Wikimania, Day 3

Soooo much. As with the first two days, these are fragmentary notes as much for my benefit as for anyone else’s, so take with bullet points of salt:

Ceremonia de inauguración, by Diego Delso, used under CC BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • The lion dance in the opening ceremony was exactly as advertised – a good way to wake up.
  • It was nice to hear the French issue called out in Jimmy’s talk, even if he didn’t call out LCA’s role in it :)
  • The session on the internet in China was informative, but frustratingly brief- needs a lot more detail. Key takeaway: the mainland Chinese Wikipedians appear to believe that turning off http access would be a bad idea. This is a frustrating tension, between access and surveillance.
  • The talk on how Swedish parliamentarians see Wikimedia was not perfect science (response rates were low-ish and skewed in a variety of ways) but the data was still fun and informative. Key takeaways: MPs in .se have pretty positive feelings about WP, and high usage, but assume their co-workers do not have a high opinion of it themselves. I would love to see data similar to this for American politicians, and perhaps as importantly for political staffs.
  • The friendly virtual space policy discussion was interesting, but I am having to recalibrate my timescales and expectations of progress, just because of the vastness and multi-faceted-ness of this community. (At the same time I hope not to become accepting of inaction.)
  • Mako and Aaron’s Wiki Ecology talk was hard to summarize, but very interesting. So much research to be done to understand how FOSS and wiki ticks; I’m glad Mako is doing it.
  • Not all talks are home runs, unfortunately; I like Foucault as much as the next guy (and am quite sympathetic to the notion that pervasive recording influences behavior) but if it comes up in your talk focus may be an issue :)
  • The government copyright talk was interesting, and mostly informative. Good reminder that we should think about if/how to support the state-level government code freeing being done by Carl Malamud.
  • Hallway conversations are great; not surprising.
  • (More?) importantly, for the first time tonight had the great, long, passionate, late night conversations that make you want to say “can’t wait to have a beer with you again next year”. Had a long enough night that I had that kind of conversation with quite a series of people, actually.

Random notes on Wikimania, Day 2

I’m pretty sure this is a cold, not jet lag. Not sure which would be better/worse browse this site. More notes:

  • Continue to hear Wikidata licensing concerns; need to work on communicating about that.
  • Multimedia round-table is well-attended (to the point of people sitting on the floor), even as someone points out that the day when “multimedia” was an exciting word was a long time ago.
  • Fabrice is a real pro at running a session – well-prepared and a great, positive guide to a topic; seemingly also getting solid, constructive feedback. The resulting discussion was quite high-quality for this sort of session.
  • Relatedly, I did not attend the session on preparation/constructive critique for speakers, but (1) it’s a really good idea and (2) maybe something similar could be done for panels? And of course should happen online before we come to the venue :)
  • Great to meet Jon Davies of WMUK, Dimitar, Niko, and a bunch of other interesting folks.
  • It is minor, but someone at the multimedia roundtable suggested that there should be a WordPress plugin to allow easy insertion and use of Common content into WordPress. To which I say: amen! It’s weird how often open projects neglect to promote their platform by building plugins for popular open content platforms (like WordPress) . [Later: apparently there is such a thing, but not updated in two years – too bad.]
  • I won’t call attribution in commons a minefield, exactly, but it’s extremely complex; was reminded of that today in the discussion of a media viewer that could show a more “black box” popup around images when viewing them. I’m adding it to my long-term radar…
  • Editor motivation is implicit in a lot of discussions, but can be hard to focus on or explicitly surface (or maybe more correctly, easy to lose track of when you’re focused on other things). I don’t mean this as a criticism, just an observation – I find myself also making the same mistake in conversations.
  • The EU-based chapters have a very interesting set of challenges around changing Brussels. Was interesting to discuss, and will be interesting to see how it goes.
  • Spent some time reviewing the schedule for the next few days to figure out what I’ll attend; it is more overwhelming than I’d even really realized.
  • Party was fun and views were insane. This HK factoid was pointed out and is also insane.

