[iDC] Wikinomics and Wikimania

adam hyde adam at xs4all.nl
Fri Aug 24 09:49:13 UTC 2007


Just to tag onto the last thread about Wikinomics - I found it so
tainted with hyperbole I couldn't finish it - it left me feeling
slightly queasy and a bit despondent. Not only did it lack any deep
understanding of wikis it seemed to lack any convincing economics. 

But, to break away from that a bit, I wanted to post a brief outline of
my experience of Wikimania 2007 in Taiwan (August 3-5). I won't cover
all the talks I went to, just some of the highlights.

The event was very focused on all things Wikimedia (the umbrella
foundation for wikipedia and its associated projects - Wikimedia
commons, Wikiversity, Wikibooks etc - http://www.wikimedia.org/)  and
Mediawiki (the wiki tool that the foundation uses for all its projects -

I was there to present FLOSS Manuals (http://www.flossmanuals.net) and
did 5 FLOSS Manuals presentations - a workshop on the FLOSS Manuals
system, a technical presentation, 2 poster sessions, and a lightning
talk. I also moderated a few sessions. 

The event was very informal and relaxed. Pretty much everyone there was
a wikimedian of some description and I think they liked the fact that it
was a small informal event. I was one of the few 'outsiders' - not
having made a thoughtful contribution to wikipedia or any of its
projects - but I felt very welcomed and I was impressed at the strong
support for free culture in general. Wikipedia was by no means the
dominant thread of the event, its themes spread wide and you can see a
full schedule here - http://wikimania2007.wikimedia.org/wiki/Schedule

The first day had some excellent speakers and was the strongest day for
presentations. Every presentation was very informative and some very
inspiring moments. 

It was also interesting because the event opened with Florence
Nibart-Devouard (the new chair of the WMF) 'preparing the ground' for
new revenue models. Her presentation was essentially about 'why we need
to make some money' and how the WMF might go about it. I understand the
wikimedia community is very sensitive to this issue, so I think she was
proceeding cautiously and I imagine this was the beginning of more
presentations seeding these ideas.

Lawrence Liangs presentation about the 'authority of knowledge' was a
highlight for me on the first day. He spoke about how wikipedia could
learn from the demise of manuscript culture at the birth of the print
age. As I understand it at the start of the print age, printed books
were considered as the most recent release of a body of work, and
updating these works and feeding into the content cycle of a book was
common. As an example Liang used Chaucers Canterbury Tales. The works
were updated by many people and were living breathing entities, however
when he died the works became his canon and were considered in some way
'frozen' by the academics. Any edit of the text after his death was seen
as producing a defective edition. So the 'authoritative' point (the
canonisation of Chaucer by Academics) killed off the participatory
culture surrounding his texts. Liang was pointing this issue at
Wikipedia and the debate surrounding how Wikipedia might be striving to
attain an analogous 'authoritative' position. His point, I think, is
that the pursuit of wikipedia towards being an 'authoritative knowledge
object' is less interesting (and potentially troublesome as it may deter
contributions) than the methodology for creating knowledge that
wikipedia has established.

I discussed this with a Wikipedian (a long term contributer to
Wikipedia) and they said they have no problem with the number of edits
decreasing - infact apparently many Wikipedians welcome the possibility
that the english wikpedia might soon be the first 'finished' Wikipedia.

Also on the first day was Masayuki Hatta, another excellent talk. It was
small but on the button. Masayuki is a Debian hacker from Japan, and he
was talking about the troubled Free Documentation License (FDL) that the
Wikimedia Foundation uses for its projects. He argues that the license
is inappropriate (many people at the event agree with this position) and
suggested that there is a big problem with changing the license because
with the FDL the person that created the document holds the copyright
and only they can relicense the content. We went through this process
too with FLOSS Manuals a few months ago and thankfully everyone agreed
to change to the GPL. 

In response to Masayuki, Evan Prodromou (http://wikitravel.org)
suggested it might not be necessary to get everyones permission as there
has been several large open source projects that have changed licenses
without getting permission from all contributers - an interesting point,
but I think that if Wikipedia did this it would be followed by a great
deal of controversy as consultation and 'doing things the right
way' (not just the expedient way) seems me to be regarded very highly in
Wikimedia Foundation projects. 

