Category: Wiki


Online Symposium: Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet–And How To Stop It

It’s an honor to introduce Jonathan Zittrain and the participants in our online symposium on The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It. From tomorrow through Wednesday, we will be discussing Zittrain’s important book, which warns of a shift in the Internet’s trajectory from a wide-open Web of creative anarchy to a series of closed platforms that will curtail innovation.  As  Zittrain predicted, “tethered appliances” dominate our information ecosystem today.  We increasingly trade generative technologies like PCs that permit experimentation for sterile, reliable appliances like mobile phones, video game consoles, and book readers that limit or forbid tinkering.  Zittrain attributes this phenomenon to the unfortunate, yet now predictable, pathologies that generativity enables.  Although generative technologies facilitate innovation, they permit the spread of spam, viruses, malware, and the like.

According to Zittrain, the Internet is at a crucial inflection point.  Rather than sustaining the wide-open Web of creativity and disruption, the Internet may in time become a series of controlled networks that limit innovation and enable inappropriate governmental and corporate surveillance.  Zittrain offers various strategies to forestall such scenarios, including tools to empower users to solve problems that drive users to sterile appliances and networks.  Zittrain argues that our information ecology functions best with generative technology at its core.

The Future of the Internet raises a host of fascinating and timely questions. Is the future of the Internet indeed bleak?  As this month’s cover story for Wired asks: is Zittrain’s dark future only likely in the “commercial content side” of the digital economy?  Might a healthy balance of generative technologies and tethered appliances emerge, or is the move to appliancized networks a grab for control that will be difficult to shake?  Will non-generative technologies impact our democratic commitments and cultural values?  Should we remain committed to protecting generativity?  Are there alternative strategies for preserving innovation besides the ones that Zittrain offers?

To consider these and other issues, we have invited an all-star cast of thinkers:

Steven Bellovin

M. Ryan Calo

Laura DeNardis

James Grimmelmann

Orin Kerr

Lawrence Lessig

Harry Lewis

Daithí Mac Síthigh

Betsy Masiello

Salil Mehra

Quinn Norton

Alejandro Pisanty

Joel Reidenberg

Barbara van Schewick

Adam Thierer

My co-bloggers will join this conversation as well.  In a post in April 2009, co-blogger Deven Desai started our conversation about The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It.  Since that time, the wild-fire adoption of tethered appliances, iPod applications, iTunes, and the like have shown just how prophetic and important Zittrain’s book is.  We are excited for the discussion to begin.


Wikitruth Through Wikiorder

350px-Difficult_editor_-_flow_chart.pngAlmost four years ago, I blogged at Prawfs about a weird dispute on Wikipedia about the Kelo case. I wrote that “[t]here is a whole ADR and conflict resolution system being set up behind the scenes, in the absence of (a) money; (b) the Bar; or (c) personal contact. And we don’t have to go to Shasta County for months on end to see it.”

Wiki’s DR process continued to fascinate me, and I eventually teamed up with Temple’s Salil Mehra, a comparative IP scholar, to write about the system. We’ve finished just finished a draft, which starts with the following snippet:

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were both born on February 12, 1809. When some individuals hear about this coincidence, it seems remarkable. To others, it is mundane. To Wikipedia editors working on the encyclopedia’s articles about Darwin and Lincoln, the factoid was the subject of a contentious dispute resolution process that encompassed two polls, outside editor comments, a request for mediation, and a formal arbitration proceeding that generated over 30,000 words in evidentiary submissions and thousands of volunteer man-hours.

The problem motivating the fracas was whether or not the shared birthday merited inclusion in the Wikipedia’s biography of Darwin. Because Wikipedia’s editing process is open, editors who disagree might endlessly recycle their views, leading to unstable articles, entrenched disagreement and a loss of initiative, altogether destroying the site’s utility. In response, Wikipedia has developed a volunteer-run, highly articulated, dispute resolution system. That system starts with the informal, guided, exchange of views, muddles through mediation, and terminates in an Arbitration Committee, which hears evidence presented by the parties before issuing findings of fact and conclusions of policy and law. Such decisions, organized by volunteer arbitration clerks and disseminated by volunteer reporters, have created a virtual Wiki-common law.

As the result of the binding arbitration in the Darwin Birthday Dispute, two editors were banned from the site for a month for their lack of cooperation with others, and one was further prohibited from editing either Darwin’s or Lincoln’s article. A third individual was formally thanked by the arbitrators for his work as a counselor to one of the banned parties. The Arbitrators, per their usual rule, did not resolve the content of the dispute: non-banned parties were free to continue testing whether the Emancipator and the Scientist’s shared birthday was worthy of note.

There are at least two separate levels of strangeness about this story.

• Why do people spend time editing Wikipedia articles and why they would care enough about this particular fact to disagree?