Notes on day 1 of my first Wikimania

Temple Street Night Food Restaurant by Marim68821, under CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Collected bullet points from day 1 of my first Wikimania:

  • Hong Kong is intense. I am used to, and like, big cities, but HK feels like a scale different even from, say, Cairo, New York, Delhi, or Bangalore. Had great fun last night walking around with a few friends, ended up at Temple Spice Crab (which was amazing in a vast number of ways) and along the waterfront.
  • Doing surprisingly well with jet lag, so far. We will see. (Late update: crashed pretty hard last night.)
  • This is such deja vu from GUADEC, in terms of watching reunions, seeing organization (or occasional lack thereof ;) seeing people just joyful to be in each other’s presence and working on shared practices/goals. I look forward to seeing more of the differences as the conference progresses.
  • First difference may be that there are a lot of structural committee meetings; not just board, but also AffCom, WCA, etc. Different from more specifically developer-oriented conferences. (I am mostly going to focus on the hacker days myself, but will also crash parts of WCA and others.)
  • Khmer wikipedia is represented in the meeting I am in as I write this. Khmer is not a terribly small language (16M) but I am still heartened to see it here.
  • First mention of merchandising came more than an hour into the WCA meeting. Not drawing any conclusions, just really the first legal thing. (Later they came thick and fast- so many interesting questions; some I could answer, some I couldn’t.)
  • Met another engineer-turned-lawyer, who appears to have (wisely) kept his engineering career viable while doing law school. Slightly jealous ;)
  • Need more stickers! Got wikidata on my tablet, at least.
  • Lots of fun meeting new people.
  • The map embedded here is amazing, showing not just geodata but historical change over time. Shame we’re not yet technically ready to make them more wide-spread.

At the Wikimedia Foundation (for, um, three months now)

Since it was founded 12 years ago this week, Wikipedia has become an indispensable part of the world’s information infrastructure. It’s a kind of public utility: You turn on the faucet and water comes out; you do an Internet search and Wikipedia answers your question. People don’t think much about who creates it, but you should. We do it for you, with love.

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner, from

As Sue says, the people who create Wikipedia are terrific. I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve just wrapped up my first three months as their lawyer – as Deputy General Counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation. Consider this the personal announcement I should have made three months ago :)

Wikimania 2012 Group Photograph, by Helpameout, under CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Greenberg Traurig was terrific for me: Heather has a wealth of knowledge and experience about how to do deals (both open source and otherwise), and through her, I did a lot of interesting work for interesting clients. Giving up that diversity and experience was the hardest part of leaving private practice.

Based on the evidence of the first three months, though, I made a great choice – I’ve replaced diversity of clients with a vast diversity of work; replaced one experienced, thoughtful boss with one of equal skill but different background (so I’m learning new things); and replaced the resources (and distance) of a vast firm with a small but tight and energized team. All of these have been wins. And of course working on behalf of this movement is a great privilege, and (so far) a pleasure. (With no offense to GT, pleasure is rarely part of the package at a large firm.)

The new scope of the work is perhaps the biggest change. Where I previously focused primarily on technology licensing, I’m now an “internet lawyer” in the broadest sense of the word: I, my (great) team, and our various strong outside counsel work on topics from employment contracts, to privacy policies, to headline-grabbing speech issues, to patent/trademark/copyright questions – it is all over the place. This is both challenging, and great fun – I couldn’t ask for a better place to be at this point in my life. (And of course, being always on the side of the community is great too – though I did more of that at Greenberg than many people would assume.)

I don’t expect that this move will have a negative impact on my other work in the broader open source community. If anything, not focusing on licensing all day at work has given me more energy to work on OSI-related things when I get home, and I have more flexibility to travel and speak with and for various communities too. (I’m having great fun being on the mailing lists of literally every known open source license revision community, for example. :)

If you’d like to join us (as we work to get the next 1/2 billion users a month), there are a lot of opportunities open right  now, including one working for me on my team, and some doing interesting work at the overlap between community, tech, and product management. Come on over – you won’t regret it :)

One year on OSI’s board (aka one year in OSI’s licensing)

Since it has been roughly one year since Mozilla nominated me to sit on the OSI board, I thought I’d recap what I’ve done over the course of the year. It hasn’t been a perfect year by any stretch, but I’m pretty happy with what we’ve done and I think we’re pointed in the right direction. Because my primary public responsibility on the board has been chairing the license committee, this can also sort of double as a review of the last year in license-discuss/license-review (though there is lots of stuff done by other members of the community that doesn’t show up here yet).

