Decent browsers on mobile phones: Are we there yet?!

Brion Vibber summarises from OSCON on the future of browsers on mobile phones.

Some quick thoughts – capable smartphones are expensive (e.g. $350 to $1000), and the basic phones below that price point tend to be pretty limited and have small screens (but they’re cheap and fairly tough, so as an actual phone they work fine, but as an internet-enable communication device, they suck).

The good news that is that people turn over their phones relatively quickly (e.g. in Aus approx 11 million phones were sold for the last few years to a population base of 21 million, so average active phone lifespan presumably is around 1.9 years). So even if everyone bought only capable smartphones from this point onwards, it would take most of 2 years to get to sufficient market saturation that a phone with a capable browser could be assumed. But the fact is that people won’t all start buying smartphones (without a truly compelling reason to), and people who have smartphones won’t all sign up to mobile internet packages (it’s better in the US I think, but in Aus you usually have to pay extra for this, and you typically get an allowance of anything from 100 Mb to several gigs per month of bandwidth, and if you go over that you get slapped hard with extra usage charges – I’ve heard up to $1 per megabyte, but that’s so scary I hope it’s not true). So yeah, it puts people off. Realistically, probably 4 or more likely 5 years before this mess is sorted out and most people have a decent enough phone with a reasonable browser with mobile internet.

And for things like GPS, I say “BOO!” to only native apps being able to access that. GPS badly needs a standardised JavaScript interface, that can do stuff like say “do you have GPS?” and get a boolean answer, “do you have a signal?” and get a boolean answer, and then ask “what is the long + lat?” and get back an array of two decimal numbers. When this is native and works and runs without throwing errors in all browsers (both on phones and on desktops), then it’s going to be fricken awesome (e.g. walk around and have your phone display the Wikipedia article for the nearest landmark, walk around the city/go skiing and see where your mates are on a map on your phone and so be able to easily meet up with them for lunch/coffee, go to a new city and get a tour on your phone that knows where you are and tells you the most interesting tourist highlights that are closest to your location and that you haven’t visited yet, and so on and so forth). When it happens it’s going to be heaven-on-a-stick, but getting there feels like it could be painful and slow.

LCA2008 talk: “Who’s behind Wikipedia?”

Today I’m at 2008 in Melbourne, where Brianna Laugher gave a talk called “Who’s behind Wikipedia?”

If I find the link to the video I’ll add it here, but in the mean time my quick notes from the talk are as follows:

Firstly, selling Wikipedia to geeks is an easy sell.

Brianna’s background: free content, rather than free software.

Talk assumes familiar with Wikipedia, and is for people who believe that the Wikimedia model can work. Not for conspiracy theorists, or people who think the model does not work.

What is Wikipedia? World’s largest grass-roots bureaucracy! 253 languages (145 have > 1000 articles), > 8 million articles total. Multilingual project.

Early timeline:

  • 2001 – Wikipedia
  • 2002 – Wikitionary
  • 2003 – Wikimedia foundation formed.

Will focus on the English Wikipedia. Different cultures will have different issues. E.g. Japanese Wikipedia has 45% of edits made by anon users, nearly twice that of English, which probably creates a very different culture in that project.

Wikipedia community : Hierarchy / diagram of User access levels, roughly from largest groups to smallest groups:

  • Readers
  • Anon editors [can’t upload files or start articles, depending on config]
  • Registered users (6 million accounts, but a very large percentage never edit) [subdivided into new and auto confirmed]
  • Roll-back [hundreds of accounts]
  • Administrators / sysops [delete pages, protect pages, block users, approx 1500 on English, admission via RFA process]
  • Bureaucrats [26 people] / arbitration committee [12 people] / checkuser [30 people] / oversight [27 people] / WMF board and staff / Jimmy Wales [founder] / developers / stewards

Wikimedia Foundation – provide essential infrastructure and organisational framework (i.e. part of function is glorified web host + enforce legal constraints to keep project running). Listed some of the WMF projects (wikibooks, etc.)

Some cornerstone guidelines:

  • Assume stupidity over malice / assume good faith.
  • NPOV
  • Copyleft
  • consensus decisions
  • no ownership
  • incremental progress


  • a very long list! (e.g. 3RR, sock puppetry, verifiability, Biography of Living people, no personal attacks, WP:NOT, protection / semi-protection, ignore all rules).


  • Another very long list! (e.g. don’t bite the newbies, WP:POINT, spoilers, spelling esp. British versus American).

Showed some tags that may be added to new articles, that new users may come across:

  • Speedy deleting
  • Proposed deletion
  • Normal / Article for delete (5 days of discussion).
  • –> How to defend “your” article: Improve it!

