Posts Tagged ‘jimmy wales’
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
Book Review (Part II)
The Wikipedia Revolution
By Andrew Lih
(Aurun Press Ltd 2009)
The Birth of Wikipedia
In 2000, Y2K enthusiast Larry Sanger joined BOMIS, bringing a large number of followers from his on-line Y2K digest. The Y2K movement was an informal network of programmers and community activities that formed in the late nineties, out of concern for the two digit dates used in early computers. The fear was that computers built before 1990 would be unable to tell whether the two digit “00″ represented the year 1900 or the year 2000 – and crash. Disaster was averted, thanks to the frantic rewriting (in 1998 and 1999) of millions of lines of code on government and corporate computers
After Sanger joined BOMIS, one of the first projects they undertook was an on-line encyclopedia-style “blog” called Nupedia. Wales, Shell and Sanger drew in friends and on-line acquaintances to help with drafting and editing articles. However the process of editing successive drafted on-line turned out to be extremely slow and cumbersome. By January 2001, Nupedia had only finalized and posted two dozen entries.
BOMIS’ discovery of Cunningham’s Wiki protocol changed all this, enabling first hundreds, then thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of computer users anywhere to register and post draft articles and to register and edit them. The beauty of Wiki software is that keeps a list of all edits made and the identity of the editor, which makes it possible at any point to restore an earlier version. Wales, Shell and Sanger registered Wikipedia Foundation as a non-profit in January 2001 The only rules were that Wikipedia had to be freely accessible to the public, have a Neutral Point of View (NPOV), and only describe existing research (in other words, original research was forbidden).
The Wikipedia project quickly drew in members of Slashdot and other techie communities to write and edit articles. Sanger was paid to oversee the project and used an electronic mailing list and occasionally the Internet Relay Chat (a precursor to instant messaging) to coordinate the work of core editors, administrators and system operators. Each article was divided up into a user page and a “talk” page, where editors could discuss how the article was progressing. In addition to hundreds of volunteer editors, a number of proven members were made administrators, who had the power to delete and undelete articles that contained copyright violations, libelous speech or inappropriate personal information. Above the administrators were System Operators who were charged with dealing with trolls and vandals who added inappropriate material to articles. The most common type of Wikipedia vandalism seems to occur in high school social studies classes, when students get bored and post lewd entries about their teachers and friends.
Does Occupying the Commons Lead to Anarchy?
In the beginning detractors predicted that allowing thousands of strangers to post and edit articles would lead to total anarchy (I recall dire predictions in the mainstream media that the Occupy movement would result in anarchy). However the volunteers who keep Wikipedia going believe so passionately in the concept of a free and open encyclopedia that they volunteer literally hundreds of hours as administrators and System Operators to make it work. In fact, as in other forms of community organizing, stress and burn out has been a major problem among Wikipedia. The second half of Wikipedia Revolution describes at length various technical difficulties created by the encyclopedia’s explosive growth, and the solutions devised to address them. Many of the technical glitches related to adapting Wikipedia for non-English languages and cultures.
By January 2002, Wikipedia had 20,000 articles. In 2002, Derek Ramsey created a “bot” (short for software robot) capable of simultaneously adding census data from 3,000 counties and 33,832 cities. Ramsey’s contribution increased the number of Wikipedia articles from 50,000 to more than 85,000 in one week. In March 2003, Wikipedia had 100,000 articles, which was on a par with commercial (subscription) on-line encyclopedias like Britannica and Microsoft’s Encarta, and was being cited in mainstream sources.
A Question of Censorship
In 2003, Wikipedia had 480 active editors, 100 core editors and 48 administrators. By 2006, it became virtually impossible for manual editors to keep up with the encyclopedia’s explosive growth. The solution was a bot developed by a 13 year old Canadian hacker/programmer who called himself Tawker (aka Andrew Phillips). Tawker’s bot works like a spam filter by screening articles for objectionable sexually explicit or toilet terms that recur frequently. Encyclopedia Dramatica has a somewhat less flattering biography of Tawker that accuses him of deliberate censorship of political content (http://encyclopediadramatica.ch/Wikipedia_IRC_Bouncers)
As of 2009 when Lih published Wikipedia Revolution, Wikipedia had 10 million articles in 200 languages and an administrative structure in which several hundred administrators and System Operators make editorial decisions about controversial articles and edits. While the original goal was to have all administrative decisions made by consensus, this is no longer possible, owing to the sheer volume of traffic on the site. Critics accuse Wikipedia of a “pro-corporate” drift (i.e. censorship) in the process.
