Post Prediction Markets

Sum of all questions

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

I thoroughly enjoyed memesteader Gordon Mohr’s Quora & Wikipedia: Might one ever bail out the other? Futures of ‘Qworum’ or ‘WiQipedia’ which posits two futures in which the sites respectively decline mostly due to internal failure — essentially not adequately dealing with spam and unscrupulous behavior in both cases, though the spam and behavior is different for each.

Both futures seem plausible to me, inclusive of the decline and bail out in each. I also take the medium term absolute decline and death of Quora and steep relative decline of Wikimedia as likely. This relative assessment isn’t a knock on Quora — it and many others waiting in the wings can get big or fail — commons-based projects don’t have much experience in trying to do that (but need to, or find some other way to maintain long-term competitiveness).

Of course “waiting in the wings” is an understatement: I suspect the decline of both Quora and Wikimedia will be less due to internal failure than to being outcompeted by new entrants. Mohr has long been rumored to be working on one, but I imagine there must be many entrepreneurs dreaming of taking a chunk of Wikipedia traffic. I enjoy the Kill Hollywood request for startups, but Kill Wikipedia seems like a more plausible target for VC-term investment. (My preference is to target proprietary monopolies for destruction through competition, replacing them with commons; long ago I even imagined a financially leveraged/risk-seeking approach, but more feasible ones badly needed still.)

Go read and enjoy Mohr’s post, take it at least semi-seriously, and reflect on the future. Doing so makes me pine for something which does not yet exist: combinatorial prediction markets for everything.

I hadn’t looked at Quora in some time. I note that it still requires logging in to read, but has added Google — previously Facebook login (or not) was the only choice. There have been at least semi-serious explorations of a Wikimedia general Q&A sister project, but I’m not sure if any of them are listed in project proposals.

Empowered Mozilla?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

I don’t feel glad about Brendan Eich’s resignation as CEO of Mozilla, but it is probably for the best that it happened quickly. Even the President of the United States has changed his tune on same sex marriage since 2008. Apparently Eich really wanted to not even pretend to change his opinion and make up for it.

There is irony and danger in excluding holders of non-inclusive political opinions in the name of inclusivity. But the particulars of this instance make sense. (1) The excluded opinion isn’t just any. It’s in a class of opinions which deny equal rights to some people based on attributes they did not choose. Once society gets around to expanding the circle of moral equality to another group, advocacy against the expansion or for retraction quickly becomes an abomination suppressed on the free market; and not soon enough. I don’t see any way to avoid this. I suspect that the general case for socially (as opposed to legally: there should be no legal intolerance for even abominable opinions) tolerating diverse opinions is harmed if anti-equality opinions are treated as any other political opinion. (2) The opinion holder isn’t just anyone, but the symbol of a very public organization. Whether the chief executive should be such a central figure — certainly not when it comes to criminally powerful heads of nearly all states — is another question. I look forward to publicly holding the opinion that jurisdiction of birth serves as a legitimate reason for denial of equal rights becoming verboten for leaders, and in any educated company, at which point international apartheid must quickly crumble.

I hope that this brief crisis somehow spurs Mozilla to get back to its roots, even if in other respects Eich would have been the best leader to do that. For anyone who cares about the Mozilla mission, the crisis reveals a lot more about governance and communications problems at the organization than about Eich’s views, which were already known last year. I don’t think the crisis was only due to the outrage of marriage equality advocates. People expect better from Mozilla than the corporate/political PR style which Mozilla seems to have adopted: non-specific hype and if that doesn’t go over well reassure without directly addressing concerns. That approach could hardly be more calculated to provoke outrage among people who feel a part of the Mozilla community.

About crowd outrage, including destructive measures (promotion of browsers that are ethically far worse than Firefox), and Mozilla’s initial response of reassuring without directly addressing concerns (which horribly undersold Mozilla’s excellent practices and values, seeming to be offered as pathetic reassurance rather than the bedrock that they are): the whole thing reminds me of mass protest stemming from some legitimate issues, government refusal to directly address issues, and a rapid escalation to regime change as a non-negotiable demand, with destruction and opportunity creation for trolls quickly following.

