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journalism


35 tech journalism cliches

  1. This new product does not function the way I personally think it should, therefore it is not going to succeed in the marketplace because I say so.

  2. Company X is not producing a product in this category, and it is essential for them to do so because I say so, and if they don’t they will fail catastrophically.

  3. Company X is late to the market in a particular category, and if they don’t hurry up, they will fail catastrophically.

  4. I’ve found a drawing on the internet of what an unannounced product might look like, so it will definitely look like this.

  5. I’m a monolingual, English-speaking middle class Western white male in his 20s or 30s whose only experience of technology is in a milieu dominated by other monolingual, English-speaking middle class Western white men of roughly my age and I can’t figure out why anyone would want to use product X, so therefore nobody will use product X.

  6. Company X has a low market share in this category of products, so company X has failed regardless of tedious things like how much profit they make from said product. After this article, I shall write one on how Rolex aren’t nearly as successful a watchmaker as Casio along the same broad principles.

  7. I shall borrow a concept from one area of technology I don’t know much about and apply it to another area of technology I also don’t know much about.

  8. I shall try and explain a moderately complicated technical topic which I don’t really understand by coming up with an analogy that doesn’t actually fit very well.

  9. This new device that has come out will kill existing device for a bunch of subjective and arbitrary reasons.

  10. I’m going to draw some overly broad conclusions from sales or analytics data that represents a tiny fraction of the overall market or is otherwise misleading, and I’m not going to couch my conclusions in the required level of uncertainty that my source justifies.

  11. An analyst has written a report which I find similar to my opinions therefore it is gospel truth and contains no obvious technical flaws (not that I could spot them if it did).

  12. Let’s poke some fanboys and watch the sparks fly in the comments.

  13. I’m going to cover the new shiny stuff without discussing the social and political values embedded in the technology.

  14. I’m going to discuss the social and political values of technology but misunderstand how the actual technology works.

  15. I have no understanding of the history of technology, so when some goofball PR comes to me and tells me that some idea is new and revolutionary, I believe every word he says rather than taking five minutes to check Wiki-fucking-pedia and see that it is simply a rebrand of the same concept that has been marketed under five different labels, often by the same company. (See: cloud computing which is what used to be called grid computing or network computing, which is basically what mainframe timesharing systems were doing.)

  16. Teething troubles with a new product fatally undermines both that product—or even that whole class of products—for ever more.

  17. Big company X has introduced a new programming language, therefore it will come to magically dominate all programming for ever and ever. (See: the hilarious comments from people who thought Google’s Go language would suddenly become the lingua franca of back-end web development, replacing PHP, .NET, Rails, Node.js et al. despite being intended as a C replacement).

  18. Open source product X will destroy all of its proprietary/commercial competitors because it is open source and open source will always win.

  19. The products and services that young people use are the future because they are young people, and they are able to pay for said products and services using their vast income and resources and nonexistent credit cards.

  20. Here’s some shit security advice that doesn’t actually take account of the current threats.

  21. Someone told me about this database which is distributed, fully ACID and CAP compliant and has solved P=NP, and even though I don’t quite know what those words mean (and the Wikipedia article kind of goes above my head) but I believe them because why would a PR person lie to me?

  22. I went on an expensive course to learn how to make apps. They all had shiny new MacBooks and taught me some basic JavaScript and we made a web page. We had artisanal flatbreads with some very tasty hummous at a nice office in Shoreditch. I’m a programmer now.

  23. Bitcoin will change everything. But, yes, I did struggle to buy anything with my Bitcoin and had to pull out my debit card.

  24. I’m going to talk about free speech on social media while eliding the difference between free speech as a moral standard and free speech as a legal requirement. As part of this, I shall treat the First Amendment and other American free speech law as universally applicable because I’m an American and America FUCK YEAH GO USA.

  25. Let me guilt shame you about using ad blocking software even though the web is literally unusable without the parade of bloated shitvertising and spyware-infected Flash crap that we need to install so we can pay writers to turn out this turgid, poorly researched shit we like to call “quality technology journalism”. Our failure to find a sustainable business model is actually your moral failure.

  26. I’m going to just ignore user experience and decide which product is best based on a series of feature lists and specifications: because who gives a fuck if the feature is actually useable in real life by real humans?

  27. Rather than giving you a nuanced and detailed review describing the features and pitfalls of a number of competing products, I shall arbitrarily declare one member of this class of products the “winner”—because my subjective weighting of desired features and design will obviously match up exactly with yours, and it’s my job to do the thinking for you.

  28. Doing real research is hard, so I’m just going to rip some shit off an actual expert’s blog without credit.

  29. Why, yes, my representative sample of an open source community project is one cranky troll.

  30. Let me tell you about how the NSA are nasty and evil. Yes, you could install some crypto software to protect yourself against their spying, but it’s much more fun to get worked up into a lather about it than actually protect yourself.

  31. I went to TED and met some exciting thought leaders who are going to build their own libertarian paradise, megadose on vitamin pills and upload their brains to the cloud while helping Bono solve all the world’s social and economic problems. These people aren’t colossal wankers and the things they have to say aren’t horseshit. No, really.

  32. This guy on Reddit has a summary he wrote on the back of a cigarette packet of what he thinks will be Apple’s new product. He claims to have sources in China who tell him that they absolutely will be making this product. Yes, he’s a completely trustworthy source.

  33. Here’s a bunch of predictions about the future of technology X. You won’t hold me accountable to any of them. And, no, being the Psychic Sally of the tech industry isn’t demeaning to me at all. (For entertainment purposes only.)

  34. Big company P bought an infinitesimal stake in startup Q. Therefore, according to the bullshit law of valuations that everyone follows for some reason, Q is now worth $100 quintillion.

  35. X is dead. Yes, you know, that product X that has billions of satisfied users around the world. I say it is dead, therefore it is totally dead.

Thank god for tech journalism. We would be so poorly informed without it.


TechCrunch's Gigster profile is proof tech journalists will believe just about anything

Read this if you want a giggle.

Got a startup idea? That and some cash is all you need to get a fully functional app built for you by Gigster. Launching today, Gigster is a full-service development shop, rather than a marketplace where you have to manage the talent you find.

Oh, you mean like hundreds of other software development companies?

Just go to Gigster’s site, instant message with a sales engineer, tell them what you want built, and in 10 minutes you get a guaranteed quote for what it will cost and how long it will take.

10 minutes for a fully estimated project plan: that’s the biggest load of bilge I’ve ever heard.

Once you get your project back, Gigster will even maintain the code, and you can pay to add upgrades or new features.

You bet. Can you get anyone else to add upgrades or features? Or do they have any IP interest or right of first refusal? Those sort of questions are things a journalist might ask. But, oh, this is tech journalism.

And “maintain”. Bit more detail required.

Gigster fixes [management issues] by assigning a project manager to handle 100 percent of the management of your developers and be your sole point of contact. If the project is behind schedule, Gigster just assigns more developers to it or fires under-performing ones so it gets done on time.

Yeah, let’s ignore that the Mythical Man Month problem is a thing. Chuck more developers at the problem! “Beatings will continue until morale improves” is not a good management philosophy.

I’m sure that when your motivation is “get this shit out the door and get cash money now” and your clients are the sort of idiots who believe that they can hire coders like they do Uber cabs, you’ll produce reliable, well-tested and secure code. Right? I mean, no motivation to cut corners or anything.

The Gigsters come from companies like Google or Stripe that are looking for some extra projects

I’m sure they don’t have any no-compete or employer-owns-all-employee-produced-IP constraints in their contracts. Should work out just fine, right up until the client finds out that Google or Facebook owns a whole bunch of their IP.

10 minutes for full project costings? Mythical Man Month solved? This snake oil sure is deee-licious.

The idea that a guy who has built a whole bunch of Facebook apps is going to wave a magic wand and make software development cheap, predictable and with the kind of modularity and simplicity of booking a cab is such a laughable notion that the only people I can see believing it are tech journalists.


How to write a Royal Baby story: a practical guide for journalists

Given the best practices demonstrated over the last few days, I have prepared a guide for how to write the perfect Royal Baby story.

Start your story with the basic facts: talk about how a woman called Kate, who by all reports is meant to be quite a nice person, managed to reproduce successfully recently. Pepper it with interesting facts like that she gave birth in a hospital, and with the baby’s father nearby, and all sorts of other utterly run-of-the-mill pieces of trivia.

