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Julian Assange: WikiLeaks Mastermind

According to Wikipedia, a wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning fast or quick. But nowadays, it is one more word that the internet has taken hold of and given a life of its own.

It is defined in simple terms as a website whose users can add, modify or delete content via a web browser using simplified markup language or a rich text editor. It is collaboratively created event or position, by multiple users.

Community websites, intranets, knowledge management systems and note-taking are frequently used as wikis. Even in-house part knowledge, part FAQs and part discussion forums might be called wikis.

The man who developed the first wiki software was (Howard) Ward Cunningham, and he called it WikiWikiWeb, ‘the simplest online database that could possibly work’, installed on the site of his software consultancy, Cunningham & Cunningham in 1995.

He was a pioneer in object-oriented programming, design patterns and Extreme Programming, having graduated in interdisciplinary engineering and computer science. OOP (object-oriented programming) is a programming paradigm using objects – data structures consisting of data fields and methods together with their interactions – to design applications.

Techniques include such features as data abstraction, encapsulation, messaging, modularity, polymorphism and inheritance. It is a vocabulary of its own, words borrowed and adapted from many fields, ancient and modern.

We do, after all, speak a living language and expect it to grow, change, morph and rejuvenate as technology and the world move along.

The Most Famous Wiki

It’s Wikipedia that is the most famous example of the Wiki in contemporary life. The appeal for funds to run itself that lasted 46 days till early January 2012, raised $20 million from more than a million users around the world.

The money, up from $15 million in 2010, was pledged to the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit outfit that oversees the work of the ‘volunteer-driven Wikipedia’. It forms the bulk of their income, thought they do get grants and other donations.

In ten years it has accumulated an index of over 20 million entries in 280 languages on almost every subject known to man. In November 2011, almost 500 million visitors looked at the site, a statistic that cements it at the head of the information sites.

However, the cost of new technology needed to grow it and make it more accessible to mobile technology (as PCs and laptops start their slide into history), has been exercising Wikimedia’s management. They also are keen to attract and keep good editors, as old editing software puts the best off.

They have ambitious plans to build to 50 million articles, edited by 200,000 people and drive up revenue, to at least $30 million this year, which they expect to spend on technology and staffing.

The Most Notorious Wiki

This accolade goes to WikiLeaks, no relation to Wikimedia Foundation sites. It is an international, not-for-profit organisation that publishes online secret, private, classified data from news sources and leaks, about government, military, individual behaviour and activity.

It has obtained and published anonymously, and since launch in 2006, it has claimed to own millions of documents that much of officialdom would like to stay out of the public eye. Its founder and spokesman, Julian Assange has revelled in making front page news with many of his scoops, though not the one which has seen him awaiting deportation to Sweden facing sexual charges.

A lot of the secret divulgences from WikiLeaks are, or were, available previously to those who knew where to unlock the encrypted codes. It’s just that suddenly, available at the click of a mouse, was information in great detail about former secrets.

Corruption in Kenya, military expenditure and missions in Afghanistan, bombings and other actions in Iraq, releasing US State Department diplomatic cables and secret files on detainees in Guantanamo Bay are among the confidential material exposed by WikiLeaks in the name of open freedom of expression, a universal public/taxpayer right to know that the internet alone has made possible in the world.

Open Internet, Open World?

The thing about the wiki is that as it is customer/people created, moderated and repeated by users, it’s not accepted as factual truth. Academic work in schools and universities will not accept references taken from any wiki as authentic. The BBC News is regarded as authority in action, though.

Wikimedia Commons is a reservoir of free to use images, including the one on this page. The images have been donated by the people who took them through an interest in furthering the free internet, or copyright has lapsed. Some do it for publicity for themselves and/or their creative work.

Interestingly, the work of the majority of USA  official photographers from NASA to the federal government, from their aid agencies to their government departments, automatically publish their images straight to the public domain.

It is in the interests of both the internet and society/democracy, that freedom of expression (allowing for laws to defeat dangers of crime, terrorism, pornography and protect vulnerable people) should flourish.

Anybody online can access data. An teenage innovator in the bedroom as well as a high power techie in a company can create and publish new content, new sites, new dimensions of the websphere. Customers can be better serviced. No permission from some blank-faced authority is required to use the open net.

This freedom to communicate is what has make the web so far. Who know where it will go next? But somewhere else it will surely go.

Photo: Martina Haris