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Clash of the encyclopedias - SHARISM conference

Well, this blog is slowly rumbling towards retirement, but I have a nice announcement for any readers in or near China :) In just a couple of weeks I will be speaking at a ‘Sharism’ forum in Shanghai as part of the Get It Louder festival. Pretty cool!! The other speakers look an awesome crowd.

The name “sharism” comes from an essay by Isaac Mao, a venture capitalist and blogger. His conclusion is suitably bold:

Emergent democracy will only happen when Sharism becomes the literacy of the majority. Since Sharism can improve communication, collaboration and mutual understanding, I believe it has a place within the educational system. Sharism can be applied to any cultural discourse, CoP (Community of Practice) or problem-solving context. It is also an antidote to social depression, since sharelessness is just dragging our society down. In present or formerly totalitarian countries, this downward cycle is even more apparent. The future world will be a hybrid of human and machine that will generate better and faster decisions anytime, anywhere. The flow of information between minds will become more flexible and more productive. These vast networks of sharing will create a new social order−A Mind Revolution!

Well, I’m going to be speaking about something much smaller :)

Clash of the Encyclopedias: Is Competition Good for Sharing?

One of the benefits of the open web is that good ideas can flourish easily. In the Chinese speaking web, the idea of an online encyclopedia has been especially fruitful. With the Chinese Wikipedia enjoying its eighth birthday this month, it’s worth examining whether the fragmentation of efforts ultimately leads to a better product and bigger communities, or if the “us vs them” mentality is harmful to sharing.

I don’t know any details yet about how much it will cost, or even where it will be specifically, but I’m sure those details will be surfacing any day now! I believe there will be simultaneous interpreting (a la Wikimania Buenos Aires) which will be great for the attendees.

11 October, 2010 • ,


☍ Links for 2009-06-23

Well it is conference season…

23 June, 2009 • ,

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Tech conference CFP season

The 2009 OSDC CfP is closing on 30th June. So you’ve got about two weeks left to get your act together. This year the Open Source Developers’ Conference will be held in November in Brisbane.

Secondly the 2010 LCA call for miniconf proposals is now open. This year, there will be 12 and they will all be one day long (previously half-day or two-day proposals were also accepted). I think this is for the best — one day is pretty much the right amount of time to fill.

Last year I ran the Free as in Freedom miniconf which was successful in its own right. I am pondering whether or not to propose it again. At the moment I am leaning towards no, because it would be rather a lot of work, especially as I’m not particularly familiar with the New Zealand situation (linux.conf.au will be in Wellington). OTOH maybe that is a good opportunity to find out what’s going on in NZ. I’ve got about four weeks to give it some thought.

I am also on the programme committee for this year’s LCA which will be a new and exciting experience. :)

16 June, 2009 • , ,

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2009 Unlocking IP conference

Yesterday I came back from a 3-day stay in Sydney. I was up there for the 2009 Unlocking IP conference, the third in a set of three, held at the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at UNSW. I remember coming across the programme of the 2006 conference at some point and thinking how interesting it looked, so it was wonderful not just to attend but also to present at this year’s! (NB: Kylie Pappalardo has also posted some notes about this conference on her blog.)

Liam and I co-presented Wikimedia in copyright/copyright in Wikimedia, which is something of a grab-bag of topics that we thought might be of interest to legal academics and practitioners. I humbly submit that our experiences of “copyright in practice” and adjudication in the court of XfD-style “consensus” may be of interest to those mainly focused on the theory of how it all works. The feedback we received was very positive and I feel encouraged to expand one of my topics into a psuedo-academic essay.

Video, 25 min, licensed CC-BY-SA

Some highlights:

Graham Greenleaf, a co-director of AustLII, talked in the opening sessions on National and International Dimensions of the Public Domain. He raised the idea of creating a “peak body” to represent the public domain/public rights in copyright, perhaps by expanding the Australian Digital Alliance or by creating a new body. It seems a fitting conclusion to the Unlocking IP project — launching ideas for the next phase.

Delia Browne of MCEETYA (a government education body) gave two talks, of which I saw the first: The Open Education Revolution: Sharing Nicely, which was a comprehensive overview of how the movement for open education resources (OERs) has evolved around the world and particularly in Australia.

