Some nice things showed up in my feed reader while I was at LCA.
- Really nice Wikibooks screencast of the PediaPress Collections extension in action. (This extension lets you select any set of pages to produce a PDF, and if you like buy a printed copy.) (via Wikibooks News)
- Kevin Kelly has a new essay called Better than owning where he concludes, “Access is better than ownership.” “As they gain in public accessibility, books, music and movies are headed to become social goods even though they might not be paid by taxes” — well, not if TPTB have anything to do with it. (via waxy.org)
- GotGastro.com: “a Google Maps mashup of the NSW Food Authority’s name-and-shame lists.” What an awesome idea (and name!). It’s open source, too. See the cool things that open access to PSI can produce? (via Collaborynth)
- Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own is a new book purporting to be a history of the free culture movement. You can buy it for $ or download it for free (according to the PDF it is under CC-BY-NC, although I didn’t see a notice for that on the website). (via James Boyle)
- Another book of interest: Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software is available online as CC-BY-NC-SA. What is particularly awesome is that is has been published with something called CommentPress (note: site currently seems to be down, but see here for more info). CommentPress gives you per-paragraph commenting (almost annotating — like scribbling in the margins, really). (via Open Access News)
- Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge looks like an extremely comprehensive collection of essays on, well, what the title says. It’s licensed CC-BY-NC-ND. (via Open Access News)
- Free the facts! is a neat set of cartoons written on index cards, explaining the current situation with regards to publishing of scientific research, and thus the need for the open access movement.
It’s licensed CC-BY-NC-SA. (via Open Access News)
- The University of Europe: accessible to all is a brief article in the Guardian, talking about European adoption of open content/open courseware. (via Open Access News)
I have toooooo many books on my reading list! A great problem to have.
- At breakfast I’m reading How Wikipedia Works. I just finished the second chapter, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia, which is very very good. It gives a great historical and cultural context for Wikipedia’s development. This is something rather missing from Wikipedia: The Missing Manual. Licensed GFDL. Yay! I think I need to start reading it a bit faster so I can review it before Christmas.
- On the train I’m reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky which is, unsurprisingly, excellent.
- At night I’m reading ©ontent, a collection of essays by Cory Doctorow. I didn’t like the first one much — something about the tone of it just rubbed me the wrong way — but since it is a collection I’m not too concerned. Licensed CC-BY-NC-SA, so you can read it or even listen to it (apparently fans send in recordings) online if you prefer.
- And yesterday I received a free copy of MediaWiki Skins Design from the publisher, for review. (Finally, the perks of blogging!! :)) MediaWiki seems to be particularly lacking in skins, so this book may be a good addition. Pity it’s not released under a free license. I plan to try and create a skin by using the book as a reference, to see if it stands up. Should be good. :)
This “☍” “linky” symbol is something I picked up from Josh Bancroft to denote “linkblog” posts, ie. posts that are basically just sharing links with some small commentary. I think it is a neat convention.
- Creative Commons is having its annual fundraiser. There is a great video with it called A Shared Culture. Gosh, having creative types on hand must be nice. :)
- October 14, 2008 was the first ever Open Access Day. The open access movement is something I imagine most Wikimedians would support without hesitation. It is another essential piece in the puzzle of the world we are building with Wikipedia and her sisters. If you are curious but don’t know where to start, I can’t recommend highly enough the Open Access News blog by Peter Suber. It’s pretty high volume, so you might just want to read it with an eye for stories relating to your country.
- It seems to be the season for wiki books: along with the recently released How Wikipedia Works, O’Reilly has recently released a MediaWiki book (featuring pretty butterflies on the cover). It has an amusing review quote from Rob Church: “This book is filled with practical knowledge based on experience. It’s not just spouting some party line.” What would the MediaWiki “party line” be? It’s had no marketing to speak of. About the only one I can think of would be, “We developed this for Wikipedia, and if you happen to find it useful for your own purposes, good for you.” (Rob has not been a MediaWiki developer for nearly a year, which makes me wonder a little how up to date this book will be.) Brion is also quoted as saying, “A good book! It’s a nice overview […]” which is not what I would call glowing, but I suppose his title was the golden touch they were looking for… (via Eugene)
- via Axel Bruns I found out that there are several sessions on wikis at the Association of Internet Researchers conference currently being held at the University of Copenhagen. The conference website has their programme wrapped up in a PDF, so I copied them out below. According to Axel the first two involved user studies, which would be interesting to read. I wonder if all these authors are subscribed to wiki-research-l??
