Understanding Wikimedia, or, the Heavy Metal Umlaut, one decade on

It has been nearly a full decade since Jon Udell’s classic screencast about Wikipedia’s article on the Heavy Metal Umlaut (current textJan. 2005). In this post, written for Paul Jones’ “living and working online” class, I’d like to use the last decade’s changes to the article to illustrate some points about the modern Wikipedia.1

Measuring change

At the end of 2004, the article had been edited 294 times. As we approach the end of 2014, it has now been edited 1,908 times by 1,174 editors.2

This graph shows the number of edits by year – the blue bar is the overall number of edits in each year; the dotted line is the overall length of the article (which has remained roughly constant since a large pruning of band examples in 2007).

 

The dropoff in edits is not unusual — it reflects both a mature article (there isn’t that much more you can write about metal umlauts!) and an overall slowing in edits in English Wikipedia (from a peak of about 300,000 edits/day in 2007 to about 150,000 edits/day now).3

The overall edit count — 2000 edits, 1000 editors — can be hard to get your head around, especially if you write for a living. Implications include:

  • Style is hard. Getting this many authors on the same page, stylistically, is extremely difficult, and it shows in inconsistencies small and large. If not for the deeply acculturated Encyclopedic Style we all have in our heads, I suspect it would be borderline impossible.
  • Most people are good, most of the time. Something like 3% of edits are “reverted”; i.e., about 97% of edits are positive steps forward in some way, shape, or form, even if imperfect. This is, I think, perhaps the single most amazing fact to come out of the Wikimedia experiment. (We reflect and protect this behavior in one of our guidelines, where we recommend that all editors Assume Good Faith.)

The name change, tools, and norms

In December 2008, the article lost the “heavy” from its name and became, simply, “metal umlaut” (explanation, aka “edit summary“, highlighted in yellow):

A few take aways:

  • Talk pages: The screencast explained one key tool for understanding a Wikipedia article – the page history. This edit summary makes reference to another key tool – the talk page. Every Wikipedia article has a talk page, where people can discuss the article, propose changes, etc.. In this case, this user discussed the change (in November) and then made the change in December. If you’re reporting on an article for some reason, make sure to dig into the talk page to fully understand what is going on.
  • Sources: The user justifies the name change by reference to sources. You’ll find little reference to them in 2005, but by 2008, finding an old source using a different term is now sufficient rationale to rename the entire page. Relatedly…
  • Footnotes: In 2008, there was talk of sources, but still no footnotes. (Compare the story about Motley Crue in Germany in 2005 and now.) The emphasis on foonotes (and the ubiquitous “citation needed”) was still a growing thing. In fact, when Jon did his screencast in January 2005, the standardized/much-parodied way of saying “citation needed” did not yet exist, and would not until June of that year! (It is now used in a quarter of a million English Wikipedia pages.) Of course, the requirement to add footnotes (and our baroque way of doing so) may also explain some of the decline in editing in the graphs above.

Images, risk aversion, and boldness

Another highly visible change is to the Motörhead art, which was removed in November 2011 and replaced with a Mötley Crüe image in September 2013. The addition and removal present quite a contrast. The removal is explained like this:

remove File:Motorhead.jpg; no fair use rationale provided on the image description page as described at WP:NFCC content criteria 10c

This is clear as mud, combining legal issues (“no fair use rationale”) with Wikipedian jargon (“WP:NFCC content criteria 10c”). To translate it: the editor felt that the “non-free content” rules (abbreviated WP:NFCC) prohibited copyright content unless there was a strong explanation of why the content might be permitted under fair use.

This is both great, and sad: as a lawyer, I’m very happy that the community is pre-emptively trying to Do The Right Thing and take down content that could cause problems in the future. At the same time, it is sad that the editors involved did not try to provide the missing fair use rationale themselves. Worse, a rationale was added to the image shortly thereafter, but the image was never added back to the article.

So where did the new image come from? Simply:

boldly adding image to lead

“boldly” here links to another core guideline: “be bold”. Because we can always undo mistakes, as the original screencast showed about spam, it is best, on balance, to move forward quickly. This is in stark contrast to traditional publishing, which has to live with printed mistakes for a long time and so places heavy emphasis on Getting It Right The First Time.

In brief

There are a few other changes worth pointing out, even in a necessarily brief summary like this one.

