Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wikipedia, el primer dia

I am not a good traveler. I am freaked out being in a situation like this morning, when I tried to order a coffee in a local café with my primitive and comical Spanish and get away clean. I sit down and order oon café con letchay pore favore. The guy says something to me, and I look at him and nod, open-mouthed, like an idiot. He probably said something like, “would you like anything else?” and I just nod and stare at him, and so he says something a little more irritatedly and impatiently, something probably like “well, what would you like, then?” but I just keep nodding, like, Yeah, whatever you’re saying sounds good. He sort of shrugs, takes the idiot’s money and I chug my boiling coffee and get out of there.

It was interesting to hear Jimmy Wales at the opening press conference say how the cultural and language differences of all the attendees of the Wikimania from around the world, how the differences are trumped by "Wikipedia culture, Geek culture."

There's a culture, and it has a heavy technological component, but 'Geek culture' doesn’t sum up the powerful and uniting story. What is the story?

For me, it’s hard to top the goosebumps I get from the vision written on the business card. Is that the biggest story?

In addition to the vision of world-knowledge shared with everyone on earth, you hear a lot of almost sacred talk about how that knowledge was created: the belief in the people, the openness, the sharing, the transparency.

Then there’s the why of all this, the belief in the power of ideas, ideas that are free not just as in free beer, as Michael Snow, Wikimedia’s board Chair, said, but free to use and modify and share and share a modified version of, and make money off of it, or not.

Then there’s the people getting together part. People coming from all over, sharing ideas, giving their talents in order to build something beyond what any of us could create as individuals.

For me one of the most compelling aspects of the story is the unknown part of it. Nobody knows where it will all lead, this tool that lets human beings create things collaboratively. Nobody knew the story would unfold as dramatically as it has. Nobody knew a little free online encyclopedia would turn into the largest assemblage of knowledge, ever? What happens next? Jimmy Wales said we’ve only had a tiny hint of the power of this movement.

The line up of Wikimedia's investors – The Ford Foundation, Hewlett, Alfred P. Sloan, and today they announced that the Omidyar Network's $2m dollar grant – gives you an idea of how important this work is becoming. It’s a privilege to be a part of it.

If I had to reduce it all, right now, for me, it’s about growth, the flowering of our human potential. That’s the stuff that is just too exciting to me - the explosion, a becoming, the wave that we are all riding on, in one way or another.


Ashly Stewart said...

First, learning Spanish... err why is it so hard? I have been trying my whole life. I bet you gave that guy a good laugh. Second... you are working on some great projects. This is some neat stuff, thanks for sharing!

Looking forward to more.

notafish said...

Welcome to the fascinating adventure of Wiki(p/m)edia. :)

Two things. The vision statement used to say: "That's what we're doing" instead of "that's our commitment". I liked that better, because, effectively, I think that's what Wikimedia is doing, bit by bit. See here for when the change occurred. Of course, we're committed, but commitment is nothing if you don't _just do it_.

Second, I don't think that Wikipedia culture trumps all other cultures. As a matter of fact, I would say just the opposite. Collaborative work, in my opinion, tends to exacerbate cultures and their differences. Wikipedia culture (rather than geek culture - that was true about 5 years ago, isn't anymore, I think) is a red thread, something to cling on if all other were to disappear, but it definitely does not replace national, regional or even individual cultures. If it were the case, then in my opinion, Wikimedia would have failed to fulfill its mission. On the contrary, Wikimedia projects give cultures a platform to find a new strengthened identity. Which I find good. Very good. And highly interesting, because there's nothing like knowing your own culture to come to appreciate fully that of others.

I'm Jelly said...

Thank you for your comment, Wikipedian!

Apparently, "that's what we're doing" implied "we've done it" to some people, and those people thought the "...commitment" line better implied work-in-progress. I don't know. I usually cringe at word-smithing and legalese, but the new version doesn't bug me that much. I think you could cut them both and the thought is implied anyway.

Great comment about culture. Yeah, WP/WM is not a homogenizing thing, for sure, thank goodness.

It's mind-blowing, the vision of a world sharing the sum of all knowledge - the unknown part of it is so exciting, the "imagine" part...

Something else that excites me: At Wikimania, Jimmy suggested looking back at old versions of articles to see how the thing has improved? I've done that a few times now, and it's just crazy. It's getting way smarter. Nuts. For so many people now, it's become their primary way of gaining an understanding about the world... Crazy.

Participation seems to be a theme I hear a lot. Welcoming more in, welcoming more minds. It's the secret to the whole thing, the participation, so how do we make sure we're doing all we can?

There are some really simple tools that can help, but Jimmy and Sue are talking about deeper cultural things too. I kind of don't want to get too immersed in the drama, I want to keep it as pure as it is in my mind at the moment - what the creation of this wiki-pedia (and wikisource, wikiquotes, commons, wikibooks, wictionary, wikispecies, etc.) means to us... what this open/free/share thing is all about... what might result from this vision, what it could mean for the democratization of knowledge and protecting culture and heritage and language... how it may be the most largest single collection of knowledge ever and it was created by US... Wow.... As the art director working on it said, "It's deep." Very deep. I can get lost in all of it, and I prefer to! It's a good story, with so many facets, and more and more people - Hewlett, Ford, Sloan, Omidyar, Stanton, NIH, museums, etc. - are coming to the conclusion that it is truly significant... it's an important and marvelous thing that we've created, a shared treasure...

Off to continue to ponder these things. Thanks for the thoughts.


notafish said...

Thoughts are always easy to give ;). It's the doing that's harder.

And by the way, I consider myself a wikiMedian, not a wikiPedian. I promise you you'll master the P vs M difference one day. It took us all a whole lot of time!

Anonymous said...

How does "the flowering of our human potential" impact the 25,000 children that die each day because they were born into a life of extreme poverty? Most of the world's population live in countries where the income differentials are widening. A billion people can't read or sign their names. So when you speak of the flowering of our human potential, you are speaking of the minority.

I'm Jelly said...

Hard to know how to respond to your comment about human suffering, Anonymous. I'm not sure this blawg or any comments here will ever provide any satisfaction for you. If you're interested in further discussion, email Thanks.