Blog is back

My blog is back after I had to shut it down temporarily for some security issues. Maybe I’ll write something soon. :-)

By Jimmy Wales Posted in General

Article in my hometown newspaper

This weekend, I was visting my hometown ([[Huntsville, Alabama]]), and the local newspaper had a story about me and a photo. The fun thing is that several people from my ancient (grade school!) past contacted me.

A couple of them posted comments here, and were the first people to actually figure out that I left the options open for anyone to be able to sign up and publish an article on my blog. Yes, it was crazy set the options to let people do this, but hey, I’m the wiki guy, right? And look at the neat result.

For now, though, I am just moving their comments to be comments on this post rather than actual articles.

Free Knowledge requires Free Software and Free File Formats

People sometimes ask me why I’m so adamant that Wikipedia must always use free software, even when in some cases it might be the case that proprietary software might be more convenient or better suited for some particular need that we have.

After all, the argument goes, our primary mission is to produce free knowledge, not to promote free software, and whlie we might prefer free software on practical grounds (since it is generally best of breed for webserving applications), we should not be sticklers about it.

I believe this argument is seriously mistaken, and not on merely practical grounds, but on grounds of principle. Free knowledge requires free software. It is a conceptual error to think about our mission as being somehow separate from that.

What is free knowledge? What is a free encyclopedia? The essence is something that anyone who understands free software can immediately grasp. A free encylopedia, or any other free knowledge, can be freely read, without getting permission from anyone. Free knowledge can be freely shared with others. Free knowledge can be adapted to your own needs. And your adapted versions can be freely shared with others.

We produce a massive website filled with an astounding variety of knowledge. If we were to produce this website using proprietary software, we would place potentially insurmountable obstacles in front of those who would like to take our knowledge and do the same thing that we are doing. If you need to get permission from a proprietary software vendor in order to create your own copy of our works, then you are not really free.

For the case of proprietary file formats, the situation is even worse. It could be argued, though not persuasively I think, that as long as Wikimedia content can be loaded into some existing free software easily enough, then our internal use of proprietary software is not so bad. For proprietary formats, even this seductive fallacy does not apply. If we offer information in a proprietary or patent-encumbered format, then we are not just violating our own commitment to freedom, we are forcing others who want to use our allegedly free knowledge to themselves use proprietary software.

Finally, we should never forget as a community that we are the vanguard of a knowledge revolution that will transform the world. We are the leading edge innovators and leaders of what is becoming a global movement to free knowledge from proprietary constraints. 100 years from now, the idea of a proprietary textbook or encyclopedia will sound as quaint and remote as we now think of the use of leeches in medical science.

Through our work, every single person on the planet will have easy low cost access to free knowledge to empower them to do whatever it is that they want to do. And my point here is that this is not some idle fantasy, but something that we are already accomplishing. We have become one of the largest websites in the world using a model of love and co-operation that is still almost completely unknown to the wider world. But we are becoming known, and we will be known, for both our principles and achievements — because it is the principles that make the achievements possible.

Toward that end, it should be a strong point of pride to us that the Wikimedia Foundation always uses free software on all computers that we own, and that we always put forward our best effort to ensure that our free knowledge really _is_ free, in that people are not forced to use proprietary software in order to read, modify, and redistribute it as they see fit.

Wikimedia Conference, Round Two

Elian ([[de:User:elian|de]] and [[en:User:elian|en]]), who is organizing the big huge fantastic amazing not-to-be-missed Wikimedia conference for 2005, has posted the announcement of the 3 finalist cities: [[Dublin]], [[Frankfurt]], and [[Rotterdam]]. Here is the official announcement.

The 7 semi-finalists were narrowed to 3 finalists, see [[m:Wikimedia_meetup_2005/City_Candidate_List]] for more details.

The hardest part for the committee was the hope to not disappoint the advocates of the cities that weren’t chosen. It was a tough choice, and it will only get tougher with the next round.

For now, we’re seeking more hard facts about the venue, travel costs, distances, accomodation costs, etc. Please post to the meta page(s) with advice and information.

I met a Somali Bantu refugee child

On my flight back to the U.S. from Warsaw, it turned out that on the same plane were a group of [[Somali Bantu Refugees]] on their way to the US as part of the USRP ([[United States Refugee Program]]). Sitting across the aisle from me were a mother and daughter, the little girl appearing to me to be around the same age as my own daughter, Kira, who is 3 1/2.

The Bantu people were being guided by a couple of aid workers, because less than one week prior most of them had never even seen a electric light switch, a flush toilet, or a tap for water. Everything about being on a jet crossing the ocean was like being on Mars to them, said the aid worker.

They wore mostly the same clothing, obviously given to them by USRP, i.e. gray sweatshirts reading ‘USRP’.

I had in my backpack a small gift for Kira, a small stuffed donkey. I thought it would be nice to get it out to entertain this little girl, and to give to her as a gift.

So I did, except that the little girl was frightened of it. It wasn’t that she was afraid of me, per se, but of the actual toy itself. She was fascinated and would very very cautiously reach out and touch it. When it feel off the arm of the airplane seat into her seat, she jumped away from it and made a frightened noise.

Her mother held the toy and showed it to her.

The aid worker told me that the little girl had never seen a toy like this before.

And now they are coming to America to live. This is remarkable. Imagine coming to the United States with no knowledge of English, this is hard enough. But no knowledge of indoor plumbing, electricity, stuffed animals.

I had already been watching the story of the Somali bantu refugee program, but now I feel a more personal connection, having met and briefly played with this little girl. I took a photo, but I will not publish it, because I was unable to get any kind of informed consent from the people I took the photo of (they did not speak English).

By Jimmy Wales Posted in General