• Why does Wikipedia have a dispute resolution system that doesn’t resolve disputes?

Interested in reading more? Download our draft, which just went up on SSRN. Or, if you are a law review editor, check your inbox. We’re in there!


Is Wikipedia Cooling Off?

350px-Wikipedia_New_Users.pngThis newsgroup post, and its accompanying graphical material, makes the surprising claim that the Wikipedia community is less healthy than it used to be:

Since early this year, and for the first extended period in Wikipedia’s history, the activity rate of the Wikipedia community has been declining. This can be seen in the rate of editing articles (-17%), the rate of new account registration (-25%), blocks (-30%), protections (-30%), uploads (-10%), article deletions (-25%), etc. Some exceptions are the article creation rate (+25%) and image deletions (+80%), but overall the community appears to be doing less now than it was 6 months ago.

If these data are reliable, you’ve got to wonder what happened. Is it the Essjay-related credibility problem, as the author of the post suggests, or is it a breakdown of Wikipedia’s dispute resolution system? I’m tempted toward the latter explanation as at least a contributing factor, not least because it fits part of the story I’m writing in a jointly authored article about Wikipedia’s dispute resolution process. (Previewed in this blog post.) In particular, the number of “reverts” is on the rise, reducing the value of thoughtful editing and community involvement. Revert wars, as a form of unproductive low-level conflict between users, are just what the dispute resolution system was designed to ameliorate.

Update: For more evidence of the thesis, check out this post from later in the same thread (emphasis added):

Personally, I would suggest that Wikipedia has indeed become more bureaucratic, and it will progress little further until a rethink of the core ideology is considered, particularly wrt. to how to derive/amend policy, core policy issues, handling bias or concepts of truth, dispute resolution and what to do when there isn’t consensus (i.e. no consensus for the status quo, no consensus for proposed or active changes). The whole idea that Wikipedia acts by consensus is a sham. It’s not a democracy of course either, it’s not even anarchy, or specifically authority-driven(dictatorial). In individual cases it’s whatever people can get away with. That’s not a good concept of consensus (i.e. “what sticks is there by tacit agreement”); it ignores the fact that rational people will eventually give up rather than deal with bullies and morons.


The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet

Cover-new.jpgI‘m very excited to announce that my new book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy, is now hot off the presses! Copies are now in stock and available on and Barnes & Noble’s website. Copies will hit bookstores in a few weeks.

From the book jacket:

Teeming with chatrooms, online discussion groups, and blogs, the Internet offers previously unimagined opportunities for personal expression and communication. But there’s a dark side to the story. A trail of information fragments about us is forever preserved on the Internet, instantly available in a Google search. A permanent chronicle of our private lives—often of dubious reliability and sometimes totally false—will follow us wherever we go, accessible to friends, strangers, dates, employers, neighbors, relatives, and anyone else who cares to look. This engrossing book, brimming with amazing examples of gossip, slander, and rumor on the Internet, explores the profound implications of the online collision between free speech and privacy.

Daniel Solove, an authority on information privacy law, offers a fascinating account of how the Internet is transforming gossip, the way we shame others, and our ability to protect our own reputations. Focusing on blogs, Internet communities, cybermobs, and other current trends, he shows that, ironically, the unconstrained flow of information on the Internet may impede opportunities for self-development and freedom. Long-standing notions of privacy need review, the author contends: unless we establish a balance between privacy and free speech, we may discover that the freedom of the Internet makes us less free.

For quite some time, I’ve been thinking about the issue of how to balance the privacy and free speech issues involved with blogging and social networking sites. In the book, I do my best to propose some solutions, but my primary goal is to spark debate and discussion. I’m aiming to reach as broad an audience as possible and to make the book lively yet educational. I hope I’ve achieved these goals.

I welcome any feedback. Please let me know what you think of the book, as I’d be very interested in your thoughts.


Wikipedia, Consensus, and Truth (or at least Gary Coleman)

Dave’s post on WikiScanner reminds me of an article last week in The Times about the other juicy revelations that Wiki-Scanner has uncovered, such as self-editing by the CIA, the Vatican, the British Labour Party, and a number of big corporations. The article goes on to argue:

There is no necessary reason that Wikipedia’s continual revisions enhance knowledge. It is quite as conceivable that an early version of an entry in Wikipedia will be written by someone who knows the subject, and later editors will dissipate whatever value is there. Wikipedia seeks not truth but consensus, and like an interminable political meeting the end result will be dominated by the loudest and most persistent voices.

This is a good (if a bit grumpy) criticism of the Wiki model. Wikis do seem to gravitate towards consensus, and as such are really efficient aggregators of facts. Where facts are not in dispute, Wikis do a fantastic job. For example, if you wish to learn about The Simpsons, Doctor Who, or the geneaology of the House of Windsor, Wikipedia is a great resource.