In addition to 2.5 million articles in English, the German Wikipedia has 800,000 articles. French, Polish and Japanese editions have 500,000 words each.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
By Andrew Lih
(Aurun Press Ltd 2009)
(I have divided this review into two parts. Part I describes Open Source innovations that were integral to the creation of the world’s most famous and popular encyclopedia. Part II describes the Wikipedia project itself.)
Lih’s Wilkipedia Revolution stands as a testament to the unsung heroes of the Open Source movement. From the outset, there has been a split between entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who have viewed the Internet as an opportunity to become enormously rich, and true visionaries like Jimmy Wales, who see it as a medium of social change with the potential to improve the lives of billions of people. I have always regarded Open Source activities like Wikipedia and Wikileaks as the Occupy Wall Street of the Internet. Like OWS, Open Source reclaims electronic communications as a “commons” – a public space to be jointly owned and used by all of us for the common good.
In Lih’s view, Wikipedia would never have been possible without the freely shared knowledge and software of the Open Source movement. He makes this clear by skillfully interweaving the personal biography of Jimmy Wales with the history of the Internet, the World Wide Web and the O S movement itself.
Hacker Ethics and the Open Source Movement
Wales, who has a master’s degree in finance, had a first career selling derivatives for Chicago Options Associates. In 1996, he used his programming and hacking skills to start a dot com in his spare time with Tim Shell, who he met through an on-line philosophy mailing list. Wales is a big fan of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, the belief in obtaining objective knowledge form measurement. This would ultimately inspire his faith in using measurement by the masses to create an on-line reference work.
Wales and Shell called their dot com Bitter Old Men in Suits (BOMIS). Their first project was a Yahoo-style directory for the city of Chicago. This was around the time (1996) that two Sun Microsystems engineers started DMOZ (directorymozilla.org), the first Internet-wide search engine. They did so with the explicit intent of employing volunteer labor and freely distributing it to the public, under the principle of “Copyleft” or General Public License that underpinned the free software movement (now known as Open Source). The latter was started by MIT hacker Richard Stallman had started in 1985 with an extensive on-line network of hackers.
The hacker community has a very strong ethic that it’s okay to hack into computers and steal software code provided you use it to improve and share the software. In contrast, refusing to share what you have stolen (and improved on) for personal profit is considered totally unethical. The phenomenal success of Open Source products is based on the principle that making your software code public, instead of keeping it secret, allows thousands of programmers to improve it. This is the main reason free downloadable Open Source programs have fewer operating and security glitches than Microsoft and other proprietary software.
Netscape, Linux and Wikiwiki Web
DMOZ subsequently morphed into Netscape, which dropped out of public view after Microsoft pirated and monopolized the concept, by arranging for Microsoft Explorer to be loaded along with windows on every new PC. It was subsequently reborn as Mozilla Firefox, a free Open Source browser greatly preferred by many Internet users for its greater safety and reliability. Because the code that runs it is freely available to the public, it undergoes continuous quality improvement by the thousands of programmers who use it.
Despite its popularity among hackers, the free software movement remained virtually unknown to the wider public until 1992, when a Finnish hacker named Linus Torvalds created Linux, the first free Open Source operating system. Unlike commercial operating systems, such as Windows and Mac OS X, the code on Linux is publicly available, which means its users are constantly improving on it.
Other significant innovations that made Wikipedia possible were the creation of the World Wide Web in 1992 by Tim Berners-Lee and the creation of Wikiwiki Web by Ward Cunningham in 1994. Prior to 1992, there were a half dozen different protocols (including Gopher and WAIS) that had to be laboriously typed out to access documents posted on the Internet. Berners-Lee created a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), using a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http) for finding on-line documents. Cunningham’s Wiki software enabled any user anywhere to edit any website without having specialized software or knowledge of programming or html (the language used to construct a web page).
To be continued.