  • Wikipedia as a reference: At one point, in discussing whether or not to use the phrase “heavy metal umlaut” instead of “metal umlaut”, an editor makes the point that Google has many search results for “heavy metal umlaut”, and another editor points out that all of those search results refer to Wikipedia. In other words, unlike in 2005, Wikipedia is now so popular, and so widely referenced, that editors must be careful not to (indirectly) be citing Wikipedia itself as the source of a fact. This is a good problem to have—but a challenge for careful authors nevertheless.
  • Bots: Careful readers of the revision history will note edits by “ClueBot NG“. Vandalism of the sort noted by Jon Udell has not gone away, but it now is often removed even faster with the aid of software tools developed by volunteers. This is part of a general trend towards software-assisted editing of the encyclopedia.
  • Translations: The left hand side of the article shows that it is in something like 14 languages, including a few that use umlauts unironically. This is not useful for this article, but for more important topics, it is always interesting to compare the perspective of authors in different languages.

Other thoughts?

I look forward to discussing all of these with the class, and to any suggestions from more experienced Wikipedians for other lessons from this article that could be showcased, either in the class or (if I ever get to it) in a one-decade anniversary screencast. :)

  1. I still haven’t found a decent screencasting tool that I like, so I won’t do proper homage to the original—sorry Jon! []
  2. Numbers courtesy X’s edit counter. []
  3. It is important, when looking at Wikipedia statistics, to distinguish between stats about Wikipedia in English, and Wikipedia globally — numbers and trends will differ vastly between the two. []

My Wikimania 2014 talks

Primarily what I did during Wikimania was chew on pens.

Discussing Fluid Lobbying at Wikimania 2014, by Sebastiaan ter Burg, under CC BY 2.0

However, I also gave some talks.

The first one was on Creative Commons 4.0, with Kat Walsh. While targeted at Wikimedians, this may be of interest to others who want to learn about CC 4.0 as well.

Second one was on Open Source Hygiene, with Stephen LaPorte. This one is again Wikimedia-specific (and I’m afraid less useful without the speaker notes) but may be of interest to open source developers more generally.

The final one was on sharing; video is below (and I’ll share the slides once I figure out how best to embed the notes, which are pretty key to understanding the slides):

Wikimania 2014 Notes – very miscellaneous

A collection of semi-random notes from Wikimania London, published very late:

Gruppenfoto Wikimania 2014 London, by Ralf Roletschek, under CC BY-SA 3.0 Austria

The conference generally

  • Tone: Overall tone of the conference was very positive. It is possibly just small sample size—any one person can only talk to a small number of the few thousand at the conference—but seemed more upbeat/positive than last year.
  • Tone, 2: The one recurring negative theme was concern about community tone, from many angles, including Jimmy. I’m very curious to see how that plays out. I agree, of course, and will do my part, both at WMF and when I’m editing. But that sort of social/cultural change is very hard.
  • Speaker diversity: Heard a few complaints about gender balance and other diversity issues in the speaker lineup, and saw a lot of the same (wonderful!) faces as last year. I’m wondering if there are procedural changes (like maybe blind submissions, or other things from this list) might bring some new blood and improve diversity.
  • “Outsiders”: The conference seemed to have better representation than last year from “outside” our core community. In particular, it was great for me to see huge swathes of the open content/open access movements represented, as well as other free software projects like Mozilla. We should be a movement that works well with others, and Wikimania can/should be a key part of that, so this was a big plus for me.
  • Types of talks: It would be interesting to see what the balance was of talks (and submissions) between “us learning about the world” (e.g., me talking about CC), “us learning about ourselves” (e.g., the self-research tracks), and “the world learning about us” (e.g., aimed at outsiders). Not sure there is any particular balance we should have between the three of them, but it might be revealing to see what the current balance is.
  • Less speaking, more conversing: Next year I will probably propose mostly (only?) panels and workshops, and I wonder if I can convince others to do the same. I can do a talk+slides and stream it at any time; what I can only do in person is have deeper, higher-bandwidth conversations.
  • Physical space and production values: The hackathon space was amazingly fun for me, though I got the sense not everyone agreed. The production values (and the rest of the space) for the conference were very good. I’m torn on whether or not the high production values are a plus for us, honestly. They raise the bar for participation (bad); make the whole event feel somewhat… un-community-ish(?); but they also make us much more accessible to people who aren’t yet ready for the full-on, super-intense Wikimedian Experience.

