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Information philanthropy

I learned an interesting term today, while reading the draft Government 3.0 report.

From the draft report:

11.5: Gifts of public good – Information Philanthropy

Innovation often occurs well in advance of the regulatory and cultural frameworks needed to support it. Many of the most innovative endeavours have been made by people with an idea, some time to volunteer and the wherewithal to make it happen.

For the many innovations that have social and democratic value but no apparent commercial return there are currently few options. Funding through government grants is unlikely, micro-donations and online advertising will rarely cover any substantial costs and the current philanthropic framework does not support substantial giving to such projects.

In the UK and the US examples such as mysociety.org and guidestar.com demonstrate the potential for social good. In Australia initiatives such as OpenAustralia and the Taskforce’s mashup competition and associated hack day events are clear examples of the potential and appetite to innovate with data and online engagement.

It may be possible for organisations whose purpose is to build online systems for public good to receive Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) and Tax Concession Charity (TCC) status for organisations but it is far from straightforward. There are no categories that specifically support the provision of public goods online in the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) regulatory definitions. DGR and TCC status provides both tax advantages for the organisation and the capacity to receive grants and donations from philanthropic foundations and other donors.

This is not surprising as Information Philanthropy is new and is not widely understood. Reducing the obstacles to the free flow of philanthropy to projects that use government data for public good, or improve the democratic process will no doubt boost innovation and expand the understanding of the value of such projects.[…]

The consultants to the Taskforce have proposed the establishment of such a Specially Listed Deductible Giving Recipient Foundation to support the initial development of info-philanthropy. For the purposes of establishing this, one might define the foundation’s mission as assisting in projects of properly registered not-for-profit organisations and which, in a way that is not party political or focused primarily on advocacy either:


Recommendation 12 – Encourage info-philanthropy

Because some of the most successful experiments in Government 2.0 have been fuelled by not-for-profits in leading countries such as the UK and the US, Australian policy-makers should minimise obstacles to info-philanthropy being treated as an eligible activity to qualify for deductible gift recipient and other forms of legal status which recognise charitable or philanthropic purposes.

(Emphasis mine.) In my opinion that’s a brilliant idea. I don’t really have a lot to add, I just wanted to point it out to everyone. I hope this recommendation is picked up by government. It would be an easy one to implement and make a start towards useful formal recognition of the good that such projects can do.

I’ve only quickly skimmed the report – it’s kinda huge – but I already found a few other nice nuggets. Like The Three Laws of Open Government Data:

The Three Laws of Open Government Data:

  1. If it can’t be spidered or indexed, it doesn’t exist
  2. If it isn’t available in open and machine readable format, it can’t engage
  3. If a legal framework doesn’t allow it to be repurposed, it doesn’t empower

Summarisable as Find, play, share. I like it!

There are also nice summaries on OpenAustralia, and the Social Benefits of PSI talks about the National Library of Australia newspaper digitisation program.

There’s lots to absorb here, but that’s what caught my eye in a first pass.

07 December, 2009 • , , ,

GeoScience Australia goes CC-BY

Following the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it appears that Goescience Australia is making the leap and going CC-BY.

In the press release, their CIO says

Our agency is custodian of a vast range of valuable geological and spatial datasets that are used by the public sector and private sector industries in the exploitation of resources, management of the environment, safety of critical infrastructure and the resultant well-being of all Australians. The Creative Commons licence has created a more efficient process for them to access this valuable information.

Exactly, right?

Although looking around their website, it seems like various bits of their data you need to specially order or buy. I wonder if that will be changing as they update their website.

I’m not really up on “map stuff” but I am sure the attendees of the recent FOSS4G conference (Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial) in Sydney will be pleased about this.

06 December, 2009 • , ,


Wikimedia Australia GLAMming it up - August 6-7, Canberra

“What is this GLAM?” I hear you ask. Why, it refers to Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. What are sometimes called “memory institutions” or more plainly “cultural institutions”. “And what is this GLAM-WIKI?" I hear you further inquire. Why, it is a conference that Wikimedia Australia is organising! On August 6-7 this year. Currently about two months away. In Canberra.

The conference’s title is Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums & Wikimedia: Finding the common ground. It’s very much Liam Wyatt’s (WMAU’s VP) brainchild, borne out of his experiences talking to GLAM organisations and finding out how much they do or don’t know about Wikimedia, and thinking about how we (Wikimedia) can better work together with them for our mutual benefit. Check out the Why should you attend? list.

