Wikipedia founder warns against censoring the Net — Bangkok Post

November 21, 2007

[FACT comments: We should be ashamed that it takes foreigners to point out such obvious faults in Thailand.]

Wikipedia founder warns against censoring the Net
Open source search project on the way

Don Sambandaraksa
Bangkok Post Database, November 21, 2007

The founder of Wikipedia, the Wikipedia Foundation and Wikia, Jimmy Wales, recalled how the free, editable online encyclopedia project got started with the radical idea that the sum of human knowledge should be available to everyone on the planet for free.

Delivering a keynote address at ICT Expo 2007 last Friday, Wales strongly criticised Internet censorship, calling it a barrier to progress and said that economic growth needed a free flow of creative ideas.At Wikipedia millions of articles written by thousands of volunteers are licensed “free” in the sense of the GNU Open Software movement and as defined by Richard Stallman.

Wikipedia itself only uses free software. MediaWiki, the engine behind it is open source and is scalable all the way from a single notebook, which Wales uses to manage his own notes, up to an entire data centres or Wiki Farm, the kind that is behind, the Internet’s eighth most popular web site with over 180 million hits a month.

“Every piece is free. That is integral to our mission. Free software and free file formats. It wouldn’t be very free if you had to purchase proprietary software to read it,” he noted.

The strength of Wikipedia lies in neutrality and moderation. “Contrary to confused media reports that think it’s a wide open blog, Wikis are much better than any other medium at generating calm, measured discussion and debate,” he explained.

“In order for your writing to survive in an open process, it must be broadly appealing to a large number of people. If you write something highly inflammatory, they will change it, pushing people towards quality and thoughtfulness and away from being extremists.”If there are two opposing views on a topic, the idea for arbitration is not to decide which one is right, but to put forward both views and not to take a stand. Beyond the editors, Wikipedia has ArbCom, the arbitration committee, which decides on differences of opinion. Beyond ArbCom, users can appeal to Wales himself. However, he has never overturned an ArbCom decision and is more involved in helping to set and guide policy rather than act as a court of last appeal.

Wikipedia is an international project. English is by far the most popular language, but the two million English language entries account for only one third of the total. He said that the Thai section may have only 29,500 articles, but it is quite active given the population of 65 million. Hindi, by comparison, with over 280 million speakers, has only 14,000 articles.

The current board of the Wikimedia Foundation that runs Wikipedia and other projects such as Wikitionary and Wikinews, would soon be expanded to include board members that reflect its global nature. Today the board has four from Europe and three members from the United States.

Funding for Wikimedia is through donations, the vast majority of which are small donations of less than one hundred dollars from individuals. This is enough to keep the project going but Wales admits that the number of donors, under 30,000, is disappointingly low given the popularity of Wikipedia. If anything it proves that voluntary donations may not be the best financial model to fund projects.

There is no advertising on the site as he does not want readers to wonder how much influence the advertisers have on an article about them or their competition, however he has not ruled out advertisements altogether.

Another more likely revenue stream will be from licensing the Wikipedia brand. Wales said that a board game maker has approached him with an idea for a Wikipedia game and while he liked the idea, he said this particular game was too boring.

There are many other projects that Wales is working on. Wikia is a new for-profit company that does advertising-supported Wikis. He compared it to a library, where there is an encyclopaedia, in this case the free Wikipedia, but there are also magazines and newspapers as well as other specialist books, some of which have advertisements, some of which cost a lot of money.

Today Wikia hosts over 3,000 Wikis in 66 languages (he does not consider the 67th language, Klingon, to be a real language), magazines which allow people to vote articles to the front and a sports news site.One example is the Muppet Wiki, which revolves around the popular children’s show. For instance, the entry for Ford Motor Company under the Muppet Wiki talks about how Kermit the Frog once starred in a Ford commercial, something that would not be of interest in the mainstream.

However, the hottest thing that Wikia is doing now is search. Unlike traditional search companies such as Google and Yahoo, which keep their search algorithms secret, Wikia will open up its search algorithms to the public to see, use and help improve on. This new search engine is set to launch by the end of December.

The search engine will be cared for by the “community”. However, in order to prevent spammers “contributing” to the search engine with commercial spam, Wikia is developing an open source Facebook-style social networking site so that contributors to the system can be given a history and it gives the community the tools to help monitor each other.

So did this social networking component come out of the infamous “Essjay” incident, where a 24 year old Wikipedia contributor rose though the ranks and even got appointed to ArbCom by pretending to be a professor with two PhDs? When asked, Wales did not confirm that link but did reflect on the incident. “The trust of so many Wikipedians was violated, yet the fact remains that this guy did great work,” he said.

source: Bangkok Post Database, November 21, 2007

2 Responses to “Wikipedia founder warns against censoring the Net — Bangkok Post”

  1. dualcitizen Says:

    Has anyone noticed that we are unable to access wikipedia as of Weds, 21 2007? Apparently MICT has banned it, because people abroad are having no problems at all whereas I keep receiving a timeout error over and over…

  2. bact' Says:

    dualcitizen: which isp you using ? if it’s True Internet, yes, you’re in trouble — ppl using True can’t access to Wikipedia. try to call the call center, some reported that after they reported it to the call center, they can get access.

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