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Wikimania 2006 Day One

This is a long post, so pull up a chair… Lots of photos coming soon, too, as soon as I upload them.

I’m hiding for a bit in the speaker’s lounge, mainly because the air conditioning works great in here, and it’s kind of hot and muggy out in the hallway. We’re at Pound Hall on the Harvard Law School campus, which is a very nice facility. The sessions are being held in classrooms, and the opening keynote and lunch were in a larger room. Lawrence Lessig’s after-lunch plenary on “The Ethics of Free Culture” was at the nearby Austin building, in a room called the Ames Courthouse. That’s an OLD building, just oozing history, and I swear I’ve seen the Ames Courthouse room used in movies that took place at Harvard. Very cool environment.

I just wanted to take a few minutes and post some notes and impressions from the conference so far. I’ve mostly been taking notes in OneNote 2007 Mobile on my Windows Mobile phone. Much quicker and easier to jot something down that comes to mind.

I overslept a little this morning. My body still thinks it’s on the west coast, and refused to get up at the equivalent of 3:00 AM. That, and an unfamiliar alarm clock in a dark hotel room (I must have hit some other button besides snooze ;-)). So I missed the first half of Jimbo Wales’ opening keynote. By the time I got there, it was standing room only, and he still had some interesting stuff to talk about. The things that stood out most to me:

  • Jimbo announced that the entire Wikipedia will be included in the content library being built for the Negroponte “One Laptop per Child”. That means that, if I understood correctly, every child/laptop user will have access to the entire Wikipedia body of knowledge right out of the gate. That’s pretty cool.
  • The Wikimedia Foundation and SocialText are working on a joint effort to create/implement “Wikiwyg” – a wysiwyg editor for MediaWiki. No dates when it will be available, but this will be a nice feature. I get a lot of resistance at Intel from people who groan when they find out they have to learn wikitext in order to do stuff in MediaWiki.
  • They’re going to focus on releasing “stable versions” of Wikipedia, starting in German. I guess that means a verified “stable” version of a page, as well as the page that anyone can edit. This comes as part of an increased focus on the quality of the content in Wikipedia.
  • Notable quotes: “We have a responsibility to get it right.” and “the wiki way is the opposite of proprietary and expensive” (not a direct quote, but that was the gist).

In the morning, I went to Chris Messina‘s session on “All the world’s a wiki“, where he talked about BarCamp, and organizing real world events in the wiki spirit. I first met Chris (and his cohort Tara Hunt, the two of whom comprise Citizen Agency) at Gnomedex, where they gave a great session on “thinking small”. BarCamp is a very interesting idea, and I want to implement something like it within Intel. Now, I just have to figure out the best way to do that. :-)

After Chris, Alexis Rondeau gave a great explanation of Semapedia.org – the project to create semacode (“physical hyperlinks”) that you can place on real world places and objects, and scan with a cameraphone (running a semacode decoder) to get the Wikipedia URL for that item. You can create tags for any page in Wikipedia by going to Semapedia.org, entering the page title/URL, and they’ll generate you a PDF which you can print onto paper (or even better, stickers/labels). Alexis even had a semacode that the MIT Media Lab had created on a piece of wood for him, using their laser cutter (I have a photo of that). Very cool idea, but the software is limited right now. So far, only Symbian Series 60 phones and Java capable phones are supported (Semapedia doesn’t make the readers, but uses ones already out there, like the ones at semacode.org). I tried installing the Java midlet on my Sprint Samsung phone, but it got all the way to the end of the download and then said “download failed”. Several times. There is no semacode reader that I could find for Windows Mobile devices (not that there’s a camera on my Samsung i730, but still). So, I couldn’t try it out, but it’s still a very cool idea.

At lunch, I sat at a table with Jason Calacanis and David Weinberger. Jason was his flamboyant self as usual, and we chatted about the growth of Netscape, and the success of his experiment paying the top bookmarkers from other services to work for Netscape. I also congratulated him on his recent marriage. This was the first time I’ve met David Weinberger, who is one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto (the bible for how the internet affects businesses). It was neat to get to meet him – I told him that I preach the Cluetrain at every chance I get, especially his chapter on “The Hyperlinked Organization“. I wrapped up lunch with stars in my eyes. :-)

After lunch, we all headed over to the Austin building and Ames Courtroom (the big rainstorm earlier had thankfully stopped). Lawrence Lessig gave his plenary session on “The Ethics of Free Culture”. It was very impressive. Slides timed to the second, and delivered very well. And the message was very powerful (he’s responsible for a little thing you might have heard of called Creative Commons, but that wasn’t his topic). There was a live video stream, and I sure hope that someone puts up a video of the session after the fact, so I can point you all to it, and say “take an hour, go sit down, and watch this. It’s important.” Some of the things that stood out to me during his presentation:

  • Text (writing words) is the Latin of our time. The “vulgar”, common language of culture today is video, sound, and photo.
  • We all feel the “proprietary instinct” when we create something. We want to control it, how it’s used, etc. But freedom is a more important value than that proprietary instinct, and we need to override it.
  • Old, proprietary computers that couldn’t interact with each other were the age of “autistic computing”. Today, even where we have islands of free culture (like Wikipedia’s Free Documentation License and Creative Commons), it’s still “autistic”. Different licenses can’t interoperate with each other. Yet.
  • Legal code like Creative Commons and Free Documentation licenses enable free culture, but they aren’t free culture. They’re plumbing, like TCP/IP, which enables the Internet.

Again, it was a very cool, inspiring, informative, and powerful session. The room was packed, and people were sitting on the floors. I’ll post a link to a video (or at least audio, but you need the visual of his presentation to get the full effect) as soon as I find one. It’s a must-watch.

There was a great session Birds of a Feather session this afternoon on MediaWiki in the Enterprise. It was a discussion with some of the MediaWiki developers on the features that enterprise users (like me) have requested – security, LDAP integration, etc. Basically, if they did add these features, they’d be developing (and be responsible for maintaining and patching) code and functionality that is useless to them (non-enterprise users). There was discussion about whether people who wanted these enterprise features should fork the MediaWiki codebase, or just work around the issues as most are doing now (say, by implementing security at the web server level if you have a wiki that you only want a certain group of people to see). I shared a lot with the group about how I’ve implemented MediaWiki inside of Intel, and had quite a few people come up and ask questions after the session. I couldn’t help but refer people to the panel session on “Organizational Use of MediaWiki” that I’m going to be participating in on Sunday morning. :-) I gave out lots of cards, too, because I’m always willing to help if I can if you have questions about implementing MediaWiki (or blogs, podcasting, etc.) in your environment. The most tangible thing to come out of the session was the creation of a “mediawiki-enterprise” mailing list, for those of us interested in MediaWiki use behind the firewall. Go sign up if you’re interested.

After that session, I retreated here to the speakers lounge for a while. I talked to a guy from NetworkWorld about Intel’s use of wikis, the benefits we’ve seen from it, and generally went into evangelist mode. :-) For those who might start to freak out that I was talking to a member of the press, don’t worry. I know how to behave myself, and didn’t say or do anything that would reflect poorly on Intel. I’m trying to be a good example here, remember? 😉

Since then, I’ve been writing this post, and peeking at email and feeds (both of which are piling up horribly!). Now I suppose I’d better go see what I’m missing. There’s a “Poster Reception” tonight, where people who submitted poster ideas for the conference will get to present them (at least, I think that’s how it goes). Should be interesting.

I probably won’t post again until tomorrow (and it will probably be another monster post like this one!). Let me know if you have any questions, and if you’re here in Cambridge, drop me a line or grab me in the halls and say Hi!

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