August 6, 2005  ·  Jimbo Wales

I’ve been a bit delayed from posting because I’ve been completely swamped by media. As I’ve joked before, I’m a lot like David Hasselhoff: big in Germany. :-)

But a fair amount of my time was spent this morning trying to complain about a rather absurd story published by Reuters which claims that I’ve announced some major changes to Wikipedia editorial policy. It’s a fine story except for the tiny detail of being completely false.

Of course slashdot and a ton of newspapers and websites picked up the story and ran with it, causing a fair amount of speculation based on, well, absolutely nothing.

  • http://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd John Dowdell

    I had noticed that the Slashdot headline didn’t seem to be supported by the text of the Reuters story.

    But what is the actual story? What did you actually say?

    (Controversial topics are already locked down, true? It read like you were speculating about the possibility of locking down pages where consensus had already been reached. Were those quotes accurate? if not, what did you actually say?)

  • http://www.newsincontext.com Terry Steichen

    Jimbo,

    I realize I’m a bit off-topic here, but I have a very basic question: Why free? Why have free access to information as a goal?

    Presumably, this goal presupposes that mankind benefits from free information access.

    But, if information is free, then it’s harder (perhaps impossible) for information enhancers to make a business out of enhancing (sorting, filtering, consolidating, linking, summarizing, extracting, indexing, etc.) information. So, more information remains more in its raw state than it otherwise would.

    And, if information is plentiful but raw, how valuable is it? Doesn’t this simply shift the burden of enhancing infomation to the consumer? Is that realistic, or economical? Thus, in the end, is it really so obviously beneficial?

    Not trying to be heretical, just curious.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jamesday James Day

    Terry, it’s not only about free access to information. It’s also about the ability to freely reuse the information.

    The authors of the Wikipedia encyclopedia are doing quite a bit of organising and arranging. Others can do more but you’re right to some extent, for the GFDL does require the derived work to also be GFDL and available to competitors promptly, without them having to do the production and research work the original producer had to do. That does seem like an impediment to some commercial approaches to enhancing the work. There is, however, the prospect of marketing advantage and being first to market and achieving a name for a particular product before the competitors arrive.

    In some ways it might be convenient if it wasn’t copyright infringment to take the list of article titles in the Wikipedia encyclopedia and rearrange them or a selection from them without having to comply with the GFDL or infringe copyright, but that’s not the copyright law or GFDL we have today. Though I’d be very interested in legal arguments which would permit it, particularly outside the US, where fair use is inapplicable.

    A very large part of th success of the Wikipedia encyclopedia is eliminating the person or company in the middle. It’s produced by and for the consumers. It’s been pretty successful so far and I wouldn’t rule out those same authors/consumers doing any organising which seems to make sense.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jamesday James Day

    Terry,

    Commenting a bit on the GFDL: so far its core property seems to have been a 100% failure in the case of Wikipedia. I’m not aware of any instance of a derived work of any Wikipedia encyclopedia content ever becoming part of the encyclopedia, the objective the GFDL and copyleft in general is supposed to achieve. Certainly, there is no large amount of this going on with Wikipedia.

  • Ryan Kaldari

    Rats, I had my hopes up for a second :) Imagine: controversial articles which had reached a stable state though months of agonizing debate not having to be constantly policed by editors whose time could be better spent writing new articles. An enticing idea, but perhaps one who time has not yet come. I’ve always found it ironic that Wikipedia is so amazing and painless for end users, but so stressful and tedious for dedicated editors. But I suppose making great sausage isn’t pretty and you have to break a few eggs to make an omlette. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, aye? Sorry, I guess I’m hungry ;)
    P.S. – I’ve enjoyed reading your What will be Free posts so far.
    -Kaldari

  • nate

    “Why have free access to information as a goal?”

    To me, this question has the same ring to it as “Why bother educating women when they are just going to spend their lives keeping house and taking care of their husbands?” This is true so far as it goes, but it neglects the transformative nature of that education on those women.

    I think that ubiquitous access to information is inherently transformative. Societally, one wants free access to information because information has utility to society as a whole. I think ‘information’ is a misleading (or at least overly broad) term. What’s really being spoken of is ‘knowledge’. Does one really want to argue against free knowledge?

    Implicit in this are some of my assumptions, which I’d love to have shot down:
    a) free information can be and often is better than commercial
    b) free things are more widely distributed
    c) more knowledge widely dispersed is a good thing

    I would also like to understand better what the actual fear of ‘free’ is, as I don’t have it myself. I don’t think it’s a simple ‘knowledge is power’ and a desire to keep power, is it? My best guess is that the fear is that if there exists a low quality free product replacement, there will be less incentive for the market to create a high quality commercial product, and thus the world permanently be stuck with a suboptimal outcome. Or is it something else?

