The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

Jan 15 29 2015

Press

InfamousThoughtlessCareless

Good commentary: The GuardianGawkerPandoDailyThe Mary SueWil WheatonDer Standardde VolkskrantDr. Clare Hooper P. Z. MyersFayerWayerThink ProgressStacey MasonThe VergeHeise Der Verdieping TrouwProf. David Millard

Wikipedia admin: at home

I know other other allegations [about Zoe Quinn] exist but will not state what those on Wikipedia are because that would be a violation at the current time.

We need to be aware that there are other things the pro-Gamergate side would like Wikipedia to say [about Zoe Quinn] but we are nowhere close to having any sources to even speak of them, much less cover them. I don't believe any of said things are true in any remote way.

Wikipedia CEO: at Davos

I (and Wikipedia) neither support nor oppose Quinn. Wikipedia is not a battleground.

Zoe Quinn: in hiding

Every attempt gets cut short by some fresh, new, horrible news about someone trying to get into my accounts, a new asinine conspiracy theory being used as an excuse to dox people I went to high school with, friends freaking out because anonymous message board people are talking about how to mail them bombs, or just another death threat. At least the death threats have become somewhat routine.

For five months, Zoe Quinn has been on the run from GamerGate. A terrific and terrifying look at what it’s like if you’re a fairly obscure software developer and one day you cross this braying mob. Read this.

The final decision of the Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee is out. Despite some tweaks and additions, it remains an infamous mistake. The toothless plank against harassment of wikipedia editors (only) did sneak through with ten votes. Of the key feminist editors whose heads GamerGate demanded, all are sanctioned. In the wake of public outcry, a few disposable GamerGate accounts were added to the sanctions as a fig leaf.

All the sanctions extend from Gamergate to "any gender-related dispute or controversy." This innovation, introduced by ArbCom to much surprise, shows that ArbCom believed this dispute to be about feminism. They’ve recently had another case regarding a feminism task force, which may have put the topic in their head. But, this was not really about feminism until ArbCom said it was: not unless you believe (as some arbitrators apparently did) that the right of women to work in computer science and software development is an open political question in 2015, one in which both sides should be carefully weighed.

Somehow, time was found in the process for issuing a bunch of press releases and statements, not all of which accurately described what turned out to be the result. Memo for files #1: if you’re telling the press nobody is going to be banned, it’s bad form to change your mind and ban someone.

“Now with less infamy!”

The Wikimedia Foundation press office might be advised to take a fresh look at Miss Manners. Sending out statements describing someone as “banned blogger Mark Bernstein” might make you feel good, and it might score points in a talk page debate, but you aren’t on Wikipedia now and you’re talking to reporters, not some kids in their parents’ basement. Reporters are going to find my doctorate anyway. They’ll find my affiliation and title, too. If they care, they’ll find the research papers and all that. Making them jump through extra hoops just makes them wonder why you’re acting as you are.

And, not to repeat myself, but: “Now with less infamy!” isn’t the best messaging, but it’s better than what you’ve got now.

Memo for files #2: if you’re sanctioning a bunch of editors for zealously defending your encyclopedia from people universally described as dangerously misanthropic – even in Wikipedia – it might be unwise to make “Civility” the centerpiece of your foundation’s presser.

Taking Care

Wikipedia fails – even now – to show any sign of thought for harassed editors or care for its victims. Making matters worse, Wikipedia’s foolish embrace of needless anonymity makes it more difficult for us to take proper care, either.

In my work, I review a lot of scientific papers for conferences and journals. I care about writing – I care more than most of my colleagues, I think – and in my reviews I try to argue for better writing and I try to show people how their drafts might be improved. Sometimes, this is best done harshly; at other times, humorously. But one rule I try to observe is: don’t make fun of the mistakes of people who aren’t native speakers.

On Wikipedia, I had a shadow from GamerGate, a guy who’d follow me around and try to step on my toes. He was good at that, but he’s a really inept writer, given to hilarious complaints about “conspiracing” and also putting plenty of carts before his horses. I could write a funny little blog post about it. But I have a sneaking suspicion that he might be a kid who writes perfectly well in (say) Croatian or Nynorsk and who has a few problems with his English and with his logic when he gets carried away.

Occasionally, I’ve been torn: is a Wikipedian pretending to be stupid in order to be obstructive, or are they simply stupid? Are they acting like a petulant child because they are a petulant child? Are they saying the same thing over and over, day after day, in order to run out the clock of a debate, or might they have a real disability, doing the very best they can with a mind that’s breaking down under the weight of age and disease?

Routine anonymity makes it harder to take proper care.

The Encyclopedia Where Anyone Can Call Your Mother A Prostitute, Or Not Call Her A Prostitute.

Wikipedia doesn’t care. Just yesterday, Wikipedia honcho Jimmy Wales said:

I (and Wikipedia) neither support nor oppose Quinn. Wikipedia is not a battleground.

Quinn is a software developer. A former boyfriend once wrote an angry, rambling blog post which falsely accused her of seducing a reporter in order to get a good review.

As a result, GamerGate fans have endlessly discussed ever facet of every rumor of her life all over Wikipedia — at Gamergate, at her page, at 4chan — a talk board where GamerGate people like to hang out, at 8chan – another talk board. They discussed it a Arbcom for an hour until I screamed bloody murder all over the Internet. Every week or two, a “new” GamerGate editor shows up and starts the whole thing again.

This is not an isolated case — I talk this one because (a) it’s spilt water, and (b) Quinn has a stiff upper lip, for which everyone owes her thanks.

But Wikipedia is not a battleground. We should sit around and calmly discuss again, at every greater length and in ever greater detail, every speculation and rumor. And if we run out of things to talk about, GamerGate has a binder full of women and a briefcase full of sex.

