WikiPub – Social Notes & Publishing

The purpose of this post is to clarify the goals of the social notes & publishing service, WikiPub, for the project evagelists, as well as the general public. This post is furthermore an outline for future trademarks that will belong to The College Group, and the ideas are per posting moment copyrighted by Oleksandr Shturmov & David Plassmann(Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported).

There are three main problems that WikiPub is set to solve, or rather improve by socialising. These ideas come out of my personal(Oleks) and David’s frustration with the state of the current social and printed media, as well as the educational material and techniques used and abused by diverse educational facilities. These problems can be summarised in the following way:

  1. Thinking – brainstorming, wandering, generating ideas etc.
  2. Writing – notes, posts, articles, reports, etc.
  3. Publishing – magazines and books.

Furthermore and overall the socialisation of these areas includes the ability to do these as small and wider groups, such that brainstorms as well as reports and books can be shared and written in and as groups of people. We believe that the group deserves equal rights to the individual and vice-versa with regards to content creation and publication, and there-by also ownership of the work.

Content Ownership

It is this concept of ownership that has been one the driving forces behind the WikiPub concept. We feel frustrated that a wiki – generally a very good system for formalisation of general knowledge, usually is not, and often cannot be, attributed to. In fact we are not the only ones that have thought about this, we have found several articles on the web discussing this exact topic, where some even offer hacks to resolve this with e.g. MediaWiki(see Shee’s Solution to the Problem of Wikipedia). As we come to conclude (in apperent agreement with Shee) wiki’s are a great way to organise knowledge because of their simplicity in authorship and dynamic linkage. However, what is missing is the concept of authorship itself. Wiki’s are owned by the community that craft them, and not by the authors themselves. Thus it is alright to attribute to a company’s or a community’s wiki page, but attributing to something like Wikipedia is outright stupid. We might as well attribute to ourselves when we attribute to Wikipedia, since it is us that creates and modifies the content, even if it is under the presumable supervision of a million other users(at least legally).

Wikipedia has  already won the online enclyclopedia market(source). It is, in fact, often more accurate, more descrptive, and more useful than your average encyclopedia, but in order for us to be able to use it as a source, the underlying principles of each country’s copyright law have to be flipped on their head. Perhaps it is time to allow us to attribute to socially generated content, but the more sound, and more possible solution could be to personalise the wiki creation itself. Such that even if the passage of the article you wish to attribute to is written in contribution between a select group of users(as often is the case with Wikipedia), you are able to spot the names of those users in an instant.

However, the readers of the content are not the only ones benefiting from this direct ownership of each passage of the content on the wiki. The authors benefit from it as well, as they can(now that they own it) demand payment for their contribution. This is indeed one of the reasons much of the content still isn’t on Wikipedia, no matter how qualified the public makes it sound. A lot of authors simply want something back for their contribution. Of course they want comments, followers and so on, but most of all they want some sort of financial benefit and recognition, both things that Wikipedia cannot efficiently provide to them.

First and foremost recognition. Authors often want to be known and attributed to for their contribution to one project or another, Wikipedia does not provide this. Furthermore there is per say no publicly available and popularly known service which can inform authors of copyright infringement other places on the internet. However we do see an emergance of service which can find related content, which of course is a good thing, but authors rarely use this for copyright control. Rather users use these for sorting out the wide availability of content.

It is furthermore an arguable question whether content should at all be paid for or not, but with the current copyright laws, that is nearly always the case. This is what serves as ground-zero for the so immensely rich media market we all enjoy today, nothing comes fundametaly free, no matter how you put it. Thus – content costs, and we must live with it.

Yet, no one said that the content has to conciously cost anything at all. In fact, the more free you make the content sound, the more likely is it to be viewed and contributed to for improvement. The content we see on social media today, on news sites like Techchrunch, Mashable and so on, is free only in a hypothetical sense of the word. Under the hood we see either ad dollars, donation dollars, or the dollars of the impatient-for-pay-offs venture capitalists. Serving content thorugh such a channel though, often only works on a larger scale, and thus, as we see the nearing death of old-school journalism, we do not see it’s rebirth in the social media, since it is so highly cost-inefficient for minor newspapers(Facebook does not make enough money, and Twitter doesn’t make any at all). We’re in for a major shift in journalism, and thereby perhaps also it’s quality, but let’s get back to the individual contributor to this whole social mess.

