The Longest Now

The Wikipedian spirit: Dr. Senghai Poduvan
Saturday December 10th 2011, 5:48 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,international,meta,Uncategorized,wikipedia

Dr. Poduvan is a 75-year old farmer from Tamil Nadu and Wikipedian. He captures everything I love about Wikipedia in a few sentences:

When I purchased my first computer in 2005, just using the mouse was difficult because my hands shake. But by 2009 I had discovered Wikipedia. One day, I created an article about ancient Indian poets. I added about 30 of their names to the page and then I went to sleep. The next morning, I found 473 names on the page. That is what makes Wikipedia work!

So it is. Please remember to contribute to Wikipedia, one list and article at a time. (in Hindi · in Tamil)

Movement Roles: Understanding roles and responsibilities in a broad Movement
Monday June 06th 2011, 6:25 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,international,popular demand,wikipedia

As Wikimedia has grown as a movement from a website and cool idea to a family of sites and a network of national and international non-profits, we have developed many ways to engage partners and the media, raise funds, and make large-scale decisions.  National chapters have become significant non-profits in their own right, and collaboration between chapters and the global Foundation has become more intricate.  For instance, chapters today run and support international events, offer scholarships and grants to community members, raise significant funds directly through the annual sitenotices, and run branding initiatives — including the global campaign for “Wikipedia as World Heritage Site” organized recently by Wikimedia Deutschland.

In 2009, during Wikimedia’s strategic planning process for the coming five years, a task force focused on movement roles was set up.  Its task was to research how individual contributors, Chapters, and the Foundation currently interact, and how they should ideally work together, and how this happened in other global organizations.  This was the most abstract part of optimizing operations, which included discussions of how we  guarantee financial sustainability, build partnerships and infrastructure, and influence public  perception and policy.

This group tackled questions of how the different parts of the movement develop strategy, make decisions across the movement, and communicate with one another.  A few initial recommendations were made, but these issues required more detailed discussion.[1] So a Board working group was created to continue the work.

This group chose to focus for its first year on the roles of formal organizations in the movement — the WMF and its Committees, Chapters, and other structured groups that should have similar formal recognition.  We tabled the equally complex issue of the roles of individual contributors, wiki projects, and other informal groups to a separate discussion.

The result of this work will be a set of recommendations to the movement as a whole – expressed in a movement charter that all formal parts of the movement can endorse, to the WMF, and to chapters.  The project and its recommendations are being developed on the Meta-wiki.  All are welcome to participate in the working group and discussions (or simply browse our meeting notes).   By Wikimania this year, the group aims to have recommendations on new models for organizations that the WMF should recognize (Associations and Partner Organizations),  on movement standards for transparency and auditing, and more.

I will post a series of updates about the project over the coming weeks, leading up to in-person discussions at Wikimania.  If you have questions about the project or any of its targets, suggestions about important issues we aren’t yet considering, &c – please let me know on my talk page.


Wikimedia Commons: Happy 10 Millionth!
Friday April 15th 2011, 7:58 pm
Filed under: international,metrics,poetic justice,popular demand,wikipedia

Commons hits eight figures of media. The WMF blog post about it is lovely.

Commons growth continues to be geometric and visually stunning. And the extra horsepower running it (and making regular dumps!) marks a great improvement from last year. Now we need to help the community there keep up with its popularity!

Wikipedia loves editors: 2011 campaigns?
Saturday February 05th 2011, 10:16 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,popular demand,wikipedia

Wikimedia had a terribly successful fundraising campaign ths year, with a team of stats-loving traffic and feedback analysts learning a lot about our reading audience and how to connect with them. There was diverse support for the idea of running some banners to promote donating time and expertise and edits as well as money, and some general-purpose “discover Wikimedia” banners were run the first week of January, but this was soon overtaken by preparations for the (wickedly fun) 10th anniversary celebrations.