Though in every recent case I can think of, the outraged crowd has good reason to be outraged, there is something “illegitimate” about obtaining change through packing the streets (or net), and certainly much dangerous about it: the collateral damage and opportunities created for the worst actors are enormous. Is there any hope for crowds or institutions to become “smarter” and more constructive? That’s in part what I was hoping for in the Mozilla case in my previous post.

I can think of approximately three possibilities; hopefully many more exist. (1) Better predictions about outcomes, i.e., any at all beyond self-serving punditry. Prediction markets are one possible, but so far failed (in the sense of near zero use), mechanism. Some outraged crowd members might pay attention to risk, and perhaps even tip the crowd into more rational behavior. Within regimes (inclusive of those controlling non-state organizations) better predictions might strengthen the hands of those who advocate for responding in a way not seemingly calculated to tip the crowd into regime change as a non-negotiable demand. (2) New “legitimate” arrangements which somehow promote directly addressing concerns rapidly, without allowing any mass of angry people to demand regime change. I don’t have any concrete ideas, but might be related to (3) new “legitimate” arrangements designed to encourage change without crisis, thus reducing the “need” for crisis. In many ways (2) and (3) are the function of “the market” and “culture” with emphasis depending on topic. But organizations (state, firm, or other) play a tremendous role, so institutional design is highly pertinent. One version of such institutional design, or at least call for such, is Roberto Unger’s concept of empowered democracy (from Wikipedia, emphasis added):

Unger’s proposal for political democracy calls for a high energy system that diminishes the dependence of change upon crisis. This can be done, he claims, by breaking the constant threat of stasis and institutionalization of politics and parties through five institutional innovations. First, increase collective engagement through the public financing of campaigns and giving free access to media outlets. Second, hasten the pace of politics by breaking legislative deadlock through the enabling of the party in power to push through proposals and reforms, and for opposition parties to be able to dissolve the government and call for immediate elections. Third, the option of any segment of society to opt out of the political process and to propose alternative solutions for its own governance. Fourth, give the state the power to rescue oppressed groups that are unable to liberate themselves through collective action. Fifth, direct participatory democracy in which active engagement is not purely in terms of financial support and wealth distribution, but through which people are directly involved in their local and national affairs through proposal and action.

I don’t have any comments on Unger’s proposed innovations (apart from skeptical curiosity), but the goal increasing (implied positive) change while reducing crisis seems one worthy of exploration, by organizations of all sizes.

Brendan Eich’s going away post:

Networks breed first- and second-mover winners and others path-dependent powers, until the next disruption. Users or rather their data get captured.

Privacy is only one concern among several, including how to realize economic value for many-yet-individually-weak users, not just for data-store/service owners or third parties. Can we do better with client-side and private-cloud tiers, zero-knowledge proofs and protocols, or other ideas?

Can a browser/OS “unionize its users” to gain bargaining power vs. net super-powers?

This is basically why I think Mozilla is so great and important. Lots of free/libre/open projects and organizations have good values. They largely don’t matter because network effects dominate. Huge organizations with good values are necessary, and all the better if they explicitly are thinking about the challenges imposed by the network effects of incumbents which embody poor values.

There’s no analogy worthy of making, and cringe when others try. But I’m glad that marriage equality advocates and their predecessors in struggles for civil rights succeeded in gaining bargaining power vs. the social super-powers of the day.

WWW next 25: Universal, Secure, Resilient?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Today folks seem to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of a 1989 proposal for what is now the web — implementation released to the public in August, 1991.

Q&A with web inventor Timothy Berners-Lee: 25 years on, the Web still needs work.

The web is pretty great, much better than easily imagined alternatives. Three broad categories it could improve in:

  • Universality. All humans should be able to access the web, and this should be taken to include being able to publish, collaborate, do business, and run software on the web, in any manner, in any language or other interface. Presently, billions aren’t on the net at all, activity outside of a handful of large services is very expensive (in money, expertise, or marketing), and machine translation and accessibility are very limited.
  • Security. All of the above, securely, without having to understand anything technical about security, and with lots of technical and cultural guards against technical and non-technical attacks of all kinds.
  • Resilience. All of the above, with minimal interruption and maximal recovery from disaster, from individual to planetary scale.

