Reminder for everybody living in the attention economy: who should we really thank for command-line Wikipedia searches?

Lxer.com is an aggregator of (mostly) reader-submitted news about Linux and Free/Open Source software. On March 27th, 2012, Lxer.com published this news:

  Search Wikipedia Through CLI (Shell) In Linux
  
      Linuxaria.com; By linuxaria (Posted by linuxaria on Mar 27, 2012 9:16 PM EST)
      Story Type: Tutorial

The link submitted to Lxer goes to the corresponding page of the Linuxaria website, where you can read (as in the Lxer announcement) that that article was “originally” published on flossstuff in October 2011 by Ankur Aggarwal who learned the trick from Ajay Sharma.


As a quick search for "command line" wikipedia proves, that particular trick had been published almost three years before, in July 2009, by user drizzt on Command-Line Fu and then announced by Lifehacker.

But wait! It turns out, with just a couple more minutes of search, that the whole trick was conceived and presented at the 2008 London Perl Workshop (slides here) by David Leadbeater and set up by him as a free web service in February 2009. Thanks, David!

Maybe if I kept searching I would find even older sources and more precise details, but I hope I’ve made my point by now: what we seem to have here is five Free/Open Source websites or users (in reverse chronological order: Lxer, Flossstuff, Sharma, Lifehacker and drizzt) plus all the others who read this trick by them and repeated it all over the Internet, who published or republished something without giving credit to its actual author or bothering to check where that content actually comes from. Not too good.

Of course, nothing really serious happened here. I know the world won’t come to an end for this! Oh, and before you ask yes, I’ve published or announced so many FOSS things in the last 10+ years that is quite likely that I’ve made the same mistake myself, some time. Or that, no matter how hard I always try to verify sources, I may do it in the future.


Still, this little incident is worth remembering, because not giving credit to, or at least mention, to the actual authors of something is, at least, completely unnecessary bad manners. In some extreme, really unlucky cases it may lead to more substantial problems like copyright-related legal troubles, misinformation or urban legends. But it’s always bad manners. So folks, please let’s all do much more fact-checking and proper attribution from now on: whenever we announce or publish something online, check first if the source you’re quoting is, indeed, the original one.


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