Open source leaders belong on the (En)Rich List


I love the Post Growth Institute’s latest project: The (En)Rich List, with the byline “A Wealth of Inspiration!”

This is a brilliant insight – paying attention to people who have helped show the way to sustainable paths is so much more important and urgent than talking about “Rich Lists” that measure individual success.

That’s not to say I’m equally enthusiastic about all the choices on the list, but that’s okay – the (En)Rich List is a conversation starter rather than an authorititative list. The listmakers state: “it makes no claims of objectivity”. In the same spirit, I’ll make some nominations below, for next time.

The commons is rightly recognized in the (En)Rich list, notably through Elinor Ostrom (commons researcher and Nobel laureate) and Michel Bauwens (the P2P Foundation). But what of those who have made the commons possible, in software, spreading knowledge, and in cultural works?

Being a wikiholic, I’ll start by nominating Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) and Ward Cunningham (inventor of wiki software, to radically open up the development of knowledge and ideas on a website). Their revolution is a social one – by enabling learning and connections of knowledge on an unprecedented scale, they’ve expanded the opportunities for potential future leaders, and future pioneers and innovators in sustainable paths. And of course the wiki provides the model and platform used by Appropedia, enabling sustainable paths in our own way: as a sustainability wiki, an open database of solutions.

Before wikis came Richard Stallman, who stands out for his work in the software commons pioneering “Free Software” (that’s free as in freedom… also called “open source,” though Stallman hates that term). Crucially, he also wrote the first open license, that said in effect: I’ll share this with you, if you agree to share what you do with it. Linus Torvalds added a missing piece to the coding work of Stallman’s GNU project, and kicked off Linux, an important, very secure operating system; he also licensed it under Stallman’s “copyleft” license.

And finally, Lawrence Lessig applied these principles to all kinds of creative works, through Creative Commons licenses. These are easier to understand and use than Stallman’s original license, and are used on this blog, on the Appropedia wiki, on Wikipedia, on many published works by the Australian and other governments, on vast numbers of photos and other creative works on Flickr and elsewhere across the web.

I have more thoughts on the list which I’ll share soon, on the contrast between the pessimists on the list (including Paul Ehrlich and Ted Trainer) and the optimists (notably E.F. Schumacher and Jean Russell).

Again, thanks and kudos to the Post Growth Institute – a great and provocative idea, well executed.

Which wiki?


I was asked about licenses and wiki software, by someone wanting to start a wiki on a sustainability-related subject area. Here is part of the response I wrote (adapted slightly):


Not all licenses are compatible, so unfortunately there are some limitations. We can each share, but we can’t mix the content together. The Some sites uses the CC-BY-NC-SA, and we, like Wikipedia, use CC-BY-SA*. We don’t use the NC or non-commercial clause, as we would actually like people to use our content commercially or any other way. I’ve made some notes on an Appropedia page: Which open license should you use? There is a place for the NC license, and I can understand someone with a business choosing this license, but for most purposes we’re strongly in favor of CC-BY-SA.

* Actually we use GFDL, which is different in some details, but you can expect both Wikipedia and Appropedia to change to CC-BY-SA in coming months, now that this has been allowed by the people that manage the GFDL.

We do both use the share-alike clause – which prevents someone adapting our work and then not sharing the adaptation.

Wiki software:

I can see the appeal of the subwiki system that PmWiki uses, to allow communities to have their own space in the wiki. It seems to me that there are just a few things that PmWiki does that MediaWiki does not – although they are very nice things. We can set up pages in just the same way if we want, but don’t have the ability to adjust the sidebar and don’t have the RecentChanges for just the subwiki. Though with “Related Changes” MediaWiki has something close. We do hope to have the options to do these things through MediaWiki extensions, but I don’t know when that will happen.

MediaWiki is the most established option, but certainly it’s not the only reasonable option. We’ve heard good things of TikiWiki too.

But we like MediaWiki for a few reasons:

  • It’s well-supported, with mailing lists and websites devoted to it, and there are many extensions written
  • Being so popular, we can be sure the format will be supported in future.
  • It’s well tested. Wikipedia: nuff said.
  • Appropedia is a bit more like Wikipedia but wider in content type, in aiming to be a large and comprehensive compendium of knowledge, projects, how-tos etc, on permaculture, passive solar, hybrid vehicle design – you name it. For such a large project, something proven to work on massive projects is preferred.
  • We know MediaWiki (I was active on Wikipedia before Appropedia), and collaborators from the wikisphere know MediaWiki. Easier to contribute, and to manage the site.

