Lecture Notes 9/12

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1:23: Peer production and sharing. Commons – GPL – Richard Stallman

Benkler ch. 3: peer production. Essential way how non-market things of value are produced.

Richard Stallman: hero to cybergeeks. MIT programmer. Noticed problem: when people working with programs produced interesting things, companies would use copyright to appropriate it.

He wanted to create code/software that could be freely distributed. It is too easy for companies to take things out of public domain and make it theirs. He invented the “General Public License” (“copyleft”).

Copyright based on idea that writer of work has control over work for duration for copyright period (which has increased over time – especially compared to useful life of software)

Stallman copyrighted his work, but instead of retaining rights, gave permission to others to use it, on condition that if they improved it, they had to attach the same GPL to their work.

GPL has a “viral quality” – re-constitutes a public domain protected from enclosure.

The open-code/free software movement has spread across the world. Ex. Linux (operating system), Apache (servers). These programs are of immense value to many people – nonmarket production.

2 models: Market production, for-profit, hierarchical, centralized. Classic economic model. New form: center for starters (ex. Wikipedia: Ward Cunningham [programmer] [1:32: wiki: collaborative program where everybody is able to edit.], Jimbo Wales [applied wiki idea to encyclopedia]. Wikipedia is most successful example of this type of production.

Wikipedia front page: massive number of entries for large number of languages.

Some interesting qualities of Wikipedia:

Collaborative authorship tool. Useful piece of software. Structured so that when you make a contribution, it is transparent. You can “revert” changes. Encyclopedia: focused on a specific task. Wales’ idea. Invites contribution among wide range of knowledge, a particular way of addressing subjects: “neutral point of view.” this project has wide appeal.

HEY, GUESS WHAT? You can edit this page. Want to add something to the notes? Click on the "edit" tab at the top of the page.

In 5 years, Wikipedia has beaten Encyclopedia Britannica (?). – More articles – More content, maybe more reliable in some areas, not in others – More up-to-date, especially on technology

1:41. Problem: students cribbing stuff out of Wikipedia, passes off as research

Response: often inaccurate information, some missing citations. But problems with Britannica too: NATURE study found slightly fewer errors in Britannica. Actually, Britannica had more errors than expected.

Problems on Wikipedia: “common knowledge” later shown to be inaccurate. Or intentionally inaccurate information.

Example of a clearly-frivolous addition to article on Tyrannosaurus Rex, reverted out after 3 minutes. Easy to find because compartmentalized in a single edit. Can also see what else the person has edited.

Q: WHY DID THE REVERTER BOTHER? -now the article is on the front page, so takes shorter. -people can create waitlists for certain topics that interest them


-he’s contributed to all these articles – some sense of ownership/attachment (see: Jeff Waugh article that Mako wrote)

A certain community of people gathers around articles on a subject of common interest. In academia, this creates dialogue/ working intellectual community. NON-MARKET PAYOFF: reputation.

Also, improvements to articles that we have no personal investment in, just find errors and (for some reason?) want to correct them.

Google Jeff Waugh, Google Mouthbreeders.

How many use Google? Almost all do. How many have found a Wikipedia article that is a main source of help in a search? Almost all.

Britannica is afraid of Wikipedia: one of Britannica’s leaders was critical of Wikipedia, particularly treatment of article about Alexander Hamilton. Within minutes, error was fixed.

So, answer to high school teacher: have them research their articles, then check Wikipedia: if it’s not as good, they should contribute to it.

Wikipedia is a young enterprise with self-correcting mechanisms: the further is goes along, the better it gets.


Wikimedia Foundation: takes care of assets of project. About $750K a year, mostly for bandwidth/hardware. 2 or 3 staff people and a bunch of volunteers. Staff members are generally responding to legal threats.

Contrast this with traditional corporate model, which builds up huge hierarchical staff.

Here, once architecture is established, its open to collaboration, core drops almost completely away. ROOTED IN THE NODES ON OUTSIDE, NOT IN THE CORE. Expressive of “we the people” idea of new enterprise. Way of creating wealth that doesn’t need much capital: “built on elegance and imagination.”

There is a general issue of trust of “masses” vs “experts.” runs through Wikipedia as well as the whole free software movement.

Interesting high school assignment: find article that needs to be changed, realize that they have to be critical about information.

2:00: first assignment

Page for 1st week: Form into groups, each group takes responsibility for one of the weeks. You will be graded on this!

Nesson’s personal testimony: used Wiki for evidence course last winter. Started from scratch – accessed 10K+ times over 3 weeks. DECENTRALIZED CLASS MODEL.

We’re using a media wiki, same as Wikipedia.

Things you need to know how to do: Create an account: do we want this to be open? Problem with evidence wiki: spam bots messed it up. Better to get accounts so you can track your edits. For Wikipedia, deals with spam problem by blocking IP addresses of spammers as they become unknown. Need to log in to edit so can’t edit anonymously. Pseudonymity/ anonymity: issues for grading. Wikipedia: “sock puppet” issue: people create dummy accounts which are all them, to win arguments by faking consensus. Prof: everyone should create an account with their real name, then can optionally create more.

Making a new heading: law school class participants. Edit: shows Wiki markup language, which is very simple. Adding “law school class participants” “= =” makes a heading. Good to use “summary box” at bottom of page – helps in tracking edits. Also option to “watch this page.”



Your user page: make your own so people can see who you are. “World” icon allows you to make an external link. Making an internal link: if the name of your page is the same as what you’re linking to, just put it in two brackets. You can link to pages that don’t yet exist, and then edit them. ISSUE: Wiki software is case-sensitive, except with regard to first letter of article.

Discussion pages: on Wikipedia, huge discussion often accompanies edits. “Signature” icon allows you to sign your comments, with timestamp.

Adding photos: userpage – toolbox – upload file

In general, can learn by example for Wiki functions.

This site has a link to a tutorial – user – edit – editing help. Someone just added this. Wikis at work!

2:32: Some of prof’s comments on things to think about. One key topic: “structure.” Changing the structure of the page takes more commitment than just adding stuff, but you are welcome to do it. Example of Wired magazine article.

Grading. Anecdote: evidence course. Previously had been about the rules of evidence. His class treated rules as the end, not the starting point. Start with ideas of “dispute,” “resolution,” etc., derive the rules. Worked great – up to the final. Look at the “reactions to grades” section of the wiki.

Problem: curve system doesn’t align with unconventional class structure. Petition for pass/fail option – there will be a Wiki on this.

Another option: Wiki on how to grade a creative project.

2:40: feedback memo.