- Timme Bisgaard Munk: Why Wikipedia: Self-efficacy, Self-recognition and the Lexical Impulse in a Knowledge-Political Battle for an Egalitarian Epistemology
- Hichang Cho, MeiHui Chen: Knowledge-sharing Motivations of Contributors in Online Wiki Communities: An Integrated Framework of Theory of Planned Behaviour, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations
- Rut Jesus: Analyzing, Using and Evaluating New tools for Investigating Community, Cooperation and Disturbed Cognition in Wiki Articles
- Thanomwong Poorisat, PeiQi Chen, Helen Nofrina, Vani Viswanathan, Marko M Skoric: Why do we trust Wikis?…
Wikibooks published and for sale on Amazon.
So I have two questions.
1. Is this old news, or is someone doing this publishing on the sly? (Either way, I like it.)
2. What books are essential reading for those interested in Wikipedia-as-a-phenomenon/free culture, and related ideas in that space?
So far I have thought of:
- Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig (I’m buying a copy now but I’d already read it on my palm thanks to the Creative Commons licensing :))
- Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (to-read, so I’m not sure if it belongs here, but everyone seems to love Shirky)
- The Long Tail by Chris Anderson (almost finished reading it. it’s more business oriented and not exactly focused on Wikipedia but I find it pretty relevant)
Books I’m not sure about but suspect that they don’t offer significant insight:
- The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen (haven’t read it, but nothing I’ve seen from Keen has convinced me that I should. I’m not opposed to strong critiques of Wikipedia, I just don’t think this is it)
- The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
- Wikinomics by Taps Don
- Everything is Mischellaneous by David Weinberger
Hm, I thought there was more. What am I missing? If you’ve read any of the above books, are they worth reading or a waste of time?
Mike Linksvayer is actually riffing on a remark in an article on free software, but this remark stayed with me last week when I attended a free talk at the State Library of Victoria by Charles Leadbeater on his new book We-think: The Power of Mass Creativity.
In software development they tend to call it eating your own dogfood but it’s pretty much the same as “practice what you preach”.
Leadbeater put that the motto of the current generation is “We think because we are“ and that all this mass collaboration that people are doing for, gasp, reasons other than making money, will be
- good for democracy (because more people will have a voice),
- good for equality (because more people will have easier access to knowledge), and
- good for freedom (because more people will experience personal creativity).
Insert standard caveats about privacy. quality and loss of earnings.
Based on Leadbeater’s talk I am not sure the book would tell me a lot new (although I did appreciate his historical perspective – often lacking in commentary on the effects of the internet, as he noted), but then, I am probably not his target audience. I am probably more like his step-son who rolled his eyes and walked out halfway through viewing his YouTube book promo. What he’s saying is not really news to me; it’s just life as it is currently being lived.
As far as I can tell from Amazon’s “search inside” feature, Leadbeater only mentions Creative Commons once, in the “We-think business” chapter, with this parenthetical explanation: “Creative Commons is a form of copyright that allows users to share content very easily.” He also doesn’t seem to go into detail about the ideas of copyleft or the history of the GPL in the free software movement.
We-Think will succeed not because it is noble, altruistic or morally uplifting but because it is the most effective way to organise mass innovation at scale. It works. As more share-holder-owned companies are drawn towards more open approaches to innovation, so they will have to experiment with more shared ownership of ideas.
This strikes me as quite a cop-out to the power of the legal idea of copyleft and its influence. Although now free software prospers under non-copyleft licenses (like the BSD, MIT or LGPL – these don’t require that derivatives are released under the same license), there is no guarantee (and IMO it is unlikely) that history would have turned out the way it has, if the GPL had not existed. Likewise Wikipedia and its use of the GFDL with a copyleft clause. It could have been a whole different kettle of fish.
I think this book is for reassuring people who feel troubled or or feel a twinge of concern about “web 2.0” but aren’t sure why.
Back to the talk.
At question time I asked why Leadbeater had chosen to write a book, given he was extolling the virtues of all this free sharing, and books are a rather traditional top-down respect-my-authoritay tradition. I asked if it was just for pragmatic reasons, or if he thought that books were actually really conversational in nature. He replied that he just wanted to communicate his ideas with the widest possible audience.
I am not entirely convinced.
There are still lots of good reasons to write a book, let’s not doubt that for a second:
- traditional source of authority
- make money (unlikely as it is, it’s still possible)
- reach an audience that is (still) influenced by books of ideas
Reaching the widest possible audience mostly relates to #3, but really, if you wanted to reach the widest possible audience, wouldn’t you release it as a book and also as a free PDF download? A la Cory Doctorow:
Practicing what he preaches, all of the author’s books, including this one, are simultaneously released in print and on the Internet under Creative Commons licenses that encourage their reuse and sharing. He argues persuasively that this practice has considerably increased his sales by enlisting readers to promote his work.
“This one” is Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future (Amazon, download), which I am looking forward to reading. (I’m still halfway through The Long Tail — only two years behind!) I’m still mulling over purchasing a copy or just reading it on my Palm. I read Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture on my Palm and it genuinely counts as a book that changed my life — it energised and concentrated the vague warm fuzzies I had from editing Wikipedia into something much more purposeful and righteous. OTOH, I really do like books as physical objects. So, we’ll see.
