Spent the weekend in Vegas celebrating my 10th Anniversary. The airport wasn't technically Vegas, so I can blog this bit. As should have been expected, missed a 8am flight on Sunday. Because of Oversells, we were on standby for 11 hours to no avail. It was like the movie Terminal in a bar and no smoking rules. Too bad I don't gamble. Also had a board meeting this morning, so give me a couple of days to recover to blogging.
The slogan What Happens in Here, Stays Here is the best tagline -- ever.
Time to break down the tents and celebrate another successful camp. So what came out of it?
The structure of speed geeking (speed dating for geeks) and wooden nickles to vote on the best API encouraged more prior development than on the spot. A few startups used it as a venue to launch. There was a hack that occured over at MuchoCamp (more on that later), not sure what else was mashed on the spot.
There were concrete collaborations, namely StandardsForApiDocumentation which will bring needed transparency for developers. I hosted a conversation on CommodityAPIContract -- an effort to define standard commercial terms for APIs (and SaaS, potentially, which really needs it).
The probability that an investment or venture will make a loss or not make the returns expected. This probability can be measured. There are many different types of risk including basis risk, country or sovereign risk, credit risk, currency risk, economic risk, inflation risk, liquidity risk, market or systematic risk, political risk, settlement risk, systemic risk and translation risk.
The Glossary was initially based upon their second edition, which is available for purchase. Then they baked it out with an internal soft launch. The value of this approach is you prototype in private while building a community of employees prior to launch. The opposite of the Wikitorial debacle. Content is licensed as Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial, a fundamental underpinning of the social contract, and they have adopted Wikipedia's Neutral Point of View and other values.
A well hedged position. So what is the potential reward? Reuters is putting itself at the center of it's industry in cultivating shared language. The renewable resource becomes a focus of attention that can be directed in respect of the social contract. The community that may form, their greatest challenge going forward, could contribute tangible word of mouth benefits. This is community marketing, people -- an essential move as trust and influence shifts from institutions to peers. And very significant institutions are starting to get it.
Taking issue with Wikipedia is a great way to draw attention, as Nick Carr does again. In this case, he is taking issue with the Nature survey that revealed greater accuracy in articles on scientific topics. Nick fisks it with good detail, a case study in how to draw doubt.
First he claims the article as being produced by the Nature staff paired with academic experts, instead of a peer-reviewed study. If you follow the rest of his arguments, this shouldn't be an issue. As he says, "Someone is in charge, and experts do count." Personally, I'd like to see Wikipedia's unprocess applied to critizing the article. But this first assertion by Carr does it's job of raising doubt of expertise and methodology. Even when the Nature article itself said "An expert-led investigation carried out by Nature--the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica's coverage of science."
Second he claims that surveying scientific articles is too narrow a challenge for Wikipedia. "As has often been noted, Wikipedia's quality tends to be highest in esoteric scientific and technological topics. hat's not surprising. Because such topics tend to be unfamiliar to most people, they will tend to attract a narrower and more knowledgeable group of contributors than will more general-interest subjects." I don't agree with this assertion. Quality tends to be highest where the greated amount of attention is directed. In the negotiation of edits, expertise within a larger group shines because it can be backed up. Excluding the unqualified implies unfounded prejudice. I personally find the selected scope of the survey more valuable for quantitative analysis as non-scientific topics will be more subjective.
Third he claims that the media took a narrow survey and implied broad implications for quality with high-level coverage. This is somewhat true, and, well, what mainstream media does. And what Carr did with his first claim. But the articles did link to the actual study.
Fourth he claims the study filtered out the comments by expert reviewers that criticized the writing style of Wikipedia. In fact, the summarized them in the article. The objective of the survey was a quantitative comparison, which was later complemented by supplementary qualitative information. Carr picks three examples of full expert reviews to highlight how the qualitative information may be more important than the quantitative. Fine and good, but I'd bet out of the 42 reviewed articles, you can find other examples that qualitatively favor Wikipedia, like this one:
ERRORS IDENTIFIED: WIKIPEDIA
1. Nobel Prize in Physics for key discoveries which have led to the currently accepted theory … [not for formulating the theory itself]
2. From 1933 to 1936 Chandra was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
3. Chandrasekhar joined the staff of the University of Chicago, rising from assistant professor of astrophysics (1937) to Morton D. Hull etc.
