Archive for February 22nd, 2008

How democratic is wiki?

February 22, 2008

Chris Wilson lays out some arguments as to why the web 2.0 democracy of Wiki is a myth:

At both Digg and Wikipedia, small groups of users have outsized authority. In the case of Wikipedia, this authority is both organic and institutionalized. A small segment of highly active users author the majority of the site’s content; there are also elected site administrators who have the power to protect pages, block the IP addresses of problem users, and otherwise regulate Wikipedia’s operations. At Digg, active users have more of a de facto authority over the site’s goings-on (though there are persistent rumors that the site has “secret moderators” who delete content). But officially speaking, while the site’s algorithm seems to favor devoted users, no individual Digger has the power to unilaterally delete a post.

While both sites effectively function as oligarchies, they are still democratic in one important sense. Digg and Wikipedia’s elite users aren’t chosen by a corporate board of directors or by divine right. They’re the people who participate the most. Despite the fairy tales about the participatory culture of Web 2.0, direct democracy isn’t feasible at the scale on which these sites operate. Still, it’s curious to note that these sites seem to have the hierarchical structure of the old-guard institutions they’ve sought to supplant.

This top-heavy structure of social-media sites isn’t news to researchers and technophiles. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has acknowledged that what he expected to be an “80-20” rule—a system where 20 percent of people control 80 percent of the resources—in fact understates the site’s top-heaviness. Palo Alto Research Center’s Ed Chi, the scientist who determined that 1 percent of Wikipedians author half of the content, told me he originally hypothesized that the site’s most energetic editors were acting as custodians. Chi guessed that these users mostly cleaned up after the people who provided the bulk of the encyclopedia’s facts. In reality, he found the opposite was true (PDF). People who’ve made more than 10,000 edits add nearly twice as many words to Wikipedia as they delete. By contrast, those who’ve made fewer than 100 edits are the only group that deletes more words than it adds. A small number of people are writing the articles, it seems, while less-frequent users are given the tasks of error correction and typo fixing.

Take a look!

The need for more liberalization of the economy

February 22, 2008

Amit Varma, in a column tells why India needs more, not less, economic liberalization (link via Sepia Mutiny):

“Our vision of India,” the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen said in a speech a couple of years ago, “cannot be one that is half California and half sub-Saharan Africa.”

It has become dangerously clichéd in recent years to speak of “two Indias.” (There are obviously as many Indias as there are Indians, but what good is nuance when it comes to rhetoric?) But it is undeniable that much of India has not been touched by the economic reforms. Some states, like Bihar, remain desperately impoverished, and tens of millions of people in the country still lack access to clean drinking water, and basic healthcare, and primary education.

This is not a failure of reforms. It is a failure of governance. In all the areas where the state remains paramount, it remains dysfunctional. It is a sign that the economy needs to be liberalized more, not less.

In recent years, the most common image used to depict the plight of the Indian poor is that of a farmer committing suicide—a worryingly common occurrence. And indeed, it is a failure of India that 60 percent of India depends on agriculture for a living—in most developed countries, that figure is closer to 5 percent. This is despite India achieving an agricultural surplus long ago, which should, in the normal course of things, have triggered an industrial revolution.

No such industrial revolution took place because of the many restrictions on business. Some of those have been removed—many other haven’t. Starting a business is still a nightmarish process: In their 2005 book, Law, Liberty and Livelihood, Parth Shah and Naveen Mandava wrote: “Entrepreneurs can expect to go through 11 steps to launch a business over 89 days on average.” (In Australia, it takes two days.)

Take a look!

Some excellent blogs!

February 22, 2008

Here are some excellent blogs that I read and enjoy tremendously (in no particular order):

  1. Nanopolitan: India, Higher-Ed, politics and teaching — Abi’s blog always has something new, interesting and exciting–and a very wide range of links!
  2. FemaleScienceProfessor: Ever since I heard of FSP’s blog from asymptotia, till date, I have not seen a single post in her blog that did not interest me;
  3. On being a scientist and woman: It should be women, and engineer in addition to scientist in the name, since, recently, the education/women’s studies oriented engineer Alice Pawley joined Sciencewoman as a co-blogger. Full of thoughtfully written posts and tips on many aspects of academic life, some of Sciencewoman’s posts also resonate with me personally, since she blogs copiously about Minnow, who is almost of the same age as my daughter;
  4. Rajeev’s almanack: Be it quantum physics or Pakistan politics or some parables from Mahabharatha, here is a blog that always brings wit, wisdom and lots of humour to bear on issues!
  5. Grrlscientist: Probably one of the oldest blogs in my blog reader, Grrlscientists blog is full of photos, videos, commentary on peer-reviewed research, book reviews, and politics and personal news; the quality and quantity of the writing in this blog always makes me a bit jealous of this Interrupted scientist!
  6. Birdchick: The wonderful photographs in this blog are such a joy to view and to share; almost always, I call out to the person in the room to show that nice cardinal or this nuthatcher! If you like birds and nice photographs of birds, this is a must-see blog–not to mention the disapproving rabbit, Cinnamon;
  7. Light Reading: The only problem with Jenny Davidson’s blog is that she links to too many articles and almost all of them are a must-read; what is more, she links to nice scientific articles in addition to literary ones;
  8. Maud Newton: Maud is also like Jenny above: too many links and all of them of very high quality, and most of them are literary befitting her writerly credentials! There are occasional give-aways and recipes too;
  9. John Hawks: Hawks is one of those rare bloggers who write about paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution in a language that non-specialists like me can understand and enjoy (though not all of the posts); Hawks is also a different kind of blogger who does not allow comments on his blog–and, the reasons he gives for not allowing comments tells you the exacting standards to which he runs his blog; and,
  10. Talking pictures: This is the India-Institute version of Birdchick that I discovered relatively recently thanks to Abi, except that there are lots of evolution, ecology and such other research information to go along with the photos.

Thanks to Lim Leng Hiong at Fresh Brainz who gave me this opportunity to list ten excellent blogs by giving me the Excellent Blog award. Of course, knowing the standards by which the blogs that I have listed are run, it is a bit presumptuous of me to give them an award and ask them to post a list of ten excellent blogs (though, if some of them can indeed do that, that would be a great bonus!). So, they are to be considered more as pointers than as awards! Have fun!

Excellent blog

A book on Indian cannons

February 22, 2008

Bala — book on cannons

Prof. Bala alerts me, via an email, to a recent publication of his–a book on Indian cannons. From the flyer:

The science of gunpowder and the technology of cannons, from their introduction in the Indian subcontinent in the middle of the fifteenth century up to the pre-modern period, have been illustrated using Mughal miniature paintings and analysis of extant cannon pieces. The massive and wonderful forge welded iron cannons and cast bronze cannons of medieval India have been presented, some for the first time, in this book. The mighty cannons that established Mughal, Maratha, Sikh and Deccan powers have been described. Indian innovations in cannon technology like shaturnal (cannons fired from the back of camels), composite cannons (of inner wrought iron bore and outer bronze casting), and bans (battlefield rockets) offer sufficient proof of Indian ingenuity in science and technology.

I remember a conversation with him on this topic in the coffee house at IISc, and in his usual, vigorous style he explained to me his visit to Bishnupur (if I remember correct) in Bengal in search of some of these cannons. The book certainly looks very interesting; I will update this post with links to any reviews I might come across. However, the price (Rs. 4500) makes it unaffordable for individuals like me, but it is a book that I would like to borrow from the library. I understand that the book is published and distributed by Aryan Books International (aryanbooks-at-gmail-com) in case any of you need more information.