Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Building the World, Piece By Piece

There's a reason the logo is a globe:

Wikipedia is a worldwide project with a bajillion language versions and members everywhere. But the English wikipedia is the flagship (partly because it was first, partly because half the world speaks English as a second language), which means most of the contributors are in the former British Empire -- the U.S., India, etc.

Next summer's Wikimania conference will be in Alexandria -- yes, that Alexandria; think "great library" (and questionable political regime).

This Egypt choice is part of wikipedia's most important goal: uniting the world under a benevolent dogma of free knowledge. If "anyone can edit" is a radical thought in Washington, imagine what it sounds like in Beijing. (Well, you don't have to imagine; Wikipedia lost a protracted fight to seep through the Great Firewall.)

The globalist approach raises social issues, too -- for example, LGBT wikipedians (there are a lot of us) can't share Egyptian hotel rooms* (and will have to stomach a government that's friendly to all tourists, but routinely imprisons its own gay population). Jimmy Wales stemmed the outcry by promising a keynote about "free knowledge and human rights".

Andrew Lih says:

The choice of whether to boycott or engage has been a tough one. It happens with the Olympics, on trade, on technology transfer, and choosing conference venues. Given the international makeup of the Wikipedia community you’re not going to get consensus. When we chose Boston two years ago, there were folks who were upset because of the US’s foray into Iraq and the harsh requirements for visas.

Jimmy Wales has noted this, and has chosen “engagement” as his stance.

For those who can't make it to Alexandria, there's going to be a springtime wikimedia conference in Atlanta, and other satellite conferences in places like the Netherlands.

* Update: Oops -- they can share hotel rooms, just not singles.

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