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The Longest Now

Wikimedia Board elections: thoughts and thanks
Monday June 20th 2011, 1:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I was re-elected to Wikimedia board last week, along with Ting Chen and Kat Walsh, after two short but intense weeks of discussion and questions about the past and future.  Congratulations to my fellow trustees, and thank you to all who shared challenging ideas, support and criticisms shared during the past month.  This was by far the most

As with most Wikimedia governance discussions, this one took place almost solely in English.  However I was pleased to see two important questions raised in Spanish in the very last days of the election, by Fernando Inocencio.  And at least five of the candidates ran on platforms that involved fixing this language barrier.  That seems like progress!

If you have thoughts about where Wikipedia and sister projects (and future relatives yet unborn) should be heading, now is a fine time to share them.

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Blikstein auf stein: constructionist brilliance
Wednesday June 15th 2011, 6:13 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,indescribable

Brows the syllabus and photos from the amazing course Human-Computer Interaction +Rapid Prototyping +Learning Sciences + Constructionism + Critical Pedagogy which is given by Paulo Blikstein at Stanford’s beyond bits and atoms group.  Does that sound like something you’d be interested in doing in a town near you?

It something in between the Media Lab’s lifelong kindergarden group, fablabs, and an peruvian olpc robotics lab, for grad students.

three students hacking on the inside of small box on the ground, at the same time

Working inside the box

Introducing Afghan families to Wikipedia

OLPC Afghanistan currently works with school in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, and Kandahar.   This is one of our most politically complex and interesting deployments.  The initial schools involved tend to be on the wealthy side, but are still often in areas with poor power and connectivity.

Jalalabad also houses Afghanistan’s only FabLab – which set up the first “FabFi” mesh network to serve the surrounding community.  After the deployment of OLPC laptops to a local school there, families began to have access to the Internet, and to Wikipedia, for the first time.  Here are three generations of one family, outside on their roof, browsing Wikipedia together:

Afghan family browsing Wikipedia together outside

An Afghan family browses Wikipedia together outside

(As it happens, one of the university students who helped localize the software into Dari and Pashto is also a Wikipedian.)

Over a year after that deployment finished, I am working with FabLab folk to figure out what a similar lab and community wifi setup might look like in Herat, where we also have an OLPC school and may add another.  They’re refreshingly fun and competent people to work with, and full of great stories about young Afghans taking interesting ideas and running with them, turning them into amazing art projects or montages or startups.   Any city trying out cool new technical innovations should have a fablab to amplify the joys of being on the cutting edge.

Today we have 4,000 families connected to eachother and to the Internet in Afghanistan through OLPC; we hope to have thousands more by the end of the year.  And now I’m wondering if we can get fablabs started in the US cities where there are significant OLPC projects.

[MR 0b] Individual and project roles
Tuesday June 07th 2011, 2:24 am
Filed under: chain-gang,international,metrics,popular demand,wikipedia

The movement roles of individuals, informal groups, and our many wiki projects need to be discussed by a different group of participants, reflecting the diversity of community and editorial efforts that make our projects work.  This discussion will receive more attention from the current MR working group once its recommendations are published this summer, but can be pursued independently from the current formal-entity discussions.

This set of issues is very broad, perhaps the broadest set of issues raised during strategic planning.  Topics on organizational structure, dynamics, and communication all have analogies in more traditional movements and organizations.  However the constellation of independent wikiprojects, ad-hoc groups, and active individuals is closer to the structure of a town than that of a non-profit; and we have had less in the way of concrete advice on how to organize and plan such work.

By the same token, these issues are central to the original success of the Projects, and to pressing questions such as how to increase participation, openness of projects to new types of contribution, and communication across projects. What groups have the role of helping wikiprojects communicate about their work, or organize and maintain their efforts?  Responding to floods of new users?  Responding to spam, vandalism, and abuse of project policies?  Maintaining  accuracy and quality?  Who are responsible for protecting contributors who are harassed or placed at legal or personal risk?  Who manages messaging on the main pages and banners of the projects?  And who prioritizes updates and improvements requested by each project?

Anyone interested in starting this next phase of movement roles analysis is encouraged to do so on Meta – and to join the current working group even if the ‘formal entity’ topics are not of interest.

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[MR 0a] Formal Wikimedia groups and roles
Monday June 06th 2011, 11:31 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,wikipedia

The Wikimedia movement consists primarily of hundreds of thousands of contributors, reusers, donors, and other readers who support the movement and the projects each in its own way.  However the most complex parts of the movement, with their own legal, financial, and bureaucratic issues, are the incorporated groups within the movement — the Wikimedia Foundation and chapters, each incorporated in its own jurisdiction — and the governance groups that oversee and inform the work of those groups.

