A new wikipediast grumpy at the FAQ

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Some questions originating at the wikipedia FAQ/talk page.

Q. Are the casual dropins from the recent efforts in publicity and recruiting given a misleading impression by the front page? In other words, is any work in progress to adequately define organizational and business models such that "Wikipedia: The Free Enclycopia" can explain what its precise committment to encyclopedia users and contributers consists of and how it plans to fullfill them?

A. Maybe it could be better. The following question, answer and subsequent rant was provided by me, after approximately two weeks of participation. My initial impression of the site was that it was much more mature than the development mail archives show it to be. Therefore I was shocked and angered to find it is a commercial activity linked to another dot.com that has apparently not reached critical mass required to deliver and maintain an online commercial encyclopedia, nupedia.com


Initial question

Q. What is to prevent the Wikipedia from vanishing or becoming unfree in the future once the critical mass has been achieved to attract aspiring academics and professionals and multitudes of prosperous users demand fast reliable access that only large server farms with plenty of expensive bandwidth can provide? user:mirwin


Answer available next day.

It is my understanding the wiki software is under the GNU GPL and the copyright of all contributions (no matter how small) is owned by the individual contributors (albeit all licensed under the GNU FDL by hitting SUBMIT). So the only way the content of wikipedia can be forked into an unfree version is for every single one of the now thousands of past and present contributers to agree to a change in the license that covers their work. This of course is not at all likely. I am concerned about the backing up of data, however and would like to know more about that. How about wiki-mirrors? I wonder how many giga-bytes just the current versions of all the articles take up. --maveric149

rant begins here after a day of browsing mailing lists, information onsite and attempting to locate source code

Thanks maveric, I found a lot of interesting discussion on the wikipedia-L mailing list archive. There seemed a lot of interest in preventing use of this "community" content by others without attribution to wikipedia.com which is owned by Bomis which is owned by a couple of project founders. I use quotes because what true "free" community has owners? It might be worth forking and setting up a mirror to firmly shake out the licensing issues applicable to a true free wiki site of human knowledge. Call it (perhaps) the free as in beer and as in use it as you please as long as your modified version remains free as per the published and agreed to license.org. Perhaps a shorter name will be more marketable and we can still exploit the brand name recognition of the GPL or Gnu FDL because we intend to make it easy to comply with.

Hmmmm .... I risk classification as a "GNU Hawk" here.

Actually I do not see myself as a GNU Hawk, I find it highly irritating to have been suckered into contributing under what might be construed as false pretenses. Then upon digging into the archives finding that this was apparently intentional. So now that the local site credibility has been damaged in my perception the natural question to ask before contributing much more and recommending the site to friends and fellow travelers is .... can the site be easily mirrored and/or forked and are plans afoot to assure future financial stability and availability beyond the control of single commercial entity. No offense intended to Mr. Jimmy Wales, owner but fatal car accidents happen every day. It seems incautious to put the potentially millions of manhours worth of effort which a fairly comprehensive high quality free encyclopedia of human knowledge will take to complete (or even the thousands it will take to get to the critical mass sufficient to interest experts and greater numbers of contributors) at risk; hostage to a single commercial entity's whims and fortunes.

Perhaps this is overreaction. The source code does not seem to be available at sourceforge, the pointers provided point back to wikipedia and engage an infinite loop back and forth. Perhaps this is an error.

Perhaps some more browsing will clarify this for me but I have been at it all day around the wikipedia site and the mailing list archives. At this point I will probably conclude this is a truely free project that could be forked at whim (as long as the GPL and GFDL are complied with) when I manage to get a local test mirror up and running with a current snapshot. This would prove that the knowledge base and the source code to access it is free and could be propagated should an organization or individual provide the wherewithal to do so.

A bit rantish I suppose. Keep in mind that the GNU branding and the Free Software Foundation is as strong as it is because they aggressively defend against fraudulent exploitation of the licenses and brand.

Anyway, I go now to cool off by contributing a bit and browsing a bit. I have already accomplished locally that which I wished to. In my opinion the site proves the potential of the wiki supporting distributed teams in working and publishing free engineering specifications online. Clearly we, any engineering teams that take up the challenge, should address the basic organizational and licensing issues up front and publish them clearly if we wish to be growing dynamically by co-opting casual dropins.

end rant


Yes, getting a mirror up and running would be a useful proof of concept. I think many of us would be happy to see that this is feasible. Particularly if you document the steps. 62.253.128.xxx


I also second that proposal. Set up a mirror.