What has gone wrong with the whole Web 2.0 development is that everyone has become the contributor, and the selected few have the benefitials. Each post, each comment, each twitt, each picture and thus each contribution, is worth a buck or two. The more quality and personality lies behind the contribution the more it is worth. Until now, on wiki’s, and often on blogs we have disregarded this simple truth, and have either given our contribution away for free, or have given money to them to take it away from us(here I’m of course talking of the contraversial Facebook rights, and their ad-based business model). It is time to give something back to the users for their contributions.

This is of course only if they want it. They can at will give their contributions away for nothing, thus in exchange for other free information(making the initial statement untrue, since the currency is simply information instead of dollars), or they can dicide to take money for it, but this process should be as simple as contributing itself, making money 2.0 so to say.

Well enough of talking, let’s summarise:

  • Users are authors not content-contributors, such that their work can and shall upon demand be attributed to.
  • Users own what they write, therefore possible copies of the work, as well as works alike have to be found and mentioned of to the author.
  • Authoring as reading should be an equally simple and an equally monetisable process, such that it is transparent for the author as for the reader.

Educational & Structured Content

Earlier on it was mentioned that wiki’s are a great way for organising knowledge, how come? As the educational facilities move away from the analogous ways information transfer, both in the form of notes and assignments, analogous ways still persist at the core of the process. What we merely are doing is instead of writing things down on paper we do so on our machines, and then transfer them via a personalised network. That is the Microsoft way of doing things, and we students should be smarter than that. Content, in our books, notes and assignments, is related. Both outside and inside.

Of course, this is why bibliographies exist. However, as the content moves to the web, more and more of the bibliography is comprised of links rather than book and article references. There are thus the following problems with that system alone:

  • There is no guarantee of that content being there in 5, 10 or 15 years.
  • There is even less guarantee that the content will stay the same that number of years.
  • Last but not least, how are you to be sure that the content does not change between you reading it and your teacher reading it?

The last point is contraversial, but crucial. This is why we should add a date as to when we visited the given page. However, then we stupidly provide the link to the most recent version of the article? Is the teacher supposed to digg into google’s cache each time, or isn’t that supposed to be our own responsibility? Even worse(but in many other ways better) is using short urls in reports. They do add readability, but serve as even lesser guarantee for the existance of that content in the long run, by introducing a third party (often) commercial organisation. The overall conclusion of this is that sources pulled off the web must either be printed and attached to the work itself or be cached at the stage at which you found them on a very reliable source(e.g. Google).

Now that we have the problem of sources in place, the content itself has relations of it’s own. As we see on Wikipedia and many other wiki’s, many individual words and terms serve as links to deeper articles on that very topic. This is the reason why many people can spend hours researching on Wikipedia, by constantly following these deeper, and ever-elaborating links. Nevertheless, this creates an additional layer of semantics within the information, linking individual words of an article to other articles available on the source. What this eliminates, is one simple thing, and that is redundancey, making sure we don’t redocument the wheel so-to-say. This is not the case with regular media, which is why Wikipedia has grown to become such a good and popular source that it has. You can jump from one end of the book to the relevant part in the other. Relevance here goes ahead of consistency. The younger students especially often miss the Ctrl+Find feature in old-school books. We don’t even have to go that far back in history. Few blog posts of the modern media age go beyond a few tags to their articles, there is redundancy in blog posts right and left, content is copied from one to the other changing only the publishing date, and the smell of the information. It’s an information mess.

Wikipedia is trying to solve it, but it has no personality. The reason we are all going for social media is because we have in the massmedia years(ca. 60s-90s) collected an immense need for human contact within this new system. We no longer wish to see only media generated by giants, we want media generated by people, as it is more pleasent for us to take that information in(source: The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language by Christine Kenneally). It is thus also proposable that information socially reorganised into personal wiki’s will do the following:

  • Will create more interest in the information because of it being “humanised”.
  • Will provide less reductancy in the every-day work of the researcher.
  • Will provide easier means for searching through the thickness of diverse information because of it being more semantic.

So what we have to do, is combine those world’s together in one, such that the author still owns his work, but the reader isn’t bombarded with content that looks alike but smells different. It is as such also a task for us, or rather our algorithms to understand the matter of work and find others that might remotely look like it, and inform both authors of it, so that they can then communicate about who was first, and who’s more right, and so-on. This is of course most relevant to the matter of posts and publishings, and rarely with something like pure simple notes and ideas.