Masayuki, being a hacker, suggested a hack to get out of the FDL. He
suggested that the Wikimedia Foundation send an envoy to the Free
Software Foundation to speak to the redraft of the FDL currently
underway. Masayuki had been involved in a similar process for the GPLv3
and said he was surprised that the FSF actually listened and made some
notable changes as a result.  So, Mayasukis hack included lobbying the
FSF to make the FDL compatible with other licenses (such as some
Creative Commons licenses) - this would allow for license
interoperability between the FDL and other licenses but also it would
allow for content currently covered by the FDL to be distributed under
the compatible license. This in effect opens a backdoor for the
Wikimedia Foundation to slip out of and ditch the FDL in favor of
something more interesting.

Mayasuki recommended the best strategy to effect the draft process for
the FDL currently underway is to make a presentation in person to the
Free Software Foundation.

Magnatune (http://magnatune.com/) presented their interesting sales
strategy for CC licensed material. They license their content under
Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike Attribution. You can
download the content for free, or you can buy it at a price you are
happy with. Magnatune argue that is is very effective and they generate
a lot of revenue this way. 
Dominic Chen presented the c-shirt project which allows you to remix a
t-shirt design from cc licensed material and they print out a t-shirt
for you. I made a pretty clumsy t-shirt from a road sign that said 'GPL'
and the wikipedia definition of FLOSS. It was admittedly a pretty geeky
design, but I really appreciated the c-shirts attempts to make this
whole world of open licenses live beyond the screen. 

Seth Anthony did a very interesting study on the life cycle of wikipedia
editors. Identifying, similar to open source, that the minority is doing
the lions share of the contributions. His slides are here
(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/wikimania2007/b/b7/Wikimania2007-SethAnthony.pdf) if you wish to read more about this very interesting subject.

Near the end of the event Joi Ito (Chair of CC) presented CC's world
vision. It was a slick presentation but I was a little unsure why it was
given such a prominent position (it was the penultimate plenary).
Probably because the local organisers had just launched CC Taiwan, but I
couldn't help but wonder how hard CC is working to try and woo the big
lumbering FDL-tainted giant to their side. I asked a question to Ito,
essentially - if the redrafted FDL was compatible with CC licenses what
would the position of CC be? That wikipedia should stay with the FDL or
change to a CC license. I have to say his answer seemed to suggest that
they would be happy with compatibility but then he seemed to side track
so I'm not fully convinced.

I was interested to note throughout the event that there is a growing
awareness that mediawiki is not a generic 'fix all the knowledge holes
in the universe' tool. The problem seems to be that all the
non-wikipedia projects housed within the wikipedia foundation have
developed because the content 'did not fit it' to a wiki encyclopedia.
However the projects have been set up default in mediawiki. Mediawiki is
clearly an ill fit for open university' strategies, and probably it has
limitations for wikibooks as well (structured wikis are more suitable
for books and manuals in my opinion). It is a big issue I think and it
was apparent in one session on Wikiversity that they were going in the
wrong direction and that the tool-lead approach was the wrong one.

Possibly related to this tool-lead position was an interesting
discussion lead by Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the wiki and
wiki-markup language (WML). He is now involved with WikiCreole
(http://www.wikicreole.org/) - an initiative to harmonise the disparate
WML versions. I can see the point, but I think there is a more
fundamental issue. As I understand it WML was invented because people
couldn't write HTML. It was a strategy to lower the threshold of entry.
However the very sophisticated WYSIWYG tools are now doing this
splendidly. So why a need for WML at all? In fact, it could be argued,
WML is harder to learn that opening a WYSIWYG editor and typing away
like you have many times in your favourite word processor. This point
was touched on by Brian Behlendorf from the Apache Foundation but I
don't think Ward Cunningham could really accept the position

I had many meetings while at Wikimania and met many interesting people.
Too many to list, but I was particularly interested in finding more out
about print-on-demand which was conspicuously missing from the scheduled
discussions.  I met with Eric Moeller, a Board member for the Wikimedia
Foundation and we discussed Wikipedias wiki-to-print future. It is
interesting that they are going in this direction but I am unsure of
this strategy. They know their business better than I, so I will wait
and see, suffice to say I will be interested in the quality of books
produced from direct wiki-to-print.

So...that is a short summary. There was much more happening and much
more I could talk about but I thought it best to stick to the


adam hyde
floss manuals

free manuals for free software

mobile : + 31 6 154 22770 (Netherlands mobile)
email : adam at flossmanuals.net

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