The conference for projects I work on

  • LCA: Legal/Community Affairs was pretty awesome on many fronts—our talks, our work behind the scenes, our dealing with both the expected and unexpected, etc. Deeply proud to be part of this dedicated, creative team. Also very appreciative for everyone who thanked us—it means a lot when we hear from people we’ve helped.
  • Maps: Great seeing so much interest in Open Street Map. Had a really enjoyable time at their 10th birthday meetup; was too bad I had to leave early. Now have a better understanding of some of the technical issues after a chat with Kolossos and Katie. Also had just plain fun geeking out about “hard choices” like map boundaries—I find how communities make decisions about problems like that fascinating.
  • Software licensing: My licensing talk with Stephen went well, but probably should have been structured as part of the hackathon rather than for more general audiences. Ultimately this will only work out if engineering (WMF and volunteer) is on board, and will work best if engineering leads. (The question asked by Mako afterwards has already led to patches, which is cool.)
  • Creative Commons: My CC talk with Kat went well, and got some good questions. Ultimately the rubber will meet the road when the translations are out and we start the discussion with the full community. Also great meeting User:Multichill; looking forward to working on license templates with him and May from design.
  • Metadata: The multimedia metadata+licensing work is going to be really challenging, but very interesting and ultimately very empowering for everyone who wants to work with the material on commons. Look forward to working with a large/growing number of people on this project.
  • Advocacy: Advocacy panel was challenging, in a good way. A variety of good, useful suggestions; but more than anything else, I took away that we should probably talk about how we talk when subjects are hard, and consensus may be difficult to reach. Examples would include when there is a short timeline for a letter, or when topics are deeply controversial for good, honest reasons.

The conference for me

  • Lesson (1): Learned a lesson: never schedule a meeting for the day after Wikimania. Odds of being productive are basically zero, though we did get at least some things done.
  • Lesson (2): I badly overbooked myself; it hurt my ability to enjoy the conference and meet everyone I wanted to meet. Next year I’ll try to be more focused in my commitments so I can benefit more from spontaneity, and get to see some slightly less day-job-related (but enjoyable or inspirational) talks/presentations.
  • Research: Love that there is so much good/interesting research going on, and do deeply think that it is important to understand it so that I can apply it to my work. Did not get to see very much of it, though :/
  • Arguing with love: As tweeted about by Phoebe, one of the highlights was a vigorous discussion (violent agreement :) with Mako over dinner about the four freedoms and how they relate to just/empowering software more broadly. Also started a good, vigorous discussion with SJ about communication and product quality, but we sadly never got to finish that.
  • Recharging: Just like GUADEC in my previous life, I find these exhausting but also ultimately exhilarating and recharging. Can’t wait to get to Mexico City!

Misc.

  • London: I really enjoy London—the mix of history and modernity is amazing. Bonus: I think the beer scene has really improved since the last time I was there.
  • Movies: I hardly ever watch movies anymore, even though I love them. Knocked out 10 movies in the 22 hours in flight. On the way to London:
    • Grand Hotel Budapest (the same movie as every other one of his movies, which is enjoyable)
    • Jodorowsky’s Dune (awesome if you’re into scifi)
    • Anchorman (finally)
    • Stranger than Fiction (enjoyed it, but Adaptation was better)
    • Captain America, Winter Soldier (not bad?)
  • On the way back:
    • All About Eve (finally – completely compelling)
    • Appleseed:Alpha (weird; the awful dialogue and wooden “faces” of computer animated actors clashed particularly badly with the clasically great dialogue and acting of All About Eve)
    • Mary Poppins (having just seen London; may explain my love of magico-realism?)
    • The Philadelphia Story (great cast, didn’t engage me otherwise)
    • Her (very good)

Slide embedding from Commons

A friend of a friend asked this morning:

I suggested Wikimedia Commons, but it turns out she wanted something like Slideshare’s embedding. So here’s a test of how that works (timely, since soon Wikimanians will be uploading dozens of slide decks!)

