This weekend, I was honored to join Vint Cerf, Mei Lin Fung, and a host of others in a discussion about what a “People-Centered Internet” would look like, and how to bring it about. Mei Lin invited me to bring the perspective of the Wikipedia community. I was gratified by how receptive the group was to my perspective. In a nutshell, I proposed the idea that Wikipedia stands as an important example of what is possible in a people-centered Internet, and that valuable lessons can be drawn from both its extraordinary and unique success and its most vexing problems.
My specific perspective was a bit of an outlier, in a group whose experiences, ideas, and accomplishments related mostly to specific sectors (mainly health care), and/or to building network infrastructure. This made for excellent discussions, both as a panelist and in informal conversations. The core vision for an Internet that is “for the people, of the people, and most importantly governed by the people” (as articulated by Anil Srivastava of the Open Systems Health Laboratory) found something of an anchor in the idea of Wikipedia.
In this post, I’d like to reflect on a few ways this project connects to my life and career. In the life journey that has brought me to Wikipedia — and a focus on the social dynamics that make that project possible — several areas relating to technology and computer networks have stood out.
- I built the computer infrastructure for a newspaper, supporting the work of journalists. We were lucky to have an embedded storyteller in the room: Eileen Clegg represented our ideas visually, and reflected them back to us throughout the meeting.
- I worked to build up Free Geek, which promotes knowledge and freedom around computer use, and have supported various hacker spaces in the same vein. This weekend, Mary Lou Jepsen explained that her One Laptop Per Child project “was never a laptop project, it was an education project.” (video) And Anna Waldman-Brown brought stories from more than 100 of hacker spaces and fab labs she has studied around the world. (video)
- I serve on the board of Sudo Mesh, which is building free network infrastructure in Oakland, California, work which grew out of my connection of Personal Telco in Portland. I had some excellent chats with Steve Huter, founder of the Network Startup Resource Center at the University of Oregon and a recent inductee into the Internet Hall of Fame, and was inspired by his efforts to build network infrastructure in places like Southeast Asia, and his insights into what conditions are needed to have a positive social impact.
- I worked in politics, running the campaign of a thoughtful and diligent judge, and rallying experts to guide the Oregon Legislature’s decisions around copyright and the laws it passes. Although I have found my own interests lie more in direct advocacy, there was a strong focus this weekend on guiding policy makers in ways that policy can advance the public interest. Luci Abrahams discussed advocacy to policy makers in relation to her founding of the LINK Center in South Africa. (video)
- In one of my most satisfying client engagements relating to Wikipedia, I helped Consumer Reports hire a Wikipedian in Residence, who has guided them and their partners in improving health-related articles for the last four years. The Wikipedian in Residence concept resonated strongly, especially among those seeking to improve public access to reliable information about health and health care.
- The gender imbalance evident among Wikipedia editors and content (along with other disturbing imbalances in its demographics) exists far beyond Wikipedia. Monique Morrow and others offered important insights and focus on this topic throughout the meeting.
I wish I could reflect something of every conversation I had, but I’m not prepared to write a book today! Instead, if you’d like to learn more, I recommend Vincent Everts‘ series of video interviews. Start with his conversation with convener Vint Cerf. He interviewed me as well. Those videos are embedded below, and make a good starting point for exploring the whole series.