Wikis, Culture and Web 2.0

In his keynote speech yesterday, Jimmy Wales talked briefly about the history of Wikipedia, noting that it is owned by the Wikimedia Foundation (a non-profit charity). The Foundation is moving from St. Petersburg, Florida, to San Francisco. Wales didn’t mention that the Foundation had just (the press release is dated December 3rd) hired Sue Gardner as its new Executive Director.

He believes very much in free culture (that’s "free as in speech, not free as in beer") and called Wikipedia the "Red Cross for information," which is why Wikipedia would never be sold to Google. It’s the 8th most popular site on the Web, according to Alexa. He is dedicated to expanding the language base of Wikipedia and wants to extend the languages represented there particularly to African ones. The future of licensing is the Free Documentation License (FDL), which is how Wikipedia is now licensed. At the conference he announced that the new version of FDL will contain a mechanism that will allow Wikipedia content to be relicensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. A press release I received late yesterday, however, phrased it as "The Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees has resolved to formally request the Free Software Software Foundation (FSF) modify the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) so that mass collaborative projects such as Wikipedia can use and license existing GFDL content under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) license."

Wikia is a different animal, allowing people to create wikis using the collaboration model. Many of these, such as the one devoted to the Muppets, are created by avid fans. In creating its search engine, Wikia strives for transparency, community, quality, and privacy. He contrasted his open source approach with those of major Web search engines, such as Google, Yahoo!, and Ask, which do not reveal how they work. On social philosophy, Wales asked "What kind of society do we want to live in?" His answer was giving people maximum freedom but if they do harm, there must be a mechanism in place to deal with it.

Here are some of my other takeaways from the talk and the question and answer session:

There’s a wiki for Star Wars fans called Wookipedia.

The Wikimedia Foundation is working closely with Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive although they have different objectives in preserving information from the Web

Libraries can’t be warehouses, they must be living, breathing entities to survive

Translation from one language to another is a nontrivial problem

Students should be encouraged to write a Wikipedia entry as part of course projects but should not vandalize pages to see how fast they’re corrected

Wikipedia is not original research, it’s a summary of knowledge

Wikipedia is not paper, there’s room for an infinite amount of information

Two motivations for participating in Wikipedia: It’s humanitarian and it’s fun


Marydee Ojala

Editor, ONLINE: Exploring Technology & Resources for Information Professionals

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