Aprés GLAM

Well, “GLAM-WIKI: finding the common ground” is over and I can now, in theory, get to sleep. However there are still a range of things to do and I really want to try to keep the momentum up and the conversation continuing as much as possible. You can see at the event page all of the media stories that mentioned the event as well as the blog posts that are starting to come in from the attendees. We got a lot of interesting press, including a rather backhanded compliment in the major newspaper of all the biggest cities and I even got on a very popular breakfast radio show across the whole country (audio interview).

The twitter stream for #GLAM-WIKI picked up over 500 tweets from more than 70 different people. It became extremely busy during the “politics and policy” session on the morning of day 2 (panelists listed here).

There will be videos of all sessions placed online sometime soon so you’ll be able to see what happened and feel like you were there! The videos are currently exporting to DVD in real time so that will take a couple of days + editing, post production, transcoding, uploading…

So, in the mean time, I thought I’d give you some speeches to read since I have no videos to show you just yet. The keynote address by Senator Kate Lundy can be seen here at her blog. As you can see – this is a politician who actually “gets” open access. It will help the non-Australian readers to know that “NBN” is the National Broadband Network, a proposal to bring our pathetic internet infrastructure into the 21st century with a national, government funded, fibre-to-the-home network. If this policy were any better it would fart glitter. On the other hand, the Australian government still has the concept of the “clean feed internet filter” as its policy. The internet giveth, the internet taketh away…

The other speech I can share with you is my own opening address. I hope you like it:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to “GLAM-WIKI: finding the common ground”. This is the first of what I hope to be many similar discussions around the world about how the Wikimedia community can work with the cultural sector. We’ve heard and talked about each other a lot in the past and so I thought it important that we come together to talk with each other.

What we hope to achieve out of these two days is a brief document, listing some requests from each community to the other that can be used as a basis of discussion in the future and allows each community to officially request things of the other. It is very difficult to advocate for changes in large organisations (or large communities) and this is even more difficult without some kind of proof that the changes are important or even wanted. That’s what we hope to achieve here – to give each other proof of a demonstrable need for reforms. Of course these suggestions are not promises. The Wikimedia community as a whole makes these kinds of decisions on a consensus model but by demonstrating what cultural institutions would like allows us to advocate in our community for a collaborative approach more effectively. Equally, we do not hold you to be bound by any of the suggestions and it is possible that some won’t even apply to your organisation. But at least these suggestions can be used to start discussions within your own department, organisation, sector. If we don’t tell each other what we want and where we come from, then we’ll never know where we need to improve.

The four themes of this conference – Technology, Law, Business and Education – will form the basic structure of discussions today and tomorrow. In the Wikimedia world we do not pretend to be experts in professional practices of these various fields, but our projects do impact on them to some considerable degree.

  • To the Educators – Wikimedia projects are at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy. We give people descriptive information but it is those with expert knowledge at the forefront of their field who perform the important task of new research and analytical work. Wikipedia is not competing with that. In fact, it requires this original research and the verifiable sources to be undertaken.
  • To the Techies – We are an Free-Libre Open Source platform of websites and software that runs on a LAMP stack. You are free to create tools that plug in to our open-API. We provide complete and specialised dumps of the entire database for you to work with. We encourage new tools or improvements to existing tools that can use, incorporate or adapt our content in interesting and educative ways.
  • To the Curators – Wikimedia projects are all about contextualisation of information within a wider catalogue of knowledge. Information is just data if it left on its own, so we attempt to give information an ordered, categorised, structured (yet highly fluid) meaning. The journey that a curator provides can be built from the raw materials of our free-content and equally those interlocking stories can be re-incorporated back.
  • To the business-men and women – Whist we are a free project with no commercials, but we have no non-commercial content. You are free and encouraged to take what we offer and make as much money and commercial advantage as you want with it without asking permission or paying fees. All we ask is that you attribute us and share any improvements you have made to Wikimedia content back to it – and in turn, to the rest of the world.
  • And finally to the economists – Clay Shirkey said that we are living through what you might call a “positive supply side shock to the amount of freedom in the world”. This is disruptive to the system but has enormous potential benefits.

