Stephen Colbert Sparks Wiki War

Stephen Colbert, talking to Morley Safer for a 60 Minutes segment to air on 4/30/06. CBS

With millions of sites floating through the blogosphere, who really has time to peek at even a fraction of them? Blogophile reads them for you and presents a weekly roundup of the buzz on must-read blogs. Blogophile appears new each Wednesday, and is written by CBSNews.com's Melissa P. McNamara.



Did comedian Stephen Colbert coin a new word? Bloggers speak out about his definition of "wikiality." Plus, why are men missing from the workforce? Some bloggers say unemployed men are shiftless and lazy. But others say they're leading more healthy, productive lives. Who's right? And, why are bloggers blasting a Homeland Security Web site? Find out below.

Elephant Graveyard

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert has been tangling with Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Well, not everybody as it turns out. One person who can't edit Wikipedia is none other than Stephen Colbert.

Last week, the comedian used "The Word" segment on his TV show to torment Wikipedia. The word was "Wikiality." The idea was that if you convince enough people that something false is actually true, it ends up becoming accepted as the truth.

How to test this theory? Easy! Colbert urged viewers to find Wikipedia's entry on elephants and edit it to state that the elephant population has tripled over the last six months. As you might imagine, Colbert fans leaped to the task by adding news of the amazing Pachyderm expansion to Wikipedia's article on elephants.

Wikipedia's online guardian, who calls himself "Tawker", was not amused. Tawker slapped a lock on the now-defiled elephant article and – for good measure – blocked Mr. Stephen Colbert from editing any Wikipedia entries. Or, at the very least, Tawker blocked somebody who might be Stephen Colbert.

"Yes, that's right. I blocked the defender of truth, Stephen Colbert (or at least an impostor...people are arguing if it was him or not) tonight on Wikipedia," a defiant Tawker explained. "In all, we ended up protecting 20 elephant related pages...Most were, you guessed it, the fact that the population tripled - way too many times…Ironically, Wikipedia suffered an database overload at the same time that this went to air, but that was totally unrelated to the event."

Tawker says Colbert has refused to pick up the phone or respond to his e-mails.

Needless to say, the titanic collision between Tawker and the late-night laughmeister (or his impostor) did not escape the attention of bloggers, with most of them siding with Tawk-man.

"I know, I know, he needs to entertain to stay on television. But with this attack against Wikipedia he has upped the stakes. He directed his readers to find the vulnerability of Wikipedia so to destroy it...," Veritas writes at Daily Kos. "Wikipedia is a model of how, under the right circumstances, there can be a cohesive benevolent brotherhood of caring individuals that is self perpetuating and self monitoring."

But others found Colbert's segment a humorous jab at Wikipedia. "I think Wikipedia should also be protecting their entries on bears as well, just to be safe...," Elf jokes on TVsquad, suggesting future Wikipedia entries are at risk from Colbert-inflicted damage.

Afterall, Wikipedia jabs are rightfully directed, some bloggers contend. "Wikipedia in general suffers from a severe bias; articles about controversial topics reward persistence over accuracy," Ted Frank writes at Overlawyered.

Michael Calore agrees Wikipedia has its problems. "The whole series of events is a brilliant practical joke that exposes the fragility of online communities and the much-challenged trustworthiness of crowdsourcing. Or should that be truthiness? Eh, that doesn't quite fit. Unless of course you believe that it fits. In which case, it's perfect," he writes at Monkey Bites.

Adriana Lucas blogs that "Wikipedia is not a democracy of content at all. There are two hundred thousand registered users on the English-language site, of whom about thirty-three hundred—fewer than two per cent—are responsible for seventy per cent of the work," she writes on Media Influencer. "So half the story about Wikiality is missing, Mr Colbert, and you could have found this out without your show stunt."

But there's no denying Colbert's report has caught on, with the word "wikiality" spreading throughout the blogosphere. A Technorati search revealed 478 results over the weekend, a mere week after the show aired.


