeper: it monopolizes access 2 “reliable” info. (cf. blackout SOPA)
11:39 AM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@brightbyte @vrandezo [C/D] w/ that + systemic biases (exclusivity of literality over orality…) + human biases (PR editing, relevance…)
11:39 AM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@brightbyte @vrandezo [D/D]  it decreases diversity globally & the individual person. This is not due to consolidation but appropriation.
11:39 AM – 27 Aug 13

@brightbyte
@simsa0 I can’t see how WP would reduce the diversity of info available to an individual. Can you explain? Gone evidence?
11:47 AM – 27 Aug 13

‏@brightbyte
@simsa0 I don’t think the mission is complete or the arguments settled. I don’t think that will ever happen.
11:48 AM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@brightbyte @vrandezo [a/b] [Sidenote:] You’re victim to a common WP-fallacy (or rhetorical trick) : You argue from the ideal of the mission
11:39 AM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@brightbyte @vrandezo [b/b] statement instead of the given facts. You assume work as already been done & benefits of WP as already settled.
11:44 AM – 27 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 WP has value and it is continuously improving. That is what I am working on. What are you working on? What are better alternatives?
11:51 AM – 27 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 “better” in all the senses that you mention, i.e. diversity, accessibility, “truth”, etc.
11:52 AM – 27 Aug 13


@brightbyte
@simsa0 I can’t see how WP would reduce the diversity of info available to an individual. Can you explain? Gone evidence?
11:47 AM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@brightbyte (1/2) If a reader has no clue, he will only read WP entry on G.E. Moore https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._E._Moore not the far better ones
11:59 AM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@brightbyte (2/2) ones here http://www.iep.utm.edu/moore/  & here http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moore/ A stub is presented as “best we have”, which isn’t the case
12:00 PM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@brightbyte Again : WP (cum Google) acts as gatekeeper to encyclpaedic info, puts even available info out of reach, thus reduces diversity.
12:02 PM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@brightbyte a/b Specialized encycl. cover different takes on lemma that vanish in 1 perspective like WP. (cf. http://www.renekoenig.eu/Publikationen/RK_Extended%20Abstract.pdf how WP
12:35 PM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@brightbyte b/b reduces aspects. @R_Koenig’s take can be generalized beyond his example). Try “crucifixion” in the LCI & RGG 4 illustration.
12:38 PM – 27 Aug 13

‏@brightbyte
@simsa0 I don’t think the mission is complete or the arguments settled. I don’t think that will ever happen.
11:48 AM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@brightbyte Then why do you speak about knowledge in WP at all?
11:55 AM – 27 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 WP has value and it is continuously improving. That is what I am working on. What are you working on? What are better alternatives?
11:51 AM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo (1/4) I didn’t say it has no value, I said it does more harm than good. Re: what I am working on: I work as a dishwasher. More to
12:18 PM – 27 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 Being a dishwasher does not mean you cannot work on making the world better. The Web is open and everyone can join in improving it.
1:50 PM – 27 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 En contraire: you ask for more diversity, for more dishwashers to join, but then when it’s up to the work you say “meh, no, not me”?
1:51 PM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo (2/4) the point: 1.We already talked about other encyclopaedias & need to make them accesible. 2. I’m not working in that field at
12:18 PM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo (3/4) all, so your “tu quoque” doesn’t apply to me. 3. I try NOT to use WP, I actively evade it. But as I see WP grow, I think
12:18 PM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo (4/4) about its effects. 4. better alternatives > plurality of specialized encyclopaedias & dictionaries (cf. 1.)
12:18 PM – 27 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 “better” in all the senses that you mention, i.e. diversity, accessibility, “truth”, etc.
11:52 AM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo (2/4) the point: 1.We already talked about other encyclopaedias & need to make them accesible. 2. I’m not working in that field at
12:18 PM – 27 Aug 13

@vrandezo
@simsa0 I ask you about specific encyclopedias that are better than WP on qualities you require, like diversity, reliance on oral etc.
1:48 PM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo (1/2) I already answered that — take specialized encyclopaedias as embodiment of different perspectives, e.g., LCI, RGG, DHI …
1:57 PM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo (2/2) … http://plato.stanford.edu/ | Orality = example of of knowledge that WP shouldn’t cover for negative impacts of literality.
2:01 PM – 27 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 Being a dishwasher does not mean you cannot work on making the world better. The Web is open and everyone can join in improving it.
1:50 PM – 27 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 En contraire: you ask for more diversity, for more dishwashers to join, but then when it’s up to the work you say “meh, no, not me”?
1:51 PM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo (a/c) I ask for more diversity by insisting on stressing WP not to become the sole gatekeeper of “knowledge”. I definitely do not
3:23 PM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo (b/c) ask for more dishwashers for more “diversity”. | Why should I join your way of “world-bettering”? And why do you think
3:23 PM – 27 Aug 13

@simsa0
@vrandezo (c/c) I don’t work to make the world better? I just don’t do WP. > Ad hominems are fruitless.
3:25 PM – 27 Aug 13

‏@vrandezo
@simsa0 I didn’t ad hominem. I said, instead of complaining, do sth about it. You do it your way, I do it mine. I hope we both create win.
3:54 PM – 27 Aug 13

‏@simsa0
@vrandezo I don’t complain, I give my reasons why I think WP isn’t that good an idea. No need 4 me to improve something I don’t believe in.
3:59 PM – 27 Aug 13

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