The conference has four themes —

Attendance is free but you do need to register. It will be held at the Australian War Memorial, one of our kind partners in this event.

It’s a couple of months away now, so please pass the word on about this event to any GLAM folk you know in the Australasian region. Expect to see further discussion about it at the Museums & Wikimedia group in the Museums 3.0 Ning site.

P.S. Register! Did I mention it was free?

10 June, 2009 • , , ,


"Safe wiki": Teaching responsible use of Wikipedia

My ACEC talk. ( Links and info )

Safe wiki: Teaching responsible use of Wikipedia
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: education acec)

This Slideshare bizzo is pretty neat. (But after you press play you probably don’t want to do anything else in your browser.) The audio synchronising tool is well designed — now what’s the offline equivalent?

While I was there I felt a certain duty to start this article

02 October, 2008 • , ,


Whither free software in education?

I just arrived back from the Australian Computers in Education Conference (ACEC). It’s actually still going, but as I’m not a teacher and hence hanging out at education conferences doesn’t constitute paid work for me, I decided to go home early.

It was all a bit of an eye-opener for me. There was a huge hall filled with exhibitions mostly from commercial software companies, where all meals were held. I was rather taken aback at the idea that teachers might wander around and actually purchase software based on these stands. Reminded me of pharmaceutical companies marketing to doctors.

For fun I spoke to the woman at the Encyclopedia Britannica stand. I didn’t even realise they had much Australian presence. And I didn’t even realise the main thing they were pushing these days was website subscriptions (as opposed to books and CD-ROMs!). They offer basically three versions of each article, written for different ages/reading comprehension skills. She also told me a couple of scare stories, like what if chill-uns look for pictures of the murray darling (“Imagine what they get, with the word ‘darling’!” — actually they get exactly what they’re looking for), and a surely made-up story about her 10 year old nephew looking for pictures of soldiers by typing in “pictures of privates”.

There was exactly one talk relating to open source software (many others by commercial software providers). At first I was so excited to see another FLOSS advocate (despite the somewhat troubling use of the word “freeware” in the abstract.) So I went to it… and the speaker proclaimed that “Google” was “open source”. I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean, most Google products don’t even supply source, let alone under an open source license. So that was kind of a shocker. What a shame. There was supposed to be an OLPC talk but that was cancelled.

I spoke to a university lecturer there I had met before, and I said how I found the lauding of web-based technologies a little worrying given the concerns about network lock-in, and that as I saw it there was little difference between being locked in to a software product/format vs a website. (It’s all about the API — can you get your data back out if you need to? If not, tread warily!) He mentioned how a large company had come to his campus offering to take care of his university’s infrastructure (email, course management etc), and his university had just laughed at them because it would be ludicrous to give up that control to a commercial company for little to no benefit. And seemingly the large company was taken aback because elsewhere they had had a good reception. Seriously.

What primary school and high school students learn to use is likely to be highly influential. Many of them may never go software-exploring beyond what they become familiar with at school. As I remember my grade 12 software development and design teacher putting it, why the hell should the state education department pay Microsoft (or anyone else) for the “privilege” of using their software or services? Why the hell shouldn’t they be paying the education department for the opportunity to influence this captive audience of millions of students?

OK, so that’s a naive dream, but I learnt more about free software in education at a Software Freedom Day event with an audience numbering tens, than I did at a gigantic biennial national computers-in-education conference. So we freedom lovers can’t afford lobby groups and trade show exhibition stalls; I reckon we could have at least put together a FLOSS talk from someone who actually knows what the term means.

01 October, 2008 • , , ,

Comment [4]

Good things afoot regarding public sector information licensing in Australia

While I’m at it…there are lots of promising rumblings at the moment from various parts of Australia regarding the licensing of public sector information (PSI), ie. government data.

The federal government just recently released a report on the review of the National Innovation System. As reported by Creative Commons Australia, it includes a specific recommendation that Australian governments use a Creative Commons license. Of course for Wikimedians, the trick is in exactly which license they choose to use.

The Victorian government recently held an Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data, which had a Discussion Paper with lots of favourable ideas about using Creative Commons licensing. I made a submission on behalf of Wikimedia Australia. I emphasised the need for works to not have NC or ND restrictions in order to be directly usable by Wikimedia projects.

There was a bunch of other stuff I wanted to mention, like open access, but it was rather written under deadline pressure and I found it hard to weave into a cohesive narrative in response to the Discussion Paper. Perhaps I should have just gone off on my own ramble anyway. :)

Tomorrow is Software Freedom Day and apparently I’m speaking at that, so I should have more to report very soon.