I know other other allegations exist but will not state what those on Wikipedia are because that would be a violation at the current time.

We need to be aware that there are other things the pro-Gamergate side would like Wikipedia to say but we are nowhere close to having any sources to even speak of them, much less cover them. I don't believe any of said things are true in any remote way.

Above all, let’s always be civil.

Jan 15 28 2015

Unanswered

Supplemental to: InfamousThoughtlessCareless

The Wikimedia responds to “Infamous” with a call for civility, illustrated with a picture of a bunch of US Navy personnel framing a house. It seems the girls and their friends should be nicer, never mind the rape threats, the murder threats, the pictures of dead dogs, the anti-Semitic cartoons, the pictures of the software engineer’s dead sister. And the Gamergate people behind all this should be careful to avoid strong language, too, at least on Wiki. Let’s be fair and make sure everyone is civil!


The Wikipedia Arbitration committee responds to “Thoughtless” with an unprecedented press statement filled with procedural detail and nothing else.


Jimmy Wales takes to Twitter, from Davos or somewhere, to say I’ve got the facts wrong or that I’m a liar or something. After the statement, he says nothing. (No link: you had to be there.

Update: I posted this, then The Verge picked it up and that went viral. That led Jimmy to approach me again on Twitter, to lecture me on how I was mistaken and Wikipedia is perfectly even-handed and to demand this update. But at least there’s dialogue, for some value of dialogue

Still: no thought for volunteers who have been mercilessly harassed and hounded by braying, taunting gangs.

And not a single word of care for victims against whom Wikipedia has been and is being weaponized.

Majestic Indifference

The toothless plank of the Arbitration Committee’s decision that defines (but does not prohibit!) harassment, added as an afterthought and mentioning only Wikipedia editors, not victims against whom Wikipedia is used as a weapon, apparently failed to attract support from 4 of the 14 editors. What’s that about?!

Wikipedia in its majesty equally:

  • allows people to discuss claims that your mother is a prostitute, over and over for months, as part of a coordinated plan to show what happens to girls who work in computing, provided some reliable source somewhere once reported on the claim and without regard to how thoroughly it has been debunked, but it also…
  • … allows other people to not call your mother a prostitute, or to report that she was falsely claimed to be a prostitute, or to state sagely that some sources called her a prostitute, but most some others said this was false.

It’s all good, it seems, provided no one sues the Foundation and no one loses their temper – or worries that endless discussion of false rumors about a blameless software engineer’s sex life, or unending speculation that rape and murder threats might conceivably be faked, do real harm to real families.

Those middle-school girls looking on are sure to get the message: this is what happens if you study computers. They’re listening. That’s the goal of one faction: the faction Wikipedia even-handedly nurtures.

They’re Just Not Very Good At This

I’m a computer scientist and software developer. Before I wrote “Infamous,” my most widely-read essay was probably “Ten Tips For Writing The Living Web,” an early primer on the art of the weblog which was for some time among the most popular issues of A List Apart and which found itself anthologized in some high school and college writing manuals. One of those ten tips is, make good enemies.

A problem here is that Wikipedia/Wikimedia are just no good at this, and an inept opponent is not a good enemy. Seriously, this is too easy. (Hint: when you want to show people cooperating, you might want to rethink that US Navy photo.)

Tips for Wikipedia/Wikimedia Foundation Press Office

Attacking me does little good; I’m the messenger.

Arguing for balance does no you good at all. One side is toxic; the closer you get to people who want to punish women in computing, the more muck gets on your clothes.

Having Jimmy Wales rush onto Twitter, call me a liar, and then run away does little good; I’m just the messenger and it wastes your asset. Putting out talking points that try to play down my credentials does little good, either; anyone who cares can go read the papers or use the software. Your move here is to show lots of respect and formality, to demonstrate how deeply you respect the opponent while, naturally, you disagree. This also gives you a better endgame.

Attacking The Guardian over a minor reporting error – one which, today or tomorrow, will no longer be an error at all – does little good. The Guardian has built a record over 194 years; you’re not going to move that dial.

Quibbling over who is or isn’t a real feminist is fun, but it’s not going to help you either.

Remember that GamerGate has a press operation too. I’m not saying that you’re coordinating with GamerGate, but unless you get some daylight between you and GamerGate– and quickly – people will notice the similarity.

Attacking is the wrong move anyway. Apologize, demonstrate thought, and show care. Sure, that might look like losing: as you say, it’s not a battleground.

  • That the optics of the preliminary decision were awful, everyone now agrees. At the very least, make a full and sincere apology for the optics and the flaws. Point to those small ways in which the decision has improved: “Now with less infamy!” isn’t the best message, but it’s better than what you’ve got now.
  • That loyal Wikipedians have been treated shamefully is obvious. Yes, some were intemperate, and you may think some were insufferable: that doesn’t matter. Take thought to show them support and offer them assistance, assurance, and safety, and offer your gratitude without stint.
  • Even now, the sex lives of blameless women are being dissected on Wikipedia talk pages, and insinuations that they are prostitutes, that they faked their own death threats, and that they lied to the police and the press are being snuck into articles. The whole world knows why. You have not said a word about the victims. This isn’t rocket science: show us you care.

What’s wrong with you?

Jan 15 26 2015

Exodus

From Wikipedia, a transcendent note from medievalist Prof. Nathaniel M. Campbell, Union College:

As a result of Wikipedia's shameful treatment of valiant editors who tried to preserve NPOV in articles about gender-related topics from the slanted edits of gamers involved in Gamergate, I have chosen to cease contributing as an editor.