Three pet outcomes I wish for:

  • Collective wisdom. The web helps make better decisions, at all scales.
  • Commons dominance. Most top sites are free-as-in-freedom. Presently, only Wikipedia (#5) is.
  • Freedom, equality, etc.

Two quotes from the Berners-Lee Q&A that are on the right track:

Getting a nice user interface to a secure system is the art of the century.

Copyright law is terrible.

Gov[ernance]Lab impressions

Friday, March 7th, 2014

First, two excerpts of my previous posts to explain my rationale for this one. 10 months ago:

I wonder the extent to which reform of any institution, dominant or otherwise, away from capture and enclosure, toward the benefit and participation of all its constituents, might be characterized as commoning?

Whatever the scope of commoning, we don’t know how to do it very well. How to provision and govern resources, even knowledge, without exclusivity and control, can boggle the mind. I suspect there is tremendous room to increase the freedom and equality of all humans through learning-by-doing (and researching) more activities in a commons-orientated way. One might say our lack of knowledge about the commons is a tragedy.


Other than envious destruction of power (the relevant definition and causes of which being tenuous, making effective action much harder) and gradual construction of alternatives, how can one be a democrat? I suspect more accurate information and more randomness are important — I’ll sometimes express this very specifically as enthusiasm for futarchy and sortition — but I’m also interested in whatever small increases in accurate information and randomness might be feasible, at every scale and granularity — global governance to small organizations, event probabilities to empirically validated practices.

I read about the Governance Lab @ NYU (GovLab) in a forward of a press release:

Combining empirical research with real-world experiments, the Research Network will study what happens when governments and institutions open themselves to diverse participation, pursue collaborative problem-solving, and seek input and expertise from a range of people.

That sounded interesting, perhaps not deceivingly — as I browsed the site, open tabs accumulated. Notes on some of those follow.

GovLab’s hypothesis:

When institutions open themselves to diverse participation and collaborative problem solving, they become more effective and the decisions they make are more legitimate.

I like this coupling of effectiveness and legitimacy. Another way of saying politics isn’t about policy is that governance isn’t about effectiveness, but about legitimizing power. I used to scoff at the concept of legitimacy, and my mind still boggles at arrangements passing as “legitimate” that enable mass murder, torture, and incarceration. But our arrangements are incredibly path dependent and hard to improve; now I try to charitably consider legitimacy a very useful shorthand for arrangements that have some widely understood and accepted level of effectiveness. Somewhat less charitably: at least they’ve survived, and one can do a lot worse than copying survivors. Arrangements based on open and diverse participation and collaborative problem solving are hard to legitimate: not only do they undermine what legitimacy is often really about, it is hard to see how they can work in theory or practice, relative to hierarchical command and control. Explicitly tackling effectiveness and legitimacy separately and together might be more useful than assuming one implies the other, or ignoring one of them. Refutation of the hypothesis would also be useful: many people could refocus on increasing the effectiveness and legitimacy of hierarchical, closed systems.

If We Only Knew:

What are the essential questions that if answered could help accelerate the transformation of how we solve public problems and provide for public goods?

The list of questions isn’t that impressive, but not bad either. The idea that such a list should be articulated is great. Every project ought maintain such a list of essential questions pertinent to the project’s ends!

Proposal 13 for ICANN: Provide an Adjudication Function by Establishing “Citizen” Juries (emphasis in original):

As one means to enhance accountability – through greater engagement with the global public during decision-making and through increased oversight of ICANN officials after the fact – ICANN could pilot the use of randomly assigned small public groups of individuals to whom staff and volunteer officials would be required to report over a given time period (i.e. “citizen” juries). The Panel proposes citizen juries rather than a court system, namely because these juries are lightweight, highly democratic and require limited bureaucracy. It is not to the exclusion of other proposals for adjudicatory mechanisms.

