Giving something back to the intellectual commons

As I bounced between social responsibilities, work, and personal responsibilities, I spent some time over in the Wikipedia this week.
I guess part of it is just a sense of duty. I use a lot of GPL software and expect to be tapping the public domain very soon for some upcoming projects. I’m not in a position yet to contribute anything back to the public domain.

But I get extremely annoyed at companies like Disney that see the public domain just as something to be appropriated without ever putting anything back into the pool that benefited them.

I can’t program, and at the moment all of my intellectual property is tied up by the rights of others. But I can write. And the Wikipedia has holes. My knowledge can fill in some of those holes.

So I would encourage anyone who has benefitted from GPL software (and if you use the Web, you’ve used Linux and benefitted from it, even if you’re a Windows-only kind of guy or gal) to head over to the Wikipedia and take a look around. Punch something into its search engine to see if you know anything it doesn’t know about. That even means useless trivia. Punch in your favorite sports team or your favorite band. If nothing comes up, add it. I find the Wikipedia to be strong on current events and current pop culture, and strong on things like presidential history where there are government documents in the public domain that can be appropriated, but not so strong on recent history.

Many wikipedia articles are elaborately written. I spent a couple of hours this morning researching and writing an entry on my great-grandfather’s boss, Mark Hanna. I’m sure even more work went into some of the others.

But if you’re old enough to remember encyclopedias that were printed on paper, you’ll remember that some encyclopedia articles gave little more information than your typical dictionary: Dates of birth and death and one notable achievement. On the Web, where storage space is unlimited and there’s no reason not to go into a fair amount of depth, these articles aren’t ideal. But they’re better than nothing. Someone else is more likely to expand on something that already exists than to create it.

2 thoughts on “Giving something back to the intellectual commons

  • December 29, 2002 at 4:53 pm
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    I just posted a few short entries where no entry previously existed. One being the Queensboro Bridge in NY. And the others being a variety of small things that I promptly forgot.

  • January 2, 2003 at 10:50 pm
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    Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get to that… I’ve been busy writing articles and code – more articles than code… and basically trying to get awareness up in Trinidad and Tobago, an adopted home… for now?

    Yet there are holes on the Wikipedia that I can fill. I think I’ll dedicate 2-6 hours every Sunday to the Wikipedia… Reading and writing. Thanks for the gentle reminder.

    Yes, Disney is being naughty, but I think Eisner is has made Disney into what Walt *didn’t* want. Such is life in corporate America, I suppose. Revenue streams. Count the revenue streams. It wouldn’t surprise me if they collected information daily on the number of children born in hospitals around the world (as well as other information on them), so they can get their demographics right 3-4 years in advance…

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