Now move on to discuss how they aren’t sure what to name the baby and cite some overheard bollocks that some friend of a friend of a friend overheard at a cocktail party three weeks ago, but which has been elevated to gospel-level fact because the story is about famous people, therefore fuck journalistic standards.

In your next paragraph, you need to report on the charming things that the child’s grandfather said. Ignore the fact that he’s basically an idiotic windbag whose continued existence as a living being makes the world irreparably stupider and whose continued meddling in affairs of state far beyond his limited and mediocre mental capacities have forced the government into having to refuse access to his letters to government ministers on the ludicrous basis that if the material were released, it would make it impossible for him to be King because it would shatter the illusion that he’s politically neutral, and that illusion must be maintained even though it is a load of bollocks, and even though said argument makes the government look like a bunch of fucking tits covering up for an absolute nincompoop. It’s supposed to be a celebration of our unelected leaders, so you have to be on your best behaviour.

This next paragraph discusses how idiots have been queuing up outside Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace and/or the hospital in order to deliver flowers, teddy bears and other gifts which, for security reasons, will not actually be given to the child because they might contain anthrax or something. Nobody should point out that if you’d willingly spend your own money on a gift that won’t ever be delivered to a baby born in to an enormously rich family who you don’t know and will never meet and that won’t ever want for anything, you are a pathetic simpleton with absolutely no life and that you should probably go home and swallow broken glass to save the world from your stupidity.

This paragraph will contain some meaningless glib horseshit copied and pasted from Wikipedia rather than a rollocking pisstake of the overemotional mawkish halfwits who get teary-eyed about the baby of people they will never meet.

We’re getting close to a good story here. This paragraph will report on the ever more anachronistic pomp that surrounds the whole silly occasion and not point out how ludicrous it is that publicly-funded state figureheads are spending millions and millions of pounds on one child while the government sets about slicing away key services that provide opportunities for children whose last names are not ‘Windsor’. This paragraph will not mention whether or not shutting down possibly hundreds of libraries will affect said non-celebrity children, but will discuss in detail the millions spent on refurbishing a building in London suitable to make it suitable for the child.

The next paragraph will claim that the birth of the royal baby will bring an enormous amount to the nation’s economy, even though it won’t.

Now you need to make some overwrought comparsions to the Olympics, suggesting that delivering a baby in a top private hospital is a feat of human endurance in some way comparable to the thousands of hours of training that athletes spend pushing the limit of human strength, endurance and performance to an extravagant degree.

Here you need to uncritically report some company who sent us some PR blather to get their name in the paper has some kind of vaguely amusing promotional bullshit going on or they’ve run some bullshit poll on the Internet, because frankly, the editor wants this to be a double page spread and there’s not much more we can possibly say about the fact that a Royal has given birth to a baby other than that she’s Royal and she’s made a baby.

This paragraph will contain quotes from a completely irrelevant celebrity like David Beckham because (a) he’s a footballer and thus you should care what he thinks, and (b) he’s married to a woman widely considered to be quite fit and can therefore give first-hand insight on what it’s like for said quite fit wife to give birth. He’ll say something utterly uninteresting like that it’s a baby and that it’s cute and this will be reported on at great length because… well, nobody is really sure.

Having covered the opinions of worthless celebrities, you now need to get the voice of the people. And going out and asking actual people is hard. This is why social media exists. Hop on to Twitter, type in whatever stupid hashtag has been selected for this particular bit of Royal ceremonial bullshit and pull some reactions. Best to make sure that they are as inoffensive and uninteresting as popular: journalism isn’t about rocking the boat, it’s about reporting how everyone is happy and amazed by the reaction. If you are short of a few pictures, feel free to nick a few off social media sites and include them without attribution. Copyright only applies to real photographers.

Now round it off with a paragraph about how everyone in the country is amazingly proud and in awe of this magnificent achievement, even though lots of people find the incessant coverage a fitting if utterly dispiriting tribute to an idiotic culture of celebrity-obsessed vapidity.

Submit to editor.

Now go and pour yourself a triple vodka and drink yourself into oblivion so you can forget how writing snivelling Royalist shite completely contradicts those truth-telling expose-writing dreams that led you to enter journalism in the first place. Repeat until unconscious.


