Archive for the ‘Wikibooks’ Category

Wikimedia – the public media of the Internet-era?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I just met with the BBC journalist, Tim Sebastian. He was visiting us to see the results from our study project exploring new media concepts for World Health Organization (thank you M4ID’s Mari for organizing this). The main issue discussed related to humanitarian emergency communication.

How we could communicate fast and efficiently with the people who are affected or even injured with disasters? How we could help people to help each other? According to Tim Sebastian, often the last people to know what has happen are those people who are in the middle of humanitarian crises. Our students have designed a simple mobile solution to help this.

Tim Sebastian was seriously worried about the growing censorship and violation of free speech. I was quite surprised about this. My own – maybe naïve – view have been that with the Internet and the Web the situation is definitely better, than when the media landscape was managed mainly by public broadcasting companies. Those days, in tens of countries, the government was strictly controlling all the information channels, except private conversations. In some countries they use to have some pretty sophisticated systems to follow even private chats.

In a couple of years Wikipedia has become the largest and most popular reference media on the Internet. Besides an encyclopedic reference work, Wikipedia has become a popular news resource where articles about recent events are quickly and frequently updated. It is already fair to say that Wikipedia is no more *just* an online encyclopedic. All the processes and things around it are making it its own media or media network.

Wikipedia is a community and volunteer-driven project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. The Foundation is funded primarily through donations by tens of thousands of individuals and several grants and gifts. Probably most of the donations come from the readers of the Wikipedia. Still, also the same volunteers who are donating their time to write articles are also donating money in it. Wikipedia is not only encyclopedic or media – it is a social movement.

In addition to Wikipedia, the Wikimedia-community has started several sister projects that are aiming to fulfill its’ mission “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content“. These are, for instance: Wiktionary -project creating a multilingual free content dictionary in every language; Wikimedia Commons –project building repository for free photographs, diagrams, maps, videos, animations, music, sounds, spoken texts, and other free media; and Wikiquote –project creating a repository of quotations taken from famous people, books, speeches, films or any intellectually interesting materials. All the projects are collaboratively developed by volunteers.

Wikimedia –project have many characteristics of a public broadcasters, though formulated from the beginning to utilize the possibilities the Internet provides for media. Just like in public broadcasting Wikimedia’s aim is to be free from vested interest and governments. There is a serious concern for community and minorities. Special interest is made on cultural heritage, and all in all the investments are made to activities with are expected to have high social benefits.

Wikimedia is a people to people media. Anyone reading or watching Wikimedia may freely edit, copy and redistribute it.

Wikimedia is still young. However, by running one of the world most popular websites, it already has a huge impact to modern life. Same time Wikimedia is facing some external and internal challenges. The traditional media industry may see Wikimedia as a “market disruptor” or “competitor”. In many ways Wikimedia –projects are disruptive innovations using disruptive technology. They are changing the game. Also the need and growth of more permanent staff in the Foundation (today around 30) causes tension between the “paid staff” and volunteer community. Will the Wikimedia movement survive this?

I hope that in a couple of years we will see an establishment of the Wikimedia movement, community and the Foundation. Establishment is good – when it is done without giving-up the original vision, mission and values. To progress the establishment the Foundation has started a project to formulate a strategy for the organization.

Being Wikimedia the strategic planning process naturally takes place on a wiki. The process in an open community process designed to serve the movement. The wiki is there for you to explore and edit.

The values of the Wikimedia Foundation are “Freedom, Accessibility and quality, Independence, Commitment to openness and diversity, Transparency, and that Our community is our biggest asset.

If these values will stand the Wikimedia movement will be fine.

Wikiversity – time to vote

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

The Wikimedia community (e.g. Wikipedia, Mediawiki software and many more) is voting on Wikiversity idea. Wikiversity is a project “to build an electronic institution of learning that is relying on the wiki model”. The voting is made for making a decision on if the community should launch the project or not. I have rather contradictory thoughts about the Wikiversity idea.

I think Wikipedia is one of the most important social innovation of our time for knowledge distribution. The way the Wikipedia is build and how the community work is totally admirable. The wiki way of peer reviewing seems to work in many cases much more efficiently that the peer review in some areas of academic research. Of course review of encyclopedia articles is very different than a review of academic articles, but still…

“Imagine a world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge”. You can’t really argue against the mission statement of Wikipedia. But can this mission be translated to the context of university? Would it be then: “imagine a world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of higher education of all higher education in the world”. I think it can.

Wikipedia is the encyclopedia for the rest of us. My estimation is that about 95% of cases it is good enough for 95% of people. Of course if I am doing research I want to verify the sources of information and look for information from many sources. Still 95% of my needs of information are other than research related and Wikipedia is fully capable to fulfill them. And this is because the Wikipedia people have build up a community with rules and practices that seems to work. This makes Wikipedia a quality encyclopedia.

I think the Wikiversity project should not loose any of the good practices that have made Wikipedia a success. Wikiversity should aim to be the University for the rest of us. Not to be another university, but a different university, just like Wikipedia is not an ordinary encyclopedia. Wikiversity should also aim to have academic activities of which 95% are good enough for 95% of people.

And who will be teaching and studying in the Wikiversity? The wiki way it should be open for anyone to do both. If things go smoothly in some time there will be a “faculty” with members that have a good reputation. The community will find some people’s courses more useful and valuable than others.

So, what is my problem with Wikiversity? I am seriously worried that it may end-up to be just another platform for delivering learning materials – only. Period. I am afraid that Wikiversity community will not understand what are the factors that make a great academic institution. It is not tests, degrees and accreditations. It is the community.

Academia – the community – offers you a chance to work on topics with other people who share the same interest. That makes you learn. It is true that you read books and listen to lectures at the University. But, actually, all this is just a side activity supporting the common objective trying to understand the topics with your peers. This requires dialogue and shared research. In great academic institutions this means group discussions, assignments, exercises, seminars and other forms of active learning.

You also need great teachers who love their topic of teaching and know what kind of obstacles and problems students face when studying this topic. They are all a little different in a different disciplines. The teacher may know the challenges only if she is doing research in the same area, as well. You can show the way only if you have made it yourself. Conducting research means also that you are ready to change your mind and take another path.

Wikiversity should be an institution that is doing research and involving younger generation to this process. It should be a community – not a lecturing machine that is trying to maximize its income. There should be, however, some kind of system of giving credit, even degrees. The more creditable people should hold a right to give credit for those who have made a good job. This shouldn’t be a problem because everything is very transparent in wikis.

I believe that if things are done well, one day Wikiversity will be useful for the people using it and also recognized byt the outside world. It may take a while but it is possible. Some years ago there were not many people who believed on an encyclopedia which anyone could edit. So, I voted “no jaa” (well yes). Lets see.