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by Mitch Kapor
Is there life beyond NPOV? This talk will be a speculative exploration about using collaborative and community-building techniques inspired by the Wikipedia to social problems such as global warming, America's role in the world, and growing gap between have's and have-not's, not only to discern what is the case (Wikipedia does a good job!), but to help the process of democratic deliberation of choosing a future. In other words, it's not only about facts, but values as well.
The early history of Wikipedia was characterized by much chaos and well-meaning strangeness. Wikipedia Governance was conducted, effectively, by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger on the wiki, with the assistance of mailing list english speaking participants, then later, with the help of a more international community.
For a while, Wikipedia was supported by Bomis, a search portal selling erotic photographs, founded by Jimmy Wales and Tim Shell in 1996. Bomis provided web servers and bandwidth, paid Sanger in his role as project editor-in-chief (until he left the projects in 2002), and owned key items such as the associated domain names. However, as the costs and popularity of Wikipedia rose, a general reluctance to display advertising on the site — together with a desire to reflect the spirit of openness and neutrality central to Wikipedia — suggested an alternative ownership model.
Consequently, on June 20th, 2003 Jimbo announced the creation of the Wikimedia Foundation, a future non-profit organization, to help manage the ever-growing Wikipedia with 600 regular contributors and over 7000 occasionals ,as well as Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, and future wiki/FDL projects to join the "Wikimedia family".
All related assets (both in terms of intellectual property and computer hardware – two servers) were transferred or donated to the new organisation. A board, mandatory for such an organisation, was not immediately constituted though and was not until the deadline for doing so was reached.
Around Christmas 2003, a major computer crash prompted the launch a fund-raising drive, organised by Erik Moëller. In less than a week more than $30,000 was raised, thanks partly to a healthy dose of publicity on Slashdot. The money allowed nine new computers to be purchased. It however outlined the need to bring into full working order, the non profit organisation, to receive donations, purchase more servers, handle domain names etc…
In January 2004, Jimmy Wales appointed Tim Shell and Michael Davis to the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation. Then, in June 2004, an election was held for two user representative Board members. Following one month of campaigning and two weeks of online voting, Angela Beesley and Florence Nibart-Devouard were elected to join the board. This signed the real beginning of the Foundation.
That much…may be found on the Internet.
But… what has happened since June 2004? And what is planned next?
The old principles for the organization of knowledge turn out to be based on principles for organizing physical objects; in the digital age we're creating new principles free of the old limitations. This is changing the basic shape of knowledge, from (typically) trees to miscellanized piles. This has consequences for the nature of topics, the role of metadata, and, crucially, the authority of knowledge. In short, the change in the shape of knowledge is also changing its place. Despite the hysteria too often heard, knowledge is not being threatened. We are way too good at generating knowledge, and it is way too important to us as a species. But, much of what we're doing together on the Web is about increasing meaning, not knowledge. That re-frames knowledge -- traditional and Wikipedian -- in ways that are hard to predict but important.
4th–6th August 2006