Tech journalists: take my tech test

It’s a recurring theme in the argument about journalism: that journalists don’t know what they are talking about. With the magical powers of science, I want to see if that’s true. Below is a series of questions I have come up with to test whether it’s actually true or not. And by science, I mean a hastily constructed pop quiz.

Here’s the deal. If you are a technology journalist, please answer truthfully. I know all journalists are truthful and honest—I’ve been watching the Leveson Inquiry. See how many you can get right.

If you get less right than you think you should, consider whether you should be writing about technology.

Above is a sample of some code written in a programming language that was introduced in the last decade.

Please identify the name of the programming language and the broader family of programming languages that it is in.

If you can, please identify the name of the creator of the language.

Programming languages fall into two types: dynamically typed and statically typed. Please identify whether this is a dynamic or a static language.

Above is a sample of some code written in a different programming language.

Please identify the name of the programming language.

If you wished to produce a game to sell on the App Store for iPhones/iPads, which of the two languages you have identified above would be more suitable to build such a game in given the constraints placed on developers in the iOS ecosystem?

2001:0DB8:AC10:FE01:0000:0000:0000:0000

Above is a sample of a string that identifies something. Please can you identify what it is for.

WEP, WPA and WPA2 are types of what?

FAT32, ext4 and HFS+ are types of what?

You have probably heard of NoSQL. Please choose the odd one out: Redis, Riak, CouchDB, MariaDB, MongoDB, eXist.

I was going to ask a complicated question, but it’s now past 2am and the question I was going to write involved me reading assembly code, and I took the executive decision that I couldn’t be arsed.

Anyway, all of the questions above are on topics that have been covered or mentioned at least once on either TechCrunch or ZDNet. Even if you have no plans on writing about those topics, it’s something you presumably need to vaguely understand in order to be able to read the writings of other tech journalists.

Before you say “ah, but writing about technology doesn’t mean you have to be a geek”, let me ask you this: would you read what a music journalist has to say if they can’t identify the bands that are discussed in their own newspapers and on the websites they write for? What about a motoring journalist who had no idea what an axle was? A politics journalist who couldn’t tell you what a party whip does? A journalist covering the financial markets who has no idea who sets the interest rates? A wine reviewer who doesn’t know whether chianti is red or white? A science journalist who doesn’t understand the difference between an element and a compound? A religion writer who was a bit shaky on the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism? If not those, why do we accept journalists writing about technology who couldn’t tell you what a compiler is?


Hari-gate: behind the scenes at Wikipedia

I was asked by David Allen Green, the writer behind the Jack of Kent blog, to write about the situation with Johann Hari who recently apologised for various acts of journalistic malpractice including substituting interview copy with background material, and editing articles on Wikipedia using at least one pseudonymous account (User:David r from meth productions - hereafter ‘David r’). I was going to write various things about it when the story originally broke. I originally had some doubts about some of the evidence that was presented linking accounts on two different wikis with an IP address, but further evidence turned up to show that there indeed was a link.

Instead, I thought I’d give a more general introduction as to how the Wikipedia administrative system works in cases like this. I should first make a disclaimer: I’m just interested in showing the issues as they relate to Wikipedia policies, rather than making a political point about Hari or whatnot. That said, it would be pointless to deny that my politics line up very much with the political views of Johann Hari and indeed David Allen Green.

I’m just using the Hari/David r case to show roughly how these things work out, because behind the scenes at Wikipedia, there’s quite an interesting system for how these kinds of disputes and cases are resolved. There’s a whole hidden iceberg of complexity that the average web user doesn’t see. For those who keep track of things like the Hari case, it’s worth having some background on how it works so they can have a better shot at uncovering wrongdoing in the future.

The first thing to understand about Wikipedia is that there is an important difference between blocking and banning. A block is a technical measure designed to prevent someone from editing Wikipedia. If you turn up and start vandalising pages, adding the typical “Jimmy in year six at Suchandsuch school is gay!”-type vandalism or whatever, they are likely to be warned a few times and blocked. This is normal, everyday practice on Wikipedia: I’ve been responsible for at least 80 or so of these kind of blocks. Blocks are not supposed to be punitive: the first level of justice on Wikipedia is always preventative.