We should do more of this. The idea of inviting people more explicitly to edit, and running campaigns dedicated to this, is more fundamental to the nature of Wikipedia than fundraising itself. We should be thinking about all year round, spending as much time and effort campaigning for meaningful content contributions as we have for funds.

What would that look like? Here is one idea: WikiProjects could be encouraged to write copy for their own banners, from a hook to a detailed call for what they need. These would be run for a % of new visitors proportional to the project’s capacity to absorb new contributors. A few generic projects would be geared up for a larger influx of editors, and established editors would be asked to help work with those newbies (and to set up comfort zones where they can find and help one another).

The generic projects would ramp up slowly; with one month’s newbies helping welcome those who came the next month. Some new policies regarding working with newbies would need to be proposed on the major wikis, possibly with a group like the original Fire Brigade dedicated to helping the ambassadors and welcomers with the extra load. And the specific WikiProjects could continue to draw in as many new editors as they want, and could try out different messages to attract just the right sort of reader (including efforts at targetting specific kinds of readers).

What do you think? How would you reach out to readers if you could change the way the site looks? (What ever happened to the idea of highlighting the “edit this page” tab?) Over 1% of people who saw the best fundraising messages clicked through them — imagine what we could do if we showed all of those people that they could really edit.

Wikipedia Demographics
Saturday February 05th 2011, 4:57 am
Filed under: international,metrics,wikipedia

We still need better demographic data, and an understanding of our own sample biases, as this recent floatingsheep article indicates.

Mapping global communities
Thursday January 27th 2011, 1:41 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,international,metrics,wikipedia

We’ve been working on a few different visualizations of the OLPC community around the world.  The most enjoyable and colorful is olpcMAP, a collaborative mashup designed by Nick Doiron that blossomed after last month’s map sprint.  (Nick is an avid map hacker and long-time OLPC volunteer who has also written the popular Map activity for offline Map-creation and -marking using XOs.)

Before this map was launched, the sorts of global visualizations we had were limited to large established groups (mapping chapters and major deployments), average statistics by region, or thousands of scattered individuals without a coherent feel.  olpcMAP combines this with personal and class projects from hackers and teachers around the world, adds search and an API for reuse, and feels above all approachable.

At the moment you can import JSON data and can choose between Google Maps and OSM layers.  The search matches both on locations on the map and on keywords used in marker descriptions. It is designed around the Google App Engine, and the growing olpcMAP API lets you request images, iframes, or KML to use this as  backend for further remixing (say, embedding a screenshot or overlay of part of the map elsewhere on the web).

You can browse the olpcMAP code and try setting up your own instance.  The framework is quite general, and it is straightforward to brand it for other communities.

I would love to see this sort of map of Wikimedians around the world, for instance — I suspect that we would see a very different picture of ourselves as a community than our current self-image.  The distribution of 10th Anniversary events this month was a first step in this direction, and was a surprise to many people.

And it would be amazing to see comparative maps of different global communities — Firefox users, Ubuntu hackers, Red Cross volunteers — using this model.   If you’ve tried to set up your own olpcMAP instance (if this becomes a general community-mapping framework, perhaps we should pick a more universal name), or have features you would love to see implemented, please let us know.

A Brace of Copyright Dilemmas
Tuesday April 20th 2010, 12:14 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang

Here are two copyright dilemmas that have come up over the past weeks.  I welcome comments and related stories from those of you with experience in these areas.

Streetmap of Cambridge, England

Map of Cambridge, England from OpenStreetMap

1. Can the locations of important places visible from a map, and paths traceable on a map, be extracted from a map to which one does not have copyright?  If so, what are the risks? Many different perspectives tangle with one another. One comprehensive blog posts posits that it may be alright under copyright, but not socially acceptable in open mapping circles (such as OpenStreetMap), nor a protection against being sued by mapping orgs with deep pockets, nor useful if you wish to convince map-data reusers that it is safe to build any sort of application on top of the resulting data without fear of hassle down the line.

Editors of Wikipedia and of OpenStreetMap don’t agree on how important these topics are, so Wikipedians regularly identify geoinformation from uncited map sources that OSM editors by default decide they cannot use.  If the two communities understood one another’s positions and agreed to take different stances, that would be interesting — but at present there are two separate conversations that aren’t considering the same criteria or audiences.

Coca Cola logo

Coca Cola logo, in the public domain

2. Is it risky for an organization that wishes to protect its trademarks (from confusing misuse and dilution) to license those marks under a free copyright license?  If so, what are the risks?  This is a topic that comes up every year or so for Wikimedia, and is recently a hot one, as many Wikimedia projects today refuse to host any images that are not available under a free license, to simplify bulk reuse of dumps.  The Swedish Wikipedians recently removed all instances of the Wikimedia logos from their project, since those logos are not freely licensed.  No clear answers have emerged about what the risks are; the only definitive statement we have worked out is that ”it does not improve one’s trademark protection to release marks under a free license”.  On the other hand, that could be said of most usability improvements we make to the projects, and it would improve overall distributability and reuse of page and media dumps & help avoid these tense annual debates.

For comparison:

  • Mozilla licenses its logos under the MPL and the GPL.  They don’t beat you over the head with that information, and make it abundandtly clear wherever the logos appear that they are protected by trademark; but they freely license them.
  • Debian licenses its logo under the GPL.  (Its community logo, which was designed as something free for the community to use, quickly became its central trademark.)
  • Coca-Cola and other older organizations have logos whose copyright has passed into the public domain.  They seem to remain protected by trademark.

Scoping human knowledge
Sunday March 14th 2010, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As Wikimedia moves through its movement-wide strategy process, I’ve been thinking a lot about the scope of human knowledge, how far we’ve come since we started passing on oral, then written, then digital knowledge.

A progression of awareness

Wiki project logos

Some changes have come naturally with the development of our understanding of the universe.  As we understood more about the Earth and Space, we had a framework within which to fill out detailed maps and charts and cross-sections. As we learned about the component parts of the body, we could come up with a layered anatomy.  As we improved our understanding of mathematics, music, and language, we could identify different types of each, with classes of similarity and building blocks, making more advanced knowledge possible and possible to describe succinctly.

Some knowledge (say, 3D models of the center of the Earth) consists of so many small individual pieces of information that it was hard to dream of holding it in one place, before we had computers for automation and digital databases for collation.  Other valuable knowledge has yet to be developed (say, models for the efficiency of groups of millions of people; models for a full society of physical production and industry for 15 billion people where inputs match outputs and there are no ‘externalities’ as fudge factors).

Some things which we do not currently know are hard to describe, because language about them has not yet been developed.  Some things that we know imperfectly (say, a comprehensive species survey of the planet) require millions of individual observations, but are only pursued by thousands of expert individuals.  And some things we ‘know‘ in some sense (say, the full text of every book in a nationally funded library in some country on the planet), but are unable to access that knowledge readily.  If your life depended on finding a sentence in any one of those books in a week, you probably could; but you could not [yet] discover how many of those books contain a specific string.

Divide, specialize, automate, and conquer

Now we have the power to draw on input from billions of people with little more than publicity about how to contribute.  Connection and creation are easy and enjoyable, and some aspects of organizing knowledge (search, tracking) are easy and cheap.  So: what aspects of knowledge should we improve first?

Wikipedia has done a reasonable job of capturing and providing ready access to editable summaries of notable topicsWiktionary, OmegaWiki, and now Wordnik in a different fashion, have done something similar for access to editable information about words (though of these, only Wiktionary is readily editable by anyone).  OpenStreetMap has organized a few % of the world’s road segments and features and inspired similar communities of practice.  Wikimedia Commons has organized some of the world’s best freely-licensed images, while smaller projects such as Fotopedia focus more keenly on beauty.