If concerned about undeletion of content added:

  • Try to resolve with deleting admin
  • Esp. when notability has changed, or inappropriate speed, or process not followed.
  • Two useful pages related to undeletion: [[user:GRBerry/DRVGuide]] and [[WP:ATA]]

Dispute resolution:

  • Be bold, revert, discuss
  • Talk pages
  • [[WP:RFC]] (comment)
  • [[WP:RFM]] (mediation)
  • [[WP:RFAR]] (arbitration – more formal and serious; need to provide evidence and reasons, etc.).

How to get involved:

  • [[WP:AWNB]] – Australian’s Wikipedian noticeboard
  • WikiProjects (there are projects covering most hobbies).
  • Don’t leap into controversy, but do leap in. (e.g. don’t start out with Israeli Palestinian conflict, abortion, Linux Versus Microsoft).
  • for female contributors.
  • Don’t worry about reading all the rules and documentation, just do your best. (instruction creep).

The future:

  • WYSIWYG editing, maybe!
  • Stable versions.
  • Trust highlighting.
  • Splintered community (old hands versus newcomers)
  • Knol, Citizendium (expert-model versus the Wikipedia model). Also Citizendium looks like will use CC-SA license, which is good.

Audience Questions:

  • Q: Are Wikia and Wikipedia separate? A: Yes.
  • Q: If I see errors, can I fix them? A: Yes, please be bold and correct inaccuracies, or if pressed for time, then delete the wrong information and add an explanation in the edit summary.
  • Q: Would like to be able to download Wikipedia images (and especially the image dump), last image dump was from 2004, and want a new one. A: The database dump and image backup process is something that is an item of community concern, and is being worked on.
  • Q: Putting Wikipedia into book format. A: Spoke about PediaPress.
  • Q: Notability, can this be determined by number of hits on a page? A: Yes and no (e.g. some topics can be obscure, yet notable).
  • Q: Growth of the Wikipedia? Exponential growth versus Linear, which is currently being experienced. A: A lot of growth is in the non-English-Wikipedia areas, although does not have latest data.
  • Q: Is Wikipedia too focussed on current events? A: Maybe, although there has a been a shift towards a longer-term view.

Location-aware wikis – the next big wiki thing?

There are some important changes coming in the next five years around how people will use wikis, specifically in conjunction with mobile devices. I’d like to publicly outline my thoughts on the background, the premise, and the potential.


First some background. Around 4 or 5 years ago, most laptops started including local wireless and better power-saving as standard (i.e. greater portability of computing power). About 2 years ago, the number of laptops sold exceeded the number of desktop and server systems sold, and that trend has only continued since (i.e. greater ubiquity of portable computing power).

About 12 years ago, the first mobile phone I owned was a second-hand classic Motorola the size and weight of a small brick (it was too heavy to carry often, so mostly I left it in my car – it was similar to this, but a bit smaller – it was mobile, but not wearable, and the battery life was rubbish, maybe a few hours, and it could only do phone calls). About 9 years ago my phone was basic Nokia – it was much lighter, with battery life of a bit over 1 day, but it was still a bit heavy so it had a belt clip, and it could make calls and send SMS (i.e. very basic data). My current Nokia phone is about 4 years old, it’s cheap, it’s lightweight (85 grams), it has battery life of about a week, and it does WAP, but no Wi-Fi. So the trend lines are clear in retrospect for both laptops and mobiles, and looking ahead, they are converging: Greater portability; Greater computing power; Greater battery life; Greater access to mobile data; And mobile phones are basically becoming wearable mini-computers that you carry around in a pocket with you.

The premise

So far, this hasn’t impacted wikis too much, but I think we’re about to reach a tipping point where these trends do have a bigger impact on wikis – I would like outline why, and what’s required for it to happen. In particular, lately a number of friends and family have independently upgraded to mobile phones with inbuilt GPS plus mobile Internet functionality. I think GPS + mobile Internet + wikis could be a game changer, and it could be a seriously kick-arse combination. But you need all 3 components for it to work.

Think about it – a wiki that has local information about your area, the best restaurants, the best sights and entertainment, all with genuine user-comments and guides and feedback and ratings. Everything in that wiki is geotagged – that’s part of the core purpose of the wiki. You “carry” the wiki with you in your pocket, on your phone, through your mobile Internet. And as you move around, the GPS shows you where you are, and what’s near to you that has got articles and that was good. Wander wherever you like, knowing that you’ll always have the best low-down on what’s good and what’s not, no matter where you are. Be a local anywhere.