Users are blocked only long enough to stop them from vandalising and no longer. Of course, repeated violations earn one a progressively longer block. But the block is just that: a technical measure. Let’s say you are at Suchandsuch school and someone on your school network goes to Wikipedia and starts informing all the readers of the article on giraffes or whatever that poor Jimmy is in fact a homosexual, and the school gets blocked, there’s nothing to stop you from going home and editing. Or getting an account and editing. That’s all fine and dandy. A block is not necessarily a big deal: it’s more like an ASBO.

David r was banned in July. Banning is a social measure where the community decides that the person’s invitation to edit the site has been rescinded. You can read David r/Hari’s ban discussion: there were fifteen users who supported a ban (myself included), and three who opposed the ban. David r is banned indefinitely from editing anything on Wikipedia. As we now have confirmation that David r is Johann Hari, Johann Hari is indefinitely banned from Wikipedia.1 This means that if he pops up with a new account and someone can confirm that the account is a “sockpuppet” used by Hari, that account will be blocked indefinitely on sight.

Who does all this? Volunteers. As I said, I supported the ban when it was proposed in July. I’m not an administrator, just an experienced user of Wikipedia. The blocking is done by administrators, who are sort of the caretakers and cops of Wikipedia. If we wanted to map existing categories of political governance onto Wikipedia, the legislature is everybody (anyone can propose changes to policy, and then we try to use consensus to develop that into a policy or into guidelines). The administrators are really magistrate, policeman and executioner rolled into one. They are the ones who hand out the immediate justice. If you get blocked, you can appeal that by making an unblock request which gets handled by a different administrator. Complex cases end up at the Arbitration Committee, an elected panel of seventeen experienced users who hear cases and then have the ability to determine bans, blocks and other measures.

Bans, of the sort that David r/Johann Hari got, can be given out through three processes: by the Arbitration Committee (as described above), by Jimmy Wales (who still holds the power in a constitutional monarchist type of situation but is generally expected to not use it in the same way as the Queen is expected not to send people to the Tower of London), and a “community ban” (which is what David r got). In the latter, the community is presented with the option to ban someone and then has a consensus-based discussion and provide arguments. These look like votes, but aren’t. On Wikipedia, we hold that polls are evil. If you looked at that ban discussion, it looks like a vote, but you’ll notice that in addition to saying “Support” or “Oppose”, each user provides reasons. Once the discussion has run for a certain period, an administrator “closes” the discussion, sums up all the arguments made for and against, weighs them up and comes to a decision.

That’s how we administer justice, then, but what about evidence collection?

Here there are some other special powers worth knowing about. There’s two in particular: Oversight and CheckUser. These are so-called “advanced permissions” and are held by a very small number of people. Those people have to identify with the Wikimedia Foundation: that is, they have to send proof of their real-life identity to the Foundation. The powers are given only very rarely, and users with those powers have significant levels of community trust. Oversighters have the ability to delete content and wipe it from the historical log. This sounds very much like the “memory hole” from Orwell’s 1984, right? Yes, but it’s a very rare thing. I’ve had to use it only once or twice in the last year. The time that sticks out is when a kid from a school in the United States vandalised a page and inserted the phone number of a schoolfriend along with, of course, the claim that he was gay. Ordinary vandalism, sure. But it is ordinary vandalism that potentially reveals personal information about a minor. That’s kind of a big problem. I fixed the vandalism very quickly and got a admin to block the school’s IP address to prevent them from posting any more. But anyone who checks through the historical log could see this poor kid’s phone number. I e-mailed an oversighter and within an hour or so the edit was wiped from history.

The other power is more important for our purposes: the CheckUser. CheckUsers have the ability to see what IP addresses a particular user has been using for a period of a few months after they used that IP. A CheckUser can see if two users have been using the same computer. The power that CheckUsers and Oversighters have is kept in check by an auditing process. Every time they run a CheckUser on someone or Oversight something, ideally someone from the Audit Subcommittee checks that the use of the advanced permissions is handled well. Here we have the same issues we have with law and police processes in real life: to get a CheckUser to potentially infringe on someone’s privacy, someone from the community needs to present some reasonable suspicion that two users are in fact one and the same. If you’ve watched legal shows on TV, there’s the same kinds of language that goes on with use of CheckUser. CheckUsers aren’t supposed to go on a fishing expedition. I’ve been involved in one or two situations where a CheckUser had to look into something, and the only information you get back is basically a yes or no: they either tell you that your suspicions have been “confirmed” or that the check didn’t turn anything up.

