WIN errors: From bad to worse

After I posted my entry

about the willingness of WIN bloggers to correct their errors, the WIN machine

moved into action. First Jason Calacanis left a comment

on my blog, saying that he was looking into it. He also said that there should

be a tip form on every WIN site. In fact, he’s right about that. The narrow

column to the right of the main column is mainly used for advertising. But in

between the ads, there’s a series of links for sending news tips or pointing

out corrections. It might be worth making those links easier to find, rather

than burying them in a series of ads.

If you click on the corrections link, it takes you to a form

which you can fill out, saying "Use the form below to get in touch with

the people at The Unofficial Google Weblog." On the face of it, that doesn’t

help much, since it has the same effect as leaving a comment on the entry in

question. And as we saw with the Google

Earth entry, that alone doesn’t seem to result in a correction. In fact,

however, I have now been informed by Judith Meskill, WIN’s editorial director,

that filling out the corrections form brings the error to her attention as well

as the blogger’s. It might be worth mentioning that on the form.

Not long after Jason left his comments, I got an email from Judith Meskill.

At the bottom of the email, she checked a little box saying that it was not

bloggable and was private and confidential, so I won’t tell you what it said.

But it wasn’t long until the Google Earth entry was updated, rather than corrected.

Here’s what it said originally:

The Indian government was worried about sensitive areas being available through

Google Earth searches, so Google will be taking high resolution versions offline.

Here’s what it was changed to, with no indication that changes had been made:

The Indian government was worried about sensitive areas being available through

Google Earth searches, so Google will look at taking these high resolution

versions offline when presented to them.

That update, it would seem, came from Chris Gilmer, the author of the entry.

It didn’t stay that way for long: pretty soon the entire entry was put in strikethrough,

with an update at the top. The exclamation mark, and the fact that Gilmer is

referred to in the third person, are clear indications that the update and strikethrough

were the work of Meskill:

UPDATE: Thanks to Frank Taylor of Google Earth for pointing to Stefan Geens’

correction (in the comments below) of the Times of India article, cited below

as the source for this post. Chris Gilmer will follow up shortly with a revision

of this post. Thanks!

By this time the headline of the post had been changed, from "Sensitive

India Areas Removed from Google Earth" to "Sensitive India Areas Rumored

to be Removed from Google Earth?". There was no indication that the headline

had changed.

In response to the update, Stefan updated his entry

at Ogle Earth:

The Unofficial Google Weblog has now retracted its post, after some further

prodding by Felix Salmon. But Kudos for running the correction, though.

The kudos was to be short-lived, as was the correction. For this morning, the

update and the strikethrough were all removed, and a whole new story put in

their place. It starts off with exactly the same altered sentence that Gilmer

changed at the beginning, referring to Google looking at taking images offline.

Gilmer then changes the story he’s linking to, from one at the Times of India

to a UPI story at At the end of the entry, we find this:

Thank you to Felix Simon (sic), Frank Taylor, and Stefan Geens for

pointing out that there might be flaws in the India Times article previously


Of course, I never pointed out any flaws in the India Times article; most of

us were, rather, pointing out flaws in Gilmer’s own blog entry. But Gilmer refuses

to admit that he made any mistakes, only that his sources might have been erroneous.

He completely elides the fact that there was a part of the original blog entry

about Google blurring imagery at the request of the US government – that

was wholly Gilmer’s own work, and it was completely wrong.

On an informational level, Gilmer’s new entry is nearly as bad as his original

entry. "He no longer makes unsubstantiated claims, but none of it is coherent,"

says Geens.

Gilmer completely misses Geens’s point that in the past, Google has made images

higher-resolution, or has clarified images which were previously blurred or

blacked out. It has never gone in the opposite direction, as Gilmer’s article

implies it might.

In any case, Google doesn’t provide its own imagery: Google just buys this

stuff from satellite companies. The American ones sometimes have to censor,

but Google can buy from French companies if it wants to, and they don’t have

to censor. Gilmer seems newly obsessed with the fact that some imagery in Google

is censored – he doesn’t seem interested that that’s nothing to do with

Google. Google didn’t want the information to be censored, they just

happened to buy censored information, which they de-censored when they could.

So Gilmer’s links are irrelevant to the putative point of the story, which is

that Google might actively censor on its own – something it has never

done until now.

On a journalistic level, however, what Gilmer did is much worse than his factual

disingenuousness. With the latest revision to the blog entry, there is no indication

that Gilmer ever made a mistake, except for a comment at the bottom of the post

which no longer makes sense. The links in blog entries by me and by Stefan Geens

are now semi-broken, since they link to something entirely different from what

they linked to originally. Far from being open and honest about corrections,

Gilmer and WIN seem to be doing their very best to make it seem as though they

never got anything wrong at all.

If I might, I would like to refer Gilmer and Meskill to a very

good blog entry from April 2004:

We know we’re error prone, we know we report things quickly, and as such

we make corrections in real time with the help of our audience. Blogs are

so error prone that we have our own device for deal with errors: strikethrough!

If an error occurs we use strikethrough to note the error and correct it immediately

in the existing article. This is a lot more than any print publication does.

Print publications can’t correct like this because they are not real time.

Can you imagine if the New York Times reprinted every article with the incorrect

facts noted with stickethrough the day after they came out – in the

same location? That is what blogs do, so we are clearly more responsible than

print publications in issuing corrections. We should be because we are more

error prone.

The author of that blog entry? Jason Calacanis. His employees would be well

advised to pay attention.

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5 Responses to WIN errors: From bad to worse

  1. Jason says:

    Just checking back on this issue… looks like they are using strikethrough, which as you quote is the best method for correcting errors on blogs.

    Appreciate the real-time reporting you’re doing–you’re obsessed and we should be paying you!

    Everyone makes errors, and the “machine” as you call it (really just two normal people, but thanks for using the loaded language to make us look like “the man”), is always there to help our bloggers when they make a mistake.

    Mistakes are short lived on blogs thanks to open comments and trackbacks. When (not if) you make mistakes you always learn and get better–such is life in the transparent lane.

  2. Stefan says:

    Hello Jason,

    Yes, _now_ there is strikethrough. But the struck-through text has just been added (back). I can assure you it wasn’t there at 2pm ET when I first read this post. But that’s okay though, now all is as it should be.

    In sum, it certainly “looks like they are using strikethrough” as you say, and it also looks like it is a direct consequence of Felix’s latest post.

  3. Felix says:

    There is now strikethrough only up to a point. We can now see the original errors which could be attributed to the Times of India article, but we can’t see the original errors which could only be attributed to Chris Gilmer. For instance, there’s no indication at all that this was in the original entry:

    “Google has also fielded similar concerns from the US Government, and has switched up areas with lower resolutions, and blurred areas.”

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