angry penguin


Scritturare (engage)

Brian Alleyne's weblog on culture, politics, and technology

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Ten Years of Wikipedia and Open Culture
angry penguin

In the ten years since the launch of Wikipedia, the online open encyclopaedia that is now one of the world’s most consulted sources of information, we have seen major shifts in how  knowledge is produced and circulated. The key to these shifts is openness: open source software, open content, and open culture.

In almost every society on the planet there are calls for greater openness in government, more increased access to electronic databases, and for more access to the means of communication itself. Systems of copyright that have protected individual expression for more than a century are being challenged or ignored altogether, especially by the generation of 'digital natives' natives, those born since the middle 1990s. Digital natives see little point in paying for access to many kinds of digital goods, and this creates a headache for the multinational corporations that produce these goods, but also for individual authors and artists. We are in the throes of an information revolution.

Two developments kick-started all of this: the spread of affordable computers and internet access; and growth of open source software. We are nearing the point where 2 billion people will have access to the Internet, even if as in the poorest countries it is only through a basic mobile phone. Rapidly expanding net access set the scene for the opening up of global culture and communication, of which Wikipedia is a prime example.

Open source software may be used, distributed and modified without restriction, provided that these freedoms are preserved for others. It is usually free of charge. This software has surprising roots. The Internet, originally designed to allow US military communications to survive nuclear attack, was adopted in the late 1960s by academic researchers, first in the US and then eventually world-wide, who used it to share software and data. Out of this the open source hacker culture emerged, and it grew into today’s global community of millions of programmers, writers, and artists, working collectively, and usually for free, on countless software projects, which are then made freely available to users.

Wikipedia itself grew out of its founders’ dreams to produce an encyclopaedia that would be open to anyone’s contribution and which would be freely accessible over the Internet. The project has been spectacularly successful, though not without its controversies, but then we are still in the infant stages of building global scale collaborative projects. Whatever the bumps along the way, Wikipedia’s success assures us that the future will be Open.


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