As of this week, I am officially part of Wikimedia’s advisory board. I’m super excited to be part of the Wikimedia team and community, and am feeling rosy about the promise of all I will learn and hopefully even contribute. Like hordes of other net users, I rely on Wikipedia almost daily as my outboard brain, a taken-for-granted benefit of living in a networked age. I’ve made some edits and contributions to Wikipedia along the way, but mostly I’ve treated it as a public resource there for the taking. When I visited Wikimedia a few months ago, and took a look at their developing strategic plan, it was my first sustained look at some of the complexities of infrastructure and governance that lurk beneath the surface of a public resource that is quietly indispensable in my life.
I was interested to learn from the strategic plan that Wikimedia is currently sustainable by community contributions. The Wikimedia Foundation has received support from a range of private donors, including foundations, but the core financial support for Wikipedia is community-generated. As such, it follows in the footsteps of other member-supported models of public media, but is unique in not having a history of government funding, and having a transnational scope. And of course, unlike public television and radio, Wikipedia is not only community supported, but is community created. “We” the public donate not only our dollars but our labor, keeping the centralized costs of media making and distribution at a minimum.
The struggle for public knowledge
Even if it is a sample of one, Wikipedia does provide us with a vision of how public media can be sustained in an era of Internet distribution and crowdsourced content. Like all public resources, however, Wikipedia requires broad-based buy-in as well as the investments of time, love and attention disproportionately shouldered by a core set of community members. As a researcher and proponent of bottom-up Internet culture, I give lip service to the possibilities of networked media to generate new forms of knowledge and culture, but I haven’t really stepped up to the plate as far as my own practical investments in making this vision a reality. Joining the Wikimedia advisory board is what I hope will be a first step in a more dedicated and hands-on involvement in not only studying, but working to co-develop the infrastructures and models for new forms of public media.
Image Credit: Bryan Tong Minh “Broadway tower” http://www.flickr.com/photos/bryan-tongminh/2218777175/