Michael Dale is an advocate for open standard and free video formats for the web. The past two years he has lead open source development for video on Wikipedia. To realize open web video Dale has worked closely with the Mozilla Foundation, Kaltura, and the Open Video Alliance. During the open video pre-conference Michael provided the audience a first technical insight into the possibilities of open video and collaborative video editing tools for Wikipedia.
Eric Kluitenberg is a well-traveled theorist, writer, and lecturer who has produced media events in The Netherlands, Moscow, and Estonia, and also currently heads the media program at De Balie, a cultural and political hotbed in Amsterdam. I've had to the luck to attend some of Eric's events, such as 2010's Electrosmog fest, and witness Eric speak eloquently about the digital commons in a lecture inspired by his 2008's Economies of the Commons conference. That event's essential question - how will we support our cultural archives in the digital age? - seems largely unanswered, or at least in an unfolding state, and Eric has taken an active role to see that the cultural heritage sector is represented in the fall out.
When I approached him for an interview, Eric asked to focus the discussion on the Living Archive project at De Balie, an work-in-progress that neatly exposes the role played by theory in the technical design of online archives. The Living Archive, in its very architecture, stresses the importance of ephemera, dissenting messages and mutable, collaborative scaffolds to produce conversations around the objects we transmit into the future.
MC: What is the Living Archive? Does it exist yet?
EK: The Living Archive is a really a theory, founded on the problem that most traditional archives are organized through selection, inclusion and exclusion. There is a strong tendency in these traditional models to leave out what is called ephemera, for instance flyers or temporary productions, like the Prelinger Archive’s industrial films that’s made for one particular purpose then expected to disappear. Ephemera are considered noise, irrelevant, and as a result, a large aspect of living culture is often excluded.
This is the topic of The Order of Things by Foucault, who says that dominant powers ultimately determine the structures of discourse and consequently what should be preserved in the archive. Everything that falls out is automatically irrelevant. This classical notion of archiving excludes too much, a problem increasingly recognized within the archiving world itself and even more pressing now that digital media allows countless people to put weird stuff online. The official archiving world doesn't have an effective way to deal with all this ephemera. Foucault also critiques the archive as a static collection of dead phrases no longer a part of living culture, because it’s already enshrined in a system of power. You have to dig out the power structures underneath, figure out who created the rules, the political motives and material conditions behind it all. That's why he calls it archeology. A static archive is a completely closed thing, in contrast to the multiple, dispersed discourses of present, living culture. To Foucault there are dominant forces that try to control this dispersal and order it in a particular way, making the archive immutable.
The Living Archive, then, is a theoretical model that makes discursive practice its active component. It refuses the canon of collected statements that Foucault critiqued and doesn't accept any kind of necessary outcome. It emphasizes active discursive production, a continuous discussion and debate about everything in the archive, using the archive as a material for the discussion itself. Wikipedia is an example of this, maybe the best at it so far.
Obviously you can't store everything. Discrepancy operates on many levels. An artist found this wonderful quote of Nietzsche: “in order to imagine it is necessary to forget.” It’s a classical archival problem: if you store everything, you lose the space for imagination or thinking or reflection, or active, living culture. So there is a healthy tension all the time.
The digital nature of archives has unique potential to challenge older ideas of the repository. Can you talk about how the material properties of digital media make this the case?
If you store things in a digital format, you can always reprocess them. They remain in an unclear state – is the text ever finished? You could see this as a threat or a chance to make materials publicly available to be worked upon. That's why Wikipedia is important - not only can you work on the documents stored in the system, you can also track the document history. In that sense Wikipedia, with all its shortcomings, is the most sophisticated model of the living archive. The process is revealed as open-ended, rather than left to a professional clan of archivists who have their established systems and abhor the idea of public participation.
What specific archiving projects are you working on at De Balie?
When I first came to work here, there was no archive whatsoever, only a huge pile of flyers and announcements stored in big folders in the basement. We introduced a database driven website in ’99 to kick start a digital archive. Around that time we also began streaming live events, and when the technology became available, we created the online video archive.