Now the mobile phone manufacturers have already started to include some limited GPS software with “points of interest” on their phones – e.g. the Nokia Navigator 6110 will show you nearby ATMs, petrol stations, public bathrooms, etc. That’s great for facts for commodity destinations (e.g. most ATMs or Petrol stations are completely interchangeable). But what about restaurants – which ones are worth eating at, and are in your budget? Sights – which ones are actually worth seeing, according to the people that have been there? The currently GPS software lacks depth in this regard, but worse it lacks participation. This makes it broken.

There are audio tour guides starting to show up for cities – e.g. in Hong Kong you can purchase a SIM card which would then give you free over-the-phone access to a canned tour guide you can listen to as you wandered in a certain area of the city. But it’s basically scripted for you, and you don’t get to “edit” it to add your picks for those who come after you. Canned audio guides lack interactivity and participation.

There are some city-specific wikis (e.g. DavisWiki, ArborWiki), which have good depth about an area. But mostly they lack geotagging, and there’s bound to be some server-side software updates needed to make location-aware wikis work well on mobile phones. So currently the wikis we have about a specific location aren’t particularly usable from a mobile phone. They’re about a place, but they are not location-aware or portable. As a result, city-specific wikis have been a niche wiki application, but in a few years the number of wikis in this area will explode. I know that a number of entrepreneurs are interested in local wikis or the data stores behind them, and it’s an area that has a huge and largely untapped potential, but which to date has mostly been done well by transitory college students.

There are some sites (e.g. for New York) where you can get functionality something like what I’m describing (by scribbling notes on a map), but I suspect it’s not as deep or as broad or as structured as a wiki can be.

No, what you need is all 3 things together: The location-awareness of GPS, the depth and timeliness of being able to access a great big store of current information via the Internet, and the participation of wikis. But it will happen. I’m calling it – mark my words. And whoever does it first and does it best will probably make a bloody fortune.

This plus this on this equals good

The problems

What’s holding it back currently is that advanced phones are expensive (e.g. about AU $850 for a Nokia N95, but there is at least one open-source phone which will have GPS called the OpenMoko in development), not all phones have GPS (e.g. the lauded iPhone lacks GPS – what were Apple thinking? – wouldn’t buy one of these until it has GPS if I were you), and mobile Internet is expensive and often usage-metered rather than flat rate. But those things will get fixed in time. The technology exists and works – it just needs to become widely distributed. Mobile Internet will become ubiquitous in phones, even the cheap ones. GPS will become ubiquitous in phones, even the cheap ones. And mobile Internet will get cheaper as demand for it increases and competition increases, or it will be overtaken by citywide mesh wireless networks. These things will happen, and the opportunity is very real. So it’s not an “if” but a “when”. I’m thinking maybe 5 years before it’s common to see people in the street doing this. But if you want to be there and be ready for that time in 5 years, you probably need to start building it now. But the building it will probably be expensive, simply because the first one of anything non-trivial in software usually is expensive.

What will it look like? How will it work?

The first thing to realise is that if you’re walking around, you don’t normally want a lot of text. A 40-kilobyte Wikipedia article is a tad unwieldy to read on a 2.6″ screen whilst walking around in the full sunlight. What you want instead is a summary of information, possibly spoken by software instead of written text. A little bit of the right information at the right time: “Turn left here. Walk 50 metres. It’s nearly lunchtime – Excellent Portuguese Chicken on your right for $10”. Keep it simple, keep it short.

Now if people want more information at that point, then give it to them. “Hmm… Portuguese food… yum, sounds tasty… let’s quickly scan the menu and ratings… **click** **scroll** … okay, sold!”

Now it’s not a wiki unless you can then add your thoughts. So after you meal, you notice that the hours are slightly out of date, and correct them. Maybe you upload a photo of the shop or your dish (before you ate it!). And you add a rating (4 out of 5) and a quick note: “the chicken is succulent and tasty. Be sure to ask for garlic sauce on your chips – it tastes great!”

Another thing you could do is follow a planned route if you’re new to an area, for a “best of” tour. This is kind of like the Hong Kong idea, but because it’s a wiki it could evolve and be updated in a decentralised fashion. Similarly planning your own routes for later, and storing them on the wiki, would be good. And after you had done the route, if the wiki asked you whether you had any corrections or updates that you wanted to make, then that would be good.

There will also probably have to be a more traditional detailed way to view the wiki, like the standard Wikipedia Monobook skin. This would allow both mobile and desktop users to update and edit the site, whilst still allowing mobile users to have a more concise view of the information.