Are There Men In Your Office?

One of the most blogged stories on the New York Times website since it was first published last week is about the rise of voluntary unemployment among men. Men between the ages of 30 and 54 are voluntarily dropping out of work, the New York Times reports, unable to find jobs that interest them. According to the newspaper, about 10 percent of men in this age group—or about 3 million workers—are out of work and not looking for jobs.

And, apparently, some of them are bloggers.

"I am the poster child for this story. I am 44 years old and have not had a steady full time job in 2 1/2 years. Not because I don't want to work, but because there is no longer the fulltime decent paying, job with medical benefits available anymore," blogs The Hollywood Liberal, a man in the film industry. "This was never what I wanted."

Some bloggers sympathize with the unemployed men. "The men in the article aren't slothful or complacent; they are teaching at community colleges, volunteering in their communities, learning musical instruments, delving into historical debates on Charlemagne, trying their hand at writing novels. They're leading full and healthy lives; they're just not making much money," Ben Brothers blogs.

But some bloggers have little empathy for the unproductive. "Unproductive slobs. Dragging the rest of society down with their non-working sloth. Get to work at Home Depot or something...," The Poverty Jet Set writes.

Senacle agrees. "I'm inclined to think of these men as shiftless and lazy but the reality is -- well, OK, they are just that. These days, we can't afford for anyone to be taking prolonged timeouts," he blogs. And John asks simply, "How did things go so wrong?," echoing a popular sentiment among fellow bloggers.

How does this trend impact women, some bloggers questioned. "I am seeing this in my own life and with many of my friends. An increasing number of young women like myself are the primary breadwinners, which is no problem, except for the fact that we end up working full time, doing most of the housework, kin work, consumption work, and care work," Rachel writes at Rachel's Tavern. "In fact, the article notes that many men who are out of the labor force are not raising kids, which significantly contrasts them with unemployed single women."

Perhaps it's a cautionary tale for future generations. "This is looking to me like a lost generation (or two) of men who were trained by our educational system to think in terms of 'jobs' and, when the changing economy pulled that rug out from under them, they could not adapt," a blogger at The Microenterprise Journal writes. "I hope we do better by the kids who are in school now."

"Nobody is safe from the forces of globalization," Kenyanentrepreneur writes.

Others issued a call to action. "Somehow we must find ways to bring back these men into society's fold, so that they can become productive citizens again," a blogger at Total Trust writes.


Are You Really Ready?

In the event of an emergency, a really serious one, are you prepared? Do you think the government has prepared you?

The Homeland Security recently updated its website with advice on how to deal with emergencies. Doesn't sound controversial, right? Well some of the information is still incorrect and incomplete, with repetitive information and not-so-useful generic advice, the Federation of American Scientists says. So, the organization took matters into its own hands and created ReallyReady.org, which looks very similar to the Homeland Security's site. They say their goal is to persuade the Department of Homeland Security to take a serious look at Ready.gov and to make important changes that will help Americans to prepare for terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

On the organization's website, Michael Stebbins writes that "ReallyReady was developed in two months by FAS intern Emily Hesaltine for the price of a domain name. In comparison, it took millions of dollars and over five months to create Ready.gov."

Bloggers are concerned that people are unprepared. "Are you ready for the next natural disaster or terrorist attack?," Michael Hampton asks at Homeland Stupidity. "If you're relying on the Department of Homeland Security's Web site, or think the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be able to help you, then you aren't ready."

Other bloggers were equally unimpressed. "The US Department of Homeland Security's Ready.gov site was supposed to be the official site that tells Americans how to prepare for terrorism, natural disasters and other things that may befall us. The problem is that it sucks. It's been parodied many times and uhm, it still sucks," Densaer writes.

But Tony Gill points out that DHS has said the Federation of American Scientists is woefully misinformed and the Really Ready website is likely to confuse the public. So perhaps preparedness is in the eye of the beholder?


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By Melissa McNamara
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