Anyone interested in random selection and juries has to be at least a little interesting, and on the right track. Or so I’ve thought since hearing about the idea of science courts and whatever my first encounter with sortition advocacy was (forgotten, but see most recent), both long ago.

Quote in a quote:

“The largest factor in predicting group intelligence was the equality of conversational turn-taking.”

What does that say about:

  • Mailing lists and similar fora used by projects and organizations, often dominated by loudmouths (to say nothing of meetings dominated by high-status talkers);
  • Mass media, including social media dominated by power law winners?

Surely it isn’t pretty for the intelligence of relevant groups. But perhaps impetus to actually implement measures often discussed when a forum gets out of control (e.g., volume or flamewars) such as automated throttling, among many other things. On the bright side, there could be lots of low hanging fruit. On the dim side, I’m surely making extrapolations (second bullet especially) unsupported by research I haven’t read!

Coordinating the Commons: Diversity & Dynamics in Open Collaborations, excerpt from a dissertation:

Learning from Wikipedia’s successes and failures can help researchers and designers understand how to support open collaborations in other domains — such as Free/Libre Open Source Software, Citizen Science, and Citizen Journalism. [...] To inquire further, I have designed a new editor peer support space, the Wikipedia Teahouse, based on the findings from my empirical studies. The Teahouse is a volunteer-driven project that provides a welcoming and engaging environment in which new editors can learn how to be productive members of the Wikipedia community, with the goal of increasing the number and diversity of newcomers who go on to make substantial contributions to Wikipedia.

Interesting for a few reasons:

  • I like the title, cf. commons coordination (though I was primarily thinking of inter-project/movement coordination);
  • OpenHatchy;
  • I like the further inquiry’s usefulness for research and the researched community;
  • Improving the effectiveness of mass collaboration is important, including for its policy effects.

Back to the press release:

Support for the Network from will be used to build technology platforms to solve problems more openly and to run agile, real-world, empirical experiments with institutional partners such as governments and NGOs to discover what can enhance collaboration and decision-making in the public interest.

I hope those technology platforms will be open to audit and improvement by the public, i.e., free/open source software. GovLab’s site being under an open license (CC-BY-SA) could be a small positive indicator (perhaps not rising to the level of an essential question for anyone, but I do wonder how release and use of “content” or “data” under an open license correlates with release and use of open source software, if there’s causality in either direction, and if there could be interventions that would usefully reinforce any such).

I’m glad that NGOs are a target. Seems it ought be easier to adopt and spread governance innovation among NGOs (and businesses) than among governments, if only because there’s more turnover. But I’m not impressed. I imagine this could be due, among other things, to my ignorance: perhaps over a reasonable time period non-state governance has improved more rapidly than state governance, or to non-state governance being even less about effectiveness and more about power than is state governance, or to governance being really unimportant for survival, thus a random walk.

Something related I’ll never get around to blogging separately: the 2 year old New Ambiguity of ‘Open Government’ (summary), concerning the danger of allowing term to denote a government that publishes data, even merely politically insensitive data around service provision, rather than politically sensitive transparency and ability to demand accountability. I agree about the danger. The authors recommend maintaining distinctions between accountability, service provision, and adaptability of data. I find these distinctions aren’t often made explicit, and perhaps they shouldn’t be: it’d be a pain. But on the activist side, I think most really are pushing for politically sensitive transparency (and some focused on data about service provision might fairly argue such is often deeply political); certainly none want open data to be a means of openwashing. For one data point, I recommend the Oakland chapter of Beyond Transparency. Finally, Stop Secret Contracts seems like a new campaign entirely oriented toward politically sensitive transparency and accountability rather than data release. I hope they get beyond petitions, but I signed.

Extra-jurisdictional voting

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Are there any jurisdictions that permit or encourage people who are neither residents nor citizens to vote? Assuming each voter on average contributes something to good governance, why not as many as possible?