Last time I was here, I went up to the name plaques on the wall and watched lady find her relative’s name – stroking the nameplate, kissing a poppy and wedge it into the wall alongside hundreds of others. Just like people shining up parts of bronze statues, people are compelled to interact with their culture. This lady’s actions are a particularly Australian expression of this desire to interact, a form of expression that is not just permitted but encouraged. This is a form of read/write culture. Not just a static, read-only, memorial where you are but permitted to look. It is subtle but important active engagement. Notable also is the fact that a decision was made to place no entrance fee to participate in this cultural activity or to visit the museum. To charge an entrance fee to this museum would seem incongruous. And so we have at the Australian War Memorial a very apt example of read/write culture and of Free-culture. A culture that is both free in the sense of liberty and free of charge. These are the principles that underpin everything we do in Wikimedia.

We all know the phrase “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand”. Over the past decades we have been increasingly encouraged to interact with our culture in museums and to become engaged with our heritage rather than just to observe it, locked behind glass display cases.

Now, we also have a digital culture and you can see by the enthusiasm of people taking, copying, sharing re-editing and interacting with their digital culture, that there is not a decreasing interest in cultural engagement, but an increasing interest – just in a new location. The very fact that Wikipedia – the seemingly most mundane of knowledge forms, an encyclopedia – is the 4th busiest location online is testament to this. People are thirsty for knowledge. Thirsty to take it and use it and interact with it on their own terms. However, this kind of behaviour is often discouraged, sometimes criminalised. The old rule of “Look, but don’t touch” is the message that is being send out.

Just as there has been a move to open up the display cases and make engaging physical spaces in cultural institutions I encourage you to think of these two days as working out ways of sustainably opening up the digital display cabinets so that your visitors might be able to continue to interact with their culture in this new space.

At this point I would like to recognise that we are in Ngunawal country. Whose people have been the custodians of this land since the dreaming. Looking after it for future generations whist still living within it. They did not “own” it in the western sense of the word but looked after it out of a sense of profound respect for the land. I would like to draw parallels with you. Your institutions are similarly the cultural custodians of our heritage – not as proprietors of culture but as protectors of it.

I believe there are important parallels between the Aboriginal relationship to the land and Wikipedia’s approach to knowledge. We bring what we can to the common project out of respect for what has gone before. What we are driven by is the creation and maintenance of nothing less than a mirror of our own culture for no other reason than because we think it important to preserve – for our generation and into the future.

So – In passing over to Jennifer Riggs, Chief Program Officer at the Wikimedia Foundation, to open this unprecedented event, I urge you to think about how we all – as custodians of our cultural heritage – can open up the digital display cases.”

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2 Responses to Aprés GLAM

  1. Pingback: The Wikipedia Signpost (wikisignpost) 's status on Monday, 10-Aug-09 15:03:54 UTC - Identi.ca

  2. simonfj says:

    When I said you “took all the heat out of the day”, this was the intro that did it. Beautifully balanced and crafted, with just the right touch of pathos and practicality. Not a thing out of place and a message of hope to every profession. I’m surprised you didn’t have men crying and women coming up and asking you to have their babies.

    The only thing I’d say doesn’t quite work is the Bloom’s Taxonomy reference, with Wikipedia at the bottom. But that’s only because it’s a taxonomy for teaching. It “refers to a classification of the different objectives that EDUCATORS set for students”. If you consider Wikipedia, or any encyclopedia, as a learning device then you have to turn the whole taxonomy on its head, and add one missing piece to his ‘cognitive domain’ = perception.

    What you’ve done is offer a way every GLAM might have their goodies perceived, which is their biggest prob. Maybe you might see how “Wikipedia can be your billboard’ works as a message.

    I’m not sure what use I can be here. Perhaps raising pennies?

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