I had long hoped to improve this article as a result of my academic expertise in Hildegardiana (e.g. I am preparing to publish in English translation the Liber Divinorum Operum with the Catholic University of America Press in 2016, in their Fathers of the Church, Medieval Continuation series), but this betrayal of any concept of NPOV based simply on the fact that the arbitration board was filled with men sympathetic to the misogyny of gamers is too much.

In so doing, I am following the exodus of serious academics who had long labored to make Wikipedia a legitimate rather than laughable encyclopedia, as encouraged by User:MarkBernstein, and his off-site commentary at markbernstein.org. We had high hopes for this platform to disseminate knowledge responsibly in the digital era; Wikipedia has demonstrated this month that they have abdicated that responsibility and dashed those hopes. NathanielMCampbell (talk) 00:16, 27 January 2015 (UTC)

One of the most dedicated, restrained, and temperate of Wikipedia editors, NorthBySouthBaranof, has just resigned from Wikipedia in the wake of the appalling Gamergate decision. His parting user page:

A project which punished editors for defending the good names and reputations of living people from vicious internet trolls does not deserve to survive.
Jan 15 25 2015

Saving The City

by Richard Roberts

A fascinating and detailed study of the financial crisis that struck London in 1914 and engulfed the world. World Trade in 1914 was highly globalized – far more so than at any time before, and world trade only surpassed this mark recently. Back then, the Pound Sterling was the international reference currency, all major currencies were pegged explicitly to gold and implicitly to sterling, and trade was based on bills that could be settled for sterling in London and subsequently converted at the Bank of England to gold. (In practice, settled bills went into accounts and gold was only shipped for arbitrage.)

The problem was that, as war approached, everyone wanted safety, and so everyone bought up London bills. There were soon no bills available, and that meant if you wanted to make a routine transaction, like paying for a shipload of shirts you’d ordered, you couldn’t: you could have plenty of money but you couldn’t get any of the de facto international currency because there wasn’t any to get.

In the end, ways were found to unwind the crisis and to get things going again, and the memory of the near-disaster was largely lost in the disasters that followed. This is a complex and technical story with some interesting characters, and Roberts tells it skillfully.

I seldom read comments or comment boards, but a few MetaFilter comments on my Wikipedia series did catch my eye.

It should probably be pointed out that Mark Bernstein has been thinking about hypertext and digital culture since before there was a Web. When a person like him talks about the possibility that this "may well permanently discredit not only Wikipedia but the entire open Web" there's some reason to take the concern seriously, even if you think (as I do) that the statement is probably a bit hyperbolic.
The proper balance between the competing narratives “she sleeps around” and “there is no way that is any of our business” is not “some sources have said she sleeps around.”
And just a few short months after honoring the memory of Adrianne Wadewitz, ArbCom spits in the faces of feminists. Sickening.

In other news, the Wikimedia Foundation’s PR Office is reportedly distributing talking points seeking to discredit me. Have a fun weekend, guys!

I really dislike this.

  • I like wikis.
  • I like the researcher who invented wikis, Ward Cunningham; unlike Jimmy Wales, Ward isn’t a household name and doesn’t get invited to Davos or have houses on two continents, but he did the work to create wikis and literally wrote the book: wrote the book
  • I added a few flourishes and touches myself, back in the day. The academic citation for visited link colors and for breadcrumbs, both used on every Wiki page, is [Bernstein and Thorsen 86]. The use of tabs for hypertext navigation may well trace back to my paper on “The Bookmark and The Compass” (abstract in first Hypertext conference, 1987; published in TOOIS in 1988), though there might be older precedents. More broadly, some people think my papers on hypertext structure inform the way people write (or should write) with links. Tinderbox takes lots of ideas from wikis and supports wiki functionality. I’ve been both the keynote speaker and the program chair of WikiSym, the leading research conference on wikis.
  • A great place for donations in place of Wikimedia: App Camp For Girls.
Jan 15 24 2015

Reckless

Supplemental to: InfamousThoughtlessCareless

I’ve been blocked at Wikipedia — ostensibly for posting the following comment, but obviously for writing Infamous, Thoughtless, and Careless – and for the further offense of having these become so widely read. (The GuardianGawkerPandoDailyThe Mary SueWil WheatonDer Standardde VolkskrantDr. Clare HooperP. Z. MyersFayerWayerThink ProgressStacey MasonThe Verge)

Thank you to the tens of thousands of new visitors here; your interest is very welcome. If you're interested in software, I hope you'll visit often.

Here’s the passage that drove Wikipedia nuts. It’s in a thread titled with my name and discussing my work on Jimmy Wales’ page, which had apparently been designated by ArbCom as the place to discuss the Proceedings – provided, I guess, that the discussion heaped praise on the arbitrators.

Mark Bernstein’s weblog post

… (many comments from various people)…

That the proposed decision of which I wrote is infamous, is an opinion widely shared. Yes, some of its most extreme measures might not pass and some additional, disposable accounts may be sanctioned to give the impression of balance. Whether or not widespread public indignation at its measures has played some role in that, I cannot say....

Wikipedia has been and continues to be used as a weapon against women in computing; I see little in either the proposed decision or the current revision that recognizes, much less remedies, this, and much that lends assistance to those who would like nothing better than the opportunity to intimidate women with the threat that their own sex lives might be the next topic for Arbcom publicly to scrutinize. — Mark Bernstein


Yesterday on Wikipedia, a new Arbcom case was filed. The complainant observed that Wikipedia now mentions the “false accusations” that a particular software developer prostituted herself, following the example of the New York Times and the New Yorker. Would it not be more neutral, he proposed, to say, “unproven accusations”? And why did people unfairly insist on “false”? (“Greedo8” surely knows more about journalism than the legendary fact-checking department of the New Yorker, right?)