Some objections and counters:

  • Sovereignty. Citzenship and statehood are sacred bonds, like marriage between a male and a female. But the world is highly interconnected, and as people’s exclusionary notions about micro human relationships are crumbling, so will their notions about macro relationships. Excluding by default nearly all humans from participating in governance that will effect them is anti-democratic.
  • Meddling. Big city A and little town B are antipodal. Big city A voters swamp town B’s elections, extract all wealth from town B. But voting is primarily expressive, not self-interested.
  • Money. All such campaigns would be very expensive, or at least could be won with an expensive worldwide media campaign. Paradoxically, money would be much less important, as the average voter would pull information, rather than have it pushed to them: most of 7 billion people won’t be reachable by a campaign.
  • Anti-liberal. Most humans disfavor many freedoms for religious and cultural reasons. Liberal jurisdictions have checks and balances that limit state power.
  • Fraud. Prevention of all of fraud, coercion and disenfranchisement is hard; impossible to enforce extra-jurisdictionally. Hardly an excuse for choosing disenfranchisement; there would be different tradeoffs with extra-jurisdictional, even global, voting, but things like pre-registration, crypto-voting, and cross-jurisdictional cooperation could help on some dimensions; also note objections to sovereignty, meddling, and money above.

Furthermore, some general mechanisms to address challenges:

  • In-jurisdiction selection of candidates, extra-jurisdictional voting.
  • Override extra-jurisdictional vote by in-jurisdiction supermajority.
  • Random selection of extra-jurisdictional voters.

I grant that each of the objections above present substantial problems, are not exhaustive, and my counters are overly dismissive (but I claim have interesting substance). Still, why not some experiments? How about in non-state organizational governance? [Added: Some membership organizations are such experiments.]

If you’re itching to tell me that local voting on desired outcomes, global betting on how to achieve same (i.e., futarchy) is another approach to obtaining more inputs into good governance, good for you. But all of the aforementioned is relevant to choosing desired outcomes — in some cases more should be permitted and encouraged to help choose.

A survey suggests that worldwide, Obama would trounce Romney. That’s wholly unsurprising. I’d be curious to see similar polling for many more elections in many jurisdictions.

Falsifiable PR, science courts, legal prediction markets, web truth

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Point of Inquiry podcast host Chris Mooney recently interviewed Rick Hayes-Roth of

The site allows one to crowdfund a bounty for proving or disproving a claim that the sponsors believe to be a bogus or true statement respectively. If the sponsors’ claim is falsified, the falsifying party (challenger) gets the bounty, otherwise the initiating sponsor (campaign creator) gets 20% of the bounty, and other sponsors get about 80% of their contributions back. TruthMarket runs the site, adjudicates claims, and collects fees. See their FAQ and quickstart guide.

It seems fairly clear from the podcast that TruthMarket is largely a publicity mechanism. A big bounty for a controversial (as played out in the media anyway) claim could be newsworthy, and the spin would favor the side of truth. The claims currently on the site seem to be in this vein, e.g., Obama’s birth certificate and climate change. As far as I can tell there’s almost no activity on the site, the birth certificate claim, started by Hayes-Roth, being the only one funded.

The concept is fairly interesting though, reminding me of three things:

Many interesting combinations of these ideas are yet to be tried. Additionally, TruthMarket apparently started as TruthSeal, an effort to get web publishers to vouch monetarily for claims they make.

How to be a democrat

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

How to be a dictator isn’t just about politics — or rather it is about politics, everywhere: “It doesn’t matter whether you are a dictator, a democratic leader, head of a charity or a sports organisation, the same things go on.”

The article ends with:

Dictators already know how to be dictators—they are very good at it. We want to point out how they do it so that it’s possible to think about reforms that can actually have meaningful consequences.

I don’t know what if any reforms the authors propose in their book, The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics, but good on them encouraging a thinking in terms of meaningful consequences.

I see no hope for consequential progress against dictatorship in the United States. In 2007 I scored Obama and Biden very highly on their responses to a survey on executive power. Despite this, once in power, their administration has been a disaster, as Glenn Greenwald painstakingly and painfully documents.