Anne Fitzgerald also gave multiple talks, the first being Re-use of Government Works. She talked about the notion of OA to PSI (open access to public sector information, i.e. government works) and how it has developed significantly in the last five years, and even more so in the last 12 months. Australia is a member of the OECD, which has made statements of support for OA to PSI (e.g. June 2008’s Seoul Declaration, in which members promised to create policies that “[m]ake public sector information and content, including scientific data, and works of cultural heritage more widely accessible in digital format.” But sadly unlike the EU, OECD promises are not binding.

The Cutler report on the national innovation review released in September 2008 made moderately supportive noises towards this and similar concepts. The DBCDE Future Directions for the Digital Economy consultation (report expected mid-2009) asked questions that are best addressed by a National Information Policy; indeed, this was Recommendation 7.7 in the Cutler report:

Australia should establish a National Information Strategy to optimise the flow of information in the Australian economy. The fundamental aim of a National Information Strategy should be to:

(My emphasis.) Well, we will see what DBCDE’s report says. There are a couple of good signs in recent times. One is the launch last week of the Government Information Licensing Framework website, which is more targeted at other government departments than the general public. A licensing framework is something that you might use to help you set up all your department’s information to be published under a permissive license by default. GILF was developed in Queensland and is, as their website proudly states, “leading the world in establishing a new approach to public sector information licensing.” Another is the Queensland government’s draft Right to Information Bill, which would complement the Freedom of Information Act. Where FoI is “pull” (you have to request the information to get it), RtI will apparently be “push”. It is not hard to remember criticisms made about FOI over the years, so if a “RtI” approach removes the ability of ministers to bin reports that make them look bad, that will be welcome news for all.

On the second day I enjoyed Roger Clarke on Open Access to Journal Content as a Case Study in Unlocking IP, a kind of “how far have we come?” retrospective. The paper has a lot of very interesting detail and numbers (they haven’t yet been published, but they should be available from the Unlocking IP website). It concludes that although progress has been made in creating the “appropriate legal context”,

…the exploitation of the opportunity has lagged, because of impediments to adoption, especially the lack of any positive incentive to self-deposit, and downright apathy. The outcomes to date are disappointing for proponents of OA and Unlocking IP. Only a small proportion of the literature is readily available, academics continue to be primarily dependent on the formal versions, academics continue to be uninformed and apathetic about self-deposit, and libraries continue to pay inflated prices to enable academics to gain access to the papers that they collectively wrote and that they collectively quality-assured. There are limited signs of the adoption process speeding up sufficiently to deliver significant results. OA and Unlocking IP in the area of journal articles are at serious risk of being still-born.

Hm… what to do? I thought from what I learned at Arthur Sale’s open access presentation at LCA that institutional mandatory self-deposit policies were the answer (ie. the university requires that all academics put a copy of their journal articles into the university’s institutional repository). But according to Roger Clarke that would only increase the percentage of deposited articles to 30-50%. Perhaps the other 50% is the existing, unarchived works? Can academics somehow get extra cred for depositing their back archive?

In the same session, James Dalziel spoke about Successes and Challenges for open IP business models. He went through a detailed “hypothetical” comparison between a “traditional IP” software company and an “open IP” one (ie open source). His conclusion was something like: although open IP businesses can make money, it’s an order of magnitude below the potential of traditional IP companies. Therefore, traditional IP companies cannot adapt to an open IP approach, and all that is left is WAR!

I was one of the commentators on this session and I responded that since our (FLOSS) legal foundation is valid, all we can be attacked with is FUD (negative marketing), and even that doesn’t work forever. And calling it “war” is a strange thing, since it is a one-sided war, as we aren’t aiming to topple traditional IP companies — that will just be a completely unintentional side-effect.

The conference ended with the launch of the Public Rights Licenses Database, which aims to collect all the licenses that grant general users some rights — open source and open content licenses, from the Free Software Foundation to Creative Commons, and every other two-bit license in between. :) The earliest one dates to 1979! It also indexes licenses by country — I was surprised to learn of several Australia-specific licenses I had not heard of before. Equally, if you know of any licenses that should be there but are not, email them and let them know! (feedback at worldlii.org)

(I notice that the WTFPL is not listed, but, uh…maybe there’s a reason for that.)

In summary, Unlocking IP was a fascinating crash course in where Australian copyright, open access and other ‘open’ movements might be going. Thank you to the Cyberspace Law Centre for hosting this event and provoking these conversations.