Of course, the point was simply to call this developer a prostitute somewhere on Wikipedia. Every time this is done, people can send anonymous emails to the developer’s aged mother, or to classmates of the developer’s school-age children, or to the developer’s managers, pointing to the discussion.

Editors, administrators and arbitrators sedately discussed the question: should Arbcom start a formal case on the question of this developer’s putative prostitution? I accidentally discovered the filing, contacted Wikipedia’s emergency channels, and began to scream bloody murder on Twitter. A few minutes later, an arbitrator finally blanked the page, No sanction has been taken against the perpetrator, and the old version is still online.


Yesterday on Wikipedia, a Men’s Rights advocate edit-warred the page of an artist who is the husband of another software developer. He said that the artist’s wife "was raped by her family and gave HIV to her husband". Again, this remained as part of the encyclopedia for quite some time. The perpetrator used a disposable account which was blocked for one week; this will not even inconvenience his next effort to harass software developers who happen to be women.


Two days ago on Wikipedia, an edit was made to suggest that one software developer, having been threatened with rape and murder, had not in fact been “forced to flee her home” (as reported by the Boston Globe, among others) but rather had merely “chosen to leave her home.” This remained in the article for quite some time; it is now being discussed at length (again) on the talk page.


Today at Wikipedia – almost a week after the publication of the proposed decision – a clause was finally added concerning “Harassment”. It is good that ArbCom recognizes (at last) that harassment is wrong. Unfortunately, this clause only condemns harassment aimed at Wikipedia editors.

There is still no mention of care for innocent people against whom Wikipedia is wielded like a sword, including the software developers mentioned above. The harassment continues today.

That clause — innocuous and toothless as it is — has thus far mustered only six of fourteen votes.


Arbcom today is busy trying to negotiate clauses that protect itself from inconvenience but that fail to acknowledge, deplore, or take even the feeblest steps to discourage harassment of other people – harassment that Arbcom knows has been and continues to be specifically coordinated to drive women out of computing.

After all, why do these people accuse a software developer over and over again of prostituting herself? Sure, it's to punish her and to discourage female students who might want to pursue a career in computer science. But it also makes an argument: women should stay out of computing because their presence could tempt men to give them preferential treatment in exchange for sex.

Wikipedia is instrumental to a campaign to drive women out of computing.

Wikipedia administrators are too busy to enforce obvious policy violations that do real harm to people who have done no wrong, but they find plenty of time for retribution against their critics.


In the last few days, I’ve seen hundreds, probably thousands of emails and tweets and Facebook posts, asking what can be done. I don’t think Wikipedia can be saved at this point, but I might be wrong.

  • Arbitrators: those responsible for drafting the infamous proposed decision on Gamergate should resign all Wikipedia privileges, offices and honors, immediately.
  • Editors: join me in exile. No one can honorably assist an enterprise that condones these reprehensible actions.
  • Donations to Wikipedia are counter-productive. Donate instead to a charity that assists women in computing, or victims of online harassment. Highly recommended: App Camp For Girls. (Tell them why, ok?)
  • Tell the Wikimedia Foundation that you’re doing this.
  • Tweet that you're not donating to @wikipedia.
  • Teachers: warn students stringently against relying on Wikipedia, especially in contentious areas, and most especially in issues related to feminism and gender, broadly construed.
  • Researchers: document this disaster – there are good doctorates in Web Science, Computer Science, and History for the taking in this mess – and find a path to a replacement. Making anonymity safe, common, and rare is clearly essential to wikis, as is intelligent and responsible oversight. Wikipedia lacked either. It’s unlikely that it can be salvaged, but a better encyclopedia can be built from the ruins.
Jan 15 22 2015

Careless

Part 3 of a series: InfamousThoughtless ❧ Careless

The real crime and most serious mistake in Wikipedia’s infamous draft decision on GamerGate was not that it sanctions every GamerGate target, nor that it gave no thought to the consequences that may have been suffered by the handful of editors who sought to preserve Wikipedia from the coordinated and systematic attack.

Worse than this, the draft decision shows no care for the victims of GamerGate harassment and no concern for the use of Wikipedia as a weapons platform against them.

How It’s Done

GamerGate seeks to drive women out of computing by choosing some targets, harassing them until they go into hiding, and warning the remaining women (and the declining number of women pursuing computer science degrees) that they might be next. Methods for achieving this include:

  • anonymous threats of assault, rape, and murder.
  • anonymous messages to employers seeking to have the victim demoted or dismissed.
  • publicizing the target’s sexual history, both as an end in itself and as a way to make the target less attractive to prospective employers.

At an early date, GamerGate identified Wikipedia, “the encyclopedia anyone can edit,” as ideal for their purposes. It’s conspicuous. Google loves it: for most everyday people, Google will make Wikipedia its first or second hit. No one admits it, but reporters use Wikipedia as a crib all the time. It’s anonymous, and it’s rich enough to make that anonymity stick.

Note to Google folk: it’s time to think seriously about turning Wikipedia’s page rank down, at least until it finds a way to prevent this stuff. That might help Wikipedia too, by making it less attractive for use as a weapons platform.

The problem for GamerGate is that Wikipedia has rules against inserting libels into people’s pages. When GamerGate started to add stuff about female developers’ sex lives to various Wikipedia pages, experienced editors removed it. That led in turn to plan B:

  1. Try to put the sexy story into the article.
  2. After it's removed, argue on the talk page – repeating the sexy stories there.
  3. When people object, argue that some weblog or student newspaper or political columnist somewhere alluded to that sexy story, so it's got to be there.
  4. When people object, argue about the wording. Can we say “they fucked?” How about “blow job?” How about “exchanged sexual favors?”
  5. When people object to that, try it again on against a different woman
  6. A couple of weeks later, repeat step 1 again.

