SXSWi: Open Knowledge vs. Controlled Knowledge

Open Knowledge vs. Controlled Knowledge
3-13-07, 10:00 CST
Francesca Rodriquez Creative Commons (moderator)
Robert Capps Sr Editor,Wired
Brett Gaylor Filmmaker, Open Source Cinema
Hemai Parthasarathy Managing Editor, Public Library of Science
Gil Penchina CEO, Wikia

Capps: New issue of Wired Magazine will be clear – it is all about radical transparency in business – through blogging and other means let people see inside of what you are doing
- to eat our own dog food we posted everything we planned to do online through blogs and people commented and we used that information
- we asked could we really be this transparent and be successful?
- is there something about our craft that we want to keep closed to release a final story to our readers

Parthasarathy: PLS (Public Library of Science) Biology – the majority of science research is funded for the public or in the name of the public but then we charge scientists and the people to see the science. We believe it should be free and openly published. These efforts failed, then we became a publisher – all our articles are published under Creative Commons (commercial and non-commercial) licenses. We reject over 90% of papers submitted

Newest journal PLoS1 publishes all journals worthy of publishing – if it is technically valid we will publish regardless of the potential impact. They are published, then ranked an annotated. We believe that most important papers will filter upwards.

Penchina: CEO of Wikia. Our goal is to make all information freely accessible in every language. The licensing is open. We recently launched more news or mag like sites. Today we launched in honor of SXSW music.

Capps: Could we license everything with Creative Commons? That certainly would be open. I can’t imagine how much tradition you would have to buck with Conde Nast and the writers.

Parthasarathy: there is a lot of waste in current science. Authors are often submitting to multiple journals. Start with the best, journal A, then keeping going until you get accepted. Gets changed as it is resubmitted. A year can go by, multiple comment rounds, multiple expert reviews, a waste of time. In open access models, you can allow communities to decide importance of a particular paper. We don’t just put up stuff, we do publish. The extreme would be putting up your lab notebook every day. All papers receive anonymous peer review, “were trials conducted correctly,” “were the stats compiled properly,” etc. We hope that that type of input enhances the scientific paper effectiveness.

Penchina: the “open” world means can other people come in and participate vs “free culture” means not only is it open to use but open to reuse (Creative Commons). On our site you can actually see who wrote every word, who edited it, who fact-checked it, etc. We are truly open, you can go and edit our homepage. We believe people are generally good. We don’t think you will come in a spray paint our wall just because we left a can of spray paint around. If you get a lot of people together good things generally happen.

Gaylor: a lot of people still getting sued. Companies are looking at free culture and saying how can we monetize this? This culture may be co-opted. Do people have more freedom to interact with the media now?

Penchina: when open source first came along no one believed you could make money giving stuff away. The model has shown that it does work from Digg to web software.

Gaylor: people are tired of consuming, they want more, they want to create it. At open source cinema we are saying that you can’t just watch, you have to put in input. It is our medium, we need to deconstruct the issue of copyright together.

Q from moderator: Can you tell us a time when openness has affected your business?

Capps: I don’t think it has happened yet. We went transparent and posted a bunch of stuff online, got feedback etc. When we are printing it make take 3 months to get it out. When our competition is not transparent, this can be an issue. Chris Anderson, our Editor in Chief posted on his blog that we were thinking of going transparent and another Editor posted on his blog said, “sure Chris, tell us everything you are going to write about 6 months before you do. The other side my scoop us on things. But possibly others will see what we are doing and they will be too late, wont have time to do the article and will let us take it. We’ll have to see how it plays out.

Q from moderator: does the community express fear about corporations profiting from their work?

Penchina: you can have free content and still be profitable. You can also choose licenses that don’t let corporations use your work. People who write at Wikia want respect and want to help people, so they generally want to share their experiences. People are very passionate about certain topics, they will talk your ear off if they could; these passions can have a space online. It is a very emotional thing, people get involved, make friends, have pen pals. The web isn’t always about keeping people away from friends, but another way to interact.

Parthasarathy: scientists are incredibly busy people and generally want to be rewarded for their work. What incentive do they have for commenting on others’ work and helping them? They want to write the definitive paper not help someone else do it. For us the big question is how to we incentivize this?

Gaylor: I had to change my concept of what a documentary. It isn’t just my vision, I have to take many peoples’ inputs. How does Wired perceive these new articles? Who’s work is it? The writer? The group?

Capps: So far it has just been an experiment, the article was an experiment. I still think magazine writing is a craft. You start with crap first, it’s wrong, poorly written, not well thought out and the writer side doesn’t want people to see it. Part of my process is stewing in my bad work until I figure it out and am ready to share it. It interrupts my process being so open before I am “done.”

Gaylor: I have announced my view beforehand, I am open. So I can’t “skewer” someone like Michael Moore does, they already know where I am coming from. But this is a positive thing as well. This is an experiment in democracy. It is hard to post it when in rough cut form, but it is worth it.

Penchina: it is an evolution. Wired comes from one side, we from another, we don’t know where the equilibrium will end up. We hope that more people will be able to publish and find income, satisfaction and more without having to use copyright. Judged a public-interest assignment at Stanford and almost every group had a video, using Facebook, collaborating – the new generation has a set of tools that we just never had.

Q on challenges:

Parthasarathy: creating a community where scientists want to share. We have to determine their rewards.

Capps: if we can succeed, we will be more open. How can we use wikis to our advantage? Our experiments with wikis so far have been poor, have been just vandalized. What are we doing wrong?

Penchina: part of the answer is if you have a community and give them the power to fix stuff, they correct problems quickly. If something has been controlled forever and suddenly you are letting people in, there is a tendency to tweak the person who was running. Kind of being principal for a day, you change all the rules. How do you turn your readers into writers instead of spellcheckers? If you let people make the top 10 instead of telling them to comment on your top 10 I think that seems more healthy place to go/be.

Capps: we just ended up with overwhelming amount of vandalism. Do you really not have that?

Penchina: we have 7 full-time people who help to create the cultulre. But we have thousands of people who volunteer. You have to feel like it is yours, not someone else’s.

Q from audience: League of Technical Voters is working on a “consensus wiki.” We have been working on reputation. We are working on social networking aspects of wikis. Do you have input?

Capps: our system does not have reputation or a way of tracking comments on website. I can see that that is one of the things holding us back. Suddenly becoming open is so much work. it takes full-time people working on these issues, the wikis. We are probably foolish to think we can just throw the doors open.

My thoughts: really cool session, the CEO of Wikia just gets it. I guess that is a good thing since they are the people to watch right now in terms of open publishing, now to mention they host the near-and-dear-to-me School Computing Wiki. I even asked Gil Penchina (Wikia CEO) for help with how to organize it. Demetri, I will talk to you about his ideas. Wired on the other hand needs some help on understanding what openness is. The seem well intentioned but not-so-well informed. I guess I need to write another post on that. Too many blog posts to write!

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arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.