Back to Leadbeater… while I definitely think he should release his book under a Creative Commons license, in the meantime what he has is a comment-less blog (wait, is that really a blog?), the first three chapters in PDF (under no specific license, tch tch) and a wiki, although it is not even linked from the book website, I think.
A blog without comments is not conversational. PDFs are not conversational. A wiki is conversational, but you do need to let people know it exists.
I got the photo for his Wikipedia article that I wanted. (I asked him if he had ever read it. He said no, on the advice of Jimmy Wales, which is good advice.) Now that’s an even easier way to eat your own dogfood (not to mention get good free publicity on a top 10 website): if you have a Wikipedia article, release a flattering press photo of yourself under a free license!
O’Reilly sent me a copy of Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (also amazon) for review. Really I am a bad person for such a task — they should give it to newbies and encourage them to dive in, see how they go, and then report how they feel about the book. But I guess there is some value in a perspective that learned it the hard way first (or at least, blog buzz).
Is this book needed or necessary? Yes. Wikis are very good at two tasks, at least: writing an encyclopedia and writing documentation. Interestingly, Wikipedia fails massively at the latter. Well, not so much at the writing of it as the organising, culling and simplifying of it.
I suppose it is not helped that policies, guidelines, manual of style, essays and wikiprojects all share the same space. Perhaps it would be useful to create new namespaces for some of these – at least MOS and wikiprojects. Essays could be folded back into user subpages (like userbox templates were). When they are all cited as if they held equivalent weight (I was surprised to learn WP:COOL was only an essay), it makes it extremely difficult to get a grasp on what you’re supposed to know.
Another idea might be to explicitly flag versions of policies and guidelines for “experience”, e.g. everything with a “experience rating 1” would be expected to be read by newbies. “5” would be howtos for bureaucrats, arbcom and Mechanics.
But because devoting oneself to organising and sorting projectspace has bad consequences for encyclopedia involvement, I don’t think it will happen.
We made it all right… Wikipedia is now an institution, there’s no doubt about it. Not looking so radical now.
There are two major omission from this book and one of them is related to this. There is not a single mention of the policy Ignore all rules. That’s right, Wikipedia’s first ever rule doesn’t rate a mention in a book devoted to the minutiae of how to get an enhanced watchlist and get an article deleted. It’s really quite strange. The author John Broughton would undoubtedly be familiar with it, having authored the Editor’s index to Wikipedia. One can only assume he thinks it’s on the way out. Then, Wikipedia will be a much less interesting community.
The other major omission is an explanation or discussion of the concept of free content. “Free content” scores one reference in the book’s index, to a section “Uploading a Non-free Image” in the “Adding Images” chapter. He refers to the WMF licensing policy and says,
Free content is any work that doesn’t require permission or payment for any use, including commercial. At most, free content requires attribution: crediting the person who created the image. Free content also has no restrictions on redistribution of the image by others.
Well, for a start, this is just wrong. Free content can also require ShareAlike use, which is a “restriction on redistribution”.
He then breezes over Wikipedia’s fair use policy. Considering how much trouble people have with it, I think it would be better to cover it thoroughly or not at all. Simply reciting the conditions that must be met is not that enlightening. Better would be a full expanded explanation of the ideas of free software, free culture, freedom for users, copyleft, etc.
The organisation of the book’s content is not bad, although I don’t understand why the appendices “A Tour of the Wikipedia Page” and “Reader’s Guide to Wikipedia” don’t lead the book rather than being hidden at the back. This book would also become 20% cooler if the inside of the covers had the MediaWiki syntax cheatsheet and a list of frequent shortcuts/policies and guidelines printed inside them. That would be so much cooler!
Physically, the book is a little crowded. The pages need to be bigger, or the margins smaller, to allow the many screenshots to take up more space. I am not sure the frequent “note” and “tip” asides wouldn’t be better worked into the main text. (Hey, just like trivia sections!) And unfortunately the binding is cheap. Having finished reading it, my index pages are now falling out. That’s disappointing, but a book like this is not really intended to be a tome for all time anyway, so it’s not that surprising.
Sooner or later I will post my smaller nitpicks to the publisher’s errata page, but they’re just small fry.
There is a pretty nice piece in the New York Times only just about this book – The Charms of Wikipedia. The author is clearly pretty enthralled with Wikipedia. Hey, more power to him. The real test is if this book can convert a Wikipedia skeptic, or maybe tame a troublesome user.
Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, Ben Yates, and SJ Klein (four upstanding Wikipedians all) are working on a book called How Wikipedia Works. (see also meta) Reportedly they will license it under the GFDL. This is excellent news.
I hope Broughton’s book is not only massively successful, but that it inspires a host of measured, high-quality documentation of all the Wikimedia projects, and then some.