Ethan Zuckerman documents a Jimmy Wale talk, looking at 10 things that will become free over the next 10-25 years, as in free of licensing, freely available, free to use, mix and repurpose. But these things won’be become free of their own accord, it will take time and effort from volunteers who get involved. To get involvement, Ethan writes about 2 things that could enable the work

– When users have a strong personal incentive to collect information, they’re more likely to do so. I create metadata about webpages in because it makes it easier for me to find these pages in the future – the fact that you might benefit from this metadata is a happy coincidence, but it’s the benefit to me that makes me do it, not a utilitarian impulse. This suggests to me that projects like Television Information will succeed, as they’re analogous to projects like CDDB, or its open alternative, MusicBrainz.

– Projects where users can work on bite-sized chunks are likely to succeed, while projects that require massive organizational effort from one or more individuals are less likely to succeed. This, I believe, is why Wikipedia has had so much traction, while Wikibooks is having less luck. It’s one thing to commit to writing a 500-word encyclopedia essay – it’s another thing entirely to commit to writing a book and giving it away, or even to outlining a book and asking others to commit to fleshing it out.

As always, things proceed better if there is something in it for the person involved and if it is easy. There will always be people who go above and beyond in their contributions but ease of getting involved drives higher involvement. With ‘free’ information, i’m more likely to contribute if I can dip my toe in the water first and take small steps to build up expertise.

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