Freebase makes an effort to organize metadata about and links to over 10 million topics, on Wikipedia and in other publicly-readable databases, regardless of their underlying copyright.  And AboutUs has done a fair job of capturing information about internet domains. The Encyclopedia of Life and Wikispecies each aim to gather images and information about the almost 2 million known species, though neither comes close to comprehensive coverage yet.

Moving away from projects with comprehensive targets: Wikiquote offers an editable compendium of quotes, though it is less intent on being complete than some of the aforementioned projects.  Yelp efficiently covers services and businesses in a limited number of cities, and has inspired a new wave of amateur reviewers and critics.

Then there are public services that are not particularly editable or distributed; but use bots and scripts to draw from the work of millions of others; they could be the seeds of truly great collaborative efforts.   The Internet Archive specializes in these, from the Wayback Machine, which has a comprehensively amazing repository of webpages, to OpenLibrary, with metadata and basic information about a few % of the world’s published books.  And one could say that Google itself is based on the power of distributed organization of knowledge.

What comes next?

These projects cover only a small selection of the world’s knowledge, but a significant portion of the collaborative knowledge-gathering sites in the world. Shouldn’t there be hundreds or thousands of these projects?

Help support Wikimedia!
Friday January 01st 2010, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s a glorious New Year!  Happy 2*3*5*67, everyone.  I’m spending the new decade in Tokyo, and love it here.  Now to find a few puzzle box craftsmen…

Meanwhile, Wikimedia is running its annual fundraising drive — please donate to support Wikipedia, Wikibooks, or your favorite wiki Project.

The Tower of Babel : normalizing language representation
Sunday August 23rd 2009, 3:27 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,popular demand,SJ,wikipedia

Part of a series on difficult topics from the Wikimedia community

There are some perennial projects that take more than a single barnraising to understand and plan for. One is the issue of supporting different languages equally — the world’s largest and smallest languages are both underrepresented among the projects.  While I would like to see Wikimedia become a model for the rest of the online world in this area, how a global community can provide support, bugfixes, and advice to different/new language groups is an issue for many multilingual projects.  So I offer these questions to all readers – feel free to answer them for the projects you are most familiar with.

  • What technical and other support do various language projects need to become awesome?
  • What variations are needed for projects whose main goal is language and cultural preservation?
  • What sharing of advice or practices would make starting new projects easier?
  • How can established projects help new projects with outreach, communication, and planning?

Let me offer one example of how this has been difficult to grasp within Wikimedia: discussions on the early international list were generally in English.  This led to a certain founder effect among participants, and in how the projects are today framed to the world, from elaborations of the vision to interface design.  And this has forked discussions of what language projects need – those in the language of the project, which can happen easily and fluidly among its participants and contributors, and those meta-discussions in one or two shared languages with the potential of setting Wikimedia-wide policy or affecting all projects.

As another example: non-Latin character sets, and cultural differences about editing and participation across different parts of the world, have always been part of discussions about how Wikipedia and its sister projects should advance.  Nevertheless, the early language communities drawn to the project were largely European, and issues that only affect non-Latin readers can still take a while to fix (for instance, replacements for Roman-alphabet captchas, or fixes to javascript and css layouts in corner cases).

What are your examples? What am I leaving out?  How can the global community and the Foundation better support small and underrepresented languages?  Feel free to leave links to current or historical discussions about problems and opportunities.

My Wikimedia platform
Thursday July 30th 2009, 6:34 am
Filed under: chain-gang,international,popular demand,wikipedia

I’ve organized my thoughts about being a good Board member in my platform for the Wikimedia Board.

The most common questions I have heard since this year’s elections began are, what does the Foundation do? and what is the Board of Trustees for? I posted answers to these questions and a few more.

