Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Gate-crashing OSCON

Okay, so far I just attended one session, but it was a good one: "Technology Community leadership Meetup", hosted by Dawn Foster. I had invited Mark Dilley from AboutUs.org in hope we'd meet up with Jimbo Wales. Jimbo wasn't at this session (is he even attending OSCON?) but we did have a chance to be in a group with Chris DiBona and Larry Augustin. (DiBona was just a guy in a black t-shirt; Augustin made an impression on me from the beginning by his story about some guy by the name of "Andre" who claims he can get his emails to Steve Balmer answered within four hours.) And as we waited to get started, a couple of of the people present chatted about some dust-up between Eben Moglen and Tim O'Reilly at the executive briefing on Open Source: apparently many people in the Open Source community think O'Reilly has sold out to corporate interests, but many people who watched Moglen rip into O'Reilly believe he didn't deserve quite that much abuse. I wasn't there, so I'm just repeating what I overheard.

I'm interested in online communities because I believe that Wikipedia can always do this thing better -- but from some of the comments I heard, Wikipedia is years ahead of the other communities. All of the other groups interested in online communities and how to make them work are struggling with many of the same issues and possible solutions that Wikipedia has been: anonymity, evangelism, troublemakers, decision-making, inward-looking versuses outward-looking conversations, a reputation system and the problem of keeping the community conversation in one place. I'm not sure that Wikipedia has better answers than anyone else, only that we're struggling with them on a larger scale than anyone else. They're trying to make their villages thrive: Wikipedia is struggling to keep its city from imploding.

And, as might be expected, the most interesting comments didn't come from the well-known names. (DiBona left half-way through the BoF session.) Mark Dilley talked a bit about a tool used on AboutUs.org called consensus polling, which Mark said had been adapted from the Omidiyar network (now being phased out of existence). And Wm Leler, one of the founders of Zat.com, talked about his research into a new model of for-profit open source businesses, which he described as being similar to the "old-fashioned worker's cooperative." I'll repeat what I said at the session: if he can make it work, not only will it mean the arrival of Web 3.0, but that I want to know his secret.

If I manage to crash another OSCON event -- or event better, Dawn's Thursday session "Art of the Community", I'll try to share it here.


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