Defining Open Authority

An attempt to illustrate, define, & discuss the intersection between museum
authority & participatory digital culture. | Ask me about museums & Wikipedia.

Posts tagged "open web"

2 years ago 6 notes Wikipedia sopa neutrality open web tech

Wikipedia: The Neutrality Paradox?

Yesterday, in the height of excitement preparing for the Wikipedia Blackout, I had the opportunity to simply be proud about being a part of something bigger. But today, now that the Blackout has (of course) attracted attention, it has turned into a defense of Wikipedia’s principles.

I’m going to specifically address the points brought up by Nick Poole, CEO of the UK-based Collections Trust, this morning on Twitter. Here is our exchange thus far:

@NickPoole1: #Wikipedia on blackout - ‘Our articles are neutral, our existence is not’ - undermines entire principle of neutrality. 
@HstryQT: Not true, Nick. Wikipedia is built on the principles of the open web & that must be protected. No openness = no wiki neutrality
@NickPoole1: If u act like a body corporate, then u are de facto not neutral. Who is the ‘we’ in the #Wikipedia article? U can’t close a commons
@HstryQT: Yet, we did. The community closed the commons in order to save the commons. Guess we’re redefining things. @mpedson take note.

The quote he is referring to is from Kat Walsh, a Wikimedia Foundation board member who I personally know to be brilliant and whose voice of reason I’ve come to highly appreciate.

"Why is the Wikipedia Blackout a good thing?" Quite simply, it’s good because it clearly and pragmatically illustrates the impact that this legislation would have, not only in the US but on a global scale. It is using a worldwide platform to advocate for the open web and the associated culture that made Wikipedia possible. As the quintessential collaborative community that came out of the open source movement, it only makes sense for Wikipedia to make this stand. Wikipedia’s volunteers continue to maintain the principles of freely and openly sharing knowledge. Usually we are doing this in little ways. But today we have the chance to show just why the open web is so, so very important.

"The Blackout undermines Wikipedia’s principles of neutrality." There are many others who agree with this statement, in fact the Wikipedia community itself debated it heavily. (The very fact that Wikipedians debated this actually illustrates my point further; see below.) It is shortsighted to say that Wikipedia’s advocacy undermines its principles of neutrality. Kat’s quote in fact is the most concise and clear statement revoking this argument: “Our articles are neutral, our existence is not.” But I’ll tease this out for the sake of dissenters.

The community never claims to be neutral. Those who understand the history of Wikipedia and the open source movement will understand that the community itself is in no way neutral in regards to our views on the importance of the open web. The very act of being a “movement” (which is how Wikipedia proudly defines itself) implies that we feel strongly about our views on freely and openly sharing knowledge. We make no claims to be neutral on the subject. So why then should it mean that our advocacy is undermining our principles? This is absolutely not so. We are in fact defending our principles and doing our best to ensure that the open web thrives. As one of the largest and oldest communities devoted to this cause, it would be odd for us to not make a stand.

The articles aim to be neutral. The principles of neutrality within Wikipedia can easily be misunderstood by those outside of the community. Once again, as Kat explained, “Our articles are neutral, our existence is not.” Neutrality is indeed a pillar within Wikipedia and describes a standard that we strive to achieve for the encyclopedia. Neutrality is a goal for the product, not the community. And can I also note - the Wikipedia community itself will always have argued whatever point you’re trying to make over and over (and over and over). You can find these discussions which we transparently have out in the open for all to see. We aim for our articles to be neutral, that doesn’t mean the community is.

"Who is the ‘we’ in the Wikipedia article?": “We” is whoever wants to contribute to the conversation. One becomes a part of the community simply by taking part in the discussion on the talk page. When consensus is reached about how to best illustrate a topic in a neutral manner and with the best sources, it is presented in that article. If you do not feel that something is neutral in an article, join in and say as much! Help us make it better.

"You can’t close a commons." And that’s what makes the Wikipedia Blackout so unprecedented. The commons chose to shut down the commons to save the commons. Has this ever happened before? Likely not. But in this case, we actually did close a commons because the community chose to do so. This may mark a redefinition of what a commons is, or more specifically what a commons is capable of. While it might err from the usual definitions, I think it’s worth looking to Wikipedia, the original commons, in setting this new precedent.

