Monday, March 20, 2017

Resistance is Voltage Over Current Events

Note: Posts like this are going to be a bit blurry in content and scope. I'm writing about a political tool, and I have political thoughts that I'll share on my other blog. Here, I want to talk about ResistBot's features, uses, good points, and possible points of failure.

Resistbot came to my attention about a week ago via Twitter.  Very simply, you text "resist" to 50409 and the bot will walk you through sending a fax, first to your Senators, then your Congressional Representative. Occasionally you'll be prompted to invite others, donate to the cause, or write again if it's been a day or so. There's a lot more information on the website.

What problem am I trying to solve?


I've been concerned about online abuse and abuse of online tools for some time.  Commentors on ProductHunt point out that having the name "Resistbot" is going to turn people off, especially those who don't feel like resisting.

At a certain point this will not matter. People who are not resisting will begin to use the tool if they have not already.

Other potential abuses:
  • Sending nonsense: mostly harmless.
  • Jamspam - attempts to send control codes. I don't know if this will jam the SMS or fax or the sorting software, but it's something to think about.
  • Sending threats - it's unknown if there is a language filter in the bot. There certainly ought to be something in the software that Congress uses. Since you're required to send a name along, there's obviously a mechanism for dealing with that, which leads to 
  • Impersonation - Right now the bot asks for your name and address. At this point, you could be sending faxes to several offices with just the names on your Christmas list. 
    • Filtering by phone number will not work, as people have whatever number they got with their cellphone and/or messaging service. I'm in California, and my phone numbers are from two completely different states.
    • This is where the harassment issue gets very serious. Officials have to take threats seriously, and it's not hard to imaging someone setting up an innocent person to take the heat.

I don't know if any of these things have happened, but it's almost guaranteed that they will.

A thornier problem are people who have registered in their state's Confidential Address Program. Victims of abuse can register an anonymous address, usually the Department of Justice or the Secretary of State. This can make determining a Congressional Representative very tricky. There should be no reason for people to put themselves at risk by giving the bot their actual address.

Is there anything you like?

Of course! It's very easy to use, and I can send a fax to my representatives the minute the idea comes to mind, day or night. It has about a five sentence limit, so I have to think carefully about what I say.  It's a bit awkward sending things to all three reps when it might only concern the Senate or Congress, but that's minor.

What I really dig is that there is a huge potential for participation by people who have been unable to voice their concerns in the past: 
  • People who don't have time to call and wait on hold and then get nervous and lose track of what they wanted to say. 
  • People who can't get access to email except at a public library, and they have to use that time for things that matter more, like getting a job or doing one.
  • People who literally cannot afford stamps.  Politicians have franking privileges; people should have them, too.
  • People who have limited use of their hands - they can either use voice to text, or a stylus to say what they want. No stamps, and just one button to click, <send>.

I have passed this on to disabled friends and am waiting to hear back. I am a big fan of making things easy, but I'm a much bigger fan of making things possible.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WDOY: Quality, Quantity, and Making Small Changes for a Big Difference

One of the things you're asked to do when starting a new Wikipedia project is liaise with other projects that might have overlap with yours.  The DOY Project is currently discussing their standards for who should be included on a day's page.  There's no consensus as of yet, but a comment I found agreement with was that the WDOY project should not link stub articles.  From the Biography Project, a Stub:
Provides very little meaningful content; may be little more than a dictionary definition. Readers probably see insufficiently developed features of the topic and may not see how the features of the topic are significant.
More info here.

Every Wikipedia page has a talk page. Biography talk pages will show how the article is rated. For example, Linda Christian, the first Bond Girl, has a biography rating Start Class:
Provides some meaningful content, but most readers will need more.   
Providing references to reliable sources should come first; the article also needs substantial improvement in content and organisation[sic]. Also improve the grammar, spelling, writing style and improve the jargon use.
Now when I'm looking around random categories for women to include in the project, I check their talk pages for their quality rating.  If they've not yet been rated, I read their page more thoroughly and make my own decision as to whether to include them.