20 April, 2009 • , , ,

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Free as in Freedom miniconf recap + slides

All Slideshare slides are available at http://www.slideshare.net/event/free-as-in-freedom-miniconf-linuxconfau-2009/slideshows and you can also download plain pdf slides if you like. They’re all available under the CC-BY-SA license.

Video has not yet been released but I will post again when it is available. Thanks to Ross Turk for letting us use his equipment, and Hamish Taylor for filming – it’s very, very much appreciated.

If you attended, and you took pictures of any of my speakers and published them on the web, let me know and I will add links to my photos page. Also, if you attended, I would appreciate it if you could take the time to fill out my feedback survey. It’s short and anonymous.

First up was Arthur Sale talking about open access and progress in Australian universities under the “green road”. He explained that the only way to make open access a reality is through a “distributed” model of institutional repositories (IR), because it’s the institutions that employ the researchers and thus have the power to mandate something.

Students or researchers in universities might be interested in checking out the Wheeler declaration, and finding ways to pressure their university to adopt an OA mandate.

Next up was Laura Simes on future directions for copyright law, which looked at the mixed messages we are getting at the moment from the government, with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement looking like a disguised booby trap on one hand, and the encouraging words from the National Innovation Review, and other government departments exploring the use of free licensing, on the other. ACTA is far from dead, so if you’re interested in the topic I would suggest keeping your ears out for ways to help oppose it, over the coming year.

Next up was Matthew Landauer on his project OpenAustralia. This was a repeat from OSDC and a popular one at that. What a great project – powerful idea and open source. Hopefully more good news will be coming from that direction in 2009.

After Matthew was Liam Wyatt with Gratis & Libre, talking about ways that “free as in freedom” has been restricted in history: restricting access, censorship and destruction. I particularly like slide 19 in his set: it shows decaying film rolls. To copy them for the purpose of archiving would be illegal because they are copyrighted, but without being copied they are doomed to destruction through physical decay. His talk went over surprisingly well, given how technical LCA usually is — guess there are a number of history geeks amongst us too.

Last one before lunch was Jessica Coates with Freedom Fighting: How do we convince TPTB to relax their grip?. Jessica put this together virtually at my direct suggestion, because I know Creative Commons Australia has done lots of excellent quiet lobbying with government departments in particular. Just look at the ABS decision to put everything CC-BY. Government departments just don’t make awesome decisions like that all by themselves. :) So if you’d like to do a bit of lobbying for your cause, this talk should be helpful.

Heading up the afternoon sessions was Sarah Stokely on citizen journalism. She pointed out some of the pitfalls for online journos and also the great potential for society that citizen journalism as an activity has.

Next up, not too surprisingly the room was packed for one of the “star” speakers, Jeff Waugh’s We are the translators!. So, it was hilarious and pointed, like all good Jeff Waugh talks, and I think his take-home message was that we (at the conference) have awesome freedom, but others may not be so lucky, and we should take on the responsibility of helping others realise the dangers of closed systems. Like when you discover too late, that

After Jeff was another hit session, Simon Greener on Free and open geodata in Australia. This was a great “cliff’s notes” introduction to what geodata refers to, who the providers in Australia are, and a number of open source or open source-like projects in Australia to extend such collections. Simon has many years experience in this field and it really showed in his talk. He spend some time talking about accuracy, and was critical of projects such as OpenStreetMap for re-creating road networks from scratch, instead of concentrating on what he saw as more useful — Point of Interest (POI) data. He skipped over the section in his slides on licensing, since time was short and that part would be generally well known. I think the technical detail in this talk was particularly appreciated by the audience.

Second-last to the plate was Claudine Chionh on Public history in the digital age. She talked about two projects that she works on, Founders and Survivors which is about connecting family history with convicts records, and a yet-to-be-launched wiki-based project on Goulburn Valley local history. (I found out that I was born in the Goulburn Valley, so I can add that vital info when it launches ;), but I only lived there for a few months as an infant.) The Founders and Survivors project has a write up in the paper today which is an interesting read.

Last, but certainly not least was another “star” speaker, Rusty Russell on Free as in Market. It was an angsty rant on the joys of property rights, about how the definition of IP was “digital cropburning” (destruction of rights), ending with an interpretive dance on software patents.

