Angela Beesley's talk at the National Library of Australia on Wednesday was a gentle introduction to the concept and use of Wikis, as well as Wikipedia. Angela explained the similarities and differences between Wikis and other web based publishing, as well as how Wikipedia is like and unlike an encyclopedia. Most of the audience seemed to be librarians. The NLA recorded the talk and this will be available on-line shortly.
The talk became a bit disjointed half way through. I suspect we were getting an abbreviated version of two talks prepared for two different events. There was a little too much on the Creative Commons and its origins in open source software.
What I found most interesting were examples of where the Wikipedia is being turned into a non-web product, such as a disk version for African schools and old fashioned paper books in Germany.
The most compelling argument for Wikis and the Wikipedia are that, contrary to common sense, they actually work in practice. But is the business model behind them is sustainable?. Is this some form of charity where a few philanthropic people fund development until they loose interest? Others take the Wikipedia content and put ads on it to make money. I would be happier if Wikipedia put ads on itself and used the money earned to sustain the project.
Is the Wikipedia just a new form of colonialism? The school students in an African village with a Wikipedia DVD do not get to make changes to the Wikipedia. They can just read what other people with Internet access have decided is information.
Perhaps the Wikipedia should accept that there are different views as to what reality is. There could be markers on the information indicating the point of view of the authors. What a left wing view of the world? Okay click here. Want a fundamentalist religious view? Click which religion you want.
Some of the new Wikipedia areas are interesting, if a little underdeveloped. The Wikiversity is a brave attempt to provide educational material freely on-line. It was spun off Wikibooks August 2005 ("evicted" might be a better term). But modeling itself on a University, with schools and departments may annoy people from real institutions. As noted in the Wikipedia, in Australia and some other countries, universities must be authorized by the government. The Wikimedia Foundation is based in Florida, USA, which is a little more relaxed.
Some of the Wikiversity content is underdeveloped, for example the Information Studies entry contains nothing at all. But it may confound skeptics, like the Wikipedia did, and be a success.