One of the project participants had a good tip for quality edits:  "Words like "reformer," "activist" aren't enough; added things like 'active in women's suffrage and Anti-Slavery movements.' If we want people to read about them, they need to know why."

If you'd like to join the project, head on over to the talk page and sign on!

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I've been navigating peoples' user pages and talk pages, having conversations about this and that. I was getting a little self conscious about the fact that my user pages were blank.  I'd seen a few user pages that were really cool, but I just didn't feel like I had enough interesting material to use a really huge template.

I started out by googling "simple wikipedia user templates". Note: if you do this, you get a bunch of links leading to Simple English Wikipedia, which is a damned useful site that I've used a LOT to explain things to my kids, but not helpful here.

Anyway, I ended up at the User Page Design Center, which is pretty cool and informative.  It can also throw you into a circle of indecision, say, if you want to display what language(s) you speak, your Wiki philosophy leanings, or just an easy way to link to your stuff.

In the end, I opted for putting up my college affiliation, the languages I'm versed in, and links to my talk page and Project Proposal page.  I placed all of this on my English Wikipedia User Page.

I tried copying it all to the MetaWiki user page, and found out that the templates are not universal.  So I just put a link to my main page.  That is what got copied to all the other Wiki sites, so that job was done.

This all sounds very simple, but you don't "simply do" anything on Wikipedia. Something looks interesting, you click or <CTRL>+click and you're off and running.  I got into WikiFauna, Grammar, and whatever this is.

If you'd like to join the project, head on over to the talk page and sign on!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

WDOY: Getting into the Flow

If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll know I'm not entirely unfamiliar with Wikipedia's software and operation.  I am a newbie when it comes to Wikipedia proper: communication flow, editing manners, and so on.  I asked for advice and read some "How To" articles. The most useful advice I got was:

  • Go where the people are 
  • Project pages are mainly noticeboards for project participants

Everywhere you go, there you are

Communication with individuals is a matter of finding the right talk page.  There are multiple Wikipedia/Wikimedia/MediaWiki sites, and for the longest time users had to sign up and in to each site.  Since then, global users have been added, and it's possible to have one account that logs you in to all the sites. You still have several talk pages, but you only have to log in once.

I created a new account* for the WDOY** project. As a result, all of my user pages are blank.  My talk pages are starting to fill up as people leave me messages or ask questions.  Then I had to figure out which page of theirs to use for my reply.

You see where this is going: any discussion is going to be disjointed. The conversation thread is in the minds of the participants, and anyone who joins in the middle won't have the full context.

Wanted: someone to make sense of this

Project pages are still a little "here be dragons" for me.  When I first wanted to set up a project site, I read the directions. Silly me.  Simply put, I thought the flow was that you'd make a project proposal page, get people to sign up, {*a miracle occurs*}, and you create a WikiProject page.  There might be another miracle in there.  Anyway, at the moment, there's the original Inspire page, its talk page, the proposal page, and its talk page.  Oh, and the two sets of pages are on two different wiki sites, so I originally had two watch lists.

What's lacking is a clear communications plan. Mostly because the project is me and a few others who are interested, but who've not yet decided on what they'll be doing. This is a work in progress.

Enter: Project X and Flow

Of course I'm far from the first person to notice this.  Project X was started as a way to make projects easier for participants and Wikipedia pages easier for editors and admins.  One of the things revealed last week is Project Flow.  Simply put, it's part of a framework that will set up a communications plan. You can read all the gory details here.

This will be a slow running thing. Wikipedia is huge, and change comes slowly to any organization, much less one as loosely organized as this one.

If you'd like to join any of the projects on Wikipedia, including Adding More Women to Days of the Year, head on over to the project pages and put down your name. 