Finally a few hung around for the promise of prizes, with Freedom Bingo. Since I made people make their own bingo boards, it was a bit shabbily run, but we got there in the end and prizes were duly distributed. I hope the chaps who won books (1, 2, 3, 4) read them, enjoy them and then share them, and I hope the guy who won Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals, well, I hope he likes samples. :)

Thank you to: all my speakers. Thank you for the awesome work you do for your projects, and thank you for your willingness to come to LCA and spread the word. Many of you I forcefully recruited, and thanks for your willlingness to be so recruited.
Thank you to Nick Jenkins, Donna Benjamin and Rusty Russell for encouraging me to run this. Thank you to the LCA organisers to accepting it, and thank you to the audience members who came along.

If you didn’t get to make it, please check out the slides, check out the video (when it arrives), and help these ideas spread!

(PS. You can read about the rest of my LCA on my new and geekier blog, techiturn.)

26 January, 2009 • , ,


Video: Pia Waugh talking about Open Source Futures

VITTA keynote: Pia Waugh on Open Source Futures from blip.tv

This is a video that I took at the VITTA conference (Victorian IT Teachers Association). I was there giving a workshop about using Wikipedia in the classroom (session 1202), and Pia was there keynoting (1601 — the video above) and talking about OLPCs in Australia (1307)! She was also kind enough to let me license it CC-BY-SA.

While there I also caught up with Donna Benjamin (1207) and Pru Mitchell (1203) — we three had the bad fortune to all be scheduled in the same time slot. Although with 20 simultaneous sessions, it might not be avoidable.

By comparison with ACEC, this conference had a much better representation of open source software advocates amongst its speakers. The Linux Australia stand in the exhibition was getting excellent traffic throughout Monday.

My workshop went well; the first time I’ve done anything like that, but the participants seemed engaged enough. 50 minutes is not really long enough for anything substantial, and I think a better ratio than 1:20 would be more helpful, but it’s a start!

28 November, 2008 • , ,

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How to change Wikipedia (not just one article)

This is the only place I heard about this paper — identi.ca.

It is often claimed that anyone can edit Wikipedia, and this is somewhat true for individual articles, but the overall structure is increasingly hard to change.

This is a paper by Lars Aronssen, a Wikimedia Sverige board member, who goes by the name LA2. It was presented at the Free Society Conference and Nordic Summit (FSCONS), which I was deeply envious of those who were able to attend. (WMSV was one of the three principal organisers, along with Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation Europe.)

In the paper Lars talks about his experiences implementing big changes on the Swedish Wikipedia. And they are really big — like implementing [[Category:Man]] or [[Category:Woman]] on all biography articles. If you wanted to do that on your local project how would you start? How would you rate your chances of success? What would you change about your normal approach to try and increase the odds of community acceptance?

This paper is an interesting read for those interested in the culture of the Swedish Wikipedia, but more importantly it is a must-read for anyone interested in implementing project-wide changes, such as those relating to categories or templates for large numbers of articles. It’s a very valuable case study that I will no doubt look up should I want to return to wiki-reforming. :) Much thanks to Lars for writing it up and sharing it.

Edited to add: I am a bit scared of the paper disappearing, so I have uploaded it locally.
greatchanges.pdf [132.85units_k]

03 November, 2008 • ,

Comment [3]

☍ Causes, books and other links for 2008-10-16

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.

16 October, 2008 • , ,

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"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]

The prettiest MediaWiki you've ever seen

MediaWiki derives its structure from links, templates and categories. You don’t need to do very much to develop something quite powerful. This site called culturalcartography.net only uses links, for example. They skinned up their MediaWiki and used it to develop the bulk of the site’s content, then wrote their own SVG interface that calls their MediaWiki API and presents the link web in a dynamic and interesting way.

I found this out from a paper called Building an SVG interface to MediaWiki (full paper) at SVG Open, which is currently on in Nuremberg.

Pretty skin for MediaWiki.

The edit box: see, it’s really MediaWiki underneath!

The custom-built SVG interface view that calls on the MediaWiki page of the same name, showing the link web between this page and others in the same wiki.

28 August, 2008 • , , ,

Comment [5]

Get Your FreeCon

Jon Philips:

Free Culture Conference (”Get your FreeCon”) would be a meeting of specific projects to hash out interrelationships and collective trajectories for the coming year. … The goal of the event would be to produce actual statements showing resolutions with implementation to back them up, and to announce the next 5-10 free culture priorities for the year.

Interested? Say so.