Tactics

To make this stick, you need three separate editors working together.

  • the PROVOCATEUR inserts the sexy information and argues for it. Often, this account appears to be new and claims to be a naif, an innocent who simply wants to expand the encyclopedia and happens to be well-versed in WikiLaw.
  • the PALS cheer on the provocateur, repeating and ringing changes on the provocateur’s arguments. If someone reverts the Provocateur, the Pal reinstates the change. Absent an edit war, you only need one Pal, though it helps to have at least two. In an edit war, it’s important to have plenty of Pals, and to coordinate offsite to make sure there's always a couple of Pals on call.
  • the BOSS rarely or never edits articles, but is extremely active on the talk page, citing policy to support the Provocateur and encourage the Pals. It helps a lot if the Boss is an administrator. It is useful for the Boss to know when and where the Provocateur will be launching a weapon, but it is essential to hide this: the Provocateur and the Pals can write openly on 8chan if they like, but the Boss must never appear. The Boss dominates the talk page and the complaints (see below) but, not editing the article and always citing policy to the same end, protects the team.
  • the whole team launches constant COMPLAINTS against their opponents in order to remove opposition. Here’s where the Boss is most critical. Pals are expendable, and the Provocateur can be sacrificed at need – even if he’s banned, he can start a new account and become a Pal, or borrow someone else’s disused account and return as a new Provocateur. From the beginning, a major GamerGate goal was to get rid of five specific editors — a goal which the draft decision granted them wholesale.

You need this complexity to evade Wikipedia rules developed to protect against cultists and cranks. These rules work adequately against casual vandals and isolated zealots; GamerGate turned into a debacle because here the cultists and cranks were just sophisticated enough to work the levers, though too short of resources (and seeking too awful a result) to escape detection.

What Wikipedia Should Have Done

The key issue here has always been clear: Wikipedia systematically is being used to publicize the sexual history of women in computing in order to drive them out of the field. This is central: whether or not someone said something intemperate on December 13 is not.

  • First, the draft decision ought to have acknowledged this fact and deplored it. It did not.
  • Second, the draft decision should have resolved to redress the damage already done and to prevent further damage. This may be difficult. It may take time. Steps are needed to begin to address the damage; the draft decision proposed none.
  • Third, those composing the draft decision ought to have read the entire record — all the talk pages, all the procedural arguments — and should have consulted experts. They should know everything there is to know about the affair, and they should demonstrate that knowledge. Doing less opens the door to infamy and ridicule. (Infamy and Ridicule have now walked through the door and are enjoying a nice gin and tonic in the living room; I don’t really know how Wikipedia can get them to leave at this point.)
  • Fourth, consulting experts would have been prudent. If you don’t want to be accused of banning all the feminists, for example, I know at least a dozen professors who would have been happy to point out that banning all the feminists en bloc might not be the best idea.
  • Fifth, a formal and thorough apology could have worked wonders. Clearly Wikipedia failed here: it should not have been used for months as a weapon against women in computing. This should have been stopped, and stopped quickly. Even if we don’t know how to stop it, apologizing for what has been done and expressing determination to fix it would reassure everyone that Wikipedia is not actually supporting the effort to drive women out of computing by publicizing their purported sexual histories.

Caring

It now looks like some of the worst elements of the infamous draft proposal won’t pass. It’s possible that almost nothing of consequence will pass.

That doesn’t matter. If you start with an infamous document and delete some paragraphs, are you likely to end up with a good result? Is doing nothing of consequence a good response?

Wikipedia should have cared for and about its victims, about people who did nothing worse than gain employment in the computer industry.

Wikipedia should have shown its care. Having been used shamefully, and not having a clear and immediate path toward a remedy, Wikipedia should be filled with care and contrition.

Wikipedia has lost an opportunity, our respect, and our trust. It may have permanently damaged the open Web because it just didn’t seem to care.

Instead, Wikipedia’s ArbCom took a superficial look at the evidence, found a few largely-technical rule infractions, and carelessly tried to give GamerGate the keys by banning all their targeted critics. Now, they propose to merely sanction some of the defenders (as well as one GamerGate Provocateur and maybe a Pal) and they want everyone to cheer.

Doing less harm isn’t good enough; it’s time for Wikipedia to care, to show its care, and to take care of its victims and of the volunteers who have worked to save it.

Jan 15 21 2015

Tinderbox 6.1.3

Tinderbox 6.1.3

Tinderbox 6.1.3 is out now. It’s got a new Getting Started walkthrough, a hundred new badges, and lots more.

Part 2 of a series: Infamous ❧ Thoughtless ❧ Careless

Some cooler heads at Wikipedia's Arbcom seem prepared to demur from some of the most egregious sanctions in the infamous original draft decision on Gamergate. Two apparent outcomes hang in the balance. The original plan would ban all the major feminists and GamerGate critics involved in the area from mentioning anything pertaining to games, gender, or sexuality anywhere in Wikipedia. The compromise, apparently, is to sanction one second-tier Gamergate ringleader as well, and perhaps to deadlock on sanctioning some of Gamergate’s targets.

What is conspicuously absent from the discussion is any trace of explicit concern for the way Wikipedia has been exploited as a platform for spreading baseless speculation and innuendo about the sex lives of women who have been targeted – targeted either because GamerGaters want to drive them out of the industry, or because some GamerGaters think this is fun.

A prominent journalist took me to task because, in “Infamous,” I assert the first motivation, while the second is equally consistent with the known facts. I grant that they might be doing it for kicks, but I assume that most people would have some rationale for doing such awful things.

