All posts by max

3 Ways To Access Wikidata Data Until It Can Be Done Properly

Note: This post is quite old. In fact Wikidata can now be accessed “properly” via the Wikidata Query Service (WDQS). However the techniques outlined below still have their advantages.

The inaugural Wiki Research Hackathon went very well, and I’m affirmed that I feel best when I’m conducting Wiki Research. I was asked to give one of the tech talks of the day about accessing Wikidata data programmatically. Here is an outline of the talk


We’ll be viewing Wikidata as file in its own right for research, not as it’s canonical use case of being used in various Wikipedias.

Native format:

Wikidata is a mostly standard Mediawiki instance except that pages don’t store “Wikitext”, they store JSON blobs.… Read the rest

How A Small Bug I Wrote Started Helping Holocaust Deniers

In my early software education, I’d been taught about how untested  software could result in deadly radiation-therapy machines. But since I never planned to be in the medical devices industry, these sort of warnings didn’t apply to me – after all I was only writing Wikipedia bots. But this week I was proved wrong when another Wikipedian messaged me with a query unlike any I’d received before (empahsis mine):

Hi Max, I’ve pinged you a couple of times, but in case you’re not getting them, would you mind commenting?

It’s about an edit your bot made to Wikidata that changed the infobox of a featured article about a book about the Holocaust, Night.

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Flavours of Ethanol: Not That Different

I spent a weekend with my friend riding 30 miles between Minneapolis breweries.  We learned some important lessons.

  1. The modern consumer elects to understand arbitrary differences in item-classes.
  2. The corporation co-opts leisure time of the individual to construct an aesthetic.
  3. Even if thebeers are not that different, they will say they are.
  4. This is similar to the divided political “spectrum”, that is, not a spectrum at all.
  5. As a test case take the IPA, the least versatile “acquired” taste.
  6. Once the consumer has developed a false consciousness and accepts  the objectionable and anti-rational quality of IPA ethanol, that consumer has joined the in-group.
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U and Why?: Part 3: Highest Recommendaitons

I first discovered Why? in the same way that all new music came to me in my teenage years, pen-pal-ship with my best friend Daniel Cohen. I’d wanted to retain my friends and life when I was stripped from England in ’99, and between annual visits, emails filled in the gaps for us. (In retrospect this comments on the history of chat technology, youngsters able to figure it out around the millennium.) An early symbol of my empathetic practice, in 2004 electro-mails I basically asked Dan questions that Pitchfork media was answering. I’m not taking credit for his current success as a reviewing journalist, but I think he relished the task and I gave him plenty of practice.… Read the rest

Design for Doulas

I have typically avoided the realm of UI design, as I view as fraught with of cults of personalities and nonstop bikeshedding, but this semester I decided to try my hand and find seperate the theory from the style posing as theory. The course I am taking is centered around a large project to design an application that helps a population of people with a need they have. This coincides nicely with a dream I have harbored to make technology for doulas– providers of nonmedical, practical and emotional support for pregnancy.  My partner is a doula and leader in a doula organization, so I have been somewhat privy to the way they use tech to run their program.… Read the rest

U and Why?: Part 2: Snow Bike and the Seven Identities

While Ceephax has exposed me to a hyperactive, ultrajoyful side of myself, Why? has shown me how to cope with inexorable loss of impermanent identities. Just today I was going to go to an event I’d been looking forward to for over a year; the Stupor Bowl is a 50 mile bike ride in Minneapolis, stopping at 9 bars, and on the coldest day of the year. But after ceding a pool table yesterday to a man who my friends told me looked very much like myself, due to his moustache and cycling jacket, I became paralyzed by the self-awareness of my new identity.… Read the rest

U and Y. Part 1


In this Ceephax Acid Crew Live youtube video there’s a comment which says “Love that one guy going nuts.” And it’s true, there is a guy in the front of the crowd feeling the music and letting his body follow. That’s not a particularly amazing fact to many people, but to me its a revelation on a virality with which I’m infected. Because just 24 hours earlier, I was that person in the front.

24 hours even before I was going nuts, I was getting nervous. Ceephax was playing at the Science Museum in San Francisco, and this would be my first opportunity to see him in the flesh.… Read the rest

Dried and True

I didn’t like the Dyson Airblade at first. Its slick futuristic form with neon yellow striping gives the visual indication that it will instantly dry your hands, which it doesn’t. It takes 12 seconds. Still, I claim this represents a revolution. The watch-a-microwave-tick-down waiting time is a small price to pay for leaving the tiled room with hands truly free of water, rather than the less-wet state my whole life prior to this invention taught me was normal.

The Dyson Airblade. Attribution:

To understand why the Airblade represents such a leap forward in hand-drying technology, we have to understand the past that Dyson was trying to escape.… Read the rest

Against the Grain: Influencing Factors of Opinion Change in Wikipedia’s Article for Deletion Process


This is my final project from my Machine Learning course this past semester. My collaborators and I attempted to find out when, and why users at English Wikipedia’s article for deletion forum, voted against their tendencies. That is, what makes an “deletionist” vote “keep” and when an “inclusionist” votes “delete”? In the end we found that basic machine learning techniques could not perform much better than random, but the intelligence that did emerge came from using information about group herding behaviour, and appeals to the local bureaucratic process.

Against the Grain: Influencing Factors of Opinion Change in Wikipedia’s Article for Deletion Process

Zhiyi Li, Cheng Peng, and Max Klein


On 1 November 2015, English Wikipedia hit 5,000,000 articles; but while article creation is much celebrated, deleting an article is a lesser known process.… Read the rest

WIGI Update: Results from Usability Testing

Since the beta version of, our site dedicated to the biography gender gap on WIkipedia is progressing on the technical side, we decided  conducting usability study on to help improve interaction aspects. We conducted a usability study to find out more. It was fantastic to here people say ”this is the tool we’ve been waiting for,” and we also want to address issues that lead people to describe their experience as “burdensome”.  Thanks to Masssly for compiling the report. I repost his summary here, and the full report can be read on wikimedia commons:

Executive Summary

During the week of November 17 – December 1, 2015, WIGI was tested among participants pulled from the Wikimedia community, loosely described as anyone who edits Wikipedia-the-encyclopedia, or is a potential reader of any of its language versions.… Read the rest