Check out also the Free Software/Free Culture Collaboration presentation given by Mike Linksvayer (Creative Commons VP) to LinuxWorld expo.

06 August, 2008 • , ,


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]

Links for 2008-02-21

© skenmy, CC-BY

21 February, 2008 • , , , , , , ,


Creative Commons Australia: Building an Australiasian commons

Apparently CCau is holding an event called building an australiasian commons in late June, Brisbane. Might be worth the trek, there look to be some interesting things on the schedule including lots of case studies and reports from overseas.

Don’t forget, I’m still maintaining the free culture events calendar, which you can subscribe to as a Google calendar or an event-based feed. If you know of any events which belong on there, please drop me a line and let me know.

30 January, 2008 • ,


linux.conf.au LinuxChix miniconf

Woot, today was the LinuxChix miniconf of linux.conf.au (LCA), one of the three big free software related conferences held around the world each year.

I spoke on Wikipedia (duh), giving a kind of second-level introduction aimed at cutting through bureaucracy by explaining what was important and what could wait until later. I always used to think I had to read all the relevant policies and guidelines before I did anything. So I would spend hours pouring over MoS pages and the like before even writing a paragraph.

Later I got much more relaxed about it and figured, correctly, that someone else would clean it up to conform to MoS if it really bothered them that much (and evidently it does, or else it’s easier to make automated changes that relate to formatting than actual content).

In a nice surprise I saw Nick Jenkins, who I didn’t realise was attending LCA. He took notes on my speech and they’re probably better than mine so I recommend reading those. :) You can also read my slides from Wikimedia Commons.

There was lots of video going on and I will link it up whenever I see it published.

Stormy Peters gave a great talk about community managers. As I listened to her talk I realised… I am a community manager. All the things she mentioned are exactly the things I do in Wikimedia, mostly for Wikimedia Commons. How interesting.

Heaps of interesting people at LCA, and interesting talks. In the unlikely event that you are reading this and also attending LCA, come and say hi. It looks like I will be attending a lot (like, six or so) talks relating to multimedia and Ogg and so on. Well if it’s that or kernel hacking… :)

+ Photo from Mary of me musing during my talk. “Is Wikipedia run by Wikia… let me think…”

29 January, 2008 • , ,


New page: events

Last night I decided there were enough free culture-ish events happening next year that it would be worth creating a calendar for them. So now there is events.

I pondered for a while the Textpattern plugins for events and calendars, but they were overly complex. So I decided to make a Google Calendar and just embed it.

.. But there doesn’t seem to be a “year” view, so it looks a bit sparse. I decided it needed an event list too. A bit of googling revealed that FeedBurner actually had a point after all: they have some thing called “BuzzBoost”, and it turned my Google calendar feed into some drag and drop code and wala – updates:

Subscribe to RSS headline updates from:
Powered by FeedBurner

So the full list is here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/freeculturecalendar. And you can add the calendar to your Google calendar: Let me know if you spot anything missing I should include.

22 December, 2007 • ,

Comment [2]

Reminder: ISEA 2008 Call for papers

International Symposium of Electronic Arts 2008 (ISEA2008) is happening in Singapore, July 2008. One of the five themes is wiki wiki:

The relative ease in developing online content with a community of ‘at a distance’ presents wiki as a model tool for tele-collaborative production. Wiki is yet another example of how technologies are changing the ways in which creative knowledge production is being transformed by enabling collaboration between diverse individuals. In this theme, we seek to initiate discussion, deliberation and development in collaborative creation using new technologies. How have new and old technologies contributed to the development of collaborative making? What are some of the issues raised by collaborative creation; for example, authorship, artistic responsibility, claims to intellectual property, conflicts and confluences of disciplinary knowledge and practices, etc. What are the spaces of such collaborative work – what are the transitional spaces between the artists’ studios and scientific labs?

We invite artistic and academic work that addresses and/or exemplifies the problems and possibilities of collaborative creative work that are enabled by technologies. Works that are created by collaborations between diverse and geographically diverse communities are especially encouraged.

Given that Singapore is just 7.5 hours away hm, that seems awfully long for just three hours time difference), it seems a shame for me to not even try to submit something. So I will have a think about it. Collaboration is something the free culture movement has down pat, after all, and Wikimedia especially so. Perhaps a look at the collaborative nature of the FPC process might be of interest.

It seems like something Joi might attend. Would be cool if there were some other Wikimedians around!