4. Books: Principles of Stellar Dynamics (1943).
ERRORS IDENTIFIED: WIKIPEDIA
Chandrasehkar, Subramanyan – no errors identified
And Brittanica entries: Woodward, Robert Burns and Mayr, Ernst. Which is part of the point. No editing system, closed editorial process or open, is perfect. Instead focus on media literacy and a little wabi sabi.
Lastly and most imporantly he claims hierarchy rules:
The problem with those who would like to use "open source" as a metaphor, stretching it to cover the production of encyclopedias, media, and other sorts of information, is that they tend to focus solely on the "community" aspect of the open source model. They ignore the fact that above the community is a carefully structured hierarchy, a group of talented individuals who play a critical oversight role in filtering the contributions of the community and ensuring the quality of the resulting code. Someone is in charge, and experts do count.
The open source model is not a democratic model. It is the combination of community and hierarchy that makes it work. Community without hierarchy means mediocrity.
The open source metaphor for wikis is more than apt. Here is a whole (unfinished) chapter on how. Yes, in open source you have the role of project manager as a gatekeeper for contributions to ensure quality. One person is hardly a heirarchy, but in writing code it is required. Coding is vertical information assembly, marked by the dependencies between contributions. Contributing in wiki does not have dependencies between contributions. If you insert one wrong fact, it does not have a cascading or virulent effect. This distinction is critical, as it provides permission to participate which has driven adoption.
I would also argue that open source is democratic. Part of the reason you have a project manager is the same as an elected representative, the manager is a proxy for the community. The community as the right to fork which holds the leader in check. Any community member may gather a constituency to support the inclusion of their contribution. Debate is open and largely civil, such as the British Parliment operating under an unwritten constitution, but a key difference is the actual operations are transparent. A model that democracy will trend towards.
The open source model is a democratic model. It is the combination of community and leadership that makes it work. Community with hierarchy trends toward tyranny.
Aside: I think it's great having Nick in the blogosphere as it makes for fun and fair debate. As a thought excersize, consider if our two posts were on a Discussion page and a group had to sort out what the Article should be.
A lot of you stopped reading, but it's a pretty great open source contribution. Meet Ingy at MuchoCamp.
A wise man once told me he tries to go to a conference in an entirely different discipline once a year. This year I'm thinking about the Neurotech Industry Investing and Business Conference on May 18 in S.F. It will either make me smarter or richer in the long run.
Euan Semple tagged me into participating in this damn meme.
Four Jobs I've Had:
* Boy Scout Camp Counselor
* Movie Theatre Usher
* Presidential Advisor
Four Movies I can Watch Over and Over
* Blues Brothers
* Blade Runner
* Star Wars
Four TV Shows I Love to Watch
* The Office
* The Daily Show
Four Places I've Been on Vacation
* Costa Rica
Four Favorite Dishes
* Thai Peanut Curry
* Babooti (African curry)
Four Places I'd Rather Be
* Interlaken, Switzerland
* Aitutauki, Cook Islands
* Tallinn, Estonia
* Lakeshore, CA
Four Bloggers I'm Tagging
* Steve Gilmor
* Tom Foremski
* Matt Mahoney
* Jonas Luster
A closing Keynote by Mitch Kapor at OSBC.
Kinda cool to see Mitch give this talk, as he has a strong interest in the community process behind Wikipedia and I joined him in Frankfurt at the Wikimania conference.
Matt Asay: Grateful to finally have Mitch here. First interaction was
for the organizational meeting for a industry lobbying group two years
ago in Santa Clara. He was quietly typing in the corner, and I was kind
of amazed that this unassuming guy was contributing. Mitch is President
and founder OSAF.
What I want to talk about today is not so much where OSS is today or where it will be in 2007, but slightly beyond. Please suspend a bit of disbelief. The object of meditation is Wikipedia.