An important thing to note is that most of the content has to be created by locals. Someone on the other side of the planet can add skeleton entries for restaurant or parks or museums such as names and addresses, but the valuable content, the user-generated stuff, has to come from ordinary users, on the ground, who know the place in question, have tried it, and have had some sort of reaction. So a low barrier to entry (much lower than the Wikipedia) is required to allow sufficient people to contribute feedback to allow it to work.

How to make it happen faster

The single best way to help make this happen faster is to build citywide free mesh wireless networks in your neighbourhood. The mobile Internet is the biggest stumbling block, and big telecoms are hugely resistant to change or dropping their prices unless forced to (basically, they’re pricks). GPS in phones is coming, and I see no sign that companies like Nokia are holding back; and wiki people generally don’t hold back, so that doesn’t worry me either. The wireless networking does a bit though. The answer may be to build a grassroots network, using a self-healing easy-deployment wireless mesh, such as Meraki is doing in San Francisco. (By the way, if anyone wants to start making one of these mesh networks in Sydney, let me know, I’d happily be involved in that).

Anyway, that’s it from me. Just remember: GPS phone + wireless Internet + local wikis = perfect storm. Ciao!

Wikimania 2007 wrap-up

Yes yes, I know this already happened months ago … I’m just sometimes very very slooow to get around to putting things on my blog.

Wikimania 2007 wrap-up: constructive criticism, random comments, and a few photos.

Firstly, if you get a chance to go to Wikimania, then you really should go – you’ll have a really great time. I have only been to this one, but the Taipei organisers were amazing – they were very friendly, amazingly helpful, and the facilities with the lecture rooms being so close to the accommodation and so close to the dining areas and all with an ATM and convenience store nearby, was just superb, and all the touches (e.g. the power cables everywhere) were just great, and the other attendees were lots of fun.

Eric recently wrote a good summary of Wikimania, and towards the end invited some constructive criticism. Well, here are my thoughts on a few things that would have made an amazingly good conference even better, although most of this overlaps with wishlist comments that other people have made:

  • Double-sided name badges, so that you can always read someone’s name. I lost count of the number of times I flipped over someone’s name badge, or they flipped over mine.
  • More wireless microphones so that panels and getting audience input is easier.
  • Maybe try some Meraki mesh routers for wireless networking, as per Gerard M’s suggestion.
  • Include a notepad and pen in the conference bag so that people can take old-school notes.
  • A survey form, to gather feedback at the end of the conference. Example questions: Which talks did people like the most? What things worked well at the conference? What things didn’t work so well? What or who would you like to see at Wikimania?
  • Improve the online video experience for people who can’t be there. (Walter raised this point previously):
    • Background: No matter where you hold Wikimania, it’s a given that large numbers of people will not be able to attend. Now, I must point out that other volunteer-run conferences (like have the exact same problem with videos – their volunteers record videos with the best of intentions of putting of them online, neatly labeled by talk, in an open format. During the conference there’s no time to do this though, because there are fires that have to put out, talks to attend, people to meet, parties to go to – so post-processing and uploading the videos gets pushed back to “later”. Then the conference ends, the attendees go home, and the volunteers who have worked their-asses-off start to think about reconnecting with their friends / family / work, with the best of intentions of doing it some time later. But after a few weeks, it hasn’t happened, and it probably never will. It doesn’t really work, and the only time I’ve seen it done really well was at , but that required an amazing and probably unreasonable amount of work from the organizers, and even then not all of the videos were labeled with obvious names.
    • So my suggestion is this: Take some of the money that would normally go towards getting people to the conference (e.g. $1000 or $2000 would probably fly 2 or 3 people to the conference), and instead put that towards paying A/V non-wikipedians to do all the post-processing and labeling and uploading of videos, as soon as possible after the videos are recorded, and give them part of the money only after it’s done. That way, sure, you get slightly fewer people attending which sucks a bit, but suddenly many more people can participate, even if they cannot physically be there, which more than makes up for it.