But for the important questions, it is quite different. Any time judgment or contested notions of truth come into play, people are quite naturally going to assert their own view of reality. Wikipedia is just another context (albeit a highly-manipulable one) in which these fights play out. In addition to consensus, money, energy, and persistence can affect how the “truth” is presented. It probably shouldn’t be surprising that Wikipedia entries are being manipulated in this way. If anything, it’s more surprising that people seem to believe that Wikipedia entries can give them easy truth on complicated questions that require judgment, reflection, interpretation, and thought. Even Encyclopedia Britannica can’t do that, though it may be a little less subject to manipulation in the name of good PR. But then again, Britannica is probably not as strong on Gary Coleman’s appearance on the Simpsons (episode 235, in case you were wondering).


A Slow Day at the Office: Lawyers Editing on Wikipedia

Wikipedia.jpg[UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit and AbovetheLaw readers. While you are here, read some of my co-bloggers’ great stuff on pirate politics, carbon off-sets, and Max Roach.]

WikiScanner is this week’s killer-app. Prompted by a short post on Xoxohth, I decided to see whether our nation’s busy law firm lawyers are spending their downtime editing Wikipedia entries. And, of course, they are. Of the thousands of edits I saw, I decided to focus on one topic matter: editing law firm webpages. Not surprisingly, law firms are using Wikipedia to burnish their reputations and trash their competitors. Here are a few examples:

Wachtell’s edits (Editing Kramer Levin, Cravath, and Wachtell)

S&C’s edits (editing S&C)

Skadden’s edits (editing Jones Day and Skadden)

Baker’s edits (editing Baker)

Jones Day’s edits (editing Jones Day)

Latham’s edits (editing Latham and Cravath)

Sidley’s edits (editing Ropes, Sidley, and asserting that Sidley is a white shoe firm)

Shearman’s edits (editing Shearman)

White and Case’s edits (adding W&C as a white shoe firm)

Morgan’s edits (editing Morgan)

Mayer Brown’s edits (adding Mayer as a part of “Big Law”)

Davis Polk’s edits (editing Davis)

There is quite a bit more in these records. Honors go to the first reader who can find an edit by a lawfirm of a client’s webpage that either deals with a then-pending legal dispute or offers a critique or negative comment.


Spies and Wikipedia

Wikipedia.jpgCheck out this bizarre story: a wikipedia administrator allegedly has distorted editing of the site’s article on the Entebbe operation, because, this site alleges, she is a spy for an unidentified national government.

Believable? Who knows. I’ve got to think that a spy agency that spends its human capital editing wikipedia entries instead of, say, finding the nation’s enemies and introducing them to targeted justice, has a misplaced set of priorities. Even if the agency were to suppress, in one medium, some aspect of the “truth” about its activities, the internet is like a vast gopher game: suppress a fact here, and it pops up there.

(h/t: Slashdot)


When Wikipedia Knows Something Too Soon

Wikipedia.jpgOne of the virtues of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is that it can reflect new information very quickly after it becomes known. But there’s a rather odd development in the case of wrestler Chris Benoit’s murder of his family and suicide. From the AP:

Investigators are looking into who altered pro wrestler Chris Benoit’s Wikipedia entry to mention his wife’s death hours before authorities discovered the bodies of the couple and their 7-year-old son.

Benoit’s Wikipedia entry was altered early Monday to say that the wrestler had missed a match two days earlier because of his wife’s death.

A Wikipedia official, Cary Bass, said Thursday that the entry was made by someone using an Internet protocol address registered in Stamford, Connecticut, where World Wrestling Entertainment is based.

An IP address, a unique series of numbers carried by every machine connected to the Internet, does not necessarily have to be broadcast from where it is registered. The bodies were found in Benoit’s home in suburban Atlanta, and it’s not known where the posting was sent from, Bass said. . . .

Benoit’s page on Wikipedia, a reference site that allows users to add and edit information, was updated at 12:01 a.m. Monday, about 14 hours before authorities say the bodies were found. The reason he missed a match Saturday night was “stemming from the death of his wife Nancy,” it said.



In July of 2006, I argued here that the law review submission process would be aided by a Wiki. The purpose of the page: to collect information on submissions, accepted articles, board preferences, and other useful tips.

So I started a place where folks could work together to create a public good:

A reader who is “a bit of a wiki-cynic” reminded me of the project recently. The page seems to have withered on the vine. What happened folks? Is this project less socially useful than, say, a description of the cell nucleus, today’s featured Wikipedia article?

For what it is worth, Michael Froomkin’s Law Review Copyright Wiki, while significantly better than my page in every way, also has been relatively under-edited.