How to Write Wiki Pages So People Will Read Them

So you’ve just learned something cool on a new subject, and you want to let the world know about your discovery. You go to the project’s wiki, and jot it all down. But how can you help people read what you’ve written?

When I look at pages on a wiki, I use three criteria to determine whether I want to spend the time to read a page. If I’m convinced that the page has the info I’m seeking, I’ll work hard to understand it. But if I can’t tell whether it’s any good, it’s just faster to post a query to the forum. Here are the questions I ask:

  1. Is this page for me? Does it apply to my situation?

    There are a lot of cues to whether a page “is for me”. Obviously the title/heading of the page is important. But when I’m seeking information, I’m not usually an expert in the subject. I need help to understand the topic, and I look for a description that tells what the page is about. I also look for cues to see if it’s up to date. Finally, I love a page that has an introductory section that talks about the kinds of info that I’ll find on the page.

  2. Does the author know more than I do?

    A number of factors influence this judgement. As you’re aware, there’s a huge range of knowledge level of wiki page authors – from expert to the newcomer who’s excited to document his first discovery. As I scan through a page, I’m looking for facts that confirm what I already know (proving the author has some skill), and then things that I don’t (showing they know more.) Finally, it helps to know that the author is aware of the conventions of the wiki – does it look like other wiki pages? If so, I get some comfort that the author is aware of the way other wiki pages work/look.

  3. Can I figure out what to do?

    My final question about whether a page is useful is whether I can use the information. If it’s a tutorial/howto, I want the steps clearly stated – “step 1, step 2, step 3, then you’re done” If it’s a reference page, is the information organized in a comprehensible fashion? Is it really long? Can I pick out what’s important from incidental info?

The challenge I put to every author is to organize the information in a way that presents the most frequently-sought info first, then figure out what to do with the rest. You might move sections around, or move some information onto its own separate page, coalesce it into an existing/similar wiki pages, or even create forum articles (instead of a wiki page) if the subject is rapidly evolving.

Net Neutrality – Contacting the Congress (update)

The Battle for the Net site https://www.battleforthenet.com/ no longer seems to have the telephone form(!)

But… Boing Boing does. Go to https://boingboing.net/. You’ll see a popup window with a place to enter your phone number. Click OK, and they pop up a script on-screen.

They call you, you answer, then you supply your zip code.

Then they place calls to each of your legislators (in the House and Senate), then if you have time, they call the offices of Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, and other leaders, so you can deliver the message.

I say my name, home town, and then ask that the FCC preserve the current Title II Net Neutrality rules. The staffer who answers is gonna be busy – you might chat them up though to see if they’re getting slammed. (Mitch McConnell’s office wasn’t even answering(!))

Monopoly ISPs are a Fallacy?

Although I usually agree with him, one of my favorite bloggers, Dave Winer, recently said this:

One of the ideas circulating is that your ISP has a monopoly, owns the only way for you to get to the Internet, but that’s an old idea, it’s no longer true. Where I live the wireless vendors are just as fast as the wired ISP. The cost is still prohibitive, I still need wifi, but given an economic incentive to replace Comcast and Spectrum et al, some wireless vendor is going to step in, probably the smaller ones who aren’t yet owned by one of the big ISPs. Google could buy Sprint for example, and provide a route-around.

I wish I had the same competitive landscape that Dave enjoys. I wish this were true for the rest of the country. But the FCC’s own report from June 2016 (see page 8) shows that 58% of the country’s census blocks have 0 or 1 provider of 25/3 Mbps internet service. This seems a lot like a monopoly.

Let me tell you about the facts on the ground in my town of 1700 people in rural New Hampshire. My conversations with others in the region indicate these conditions hold in huge numbers of communities throughout much of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.

  • The best internet service in town is from Fairpoint. It’s possible to get DSL service to any home, but it’s still just DSL (and often very slow): they’re the only game in town.
  • There is a wireless ISP, but the hilly terrain means their service is OK (10/1 Mbps) if you can get it, but only selected areas can be served.
  • What about cable? Comcast finagled their claim to serve the entire zip code by providing service to one cluster of homes on the southern town border. They refuse to provide cable/internet service to the town center, let alone any place a mile away from there.
  • And cell service? There’s only one bar in the center of town. You can’t make a phone call, so you sure couldn’t use the cell service for data.

So our incumbent ISP (Fairpoint) has a de facto monopoly position, with no alternatives in sight.

I wish that we could rely on the entrepreneurial impetus to sweep away bad, monopolistic ISPs. But we can’t – at least not in any reasonable time frame. The incumbents have rigged the system. NH law (instituted at the behest of the incumbent providers) prevents towns and cities from bonding to create their own municipal networks.

Back to the initial point: The FCC is making rules that seem to assume that we can “just switch carriers” if we don’t like their offering. Yet they fail to provide evidence that any such competitive service exists.

I say, leave the Net Neutrality rules alone until there’s a far better competitive landscape that would allow me to shop around for an ISP that provides options I might care for.

End of the Internet? Help us prevent it!

Hat tip to Ro Khanna‏ (@RoKhanna on Twitter) for this…

A Portugal ISP (with no net neutrality constraints) appears to be charging 4.99€ (about US$5.86) per month for access to social media. And another 4.99€ for streaming video (Youtube, Netflix, etc). Oh, and another 4.99€ for streaming music. And additional charges for other kinds of network traffic. Here’s a link to their web page. which I ran through Google Translate to make it easier to read.

