Viewer Mail

I received numerous responses to last month's column. Most were positive, although not everyone agreed. arieh's well reasoned entry makes several excellent points, and I think the two writeups together capture the dynamic of E2.

A sampling of comments:

  • mirv says: If you want a writeup that really captures the essence of E2, I suggest How to destroy the Earth by sam512: it's incredibly clever and well-written, and it manages to be both stolidly factual and off-the-wall at the same time.
  • unperson says: I think one big difference is that factual WUs here are much more didactic. See, for example, Using Asteroids to explain the topological classification of 2-manifolds.
  • nasreddin says: I'd like to nominate The Three Men I Admired Most: Manhattan, 9/11/01 for 'most representative of E2'.
  • pfft says: ... I think Ouroboros' Lemon drop is a nice example. Factual noding with a twist.
  • mauler says I have a list of writeups that I consider the best on E2 on my homenode...
  • Heisenberg says : I disagree: As more and more editorial control is used to weed out quirky, fun and highly irrelevant w/u's, this place is becoming more like Wikipedia. The continuous stream of older noders leaving is testament to that. One day this is going to be one hell of a dictionary.
  • wertperch says: anyone who says that E2 is becoming like wikipedia, better look for the words "I feel..." or similar, in any article there. That will always be what makes E2 stand out... Two words, and a world of difference.
Thanks to the above and many others, including Walter and cabin fever, who commented.

A wikipedia user's perspective

Edited slightly for length, here's a detailed response from a former user who is now largely inactive:

You asked what makes E2 different from Wikipedia. The following comments might offer some insight to newcomers to E2 – especially those who come fresh from a Wiki.

E2 is different from Wikipedia and other online encylopedias because most of the good writing on E2 has been written by an individual, partly, at least, for their friends. Contrast that with the moderated contributions to a public Wiki, where most of the writing has been sanitised to remove all but the most subtle personal influences.

E2 celebrates personal style, enjoys it, rewards it. Most public Wikis do their best to remove the anecdotes and factoids and weird presentations that make E2 so special to its devotees.

As a factually-oriented journalist, I do plenty of writing in the dry, impersonal style that factual publishers and non-fiction editors demand. ... I like E2 because it allows me to present my information and stories in a way that suits me, rather than a way that suits some external perception of ‘correct style’. ... E2 allows—nay encourages—nay craves—varied writing styles. Although there is no “E2” per se, that judges and votes, the mass of users tend to grudgingly accept dry, encyclopaedic contributions, but they welcome and celebrate pieces that display a personality.

This is strong contrast to a wiki, where the comprehensive, contribution, written in that particular, rather impersonal style, is welcomed, and the author receives considerable kudos.

Like most people, I am enthusiastic about my own interests. I love them. I love writing about them. I bring that enthusiasm to my writing on E2. So when I write about some aspect of science or technology (one of my interests), I throw in facts and connections that I think other people will find interesting. I want to convey some of my enthusiasm to my readership.

Still more, I know most of the readers. When I post something good, I get a lot of feedback about it. Critically, others, who share my enthusiasm, suggest ways to improve the piece, or where I might have forgotten some crucial aspect. So I add those in. I put in all the weird little bits of obscure information that first fascinated me about that subject. When the readers come to that piece, the enthusiasm shines through, unmasked by an editorial style which demands sober fact-checking and moves ‘irrelevant’ content to a more relevant entry.

The end result, to an experienced Wiki writer, is that E2 appears unprofessional, irrational, unpredictable. Amateurish, even. But to an E2 fan, a wiki is immensely limiting. There is no freedom or spark to it. There are many similarities in the structure of the data, but in terms of the writing and content, the differences are immense.

The strengths of E2 are the hunger for different, personal writing styles. Those who succeed on E2 develop their own writing styles. The weaknesses are questionable factual accuracy. As to the serendipitous nature of the content and titles, you can regard that either as a strength or weakness, depending on your background and expectations.

Usual admin stuff

As always, I watched the msg logs of The Klap and Webbie and responded as needed. I made many title edits, performed some deletions by request or for copyright reasons, and firm link fixups. Since you've read this far, let me ask you: Do you find the detailed logs of deletes, cools, etc. that some admins post useful? Let me know -- if many people say yes, I'll start doing this as well.

Unusual admin stuff

I grotted about in the nodelet code to learn how to do some admin things, such as handling usergroups, and added what I learned to the master admin document. Someday I may want to work on the coding side of E2, but I need to get over my limitations (weak on both Linux and Perl) first.

I edited the chatterbox forward* list to remove entries for fled users. I only found 12 suspect entries (plus 2 that were broken), less than I had expected. I removed entries for the following fled users, locked accounts, or renamed user accounts:

  • bob the cow
  • Chihuahua Grub
  • disgruntledwren
  • Deep Thought
  • FelonyMPulse
  • GirlsDontLikeMe
  • karmaflux
  • TheMistressKali
  • TheNastyCanasty
  • WickerNipple
  • WolfmansGotNards
  • wonkodsane

* Chatterbox forwards are (typically) offered to users at level 3 or higher who are active in the catbox, and who chose a long, cumbersome name that is hard to type. The /msg user_name feature on home nodes has made the Chatterbox forwards less important, but it still useful for folks who pick really awful names.