And now some random comments:

  • The “Truth in Numbers” documentary from Nic Hill will finish filming short after the end of Wikimania 2007. He showed a preview at the party (held at the end of the second day). The audience had been chatting for a while, and had quite a few beers, and so was getting a bit vocal. So what was interesting is that when the video was show, people would cheer or boo, depending on who or what was being shown. They booed at the bit about Chinese Internet censorship – as did I. They also booed at Larry Sanger when there was a clip with a quote from him. Now, I have never met the guy, but I do think he’s getting a bit of a raw deal. What he was saying was intelligent, his point was valid, and I for one am glad that Citizendium exists. Currently I don’t use it, but the fact it exists at all as a competitor is a good thing. So please, cut the guy some slack.
  • Location of the next or future Wikimanias. (Note: Alexandria was picked for 2008 recently, so some of this stuff is now out of date!) Of course there’s a bidding process for selecting this, but people love to speculate and make wild guesses about locations. And why not, as a bit of pointless fun? So here were some of the places bandied about as possibilities for next or future years:
    • Alexandria: This would be close to Europe, be convenient for the Middle East and accessible to members of the Arabic & Hebrew Wikipedias. However it would be hot.
    • Australia: People said to the Australians “when are you guys going to host this?” I said “but the weather in Australia in August sucks! It’s cold, and it can be rainy.” But paradoxically, this just made people even keener – 2006 and 2007 were really hot, so a cool / cold location actually confers brownie points (Average temperature range shown here – 9 to 17 degrees Celsius average in August) … And whilst I would love to have Wikimania in Australia, having seen it first-hand, the effort involved in running and organising this is just huge! All the organisers of this have been absolutely amazing, and I look at what they have done and think “wow, that’s a metric tonne of work … dunno if I could handle that!” Brianna L seemed to have had similar concerns. So the current plan is give it some time, and to bid for Wikimania in 2010, and if we get it (and hopefully even if we don’t) to have a local Australian + NZ Wikimania in 2009 (probably in Canberra) to give us some practice and to put to some faces to names, and to get together in a way that is hard to in a large country.
    • South America: Gets you southern hemisphere + cool, plus sounds like they have an enthusiastic bid team.
    • London: Covers Europe, is accessible from the US, has a strong community. (Possible downside: expensive). But, as a bonus, the devs could have the Hacking Days at Rob Church’s flat / house. Just rock up. Uninvited. No more excuses from him about not turning up – just take it to him. :-)
    • Helsinki was also mentioned.
    • Bidding for the next Wikimania: Will probably have bids for the next 2 or maybe 3 in quicker succession (maybe two months or so apart) – so 2008, 2009, and maybe 2010 will possibly be bid for within the next 6 months. Benefit of that is that people can plan and organise sponsors; also allows people to learn.
  • The breakfasts were in a dining hall, held from 7:00 to 8:30 AM. And between 8:20 AM and 8:29 AM a large number of Wikipedians would arrive (including myself, usually at 8:29), just scraping in before the cut-off, no doubt to the annoyance of the kitchen staff. Definite Wikipedian <–> slacker correlation somewhere in there. Or maybe that’s just me :-)
  • Laptop fashion: Most popular laptops brands among Wikimania attendees were by far and away both Apple laptops & IBM ThinkPads. Having stickers for Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Firefox, Wikimania, and so forth stuck to the lid also brought bonus points, and a conundrum for the Apple owners: Do you add stickers, thus potentially ruining the sleek white plastic or polished metal exterior, but conferring status points? And if yes, do you cover the glowing Apple logo? Oh, these must be difficult and vexing questions indeed! :-)
  • Speaking of laptops, man, I wish I had bought a laptop in Taiwan. Shops were selling IBM / Lenovo X61 ThinkPad laptops (1 Gig RAM, 120 Gig HDD, Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 Santa Rosa processor, nice slim form factor) for TWD$38,000, which is equivalent to AUD$1330. I checked the price for the same model when I got back to Australia, and it’s locally around AUD$3100 (i.e. it was only 42% of the price in Taiwan). For that difference, I could quite happily learn to ignore the Chinese meta-characters on the keyboard.
  • Tip for people planning on attending Wikimania: take lots of business cards. I took about 15 (which I thought would be plenty), but actually about 30 would have been the right number.

And lastly a few photos:

Wikipedians buying fruit at the night markets:
Wikipedians buying fruit at the night markets

Whacky Taiwanese zoo sign: “It’s okay to wave at the Panda Bear, but riding him like a racehorse will make him sad.”
Whacky Taiwanese zoo sign: “It’s okay to wave at the Panda Bear, but riding him like a racehorse will make him sad.”

Yuri being pandered, after falling asleep in a massage chair.
Yuri being pandered, after falling asleep in a massage chair.

Lodewijk takes the Starbucks versus Starbucks-imitator challenge. Starbucks won.
Lodewijk takes the Starbucks versus Starbucks-imitator challenge.

Chaos as people tore the wiki ball apart. Sadly, nobody burst out of the ball.
Chaos as people tore the wiki ball apart. Sadly, nobody burst out of the ball.

Delphine and Cormac jokingly go head-to-head: Taiwanese toys at 50 paces!
Delphine and Cormac go head-to-head: Taiwanese toys at 50 paces!