*I created an account in 2011 because I thought I'd contribute in some general way, but never got anywhere.  I'd long since forgotten the password, and the email address I used no longer exists.  Wikipedia's solution is for you to create a new account.  This wasn't great, but for me there wasn't a lot at stake.  
**Originally WDOTY, now WDOY to align with the DOY project.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

WDOTY: Starting out, getting organized, having fun

In my last post I wrote about the project to add more women to Wikipedia.  What I didn't write about was the Inspire Campaign, which is aimed at increasing gender diversity in Wikipedia.  I submitted a grant proposal that, if funded, would let me work on this very intensively.

That paragraph was essentially a full disclosure. What I really want to talk about is the fun I'm having.

It's not hard to go down a Wiki hole, and this project is only intensifying that.  At least I have the excuse of trying to learn how to do things in Wikipedia, how to do WikiProjects, and how to communicate with people on the Wikipedia platform. (spoiler: kinda convoluted)

The last few days have been spent doing analysis on DOTY pages and finding women to include on/in DOTY. (The grammar gets really strange when dealing with acronyms)

Here's an analysis of May 1:


Men: 225 Women: 60


Men: 77 Women: 16
There are also events involving men and women in history, but I'm unclear on how to count them, especially when there are wars and battles referencing two kings.  There are also references to queens taking charge or doing things, so it might still be worthwhile to count those.

Finding women to add has been made a lot easier by the Women's History Project, specifically the Categories, which is what I've been surfing.

Just for fun I decided to see how far back in history I could go to find women who meet the criteria for inclusion in Days of the Year.  It turns out to be the third and fourth centuries BC.

Today I found Macrina the Younger. There's only a date of death, but she had a significant influence on the thinking of Universalist philosophy.  She is listed on July 19th, her date of death, but on the observances section.

It's entirely possible that someone could have found her page through her relatives or through other categories, but the point of the project is to find more interesting women to add to the days of the year. That's the part that's keeping me going. What other nuggets will I find?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

New Year, New State, New Things to do

I've recently moved from Texas to the Bay Area, and so far I like it.  I've gotten involved in some projects offline and online. The online project is to add more women to Wikipedia's Days of the Year.

Each of the days of the year have notable events listed: the rise and fall of nations, important births and deaths, that sort of thing.

This is the months template. Pretty cool, huh?
Jessamyn West had the idea that more women could be added to the days of the year.  It's a very simple edit to do, and it improves Wikipedia. I've volunteered as the project manager.  Here is the project proposal page.

The idea is that each month we'll analyze the days of the next month, and edit the present month.  We'll find notable women (they must already have a Wikipedia page) and note their births, deaths (if applicable) and major achievements. 

This blog post is part of getting the word out.  If you're interested, let me know in the comments, and we'll get started. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Negative Results Part II: Owning your misconceptions

I had a nice long chat with my partner in crime on the KnowWiki, where we looked at the answers to the Ten Questions, and dissected what's happened since then.

One thing you might have noticed right off is that we didn't answer "what problem are you trying to solve".  Part of the reason was that I was only working with ten questions at the time. I didn't add the "plus one" until later.

The other part was that to us, it was obvious. The really cool stuff we were putting online wasn't being used or even found by people looking for it.  That was a bug in the software we were using at the time.  I wrote about our Evil Plans before: I wanted online collections to live, and Joy wanted the collections to be a part of the Semantic Web.

What I found out over time was that if someone didn't care if their material was accessible online, it wouldn't matter if it was or not. If they did care, they weren't going to tell us about it.  They'd share it with their own monkey-sphere and leave it at that.  Not everybody wants to be a wiki editor - or any kind of system editor, for that matter.

What Joy found was that the Semantic Web was happening in an unanticipated way, like most things do.  With the normalization of hashtags as the world's informal folksonomy, material we had available was becoming part of a semantic web-like thing, independent of any metadata that we'd entered.

We'd both fallen for the hasty generalization or unrepresentative generalization: if we thought it was cool for these specific reasons, so would others. And, it followed that of course other people would do what we thought they'd do.

That turned out not to be the case.  But if nothing else, doing something was better than doing nothing.

So we did something, and it turned out pretty cool, if not in the ways we expected.