Our and their
(After almost two months, here is one more post, probably the last for this year. In the mean time I started with finishing my studies in linguistics and I decided to reduce my free knowledge activity. I became a Wikimedia steward, I programmed a couple of things for Wikinews — and both of those require less time then writing blog in non-native language.)
Google and Microsoft
To be clear, I am impressed with (a lot of) Google products, as well as I am impressed with (a lot of) Microsoft products. My friends from free software community are very disappointed when I say that NTFS is a good file system (and that I would like to see it as a free software and integrated in GNU/Linux) or when I say that Gmail is a good email client or that VMWare is the best application-level virtualization machine…
But, to be clear again, this is not my way. From time to time I have to use proprietary software. Until X4 and OpenOffice 1.0 I had to use MS Word (btw, I still think that MS Word deserves to keep, at least unofficial, title of the best program ever). Simply, it was not possible to use Serbian localization easily under GNU/Linux until 2001 (note that I am a person who made Serbian Cyrillic keymaps for kbd, console-tools and X environments). In the same sense, I have to use Gmail and other Google tools, including Google Earth. For me, it is clear that I won’t use those programs when free software and community based tools which covers those fields start to exist.
This was a short introduction. I know my way, but I am not a fundamentalist who is not able to understand and to say that there are good pieces of proprietary software, knowledge or whatever.
I started to think again about comparison between free and proprietary content when I heard for Knol a couple of days ago. (If you are reading this blog, you know what Knol and knol are; if you don’t know, google it 😉 )
Irrationally, I was upset for the first few minutes. Yes, I know that a lot of people would willing to write articles for money as well as I got some ideas how Google may make it better. But, after a couple of minutes, I realized that Google is trying to make a new Nupedia or Citizendium.
Yes, we need a scientifically reliable knowledge source which Wikimedia and similar projects will never be and should never be: again, I am for making from Wikipedia a very good and reliable knowledge source, but even Wikipedia is more reliable then Britannica, Britannica is scientifically reliable source, while Wikipedia is not. The only reason is a concept of “scientific reliability”: if there are no scientists (who have a number of published peer reviewed articles) which are willing to stay behind some article, that article is not scientifically reliable. Actually, Wikipedia doesn’t need such thing and should be without it. (The other thing, constant changes of wiki content may be easily solved: point to the exact revision from the article history.)
Google may do this in a googlish way:
- It will pay a relatively wide range of authors for writing articles via add-ons.
- One article will not be necessarily the only about one issue.
- Readers will be able to rate articles.
- Readers will see best rated articles about some issue firstly.
- Google will make one more good business based on add-ons.
From the first days of my system administration, I was enjoying in comparing software. In 1999 it was not so surprising to ask yourself do you really want Apache as a web server or you may choose something else. However, today, it is not so reasonable to choose something else (except a tinny web servers for lowering server load in front of Apache).
And I made a mistake in choosing the software. I decided to use Roxen, instead of Apache. This was the only wrong choice in my early days of administration. Postfix instead of Sendmail (or qmail), SuSE (later Debian) instead of Slackware, Cyrus IMAP instead of a lot of POP3 servers and only UW IMAP, “standard” LTSP with DHCP instead of self-made terminal server project with RARP daemon, even kfm (later Konqueror) instead of memory eating Mozilla; using Perl (later Python) for system scripting instead of shell or dominant “shell scripting” in C… The most of those choices I would make today and the rest were the best solutions for that time.
Some time after I had to switch from Roxen to something else. I downloaded documentation for a couple of free software web servers and started to read. It was clear that I will use Apache, but I just wanted to be sure that there are no other choices.
One of them was AOLserver.
Ehh… It was so sad to read it. It was the first software with server side scripting (in TCL). It was multithreaded web server (in that time Apache wasn’t multithreaded). It was a great piece of software!
But, it wasn’t free software until 1999. And Apache took the market, but not only the market. Apache took developers. And when you have a good community of developers, you will start to get more and more new developers… Even it is alive today, AOLserver became history in the previous century. Its usage is so small and any system administrator needs to have a very good reason to use it instead of Apache.
This was the first time when I realized the difference between our and their in the software world. AOLserver was their and it had never become our, even it is willing to become.
SUN and Mozilla
SUN’s and Mozilla’s software are another examples. They became our only because there were no other good free solution for their software.
Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird are going slowly toward a really good solutions. First releases of Mozilla were a catastrophe. (Until Firefox was realized, Konqueror was able to read more Web then Mozilla.) Memory management is still very problematic (but, it seems that FF 3.0 will change it), but software is more useful then other free software alternatives.
But, OpenOffice… It was not so big nightmare at the beginning, but today it is a real and heavy nightmare. Thanks to MediaWiki, I have a free software alternative for writing. It is much more easy to go to other office to read MS Word document (or to try to read it with Abiword), then to try to use OpenOffice. It is quite possible that we will see in the future Abiword and KWord as our solutions instead of OpenOffice Writer.
And why it is so? Simply, none of those programs are made by using GNU standards. Decades of developing its own software made SUN completely incompatible with the rest of the free software world. While it is good to see SUN in free software world, it is hard experience to start their programs.
The day before yesterday I started once again Google Earth. It is a really amazing program. You may see your house or you may travel to Rio de Janeiro… And I am sure that it would be possible to see everything much better in the future. It is one of the programs which changed our perception of the world. It is not perfect, but who cares? It will be better and better.
I went to Belgrade and I turned on “user contributions” to see them again. Last time when I had turned on it, they were not so informative. There were a couple of headquarters of totally insignificant companies, between 5 and 10 times marked stadiums of football clubs Partizan and Red Star by using the same or similar words etc. Last time I even went to Google Earth community and tried to see how to fix it. (Of course, I didn’t fix it because it is not Wikipedia.)
This time I got a mess of informations like “Marko lives here”, “This is Petar’s weekend cottage”, mixed with a lot of headquarters of unknown companies and, of course, between five and ten times marked all important places in Belgrade. Oh, yes, some of them are marked wrongly…
And would anyone fix it? Hm. I think yes, during this century. I don’t know how those things are regulated for New York or London, but even if works and if it was not done by Google staff, it probably may function for cities with 10M+ of inhabitants, but it is not functioning for cities with 2M of inhabitants. Why? Because it is their. And if it is so, it seems that it is not so hard to find 1 person in 10M of inhabitants who would fix something even it is theirs, but it is hard to find someone who would work on it in the city of 2M of inhabitants.
Wikipedia and Knol
While it would be quite possible for Google to make a relatively good encyclopedia, probably better then Britannica or Encarta (at least, Microsoft made a very good general encyclopedia, too), it is mission impossible for Google to make an encyclopedia which would have 2M+ articles in English 600K+ articles in German and 100K+ articles in a number of languages.
As I said to you, I became a Wikimedia steward. Stewards are generally keeping small Wikimedia projects: those who doesn’t have admins, bureaucrats, checkusers or oversights. I am programming bots for Wikimedia projects, too. And there are thousands of admins and programmers, stewards and bureaucrats all over the Wikimedia projects and all of us are doing that for free. Because Wikimedia articles, projects, resources, news are our. While Google would have to pay us for doing that because pages on Knol will be their, even it would be licensed under some of free licenses.