18 April 2008

Wikipedian Puppets

More on wikipedia and and on yours truly.

One regular source of dispute on the wikipedia talk pages is the urgent question, "who is a sock puppet of whom?"

When editors (anyone with an internet connection and an interest in a question under discussion is an 'editor') dispute issues on the Talk pages, it frequently happens that one will try to gang up on the others by pretending to be two or more different people. When Joe says, "we should change the opening sentence of this article," but Moe replies, "No, we should leave that sentence as it is," then Joe creates Larry who says, "Joe is right, the sentence needs more work."

Ideally, that fools Moe into thinking, "gee, if Joe and this other fellow agree, maybe I'm wrong."

That's the simple version, there are endless variants. But in the case I've posited, Larry is a "sock puppet" of Joe.

The accusation "Joe uses sock puppetry" can be a devastating one, and the Joes of wikipedia resist, causing endless brouhahas.

In one endless, or just endless-seeming, debate over alleged socks, somebody wrote that two or more regular posters frequently use the otherwise uncommon phrase "putting lipstick on a pig," which sounds so idiosyncratic that they just must be the same person in reality.

Wiser heads prevailed on that proposed test, though. "Yes, the sampling problem will exist for any sort of style analysis. For example ... the expression 'lipstick on a pig' is not all that uncommon, and it would be hard (maybe impossible) to determine what percentage of editors at large use that expression."

Indeed. It was to prove this point that one of the warring editors cited the work of one Christopher Faille, specifically a book review I wrote in July 2006.

The review was of a book written by finance journalist Gary Weiss, called WALL STREET VERSUS AMERICA. My review, as it happens, was titled Lipstick Brands Change, the Pig's the Same.

As it happens, Gary Weiss himself (the biographical wiki article about him, as well as references to him in various other articles on matters discussed in that book) is the center of much wikipedia controversy. Controversies over what the articles should say quickly become controversies over who is using socks and who is falsely accusing who else of using socks. So the fact that my review was a review of that particular book seems to have made it especially valuable in spreading recognition that "pig/lipstick" is a fairly common trope among those of us who follow and write about financial matters. Putting the idea that sharing this trope makes one editor the puppet of another ... back in the sty where it belongs.

I'm glad to help. Cash will be accepted in lieu of more symbolic expressions of gratitude.

Those of you to whom this is all Greek -- you're missing nothing. Those who think I'm making it all up in the desperate need to create a bogus entry for my blog, your suspicions are easily put to rest.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.