People also ask, how do I qualify to vote? To be eligible to vote,

  • You must have 600 edits as of June 1, and 50 within the past 6 months.
  • You may need to create a Unified Login to count edits on more than one project; or to vote from your main wiki.
  • If you are not eligible, you can still encourage fellow Wikimedians to vote, or leave suggestions for future elections

I am more intent on this year’s election than I have been in any year past – in part because the Board’s role has been shifting away from one that actively engages and challenges the community, something valuable Agnela and Anthere brought to the Board that I miss.  I am deeply concerned by the lack of community growth for the past two years, and the complete stagnation of new project development (despite the growth of new independent educational free knowledge projects that requested Wikimedia hosting). And I was just talking to my friend Bibhusan Bista, who said that there is definite interest in the Foundation in Nepal, and in contributing to Wikipedia’s spirit of openness; but of course few editors there feel they can engage in related discussions (and none, for instance, would be eligible to vote).

So I have two goals for my campaign beyond getting elected: to inspire people to vote and remind them why a good foundation matters, and to encourage them to raise community priorities and requests of the foundation, while attention is on governance over the next two weeks (and while you can get an immediate response from at least three future Board members, something often hard to come by).

My request to you, if you appreciate Wikipedia and want to see it thrive, whether or not you have the edit count needed to vote: please leave suggestions about how Wikimedia should grow, blog about the election and your reasons for caring about it, and help support the election in smaller languages and projects.

on the future of Wikipedia
Wednesday July 22nd 2009, 12:45 pm
Filed under: international,wikipedia

A number of recent initiatives have been started to plan for the future of Wikimedia projects and of Wikipedia in particular. The Foundation has made a 12-month Strategic Planning initiative one of their top priorities for the coming year, and hired three staff and an outside consultancy for the purpose of organizing input from the communities.

On the English Wikipedia, the Arbitration Committee tried to organize a community think tank to provide research and advice on community development and long-range plans, something which is generally wanted and needed by the community, but which people didn’t like having associated with the AC. (personally I think the idea will work fine once people get rid of application processes and acceptance metrics, and simply encourage everyone to take part in a focused sort of brainstorming, in a well-ordered way.)

At the New York Wikiconference this coming weekend, a number of the talks are about planning for outreach and future chapter and project growth — something it would be good to see more of at local events and on-wiki.  And I am running for the Wikimedia Board in part to help vitalize and expand Wikipedia’s sister projects, which have never emerged from its shadow (while still promising the same sort of universal single-source for free knowledge that we would all love to see and use).

So… what would you like to see in Wikipedia’s future?  What have you been waiting to happen for years that hasn’t yet come to pass?  What would you like to see from Wikibooks, Wikiversity, Wiktionary, Wikinews, or Wikisource?  Are you still secretly hoping that Wikispecies will merge with the Encyclopedia of Life?  Do you want Wikiquote to be as popular as LyricWiki, only legal? Are you happier with Enciclopedia Libre and WikiZnanie?  Let me know.  The best ideas will be thrown up on the whiteboard at the wikiconference.

Monday July 20th 2009, 1:52 pm
Filed under: SJ,Uncategorized,wikipedia

I am running for the Board again this year, with the hope of bringing a stronger community voice to the Board, and organizing good and frequent open discussions between the Board and community about priorities, core services, new initiatives, and the like.  Angela organized a few open meetings long ago when she first joined the Board which I really appreciated, and which encouraged some previously invisible community members to come forward with good ideas.

Meanwhile, my friend Kat Walsh has not yet stood for re-election to the Wikimedia Board of Trustees, though I hope she will!

Update: she did, and she was reelected for another term!  Congratulations 🙂

She is among the last of a certain breed of board members who have been strong advocates for community involvement in key decisions, and we could use more.  The current Wikimedia Foundation is strongly in support of openness even without nagging from the Board – for instance in framing the upcoming year-long strategic planning as a process to facilitate and crystalize plans from the many communities – but without active community trustees we might no longer be so lucky a few years from now.

My official statement, and throwback to an earlier era, after the jump.


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