The week before last I zipped up to Brisbane to attend the Building an Australasian Commons conference hosted by Creative Commons Australia. There were presentations from government, commercial projects, public broadcaster, educators and musicians. (The “music” roundtable was most amusing for an apparent stoush between the APRA guy and, well, everyone else.) Overall, I was just so impressed that there was so much going on that I’d never heard about before. Not like I hear about everything, but my ears tend to perk up at “Creative Commons”. That there was so much I hadn’t heard about seems a sign that CC is gaining some serious momentum in Australia.
They deserve to, I might add. Throughout the day I reflected on the similarities and differences between the Creative Commons movement and the Wikimedia movement. Both are non-profits with broadly similar goals, and were founded around a similar time (2001ish). Both now have US-based “parents” with region-based “chapters” (WMF) or “jurisdictions” (CC).
Where CC began life with some serious clout (and cash) behind it, Wikipedia was built on nothing much more than enthusiasm. Those divergent beginnings carry through to today, where WMF has only very recently “professionalised” and the chapters are still largely grassroots affairs; on the other hand CC jurisdictions tend to be staffed by paid professionals and housed in universities. This is not too surprising for CC, as their major task is “porting” the licenses to local laws. Their role is more of an enabling one, compared to Wikimedia which still feels itself to be a very hands-on, creating one. CC has jurisdictions so the licenses are adapted to local law. Wikimedia has chapters so its local members may belong. In this view there is no need for chapters to be “professionalised”.
Nonetheless, what can we learn from how CC conducts itself? I can’t speak for the other jurisdictions, but the Australian one is damn impressive. They do an incredible amount of gently-gently lobbying for the adoption of free content licenses and open access policies in a general sense, without only pushing their own licenses. They educate government, cultural and educational institutions about what CC is and how to use it. The Australian clinic started the Case studies project, which is a brilliant way of showcasing their successes and “normalising” the use of CC for organisations who are hesitant to jump on board. With this kind of index, they can easily find a similar-enough group that has already made the leap and make an assessment of how successful it was for them.
The lessons for Wikimedia from here are pretty obvious. Wikimedians could do a lot worse than evangelise the use of wikis in a generic manner just as CC evangelises the use of free licenses. Educating people about how wikis work in a generic way, their social norms and technical features, etc, helps to get people used to the idea in general. They will then be more predisposed to accept the use of Wikimedia wikis in particular. At the moment the only wiki cheerleader I really see is Stewart Mader, and he does an excellent job, but he is rather more focused on intranet-style wikis than generic community-content-building wikis.
Wikimedians may be loath to say, “Wikis are great, and yeah, feel free to use whichever wiki engine and whichever organisation host you like”. But I think we will be better off in the long run with larger numbers of people understanding wikis themselves, rather than smaller numbers understanding specifically our wikis.
The second lesson is: case study collection. Great idea. We totally need one. That’s a duh-case.
I was also thinking about the consequences of jurisdiction that begins life in a university department vs a chapter that begins life in Wikimedians’ cafes and talk pages. It seems to me CC(au) is much better prepared to deal with institutional involvement. Maybe it is just practice. By comparison, Wikimedians tend to be very focused on individuals’ contributions. They probably look very messy and “mob-rule”. That’s one way of looking at it that’s true, but I think there are others too, that we might do well to emphasise to different audiences.
When Wikimedia Australia is struggling a little to shape dozens of enthusiastic volunteers into something acceptable to Consumer Affairs, Creative Commons Australia is thriving with a handful of paid staff. If I sound a bit jealous of the perks of “officialness”, the office and giant printer, well, yeah, I am. Only a tiny bit though. I love that Wikimedia is filled with chemists and students and office workers and nurses, from 15 to 65(+), who have the boldness to believe that everyone can participate in the writing of the history books. We can observe what works for others and borrow all their best ideas (we all believe in a sharing culture, right ;)).
We’re slow to get going, but hey, we’re in it for the long haul.
And can I say, in response, from CCau – we, on the other hand are extremely jealous of Wikimedia’s great community. While we know people are out there using CC, it doesn’t yet feel like, in Australia at least, we’ve galvanised into a single community that interacts, grows and supports each other.
Which is kind of a by-product of how the CC system is set up – the whole idea is that any creators can use the licences, hopefully without needing to get help or advice from others. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like our mailing list to be brimming with questions, comments, examples etc.
Though we do also like our printer. :)
— Jessica Coates · 7. July 2008, 11:15
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