Giving credit where credit is due

Post ImageIf there is one thing that was drilled into my head in the last 8 years of my education, first in high school and then University, it is to always cite your sources. No matter if they are actually quoted from or not, if you used a source while researching something, cite it. Like so much of what I have learned at University however, that’s simply not the way it works in the real world. Case in point, a recent article on podcasting titled “Podcasting at a business near you”. It was written by Alex Dobrota, and published in the Globe and Mail on July 6th. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

Podcasting, which involves the distribution of personalized audio or video clips over the Internet to computers, laptops or digital audio players such as iPods, is becoming a new medium of communication in the corporate world. It’s being used to replace internal memos, blogs, e-mails and even trade shows. The up-and-coming technology is cost-efficient — in some cases, it requires little more than a microphone and a computer. And, as a marketing tool, it holds the potential of reaching a young and savvy audience, experts say.

Maybe the problem is that a journalist can simply put “experts say” and get away with it. In any case, I do believe I should be cited as a source for that entire paragraph. You see, Mr. Dobrota called me at around 1:30 PM on June 22nd to ask me some questions about podcasting (I remember this exactly because it was just moments after I got back to the office after the Oilers Tribute Event). He made it seem like I was being interviewed, which isn’t all that unsual given the publicity Paramagnus has received in the last few months. Evidently I was wrong. He started out asking what podcasting was, and the follow-up questions he asked made it seem as though he really didn’t have any idea what was so special about it, or why it was different than streaming audio.

After about ten minutes of covering the basics, he started asking questions about why businesses would get into podcasting, or if they already were. I mentioned the well-known case of IBM. I also said that basically, podcasting is great for businesses because they get an excellent return on investment – it costs very little to get going, and you can reach a huge audience fairly easily. I also mentioned that it was a great way for old stodgy businesses to seem hip and cool with the younger iPod carrying generation. Sounds kind of like the excerpt I mentioned above doesn’t it? Yep I thought so too.

I actually emailed Mr. Dobrota on July 1st, to ask if he had written the article. I never did get a reply from him, which makes this all the more aggravating.

Maybe there’s lots of reasons why he and other journalists can simply put “experts say”. You know, word count, page layout, that sort of thing. I just can’t help but think though, that with all the fuss about the blogosphere being a place full of unsubstantiated rumors, we’re missing that our so-called “mainstream media” don’t follow the rules either. Perhaps we should force journalists to publish a blog, properly citing their references, linking where appropriate? I don’t think it’s a bad idea. It might even have saved Dan Rather his job.

At the very least, had Mr. Dobrota kept a blog with his sources and references properly detailed, I might still have some respect for him.

Read: Globe and Mail

Teaching Kids About Cyber Security

Post ImageFor all the fuss about hackers and spam and viruses and all the other malicious entities that exist in the digital world, there is very little done about education. It makes sense to teach kids about ethics and cyber security in an attempt to reduce viruses and exploits doesn’t it? I think it does! Looks like the United States is taking the lead:

A group of students at Rome Catholic School are learning how to become the future defenders of cyberspace through a pilot program that officials say is the first of its kind in the country. The program teaches students about data protection, computer network protocols and vulnerabilities, security, firewalls and forensics, data hiding, and infrastructure and wireless security.

Most importantly, officials said, teachers discuss ethical and legal considerations in cyber security.

I wish I could have taken a class like that in high school! Would have been much more interesting and relevant than some of the other stuff I had to take. Sure beats typing! And the content is useful on a day-to-day basis too, as our world becomes increasingly more digital. My only concern is that teachers won’t be qualified to teach such a course! Apparently they have a special training week for instructors.

Read: Wired News

Wikipedia Under Fire

Wikipedia is without a doubt one of my favorite websites. Even though I have only ever made one or two contributions to Wikipedia, I find the site invaluable for research. The vast amount of information immediately available is hard to overlook for research of any sort (there are 848,598 English language articles as of this post). If you have a question about something, you can probably find the answer at Wikipedia.

Called “the self-organizing, self-repairing, hyperaddictive library of the future” by Wired Magazine in March of 2005, Wikipedia has enjoyed much success. The Wired article is just one of many mainstream media articles praising the site, and there are many thousands if not millions of bloggers and others who use and recommend Wikipedia each and every day. The New York Times offers some numbers describing Wikipedia’s success:

The whole nonprofit enterprise began in January 2001, the brainchild of Jimmy Wales, 39, a former futures and options trader who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said he had hoped to advance the promise of the Internet as a place for sharing information.

It has, by most measures, been a spectacular success. Wikipedia is now the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the world. As of Friday, it was receiving 2.5 billion page views a month, and offering at least 1,000 articles in 82 languages. The number of articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months.

