The technical conditions of communication and information processing are enabling the emergence of new social and economic practices of information and knowledge production. ((The Wealth of Networks: Direct link))
You may have read Yochai Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks, where he discusses Wikipedia as an example of commons-based peer-production. Did you know that you can see this relatively new model of knowledge and economic production live, in real-time? The video below is just one minute of Wikipedia edits recorded from the live changes on the irc.wikimedia.org #en.wikipedia channel. Using the IRC channel, you can watch Wikipedia being created as it happens, which means you can see the incremental production of collective knowledge as it happens. I recommend full-screen HD to see the detail as it passes up your screen. There are different channels for the different language versions. I chose the English version.
The Wikimedia site provides detailed statistics about the use of their sites, although the English Wikipedia statistics stop at October 2006 🙁 Perhaps there’s just too much activity on that site for them to collect and measure?
A lot of people still have an aversion to Wikipedia, but I don’t think they get it. Wikipedia is completely open to anyone to contribute. If you don’t think it’s good enough, ((See the famous Nature article which compared Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica [PDF])) isn’t it your (moral?) responsibility to correct and improve it? Like it or not, as a single source, it has by far the widest reach of any web-based learning resource and although I don’t have the time to substantiate this, I bet that after Google, it’s the second online resource that students visit when beginning their research. ((Via Twitter, AJCann just pointed me to some research he’d done which shows that 100% of his student cohort use Wikipedia)) If you challenge what’s happening on Wikipedia, you’re fighting a losing battle. Stop complaining and start contributing!
Personally, I watch the Wikipedia edits rolling up my screen, seeing contributions as they happen from individuals I’ll never know and am filled with optimism. Each edit is underwritten by a Creative Commons license which protects and preserves this body of knowledge for perpetuity. If there were world heritage sites on the Internet, Wikipedia would surely be the first to be recognised as such.
Automattic, the company behind WordPress, released a report today which summarises their recent project to test the usability of WordPress. It’s an interesting read if you use WordPress, but also if you’re interested in software development and usability testing. What’s most interesting for me, is how a large and successful open source project can co-ordinate a major redesign of an application, tested by thousands of enthusiasts for use by millions of general users.
While discussions about the design of an open source application can be had at any time on support forums, in this case, the formal change process began in May, through focused third-party usability testing, where 12 volunteers were carefully selected (and paid $75 in wordpress.com credits!). There was then a presentation at the San Francisco WordCamp in August, where wider feedback was elicited. A survey was announced in early September and a further survey, calling for 5000 participants was announced in late September. An annoucement was made at the beginning of October, where feedback was invited on a series of ‘wireframe’ mockups of the new design. Following feedback, the re-design was formally announced in mid-October and later this month designers were asked to submit their portfolio if they were interested in being recruited to design new icons (the following week!). Throughout this process, the development code, updated nightly, could be downloaded, installed and the application reviewed, too. Several mailing lists are used for open discussion, notably the ‘hackers’ and ‘testers’ lists.
The outcome of this incredibly rapid and completely transparent consultation, testing, feedback and design process has made it into the next release of WordPress (v2.7), due for release on November 10th. At just seven months from start to finish, it’s an excellent example of public collaboration between developers, designers and users, largely co-ordinated by one Automattic employee.
While trying to sleep after posting about MOOCs, I lay thinking about massive distributed collaboration and about code_swarm, amazing visualisations of key open source software projects. Here’s a beautiful example of successful, distributed collaborative effort. Do watch for the explosion of participation in 2000 as the network effect really kicks in. As the product matures, it attracts more users and greater use attracts increased participation and a better and more popular product. All made possible by the open source license which acts as the basis for participation. There are more examples on the code_swarm site.
I know, it’s not a MOOC, but there are some similarities such as mass, distributed collaboration led by one or two individuals, surrounded by a core of active participants and hundreds of occasional contributors.
The new website for 10 Downing Street is run on WordPress (this blogging platform) using a customised Networker 1.0 theme, and has integrated Flickr, YouTube and Twitter into the side-bar. More information from here and here. If you thought that a blog was ‘just a blog’, think again.
It nicely demonstrates the versatility of WordPress as an all round web publishing tool that serves not just individuals but groups and teams of people. I expand a little on the collaborative features of WordPress here.