Observations on wikipedia

Filed under: Internet and Blogging by Hari
Posted at 20:17 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:13 IST)
One of the things about using Wikipedia on a regular basis for background information on a variety of subjects is that one comes to the conclusion that it's rather difficult judging the quality of content on a generalized basis. There are plenty of people who question the quality or authority of wikipedia content. However, if I am asked to point out the single biggest drawback of a huge community project like wikipedia, it would be summed up in a single word: "inconsistency."

The reason I say that it's an inconsistent source of information is because the quality of articles depend heavily on the subject matter of focus. For instance, one finds articles related to computers and techy stuff to be of a very high quality because, naturally enough, a majority of the content suppliers are from the tech-savvy group. Again, wikipedia is great in covering well established sciences and most of the historical topics - traditionally considered as "encyclopaedic" subjects. The focus, naturally enough is on areas which really form core knowledge areas. But when you start exploring more unconventional subjects, you start seeing a wide gap in the quality of articles.

Let me take just one example to explain this. If you search for information on the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) you get a huge amount of content - in fact, individual biographical articles for nearly all the major stars - which is regularly, frequently updated with the latest events and news happening in that field and the articles are almost always of high accuracy and quality. Mind you, I'm not saying that WWE is not worthy of wikipedia coverage. But if one judges that contemporary culture and television is given a high priority going purely by this topic, one will find that the information provided on, say, contemporary Indian television programmes or series does not even come close to the level of attention provided to Western media. Particularly when you search for information on regional Indian language movies in Wikipedia, you will find the information sparse and of pathetic quality. Similarly, if you look for the history of UNIX or Linux, Wikipedia is a great, comprehensive source of information with tons of full-fledged articles digging into subtle details, but if you (for instance) want to learn more about Indian food in specific regions, you'll have to look elsewhere because the information you find simply won't be authoritative or comprehensive enough.

I think I wouldn't be far off the mark when I say that wikipedia is currently heavily biased in favour of the Western hemisphere. Naturally enough, because the majority of wikipedia users are tech-savvy users from the US, UK and probably a few other regions in Europe. Maybe there are some contributors from other parts of the world, but for the level and quality of content required, the expertise is spread out too thin.

This is not meant to be a criticism of wikipedia. As a community project, its success is one of a kind in Internet history. But whether it becomes a truly global encyclopaedia will depend heavily on how much contribution will pour in from specific regions in the world as internet penetration grows in third world countries. Maybe in a few years from now, we will be in a better position to find out.

New reviews site with my own CMS

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted at 20:14 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:14 IST)
I've converted harishankar.org into a general reviews website using my own simple content management system written in PHP. Actually it's nothing more than an articles manager. A very basic tool, but the advantage is that it's extremely lightweight, doesn't use MySQL and is very easy to update without any need for an admin control panel.

The reason I dumped WordPress for my reviews blog is that I wasn't really updating it that often and of course, the blog format is not ideal for a content-rich site. Nevertheless, I've probably saved a lot of disk space and an extra MySQL database and I have the pride of having creating my own solution for my needs. :P

I don't plan on extending this CMS into anything bigger as there are other tools that already do a great job of providing sophisticated systems. Mine is meant to be a simple articles manager and nothing more.

Hope you like it. Feel free to leave your comments on it here. And of course, if you need the source code, I'd be glad to share it with any of you. Just ask!

Kaviyappa Kabeerdasan

Filed under: Artwork/Portraits/Caricatures by Hari
Posted at 16:40 IST (last updated: Fri, May 29, 2009 @ 21:24 IST)
My new cartoon character: "Kaviyappa" Kabeerdasan

Kabeerdasan

Occupation: Poet
Specialities: Writes and sells books on poetry and composes songs for movies in his spare time.
Quote: "Long live classical poetry and divine music."
Ambition: "None! I am a humble slave of my own art and compositions."
Awards received: "Too many to count with the fingers of two hands." (officially 11)

Things I'd like to see in blogs

Filed under: Internet and Blogging by Hari
Posted at 21:38 IST (last updated: Thu, Oct 30, 2008 @ 08:12 IST)
Please don't take me wrong - I'm no blogging guru and I'm not pointing fingers at anybody and I gladly agree that my observations are subjective, but for what they're worth, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on what makes blogsites usable from the perspective of a visitor.

Comment submission without captchas

Captchas are annoying in general and some captchas are so twisted and unreadable that they make me feel like I'm on a visit to the dentist to get my teeth pulled out. There are better ways of spam prevention these days and captchas do absolutely nothing to prevent trackback and referrer spam. Please avoid captchas - at least the unaesthetic ones.

Proper navigation tools

Please do have a good navigation structure in your blog. Please provide archive links because a lot of us care about reading older posts on your blog which we may have missed. Please provide a "back" and "forward" link on your home page as well so that visitors can easily go to older posts.

Permalinks to individual articles

Please use a permalink structure in your blog. A url like http://yourblog.com/index.php?postid=2903 makes it unreadable and less friendly to SE bots. Please have a link structure which gives a unique page for each post like http://yourblog.com/date/category/post-name or similar.

