We Like to Share

Jimmy Wales on the (Encyclopedic) Value of Sharing

Jimmy Wales is the founder of Wikipedia. I had been watching the growth of the free and open source software movements for a...

Jimmy Wales is the founder of Wikipedia.

I had been watching the growth of the free and open source software movements for a few years, and I was thinking about people coming together and collaborating. What was really making that world possible is that people devised these licenses that allow, for example, programmers to share their work with other programmers, who could copy it, redistribute it, and modify it. This licensing method took away a lot of concerns people had about sharing their work online. People didn’t mind other people taking their work and reusing it, but there are certain things they didn’t want other people to do, like close the source code, make it proprietary, or make it so that I can’t see the changes that have been made. I realized that this mode of collaboration was not really something that would be confined only to software. I realized a lot more would be coming, so I started thinking of what might be good to collaborate on. I had the idea of the encyclopedia.

The way I talk about this is as a reemergence of folk culture. For a long time, we thought about culture being more or less divided in two parts: We had pop culture, which was commercially driven, and then we had fine art culture, which was partially commercial but we felt it needed to be paid for by wealthy patrons or governments or something like that. But we also had folk culture—people sharing songs and stories passed down from generations. Now that we have all of these tools for communicating directly peer to peer, we are seeing a real explosion and reemergence of that kind of folk culture, and a move away from broadcast culture.

In a certain sense it is a very natural extension of what we always did; it’s just that we have the tools to do it much better than we ever did before. Everybody used to take pictures and share them with their friends, and some people got involved with photography as a hobby and met other photographers and joined photography clubs. Other people would sing songs and modify them and those songs would get passed around. Now all of those things can happen on a much larger scale simply because we have the tools available to do it—and a licensing framework set up that helps people make sure that what they are doing is legal and in accordance with what their values are.

I think that the separated factions of people who care about making money off of this and people who don't isn’t really sustainable in the long run; I think that it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. What we are seeing is people reacting with a little bit of shock to this change, but in the long run these changes are here to stay. The Internet is here to stay. People sharing things online is here to stay. We still have a lot of innovations coming in terms of what kind of communities can be built and what kind of activities people may engage in online, but I think what we are going to see moving forward is really more of a spectrum, a continuum of activities: There are certain things that will be produced the old fashioned way as part of a commercially oriented broadcasted culture, and I think that’s fine and will stay the same; we are going to see people doing things like Wikipedia, which is spontaneously sharing with no commercial or career motive for the most part; and then there will be some in between, where people, especially younger artists, will get their start by becoming well known through the sharing culture, and then will go on to sell some of their work under a traditional model. Or we may see some existing successful performers who say, "Yeah I’m going to continue doing some of my work this way, but I’m also going do some of it in an attempt to have a bigger impact on the culture. I may release a song or a whole album in a way that allows people to modify it and let people take it and change it and build on it and do something different with it." I think that there is no way we should be in a situation where there are different factions. I think all of these things are just tools that people can use for a variety of purposes.

Story as told to Eric Steuer. Click the play button below to listen to the interview on which this piece is based.



Eric Steuer is the creative director of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that works to make it easier for creators to share their work with the rest of the world. It also provides tools to make it easier for people to find creative work that's been made available to them—and the rest of the world—to use, share, reuse etc., freely and legally. This is the third in a series of edited and condensed interviews called "We like to share," in which Steuer talked to people who work across a variety of fields who use sharing as an approach to benefit the work that they do.

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Peter Murray-Rust on the (Scientific) Value of Sharing

Peter Murray-Rust is a chemist, a reader in molecular informatics at the University of Cambridge, and a Senior Research Fellow of Churchill...



Peter Murray-Rust is a chemist, a reader in molecular informatics at the University of Cambridge, and a Senior Research Fellow of Churchill College.

I'm a chemist. I'm very interested in how the enormous amount of information that's being put on the web can be used for science. The possibilities of doing things with that information are enormous. What we need to do, however, is to be able to access it. One of the frustrations that many scientists have is that they find the key bits of data they want aren't available. I discovered this in chemistry-there's lots of data out there, but only a very small proportion of it is easy to get without having to pay for it, or without having to ask permission to use it. As a result of this I, along with others, came up with the idea of open data-the assertion, if you like, that certain types of information should be inexorably free for the human race.

It's discipline dependent, and the behavior varies by scientists-chemistry is a fairly conservative discipline in this area, while astronomy and particle physics make all of their data freely available. But there's an increasing realization that if work is funded from public or charitable sources, then there's a requirement on the researchers to make their data available. The various parties responsible for grant making in the United Kingdom, the United States, and in many other places are now actively starting to put requirements on grantees to make not only the textual publication work available, but also the data on which it rests.