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  • http://xanga.com/publicdomain WJM

    But, if information is free, then it’s harder (perhaps impossible) for information enhancers to make a business out of enhancing (sorting, filtering, consolidating, linking, summarizing, extracting, indexing, etc.) information.

    Huh?

    Thousands of translations, annotations, and concordances to the Bible, Shakespeare, and other public domain literature would beg to differ.

    The more it’s free, the EASIER it is for someone to turn information into a revenue stream. It’s just not quite as easy for them to turn it into an EXCLUSIVE one.

  • http://gnuosphere.blogspot.com Peter Rock

    Terry Steichen:

    But, if information is free, then it’s harder (perhaps impossible) for information enhancers to make a business out of enhancing (sorting, filtering, consolidating, linking, summarizing, extracting, indexing, etc.) information. So, more information remains more in its raw state than it otherwise would.

    This doesn’t make sense. Could you please clarify? In what sense are you using the word “free”? As in ‘free to obtain/free access to’ I assume but please confirm. If so, your position seems not only erroneous, but completely contradictory and morally questionable.

    I suppose if I wanted information to be held in the hands of a few and be distributed in a top-down model to those who can obtain priveleged access, then yes, I would agree with you. However, what kind of relationship to information are you proposing for humanity? Shouldn’t we be striving for equal access first and then be looking at possible business models?

    The GPL for software is similar in this sense. The liberty is valued first and then business is a secondary (yet important) result of its existence.

    Of course, I may be missing something or misunderstanding you. If you could explain your position another way I’d be grateful.

    Peter Rock.

  • http://www.buy-nike-shoes.com/ louis bag

    Thousands of translations, annotations, and concordances to the Bible, Shakespeare, and other public domain literature would beg to differ.

  • http://taking-over-the-internet.com/ Robert Hedges

    Hey Mr. Lesig Wales, I just ran [allinurl: blog] in google and you are on top! Congratulations!!!

    Being CEO of Mortality Resolution International and currently #1 in a google search for Physical Immortality,
    there may be some way we can connect on the internet to benefit everyone.

    Again, Mr Lesig Wales, Congratulations for your Achievements on the Internet!

    from Sedona Az usa

  • http://www.newsincontext.com Terry Steichen

    I would like to thank you all for your comments (and express my disappointment at the absence of a comment by Jimbo).

    To James Day:

    Certainly the original producer will have a marketing advantage in that they are – by definition – first to market, so as to speak. But, in the content market, particularly considering derived works, I don’t think that’s such a terrific advantage. So, I don’t see that market advantage overcomes the other disadvantages.

    Also, you refer to the “success of Wikipedia”. I would certainly agree that Wikipedia is quite impressive, but by what measure do you conclude it is successful? Successful at what, and how do you gauge that?
    ———————————————————————-

    To nate:

    My point, or more accurately, observation is that raw information (the kind that’s most likely to be free) is much harder for others to “digest” than processed information (which is less likly to be free). You declare that “free information can be and often is better than commercial [information]” – do you have some basis for this statement? My belief would be quite the opposite. You also declare that “free things are more widely disbursed [than are non-free things]“. Again, that’s very interesting, but, for comparable quality, I fail to find any examples to support that – do you have any? And finally, you state that “more knowledge widely dispersted is a good thing”. I would not quibble with that rather broad statement, but I think we’re dealing with information here, which is often a far reach from “knowledge.”
    ———————————————————————

    To WJM and louis bag:

    You cited all kinds of public domain literature as supporting the notion that free is good.

    But most of the items you identified are, I think, too old to have copyright protection. Unless you have evidence that the original authors had access to copyright protection and explicitly rejected it, I don’t think these are germane.
    ——————————————————————–

    To Peter Rock:

    I’m not promoting any particular “position”; rather I’m questioning the position that “free is good” for mankind. Though you may view my questioning to be “morally questionable”, I view it is simply a question. I would clarify that I didn’t argue for “information to be held in the hands of a few” or anything like that. My question was very simply whether the absence of any means for having proprietary interest in information products I produce was necessarily and obvious in the public’s interest?

  • http://www.highprogrammer.com/alan/ Alan De Smet

    Terry:

    Why is free better? Assuming things are otherwise equal, isn’t free always better? All other things being equal, I’ll take the free car over the expensive car.

    I don’t see why it’s harder for information enhancers to make a business out of enhancing the data. True, it makes it harder to have a monopoly. But monopolies are bad for consumers (and thus humanity). They lead to higher prices and lower quality work. Indeed, having the source information be free means that new businesses can enter the enhancement business much more easily. More businesses means more competition which means lower prices and increased quality. What’s not to like for mankind as a whole?

    Yes, there is a problem with plentiful but raw information. Indeed, that problem would seem to counteract your first argument (that there isn’t a market for enhancement). The problem of dealing with the raw information will create a market for enhancement. The result is increased competition to filter it. If you don’t like any of the existing competition, you’re free to have a go at it yourself.