Fluid (percentage) width columns

Please consider using a percentage width to define your post body width rather than a narrow fixed width column. A fluid style is more compatible with different screen resolutions and provides better utilization of browser real-estate.

Proper categorization

Please use categories to tag your posts. Category archives provide an additional intuitive way to browse your blog. If you're using blogger, then you really ought to be using something else. There are plenty of free alternatives to blogger now. Try wordpress.com. Or better still get your own webspace and host your blog. It gives you much more flexibility.

RSS feeds

While most blogging systems have an RSS feed, many blog themes do not provide a link to the RSS feed on the home page of the blog. It's rather inconvenient for many of us to search for the RSS feed link on your blog. Besides the little "Feed" icon provided by browsers like Firefox, we sometimes prefer to get the RSS URL to paste into our feed readers, so it's nice to have an RSS link from your home page as well.

In-page commenting forms (no popups)

Please use the standard commenting system provided by your blog. And please avoid popup comment boxes. It's quite annoying to have to post comments on popup boxes rather than as part of the main post.

Personalization

If you're using one of the pre-built themes for any of the popular blogging tools, chances are that your theme is being used by hundreds of other bloggers. Please do personalize your blog theme. A customized theme gives your blog an identity of its own.

SMS spam is a menace

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted at 10:49 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:15 IST)
I've talked about the growing menace of e-mail spam, forum spam, blog spam, referrer spam and all other kinds of spam we receive in abundance all through the year. Most of the spam we encounter on a regular basis is related to the internet. What I've not talked about so far is the spam we receive in our mobile phones - namely SMS spam. I was completely taken aback at the amount of SMS spam I've received over a period of three or four months when I cleaned out my message inbox yesterday.

What is really disturbing about SMS spam is that the ease with which spammers are able to get hold of mobile numbers and the relative lack of effort required in sending out SMS spam. Worse still, 90% of the spam comes not from third parties but from the providers themselves. Thus, as a Hutch user, I keep getting repeated solicitations to download caller tunes and ring tones, offers to make me rich by answering a simple question, offers to buy certain products and win a lucky prize and so on. To add to this nonsense, I've recently been getting "call spam" - pre-recorded messages which bombard me by calling my mobile number. And all this from the service providers themselves. The latter kind of spam made me curse vehemently using language which would be heavily censored on any family television show.

To me, what makes SMS spam insidious is that there's really no way to protect oneself from this nonsense. There seems to be no effective spam filter mechanism on most of the ordinary cell phones and because the providers themselves are involved in this racket, I'm sure there won't be any cooperation from their side. I'm not sure about the other mobile providers and the situation in other countries but I've found Hutch to send out far too many SMS messages for comfort. Is there a way to protect me from annoying rubbish of this kind? Probably the solution would have to be the consumer redressal forum.

SMS spam is closer to becoming a serious source of trouble than pure e-mail spam because being bombarded with SMS messages all day long can really choke up mobile phone memory which is limited. A mobile instrument is far more accessible and immediate than plain e-mail which magnifies the problem tenfold. Add to this the fact that every time you receive a call or a message there is a significant drain on the battery charge. I think I can safely say that by receiving all these SMS messages the battery life is reduced by a day or two. Again, the time spent in deleting the rubbish from the message inbox is wasteful and unnecessary. The other factor is the annoyance factor. The beeping message tone whenever you receive a message has the potential to be disturbing in the most inappropriate situations possible. Does this mean one just shuts off and turns on the instrument from time to time? How inconvenient is that to a mobile user?

SMS and caller spam is disruptive because it reduces the efficiency of mobile usage by forcing users to turn off the instrument or reduce it to silent mode just to avoid getting message and ringing tones at inappropriate times. It takes up valuable memory space and clutters the message inbox. It puts an incremental drain on battery life by forcing users to have to delete them from time to time. More than anything else, it's absolutely annoying when the source is the provider himself and the theme of these messages is the same over and over again.

One thing I should acknowledge is that mobile providers will be smart enough not to send out too many of these messages in case consumers start protesting actively and bringing an end to the nonsense. They will continue to send out the maximum possible messages they can get away with below the threshold limit though. Which in turn leads me to believe in the fact that there are enough people who respond encouragingly to these advertising messages and help the providers in making money.

As long as the cost of sending out spam is negligible and there is at least a 10% chance of making money through sending out spam, there will always be people who indulge in it. The only way mobile customers can fight back is by actively protesting to the service providers and threatening legal action. There can be no justification for sending out a battery of regular message spam to mobile users even when the provider indulges in it.

Linux links removed

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted at 12:10 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:10 IST)
Well, I figured that I needn't clutter the sidebar with links to popular Linux sites including official distribution sites which most of you know about. You've probably even bookmarked those in your own browser as well. So there you go - no more Linux links from this blog.

If there is a need for including Linux links in the future, I will probably create a separate "Links" page. All other links will continue living happily in the sidebar. :P