Nor is there any hint of recognition in the draft decision of the harassment endured by Wikipedia editors through offsite channels. This evidence may only be supplied to the committee in private. They say the received a lot. I sent some myself, and offered to send more. The committee failed to acknowledge receipt, to thank me, or to request more evidence.

Things we know include:

  • We know about massive efforts to recruit Gamergate editors and to revive zombie Wikipedia accounts.
  • We know about persistent, mind-numbing, round-the-clock argument to add more sexual innuendo to pages of Gamergate victims, to insinuate that their harassment is faked or self-inflicted, and to suggest that Gamergate has nothing to do with the harassment.
  • We know that no argument is ever settled; after a few days, the same rumor or innuendo gets reposted by some new account and – thanks to the cover afforded by Gamergate’s own admin – everything starts again from ground zero.
  • We know that some Wikipedia targets have been publicly humiliated, their sexual orientation publicized, and their Jewishness ridiculed.

What we don’t know, however, is how many Gamergate critics have had their boss receive anonymous email accusing them of sexual improprieties or God knows what. We do know that the women whom Gamergate targets have been exposed to a deluge of such stuff.

We don’t know how many of their spouses have received mysterious messages about infidelity.

We don’t know how many have seen creepy pictures of strangers standing in front of their workplace, just to remind them that their anonymous opponents know exactly where to find them.

We don’t know how many have been the subject of police investigations and SWAT raids triggered by spurious Gamergate “tips.”

We don’t know. If you’re a Wikipedia contributor and you have a boss, you might not know whether it happened or not. Your boss might not tell you. – and if she did, you might not be eager to tell Arbcom all about it and maybe see the accusation show up on the lunch room bulletin board or in your next employer’s Google search.

If you’re a Wikipedia contributor and you have a spouse, your spouse might not tell you about that weird email about what someone says you did at the conference in Orlando.

Because we don’t know, we can’t pass judgment on the suspects. But we can certainly express sympathy and support to the victims – even if we can’t know all the details. And we can look for places where such harassment may have occurred and take steps to fix whatever damage was done.

Thoughtful organizations come to the aid of their staff when aid is needed, even if the problem is not the institution’s fault. Thoughtless organizations say, “there isn’t enough clear evidence.” Thoughtless organizations say, “there’s nothing we can do – call the police if you want.” Thoughtless organizations say, “she’s just a volunteer.” Thoughtless organizations say, “we can only look at the evidence, even if it’s mostly supplied by an army recruited to manufacture it. We don’t have time to look into this, or even to read the talk pages ourselves.”

If we gave the matter some thought, we could see where help might be needed, where harm may have been done, and supply help and assistance. This is what ArbCom should have done.

But that’s too much trouble. It requires too much thought.

It’s much easier to pick out isolated misjudgments culled from hundreds of thousands of words of discussion by an army of anonymous trolls, recruited to provoke intemperate outbursts using disposable account names and carefully coordinating their campaign.

Jan 15 20 2015

Infamous

Part 1 of a series: Infamous ❧ ThoughtlessCareless . Supplemental update: Reckless

The infamous draft decision of Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) on Gamergate is worse than a crime. It’s a blunder that threatens to disgrace the internet. (I refer here to the original draft; the current revision is here. )

Background

Late last year, a group of computer game enthusiasts and journalists apparently decided to strike out against what they considered unfair feminist critique of violence and sex in their favorite games. They called themselves “#GamerGate.” In principle, their grievance should not be dismissed: we don’t need Miss Grundy to turn games into pabulum. But it’s not clear that they really had a grievance, that the purported fears were anything more than a rationalization for anonymous persecution.

The #GamerGate crowd decided that their ideal tactics were to identify women in the game industry who were “social justice warriors,” and to drive them out of the field. Through Twitter and unsavory chat boards, these women were subjected to intense harassment. Their sexual histories were dissected. They were repeatedly threatened with assault, rape, and murder. Their employers were sent anonymous email, both embarrassing and threatening. Some of the women had to cancel speaking engagements. Some have been forced from their homes.

An Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit

The reaction of newspapers and magazines to these threats was not favorable to the criminals. But Wikipedia is an encyclopedia anyone can edit – and game fans with lots of computer savvy and plenty of time on their hands should be singularly effective Wikipedians. GamerGate set out to writes its own story in Wikipedia – and to spread the dirt about the women who were its targets.

These efforts were blocked by established editors under established Wikipedia policy. In retaliation, GamerGate planned an operation to get rid of its opponents – the “Five Horsemen” active in preserving objectivity and in keeping scurrilous sexual innuendo out of the encyclopedia. As a side-game, GamerGate also launched efforts to promote the idea that “Cultural Marxism” is a conspiracy of some Jewish academics to control the media.

The original GamerGate operation targeted the "five horsemen:" Ryulong, NorthBySouthBaranof, Tarc, TheRedPenOfDoom, and TaraInDC. All were sanctioned in the draft decision.

For months, these Wikipedia pages have been an escalating scene of daily – indeed hourly – conflict.

The Purge

Yesterday, ArbCom announced its preliminary decision. A panel of fourteen arbitrators – at least 11 of whom are men* – decided to give GamerGate everything they’d wished for. All of the Five Horsemen are sanctioned; most will be excluded not only from “Gamergate broadly construed” but from anything in Wikipedia touching on “gender or sexuality, broadly construed.”

By my informal count, every feminist active in the area is to be sanctioned. This takes care of social justice warriors with a vengeance — not only do the GamerGaters get to rewrite their own page (and Zoe Quinn’s, Brianna Wu’s, Anita Sarkeesian’s, etc.); feminists are to be purged en bloc from the encyclopedia. Liberals are the new Scientologists as far as Arbcom is concerned.

