ASCII by Jason Scott

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Wozipedia II+ —

Besides being an idea guy, I’m also an impulsive idea guy. Hence, I can now announce:

This is basically a wiki with a bunch of initial work by me and a few others, with some room for expansion and some rough ideas sketched out. If my previous behavior is any indication, this will progress in stops and starts depending on my other priorities and projects. Since I’ve been collecting stuff for something like this for years, I suspect it’ll grow steadily over time, even just pulling from my own collection and placing it on there.

There’s two sides to this: the ideals of doing a project, and holy shit Mr. Wikipedia critic has a Wiki.

I’ll address the first by saying that it was pretty trivial and inexpensive to put this all up; I already had a hosting account with Dreamhost that could add things like Mediawiki or gallery software, so this was just a case of attaching it to it. (The other site running under this account is, in case you’re wondering.) Isn’t it great that we live in a world where the time from idea to implusive setting up of a worldwide-accessible information portal can be measured in minutes? Isn’t it terrifying that we live in a world where the time from idea to implusive setting up of a worldwide-accessible information portal can be measured in minutes?

The second part is worth going into because it tackles, head-on, the most common misunderstanding about my Wikipedia criticism: that I don’t like Wikis. Or I want them all to go away.

Hell no! Anyone who has suffered through my multiple speeches and essays about the subject should be able to infer that I actually like the medium of Wiki-stuff, as long as it’s handled correctly and intensely stupid mistakes that we made 20 years ago aren’t repeated in a 2.0 fashion. I’m dismayed that in some cases we’re making the exact same mistakes and just letting them fly until they’re fixed in almost the exact same fashion, except instead of wasting the time of a dozen people you waste the time of thousands.

But the idea, the concept of collaborating via software, the mechanism of providing a historical record of changes and opportunity for verification and internal note-taking… I like that! I work on a bunch of wikis, for my day job, for Rotten Library and so on. So no, actually, I dig it. Otherwise, why would I waste so much time arguing about specific flaws incumbent in the Wikipedia organization of data? Or, put another way, why would I point out the issues involved in collaborative software like Wiki if I didn’t think it would have echoes and relevancy years and decades from now?

So, let’s see what I did with the Wozipedia that is unusual compared to Wikipedia (but not other Wikis) and why I did it. I likely did other things differently, but let’s go with the biggies.

  • No anonymous editing. You can’t just come in and whiz all over the thing without contacting me to get an account. Yes, that means I cut out all the potential people who just want to drop a mouse-nibble on the site and walk away, say someone who can tell me Wozniak’s score in the last Segway Polo games and nothing else. But on the other hand, I build a relationship with the people working on the project, and I maintain the social “glue” that means long-term success. Eventually, given enough people joining, that glue goes away, but it gets replaced with conventions regarding behavior that were formed during the initial period when the glue was still around. Most long-term organizations (Lloyds of London and 4-H Clubs come to mind) then use this foundation of “it works” to say “if we make changes in how we run, it’s a pretty big deal”. So right now, you have to do the minor activity of contacting me to jump in. This sets the bar too high for Opinion Tourists but not for most interested parties.
  • Head Editor and Guidelines Set by Same. So here I am. Jason Scott. Guy running the Wiki. People help me but I’m the guy, and the place will rise or fall based on me, my personality, and how I can lead. This means that it’s possible that I may be an ass and the place will collapse, or it means that I may lead well and the place will thrive. If people think of the project, they know I should be talked to. If the project is in trouble, it should be brought up with me. If the project is in trouble and I’m the trouble, then you know you should walk away. This decreases “management collaboration” which I think is part of the problem with Wikipedia, the feeling that just walking into the project gives you unfettered control over every bit of the project, up to and including guidelines, procedure and serious decisions of what goes and stays.
  • Easy-to-Recount, Truthful Credo. “One Step from Steve”. Pretty easy. If Steve Wozniak touched it, it can go in. That’s a ton of shit. It’s not everything in the world, but it’s a lot. It’s a solid phrase, easily recounted. People say “Two Steps from Steve” and they’re saying “We shouldn’t be putting that in.” People can play games with “Well, Steve MUST have touched this. One step from Steve!” but that only works so far, and ultimately you still keep the general idea. Meanwhile, Jimbo constantly says “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.” Unfortunately, this is not true: a lot of human knowledge is disappeared from Wikipedia every day. In fact, people constantly fight over what’s ‘worth’ going in. What a waste. But off goes Jimbo, the de facto head and spiritual leader of the project, making promises that can’t be kept. That’s what we call “a problem”. People can agree or disagree with the wisdom of “One Step from Steve” but I’m going to stick with it.
  • Inclusion of Primary Sources when possible. Some parts of the Wiki will not be editable. They will contain primary sources yanked from speeches by Wozniak, scanned from magazines and books, and so on. If the source is primary, it should be marked off, i.e. it doesn’t need collaboration. A discussion tab will allow notes on the source and aspects of it, but it stays static. The idea that every single thing on a Wiki needs to be subject to collaboration is like saying that every single file on an FTP server needs to be world-writable. No. In cases where the creator of the primary source doesn’t want it browsable, a local copy will be kept in a non-browsable location, so it’s verifiable.
  • Not acting like I’m the superior fucking be-all end-all glowing assclown of the pile. Just because I’m doing this, and just because I’m compiling it, does not mean that I am automatically the most superior place for information on Steve Wozniak and the Apple II. An awful lot of people, and I mean hundreds, have worked very hard for decades to collect an amazing amount of information about the Apple phenomenon and Steve Wozniak. Steve Wozniak, in fact, has done an amazing amount on his own. His site is a treasure trove of anecdotes, ideas, and statements by the man himself. Some might be misremembered, and he does admit this, but he’s doing his best to get the word out, and doing it directly and not through the efforts of some PR flack or agent. That’s a big help. I can’t possibly see how a wozipedia would outdo Woz himself. And acting like just because I sprinkled magic Wiki-dust on an idea makes it a superior invocation of history is ludicrous. “If you see something broken, just fix it” is a common Wikipedia phrase. “If you are totally convinced that something is wrong, just go ahead and jam it in the direction you want it to be” is a common Wikipedia action. It’ll likely happen here as well, and we do our best to fix it, but it’s what happens with collaboration, and that’s why sometimes static information can excel in dependability. It’s not clear cut.

Will this succeed? Well, what’s success in this case? Will it be a large pile? Likely. Will it be fun? I hope so. Will Wozniak kill me? Probably not, he’s too snuggly and too great a guy. But time will tell.

Again, contact me if you want in. There’s quite a lot of space to play in. One step from Steve!

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m bothered by the lack of the Wiki- prefix in the site name. Offended even.

  2. Jason Scott says:

    But then instead of wozipedia, it’ll be wikipedia. That’ll be confusing. Also, Wikipedia was taken!

  3. Kiel says:

    Who knew Jimmy Wales read your blog.