Abstract submissions close November 14th.

(Thanks to Adam @ FLOSS Manuals for telling me about it in the first place!)

29 October, 2007 • , ,


CaFeConf 2007; unacademic knowledge

CaFeConf 2007 is just finished, and WMF had no less than Wikimedia Argentina’s Patricio Lorente representing. CaFeConf 2007 is the 6th conference of open/free software and GNU/Linux and is held each year in Buenos Aires (at least, as far as I can tell from Google’s translation of the Spanish Wikipedia article – any volunteers for translating it to English? :)).

Patricio’s slides are licensed under the GFDL and there is also video although the sound quality in particular is not too great. I believe his talk about the problems wiki communities face as they grow in size, but since I don’t understand Spanish I can’t tell you the nuances of it.

I was lucky enough to have Patricio attend my Wikimania talk. Lucky, because Patricio is a true believer, passionate and enthusiastic, and interested in the kinds of problems I mentioned in my talk. (And a lovely chap to boot.)

One of the last slides from his talk says this:

Recordar, todo el tiempo, que son
los novatos quienes llegan con
contenido nuevo en su equipaje.
La megalólopis Wikipedia debe
poder recibirlos con la calidez y
comprensión propia de la pequeña

Or, as rendered by Google Translate:

Remember, all the time, which are
Novices who arrive with
New content in his luggage.
The encyclopedia should megalólopis
Able to receive them with warmth and
Own understanding of the small

I suppose this is a poetic restating of WP:BITE, which is just as well, because it never hurts to be reminded why exactly biting newcomers is bad (not just because others are watching). (If you can speak Spanish I’d love to know a more natural translation.)

I did an interview this morning on a friendly morning talk show, your basic “what is Wikipedia, how do you know it’s reliable, WikiScanner/Captain Smirk" deal. At one point they commented on my job title (computational linguist) and said something like, “I suppose that helps with all the wiki stuff.” And I remembered no… Wikipedia is not just for the geeks and the technically literate. Two million articles, big deal. If we really want to accurately represent “the sum of all human knowledge” we need input from all humans, not just the ones who understands 1s and 0s.

I mentioned farming and parenting as two fields that we need more input on. I have a farmer friend and I know he knows a ton of things that are poorly represented in Wikipedia, if at all. Farmers are generally out farming, rather than watching morning TV with a laptop in hand, no surprise there. But I guess in the future there will be more conflict between “knowledge” and “stuff without sources”. The ever-increasing crackdown on the need for citations and reliable sources should make the showdown necessary. Because it is no secret that science and the arts and academia have not studied everything that makes up people’s lives, even in a western country like Australia.

Do I sound anti-sources? I’m not. For a good many topics a reliable sources crackdown is the only way to go. But when otherwise uncontroversial, useful articles get deleted as “non-notable” because there are no possible sources because academia hasn’t come to it yet, I think we are not applying the fifth pillar quite often enough.

If there is no conflict, it could only mean the sources brigade had a victory and the keepers of “unacademic knowledge” left early, defeated. I would consider that a loss.

23 October, 2007 • , ,

Comment [1]

Bits & bobs/is shared vision more important than a specific license?

Heather Ford recently posted an update on iCommons which led to a Declaration on Open Education. She made this comment:

The fact that the first, great draft of the ‘Cape Town Open Education Declaration’ has already been circulated, the fact that its impact was not ‘watered down’ by this “dispute” [about NC or not NC], and the fact that this group has recognised that standing together in our shared vision of what education should look like in the future is more important than the (important but less important) differences of opinion about copyright licences. This is a conclusion that I had long ago but didn’t know how to express: this movement has very little to do with copyright and everything to do with people; it has very little to do with being free to share content and everything to do with sharing perspectives and fellowship.

Hmmm. I don’t know how to feel about this. I would like to be convinced on this point. But currently each time I see some cool new project launched under CC-BY-NC my heart sinks a little. I don’t see a way around the conclusion that the Creative Commons NC clause especially creates a divide among content that maybe could have been avoided. If CC educated people more about how damaging a NC clause can be. If CC helped let individuals see their place in a long and evolved tradition of free culture. Maybe if CC didn’t offer it at all in the first place….

And when I read about someone who wants to release a ‘free software library’ under BY-ND terms I really think, someone missed the boat here… how did we let that happen?

23 October, 2007 • , , , ,


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