Thursday, 6 December 2007

Jimmy Wales at Online Information

I spent a couple of days this week at the Online Information 2007 conference at Olympia.

The audience seems to be mostly librarians but the issues are the same as we face here: competing for awareness, keeping up with the user experience standards that people are accustomed to these days and engagement.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales opened the conference.

Disappointingly, it was mostly an advert for Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikia and a teaser for the Wikia Search Engine product but here are the bits that caught my attention:

Motivations:Why do people put such time and effort into Wikipedia? Well, it is a grand, humanitarian project. It's an inspiring vision. Yes, indeed and I'm sure that's why there are no commercially owned wikis. I wish people would see our corporate intranet wiki as a grand, humanitarian project.

Anyway, the exception is Wikia which -if Wikipedia is the encyclopaedia section - represents all the other things in the library. Wikia IS commercial and yet a group of die hard Muppet fans have created 300 articles in the Muppet Wiki there including one on the Ford Motor Company (in the context of The Muppets):

Ford Motor Company is an American multinational corporation and the world's third largest automaker, based on worldwide vehicle sales. Based in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, the automaker was founded by Henry Ford and incorporated in 1903.

In 2004, the company launched the Ford Escape Hybrid, the world's first gas-electric hybrid SUV. In 2006, Ford launched a campaign starring Kermit the Frog to promote the environmentally friendly vehicle. In a spin on the Muppet's catchphrase, he claimed that it was in fact "easy being green."

That's merely the intro, of course.

Content management systems: Are like a police state, according to Wales. They are designed to restrain rather than empower and he delivered his restaurant analogy again (see here).

Licensing change:
Although Wikipedia has always been Free Access (free to add to, edit, copy, modify, redistribute - even commercially) it hasn't been compatible with Creative Commons because it's based on a software licence called GNU FDL which is actually for documentation. Anyway, apparently this licence is changing and the new version will allow Wikipedia content to be relicensed under Attribution Share Alike (by-sa). Quite why this is important wasn't at all clear, but I pass this on to you, dear reader, in case it should mean something to you.

Wikia Search Engine Project: Wales said that traditional Search Engine algorithms are secret and the aim of Wiki will be to push editorial decisions out into the community, using the social networking trust model to keep the level of spam down.

Sum=Summary: Wales explained that when he talks about the ambition of Wikipedia to be the "sum of all human knowledge" he actually means "summary" not "total" hence the absence of very detailed medical stuff and the like. And no original research.

Wikipedia (which he describes as "the Red Cross for Information") is - according to Alexa (hmmm) - now the 8th most visited website in the world and the 14th most visited in Iran.

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