Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Post #35 Why "Wikiblogs" (probably) won't be coming to a site near you.


The project I referred to in the previous post was twofold; initially it was simply to write a biographical article for Wikipedia about the journalist and author, Estelle Blackburn, whose main claim to fame lay in the writing of the book Broken Lives. In the course of doing this, I noticed recurring messages appearing at the top of my screen from the Wikimedia Foundation, asking for donations to fund their projects. I knew that there had been recurring suggestions about placing advertising on Wikipedia and I felt as uneasy about them as I do about advertising on Australia's SBS broadcasting network. An idea occurred to me which seemed to provide a compromise:

The Wikimedia Foundation could support a firewalled fee-free blogging platform which would have the benefits of the flexibility of the Wikipedia editing system and be superior to the systems being offered by most other blogging servers. By "firewalled" I mean that the Foundation would take the same approach as Google and other providers by laying down certain basic prohibitions but otherwise allow the bloggers to get on with it. As for the content, as long as it stayed within the basic rules, the Foundation could, as the Mission Impossible cliche goes, "disavow any knowledge of you and your actions". Along one side of the blog page would be discreet Google-style ads that would produce revenue that would go entirely to the Foundation.

Now, in principle, that seemed a good idea and was a potential source of massive revenues. I also thought, as I told one Wikipedia administrator, that it was a good riposte to the Google/Microsoft/Yahoo cabal who were feeling the edges of the rug that Wikipedia was standing on with ideas such as "knol". I also know enough about "great ideas" to see that it's best to subject them to a thorough test before taking them to The Boss. I've conducted that test and, when I take up the story later, I'll tell you how the whole thing seems to have crashed and burned...


The most obvious danger to the Foundation from hosting blogs (apart from the strictly illegal material that would be proscribed) is the opinion content of those blogs. That's what blogs mostly are; opinion pieces. I needed to find a stimulus to test the response to an opinion; an opinion that would provoke a hostile response. By chance, that turned out to be rather easy to find.

The post about Estelle Blackburn, Carmen Lawrence and Teddy Kennedy was a response test to see how Wikipedia could/would cope with an editor expressing a provocative opinion on a blog in the context of contributing on a related topic on the Wikipedia site. It occurred to me to choose that matter because it was readily to hand; being a controversial issue related to a couple of people I was writing about. I first created a link from my Wikipedia user page to this blog, then a couple of days later, posted the test material. Apart from a literary conceit of joining some characters together by pointing up similarities in circumstances it was basically a replay of criticisms that were prolific in the Australian media some years ago. I was careful to limit my comments to those matters which would be protected in the United States, where the blog server is located, by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in the Commonwealth of Australia by the ruling of the High Court of Australia pertaining to comment about public figures.

To this end my criticisms of the main subject, Carmen Lawrence, had to focus on her time as an MP and avoid any reference to past or later activities of a type that were pejorative of her, or went beyond her role as a public office-holder. I also had to avoid any accusation of guilt in the context of a charge of which she had been acquitted in court. It's a fine line, but the original scandal which led to a Royal Commission and a perjury trial is one thing; the issue of testimony at the Commission and perjury before it is a complex forensic issue and must be treated completely separately. I kept my commentary well away from that.


Sorry...The rest of this yarn is at a private blog where those I've invited can read it.