At present, chapters are the only groups formally recognized by the WMF with standard trademark agreements and a license to pursue partnerships within their jurisdiction.  Another group type – a partner organization without geographic limits – is being proposed in one of the MR recommendations.    There are few global governance groups at present, only committees of the Foundation and its Board of trustees.  Two other bodies have often been discussed:  a community council with representatives from the editing communities of the projects, and a chapters network or organizational council with representatives from all chapters and similar formal organizations.

The initial work of the Movement Roles group has focused on the roles and responsibilities of these formal groups, which have some of the most explicit needs for coordination.  A related effort is needed to resolve these questions for informal groups – the roles of the more numerous individuals, small groups, and informal organizations that sustain the movement.

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Lovely interview with Stewart Brand in The European
Monday June 06th 2011, 10:44 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,international,metrics,popular demand

Brand has a lovely interview in The European this week (auf Deutsch) on his ideology and thoughts on language preservation and nuclear power.  Worth a read, even if only in translation.


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Movement Roles: Understanding roles and responsibilities in a broad Movement
Monday June 06th 2011, 6:25 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,international,popular demand,wikipedia

As Wikimedia has grown as a movement from a website and cool idea to a family of sites and a network of national and international non-profits, we have developed many ways to engage partners and the media, raise funds, and make large-scale decisions.  National chapters have become significant non-profits in their own right, and collaboration between chapters and the global Foundation has become more intricate.  For instance, chapters today run and support international events, offer scholarships and grants to community members, raise significant funds directly through the annual sitenotices, and run branding initiatives — including the global campaign for “Wikipedia as World Heritage Site” organized recently by Wikimedia Deutschland.

In 2009, during Wikimedia’s strategic planning process for the coming five years, a task force focused on movement roles was set up.  Its task was to research how individual contributors, Chapters, and the Foundation currently interact, and how they should ideally work together, and how this happened in other global organizations.  This was the most abstract part of optimizing operations, which included discussions of how we  guarantee financial sustainability, build partnerships and infrastructure, and influence public  perception and policy.

This group tackled questions of how the different parts of the movement develop strategy, make decisions across the movement, and communicate with one another.  A few initial recommendations were made, but these issues required more detailed discussion.[1] So a Board working group was created to continue the work.

This group chose to focus for its first year on the roles of formal organizations in the movement — the WMF and its Committees, Chapters, and other structured groups that should have similar formal recognition.  We tabled the equally complex issue of the roles of individual contributors, wiki projects, and other informal groups to a separate discussion.

The result of this work will be a set of recommendations to the movement as a whole – expressed in a movement charter that all formal parts of the movement can endorse, to the WMF, and to chapters.  The project and its recommendations are being developed on the Meta-wiki.  All are welcome to participate in the working group and discussions (or simply browse our meeting notes).   By Wikimania this year, the group aims to have recommendations on new models for organizations that the WMF should recognize (Associations and Partner Organizations),  on movement standards for transparency and auditing, and more.

I will post a series of updates about the project over the coming weeks, leading up to in-person discussions at Wikimania.  If you have questions about the project or any of its targets, suggestions about important issues we aren’t yet considering, &c – please let me know on my talk page.


The Russian general (math chestnut)
Saturday June 04th 2011, 10:15 pm
Filed under: international,metrics

Here is one of Michael Boshernitzan’s favorite math problems, which came up again recently.  I’d like to find an optimality proof for it, let me know if you have come across one:

General Karmov orders a 100-man company to line up for inspection. He is in a foul mood, and unfortunately the commanding officer doesn’t know his quirks. So when Karmov demands they form a single orderly line, the CO forgets to order them by height. “How sloppy! Must I do everything myself?” Karmov asks noone in particular, stepping back to consider the whole line. “No, don’t move.” He pulls out his pistol and walks down the line, shooting soldiers as he goes, until what remains is ordered by height. He stops from time to time to reload. Being a mathematician, he shoots no more soldiers than necessary to order the line…. What is the minimum number of soldiers remaining when he is done?


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Update: Google plans paid version of Translate API
Saturday June 04th 2011, 11:59 am
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,fly-by-wire,popular demand

A week after announcing the Translate API would be shut down in December, Adam Feldman updated his earlier blog post with this brief note:

In the days since we announced the deprecation of the Translate API, we’ve seen the passion and interest expressed by so many of you… I’m happy to share that we’re working hard to address your concerns, and will be releasing an updated plan to offer a paid version of the Translate API. Please stay tuned; we’ll post a full update as soon as possible.

So: no specifics yet, and no explanation of the abuse they’ve encountered, but a paid API should be available eventually. Definitely a step in the right direction; this has received some warm responses from developers.  It is interesting that they still seem surprised by all of this attention; and it was a healthy reminder to everyone of how fragile a non-free ecosystem is (no matter how cool its APIs are).

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