The real aim is to capture live discussion and debate as it unfolds over the years. So we created a web-based annotation system allowing you to annotate who is speaking in the videos and link the videos to web resources or to articles in De Balie’s site. As a theme runs over years, the results cluster around dossiers. There’s still an editorial hand that makes certain selections, but this whole process started a living archive trajectory.
Another project is the Tactical Media Files, a documentation resource for tactical media practices worldwide. Today we do not have active discussion deciding what to include and exclude, but we want to open it up to a collaborative editorial model. Many people can be invited to edit, creating a collective editing open forum. If you can fuse a documentation resource combined with an active, open discussion extended in time, a form that Wikipedia allows, then you would get closer to a living archive.
As these archives challenge traditional notions of authorship and hence copyright and power structures, do you think the economic structures of traditional institutions will evolve as well?
That’s not for certain. It’s important to look at this from an historical perspective. Consider the history of radio. Technically any radio receiver can be turned into a signal; Brecht recognized the enormous potential of decentralizing and distributing two-way space, later echoed in Howard Rheingold’s early euphoric description of the Internet as a distributed structure and virtual community. But legislation turned radio into one a one-way medium, and it became an authoritarian instrument, like in Rwanda, where violence was largely organized by radio. In the same way, copyright legislation can very easily and effectively be turned into a tool of extreme censorship, used to push the Internet the way of radio. This open space could be shut down by regulation, and the Internet becomes the next mass medium with some paraphernalia on the edges for people to play around with. Dissident, sub-cultural, and political messages would be without a decent audience.
On the other hand, the question of sustainability isn’t immediately addressed by open access and copyleft practices. If you want to move this discussion forward, even beyond less restrictive copyright policy, it becomes inevitable to consider the economic sustainability of these resources. But for the most part, we’re completely without a clear solution. State funding is not in all cases forthcoming or desirable. Donation models only work for famous projects, but even Wikipedia has trouble sustaining itself. The advertisement model still doesn't go far. Becoming another commercial media operator is not good for the independence of a message.
One exciting model is the open source area where, because of their self-motivated activity, people move into well-paid jobs or become supported by institutions. So there is derivative economy. But this for me is the main problem: one the one hand, copyright turning into the ultimate censorship instrument, and on the other, the absence of a clear sustainable revenue model to support our digital archives.
CPOV researcher Juliana Brunello interviewed the Amsterdam-based graphic designer Hendrik Jan Grievink about his Wikipedia-related work.
What was the compelling reason for you to get involved in a project concerning Wikipedia?
As a designer, I dedicate myself to inventing new ways of understanding the world through images. I use existing images in almost every project: the Fake for Real memory game I showed during the conference is a good example of this. This is a game that pairs images to make a statement about simulation in ourl world. Another example would be the Next Nature book (to be published early 2011 by Actar, Barcelona). This book talks about what we call ‘culturally emerged nature’, or ‘the nature caused by people’. Through hundreds of images and observations we analyse the influence of technology and design on our daily lives. These projects can be looked up on respectively http://www.fakeforreal.com and http://www.nextnature.net
A lot of images that we use are created by ourselves (co-editor Koert van Mensvoort and me) but even more come from all kinds of sources: some traceable, others not. We strive to credit all authors and would love to pay them a good fee for using their material – if this was possible, which it isn’t. Paying for all visual content would quadruplicate the costs of such a publication, which would make it impossible to get published. As for the credit part: we will always credit artists for creative images, but for small or generic images – even commercial ones, we’re not going to do this, it’s just way too time-consuming. Also, a lot of the times it’s realy hard to trace back the origins of an image in today’s copy/paste culture.
When I heard of the Wiki Loves Art contest I was immediately sympathetic to the initiative, because I think these kinds of best-practise projects are crucial to change the way people (in this case: museums and cultural institutions) think about intellectual property. They have to realise that limiting the availability of resources limits cultural production in a very direct way. Next to that, I am interested in everything that signals new forms of cultural production and the crowdsourced archiving of images certainly does that.
We were very happy with the large amount of people attending the CPOV Wikipedia conference in Amsterdam. However, for those of you who could not make it, there is a full video report of all presented lectures to be found here.
