Note: Please, please continue uploading my comics to WikiMedia Commons, beloved uploaders! Nina’s Adventures is next. I completely endorse and support this work! Thank you! I love you! I post the rant below because, well, it’s on my mind now, and life isn’t perfect.
MY WIKIMEDIA RANT
July 24, 2009
I wrote the rant below yesterday and emailed it to my friend Mike Caprio, who responded:
There’s a really long history of this kind of thing with Wikipedia. I think it’s worthwhile to take a look at the (quite long) essay that Jason Scott wrote 5+ years ago on the subject. When he posted this, it caused a tempest in the teapot, and then that tempest lead to a lot of major news outlets questioning Wikipedia itself – you may not want to tread again over the same paths that he did, or people might not pay close enough attention to what you’re trying to say. To Jason’s credentials: he’s basically a well-spoken techie guy who’s been online forever and has basically gotten himself one way or another into the middle of just about every major phenom that’s crawled up out of the Internet. For bonus points, check out the second article entitled “Swastikipedia”.
So I’m wandering down a well-trod path.
MY WIKIMEDIA RANT:
July 23, 2009
I spend most of my time trying to show other artists that it’s “safe” to free their art under CC-SA – that Free Culture is a superior alternative to the world of proprietary culture, with its attendant gatekeepers and commercial censors.
Within 12 hours of making my very first Wikimedia Commons user page, an admin judged it:
“a pretty promotional page with links on & equally appear to promote someone’s commercial work” and deleted it.
So my first experience of Wikimedia feels not like an alternative to the proprietary culture industry I disdain; it feels the same, in the worst way. In the commercial world, an individual with the authority to determine whether others see works submitted is kindly called a “gatekeeper.” The proprietary culture industries are called the “gatekeeper system.” The system fails because a handful of individuals are vested with the authority to make or break works, to decide whether or not they get exposed to a larger audience. These individuals simply aren’t competent to judge everything they are entrusted to filter. Overworked individuals even less so; they don’t feel they can afford the time to do rudimentary research, or learn anything about the subject in question.
If I weren’t 100% committed to Free Culture, I would have read the “out of scope” message and left, not to return. I know Wikimedia is a community which has its own ways of doing things, and I should learn (I tried, by the way – my best efforts led to an almost instant deletion, and I’m a lot more savvy than most artists), it’s all part of the “noob” experience, etc. I complain here because as tight a community as Wikimedia is, it is part of a larger world of Knowledge. I have been told Wikimedia’s goal is sharing educational knowledge freely, with a sense of neutrality and balance. When an admin deletes unfamiliar work, he ensures everyone’s “knowledge” is limited to his own. The boundaries of “knowledge” will consequently remain very small in such a system. If Wikimedia Commons maintains such practices, it is unlikely to gain relevance beyond its own limited circle of users, which will consequently remain small.
This is not a personal critique, any more than the deletion of my user page was personal. I know it was not. I am mostly concerned with the microculture in which this occurred. If another Wikimedian hadn’t been corresponding with me already, no one would have reinstated my user page. No one would have noticed its deletion in the first place. Few artists have a supporter behind the Wiki-wall to help them in such circumstances. No “content creator” should need an insider to correct such problems. Wikimedia shouldn’t be an insider system; we have Hollywood for that.
Finally, my work was under suspicion because it looked “commercial.” The admin suspected I didn’t really have my own permission to upload my works under a CC-SA license. Finding that “Internalization of the Permission Culture” here of all places is disappointing. (“Commercial” shouldn’t be a consideration anyway. Much relevant/educational culture is commercial: movies, books, science, music, software, engineering, etc. Textbooks and academic journals are notoriously commercial. In fact, “non-commercial” licenses are not allowed on Wikimedia Commons. So “commercial” should not be a criterion here.) The admin’s judgement also exemplifies a bias within and outside the Free Culture movement: if it doesn’t look “amateur”, it can’t be Free. Open licenses (particularly CC licenses) are becoming a brand for “amateurs and hippies.” Professional artists may eschew such licenses for the stigma alone. The Free Culture movement should be working to expand popular perceptions of what free can be, and reaching out to accomplished professional creators. What happened here is the opposite.
July 24, 2009
After reading Scott’s articles, and reviewing my own, I conclude: Wikimedia IS a Gatekeeper System and an Insider System. The only difference is Wikimedia gatekeepers are software nerds*, whereas proprietary culture industry gatekeepers are “money people” – investors and their trusted servants.
The question is, who do we want guarding the gates of our culture? Investors or nerds? They behave remarkably similarly. Corporate gatekeepers may claim they’re doing their jobs for money, but I suspect they really do it for the sheer thrill of gatekeeping, just as the unpaid Wikimedians do. Gatekeeping must be hella fun.
I still dream of world in which there are no gates to be guarded. That is the dream of Free Culture. Fortunately, Free Culture is bigger than Wikimedia. People will find ways to access and share knowledge outside of that system. I dream.
As long as I’m cooperating with commercial gatekeepers (professional distributors and publishers), I will cooperate with the nerd gatekeepers too. My work flows around the gates, but it can flow through them too. It’s just not as inspiring.
*Nerd is not a pejorative in my lexicon. I was raised nerd by nerds. I love nerds. But I hate gatekeepers.