Wikimania 2007: “Wikimedia Board Plenary Session”

Discussion notes: “Wikimedia Board Plenary Session”
Present: Frieda, Erik Moller, Jimmy Wales, Florence, Kat Walsh, Jean-Bart.

Normally 7 board members, 4 elected and 3 appointed.
Florence / Anthere joined in 2002 on EN and FR. Joined board in 2004. Chairperson.
Kat – Law student, US based, free culture.
Erik – from Berlin, Germany. Was journalist & writer. Concerned about managing potential of volunteers to do what they think is necessary. Most tech-focussed member.
Frieda – Italian, joined 2002, in 2005 was one the founders of the Italian Wikimedia chapter. Was elected a few weeks ago.

Q: Are you happy with the mix of non-elected and elected board members?
A: Most happy with having some appointed people. Erik would prefer all members to be elected.

Q: Print on demand. Any more details? Will we be able to get PDFs for free?
A: Want to make available to other wiki installations. Don’t want to get into specific details, want to avoid a vapor-ware situation. Working with a German company for this. [More info and some source code was released recently, several weeks after this session].

Q: How should people address the board? How do people communicate with the board?
A: “I dunno.” :-) Join the mailing lists, join the local chapters. Need the community members to push things to make them happen, because the board gets so overloaded. There are many things they would like to do, but they are only 7 people. Post-script: Contact: Cary Bass: User name: Bastique, has been hired by the foundation to be the volunteer co-ordinator.

Q: What do you think are some of the highest priority items?

  • Frieda: More communication.
  • Erik: Organising volunteers and co-ordination volunteers.
  • Jimmy: Building infrastructure of the organisation, organisational structure, to take advantage of opportunities.
  • Kat: Organisational structure, less crises.
  • Jean-Bart: Lowering the barriers to entry.
  • Ant/Florence: Usability, explaining our values.

Wikimania 2007 talk: “The Sharing Economy”

Talk by Joi Ito – “The Sharing Economy”.

Wants to have the .wiki TLD. Interested in the blogging revolution. Creative commons licenses.

We are very difficult as an audience! Very varied level of knowledge. Audience will argue back.

The Internet: “The Stupid Network” – David Isenberg (used in a paper); “Small pieces loosely joined” – David Weineberger (used in a book).

Internet created by small teams connecting together. When the Internet fails, it’s usually because of large companies and governments. The innovation is best when it is small pieces. Free software works because the cost of failure is very low – this allows ideas that would normally not be tried in large companies. E.g. Google was most exciting when it was small, and most innovative when it was small.

Professional versus Amateur:

  • The era of the professional had a large barrier to entry… We began to associate professional = good. Professionals are paid.
  • Amateur derives from the word “to love” – doing something because you love it. In English the perception is that amateur = low quality. There is a mismatch here.

Economists – think the more money you have, the happier you are. Utility function. The idea that you are trying to earn as much money as possible. People in the financial business associate intelligence with money. Yet often people are motivated more by factors that don’t have anything to do with money.

Also there is a difference between pleasure and happiness:


  • Drugs
  • Gambling
  • Winning lotto
  • Good weather

You can buy pleasure. We adjust to and quickly get used to pleasure.


  • More than enough is too much.
  • Comes from compassion – giving and receiving love.

You cannot buy happiness.

Amateurs make decisions based on happiness. Professionals maybe more based on pleasure.


  • Hollywood oversimplifies (Shock! Horror!). Pirates sometimes are not stealing; they are in fact fans that are addressing a need that is not being made (e.g localisations that don’t exist; movies which they simply cannot buy in their region).

There is a culture gap:

  • Remix – combining pre-existing material in new and interesting ways
  • E.g. the grey album (black album + the white album)
  • We are currently stifling free speech of remixing video.

Unregulated uses of things, like books – things can currently do:

  • Read
  • Sell
  • Sleep on a book
  • Burn a book
  • Fair use (tiny little grey zone)

Mostly only people who were copying a book and selling it were triggering copyright law.
Most uses of books are free, and unregulated.
Most regulated uses were commercial.

There is a big difference when we go from analogue to digital. Suddenly we are triggering copyright law all the time, because with digital material things get copied ALL the time, and indeed NEED to be copied to work. E.g. a DVD is copied into memory to be displayed; a web site’s pages are copied over the network and into memory when it is displayed in your browser. In the digital world, copies are EVERYWHERE and are REQUIRED for it to work.

Law + Technology = DRM.

Amazon is saying things like “let’s charge per page or per view”.