I haven’t bothered scoring a 2011 candidates survey on executive power. I’m glad the NYT got responses from some of the candidates, but it seemed less interesting than four years ago, perhaps because only the Republican nomination is contested. My quick read: Paul’s answers seem acceptable, all others worship executive power. Huntsman’s answers seem a little more nuanced than the rest, but pointing in the same direction. Romney’s are in the middle of a very tight pack. In addition to evincing power worship, too many of Perry’s answers start with the exact same sentence, reinforcing the impression he’s not smart. Gingrich’s answers are the most brazen.

Other than envious destruction of power (the relevant definition and causes of which being tenuous, making effective action much harder) and gradual construction of alternatives, how can one be a democrat? I suspect more accurate information and more randomness are important — I’ll sometimes express this very specifically as enthusiasm for futarchy and sortition — but I’m also interested in whatever small increases in accurate information and randomness might be feasible, at every scale and granularity — global governance to small organizations, event probabilities to empirically validated practices.

Along the lines of the last, one of the few business books I’ve ever enjoyed is Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management, much of which cuts against leadership cult myths. Coincidentally, one of that book’s co-authors recently blogged about evidence that random selection of leaders can enhance group performance.


Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

I backed Novacut’s first, unsuccessful, Kickstarter campaign last year because I think that new tools for distributed collaborative creation and curation are important to the success of free culture (which I just said is a lame name for intellectual freedom, but I digress) and Novacut’s description seemed to fit the bill:

We’re developing a free open-source video editor with a unique distributed design:

  • Distributed workflow – collaboratively edit video with other artists over the Internet
  • Distributed storage – seamlessly store and synchronize video files across multiple computers and the cloud
  • Distributed rendering – seamlessly spread rendering and encoding across multiple computers and the cloud

I didn’t investigate whether Novacut had a feasible plan. My pledge was an expressive vote for the concept of new tools for distributed collaboration.

Novacut is making another go of it at Kickstarter, and it looks like they’ll succeed. I just pledged again.

However, I’m saddened by how much of philanthropy is not also carefully instrumental. The only low barrier way to move in this direction (I’d prefer futarchist charity) that I know of is criticism, so hats off to Danny Piccirillo for his criticism of Novacut fundraising. I’m further saddened that such criticism is not welcomed. I would be honored that someone found a project I am involved in or a fan of worth the time to criticize and thankful for the free publicity.

Now, I’m looking forward to see what Novacut delivers, and/or what Novacut ideas other video editor projects implement.

Speaking of delivery, I noticed today a new crowdfunding site targeting free software and Brazil, makeITopen. According to a writeup, it appears to have a couple interesting twists. Projects that do not reach their thresholds have donations not fully returned to donors, but only as credits within the system (unlike Kickstarter and others, where pledges are not collected until a project has reached its threshold). More interestingly, there is a process for donors to approve (or not) the software delivered by the project. This sort of thing is probably hard to get right, and I fully expect makeITopen to fail, but I hope it is hugely successful, and think that getting approval right could be very useful. At least for donors who wish to be instrumental.

Addendum 20110730: The best two comments on the Novacut criticism kerfuffle: Jono Bacon saying be calm, but onus is on Novacut to explain, and Jason Gerard DeRose (Novacut lead), explaining how Novacut’s intended high-end userbase demands a different program than do casual video editors, and that there’s plenty of scope for cooperation on underlying components. Congratulations to Novacut for meeting its Kickstarter threshold, and good luck to Novacut, (the working editor many critics advocated directing resources toward), and and Gnonlin (two underlying components in common). Onward to killing King Kong with FLOSS.

NYT digital subscription plans as Kickstarter project backer levels

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Apart from curiosity about what the New York Times forecasts for the project and how they arrived at same, I really don’t care one way or the other about the upcoming New York Times paywall.

However, the paywall’s convoluted pricing cries out for taking the form of Kickstarter project backer levels. I haven’t done justice to the NYT plan and have done injustice to well-crafted Kickstarter project backer levels I recently admired. Apologies to all.