Outside of licensing, my work has consisted mostly of cheerleading the hard work of others on the board (like Deb’s hard work on our upcoming DC meeting and the work of many people on our membership initiative) – I haven’t listed each instance of that here.

Wikimedia Deutschland offices in Berlin, during the tour at the Chapters Meeting 2011“, by Mike Peel, under CC-BY-SA 2.5. (Mind you, CC is not actually OSI-certified ;)

Some things that got done:

  • Drafted and published a beta Code of Conduct for license-discuss/license-review. This was drafted with the intent that it will eventually be a CoC for all of OSI, but we’re still formally beta-testing it in the license committee community.
  • Revised the landing page to make it more useful to visitors who are not familiar with open source. Also poked and prodded others to do various improvements to the FAQ, which now has categories and a few improved questions.
  • Revised OSI’s history page. The main changes were to update it to reflect the past  5-6 years, but also to make it more readable and more positive.
  • Oversaw a number of license submissions. I can’t take much credit for these- the community does most of the heavy lifting. But the group submitted in the past year include AROS, MOSL, “No Nonsense“, and CeCILL. The new EUPL is in the pipeline as well.
  • Engaged Greenberg Traurig as outside counsel to OSI, and organized and hosted a board face-to-face meeting at Greenberg’s San Francisco office space.
  • Helped keep lines of communication open (and hopefully improving!) with SPDX and OKFN.

Some projects are important, but incomplete:

Some projects never really got off  the ground:

  • I wanted to get GNOME to join OSI as an affiliate. This, very indirectly, spurred the history page revision mentioned above, but otherwise never really got anywhere.
  • I wanted to have OSI reach out to the authors of the CPOL and push them to improve it or adopt an existing license. That never happened.
  • I wanted to figure out how to encourage github to require a license for new projects, but got no traction.

I hope that this sounds like a pretty good year- it isn’t perfect but it felt like a good start to me, giving us some things we can build on for future years.

That said, it shouldn’t be up to just me – if you think this kind of thing sounds useful  for the broader open source community, you can help :)

  • Join license-discuss, or, if you’re more sensitive to mail traffic, but still want to help with the committee’s most important work, join license-review, which focuses on approving/rejecting proposed new licenses.
  • Become a member! Easier than joining license-discuss  ;) and provides both fiscal and moral support to the organization.

Donated to the Ada Initiative

I’m excited to say that (with Krissa’s support and approval) I donated today to the Ada Initiative’s Seed 100 Campaign.

Free and open software and culture have been very good to me, and I’m glad that the Mary and Val (and hopefully soon a fleet of others) will be working to make it more accessible to women and girls. As big a force for change as this movement has been in the past two decades, things can only improve when we consciously work on being accessible to the 50% of the population that is currently all too often excluded.

Wikis and law school

The excellent Eric Goldman had a good post Tuesday about giving students grades for wikipedia content. This reminded me that ages ago I’d written that two of my classes were going to use wikis, but never followed up on it.

picture: UC Berkeley Law School Quote, by ingridtaylar, used under CC-BY

The classes I used wikis for were different than Eric’s- he actually assigned students to create Wikipedia articles, whereas the four classes I ended up taking with wikis all used school-hosted wikis for a wide variety of purposes:

  • Three designated note-takers taking notes into the wiki, allowing the banning of laptops for other students.
  • Note-taking rotating among all students, with wiki gnoming being (if I recall correctly) an ill-defined grade component, but no non-note-taking articles assigned.
  • Creation of articles in a class wiki being the primary grade for the class, and with some interaction with other student’s work expected, but with no significant intent that the articles written would become a permanent resource for the public. Essays were capped at 1,000 words- which drove many students nuts but led to some fine writing.
  • Creation of articles in a class wiki being the primary grade, with the intent that the class website would build up over the course of repeated class offerings to become an authoritative web asset for the scholarly community working in that area.1

(All of these classes except the last were in technology-related courses.)

Despite these widely different set of approaches, several pieces of Eric’s commentary rang very true for me.