The Critical Point of View conference is organized by the Institute of Network Cultures in collaboration with the Centre for Internet & Society in Bangalore, India.
Supported by Centre for Internet & Society, Applied Sciences, School of Design and Communication, Foundation Democracy and Media, Public Library Amsterdam.
The video are produced by http://www.mtime.nl
Critical Point of View
Second international conference of the CPOV Wikipedia Research Initiative
Date: 26-27 March 2010
Location: OBA (Public Library Amsterdam, next to Amsterdam central station), Oosterdokskade 143, Amsterdam
Organized by: Institute of Network Cultures Amsterdam, and Centre for Internet and Society Bangalore, India.
Conference program: http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/cpov/program/amsterdam-program/
Discussion List: http://p10.alfaservers.com/mailman/listinfo/cpov_listcultures.org
Wikipedia is at the brink of becoming the de facto global reference of dynamic knowledge. The heated debates over its accuracy, anonymity, trust, vandalism and expertise only seem to fuel further growth of Wikipedia and its user base. Apart from leaving its modern counterparts Britannica and Encarta in the dust, such scale and breadth places Wikipedia on par with such historical milestones as Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia, the Ming Dynasty's Wen-hsien ta-ch' eng, and the key work of French Enlightenment, the Encyclopédie. The multilingual Wikipedia as digital collaborative and fluid knowledge production platform might be said to be the most visible and successful example of the migration of FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) principles into mainstream culture. However, such celebration should contain critical insights, informed by the changing realities of the Internet at large and the Wikipedia project in particular.
The CPOV Research Initiative was founded from the urge to stimulate critical Wikipedia research: quantitative and qualitative research that could benefit both the wide user-base and the active Wikipedia community itself. On top of this, Wikipedia offers critical insights into the contemporary status of knowledge, its organizing principles, function, and impact; its production styles, mechanisms for conflict resolution and power (re-)constitution. The overarching research agenda is at once a philosophical, epistemological and theoretical investigation of knowledge artifacts, cultural production and social relations, and an empirical investigation of the specific phenomenon of the Wikipedia.
Conference Themes: Wiki Theory, Encyclopedia Histories, Wiki Art, Wikipedia Analytics, Designing Debate and Global Issues and Outlooks.
Confirmed speakers: Florian Cramer (DE/NL), Andrew Famiglietti (UK), Stuart Geiger (USA), Hendrik-Jan Grievink (NL), Charles van den Heuvel (NL), Jeanette Hofmann (DE), Athina Karatzogianni (UK), Scott Kildall (USA), Patrick Lichty (USA), Hans Varghese Mathews (IN), Teemu Mikkonen (FI), Mayo Fuster Morell (IT), Mathieu O'Neil (AU), Felipe Ortega (ES), Dan O'Sullivan (UK), Joseph Reagle (USA), Ramón Reichert (AU), Richard Rogers (USA/NL), Alan Shapiro (USA/DE), Maja van der Velden (NL/NO), Gérard Wormser (FR).
Editorial team: Sabine Niederer and Geert Lovink (Amsterdam), Nishant Shah and Sunil Abraham (Bangalore), Johanna Niesyto (Siegen), Nathaniel Tkacz (Melbourne). Project manager CPOV Amsterdam: Margreet Riphagen. Research intern: Juliana Brunello. Production intern: Serena Westra.
The CPOV conference in Amsterdam will be the second conference of the CPOV Wikipedia Research Initiative. The launch of the initiative took place in Bangalore India, with the conference WikiWars in January 2010. After the first two events, the CPOV organization will work on producing a reader, to be launched early 2011. For more information or submitting a reader contribution: http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/cpov/reader/.
Buy your ticket online at: http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/cpov/practical-info/tickets/ (with iDeal), or register by sending an email to: info (at) networkcultures.org. One day ticket: €25, students and OBA members: €12,50. Full conference pass (2 days): €40, students and OBA members: €25.
More info: www.networkcultures.org/cpov. Contact: info (at) networkcultures.org, phone: +3120 5951866