Now people are saying, “let’s charge second hand book stores”. It’s a creeping form of greed. Companies are not about happiness, they are about money.

There are also people who want “no rights reserved”

Creative commons is in between these two ends of the spectrum.

Creative commons = “Open source for content”. It’s also a “user interface for copyright”.

CC non-commercial no-derivatives is NOT a free license – how can you say it’s free when there are so many restrictions and regulations? – can take this into court – has a legal code. Can add metadata to material to indicate the license restrictions.

With the Internet, want it to be open – it’s GOOD that your enemies and people you don’t agree with can use the Internet – it makes it a much more interesting place and a more useful thing.

Ensemble. The importance of diversity. How a few negative comments can damage group cohesion. How to get different people with very different backgrounds to work together. A sense of unity and shared purpose. A lot of this ensemble gets lost in mailing lists and IRC and the minutia of day-to-day remote stuff – it’s why conferences and get-together are so valuable.

People who work in an online community care about the rules WAY more than people in companies. Most employees will never read their company rules, or comment on them. Studies have found that paradoxically, places with more rules tend to have happier people (because people know where they stand and what’s acceptable). (Personal comment: There has a be a limit to rules otherwise, like the real legal system, ordinary people will need specialists / lawyers to navigate all the rules. E.g. I’m personal slightly doubtful that more rules and guidelines would be constructive for the English Wikipedia).

Wikimania 2007 talk: “Visual identity and Visual Consistency of the Wikipedias”

Talk: “Visual identity and Visual Consistency of the Wikipedias” by Guillaume Paumier. Link to talk’s page.

Wikimedia names and brands.


  • One colour per project (e.g. wikibooks one colour for all languages that wikibooks supports)
  • Official name and localised motto and transcription.

Choosing good logos:

  • Good message
  • Good graphic quality
  • Fitting in the visual identity of the organisation. Pertaining to each other, yet unique.

Stats on other wikis:

  • Around 85% of wikis are like the Wikipedia’s visual identity.
  • In 74% of installations only the logo is different.
  • The default is MediaWiki skin is Monobook, so most MediaWiki wikis look like Wikimedia sites, because it’s the default.

Want a different visual identity for Wikimedia wikis. Want to change the default layout.
Showed some proposed mock-ups for skins, as a starting point for discussions.

Designing a new skin is a challenge. The skin currently is rather overloaded / cluttered – has many links, disclaimers, interwiki links. Want to simplify the UI. Only 4.6% of visitors are editors, and most of the links are relevant to editors. Want perhaps to have a way of switching between viewing and editing mode.

Question of usability. Site needs to work well for everyone. Clean and simple UI, with easy discoverability.

  • Nav bar between the projects.
  • More visible links
  • Thematic consistency
  • Pull down JavaScript menu for actions.

Q & A afterwards:
Q: Why no pull-down menus currently?
A: Client compatibility issues, what happens if JavaScript is not enabled.

Idea of maybe having a small Wikimedia logo on the Nav Bar, to establish that these sites under the Wikimedia umbrella.

Q: How to proceed?
A: Some usability testing by a uni / college could be useful.

Add an experimental non-default test skin. Would be okay to add this to MediaWiki core.

Wikimania 2007 talk: “Wikia”

“Wikia” talk, intro by Angela, some from Gil, majority from Jimmy Wales.

  • Wikipedia = non-profit reference material.
  • Wikia = Approaching very different material (e.g. gaming wikis; Wikis on really complicated & convoluted shows like “Lost”; POV / personal perspectives). For-profit.

I.e. A magazine focussed wiki instead of neutral reference-focussed wiki.

  • Licensing terms
  • Content censorship
  • Let the communities decide

Why would you use Wikia?

  • No installation or maintenance
  • Stable and reliable hosting
  • Large communities so you are not alone.
  • Single-sign-on.
  • New features. (Details?)

Gil – background is eBay.

  • ArmchairGM.
  • User pages – have pictures.
  • German Wikipedia has concept of “people I trust, and people I don’t”.
  • Can add friends, can track activity of friends and foes.
  • Can see the Geo-Location of other users.

People contribute for 2 reasons:

  • Social activity, make friends, etc.
  • Care passionately about the topic at hand.

Showed the Wikia WYSIWYG editor (Personal comment: I think the momentum on this has been lost because of the delay in releasing the source code externally; rather the momentum now seems to be behind FCKEditor).

Open or closed? Future of search:

  • Free access – search engine project – announced Dec 2006.
  • A lot of confusion about this.
  • How things are rated and ranked is proprietary. Considers Google to be a problem, since search has to be trusted. Building the stack (AKA the LAMP stack), and break out the similar requirements for search.