First, basic wiki concepts were tough. Partially, this reflects poor technology- the average wiki is needlessly hard to use.2 Eric saw this in his students (“it took students a substantial amount of time to format their entries into Wikipedia’s format”) and I think it was true in my classmates as well.

But it isn’t just about the technology. Eric says “[m]ost students did not intuitively understand how to approach writing an encyclopedic treatment of a topic.” That does not ring perfectly true for me- lots of my classmates read enough of wikipedia that the format was relatively familiar- but it isn’t insane, especially given the very wide variability in the treatment of legal topics in wikipedia. It would almost certainly help to provide a sort of ‘model’ article, much like the model memos used in writing classes. Since most of the cases will be about specific statutes or cases writing two model/template articles should suffice for many classes.

Other wiki concepts, like extensive linking, or publishing drafts to the world in wiki-style, were apparently even more strange to most of my classmates. None of the four class wikis were deeply interlinked or cross-referenced, outside of what was necessary to create a table of contents and occasional outlinks to wikipedia. Similarly, few students were willing to post works-in-progress to the wiki and refine them there- most students preferred to work privately and then put a final text into the wiki. I’m not sure that law school is the right place to teach wiki nature, and indeed Prof. Goldman seems nervous about publishing student work while it is still a work-in-progress3, but still- I was surprised so few of my classmates appeared to be into the wiki way of creating iteratively edited, interlinked content.4

Collaboration was another angle that was difficult. Prof. Goldman says “I gave students the option of working together on a topic, but none ended up pursuing that.” This is not surprising- law schools are essentially designed to teach anti-collaboration- but it is a shame, since collaboration is a (the?) crucial skill in legal practice. Some mandatory wiki collaboration (every student required to substantively edit and fact-check another student’s work, as well as their own writing?) might be a small step in the right direction- and might also help alleviate Eric’s concern about the amount of time he spent editing and fact-checking. As a bonus, the wiki nature of the project should make it easy to grade this student editing- the edits will all be right there5.

All these issues make it hard to write good informative wiki-articles in a class context, but surprisingly, they also made the class-notes-in-wiki strategy fall far short of its potential. I would have thought that the lower barrier to entry (no need for perfection) and the stronger incentive for students to delve into them (so that they’d be prepared for exams) would have encouraged these wikis to become ongoing demonstrations in improvement. But instead people just had other things to do, so they tended to languish, untended, until right before exams. I think some ‘live’ wiki technologies like Wave, Etherpad, etc., will help improve that in the future (by allowing more than one editor while the class is actually happening) but until them I’m afraid wiki class notes might not get very far.

In the one class I had that was truly article-oriented, the professor provided a set of suggested questions to research and address. Prof. Goldman seems to regret not doing this from the start, but unfortunately this seems like an inevitable requirement. At the time you want students to start researching and writing they just can’t know the subject area well enough to know what is ‘missing’ from the wiki, so you almost certainly have to provide pointers for all but the most driven students. Note here that this class was in a purely scholarly area (no one was going to treat our work on English property law of the 1300s as legal advice) so we did not have some of the constraints that he felt he had with regards to making sure it was right before it was published. It would be interesting to delve into this question more- given that articles do not identify their authors as lawyers, and given that people come to wikipedia with an expectation that it is imperfect, I wonder if students can be encouraged to publish more work in earlier forms than they might otherwise.

Prof. Goldman concludes that “[i]t is unrealistic to expect that most law students can produce useful entries without supervision.” I’m not sure I’d be so harsh; I think most of my classmates were capable of doing this if prodded to, and it seems like most of Eric’s were too (after more supervision than he expected, admittedly.) But if he is right, this is a pretty sad statement to make. We’re a profession which is necessarily grounded in our ability to communicate, and we should be a profession grounded in our ability to communicate clearly and concisely to a legally unsophisticated public- that is to say, to our clients. If our students can’t write a simple encyclopedia entry, we’re in trouble.