Just to be clear, the Wikimedia Foundation did not make this decision, the community did. The Wikimedia Foundation assisted in the technical aspects of implementing the Blackout, but only after thorough, heated, and ongoing debate among the Wikipedia community itself. In the end, the Wikimedia board could not make the call, the founder Jimmy Wales could not make the call, nor could the Executive Director Sue Gardner make the call - three respected administrators moderated the discussion and declared when consensus was reached. This was a huge decision for the Wikipedia community, and one which I’m very proud to have been a part.


2 years ago 11 notes Wikipedia museums open web technology authority

Defining Open Authority in Museums

In which I attempt to distill my thesis into less than 600 words. Please do share your thoughts in the comments section (on the NMC blog itself.) I’d love to hear them!

From “Defining Open Authority in Museums” via the New Media Consortium:

As part of my museum studies MA, I have been researching the potential of Wikipedia as a platform for museums to encourage accessibility and community dialogue. My research happened to coincide with an incredibly inspiring discussion about authority among museum professionals, which led me to propose a new model for authority in museums: open authority.

What is open authority?  That’s a good question, which I can begin to explain by describing the parallel theories that frame my research.  These theories are actually mirroring metaphors:  The Temple and the Forum in the museum field and The Cathedral and the Bazaar in the open web community.  In 1971, Duncan F. Cameron posited that the museum should be both a temple and a forum — an authoritative space and a place for dialogue that coexist within a museum but remain separate.  In 1997, Eric S. Raymond wrote The Cathedral and the Bazaar as a comparison between top-down software development and open source software development that is available for all to adapt and improve, with Linux as the quintessential example. The important conclusion is that, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” I believe that the future of museum authority lies in bringing these two metaphors together.

I see open authority as the coming together of museum authority with the principles of the open web. In other words, open authority is a mixing of institutional expertise with the discussions, experiences, and insights of broad audiences. Opening up authority within a global platform can increase points of view and establish a more complete representation of knowledge.  Just as “with more eyes all bugs are shallow,” cultural interpretation will only improve with diverse participation.

What does open authority look like?  Projects across various disciplines have experimented with sharing levels of authority with museum audiences.  The recently published Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World is a great overview of where the history field stands, and offers enlightening case studies ranging from digital participation, oral history initiatives, and community curation.

Wikipedia is just one of many platforms that can be better utilized to encourage open authority in museums. In fact it can be seen as both a “temple” (the main article) and a “bazaar” (the talk page.) The article talk page is a true digital forum where collective knowledge is brought together within a broad, global discussion. Adding curatorial expertise to this discussion will further enrich the information that is ultimately presented on the published article.  In fact, the Wikipedia articles themselves can be viewed as a sort of authority in flux, where the best version of the moment is presented for view while details are continually negotiated behind the scenes.  In this “temple” it is understood that no narrative is definitive, neutrality is the goal but bias is inherent, and interpretation is continuously improved through an abundance of perspectives. Might this be the new authority we need to embrace?

This is one vision of what open authority may look like, but there are many others out there. I’ve found that sometimes it takes defining something to see its potential.  I’d love to hear your ideas and examples of open authority in museums, from what can be done today to what we have to look forward to in the future.


2 years ago 2 notes Wikipedia open web SOPA online piracy copyright

How SOPA will hurt the free web and Wikipedia

I’ll be doing my small part today to encourage Congressional opposition to SOPA.  I hope that others won’t turn a blind eye to the threat that this poses to the open web.

In short, though there have been some improvements with the new version, SOPA remains far from acceptable. Its definitions remain too loose, and its structural approach is flawed to the core.  It hurts the Internet, taking a wholesale approach to block entire international sites, and this is most troubling for sites in the open knowledge movement who probably have the least ability to defend themselves overseas.  The measured and focused approach of the DMCA has been jettisoned.  Wikimedia will need to endure significant burdens and expend its resources to comply with conceivably multiple orders, and the bill will deprive our readers of international content, information, and sources.

Geoff Brigham
General Counsel
Wikimedia Foundation