No sanctions at all were proposed against any of GamerGate’s warriors, save for a few disposable accounts created specifically for the purpose of being sanctioned. The administrator who wrote, regarding Zoe Quinn’s sexual history, that

I know other other allegations exist but will not state what those on WP are because that would be a BLP violation at the current time.

was not even mentioned. The many brand-new accounts who arrived in December with no Wiki experience, but possessing a curiously detailed knowledge of Wikipedia policy jargon, are unmentioned, save for the fact that the decision rests almost entirely on their proposals.

The extensive evidence of off-site collusion, which Wikipedia considers so improper that evidence must not be discussed on wiki but rather submitted in confidence, appears to have been entirely ignored. (I submitted such evidence myself, but received no acknowledgment or thanks; I have been told that much additional evidence was submitted.)

Status

Overnight, the one member of ArbCom who is known to be a woman voted against some of the worst measures, and there are some signs that the final decision might be slightly less bad than the initial proposal. At this hour, they remain a disaster.

Why It Matters

First, this is the end of the Wiki Way. We have a blueprint now that shows how any decently-funded group with a modicum of access to the media – which is to say any group (unlike GamerGate) not patently criminal – can take control of any part of Wikipedia it pleases. You need a PR agency with a few offices in different cities and a phone – resources whose lack complicated GamerGate’s position.

Worse, the decision is so egregiously bad that it may well permanently discredit not only Wikipedia but the entire open Web. If a mature and well-funded site like Wikipedia can’t distinguish between reason and perfidious slander, if it punishes volunteers who enforce its own policies against libel, then who will trust any publication that doesn’t bear the brand of ABC/Disney, Reuters, or Al-Jazeera?

If there’s anything left of the European Pirat Partiet, incidentally, this is your last best chance to show that you can do some good.


Update: * A journalist suggested clarification. Of the fourteen arbitrators, eleven are believed to be men, one is a woman. The gender of the two remaining arbitrators is not known to the public.

Jan 15 17 2015

Refactoring

Daniel Jalkut and Brent Simmons are discussing refactoring.

The underlying problem involves downloading stuff from the network. The existing code uses an old framework class to do the download; now we want to use a shiny new framework class that does the download better. How do we do it?

The Old Way: tear out the old code. Write new code. debug until it works.

Incredibly, this was the way everybody did this all the time until the last few years.

Jalkut’s Facade: Jalkut wraps the new class so its API looks like the old one. Having done this, he can plug the new code in easily – and all the existing tests remain in place. The wrapper class is typically a kind of facade, a pattern from the Gang of Four book invented specifically for this task: the facade makes one class behave like a different class.

The disadvantage is that we’ve added another class, and we’re stuck using the wrapper, not the actual shiny new object. That can turn out to be limiting; eventually we may be tempted to broaden the wrapper to get at more of the new functionality. Eventually, the wrapper may become a messy restatement of the underlying class with an worse API.

Simmons’ Abstraction: Simmons uses extract class to wrap the old class in a higher-level abstraction, an object that encapsulated the operation of fetching something from the network and then doing some work with it. This improves the code without even using the new class. He writes tests for the new class to give confidence that it works.

That done, he tears each old API calls out, one by one, and replaces them with new API calls. This is safe because the new class is well tested, and its client is also well tested; if we break something, we’re bound to find out fast.

The advantage is that the new abstraction is fits the problem; it's motivated by the task, not by the need for a facade. There’s no vestige of the old API, and no constraint on using the new API either.

Which is better? Brent and Daniel are being all polite to each other, and this (slightly) obscures the tradeoff here.

Facade is better:

  • when lots of different objects all over the place use the old API, since they can all share the facade but each will need its own task abstraction.
  • when there’s no abstraction for the task that’s better than the bare API.
  • when you don’t trust the existing unit tests and you can’t fix that
  • when you are really short of time, short of confidence, or when it’s past midnight and you’ve got to get this out tomorrow.

The rest of the time, Brent’s abstraction is better.

Seth Godin has five thoughts.

2. Removing features to make software simpler doesn't always make it better.

Preach it.

3. It's entirely possible to find great software that isn't from a huge company.

When was the last time a great new application debuted from a huge company? I’m not asking about “currently leading the league,” I’m talking about “MVP as a rookie with a ticket to Cooperstown.” Apple did it twice in the ’80s (MacPaint, HyperCard), Lotus did it with 1-2-3 (but was Lotus huge then?). Microsoft did it with Word and Excel, I suppose.

What am I forgetting?

5. Most of all, software as a whole just isn't good enough.

Hear him.

A New User’s Perspective

by John Wiegley

I've been reading the manual, playing around with Tinderbox, reading every resource on the Web, and comparing Tinderbox to apps which seem "adjacent" in the information management space.

It occurs to me that Tinderbox is confusing to people because it consists of layers of increasingly advanced functionality, and that one is not required to know or use all the layers to make use of Tinderbox.

These are the layers I see, as they unfold:

Capture

Initially Tinderbox is a place to take notes, but not to do anything with those notes. And at first it's just titles and text. Lots of tools do this. It's a convenient place to dump tons of small snippets of text. (It could be better at capturing such information from other apps too, by providing a clipping service).

Structure

Once you have lots of notes, you can organize them, either hierarchically or visually. Lots of tools do this also, but I like the way that Tinderbox links the outline and map views. OmniGraffle can do this also, but the Outline is definitely the second class citizen in that context.

Refine

Later come attributes, stamps and prototypes, as ways of better managing the metadata associated with your notes. This is a very easy way to tag things, add checkboxes, etc. It doesn't necessarily have much value initially (it's hard to know what metadata to track, which prototypes need to be created, etc), but lends itself to real power down the road.

