The Free Universal Encyclopedia and Learning Resource

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Crystal wordprocessing.png This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.

This is a set of notes and quotes from w:Richard Stallman's essay "The Free Universal Encyclopedia and Learning Resource". The full text of the speech is at:

"... since there is no practical limit to the amount of encyclopedic material that can be on the web, this encyclopedia should eventually also cover the more advanced and specialized topics you might expect to find in specialized encyclopedias, such as an "Encyclopedia of Physics", "Encyclopedia of Medicine", "Encyclopedia of Gardening", or "Encyclopedia of Cooking". It could go even further; for example, bird watchers might eventually contribute an article on each species of bird, along with pictures and recordings of its calls. "

"However, only some kinds of information belong in an encyclopedia. For example, scholarly papers, detailed statistical data bases, news reports, fiction and art, extensive bibliographies, and catalogs of merchandise, useful as they are, are outside the scope of an encyclopedia. (Some of the articles might usefully contain links to such works.)"


Permit mirror sites.[edit]

"When information is available on the web only at one site, its availability is vulnerable. A local problem--a computer crash, an earthquake or flood, a budget cut, a change in policy of the school administration--could cut off access for everyone forever. To guard against loss of the encyclopedia's material, we should make sure that every piece of the encyclopedia is available from many sites on the Internet, and that new copies can be put up if some disappear. "


Permit translation into other languages.[edit]

"People will have a use for encyclopedia material on each topic in every human language. But the primary language of the Internet--as of the world of commerce and science today--is English. Most likely, encyclopedia contributions in English will run ahead of other languages, and the encyclopedia will approach completeness in English first."

"Trying to fight this tendency would be self-defeating. The easier way to make the encyclopedia available in all languages is by encouraging one person to translate what another has written. In this way, each article can be translated into many languages."

"But if this requires explicit permission, it will be too difficult. Therefore, we must adopt a basic rule that anyone is permitted to publish an accurate translation of any article or course, with proper attribution. Each article and each course should carry a statement giving permission for translations."


Encourage peer review and endorsements.[edit]

"There will be no single organization in charge of what to include in the encyclopedia or the learning resource, no one that can be lobbied to exclude "creation science" or holocaust denial (or, by the same token, lobbied to exclude evolution or the history of Nazi death camps). Where there is controversy, multiple views will be represented. So it will be useful for readers to be able to see who endorses or has reviewed a given article's version of the subject. "

"In fields such as science, engineering, and history, there are formal standards of peer review. We should encourage authors of articles and courses to seek peer review, both through existing formal scholarly mechanisms, and through the informal mechanism of asking respected names in the field for permission to cite their endorsement in the article or course."


Making links to other pages.[edit]

"The last and most important rule for pages in the encyclopedia is the exclusionary rule:"

"If a page on the web covers subject matter that ought to be in the encyclopedia or the course library, but its license is too restricted to qualify, we must not make links to it from encyclopedia articles or from courses. "

"This rule will make sure we respect our own rules, in the same way that the exclusionary rule for evidence is supposed to make police respect their own rules: by not allowing us to treat work which fails to meet the criteria as if it did meet them. "

This one really doesn't apply to Wikipedia; the great majority of our links are internal. We also tend to only have external links in their own section to make it obvious that those webpages are not part of Wikipedia. Stalman was also envisioning an encylcopedia that spanned many servers and was not centralized. Of course Wikipedia is centralized so that the software works (although having all the different language Wikipedias on the same server is not needed for interoperability). -- mav


Uphold the freedom to contribute.[edit]

"As education moves on-line and is increasingly commercialized, teachers are in danger of losing even the right to make their work freely available to the public. Some universities have tried to claim ownership over on-line materials produced by teachers, to turn it into commercial "courseware" with restricted use. Meanwhile, other universities have outsourced their on-line services to corporations, some of which claim to own all materials posted on the university web sites."