I spent last weekend at a small conference in Leipzig, organized by Johanna Niesyto, Geert Lovink and others, called Wikipedia: Der Kritische Standpunkt (A critical point of view) , which brought together researchers studying Wikipedia and 'Wikipedians', mainly admins and high-ranking editors.
What follows relates mainly to the German language Wikipedia, but I assume some issues are similar in other large Wikipedia, not the least the English language one.
What came to the fore, at least for me, was that the 'inner circle' -- foundation people, admins and high-ranking editors who take responsibility for the project as a whole -- are feeling increasingly beleaguered by hordes of people who are either a) ignorant/stupid and thus have nothing to contribute b) hostile trolls out to cause troubles c) people who only criticize yet will do no actual work.
In many ways, this is an understandable feeling, after all, running Wikipedia is a major thing, time and man power are always scarce and the pressures from the public are high. Any significant misktake, and it's front page news within hours. Yet, there are no clear procedures how to handle many of the tasks (e.g. when to block editing an entry).
This is all not terribly surprising, given the exponential growth of the last couple of years and the need to create policies and procedures on an ad-hoc basis.. But it leads to a shift in what this project is about.
Hier die Folien meines Beitrag zur Wikipedia: Ein kritischer Standpunkt (Leipzig, 25/26 September)
Abstract: Freies Wissen und demokratische Wissensordnung
Die vier Freiheiten der GPL (GNU General Public License) gelten als das Kriterium für Freiheit oder Unfreiheit von Information. Diese enge, auf reine Verfügbarkeit von Information fokussierende Definition sagt jedoch wenig über die sozialen und politischen Dimensionen der Systeme aus, die diese freien Informationen zur Verfügung stellen. Meine Ausführungen fokussieren auf den Unterschied zwischen einem engen Verständnis von freien Wissen und einer erweiterten Konzeption einer demokratischen Wissensordnung. Letztere geht über die Verfügbarkeit hinaus und berücksichtigt auch die Prozesse und Ziele der Wissensgenerierung. Zwei Ebenen rücken dadurch ins Zentrum der Analyse. Zum einen die organisatorische Struktur der Plattform, auf der das Wissen zusammengefügt wird, zum anderen die interne Dynamik der Gemeinschaft, die das Wissen schafft und erhält. Auf der ersten Ebene ist Wikipedia ausgesprochen innovativ, auf der zweiten Ebene ist Wikipedia immer wieder der Gefahr ausgesetzt, club-artigen Schließungstendenzen anheim zu fallen.
Update: Stefan Merten has written a pretty good English summary of the first session of the conference, which also includes detailed comments on my talk. If you want details.
Update II: Video des Vortrags
Researcher Felix Stalder analyses the loss of the key role of the concept of privacy. Privacy long secured the balance between the control of institutions and the autonomy of the citizen. Today, with institutions aiming more and more to provide customized services and the autonomy of both citizens and institutions changing, this role is disappearing, making the danger of an increase in control and power a realistic one. To turn the tide, Stalder argues for a greater transparency of the back-end protocols, algorithms and procedures of the new, flexible bureaucracies.
One way to characterize Western modernity, the period we are just leaving, is by its particular structure of control and autonomy. It emerged as the result of two historic developments – one leading to large, hierarchic bureaucracies as the dominant form of organization, the other to the (bourgeois, male) citizen as the main political subject. Privacy played a key role in maintaining a balance between the two. Today, this arrangement is unravelling. In the process, privacy loses (some of) its social functions. Post-privacy, then, points to a transformation in how people create autonomy and how control permeates their lives.
This text, which tries to summarize and situate the concepts and practices of the digital commons, is my contribution to the "Dictionary of the Human Economy". The editors explain in the introduction:
We want to bring to the attention of English readers some currents of economic theory and practice that have flourished in non-Anglophone countries over the last two decades, particularly in France, Brazil, Hispanic America and Scandinavia. To these we have added significanst work by English-speaking authors that was sidelined during neoliberalism‟s heyday and deserves to find a wider audience now. We have brought these strands of new thinking together under the umbrella concept of “the human economy” which refers to an emphasis both on what people do for themselves and on the need to find ways forward that must involve all humanity somehow.
The digital commons comprises informational resources created and shared within voluntary communities of varying size and interests. These resources are typically held de facto as communal, rather than private or public (i.e. state) property. Management of the resource is characteristically oriented towards use within the community, rather than exchange in the market. As a result, separation between producers and consumers is minimal in the digital commons.
I'm reading: The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism, by Jonathan Lethem, (Harper's Magazine, Feb.2007). Which is how influences flow freely in art and most artists have no problem admitting this (why should they?). Today's strong claims of copyright are based on what he calls "source hypocrisy" (denial of one's sources, refusal to allow one's work to become the source for someone else). In most cases, artists themselves are less hyporcritics than the corporations, trusts, foundations administring their work.
Copyright law works with the distinction between 'public' and 'private' whereas CreativeCommons introduced the distinction 'commercial' and 'non-commercial'. But since the beginning of CC in 2001, it has been unclear what these terms mean. Now, CC published a study that tries to come up with a common definition of the term, based on user feed-back. This will be used when it comes to developing the new version of the license (v.4.0), a multi-year process to be started in 2010.
From PDF to MP3: Motivations for creating derivative works
by John Hilton III.
First Monday, Volume 14, Number 9 - 7 September 2009
From the conclusion: