Kaitlin Pike

“What are the barriers that currently prevent people from sharing their created works online and what can sites do to assuage these concerns?”

Web 2.0 Expo’s session Creating a Culture of Sharing (Thursday at 3:10 in room 2009) hopes to answer these frequently asked questions. Featuring Jack Herrick (wikiHow), Mike Linksvayer (Creative Commons), Emily Richards (ArtisTech Media), the conversation will cover how creators and users can come to agreement on usage. It will look at the issues of attribution, copyright and “copyleft.”

Jack Herrick spoke to us the other day about this panel and the bigger issues surrounding how content can be used. Jack started wikiHow,  and was the co-owner and co-CEO of eHow.com.

Kaitlin: So, out with it – how do you create a “Culture of Sharing”? Or at least, what would your 1 minute elevator pitch be?

Jack: We like to call wikiHow “built to share“. And we do it three ways:

  1. Build trust with your community. At wikiHow we do this via open content licensing and building and distributing our open source software.
  2. Build software which enables sharing and collaboration. A common example of this is to have tools to allow others to easily republish content on other sites.
  3. Walk the walk. Be accessible to your community and practice the behavior of sharing, openness that you want your community to adopt.

Kaitlin: I had no idea when I began researching for this interview that you were a radical when it came to user generated content. At least that’s the first word I thought of when I saw the Right to Fork article on wikHow. Why give your users the right to take their content AND the software with them if they become jaded with your leadership?

Jack: Offering wikiHow users the Right to Fork (the ability to take our content and software) guarantees that the project will always serve the founding mission of creating and sharing the world’s best how-to manual. By giving users this right, we create trust with the community which allows some real magic to happen.

While some might consider me a radical for doing this, I view myself as a realist. If you think about it, why should volunteers contribute their talent and time to a project when it is so easy for the corporate owner to redirect the project to something the community hates? People contribute to wikiHow because they are inspired by the mission of making the world’s how-to manual. Yet every user knows that the web companies change business models frequently and occasionally trash community projects as a result.  Giving users the right to fork creates the trust that all the hard work people put into wikiHow will always be owned in some form by the community.

Kaitlin: Do you ever wake up in a sweat worried a mutiny will take place? Meaning, they’ll actually take you up on your offer?

Jack: Yes and no. Forks happen. For example, the Spanish language community of Wikipedia forked in the early days when Jimmy Wales was considering putting ads on the website.  Yet I know that as long as wikiHow, the company, continues to focus on serving the mission of building a great how-to manual, the community isn’t likely to want to fork the project.

Because my personal goals and the business model of the company are aligned with wikiHow’s mission, I don’t anticipate circumstances where the community would wish to fork the project. That said, having the “right to fork” does keep me honest and focused on building things that serve our mission. Unlike some entrepreneurs, I don’t entertain ideas which might sell our community down the river.

Kaitlin: wikiHow content is Creative Commons licensed, but how do you feel about other licensing models? When is a copyright for user generated content needed or appropriate?

Jack: The right licensing depends on the goal of the project. If you are aiming to have a collective effort, or creating something that can be shared and built upon by others, Creative Commons licenses almost always make the most sense. On the other hand, using traditional copyright on user generated content makes sense when the site focuses on helping users sell their work. For example, the contributors to iStockPhoto submit there specifically to try to sell their photos to make money, so copyright there makes sense.  On the other hand, many Flickr contributors want to share their photos widely and see others building upon them. In that case more open licensing is the best way to go.

Kaitlin: I’ll open that last question up a bit more: What do you think licensing models should be used for?

Jack:I think it’s easy to have debates about copyright, so in this question I’m interested in finding out what your beliefs are based on.

While I think the world would benefit from having a greater percentage of our works held in a commons rather than restricted by intellectual property laws, I’m not opposed to the concept of traditional copyright in all cases. I consider myself a Free Culture pragmatist rather than a Free Culture Utopian.

Kaitlin: Let’s imagine a world without copyright or the need to attribute your content source. Do you think artists and writers would be hesitant to create or able to if they can’t make money on it? How do creatives cope in this world?

Jack: There are lots of reasons people create things in this world that don’t include money.  People create for personal joy, to share with others, to build reputation and myriad other reasons. I doubt the artists of the beautiful cave drawings in Lascaux, France were paid. I doubt that all artists in our future will be paid.  Yet creativity won’t stop. The beauty of what the combination of open licensenses and the web brings is that creators who wish to create for non-monetary reasons can now reach a broad audience and a willing body of collaborators. I don’t think we need to fear that non-monetary creation will completely replace paid creative work.  But we should all rejoice that the web is offering an venue for non-professional creativity that wasn’t drawing such a large audience before.

Kaitlin: On your wikiHow user page you say this about wikis: “A successful wiki requires that thousands of strangers assume good faith, collaborate and build trust.” What’s the number one thing non-wiki based websites need to build that same environment? Can they just rely on a hyperactive and good community manager? What sites – other than wikiHow – are doing it right, in your opinion? What are good examples of non-wiki based user generated content sites?

Jack: I think the Stack Overflow has done it well. They combine Creative Commons licensing with technology that aids the community in building a collaborative knowledge source. I also admire the personal touch and loving care offered by the founders at Fluther.com and Zimbio.com. Yelp.com has taken an entirely different approach and used parties and in-person meetups to build a thriving community. That said, I think these sites could be doing even better if they offered their users the right to fork.

Kaitlin: When have you seen the wisdom of crowds fail? When should we not rely on crowdsourced information?

Jack: I think your Mom was right when she said you shouldn’t believe everything you read. One of the best lesssons that crowdsourced information has taught us is that it is wise to be skeptical of the information you get: And not just crowdsourced information, but all information. Ironically the development of crowdsourced information has helped us figure out how many errors previously trusted sources like Encyclopedia Brittanica or the New York Times have always had.


Kaitlin Pike is the Community Manager of Web 2.0 Expo. She can be reached @w2e or @kcpike.

Jack Herrick will be a panel member of Creating a Culture of Sharing, which takes place Thursday at 3:10 in room 2009.

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