Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Selfish Sharing

Robert Kieffer and Ned Batchelder sparked a discussion that has interested a good many people. They were discussing the sharing of information we work to provide and the selfishness of keeping one's self as the only source and control of information that we share to everyone. Selfishly sharing information: what does it mean?

A good example is that I'm posting this article instead of just commenting on the page like everyone else. Of course, those comments aren't this long. So, I'll convince myself I have some justification. Why do I need to justify these actions to myself?

Many of us have websites. They are a bit of a status symbol these days, and something anyone can create. But, a site that is important can not be created by anyone, it can only be created by everyone. Only in the value of the audience do we feel a real value for our own websites and the information we provide within them.

So, although we want to give the content away, we want to keep close hold on the credit. We want everyone to value the content and to know that we were responsible for its creation and for its continued availability to them. As long as the content remains on our websites, we have value in the value the audience holds in our website.

Where does this leave projects like Wikipedia and more focused efforts like the Python Wiki? Although the spirit of sharing urges us to combine our collective content where everything can be found together, we are greedy for self value. We may even make such meager claims such as, "Google pulls the information together as well as a wiki", in order to justify our actions of keeping our content out of the wikies.

(what is the plural of "wiki"?)

The first thing that springs to my mind when pondering it, and the first thing that I thought of when reading the post on Ned's blog, is, "why do we need to make this distinction and this discission at all?". Content may be served from multiple physical servers, and available from multiple logical URIs, but why does this entail that it must be acredited to one person or organization for each source we can obtain it from? Why do we have to have such a hard line between our site and World Wide Web? The WWW was meant to be a sharing of information, and many people say that the Wiki is the heart of the spirit of the web. But people need some value in both the obtaining of information and the free distribution of information to others. It has to work both ways, and as we know, what each is giving must be worth less to that individual than what they get in return.

What I am getting at, is why can't Ned's Python Parsers page exist as both a page on his website and as a page on the wiki simultaniously? I won't go into implementation details, but he should be able to write the page on his website, and then submit it as a page on the wiki. If anyone wants to make changes to the wiki, they can. If we wants to merge changes in from the wiki, he should be able to. If he makes changes while his and the wiki-version are synced, they should show up on both, otherwise he or someone else might merge them in some semi-manual manner.

In any case, this would all be through good standards. There would not be any central servers involved. Neither individual or organization would have to do anything manual unless they themselves are changing something.

If we want to truely share, why do we have to give it away? Is it really sharing if we ourselves can not share in all of the value. Sharing by putting the content into something like a wiki allows everyone to share in the value of obtaining the content, but there is a lack of balance in the value of providing that content to those who would wish to obtain it.

We must share both the value of the content and the credit for that content.

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