It’s free and open for a reason!

Just as I was writing this post on ignorance of open source models, there was news of a major publisher making a print edition of Wikipedia. This led to backlash reactions which illustrate exactly the kind of misunderstanding that arises when people don’t get open-source licenses (via ReadWriteWeb.

The whole point of Wikipedia is to provide a voluntary online source of information. That is why people voluntarily gave up some of their time to write the articles for free in the first place. It is a noble project, the writer believed in the project and so they participated in it. Had they known that Wikipedia would then use their work in a commercial printed venture, I’m sure they would have had second thoughts about writing those articles. At the very least they would have demanded a contract and perhaps a guarantee of financial compensation later.

Now the author might well have a point – maybe people don’t know what they’re doing when they’re adding to wikipedia and maybe wikipedia should make it more clear. Still, I find it worrying that they would consider some big ball of wrong has been cast upon them. A great place for them to start researching would be the GNU article on wikipedia, the one article whose authors knew they would be victims right from the start ;).

There are several disturbing things about this:

  • First, if this ignorance does exist, that’s unfortunate. If anyone is a major enough contributor to wikipedia to care about this, they really ought to familiarise themselves with the basics of the GNU license they’re operating under. (And for the record, I think it’s a shame wikipedia uses GNU instead of a more permissive license.)
  • It’s scarcity mentality. Boo-hoo, the publisher is making money and I’m not, so they must be ripping me off. Yeah right! If you were willing to contribute to wikipedia before, your content remains just as available online as before. What’s changed? Nothing, except someone else is going to make your content more digestible in certain contexts and accessible to more people. And yes, they will make money from it. Maybe they’ll make lots of money. Whatever. That’s what happens in a modern knowledge economy – people like Larry and Sergey make money without denying it from someone else. Far from removing others’ assets, they actually add value to everyone else. Likewise, the existence of a print wikipedia will also add, in its own way, to society’s wealth. (Although not the forests. That’s a separate, more legitimate, argument.)
  • There’s an old psychology result that says people care more about their spending power in relative terms than absolute terms. ie you ask them “Would you rather earn $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000, or would you rather earn $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000? Assume price of service and goods would remain the same.” People would rather earn half as much, if it means they are richer rather than poorer than others. That result says a lot for this kind of irrational backlash against anyone who might cash in on their “volunteer” work.
  • It’s hardly the first time this has happened. Answers.com and hundreds of fairly useless SEO sites have been profiting from wikipedia content for years. I’m surprised it took this long for someone to do it. I could imagine countless opportunities for books on niche content – bizarre trivia, country almanacs, movie guides, etc etc.

That a company can do something like this without having to formally negotiate with the wikipedia foundation and a million contributors…I call that a cause for celebration, not outrage. Personally, I’ve contributed various boring tidbits to wikipedia and I hereby invite any publisher to print what they want from my contributions, even if there’s only limited demand for hard copy about snowclones.

WIKI sells, Wiki doesn’t

‘Wiki’ derived its name from the Hawaiian for “quick”. But acronyms sell better in the corporate world, as anyone who’s ever won a business case for working with POJOs will be acutely aware, or anyone who’s found AJAX 0wns Ajax. JAVA beats Java when you’re selling a $2K seminar and you wouldn’t be the first to ask, what does COMET stand for anyway?

Therefore, wiki adoption (or, world domination) will be faster if we can make wiki become WIKI. According to YouKnowWhoPedia, there is already one backronym for wiki: “What I Know Is”. Yeah, it’s not much; I know “I-K-I” isn’t the easiest set of letters to work with, but still, we can do better!!!

How’s about …

  • Whoa! It Keeps Improving!
  • Webified Information, Knowledge, and Ideas
  • Wikis Improve Knowledge Iteratively
  • Work It, Keep It
  • Wiki Isn’t Knowledge Immutable
  • Wiki Is Knot Icky
  • Wikis Iterate Knowledge Indefinitely
  • Ward Is Knowingly Ignorant (intended as a compliment!)
  • Ward’s Intelligent Knowledge Igloo
  • Wait, I Know It!
  • Words Idle? Keep Iterating!
  • Want Improvements Kept Indefinitely?
  • Wanted: Invaluable Knowledge on the Internet

Wikipedia as a Honeypot

How long until wikipedia becomes a honeypot?

“Who wants to be a millionaire” contestant is struggling to answer the question, “What year did the Fonz jump the shark?”, and calls out to Lifeline Buddy. Back in 2005, Lifeline Buddy would have googled for the answer. But this is 2007, and “wiki” is now a household name (the media refers to “wiki” and “wikipedia” interchangeably). Lifeline Buddy bangs out “fonz jump shark” into wikipedia’s search field and quickly finds the right page, reporting confidently the year was 1975. Only, it’s wrong; Fonzarelli, of course, jumped the shark in 1977. The producers had entered the fraudulent details at precisely the moment the lifeline was consulted. Contestant takes his $1000 consellation and exits, muttering something about the Britannica under his breath.

Producers wouldn’t stoop so low? If the BBC can do it, draw your own conclusion. The Register, in any event, would have a field day with their latest whipping boy.

Instead of restorting to restricting edits, wikipedia first needs to try out a “heat map” view to help people decide how stable the information is. Not as gaudy as the Ajax Patterns authoring heatmap (using a more subtle theme now), but some way for people to know what’s new and what’s old. Again, this comes back to the idea of separating out wiki content from presentation, ideally using some kind of web service. A wiki needs more than one view, even without any Maps/Flickr/Delicious mashup. For example, you could have three standard views:

  • Pure wiki reading, just like wikipedia today.
  • Stability view. e.g. Most content in white as now, but with a few shades of grey to distinguish how old each phrase is (darker grey = past minute, medium grey = past hour, light grey = past day; so a phrase “graduates” from grey to white as it matures).
  • Inspection mode. Full-on data mining interface, using Ajax (of course) to explore history, drill down to author info, etc.

Wikipedia as a Honeypot

How long until wikipedia becomes a honeypot?

“Who wants to be a millionaire” contestant is struggling to answer the question, “What year did the Fonz jump the shark?”, and calls out to Lifeline Buddy. Back in 2005, Lifeline Buddy would have googled for the answer. But this is 2007, and “wiki” is now a household name (the media refers to “wiki” and “wikipedia” interchangeably). Lifeline Buddy bangs out “fonz jump shark” into wikipedia’s search field and quickly finds the right page, reporting confidently the year was 1975. Only, it’s wrong; Fonzarelli, of course, jumped the shark in 1977. The producers had entered the fraudulent details at precisely the moment the lifeline was consulted. Contestant takes his $1000 consellation and exits, muttering something about the Britannica under his breath.

Producers wouldn’t stoop so low? If the BBC can do it, draw your own conclusion. The Register, in any event, would have a field day with their latest whipping boy.

Instead of restorting to restricting edits, wikipedia first needs to try out a “heat map” view to help people decide how stable the information is. Not as gaudy as the Ajax Patterns authoring heatmap (using a more subtle theme now), but some way for people to know what’s new and what’s old. Again, this comes back to the idea of separating out wiki content from presentation, ideally using some kind of web service. A wiki needs more than one view, even without any Maps/Flickr/Delicious mashup. For example, you could have three standard views:

  • Pure wiki reading, just like wikipedia today.
  • Stability view. e.g. Most content in white as now, but with a few shades of grey to distinguish how old each phrase is (darker grey = past minute, medium grey = past hour, light grey = past day; so a phrase “graduates” from grey to white as it matures).
  • Inspection mode. Full-on data mining interface, using Ajax (of course) to explore history, drill down to author info, etc.