Lately though, despite all of the success and impressive usage numbers, cracks have started to appear. Two questions, both of which have been asked before, have once again been brought into the spotlight – just how reliable is the information found on Wikipedia, and where is the accountability?

Consider what happened to John Seigenthaler Sr.:

ACCORDING to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, John Seigenthaler Sr. is 78 years old and the former editor of The Tennessean in Nashville. But is that information, or anything else in Mr. Seigenthaler’s biography, true?

The question arises because Mr. Seigenthaler recently read about himself on Wikipedia and was shocked to learn that he “was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother Bobby.”

If any assassination was going on, Mr. Seigenthaler (who is 78 and did edit The Tennessean) wrote last week in an op-ed article in USA Today, it was of his character.

Whoever added that false information to the article did so anonymously, so beyond publicly stating the truth, Mr. Seigenthaler really had no recourse. So there’s the issue of false information, and how to stop people from entering it. Wikipedia works on the premise that mistakes are caught by later contributors, and regular users who monitor changes. Clearly, that doesn’t always work.

If reliability and accountability weren’t enough, how about ethics? Should you edit the entry for something you were involved in? The question was raised earlier this week when Adam Curry attempted to make some changes to the entry for Podcasting. Dave Winer explains:

Now after reading about the Seigenthaler affair, and revelations about Adam Curry’s rewriting of the podcasting history — the bigger problem is that Wikipedia is so often considered authoritative. That must stop now, surely. Every fact in there must be considered partisan, written by someone with a confict of interest. Further, we need to determine what authority means in the age of Internet scholarship. And we need to take a step back and ask if we really want the participants in history to write and rewrite the history. Isn’t there a place in this century for historians, non-participants who observe and report on the events?

Dave makes some very good points. Upon first reading his entry, I though the question of historians and third-party observers was very obvious and a simple way to resolve these kinds of issues. The more I thought about it though, the less sure I felt. Requiring historians and non-participants to write the entries simply because that’s the way we’ve always done it may not be the best way to move forward. Thanks to Wikipedia and the web in general, we have the ability to turn the conventional wisdom “the winners write the history books” completely upside down. By editing websites like Wikipedia as events are taking place (such as the creation of podcasting) do we not have a better chance of capturing a more realistic view of history? If all sides of an issue can enter their views, do we not have a more accurate and complete entry? Of course, we unfortunately need to deal with flame wars in many of these cases, but maybe that will change as the process matures.

The issues I mentioned above are currently getting a lot of attention, and are pretty natural in the evolution of a system like Wikipedia. I don’t think anyone should be surprised that questions of reliability, accountability and ethics are being asked. And if you really stop and think, you’ll probably realize that the solution to all of these problems has been around for a very long time. As with all websites on the Internet, it is up to the reader to use his or her best judgement in evaluating the accuracy and relevancy of the informaton on a web page. Searching the information available at Wikipedia should be no different than searching the information available in Google – reader/searcher/user beware.

Ethics, bloggers, and mainstream media

In the last couple of days CNET has come under fire for stealing a story that was scooped by popular gadget blog Engadget. As Jason Calacanis explains:

So CNET’s Gamespot and finally gave credit to Engadget after
stealing their big scoop about the XBOX 360. CNET lifted the photos
from our site (we have technical proof) and didn’t even bother to ask
or give credit. That’s low.

Of course, CNET not putting this up earlier today cost us hundreds of
thousands of page views which results in a loss of hundreds-if not
thousands-of dollars. Not to mention the fact that CNET takes credit
for the story with their readers.

While CNET did give credit to Engadget, they did not print a
correction. I think that’s rather unfortunate, and it has even prompted
some in the blogosphere to say that a boycott of CNET should take place.
I’m of the opinion that bloggers should not boycott CNET, but rather,
they should continue to call out MSM when they fail to properly credit
sources. That’s how the blogosphere built such a reputation (remember
Rather anyone?), so why change now?

In a somewhat related story, Wired News yesterday released their Source Review:

MIT Technology Review Online on March 21 retracted two stories written
in whole or in part by Michelle Delio, citing the publication’s
inability to confirm a source. On April 4, InfoWorld edited four
articles by Delio to remove anonymous quotes.

Wired News has published more than 700 news stories written by
Delio (under the names Michelle Delio and Michelle Finley) since 2000.
In April, we assigned journalism professor and Wired News columnist
Adam Penenberg to review recent articles written by Delio for Wired

The article goes on to ask for help with the articles Delio wrote
for which sources are still questionable. I think that’s great. If
Wired can launch an investigation into one of their writers, clearly
CNET could have printed a correction.

Read: Engadget