Internet collaboration still in infancy: Wikipedia founder

by Prashant Rao

Note: This article was originally published by AFP on November 2, 2008. It can be found here.

LONDON (AFP) – The age of public collaboration over the Internet is still only in its infancy, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told AFP in an interview.

The 42-year-old web guru, in an effort to show Wikipedia’s impact thus far, referenced a recent trip to a slum in India where he “met this young man on the street who told me that he had used Wikipedia to pass his 11th grade exams.”

“Wow, that’s really cool, right? We’ve had some impact, even in such a place where I’m talking to this guy, and there’s mud streets, and cows, and it’s really quite a different environment from London.”

Wales’s popular online encyclopedia allows anyone with an Internet connection to make entries and edit content.

Speaking on the sidelines of an awards ceremony in London, Wales said: “We’re really just at the beginning, still, of collaborative efforts.”

“In video, right now, we’re still back in many ways in the Web 1.0 era,” he said, referring to the age before so-called Web 2.0, the peer-sharing model of the Internet of which Wikipedia is almost the definitive example.

“If you look at almost everything on YouTube, it’s individuals doing videos, either funny cat videos, or drunk girl videos seem to be quite popular there,” he said with a smile.

“What we haven’t seen yet in video is large-scale collaborative projects.”

Off the top of his head Wales suggested a 90-minute collaborative web video created by interviewing people from all around the world, giving their views on the war in Iraq.

He joked: “This isn’t going to be that popular, frankly, a 90-minute movie with people talking about Iraq — it’s going to have a small audience. This can’t be produced in the old-fashioned way. It’s totally possible now.

“That’s just one dumb idea of mine, right? Imagine what we could get if we could get 100,000 people thinking about collaborative video efforts to create documentary films, or comedy, or art, or who knows what.

“So, I think we’ve still got a long way to go.”

He acknowledged collaboration has its limits, noting that if “we said we want to write a novel about loss, and redemption, probably not so much public collaboration, that’s really an individual vision and a view of the world.”

“But for basic factual information, I think having an open public dialogue and debate and democratic process, seems to be very powerful.”

Wales also warned that major steps had to be considered to stop governments abusing ordinary people’s personal information, which is increasingly stored in vast computer databases.

He described potential government misuse of private citizens’ data as a “concern.”

“One of the interesting things to really think about is how, as we’re using the Internet, we leave an enormous digital footprint everywhere,” he said.

“And not just the Internet, but mobile phones, everything else. I’m assuming, if anybody really cares enough, my movements all around the planet are pretty trackable by somebody.

“That’s something most people don’t think much about, and they don’t think much about it because, frankly, no one cares what most people are doing.”

He said, however, that as computing power increases, “we need to really think about what are the political controls we need to have in place to prevent governments from abusing that kind of information.”

Wales’s remarks come after a report last month which warned that European governments are rapidly eroding civil liberties in a bid to gain “unfettered” access to individuals’ personal data in the name of tighter security.

The document by Statewatch, a non-profit online civil liberties monitoring group, criticised the EU for viewing data protection and judicial scrutiny of citizens’ private information as “obstacles” to law enforcement.

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