The major drawback to MediaWiki has been the lack of a WYSYWYG editor, but that’s changing now with the FCKeditor extension. This is usable now, but we’re waiting until they’ve resolved all the issues with tags (as we tend to use tags a lot, e.g. reference tags <ref>).

Now as for a wiki on your particular area of sustainability & resilience – that is right up our alley, and we’d love to have more about this on Appropedia. Check out Appropedia before you start up anything. You will probably find, as with Vinay Gupta, inventor of the Hexayurt (flatpack emergency shelter) that running a wiki takes hours every month – he was glad to hand that over to someone else when he joined his wiki with Appropedia. Joining an existing wiki brings you into a network of like-minded people, and lets you work on the project you love, rather than pulling your hair out managing a website.

Or to put it another way, let us go bald on your behalf.

But regardless, keep in touch. Also check out Global Swadeshi – a very interesting forum site on open design and open technology for resilient communities, started by the same Vinay Gupta.

Related wiki pages:

Obama, transition and public domain

English, Obama’s transition team, adopts Creative Commons “By Attribution” License. Of course it’s good news when people free their content in this way. But it’s also worth pointing out that open content is not a brand new thing in US government.  US federal government information is public domain by default, so anything produced by someone in their work as a federal government official, on or elsewhere, is completely unrestricted in how it’s used.

This law is a fantastic thing – in terms of open knowledge, the US federal government has been by far the most progressive government worldwide, and have produced what must be the largest body of open knowledge by far. (As an Australian, praising the US government is not something I do as a habit, and I don’t want to get into a general discussion on its general merits or otherwise.)

I don’t know that this applies to, but it will certainly apply to their work once they’re sworn into office. This choice is a great one in two ways, though:

Firstly, it raises the profile of open licenses (as opposed to imprecise statements limiting reuse to educational and non-commercial purposes) and especially the use of open licenses by governments. Almost all governments around the world, other than the US federal government, claim a copyright on their work (at least as far as I’ve seen). This is not appropriate for work created with public funds. It is a government’s role to serve the people, and anything created with the people’s money should be free to use by the people. (I’m not going to get into politics, but I think this should be uncontroversial.)

Secondly, it’s the right thing to do, to ensure that all comments and contributions are open and require attribution. It’s one thing for government work to be public domain, but I see no downside in requiring a work by non-government individuals to be attributed

So, which other governments are moving in this direction? Local, state, or national, from any and all countries – let’s see a movement towards openness. Please, if you know a government that uses an open license or releases their work as public domain, tell us in the comments and provide a link – or even better, add it straight to our wiki page on Governments and knowledge sharing.

Relevant Appropedia wiki pages:Relevant Appropedia wiki pages:

  • Public Domain Search – an Appropedia project to make public domain content more accessible. (Currently on hold, but if you have skills with the details of custom search engines, please get involved!)

Open access content on Appropedia


CD3WD (CD for the 3rd World), and WikiGreen (the first major green wiki) have done an enormous amount of work getting permission for books and other great resources in sustainability and development, and getting it online. All up there are thousands of pages on specific agricultural subjects, appropriate technologies for building, and more.

Much of that content has ended up on Appropedia. It’s valuable content, and we are (we believe) allowed to share it. But we’ve had a dilemma: it’s not under an open license, as far as we know. It’s open access, but can’t be reused or modified, and certainly there hasn’t been permission given to use commercially. That clashes with our default license.

So, do we remove it? That would be a great loss to the internet community when they search for answers on these important subjects. This is something I’ve agonized over. So instead, we are now placing notices on these pages, noting that these are exceptions to Appropedia’s regular license. So far, all the CD3WD pages that we have, have had the notices placed on them. Next, we need to list the good material made available by the work of Eric and Roy.

If you’re aware of any work which should not be displayed (i.e. the rights-owners do not give permission for it to be made available as open access), please let us know, and we will take action to fix things up (gain permission or remove it).