It can't possibly work. When I describe it to people as an online encyclopedia is that free and open and written by volunteers, people don't believe it. But it does. One of the top 20 websites in the world. Everyone in the room knows it, visits it, maybe 10% of the audience raises their hand to say they have written in it. The English version is bigger than the Brittanica. Random person off the street will say something, vaugely, about the Seigenthaler affair when asked about Wikipedia. If you use it, you must find it useful. Most people find it more useful than conventional reference sources. Becoming a reference source of choice.
Zen masters give you something to meditate on, like the sound of one
hand clapping, for you to muse over for years in a cave. As long as you
think in conventional terms, you are saddled with thinking that keeps
you from understanding. There is an essential fact, that anyone can
edit any article at any time. Most people start to freak out at this.
How could you trust that? Isn't there vandalism, there is no quality
control? Isn't it not to be trusted? The fact that anyone can is what
attracted people to begin with. As a chronic social outsider from my
youth, I love inviting social systems.
Myths include someone has to be in charge. Mainstream
media sieze on this idea that it is problematic that nobody is in
charge, the stories correspond to and reinforce our prejudices. I
discovered even in myself that I find this to be true. Was talking with
Jimmy Wales about how they do SysAdmin. A complex system with volunteer
SysAdmins. I had assumed that since they need it to be up 24/7 they had
a schedule where people sign up for coverage. Turns out that's not the
case. They have 100 qualified people, so statistically there are always
enough people around. If found that remarkable. I didn't have the
faith. Writing content, sure, but maintaining system integrity?
Without experts, how can you trust the information? Deep seated assumptions that experts actually count. I grew up in the 60s and learned about trust in experts, VietNam. Now it's WMDs. Its a cultural thing where we are wired to not accept things.
Anyone can edit any article at any time -- the very openess that leads perpetually for opportunities for improvement. If there is a problem, it can be spotted and fixed by anyone. MSM failed to notice that after the Siegenthaler affair, the Nature article showed a comparison in favor for the quality of Scientific articles over the Brittanica. The quality was roughly equivalent for Wikipedia and fact, not statistically different. But in the Brittanica article were poor. But after the article came out, the quality of those very articles improved.
I became convinced that Wikipedia was going to be the next big thing. And things like it. I have some history here. Next big things I have gotten right before:
I like these weird things just before they hit. So why am I talking about wikis? I made a study of it, here are the learnings:
Community. Genuine community
of people behind the wiki. Not an anthill or marketplace where each
does their own thing and it magically aggregates. People are really
tied together, Wikipedians. They are in relationship to one another and
that is the glue that holds it together. You are not suprised about this
Vision. Promulgated by Jimmy Wales: create a free
encyclopedia of the worlds knowledge for all the worlds people. Jimmy
started as a commodities trader. Thought about what he really wanted to
do. Started a mailing list, hired someone, created Nupedia with a
complex process. Then went to the mailing list and called for help.
Lots of people talking about vision started making progress in two to
three weeks to launch Wikipedia.
Mission. Community of peer production, not abstract. People who do things all see their activity as being related to a larger goal.
Wikipedians. I went to Hamberg for the Wikimania
conference, their first gathering in person. People come from all walks
all over the world, a little different than the software world of open
source. Writing good code is hard. Making contributions from lots of
people work together is even harder. Wikipedia is very modular,
everyone can work on what they want. Every article also has a talk page
to discuss that article, and every user has a talk page for talking
about themselves, some of the best aspects of virtual communities.
People are strangers, but others cluster together.
Leadership. The leader has to
serve the community. They are volunteers, a different paradigm, not a
business paradigm where somewhere under the surface there is a
heirarchy. Leadership in a voluntary inspiration, moral leadership,
empowering and recognizing people. Jimmy calls himself a Libertarian,
which makes sense in some context, but there is something about
empowering a community that can be an unruly bunch that can be
Values. They talk about values openly, not a dirty word.
Notes from a panel at OSBC
Peter Fenton, Accel Partners, Moderator
Ranga Rangachari, GroundWork Open Source Solutions. Has a hybrid OSS model, 100 customers.
Daniel Frye, IBM, works on their open source strategy team, manages a ton of OSS developers.
Adam Tractenberg, eBay developer evangelist
Clint Oram, SugarCRM, from inception a commercial open source entity
Mike Olsen, sold his company, Sleepycat, to Oracle today