Despite this pessimism, I think the piece gets the most important part exactly right:

I think a wiki entry might be a useful alternative to the traditional seminar paper. I have never been a huge fan of requiring students to write law review-style seminar paper in a semester-long course. Ultimately I think it’s nearly impossible for a novice to come up with a good topic and write a coherent and well-researched paper in a 4 month semester from a cold start. (I expand on that point a little here). As a result, in practice, many student seminar papers devolve into quasi-encyclopedic treatments of a topic with a paragraph of student commentary tacked onto the end. Instead of going through that charade, the professor could channel the student’s research and writing effort into an expressly encyclopedic treatment. This would reduce the pressure students feel to come up with a novel topic, and it would allow the world at large to benefit from the student’s work rather than the effort going into a desk drawer (or worse, the circular file) at the semester’s end.

In my experience, wiki writing- whether the goal is inclusion in Wikipedia or not- really should be part of the law school curriculum. It is better than traditional papers for teaching basic research and scholarship, and if done well, can also teach collaboration, editing, and other writing skills. There is still a lot to learn about the ‘done well’ part, but I hope Prof. Goldman and others continue to experiment with it. They’re doing the right thing even if their students don’t realize it yet :)

  1. This separate class wiki had a lot of benefits, most notably being that student articles are never targeted for deletion as irrelevant, but obviously the segregation from the main wiki community has drawbacks too. Maybe the equivalent of the class prize for best essay should be that the best article is ‘promoted’ to main wikipedia… []
  2. I think real-time wiki/wysiwyg tools like Wave and Etherpad will help fix this once they mature. []
  3. It might make sense to ‘incubate’ student posts in a separate wiki, so that their classmates can see and participate in each other’s work, before publishing it to Wikipedia. []
  4. Tangentially, focusing on linking may also provide the solution to Prof. Goldman’s problem that the school requires seminar papers to be 20 pages long- one article is unlikely to be of equivalent length, but an interlinked network of articles on related cases, statutes, and topics could easily grow to that size. []
  5. One could imagine giving 40% credit for the article and 10% credit for the quantity and quality of edits made to other students articles, if you had an incubator wiki []

quick IP-tech-politics post (mostly candidate agnostic)

A long post on (very liberal) firedoglake about Obama’s local-level organizing techniques. Very long piece but worth reading regardless of your political orientation, as it seems likely to define how campaigning will be done in the future, and doesn’t delve (much) into the politics behind the candidates/movements themselves.

Key take-away: the campaign is trusting volunteers to take roles that would never have given to volunteers in the past, and using new communications technology (and training) to help coordinate them. Result: vastly increased reach and increased levels of participation and ownership. Parallels to self-organizing (potentially fragile?) open peer production communities will be self-evident to anyone who has participated in one of those. Money quote: “Movements aren’t built on individual people—they are built on relationships.”

my classes, wikified

Two of my classes this semester have class wikis:

That would be two more than I’ve ever had before.

There are a few different spins you could put on this development. Along the student-faculty axis, it is putting more control in the hands of students. This is probably consistent with the institutional mission of actual student development, but we’ll see whether or not most students are actually willing to participate. (One of these professors will include wiki participation in the grade, the other has not indicate any such weighting.) In the institutional-‘enterprise’ sense, it is taking some control out of the hands of university IT (who run our mostly competent but not exactly interactive current course website) and putting it in the hands of technically skilled professors (or at least those who have technically skilled support staff), which is consistent with larger trends in the software industry. And in the open source-proprietary sense, both of these are based on open source software, despite neither admin is exactly thrilled with the available options- contrast with the closed system used for the current course management tools elsewhere in the school.

Not completely a tangent: is there any good term for ‘a wiki user who is grumpy when other users don’t wikify things?’ Because I’m going to be that guy. :)

Notes from NYLS Amateur Hour

I’m spending today at a conference on user-generated content at New York Law School. Some notes from throughout the day. As usual, these come with the disclaimer that these are not direct quotes (unless I indicate them to be with quotes); as such you should not cite them as the words of the speaker, but rather as my paraphrase.

  • You’d think with all the conference-hopping I do, I’d have been in the same room with Clay Shirky before now. But no.
  • Surprising amount of Real Lawyers here, as well as what looks like about 1/2 of the NYLS student body. They make me feel slightly underdressed.
  • The head of the UK’s IP office called yesterday to back out of his keynote; opening speaker points to this as evidence that this is a brutally live topic.

Rest will be below the fold.

Continue reading “Notes from NYLS Amateur Hour”