With notes on the other hand, it is a comforting thought that one can make them as short and as precise as possible. Furthermore it is a bonus knowing when other people write notes about the same subjects, so that you can be sure you don’t miss out on anything by reading their notes (that is only id the author of the other notes has given permission to copy them). In fact the other building block behind the WikiPub concept(aside the authorship of wiki articles) was notetaking in class, research and brainstorming. It has at times puzzled us whether it was better to form notes into lists, diagrams, or whole articles and has often ended up as pieces of paper that were scribbles all over the place(kind of like the piece of paper that Eminem writes his songs on in 8-Mile), and don’t tell us you don’t do the same. The overall conclusion of our brainstorming and research sessions has been that any new information can relate to any other past or future information, and thus relational note-taking system is required. This is exactly what a wiki offers.

The next problem here has also been collaborating with the rest of the group, since it is rarely at group meetings that ideas are formed. Ideas often are generated in mid-air and are communicated later, if so remembered(which rarely is the case). We wish to break down that barrier by socialising notes, in such a way that no idea is ever lost, or is ever unattributed to for that matter. We are 6 billion people on this planet and the general rule of thumb is that if you have an idea, someone has already had it, is having it, or will have it in the next moment. Therefore be sure to write it down, and fight with your gut to own it. This is where it again becomes relevant to see past the information barriers and find information relevant to your contributed information, be that a book, an article or just an idea.

Thus we would also like to introduce the concept of an idea. This is a small entity, smaller than your everyday elevator pitch, acting more like a catchphrase for an article, or a comment to a specific event. You could say that an idea is the size of tweet, and if there is anything that Twitter could be used for educationally, then it is this – jotting down ideas. An idea is not necessarily a statement, a comment or a question, it can be any of those at once.  Some ideas are of course more valuable than others, thus if you can’t describe the authoring rights you want behind that idea in the remainder of those few 140 or so characters, that should be regarded as a failure of the copyright laws. This is where the idea of simplifying the accountance of copyright and monetization of a personaly entity being stripped down to a bare minimum comes from.

So to summarise:

  • Information is relational, and so should be posts, articles, books and ideas.

Collaboration & Publishing

So, why not just write a good old book? Good old books are written locally. Of course a lot of modern writters have blogs, but rarely any of the actual parts of the book are published in the internet, or rather, rarely much more than a resumé of a single chapter is published. The author always wants a piece of the pie for their book, even if they extensively share the content of their book(which they do solely for advertising). What the authors get out of WikiPub is a powerful formatting engine. The tools we have seen in internet publishing today are merely enough to write a decent post, but are not nearly enough to write a whole report. Even writing reports in Google Docs is a terrible idea.

We want to first and foremost incorporate the idea of wiki’s in writing structurised pieces of work. Such that distinct parts are distinct parts of your work, though related to the rest of your work. Such that one person can edit one wiki page(part of document) and another can edit another(another part of document), but they both are compiled into one work. This is missing from much of the current ways of much WYSIWYG document editing, in offline environments like Microsoft Office and OpenOffice. Collaboration does exist in online office solutions, but online office solutions are as a rule of thumb terrible for advanced document editing, and especially layout.

It is also a good place for authors to get feedback for their work, as commenting and features alike are a must-do part of the project.

There is one third building block of WikiPub, and that is ease of publishing, or rather reformatting. There is no reason for all content to stay in one format when we have so many widely available. Content is master, format is slave. The way that content is presented, whether a word document, an html page, a pdf document, a printed book, or plain text should be a choice of the user, not the bother of the author. It furthermore should not be the author’s job to format his article, tools have to be provided for doing this as standard as possible, as well as customizable as possible. Of course some of these systems are easier to copy than others, and that should be accounted for when we account for which copyright to grant to a given piece of work. However to the unprotected work it should not matter, and the user should be able to get it in any format he wishes, at any time, in any place.

Sumarising once more:

  • Seperation of concerns, relationships and collaboration as a work is written.
  • Layout should be provided in standard ways but given the ability to change completely and relatively easily on the authors behalf.
  • Commentary and feedback as the work is done.
  • Content is master, format is slave.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I could write a book about WikiPub, and I probably will. As the concept and WikiPub itself develops new blog posts will appear on the individual parts of the subject dwelling deeper into psycology, philosophy, law, economics, structure and so on of the individual parts of the project. The WikiPub project has potential, and so we must try to give it a good solid start, and good solid strategy to follow. This blogpost was a shot at outlining(but not yet formulating) that strategy.

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One response to “WikiPub – Social Notes & Publishing

  1. Pingback: The elevator pitch « WikiPub - Social Notes & Publishing Blog

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