NYT Paywall as Kickstarter Levels

Addendum 2011-03-22: Thanks to Kickstarter for appreciating and blogging about this post. I didn’t mean to suggest “the whole thing would work best as a Kickstarter project: funding goal + tiered reward options + the assurance that you will only be charged if they do indeed survive the death of print/revolt of the internet” but that’s certainly correct! For some of the reasons why, extrapolate from Timothy B. Lee’s two recent posts on the paywall, Shoe-Leather Reporting at the New York Times and Misguided Moralism in the Paywall Debate. For a future with good journalism, Kickstarter is of far more relevance than any paywall.

Notability, deletionism, inclusionism, ∞³

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

For the past couple years there has been an in English Wikipedia (archived version). It is an ok article. Some that I’d include isn’t, and some of what is seems kind of tangential, e.g., talking at a NASA event, that besides a citation, netted spending the day with an unholy mix of the usual social media suspects and entirely retrograde “we gotta put man humans into space because it makes me feel proud to be an American and my daughter might do her math homework!!!” boosters (get real: go robots!) and a sketch. However, overall it is fairly evocative, even the NASA event part. It would be uncool of me to edit it directly, and I’ve been curious to see how it would be improved, translated, vandalized, or deleted, so I haven’t made suggestions. It has mostly just sat there, though it has been curious to see the content copied in various places where Wikipedia content gets copied, and that a fair proportion of the people I meet note that I “have a Wikipedia page” — that’s kind of the wrong way to think about it (Wikipedia articles have subjects, not owners), but good to know that people can use web search (and that I can tend toward the pedantic).

!#@!@^% deletionists are ruining Wikipedia. They’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

The one thing that I have said about the article about me on English Wikipedia, until now, has been this, on my (not precisely, but moreso “mine”) user page on English Wikipedia: “I am the subject of Mike Linksvayer, which I would strongly advocate deleting if I were a deletionist (be my guest).” I’ve thought about pulling some kind of stunt around this, for example, setting up a prediction market contract on whether the article about me would be deleted in a given timeframe, but never got around to it. Anyway, last week someone finally added an Articles for Deletion notice to the article, which sets up a process involving discussion of whether the article ought be deleted (crickets so far). When rough consensus is reached, an admin will delete the article, or the notice will be removed.

I’m not a fan of deletionism (more below), but given the current rules around notability, I am either somewhat questionable as an English Wikipedia article subject (using the general, easy to interpret charitably summary of notability: “A person is presumed to be notable if he or she has received significant coverage in reliable secondary sources that are independent of the subject.”) to unquestionably non-notable (any less charitable interpretation, which presumably any “deletionist” would use, thus my user page statement). The person who added the Articles for Deletion notice may not have done any research beyond what is already linked in the article (more on that general case below), but I must admit, his critique of the citations in the article, are fairly evocative, just as the article is:

We have three sources from Creative Commons (primary), a paragraph in a CNET news article where he does his job and encourages scientists to use CC licenses, one IHT article about veganism that mentions him for a couple of paragraphs, and a link to his Wikipedia userpage. That is not enough for notability, in my opinion.

The IHT (actually first in the NYT) article was about calorie restriction, not veganism, but that’s a nitpick. Most of the “media” items my name has appeared in are indeed about Creative Commons, i.e., me doing my job, not me as primary subject, or in a few cases, about calorie restriction, with me as a prop. Or they’re blogs — ok that one is even less notable than most blogs, but at least it’s funny, and relevant — and podcasts. The only item (apart from silly blog posts) that I’ve appeared in that I’m fond of and would be tickled if added as a reference if the current article about me squeaks by or some future article in the event I as a subject become a no-brainer (clearly I aim to, e.g., “[make] a widely recognized contribution that is part of the enduring historical record in his or her specific field”, but even more clearly I haven’t achieved this) is in Swedish (and is still about me doing my job, though perhaps going off-message): check out an English machine translation.