Part of the problem with doing this kind of investigation is that not all of the evidence is always available to all users: if someone has had pages deleted, only admins can see that. If someone has had edits oversighted, admins won’t be able to see that. If they have been misusing multiple accounts, we need reasonable grounds before a CheckUser will do an investigation. Wikipedia’s social processes are interesting here: in ten years, the community has crafted a system that has some elements of a formal legal system.

What are the practical lessons from this that non-Wikipedians should take to heart to help keep powerful people (journalists, politicians and others) from abusing Wikipedia in the same way they often manipulate other media?

  1. Look at editing patterns overall. Individual edits aren’t great signifiers of guilt, but edits over extended periods of time.
  2. Collect “diffs”: diffs are the individual edits made to the page. To give an example, here’s a diff of an edit I made a week or so back. The section marked in green is the text I added to the page. If there are sections marked in red, that is what has been removed from the page. But be aware that very occasionally the stream of diffs gets manipulated (by the Oversighters and through revision deletion for privacy and other reasons.
  3. When you see vandalism and problematic edits, please report it. Post about it on Editor Assistance, explain what is going wrong, what needs doing and provide links to diffs and user pages. If you don’t understand that, you can always leave me a message although I can’t promise to respond quickly, if action needs to be taken, I’ll try and poke the relevant people into action.
  4. If you see someone inserting pseudo-scientific bunk, post about it on the Fringe Theories Noticeboard. There’s a community of people who deal with pseudoscience and fringe theories.
  5. Johann Hari edited lots of articles about living people: if you see someone adding unsourced or potentially defamatory material about living people, report it to the biographies of living persons noticeboard. We have processes to handle this.
  6. The sooner we learn about these things, the sooner we can handle them and the less complicated the process becomes. If you’ve got suspicions, don’t wait. CheckUser data is kept for a certain period: after a certain amount of time, the data the CheckUsers can get to is thrown away.
  7. Learn how to read Wikipedia’s Logs. The Log is where all non-editing actions are recorded. If someone moves a page or blocks someone or gets blocked or whatever, it all goes in the log. Here’s the log of all actions done to my user account and here’s the log of all actions I’ve done. The latter is rather boring. It’s mostly me uploading images of think tanks and public policy organisations and renaming pages and files. The former is far more interesting: it has all the user rights I’ve been granted (rollback is an anti-vandalism tool, reviewer is a hang-over from the pending changes trial, and file mover is exactly what it says it is), the fact that my user page was protected because people have vandalised it (a common enough occurrence if you fight vandalism), and the fact that I was blocked for five minutes back in March (I was hit by friendly fire in an anti-vandalism shootout!). Now, mine aren’t that contentious. But look at David r’s. There are numerous blocks and unblocks in there. If you were trying to investigate the history of the David r account, you might want to email those admins or seek out exactly what it was around those dates that led to the blocks. They are likely to be the more interesting and sordid bits of the user’s editing history.
  8. Check the time and date of the edits and graph them out. Remember that all times on Wikipedia are displayed as GMT by default, so you need to account for time zone and daylight savings. But see if the edits are done the whole week or just during office hours. If someone is editing just from the office, you shouldn’t expect to see edits at the weekend or in the evenings. On the other hand, if there are lots of edits with no discernible pattern of when they are sleeping, you might have a situation with more than one person using the same account (or just someone with a lot of time on their hands).
  9. Check contributions to the other projects. There’s a tool that does just that. You put their username in and it’ll show you what edits they’ve done to other Wikimedia projects. This will help when snooping out problem users. I’ve had users who have been blocked or banned from English Wikipedia and who have then gone on to edit at other projects. I haven’t seen any evidence that Hari/David r has been editing other projects or other language versions of Wikipedia. As the other projects aren’t used as much, it isn’t so much of a concern about them influencing the content (“Johann Hari vandalised Wiktionary!” isn’t quite as sexy a headline as “Johann Hari vandalised Wikipedia!”) but the cross-wiki edits can be useful evidence in working out who someone is.
  10. Check out LinkSearch. It is a very useful tool. You pop in a web address and it’ll show you all the pages which have links to that page or domain. If you are interested in where Hari’s edits have been discussed, the LinkSearch pages for Jack of Kent’s blog and for johannhari.com make interesting reading.