Open source search:

  • Public algorithms for ranking (i.e. the maths that lead to those results)
  • Make a crawl of the web publicly available.
  • Bought “grub”, a web crawler.

Search advertising is a proprietary biz model. There will be ads. Wants mechanisms to prevent Google-bombing. (Why? Large-scale distributed google-bombing is kind of rare, although SEO techniques for messing with keywords are painfully common…)

Opposed to Google’s yielding to the Great firewall of China to censor content.

Wikimania 2007 talk: “WikiHow case study”

“Challenges in a growing wiki : The wikiHow case study” by Jack Herrick (Wikihow founder). Link to talk’s page.

Things people do on the Internet, top 3, in decreasing order:

  • Research buying things
  • Read the news
  • Find out how to do things

Get good feedback from people using their site (showed some feedback messages).

Wikihow started Jan 15 2005 (Wikipedia was Jan 15 2001). By the end of May had:

  • 700 articles
  • 13 active editors

Travis is the engineer.

First article – “how to ride the elevator”. :-)

Jan 2006:

  • 9000 articles
  • 162 active editors.
  • Quality standards rising.

Jan 2007:

  • 15000 articles
  • 250 active editors
  • Existing admins redefine who should become an admin

June 2007:

  • 20000 articles
  • 522 active editors
  • 40 admins

Things want to improve in wikihow

  • more languages
  • more articles. Don’t have red links so much.

Doing okay on:

  • traffic
  • Equality on gender participation
  • Hand patrol every edit.

Wikihow works towards making editing wiki editing easier. Have tried to solve the licensing of uploaded images. Built a tool/extension that links into flickr. Shows the acceptably licensed images based on a search term, and with a click will upload these to Wikihow, and add all the right licensing information. Have written the extension for this. Would like to see this extension or something like it enabled on Wikimedia Commons. (Q: Is this extension in SVN? Update: thanks to Tgr – Yes, it’s the ImportFreeImages extension ).
Also use templates for entering information.

For-profit wikis: Good or evil?

  • Have advertising, which is the biz model & how they pay for everything.
  • Registered users = No ads
  • Anon users = Get ads, but they are minimal
  • This blended approach seems to work okay.

This is how Silicon Valley views user-generated content: Showed Evan P’s crowd sourcing slide.

Showed the wikihow biz philosophy:

  • A community service 1st, and a biz second.
  • Let go.
  • Go slow.
  • Build community.
  • Share it.

Other things:

  • Will try hiring someone for the German wikihow site, because it’s not growing organically. This is a seeding process.
  • Trying to create a for-profit company focussed on a public good.
  • If their biz model works, then it will be a good example for other wikis.
  • Wikihow is forkable. Right to fork both the source code ad the content of the wiki. Thinks this changes behaviour in a very positive way.
  • Have modified MediaWiki quite heavily. Source code available.
  • Have not faced any lawsuits yet, Lawyers have told them there are no problems until get much bigger. (e.g.: 10 times larger).
  • Q: do you feel any pressure to share profits? A: There are sites that pay people to create content currently. However does not think that paying volunteers will wreck the whole concept of wiki content creation. Totally different dynamic between work (I’m working on this to get my points to make a buck), versus “I am creating this for fun and for good”.
  • Interwiki linking is there, but it hardly every gets used.
  • Want to get a WSYIWIG editor happening. Thinks the Wikipedia is too hard to edit. E.g. only 10% of folks can figure out wiki syntax. But 100% of the people should be able to contribute. E.g. The WYSIWYG stuff from Wikia or FCKeditor. Will try both of these and see how they work.
  • Suggested license for starting a wiki: CC-BY-SA. Used a difference Creative Commons license and has sometimes slightly regretted this (used the non-commercial CC license?).

Rough cartogram of Wikipedia edits by country

A very rough cartogram of Wikipedia edits by country, from the data on meta :

Wikipedia edits by country


  • I really really don’t know what I am doing with cartogram software, so please take this with a huge grain of salt.
  • There was no country for Singapore, so it under-represented.
  • I don’t think there was any data for Africa at all, so I’m not sure why it’s even showing!
  • Similarly any countries not listed in the data were under-represented. This discriminates against countries with less than 0.1% of the edits (i.e. small countries or countries with only a few editors).
  • The data is not massively accurate (only accurate to a tenth of a percent).
  • Data is from about a year ago, so things may have changed since (e.g. China, with its on-again-off-again firewalling of Wikipedia was not in this data, but Hong Kong was).