This is what happens when you use the default Commons “Use this file on the web -> HTML/BBCode” option on a slide deck pdf:

Not the worst outcome – clicking gets you to a clickable deck. No controls inline in the embed, though. And importantly nothing to show that it is clickable :/

Compare with the same deck, uploaded to Slideshare:

Some work to be done if we want to encourage people to upload to Commons and share later.

Update: a commenter points me at viewer.js, which conveniently includes a wordpress plugin! The plugin is slightly busted (I had to move some files around to get it to work in my install) but here’s a demo:

Update2: bugs are fixed upstream and in an upcoming 0.5.2 release of the plugin. Hooray!

Designers and Creative Commons: Learning Through Wikipedia Redesigns

tl;dr: Wikipedia redesigns mostly ignore attribution of Wikipedia authors, and none approach the problem creatively. This probably says as much or more about Creative Commons as it does about the designers.

disclaimer-y thing: so far, this is for fun, not work; haven’t discussed it at the office and have no particular plans to. Yes, I have a weird idea of fun.

A mild refresh from interfacesketch.com.

It is no longer surprising when a new day brings a new redesign of Wikipedia. After seeing one this weekend with no licensing information, I started going back through seventeen of them (most of the ones listed on-wiki) to see how (if at all) they dealt with licensing, attribution, and history. Here’s a summary of what I found.

Completely missing

Perhaps not surprisingly, many designers completely remove attribution (i.e., history) and licensing information in their designs. Seven of the seventeen redesigns I surveyed were in this camp. Some of them were in response to a particular, non-licensing-related challenge, so it may not be fair to lump them into this camp, but good designers still deal with real design constraints, and licensing is one of them.

History survives – sometimes

The history link is important, because it is how we honor the people who wrote the article, and comply with our attribution obligations. Five of the seventeen redesigns lacked any licensing information, but at least kept a history link.

Several of this group included some legal information, such as links to the privacy policy, or in one case, to the Wikimedia Foundation trademark page. This suggests that our current licensing information may be presented in a worse way than some of our other legal information, since it seems to be getting cut out even by designers who are tolerant of some of our other legalese?

Same old, same old

Four of the seventeen designs keep the same old legalese, though one fails to comply by making it impossible to get to the attribution (history) page. Nothing wrong with keeping the existing language, but it could reflect a sad conclusion that licensing information isn’t worth the attention of designers; or (more generously) that they don’t understand the meaning/utility of the language, so it just gets cargo-culted around. (Credit to Hamza Erdoglu , who was the only mockup designer who specifically went out of his way to show the page footer in one of his mockups.)

A winner, sort of!

Of the seventeen sites I looked at, exactly one did something different: Wikiwand. It is pretty minimal, but it is something. The one thing: as part of the redesign, it adds a big header/splash image to the page, and then adds a new credit specifically for the author of the header/splash image down at the bottom of the page with the standard licensing information. Arguably it isn’t that creative, just complying with their obligations from adding a new image, but it’s at least a sign that not everyone is asleep at the wheel.

Observations

This is surely not a large or representative sample, so all my observations from this exercise should be taken with a grain of salt. (They’re also speculative since I haven’t talked to the designers.) That said, some thoughts besides the ones above:

  • Virtually all of the designers who wrote about why they did the redesign mentioned our public-edit-nature as one of their motivators. Given that, I expected history to be more frequently/consistently addressed. Not clear whether this should be chalked up to designers not caring about attribution, or the attribution role of history being very unclear to anyone who isn’t an expect. I suspect the latter.
  • It was evident that some of these designers had spent a great deal of time thinking about the site, and yet were unaware of licensing/attribution. This suggests that people who spend less time with the site (i.e., 99.9% of readers) are going to be even more ignorant.
  • None of the designers felt attribution and licensing was even important enough to experiment on or mention in their writeups. As I said above, this is understandable but sort of sad, and I wonder how to change it.

Postscript, added next morning:

I think it’s important to stress that I didn’t link to the individual sites here, because I don’t want to call out particular designers or focus on their failures/oversights. The important (and as I said, sad) thing to me is that designers are, historically, a culture concerned with licensing and attribution. If we can’t interest them in applying their design talents to our problem, in the context of the world’s most famously collaborative project, we (lawyers and other Commoners) need to look hard at what we’re doing, and how we can educate and engage designers to be on our side.

I should also add that the WMF design team has been a real pleasure to work with on this problem, and I look forward to doing more of it. Some stuff still hasn’t made it off the drawing board, but they’re engaged and interested in this challenge. Here is one example.

Summarizing “hacker legal education” crisply and cleanly

James Grimmelman is a better writer than I am. I already knew this, but in this commentary on Biella Coleman’s (excellent) Coding Freedom, he captures something I have struggled to express for years in two crisp, clean sentences:

Hacker legal education, with its roots in programming, is strong on formal precision and textual exegesis. But it is notably light on legal realism: coping with the open texture of the law and sorting persuasive from ineffective arguments.

This distinction is worth keeping in mind, for both sides of the professional/amateur legal discussion, to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of their training and experience.

(Note that James says this, and I quote it, with all due love and respect, since we were both programmers before we were lawyers.)

Reviewing the Manual of Style for Contract Drafting by Editing Twitter’s Patent Agreement

strike {color:red;}
u {color:blue;}

Synopsis for lawyers

You should really buy the Manual of Style for Contract Drafting – it’ll make you a better drafter and editor. This post applies the book’s rules and guidelines to a publicly-available legal agreement (Twitter’s Innovator’s Patent Agreement) to explain what the book is and why it is valuable.

tl;dr, for programmers

Contract writers have no equivalent of RFC 2119, mostly because contract drafting is hard. MSCD is a good try – defining terms and demanding consistency, just like the compiler lawyers lack. This post is a rewrite and fleshing out of the github edit history.

    <dl id="attachment_2631" class="wp-caption aligncenter" style="max-width:508px">
        <dt><a href="http://i0.wp.com/commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sales_contract_Shuruppak_Louvre_AO3760.jpg?ssl=1"><img src="http://i2.wp.com/tieguy.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Sales_contract_Shuruppak_Louvre.jpg?resize=508%2C480" alt="A contract for the selling of a field and a house." class="size-full wp-image-2631" /></a></dt>
        <dd>A contract for the selling of a field and a house, from <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuruppak">the Sumerian city of Shurrupak</a>, now in the Louvre.</dd>
    </dl><br />

Continue reading “Reviewing the Manual of Style for Contract Drafting by Editing Twitter’s Patent Agreement”

Thoughts on the CC Summit

I was lucky enough to attend the Creative Commons Global Summit in Buenos Aires last week, including the pre-conference session on copyright reform.

Oliver’s Tattoo (cropped), by Oliver Keyes, used under CC BY-SA

Like Wikimania, there is simply too much here to summarize in coherent chunks, so here are my motes and thoughts during my return flight:

  • Maira Sutton of EFF summed up my strongest feeling about the event (and Wikimania, and many others) quite perfectly: “Getting a chance to finally meet those people you’ve admired from the Internet… Yea I hope that never gets old.” I hope I always remember that we are parts of a movement that draws much of its strength from being human – from being, simply, good to each other, and enjoying that. I realize sometimes being a lawyer gets in the way of that, but hopefully not too often ;)
  • At the copyright reform mini-conference, it was super-interesting to see the mix of countries playing offense and defense on copyright reform. Reform efforts discussed appeared to be patchwork; i.e., folks asking for one thing in one country, another in others, varying a great deal based on local circumstances. (The one “global” proposed solution was from American University/InfoJustice, who have worked with a team of lawyers from around the world to create a sort of global fair use/fair dealing exception called flexible use. An interesting idea.) Judging from my conversations at Wikimania and with Wikipedians at CC Summit, this is an area of great interest to Wikipedians, and possibly one where we could have a great impact as an example of the benefits of peer production.
  • Conversation around the revised CC 4.0 license drafts was mostly quite positive. The primary expressed concerns were about fragmentation and cross-jurisdictional compatibility. I understand these concerns better now, having engaged in several good discussions about them with folks at the conference. That said, I came away only confirmed on my core position on CC’s license drafting: when in doubt, CC should always err on the side of creating a global license and enabling low-complexity sharing.
  • This is not to say CC should rush things for 4.0, or be legally imprecise – just that they must be careful not to accidentally overlook the negative costs or overlawyering. Unfortunately, creating something knowingly imperfect is a profoundly difficult position for a lawyer to be in; something we’re trained to avoid at almost all costs. It is easiest to be in this position when there is an active negotiator on the other side, since they can actively persuade you about the compromise – instead of arguing against yourself. Public license drafting is perhaps unusually susceptible to causing this problem in lawyers; I do not envy the 4.0 drafters their difficult task.
  • There was a fair bit of (correct) complaining about the definition about Effective Technological Measures in the license – the most lawyerly piece of writing in 3.0 and the current drafts. Unfortunately, this is inevitable – to create a new, independent definition, instead of referring to the statute, is to risk protecting too much or too little, neither of which would be the correct outcome for CC. It would also make the license much longer than it currently is. I believe that the right solution is to drop the definition, and instead have a parallel distribution clause, where the important definition is easy: the recipient must be able to obtain at least one copy in which they are not prohibited from exercising the rights already defined. ETM then becomes much less important to define precisely.
  • Interesting to see that the distribution of licenses is mostly getting more free over time. After seeing the focuses of the various Creative Commons affiliates, I think this is probably not coincidence – they all seem quite dedicated to educating governments, OERs, and others about transaction costs associated with less free licenses, and many report good results.
  • That said, licensing data, even under free licenses, is going to be tricky – the trend there appears to be (at least) attribution, not disclaimer of rights. Attribution will be complicated for database integration; both from an engineering and a legal perspective.
  • Combined with the push towards government/institutional publication of data, there were a lot of talks and discussions about what to do with information that are difficult or inappropriate to edit, like scientific articles or historical documents. Lots of people think there is a lot of value to be added by tools that allow collaborative annotation and discussion, even on documents that can’t/shouldn’t be collaboratively edited. I think this could be a Wiki strength, if we built (or borrowed) the right tools, and I really hope we start on that soon.
  • Great energy in general from the affiliates around two areas: copyright reform, and encouragement of government and institutions to use CC licenses. I think these issues, and not the licenses themselves, will really be what drives the affiliates in the next 3-5 years. Remains to be seen where exactly CC HQ will fit into these issues – they are building a great team around OER, and announced support for copyright reform, but these are hard issues to lead from the center on, because they often need such specific, local knowledge.
  • Met lots of great people; too many to list here, but particularly great conversations with Prodi, Rafael, and folks from PLOS (who I think Wiki should partner with more). And of course catching up with a lot of old friends as well. In particular, perhaps my conversation with Kragen will spur me to finish my long-incomplete essay on Sen and Stallman.
  • I also had a particularly great conversation with my oldest friend, Dan, about what a modern-day attribution looks like. Now that we’re no longer limited to static textual lists of authors, as we have done since the dawn of the book, what can we do? How do we scale to mega-collaborative documents (like the Harry Potter page) that have hundreds or thousands of authors? How do we make it more two-way, so that there is not just formal attribution but genuine appreciation flowing both ways (without, of course, creating new frictions)? The “thanks” feature we’ve added to Wikipedia seems one small way to do this; Dan spoke also of how retweets simultaneously attribute and thank. But both of those are in walled silos- how can we take them outside of that?
  • Saw a great talk on “Copyright Exceptions in the Arab World” pan-Arab survey; really drove home how fragmented copyright statutes can be globally. (Translation, in particular, seemed an important and powerful exception, though my favorite exception was for military bands.) Of course, the practical impact of this is nearly nil – many of the organizations that are in charge of administering these literally don’t know they exist, and of course most of the people using the copyrights in the culture not only don’t know, they don’t care.
  • Beatriz Busaniche gave a nice talk; perhaps the most important single thing to me: a reminder that we should remember that even today most cultural communication takes place outside of (intentional) copyright.
  • Lessig is still Lessig; a powerful, clear, lucid speaker. We need more like him. In that vein, and after a late-night discussion about this exact topic, I remind speakers that before their next conference they should read Presentation Zen and Slideology.
  • Database rights session was interesting and informative, but perhaps did not ultimately move the ball forward very much. I fear that the situation is too complex, and the underlying legal concepts still too immature, for the big “add database to share-alike” step that CC is now committed to taking with 4.0. My initial impression (still subject to more research) is that Wikipedia’s factual and jurisdictional situation will avoid problems for us, but it may be worse for others.
  • After seeing all the energy from affiliates, as well as seeing it in Wikimedia’s community, I’m really curious about how innovation tends to happen in global NGOs like Red Cross or Greenpeace. Do national-level organizations discover issues and bring them to the center? Or is it primarily the center spotting issues (and solutions) and spurring the affiliates onward? Some mix? Obviously early CC was the former (Lessig personifies leadership from a center outwards) but the current CC seems to lean towards the latter. (This isn’t necessarily a bad place to be – it can simply reflect, as I think it does here, that the local affiliates are more optimistic and creative because they are closer to conditions on the ground.)
  • Watched two Baz Luhrmann films on my flight back, a fun reminder of the power of remix. I know most of my film friends think he’s awful, and admittedly for the first time I realized that Clair Danes is … not very good … in Romeo and Juliet. But in Luhrmann there is a zest, a gleeful chopping, mixing, and recreating of our culture. And I love that; I hope CC can help enable that for the next generation of Luhrmanns.