Given all of that, you may want to see what is currently going on in the Hari/David r affair: there’s a debate on the Administrator’s Noticeboard for Incidents called Johann Hari sockpuppetry which alleges (although not with much evidence in my view) that there are more accounts belonging to David r/Johann Hari.

If anyone interested in the Johann Hari affair following the published apology have any questions about the Wikipedia side of it, feel free to post a comment or send me a tweet, or post on my Wikipedia user talk page.

P.S. If that wasn’t enough Johann Hari-on-Wikipedia action, you might also want to read William Beutler’s post on the same topic.

P.P.S. I just looked through Velvet Glove, Iron Fist’s post about the Hari/David r affair. One interesting thing: David r made an off-wiki legal threat to someone on SourceWatch. If that had been on English Wikipedia rather than SourceWatch, he could have been blocked under Wikipedia’s no legal threats policy.

Coverage: Adam Tinworth at One Man and His Blog.

  1. If Hari wishes to make the community aware of problems with the page about him, he can still e-mail OTRS, essentially Wikipedia’s confidential volunteer-run customer service department, at info-en@wikimedia.org


Bloggers make journalists look succint

There is a great piece in The Atlantic by Michael Kinsey on the sheer verbosity of a lot of newspaper writing. It's hard not to agree with the examples he gives, and with his criticisms of the inverted pyramid style. If this verbosity problem is currently true of newspaper writers, it's even more true of bloggers. I try and practice minimalism in how I blog, but I do so in spite of it being very much out of vogue and not exactly the way to win admirers (in the form of hits, links etc.)

Blog posts, unlike newspaper articles, can scale down as small as a word or two. If you want to learn how to blog, I suggest you read Metafilter, Rebecca Blood's book The Weblog Handbook (review) and the early archives of Scripting News. As I've said many times before, I remember when I was trying to advocate this super-condensed form of blogging a few years ago - you don't need a title, you don't need a picture, you just need to say what the story is in the fewest words possible and pack it full of hyperlinks to the original sources - people thought I was completely bonkers and "on the wrong side of history" (standard tech-geek response - history only goes in one direction, right?). Said people are now addicted to Twitter, Facebook status updates, FriendFeed, identi.ca et al. And no bad thing either. One of the primary criticism of Twitter seems to that you can't say anything meaningful in under 140 characters. Of course you can. You just need to be disciplined about it. The same is true for blogging.

If you want to learn how not to blog, look at the big "industrial"-produced blogs - Gizmodo, Engadget, TUAW, TechCrunch, and even BoingBoing. Also Google "problogger", "problogging" and "problog" and read. All that stuff is just cancerous noise. Either use it as inspiration for how not to blog or just cut it out of your life altogether. Note how every article (not post - they are mere pretenders) has a title, a few paragraphs, a picture (or embedded video or whatever) and a whole lot of extra clutter. Cut away all that noise. YAGNI. Journalists and bloggers: learn from Twitter. You won't be able to summarise everything in 140 characters. You won't be able to get everything into one sentence or one line, but just try. That's not a commandment: you can and should sometimes expend a few paragraphs on a long and detailed piece. Everyday brevity need not apply to complex and multi-layered arguments. But for ordinary, run-of-the-mill daily news, you can stop spouting the obvious things, just give people the diffs, and cut out all those pictures. Really. YAGNI.

Another thing: You know when you are watching the television news and they have a report on, say, education reform. They always show you a picture of a school. Political interviews always have a backdrop of the Houses of Parliament (or the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.) - it's called B-Roll and it is quite obviously clutter. Redundant, trite, cliche - please, you don't need to do it on television and you don't need to do it online. You read a tech story on one of the industrial-blogging sites and they always have a picture. Rarely, if ever, does it actually illustrate the story. It serves only one purpose: fluffing the entry up to make it seem significant. You don't need it. Cut it out. If you want to add more depth to a piece, link. You can keep the clutter, but my making it so that it sits hidden behind a whole load of hyperlinks, you have made it optional.