Category Archives: nomenclature

wikimania: the importance of naming things

wikimania logoI’ll write up what happened on the second day of Wikimania soon – I saw a lot of talks about education – but a quick observation for now. Brewster Kahle delivered a speech after lunch entitled “Universal Access to All Knowledge”, detailing his plans to archive just about everything ever & the various issues he’s confronted along the way, not least Jack Valenti. Kahle learned from Valenti: it’s important to frame the terms of the debate. Valenti explained filesharing by declaring that it was Artists vs. Pirates, an obscuring dichotomy, but one that keeps popping up. Kahle was happy that he’d succeeded in creating a catch phrase in naming “orphan works” – a term no less loaded – before the partisans of copyright could.

Wikimania is dominated by Wikipedia, but it’s not completely about Wikipedia – it’s about wikis more generally, of which Wikipedia is by far the largest. There are people here using wikis to do immensely different things – create travel guides, create repositories of lesson plans for K–12 teachers, using wikis for the State Department’s repositories of information. Many of these are built using MediaWiki, the software that runs Wikipedia, but not all by any means. All sorts of different platforms have been made to create websites that can be edited by users. All of these fall under the rubric “wiki”. we could just as accurately refer to wikis as “collaboratively written websites”, the least common denominator of all of these sites. I’d argue that the word has something to do with the success of the model: nobody would feel any sense of kinship about making “collaboratively written websites” – that’s a nebulous concept – but when you slap the name “wiki” on it, you have something easily understood, a form about which people can become fanatical.