Not nearly as many tools do this, or do it well. I've never found rich metadata to be a strong suit of either DEVONthink or OmniOutliner, for example. There is some capacity, but it's never as convenient in the way it can be with stamps and prototypes.

Relate

Here we find agents, aliases and inter-note linking (made visual in the map view). Other apps call these smart groups or folders, symbolic links (or replicants), hyperlinks, etc. They provide ways of perceiving and building relationships among all the data you've accumulated.

Present

Tinderbox's ability to provide intelligent, metadata-enriched presentation using patterns, background plots, display expressions, hover expressions, columns in map view, smart adornments, etc., are things I've rarely experienced in any other tool -- at least not in such a well-integrated way. I also think many of those who peek at Tinderbox (from what I've seen) never fully perceive this level.

And by presentation I don't just mean "you can see your notes on a corkboard". I mean that Tinderbox can reveal your data in content-driven ways that make it possible to visualize inherent, complex relations.

For example, let's say I'm a volunteer coordinate, and I need to pair up volunteers with projects. This is a many-to-many relationship, with volunteers possibly working on multiple projects, and each project having multiple volunteers.

In the map view, I organize volunteers using a People prototype on the left side, and projects using another prototype on the right side. I then draw lines to connect volunteers with the projects they've chosen to work on.

Next I create a rule within the prototype to color people and projects based on the number of incoming or outgoing connections. I want people to be colored on a spectrum from blue to green to red, where blue means available, green means fully tasked, and red means overloaded. Conversely, projects are colored so that blue means unstaffed, green is fully staffed, and red is overstaffed.

Now I can glimpse at the board to see where attention is needed, who is likely to burn-out, which projects are being neglected, etc. I can also use agents to summarize the hot spots, and suggest possible volunteer/project pairings based on need and availability. Or I could add metadata to indicate strenths and interests (as lists), which would make the suggested pairings even more intelligent.

Evolve

The final piece of the puzzle is that your data can transparently mutate and evolve, based on all the above. This is where rules really come into play, so that data can change in response to additions and changes elsewhere in your "note space".

This aspect of Tinderbox is the least visual, and the most programming-oriented, and is an area I think few venture into. Yet it is also the most enabling capability of the app, since it can free one from rote manipulations that become impossible beyond a few hundred notes.

Finally, all these areas of the application fit together fairly seamlessly, so that it can be hard to see that in fact there are multiple tools available within this tool.

I generally avoid linking to the NY Times, since everyone else always links to whatever they're saying. But this Joshua Davis story matters.

  • Four poor high school kids in Arizona win an underwater robot competition.
  • Three of them can’t even go to college because Arizona bans scholarships to undocumented students. One is now a line cook, one is unemployed, one is trying to crowd fund his tuition.
  • The one who did graduate (in mechanical engineering) applied for legal residency, was turned down, banned from the US for ten years, and is now working an assembly line in Mexico.
House Republicans seem to view this as a fitting outcome. This week, John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, introduced legislation that would roll back the president’s order. If he is successful, talented young people like Mr. Santillan and Mr. Arcega could be deported at any moment. “After a while you get used to disappointment,” Mr. Arcega said to me this week. “I try not to have high expectations anymore.”
Tired

I've been swamped for the past month with side-effects from WinterFest. Some of it’s very gratifying: new users eagerly getting down to work with Tinderbox, new readers of The Tinderbox Way with lots of questions, and quite a lot of people returning to Tinderbox after a pause, eager to get up to speed with the new version. And of course Winterfest itself has been a terrific success.

But there’s also been a ton of really tedious support work, and lots of dull documentation. There’s been a lot of support work for people who need to use antique versions of Tinderbox because they have no money or must use antique computers; I can’t manage to say “no” though the business case for doing this is hard to imagine. There’s the usual trickle of academics who are upset that they are asked to pay despite their noble calling. And there’s the customary small quota of angry villagers who are upset because Tinderbox isn’t free, or because upgrades cost more than they like (they cost more than we’d like, too, as do our groceries), or because they’d have built Tinderbox differently. All of which can be fun to talk about in moderate quantities with liberal applications of malted barley, but which is less fun from the swamp.

Lots of interesting discussion this month about the business of software, led by last year’s revelation that hardly anyone is making even a living in the mobile space. Desktop is better – I’m especially impressed by the numbers for Dash, which in the natural scheme of things only sells to developers and which competes with a free tool everyone already owns.

But it’s important to keep perspective, too. Almost without exception, the happy stories are coming from people who are having a really good year – often their first year – and a worrying portion of their sales are opening-day transactions, which means the sale of a pig in a poke to people who habitually purchase pokes of pigs. This might not be a desirable way to cultivate artisanal software.

Jan 15 6 2015

The Peripheral

by William Gibson

An excellent book, although Gibson is too dense to be ideally read, as I read this, in the car. Gibson here returns to science fiction, albeit in complicated form: future Londoners, living in the wake of a fizzled singularity called the Jackpot, amuse themselves by hacking the past of parallel universes through cell phones and peripherals — telepresence in synthetic bodies that range in complexity from iPads on a stick on a Segway (a Wheelie Boy™) to organic devices that look like people.

The strengths are Gibson’s strengths: the vision of Neuromancer and much of its lyricism is back, freed from the constraints of contemporary realism. The idiosyncratic concern with poor rural white Southerners is here, too. There’s another cameo of an young woman in the art world. The plotting here is the strongest Gibson’s managed since Count Zero, though in the end the antagonist evaporates like the Tessier-Ashpools into a cloud of doubt.