Well, it would have been good to have live blogged this event but my laptop refused to connect to the wireless network here at the Hilton. We had a brief introduction from Chris Robinson, Director-General of DECS, who spoke first and made a couple of statements that I'm not so sure about - I'm not sure that I'll expand any further than that. Garry Putland then introduced Jimmy to the assembled crowd - pointed out his visit had attracted mainstream media attention, quite possibly fueled a bit by the threat to the mainstream that Wikipedia presents.
What follows are my notes of his presentation - italic reflections or comments of mine along the way.
As the next billion users come online, the digital divide is going to narrow - he then introduced the concept of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is freely licensed in many languages and is owned by the WikiMedia foundation. This foundation involves Wikipedia and sister projects - of which $1 million was spent expanding in 2006. One of the other projects is Wikia which is a separate organisation which moves beyond the non-profit and educational domain. An example he showed us was the MuppetWiki, which documents everything in the world from a Muppet point of view. Jimmy then touched on OpenServing which offers free hosting to anyone working in the area of free software and content development, and then demonstraed Wikia search, an open source search engine with the algorithms freely available to try and replicate the traditional end user experience similar to Google and Yahoo.
It was noted that only one third of the articles are in English. Jimmy stated up front that he was an advocate of Free Access. What is free access? He described it as "freedom as in speech not beer." He pointed out that Wikipedia was not a data dump and cited an example of an argument about whether it should contain the full version of Hamlet – but it was decided that it is not an archive because as its role of encyclopedia was the essential summary of human knowledge and all articles need to conform to the needs of the topic. He showed a video of his visit to Delhi where they had for-profit schools that had only two computers in the school, but no web connection, in an illegally settled area - he said he was wondering how does his work impact in this area. After all, the next billion people coming online will be from the developing world.
How popular is Wikipedia ? 9th most popular website on the internet, 6th most popular in Germany, 12th most popular in India, Japan and Iran. He ran a comparison of "reach" with CNN at 2.23% and Wikipedia 6.19%. He then referred to the Nature magazine study comparing Wikipedia articles between Britannica articles.
Although interestingly, this comparison isn't universally accepted as valid.
He covered the topic of neutrality and mentioned a “culture of thoughtful toleration” where people were able to disagree safely. Wales then made a good point that most learning environments are designed with the bad things that might happen at the forefront. He mentioned that what education needs is an accountability model, not a gatekeeper model. So, in his view, how should students and teachers use WikiPedia? Taught the right way, Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for research but educators need to make students aware of how the articles are constructed.
He talked about the need for a free culture future and touched on Creative Commons licenses using the example of Flickr photos that can be assigned under a CC license. Through the CC model free culture can create a base layer of raw cultural materials for learners to remix and build upon. (Not market exchange but intellectual exchange. Participatory medium means that we should care about copyright and IP.
Neutrality is an important concept in search. Through things like del.icio.us tags , metadata is being generated by the general public creating terms that are becoming common use - can they be used for search terms? Can this lead to the read/write culture in the education sector. Wales used the example of Connections @ Rice University - producing free licensed online textbooks.
Wikipedia is currently completely blocked in China and Jimmy Wales says that there is no intention of compromising like Google. (He compared the situation in terms of free speech being similar to apartheid South Africa) He said it's time to for Google to have their feet held to the fire and their motto of "Don’t Be Evil" – however, unlike a lot of companies just going into China for the money, Google has been fairly transparent. Wales believes that accessed information is a fundamental human right.
Jimmy fielded a number of questions from the floor at this point handling them all with aplomb but I wasn't taking notes - I was still trying to get my laptop to connect to the wireless!!