2003-10-24

Created! :)AlexSchroeder

Mostly this was prompted by BayleShanks’ text on his Meatball homepage. Here is what he wrote:

OpenContent and me

The more I think about OpenContent, the more discouraged I get.

When I joined MeatBall, I felt that although it would be a waste of time to write what I contributed on my own website or in an essay, it would not be a waste here. For a variety of reasons that I’ve written down on this wiki, I feel like wikis are better for many kinds of information management than other things that humanity’s got. I felt like when I wrote here, the information would not be used once or twice, but rather incorporated into a perpetual resource of text, that will be relevant indefinitely because it can be updated and refactored. As opposed to a static text, in which a few relevant paragraphs will not be read in 100 years if the text as a whole is outdated. In which text is only used for reading, not as an inspiration to rewriting.

In other words, I thought it was worth it to write here, because the contributions can help out many people, for hundreds of years. You can do more good in more ways for more people, longer, by writing on a wiki, as opposed to writing it in a static medium. Why spend a lot of time writing text which will not have much impact? On a wiki, text can have more of an impact, enough to make it worth it. I thought that the contributing to the MeatballWiki corpus may turn out to be contributing to an immortal work which would persist through the ages, much as the knowledge of physics, or the humanist tradition, persists. Of course this was wildly optimistic, but it seemed possibile.

But without OpenContent, I fear for the long-term impact of my text. First, it is entirely possible that we will eventually move to a world of freely moving text, a world in which OpenContent text is copied and moved from site to site effortlessly. In such a world, the immobilized text of MeatballWiki will become irrelevant and won’t be useful. All of the ideas in this text will have to be rewritten anyway, and the OpenContent archives will have much more visibility anyhow. In such a world, MeatballWiki will become the equivalent of a dusty old science book in the back of the library. In fact, MeatballWiki’s relation to the mobile text will be much like the relation of static websites to Meatball.

Second, MeatballWiki could die. Someone could sue Sunir and he could shut down the site. Or he could die and his estate could take it down and sue anyone who tried to bring up a new version. Or there could be a world war and it could be lost. Or Sunir could just decide that he didn’t think it should exist any more. Individually, these are unlikely. But collectively, these kinds of possibilities make it unlikely that MeatballWiki will be around in 100 years.

And so, either way, the impact of text written here has an upper limit. Contributing to MeatballWiki isn’t contributing to some immortal lineage of information; one way or another, the blood line of my text will probably end within my lifetime, or shortly thereafter.

Which makes spending a lot of time here not as good of an investment as I once thought.

All is not lost; I can try to extend the usefulness of my text by releasing it separately under an OpenContent license. So, I thought, all of the former reasons for writing here still hold. But recently I realized something really depressing: this only applies to new things that I write. The investment return on refactoring isn’t nearly as good.

(for economics folks, you’ll note that because of the present value of money, perhaps whatever happens to my investments 100 years from now should be discounted and ignored. I have some arguments against that, but they’re not well-formed yet, lemme know if you’re terribly interested and I’ll give you the half-baked version)

BayleShanks

Historical Notes

This is also the first page created on CommunityWiki.

Discussion

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