  • poptones

    Free information can be better than non-free (as in beer) but I haven’t yet found any real hard evidence of this.

    Example: when I used windows one of the things I hated most was poring over Microsoft’s terribly constructed “knowledge base” but now that I use linux and google I cannot definitely say it is any better because linux isn’t generally all that well documented. There are countless tutorials on Microsoft’s site about enhancing this or that or employing this API to extend that widget, but in the linux realm this sort of information is relatively rare and what exists is pretty narrowly focused and not at all easy to locate via the conventional google keyword search.

    On the other hand there are countless dead tree volumes out there on linux, linux oriented tools – and even specialized applications like administrator’s guides to using knoppix as a system maintenance and recovery tool.

    You might be able to accumulate all the knowledge from the internet one would need in order to obtain accreditation as an engineer or maybe even as a bilogist, but I suspect it would take so much effort to do this the impact on one’s life would make paying out of state tuition at Stanford look in comparison like a meal at McDonald’s. I think it would be a better world if this were not true – if quality information were really as free as water – but from all I have seen we have quite a way to go before we get there.

    Distilling information into an interesting and informative collection of words and images is a hell of a lot of work, and people have to eat.

  • http://xanga.com/publicdomain WJM

    “You cited all kinds of public domain literature as supporting the notion that free is good. But most of the items you identified are, I think, too old to have copyright protection. Unless you have evidence that the original authors had access to copyright protection and explicitly rejected it, I don’t think these are germane.”

    Why not?

    Why does it matter whether N is public domain because it is copyright-expired, or because it never had copyright in the first place?

  • http://xanga.com/publicdomain WJM

    You cited all kinds of public domain literature as supporting the notion that free is good.

    “Good” is a moral judgment. I didn’t make it. You attributed it to me.

    I used those public domain examples to support the notion that you can commercialize intellectual common property.

  • http://xanga.com/publicdomain WJM

    Distilling information into an interesting and informative collection of words and images is a hell of a lot of work, and people have to eat.

    And?

    If Bob chooses to give his work away, how does that keep Mary from eating?

  • Vladimir de la Cruz

    Hey! do it’s possible that we could have Creative Commons in Venezuela?

    Greetings

  • The last same

    I forget it to tell you that you have a nice blog ;) and I too think that everything must be free, well almost everything.

    That project of the curriculums is very a good idea, in that way -bah, though we can lie- will be more easy to companys to offer jobs and that will lower the unemployement.

    I love wikipedia, it really is the best enciclopedy in the web. And sometimes I add a little more information, (the spanish wiki is still with a lot of holes).

    Though mi english sucks, i desire you the best and thanks for the all the stuff you have done.

    Greetings

    And be careful with the german ladies!

  • http://www.robmyers.org Rob Myers

    My question was very simply whether the absence of any means for having proprietary interest in information products I produce was necessarily and obvious in the public’s interest?

    No-one is trying to stop you being proprietary, so you don’t really need to worry about it. ;-)

  • http://www.globaladvancedmedia.com Jim

    I hate it when the press run a false story and I would even hate it more if ti was about me. I am glad you cleared this up though I read the slashdot article and did wonder a little bit.

  • http://www.newerawisp.blogspot.com SATISH BHARDWAJ

    I find it very absurd to believe that people should be interested in Wikipedia editorial policy or that slashdot is that well known. I heard of Slashdot only this morning in another blog and I still do not know what it is. I’m surprised that Reuters should have nothing to do but pick up stories and spread them. I’d like them to spread the story I’d like to be spread that RIAA can only stop the piracy if it financially helps the development of a server based web browser that does not transmit information to the clients, in other words bars downloading. May be Reuters will pick up my story if you don’t create your stories or people don’t create rumors of your stories

  • http://www.thegoogleblog.com paul

    Havent heard of /. ?
    o.O
    alrighty then….

    anyway back on topic.

    This information age that we are in is all about that, “information” and the only way forward for good ole planet earth and humanity is just that, sharing the information, make it freely available. Remove the greed, plant the seed.

    regards

    paul

  • poptones

    Funny you should mention the planting of seeds, as so many (including you?) seem intent on removing a vast section of our “service economy.” So how do those who dedicate their lives to giving away this information find the money to pay those who actually do plant those seeds?

    How much additional taxes are you willing to pay to fund a “free creative culture?”

    Information is not data. The web is full of data, but relatively damn scarce on actual information. Even ten thousand rants on how motorola sucks or how your friends think you’re a tv repairman because “you know computers” won’t plant the first seed – metaphorical or otherwise.

  • http://legalsaa.blogspot.com Torrance Washington

    Yes i completely understand i used to play football and the media is terrible, but its there job, what can you do

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