20 September, 2008 • , ,


Wikimedia Australia finally exists!

I am very happy to relay the news that Wikimedia Australia is finally 100% official. woo-hoo!

What happened was, on March 1, the Wikimedia Foundation board approved our existence based on our draft rules. On April 20, we held our incorporation meeting, where the “members” formally decided to incorporate.

We tried to submit our rules to Consumer Affairs Victoria (the relevant government body), but they rebuffed our Statement of Purpose (SoP) as too short and not explicit enough about member benefits. What a let-down! We had actually deliberately chosen a brief and simple one, to make it as easy as possible for everyone to agree on it. So reworking the SoP was no simple task, and we lost momentum a few times. Finally we pushed up to something everyone could agree on (including the Chapters Committee), sent our wonderful Public Officer back off to CAV, and crossed our fingers and held our breath. News came back today that all is well. Hurrah!

Thankyou to everyone who helped make this happen, including all the Wikimedians who gave input in any form, and Chapcom who provided encouragement and prompt feedback. Now the fun really begins: taking members, organising our first AGM to set our first elected committee, setting up our website/s… and seeing what we are really capable of.

(With any luck we will soon set up a blog, and I won’t talk much about WMAU here.)

08 August, 2008 • ,

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CCau "Building an Australasian Commons" conference notes

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.

06 July, 2008 • , , ,

Comment [2]

WikiProject so effective, it skews study results

Banksia spinulosa, public domain.

Seriously, how cool is this story?

The paper is Scientific citations in Wikipedia by Finn Årup Nielsen— the paper itself is dual-licensed GFDL and CC-BY-SA — and it analyses the cite journal template uses from the April 2007 database dump. The author compares the prevalence of Wikipedia citations to general scientifier community citations.

The success of WikiProject Banksia causes a noticable outlier:

Original graph

The one circled in red is Australian Systematic Botany.

Australian botany journals received a considerable number of citations…in part due to concerted effort for the genus Banksia, where several Wikipedia articles for Banksia species have reached “featured article” status.

Right now, there are six. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the “rest” of Wikipedia to catch up.

The number of people working on this project, you can count on one hand and still have fingers left over.

The Banksia gallery on Wikimedia Commons, and category, are also impeccably sorted and organised (and detailed!).

It makes me smile to be able to report this, because it shows how much just a few dedicated souls can achieve, by quietly and steadily busying themselves.

And it’s damn cool. Congratulations, WikiProject Banksia.

15 April, 2008 • ,

Comment [2]

Flickr + Powerhouse Museum -> Tyrell Today

I just said There’s also dozens of photos of landmark Sydney buildings and streets. It would be a fascinating project for someone to try and take a photo from the same position today.

…and it exists! Tyrrell Today.

Argyle Cut, Sydney
c. 1880-1900. November 22, 2007

and on Google Maps:

View Larger Map



14 April, 2008 • ,


Powerhouse Museum takes part in Flickr's "The Commons"

Flickr’s The Commons rolls on. First it was the Library of Congress, this time it’s the Tyrrell Collection from the Powerhouse Museum (“science+design”) in Sydney. There’s only 200 images released so far (unlike the 2000-odd released by LoC), but the promise of 50 more to come each week, AND (geogeeks get ready), maply goodness!

In the screenshot above, the pink dots represent images by the Powerhouse Museum. You can zoom in and out of the map; clicking on a pink dot brings up that image’s thumbnail. You can also click on the greyed-out thumbnails in the strip in the lower half of the screen, and see the corresponding pink dot highlighted on the map.

Possibly Flickr has had all this map stuff for a while. :) I may have missed it. At any rate, the ‘neat’ factor comes from having more than one dot any given map, and also the contrast between today’s map data and photographs from 100 years ago.

Originally I was going to just link to this, but I had a browse through it and found so many cool images that I’m sure have no counterpart on Wikipedia, that I wanted to give it some more space. Panning for gold. Woolshed. Trams down King Street. Bondi Beach in your Sunday finest. Cutting down a tree you couldn’t even reach around. They’re all c1900.

There’s also dozens of photos of landmark Sydney buildings and streets. It would be a fascinating project for someone to try and take a photo from the same position today.

Now if only Flickr would hurry up and add “No known copyright restrictions” to its API…! Then we can slurp them up all the more efficiently.

12 April, 2008 • , , ,


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