SXSW Day Four – Open Knowledge versus Controlled Knowledge

Day four for me started with “Open Knowledge vs. Controlled Knowledge” – as though it would be difficult to determine how a SXSW crowd might come out on that contest.

(Is there anyone who would say “controlled knowledge” is better than “open knowledge”? If they would, they wouldn’t use those terms – piracy versus respect for intellectual property, perhaps?)

Panel was moderated by Francesca Rodriquez from Creative Commons, and included:

Rough notes follow, but there were a few highlights:

  1. Clips from Gaylor’s film, including someone (an RIAA spokesperson) arguing that “a song is just like the man who makes donuts” (See episode #1 – MGM vs. Grokster)
  2. Capps talking about the challenges of transparency in traditional magazine publishing – you’re being transparent, talking in advance about what articles you plan to run – but your competitors are not. (Well, I’d say, those you think of as your competitiors are not – but there’s a whole other set of competitors who are).
  3. Parthasarathy talking about the difficult getting academics to contribute quality time to things like peer reviewing for Public Library of Science journal when those things are not recognized by tenure committees. (Parable: God created a Scientist and everything was great – pure pursuit of knowledge, abundant resources. Then he created Colleagues.)
  4. Penchina articulating (to Capps) the difference between opening up to the public something which for a long time they have been excluded from (Come into the palace, peasants, and please don’t mess up the furniture. Sorry we kept you out so long), versus creating something wholly new from scratch (Let’s build something together, all of us). This is the difference between wikipedia and wired’s wiki.




Gaylor – making a film about copyright and music, you culture, etc -  he showed the beginning of the film- the basement tapes.  “a song is just like a man who makes donuts”

Wired – still a magazine, owned by Conde Nast. But we want to be forward looking. The next issue, which will be out in a few weeks. It’s all about radical transparency.

Parthasarathy – a non profit, started as an advocacy effort.  Public funded research outcomes should be publically available.  PLoS publishes two different journals – one is tightly peer reviewed  with a strong editorial vision – these are the most important papers -  the other publishes all scientifically valid papers – without editorial vision, just through peer review in the simplest sense.  (Is it valid science, not what impact will it have).

Wikia – see

What is the place of open content in publishing?

Capps – we’re trying to learn how to open the story before it is  published – not just reactions / letter to the editor, but making more  transparent what it is that we’re writing about before it happens. Could wired publish all its articles under cc license? Yes, of course  they could, but “I can’t even imagine” all the tradition we’d have to buck at Conde Nast, and the writers we use.

Penchina -  there is a key difference between different kinds
of openness:
– Open in that you can participate in adding comments, insights
– Open in that you can take the same content and reuse it elsewhere
– Open in the sense of transparency

Gaylor – is culture really opening up or is this being co-opted? Open
Source Cinema – we need you not just to watch the film but to
participate – we need the web to make this film with us.

Capps – We’ve got 3 months from the time we close on an issue to when it hands the stands. There are challenges if you are transparent and others are  not – you have a power differential. Getting scooped may happen – but  the bet is that it happens less often than we think. More accurately,  it may even discourage it – let’s not work on that, they’re already  all over it.

Penchina – how’s the community take the concept? GFDL and CC both allow you to have free content and be commercial. Our users are passionate about their topic and want other people to see their point of view. They want the respect of their peers.

Parthasarathy – this has been one of the challenges – people’s rewards in science are directly tied to their publishing – so why should they do  it for free? They need to learn the value of open peer review, comments etc – many are reluctant to do it if they won’t get CV type credit.

Capps – Clive Thompson wrote the cover article – on transparency. The whole thing at Wired is really an experiment. Their is some tension between the craft and the polished product – this is all about seeing how the sausage is made. I don’t necessarily want anyone to see that – because part of the process involves going through a lot of crap.

Gaylor- clicking the post button on that rough cut can be bad – with enough eyeballs, any bugs in my edit will be shallow. It can be challenging to do it but ultimately the best documentaries are excercises in democracy.

Penchina – we’re painfully transparent already – to the point that if I want to leave an email to one of our users it is public and anyone can  read it. It’s clearly a revolution, and we’re coming at it from one side, Wired is coming at it from a different end, and it isn’t at all  clear where it will land. He sees the new challenge as being how do  you get the cream to rise to the top – how do you find the good stuff  and avoid the crap.

Parthasarathy – how do you align the rewards for new behavior? If we can’t change the tenure and review process then people will not participate. The most vocal folks in science are the most critical. One Nobel  Laureate was concerned about publishing in PLOS because we allow e-letters, and there is someone who follows him around attacking his  work – which is a legitimate concern. We think over time the valuable comments will rise to the top, but in truth that remains to be seen.

Capps – success is what we need. Once we’ve demonstrated the value and it actually works and the community kicks in. One of the things we’re looking at is how we can use wikis.

Good answer from Penchina – one of the challenges is that for a long time you had things controlled – there’s a lot of water behind  the damn of people wanting to take control. It’s kind of like getting to be principal for the day.

[You’re taking something you’ve built and own, and asking them to contribute, versus building something from scratch]

[Questions from the audience – mostly about “why don’t people get it”]

Capps – Registration is really just a very thin door – but it is a way of  trying to handle spam.

Wikia guy – we believe that registration just for leaving a comment is  a bad idea. People motivated to leave spam comments have no problem registering, people who want to leave real comments don’t want to be bothered to register – you punish good behavior and enable bad behavior, and it takes time and energy to build and maintain.