Twofish's Blog

October 2, 2006

An overheard conversation about wikipedia

Filed under: academia, china, wikipedia — twofish @ 4:04 am

This is an e-mail message that I wrote in response to something that happened…..

I’m actually not surprised at all that we are getting little cooperation from the big internet content providers in the PRC, since they don’t have any reason to take on risks that would threaten their income.  Part of the effectiveness of PRC internet censorship involves concentrating internet distribution into a small number of large companies who are then rather easy to control since they rely on official permission to function.  There is no reason why any large company would risk their profits for us.

I would suggest a two prong approach to bypassing the firewall

1) find ways of having lots of wikis in Mainland China.  The purpose of this is to make it so that people know that wikis exist.  These wikis don’t have to have anything to to with wikipedia.

2) make it relatively easy for people who are interested to connect to wikipedia.  Once people know that wikis exist, and have heard of the blocked wikipedia, this gets people interested.

For 1), I’ve been thinking about ways of having excuses for setting up wikis in Mainland China.  Something that might be useful is to have a moderated version of mediawiki which serves merely as a convenient way of updating your home page.  You can have people post imbeded comments and then moderate them, and just make encourage people to use it for classes or for their home pages, or anything at all.

Also, technically a university or corporation that uses the internet for their own business purposes is not an internet content provider, and isn’t technically subject to the rules.  So if we can find some professor that wants to set up a semi-public moderated wiki for their class or for their home page that would be useful, and if a professor happens to cut and paste wikipedia content on their wiki, there aren’t any regulations against that….

In large companies, if you ask permission to do something different, the answer will always be NO!!!!!  People in large bureaucracies get their power from saying NO!!! and not by saying YES!!!!

What you have to do is to not do anything different.  If the people in power don’t like wikipedia, then we aren’t doing wikipedia, we are just doing an unaffilated encyclopedia with wikis.  If they don’t like an unaffliated encyclopedia with wikis, then we aren’t doing an encyclopedia, we are just doing courseware.  If they don’t like wikis, fine, we aren’t doing a wiki, we are just doing a blog with embedded comments, and they already said we can do blogs.

The overall concept is that you bypass a wall by acting like water.  If find whatever tiny crack in the wall you have an excuse to use.

One thing I try to tell myself is not to get too emotional about any of this.  What we are doing is a small part of a story that will last decades.


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