There are two or three objective problems; one is that making data available is not trivial. It's easier to make a single document (a copy of your publication, for example) available, than it is to package your data in a way that other people would want to use it. So there are technical aspects. There's also inertia. It's not common for many scientists to share their data; they don't realize the value of doing it. So they need to change the way in which they work and the culture of how they reach out to people. Of course many scientists are naturally competitive because funding depends on publication; the more you get published, the more you are likely to receive. So people are naturally jealous of their results and in many cases, they don't want to make their data available because then their competitors might be able to see things in their data that they hadn't been able to see.

It's fair to say that not all data can be made universally available, and that's particularly true when you've got patient or sociological data which relate to human services. There do have to be areas where privacy makes it impossible to share data universally. But in many branches of science-and this is particularly true of physical science, material science, and so on-there's no reason in principle why the data shouldn't be made available. There has been a history of controlling data through commercial means, and there are a lot of organizations which up until now have made an income by collecting data from the community and then packaging it and selling it back. That was a reasonable thing to do in the 20th century. But in the 21st century, so much information is now born digital that it makes sense to think of an economy where as we create the data, we release it to the community rather than locking it up.

Story as told to Eric Steuer. Click the play button below to listen to the interview on which this piece is based.



Eric Steuer is the creative director of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that works to make it easier for creators to share their work with the rest of the world. It also provides tools to make it easier for people to find creative work that's been made available to them-and the rest of the world-to use, share, reuse etc., freely and legally. This is the third in a series of edited and condensed interviews called "We like to share," in which Steuer talked to people who work across a variety of fields who use sharing as an approach to benefit the work that they do.

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Frances Pinter on the (Academic) Value of Sharing

Frances Pinter is the publisher of Bloomsbury Academic. In academic publishing, the volume of what is published has increased...

Frances Pinter is the publisher of Bloomsbury Academic.

In academic publishing, the volume of what is published has increased phenomenally in recent years, because the higher education sector has increased globally quite a lot; there are more academics, more people writing, and so more material is coming out. And its all very competitive as to whose voice is being heard.

Bloomsbury Academic is a very new imprint. We started it last September and the business model is a very simple one: We want to give academics what they want and expect from a quality academic publishing house. Firstly, that means all the pre-publication work-selection of peer review, editing, formatting-and then, coming closer to publication, we are talking about the marketing function. At the time of the publication itself, we are putting the work online with a Creative Commons attribution, noncommercial license at the same time we are producing the print copy. Looking at the post-publication phase, we are going to be keeping books in print for as long as there is a demand. We have a lot of options at our disposal for print: we can publish it in the conventional way or, if it's a slow seller for a small audience, then we can start out with print on demand. That allows us to reduce the risk of holding large amounts of books in warehouses. So we are trying to marry the old with the new by using digital technologies, and by using creative commons licensing, but also giving the academic what they want, which is a quality publication.

So much of academic output is now available on the web, and when you talk to academics they are not 100 percent happy with how difficult it is becoming to find their works. They are looking for tools; a digital means of selecting, filtering, and ranking the materials they are using and recommending. We are actually in a period of transition where we are still relying on the old, but wanting to experiment with the new. People like myself who spend a lot of time with the open access crowd can kind of forget there are a lot of academics who aren't so vocal, who are primarily interested in producing their content, getting materials in front of their students, and getting their promotion and their recognition for work that they produce.

In this period of transition there is a lot of investment required in experimenting with new technologies. And with the experimenting of new technologies, we have to make sure the recognition and the openness is absolutely essential and part of it. Many of the big companies have got the resources to do this, but they are also the companies that have the biggest investments in the old ways of doing things. The smaller companies don't have the money, but they have the inclination. With Bloomsbury Academic, I'm extremely fortunate because I'm working with a company that hasn't been known in the past for its academic publishing, it doesn't have a huge infrastructure for academic publishing, but is still one of the 10 largest companies in the United Kingdom in publishing terms. The general publishing infrastructure is all there, so we can take a new path without having to jettison the old way of doing things, and we can set up our systems to be open from scratch.

Story as told to Eric Steuer. Click the play button below to listen to the interview on which this piece is based.



Eric Steuer is the creative director of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that works to make it easier for creators to share their work with the rest of the world. It also provides tools to make it easier for people to find creative work that's been made available to them-and the rest of the world-to use, share, reuse etc., freely and legally. This is the third in a series of edited and condensed interviews called "We like to share," in which Steuer talked to people who work across a variety of fields who use sharing as an approach to benefit the work that they do.

Keep Reading Show less
Articles