I’m not a fan of deletionism, largely because, as I’ve stated many times, thinking of Wikipedias as encyclopedias doesn’t do the former justice — Wikipedia has exploded the “encyclopedia” category, and that’s a wonderful thing. Wikipedias (and other Wikimedia projects, and projects elsewhere with WikiNature) need to go much further if freedom is to win — but I’m partisan in this, and can appreciate that others appreciate the idea that Wikipedias stick close to the category defined by print encyclopedias, including strong limits on what might be considered encyclopedic.

It also strikes me that if Wikimedia movement priorities include increasing readership and participation that inclusionism is the way to go — greatly increase the scope of material people can find and participate in building. However, I’m not saying anything remotely new — see Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia.

Although I’m “not a fan” I don’t really know how big of a problem deletionism is. In my limited experience, dealing with an Articles for Deletion notice on an article I’ve contributed to is a pain, sometimes motivates substantially improving the article in question, and is generally a bummer when a useful, factual article is deleted — but it isn’t a huge part of the English Wikipedia editing experience.

Furthermore, reading guidelines on notability closely again, they’re more reasonable than I recall — that is, very reasonable, just not the radical inclusionism I prefer. To the extent that deletionism is a problem, my guess now is that it could be mitigated by following the guidelines more closely, not loosening them — start with adding a {{notability}} tag, not an Articles for Deletion notice, ask for advice on finding good sources, and make a good faith effort to find good sources — especially for contemporary subjects, it’s really simple with news/web/scholar/book/video search from Google and near peers. I’m sure this is done in the vast majority of cases — still, in the occasional case when it isn’t done, and initial attempts to find sources and improve an article are being made during an Articles for Deletion discussion, is kind of annoying.

I also wrote some time ago when thinking about notability the not-to-be-taken-very-seriously Article of the Unknown Notable, which I should probably move elsewhere.

The delicious “dialectical inclusionism” quote above is from Gordon Mohr. Coincidentally, today he announced ∞³, a project “to create an avowedly inclusionist complement to Wikipedia”. There’s much smartness in his post, and this one is already long, so I’m going to quote the entire thing:

Introducing Infinithree (“∞³”)

Wikipedia deletionism is like the weather: people complain, but nobody is doing anything about it. 

I’d like to change that, working with others to create an avowedly inclusionist complement to Wikipedia, launching in 2011. My code name for this project is ‘Infinithree’ (‘∞³’), and this blog exists to collaborate on its creation.

Why, you may ask?

I’ll explain more in future posts – but in a nutshell, I believe deletionism erases true & useful reference knowledge, drives away contributors, and surrenders key topics to cynical spammy web content mills.

If you can already appreciate the value and urgency of this sort of project, I’m looking for you. Here are the broad outlines of my working assumptions:

Infinithree will use the same open license and a similar anyone-can-edit wiki model as Wikipedia, but will discard ‘notability’ and other ‘encyclopedic’ standards in favor of ‘true and useful’.

Infinithree is not a fork and won’t simply redeploy MediaWiki software with inclusionist groundrules. That’s been tried a few times, and has been moribund each time. Negative allelopathy from Wikipedia itself dooms any almost-but-not-quite-Wikipedia; a new effort must set down its roots farther afield.

Infinithree will use participatory designs from the social web, rather than wikibureacracy, to accrete reliable knowledge. Think StackOverflow or Quora, but creating declarative reference content, rather than interrogative transcripts.

Sound interesting? Can you help? Please let me know what you think, retweet liberally, and refer others who may be interested.

For updates, follow @_infinithree on Twitter (note the leading underscore) or @infinithree on

Infinithree is already very interesting as a concept, and I’m confident in Gordon’s ability to make it non-vapor and extremely interesting (I was one of his co-founders at the early open content/data/mass collaboration service Bitzi — 10 years ago, hard to believe). There is ample opportunity to try different mass collaboration arrangements to create free knowledge. Many have thought about how to tweak Wikipedia culture or software to produce different outcomes, or merely to experiment (I admit that too much of my plodding pondering on the matter involves the public domain↔strong copyleft dimension). I’m glad that Gordon intends ∞³ to be different enough from Wikipedia such that more of the vast unexplored terrain gets mapped, and hopefully exploited. As far as I know is probably the most relevant attempt so far. May there be many more.