Telemoval page from Portuguese ISP

The FCC has proposed to end the rules that prevent ISPs from slicing and dicing up your access to the entire internet.

The FCC rules (released this week) are scheduled to be voted into effect on 14 Dec 2017.

This will be really bad for consumers. But it’ll be worse for entrepreneurs who’re not big companies (yet), and could easily be left “below any horizon”, and simply not visible to general customers.

What can I do?

John Oliver’s TV shows generated over 22 million comments on the FCC site, but they chose to disregard the public’s sentiment.

However, the Congress can tell the FCC not to issue these rules. But they need to know that people really care. The easiest way to make your voice heard is to call Congress directly. It sounds like a hassle, but it really isn’t…

The folks at Battle for the Net make it super easy. Give them your phone number, then they dial up your congressperson’s office, then ring your phone. They even give you a script to tell the staffer (who’ll probably answer the phone) and you tell them what you’re thinking. A 30-second call would be enough to let them know your thoughts.

Update: VW TDI Diesel Goodwill

A couple news items on the VW Diesel Goodwill Package:

  • I did get my 2.0L Goodwill package. It took about four weeks to arrive, and then I promptly used more than half of it on transmission service at VW. Sigh.
  • They have announced a Goodwill Package for owners of 3.0L diesel engines. That program expires on 31 July 2016 – hurry up!
  • There’s a hearing on the settlement package scheduled for 26 July 2016. If the judge approves it (highly likely), then the buyback/cash payments/other benefits will be available to TDI owners “in fall 2016.” See the announcements at vwdieselinfo.com.

VW Diesel Goodwill Package Expires Soon!

I’m one of the “lucky ones”… A “proud” owner of a 2010 VW Jetta Diesel 2.0 Liter engine. I’m afraid to look at the loss of value in the Kelley Blue Book from a year ago.

I signed up today for the Goodwill Package. As partial compensation for the loss of value and hassle, VW provides a $500 prepaid card to spend anywhere, a $500 card to use at a VW dealership, plus three years of Roadside Assistance.

So I’m going to use the cards to pay for needed repairs to the Jetta: one at my local garage that I trust, and one for (still other) repairs at the local VW dealer. Regrettably, I don’t think either card will cover all the expense 🙁

But… I guess I am sort of lucky – I just squeaked by the deadline. The expiration for the Goodwill Package is the end of this month – 30 April 2016. All you Jetta owners – get on the stick! Go to https://www.vwdieselinfo.com/goodwill_package/ and type in your VIN.

More magma…

We have been planning a trip to Iceland (mostly to see the aurora) next year. I am now looking into tours that go near the volcano at Bárðarbunga and Holuhraun as well.

I think that land tours (I would love to stand next to the lava front) are out of the question, since the authorities have closed the area for ~18 miles around.

But there appear to be a couple air tours flying from Akureyri to Bárðarbunga, Holuhraun, and over the Askja crater for a little more than US$300 per person. The view from the planes can been seen in these Youtube Videos… I’m psyched.

A Memorization Tip

I have given out this tip in past years to people in Revels North who’re preparing for the Christmas Revels show…

I found this trick for memorization in a wonderful book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, The new art of teaching and training, by Karen Pryor. It talks about modifying behavior — yours and others. (One way of modifying behavior is shooting the dog. But she talks about lots of other—usually more appropriate—ways to change behavior.) She tells about coaching, teaching, and maybe even making things better in your life. And it’s a fun read…

But back to memorization: The trick is to learn the last verse first, then the next-to-last, and so on.

Why? Because the usual way of learning the verses sequentially is enormously dispiriting. You struggle to get the words of the first verse. After a lot of work, you begin to be comfortable with them, so you attack the second verse. But you’re back at sea. It feels like such hard work. After the second verse, you hit the wall of the third verse. You despair of learning the words at all.

Instead, learn the last verse first. Then start learning the previous verse. After you get the new verse down, you can keep on singing, but they’re words that you already know. You’re drawn along by the familiar material. You feel competent and confident. You feel good.

Gettin’ my magma jollies!

I’ve been following Rei, a blogger from Iceland, who is reporting on the Bárðarbunga/Holuhraun volcano as it continues to erupt. It’s way more impressive/scary than I originally thought. It’s huge, with fresh lava covering 37 square km, or about 2/3 the size of Manhattan, and the magma fountains are shooting 300 feet or more in the air.

Her recent posts have shown a lot of information about the volcano’s progress. The one from last Saturday contains the best view so far of the extent of the lava, and absolutely stunning views of the magma sloshing around. The video is second-to-last picture on this page.

See it here: Rei’s post with great volcano video

For a bit more context, you can read her earlier posts. This map shown on this link tells more of the story. The big volcano, called Bárðarbunga, is at the red dot in the big glacier. The magma has pushed about 70 km (45 miles!) beneath the surface to erupt at Holuhraun, labeled with “Eruption” below.

The good news is that the magma remained underground until it got to a flat sandy desolate location, instead of coming up under the ice and melting it (to make flood) or an ash volcano. The other good news is that the (poisonous) sulfur dioxide has mostly been blowing northeast, so it hasn’t seriously affected either Reykjavík or Akureyri.