Today was awesome, partly because most of the people here are rather cool, and because the event has a lot of good stuff. The day started with Jimbo's plenary. It was one of the "assembled speeches" that shows that people who have enough interesting things to say don't need to organise them strictly (and often are better for it). Larry Wall, with his State of the Onion speeches, is someone I'd call a master of the style, but it seems that a number of the people whose speeches I admire tend to use this style. I believe this is because loosely-written speeches tend to be interesting at every point, like Hofstadter books. I should work on getting good at writing speeches like that. Returning to the narrative, I next went to Identity, Anonymity, and the Wiki, which covered a lot of ground on what goes on in our mind and how that relates to the community. The most interesting single idea I saw (not completely new to me, but better phrased than I had thought of/seen before) was to distinguish pseudonymity and anonymity, suggesting one builds a community and one does not. This is not, strictly speaking, true -- some sites (like 4chan) have a community and a culture despite being more or less anonymous. However, with many observations of this kind, there are few absolute statements that hold water -- what is really meant is that pseudonyms make building a community much easier, which I agree with. Our community certainly does a lot more than 4chan does, and we have to deal with many more challenges than simply sharing media because of our ambition. Next, we had Trust and Wikipedia. The term "social capital" was used a lot in this presentation, which a lot of people didn't like, but I think that it's a mistake to think one can understand what goes on in what we're building without giving some life to that term. It provided an overview of challenges to the community given that we're big enough to attract some trouble (and troublesome folk). This got me thinking about some friends of mine I know who have enormously powerful destructive urges towards anything idealistic and large, projecting their own lack of idealism outwards as a justification to act the way they do (they assume others will do the same). It's possible to be friends with someone, and think they'd be really destructive in some environments one cares about.. which is disappointing.
Next, I had a pretty decent lunch. The company was good, and the food, buffet style as it was, was quite good. Speaking with people involved in running it yesterday, it was explained that sponsors helped make up the difference between what we all paid to show up and what we got. Everyone rushed over to see Lawrence Lessig speak after lunch, and that was phonomenal -- I've read Lessig's blog, off and on, for quite some time, but I was still surprised at exactly how powerful a speaker he is. His thoughts on open culture versus closed culture solidified some thoughts I'd been toying with for some time, and provided more of a historical context for my understanding of how commercialisation and culture relate. I am very keen to grab a copy of Lessig's presentation, and might buy a copy of his book for some lawyer friends I have -- his criticism of modern, lawyer-laden society is a bit surprising given who he is, and I feel it might at least interest them. The one area I strongly disagree with Lessig is where we go from his criticism -- I don't think the creative commons is necessarily a good project because I think every new license is an abomination -- what we should do is suggest people use the GPL and GFDL (or similar) while we work towards removing the laws that make it necessary, not finding ways to make it easier for people to make new comprimises with things they still think of as property. I understand where Lessig is coming from though, in that he sees comprimise on this matter possible and operates on the maxim that the CC licenses will result in more net freedom. In this manner I'm a bit less comprimising, for better or for worse. I would've liked to have chatted with Lessig on it, but he's notorious for disappearing not long after his presentations are done.
After lunch, I had to choose between the Wikipedia criticism plus the 1.0 project track (which I didn't go to) and the social issues track (which I went to). This part didn't go too well -- neither of the people in this track were particularly good speakers, and both of them essentially read long papers, word for word. I largely played on the internet for this part. I also had a quick interview with a finnish newspaper, and that was kind of interesting. The questions asked stirred up memories of the earliest articles I edited on, logged in and not, in years long past. I looked at the entries for Chatham University and Point Park University, among others, things I started with my original account, and tried to see what parts are the same and what have nothing left of my original template. After that double session was finished, I went to the triple-presentation on Wiki projects, covering Wikihow (which looks cool, and I had not seen before), Wikitravel, and diplopedia (an internal wiki being set up for the department of state for internal organisation purposes). These were all excellent presentations on interesting topics.
Wrapping up the official stuff, there was a poster session. I had an interesting conversation on links between literacy researchers and groups working directly in increasing adult literacy, using wikis as a way to bridge research and practice. This is an area where I'm glad to see people working -- I've often wondered about this given the vast cultural difference between universities and areas where the knowledge they theoretically build is (hopefully) put to use. I believe the cultural difference will change as new academes grow into the new, collective/collaborative culture of wikis and some of the old traditions of competition and propriety fade away. I also spoke with some folks about a perl-based wiki software (that I'd like to check out) and finally I had my first in-the-flesh meeting with Jimbo, talking with him and another guy about fundraising, a bit of global politics, and the like. Afterwards, a bunch of us went outside to kick some balls around (tennis balls and volleyballs, neither of which were that great given the ground), eventually to become tossing a ball around, each catcher describing a really bad (but funny) idea before tossing it to someone else. My most amusing contribution was the notion that an edit conflict results in a 24-hour autoblock. A much smaller group of us went out for indian food, finding a place that was pretty decent, and we then returned to campus.
Tomorrow, there's going to be a lot more interesting stuff, including a slight diversion from the conference schedule as I head with aforementioned cute and interesting girl to a local fair for a bit. For the parts I'll be there for, it'll be hard to choose what to see. There's also a chance that I might see Rocky Horror here with her in the evening, which would be pretty awesome. Wandering around a bit, I think Boston's a nice town. I don't know if I'd want to live here (I could probably be happy here, although my cost of living would be considerably higher), but it's awesome to visit. Boston does a good job of pulling my social side out into the open, at least so far. I'm exhausted again, so that's pretty much it for now.