Congenially brilliant and anti-establishment in a Grateful Dead kind of way, Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus and now director of the Open Software Association, dished out 13 verbal tapas on massive, collaborative computing projects -- namely, Wikipedia -- at UC Berkeley's SIMS tonight. South Hall -- the oldest building on campus, housing the most recent addition to the curriculum -- was packed, and I spied Reese Jones, founder of Farallon and cofounder of BMUG, as well as Anno Saxenian, dean of SIMS and organizer of this lecture series.
Referring to the spirit of the 60s, Kapor said that Wikipedia demonstrates that "someone does not have to be in charge." One of his non-PowerPoint mantras, displayed on a screen, read: "Let a thousand users edit." Kapor believes in the power of non-hierarchical communities like Wikipedia to create valuable bodies of knowledge, although he admits that "Wikipedians are a little more Amish than I want them to be."
Kapor, who teaches a class at SIMS , wants to leverage a little more technology, such as a reputation system, into the community encyclopedia, but respects the desire of volunteers to do things their own transparent way. Although he says he's got "postmodern DNA," it seems to me that Kapor's desire to be nice -- the number one value extolled by Wikipedians -- takes precedence over what some might consider progress.
Kapor did suggest that the Wikipedia model could be used to spread knowledge about health care to developing nations. That's assuming copyright issues don't stand in the way, but since Kapor is also a cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I'm sure he'll be working on that angle as well.