I’m Donating to the Ada Initiative, and You Should Too

I was going to write a long, involved post about why I donated again to the Ada Initiative, and why you should too, especially in the concluding days of this year’s fundraising drive (which ends Friday).

Lady Ada Lovelace, by Alfred Edward Chalon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But instead Jacob Kaplan-Moss said it better than I can. Some key bits:

I’m been working with (and on) open source software for over half my life, and open source has been incredibly good for me. The best things in my life — a career I love, the ability to live how and where I want, opportunities to travel around the world — they’ve all been a direct result of the open source communities I’ve become involved in.

I’m male, so I get to take advantage of the assumed competency our industry heaps on men. … I’ve never had my ideas poached by other men, something that happens to women all the time. … I’ve never been refused a job out of fears that I might get pregnant. I can go to conferences without worrying I might be harassed or raped.

So, I’ve been incredibly successful making a life out of open source, but I’m playing on the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This needs to change.

Amen to all that. The Ada Initiative is not enough – each of us needs to dig into the problem ourselves, not just delegate to others. But Ada is an important tool we have to attack the problem, doing great work to discuss, evangelize, and provide support. I hope you’ll join me (and Jacob, and many other people) in doing our part to support it in turn.

Final(?) Wikimania 2013 idea and notes dump

Me at Victoria Peak, the day after Wikimania, with thanks to Coren.

More random, more-or-less stream-of-(un)consciousness notes on the last few days of Wikimania:

  • The cab driver who got me to the airport had (at least) five cellphones. Two were mounted on each side of the steering wheel, and then a fifth appeared from somewhere else half-way through our drive to the airport. Two were Android(-ish?) smartphones, the others older phones. I’m sure there is some perfectly good reason for this, but no idea what it could be.
  • I had been under the impression that the island was essentially entirely either built up or too vertical to build on, so I had wondered how they’d managed to squeeze an entire Disneyland in there. Now I know; it is really quite amazing how much green, open space there is.
  • I was glad to hear Sue say that she cried while watching the South African Wikipedia Zero video, because I did too. As did lots of others, apparently. Still such a long way to reach the 13 out of 14 people on Earth who don’t use us every month, and so many different challenges to surmount – first access, then language, then engagement… oof. But obviously a worth challenge.
  • The 7-11s and Starbucks everywhere in HK are a reminder that the lines between national cultures are blurring faster than they ever have. I still got chicken feet as an unrequested pre-dinner appetizer one night, and unidentifiable fungus of some sort another afternoon. And I did get to see the very interesting, traditional Man Mo temple. But the trend is in favor of homogenization. This is in some ways very sad, as distinctive cultures make the world a richer place, but it will also over the long run make it easier for various contributors to understand each other – the classic mixed bag.
  • At the same time, was reminded in a few ways that barriers to communication are often surprisingly high- for example, a Chinese Wikipedian asked me (quite earnestly) about whether people disagreed about edits on English Wikipedia, which suggested we’re not very good at communicating to new Wikipedians in other languages even the most basic facts. (Asking “do English Wikipedians argue” feels to me like asking “is the sky blue for English Wikipedians?” – almost inconceivable that we haven’t already communicated that.)
  • Chinese Wikipedians are also working on an “intro to Wikipedia editing” tutorial that looks pretty cool. Made me sort of wonder if translating the newly-released How WP Works wikibook (or perhaps a shortened version of same?) might be a good/useful project for young Wiki movements, or if it is better to learn the same lessons through trial and error?
  • The German chapter has three policy people; the Foundation has zero (though all WMF’s lawyers pitch in on policy issues from time to time). I had sort of known this before, but not really internalized it. Still thinking through what that implies. (I had many great conversations with a bunch of the German chapter, and look forward to working with many of them.)
  • Very curious about the economics of the Octopus card. My impression as an outsider is that, through the Octopus cards, Hong Kong has established a defacto digital standard currency without relying on the inefficient, uninnovative, tax-on-the-body-politic leeches known as Visa and Mastercard. But that sounds too good to be true; there must be a catch to it.
  • Several Germans raved about the efficiency, politeness, etc. of the Hong Kong medical system. I chalk this up as a point for the Matt Yglesias “how government services are delivered and executed matters a lot and the US government should pay a lot more attention to that” school of thought.
  • The London organizers are extremely Bold; I wish them great luck in their planning and endeavors. I don’t think it’ll hurt the core conference to try these new experiments, and the payoff if it works could be huge, but I can understand the trepidation on the part of many long-time Wikimaniacs.
  • Had the opportunity to talk to a great variety of people who are passionate about the project; most who were excited and optimistic, some really concerned for a variety of reasons. I hope, of course, with my lawyer hat on, that I was able to calm those fears; in the mean time, it was a good reminder of the depth of passion for the project. (This was one of the many ways where I felt right at home, coming from years of GUADECs- the passion is real and deep and unfakeable in both places.)
  • That said, my biggest personal goal for the conference was to meet a broad cross-section of the community, rather than just the usual suspects from chapters, the board, etc. I feel like I had mixed achievement in this respect- I did have some pretty good conversations with non-chapter, non- (especially with people I met in line for food!) but at the end it was hard to do quite as much of it as I would have liked, especially for non-hacker folks. (The hacking days before the conference made meeting hackers much easier for me than it was to meet non-hacker editors.)
  • This really drove home that in the future, when I go somewhere for a non-Wiki conference, I really need to drop the local village pump or other comms channel an email and see if there is a meetup, editathon, etc. that I can crash.
  • We are deeply adaptable creatures, of course; I was quite overwhelmed by Hong Kong on day one and reasonably comfortable running around it on the free half-day I had before I flew home, and wish I’d had more time tosee it.  Still, it seems to me a city that would be very difficult for me to live happily in without gigantic piles of money.
  • Surprising to me to realize (once it was pointed out by Mako) that many WP articles about a place don’t have a clear link to the equivalent WV page. That seems like low-hanging fruit; I found a couple Monday while seeing the town before my flight and will try to remember to fix them once I’m back on a real network connection.
  • Pretty happy with the two LCA team talks I was part of – we received a bunch of compliments on them, and many great questions from the audience. That said, I think we probably went too broad on the open licensing talk. It either needs to be narrower (only one license or class of licenses) or longer (time-wise) next year, if we make this subject an annual thing. But that is a quibble – overall, I’m pretty happy with the quality of my first impression.
  • I admit that I played buzzword bingo during the Board’s Q&A. I actually think it helped me pay attention to certain topics I might have zoned out a little bit on otherwise, which is good, but the fact that it seems to be played fairly widely may suggest something about the format. I’m not sure what I’d change, though – doing that sort of interaction really does seem like an important way to build trust in the board. (You can mark “social capital” off your Luis Blog Post Bingo card if you’ve read this far.)
  • The closing beach party was a lot of fun, but (with no slight intended to the HK organizers) the top for me will always be the various beach parties at GUADEC Vilanova. For those of you who weren’t there in Vilanova, imagine something like the WM party, but with the broadest beach I’ve ever seen in my whole life, the bar literally in the middle of the sand, and the bar open until 4am. Now that the bar has been raised, I look forward to London’s beach party! ;)
  • Real joy to meet Risker; reminder that these sorts of meetings really allow you to get context and build up a mental model of someone in a way that you just can’t do offline, which makes these soooo important.
  • Copyright reform was a constant and recurring theme of discussion. In six years, certain aspects of Mickey Mouse will start creeping into the public domain, and that means we’re going to have another copyright bill in that time period. I suspect that the as a movement have to be ready and prepared for that, shape and form To Be Determined.

Bottom line: I’m exhausted, and (as I hit my six-months-iversary) more glad than ever I took this plunge. :) See everyone in London!