Internet Summit: Tim Berners-Lee // Victoria Coleman
Best of: Internet Summit
The Risks of a Consolidating Internet (2016)
- Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web
- Moderator: Matthew Prince - Co-founder & CEO, Cloudflare
Truth Lives in the Open: Lessons from Wikipedia (2017)
- Victoria Coleman - CTO, Wikimedia Foundation
- Moderator: Michelle Zatlyn - Co-Founder & COO, Cloudflare
Music So, I would say that my guest needs no introduction except for that at lunch today I heard that someone was sitting next to him and said, where are you from?
And he said, London.
And that was, and didn't recognize you. So, I will give you a little bit of Tim Berners-Lee's background in case you don't recognize him.
He, you know, invented the World Wide Web in 1989. Also in 1990 came up with such key protocols as HTML, the idea of the URL, and HTTP.
He wrote the first web page editor and browser, which was called the World Wide Web.
The first web server. And then in what has to be one of the greatest gifts to the advancement of human knowledge, CERN in 1993 announced that they were going to provide the technology to the world royalty-free for time.
And so... So, I was wondering kind of what to ask.
And I thought I'd sort of tell you the story of how Tim ended up here on stage, which was we were putting together the program for today.
And we realized that, you know, we started the day with the NSA and counterterrorism folks saying how important it was to have gatekeepers to keep the terrorists off social networks.
And then we had panels on how Amazon and Google and Microsoft were consolidating hosting.
We had engineers from Google talk about their great plans around a replacement for HTML in this proprietary protocol called AMP, a replacement for TCP, this proprietary protocol called QUIC.
Even Cloudflare ourselves at some level is consolidating the web in this proprietary way.
And even though it's kind of in my interest to do that, it kind of freaks me out.
And we were looking at the program and thought, someone's got to come up and talk about how dangerous all of this is.
And you're the natural person to do it.
So does it freak you out that the Internet's consolidating and the web is consolidating?
I suppose it freaks out anybody who was there at the early stages, well, even during the bulletin board time, I imagine, there was this, the sort of bulletin board hippies realized, wow, this is cool, you know, we have a space in which we communicate without being really connected to any of the authorities in any of the systems and anybody can set a bulletin board up and anybody can dial into it.
So it goes way back, before my days with the web. I think originally there was a sort of cyber utopian idea.
John Perry Barlow, great example, hey, in cyberspace we are not going to use, need your rules, you do not apply, man, we will stick it to you in cyberspace, and your rules will not apply.
And of course that was a bit extreme, because actually we do have rules in cyberspace, but what was going on was this idea that, wow, we can be, it's a very hippie idea, everybody, you can just make a website on your computer, you make your website on your floppy disk, you plug your computer into the Internet and bingo, anybody can then, and then you can link to other websites, and it started off, before search was functional, then it worked, you had to then talk to people and email people and say, hey, put links to my website, now we'll put links to yours, and you started a web of these things.
And Google eventually only worked well because of all these links.
So that whole spirit of anybody can make, it was incredibly empowering, the fact that I could just make my own website, copy your web page, download the HTML, take your picture out, put mine in, change it a bit, put it up there, and mom, I've got a web page, what's the web page?
Just go look at it. So that spirit.
That's how, that's my coding, that's how I still take things, just go copy, you know, view source, right?
Yeah, absolutely, and then modify, save.
And so the spirit of the, so that spirit was very much of empowerment, it was very much of individual creativity, bottoms up, and then we had the dot com boom where everybody said this is incredible, this is taking off, and it's the long tail.
And there was a long tail, they said, look, when you look at the websites, yeah, there were some popular ones, but the popular ones don't actually dominate the traffic, the traffic is all in the long tail, all these weird people with websites about frogs, and you know, and tea, and that was pre-kittens.
So maybe, and so now there is no long tail.
So how much of that did you see back in 1989?
How much of what's happened was in your head as you're sitting down at your next computer building the spec for what becomes the web?
So I suppose whenever anybody has ever asked me what my greatest fear is for the web, I've always said that it should be controlled by a large company, or a large government, or some combination of the two.
And over time, the way that fear has applied has changed, because in the early days, deep pack inspection wasn't a thing, computers didn't go fast enough to spy on the Internet, all a router could do was to gather stupid information in one end and out the other and figure out where it had to go, wasn't any time to go and look at what it was, and in the meantime, of course, that changed very dramatically, so deep pack inspection became very, very powerful, and used to ghastly effect in a lot of Middle Eastern countries, taking people ending up going to jail, going to, being killed just on account of what they had been seen to do on the Internet.
So things have changed a lot, but yes, but I suppose I've always been concerned that the fact that it's open, that anybody can contribute, should be messed up on that, by some, whether it's the government or a country.
If you had a time machine, and you go back, 1989, those early days of the web, pre-dot-com boom, pre-that, what would you change?
I'd give it to Brendan, I'd get him to go back and fix that, that variables with no var don't...
In Java's case, phone error.
Okay. But if I had two time machines, I'd give one to Brendan, and just saying, and I'd give the other one to, take the one back, and I think, there's some little niggling things, like at the time when domain name system came out, the one in the Internet started off, ended up with com at the end, and there was one in the UK, where the UK had a complete separate networking stack, where they developed all the protocols, they developed their own transport protocols, and it was called the coloured book sets, and in their domain system, they were round the other way.
It would be co.uk .microsoft, as opposed to microsoft.com. And in fact now, so I put in, as a gesture to all the people who knew domain names, read them off and understood them from email addresses and things, I put them in the way they were.
So for example, in fact, I thought it would be better to put them in with the most significant bit at the front, because all the rest of the address is the most significant bit at the front.
For example, and there are lots of little things like that, where, you know, the fact that we've got, you know, HTTP looks like a protocol with colons in its headers, but then the, because that had to look like SMTP, and HTML has got these angle brackets, because that has to look like SMTP.
So in fact, I'm told that if I did the time machine, I would go back, I would clean all those things up so everything was consistent, and nobody would adopt it, because the people who like HTML wouldn't look at it and say, yeah, I can handle that, and the people who designed SMTP would not look at it and say, I can handle that.
So yeah, you know, those were maybe the... Don't get in the time machine.
That sounds like it's turned out. Tell me about, like, you're at CERN, and was there a debate over whether you're going to release, commercialize this, or give it away for free, or was that just a, was that a no-brainer from the beginning?
Oh, that was a big debate, and of course, at the same time, there was, what was interesting was the Gopher protocol.
So the Gopher protocol, I should tell you, World Wide Wear was growing exponentially like this, but the Gopher protocol was growing exponentially like that, so it was ahead.
So, and the people at the IETF meetings were all raving about how the Gopher was going to take over the world soon.
Meanwhile at CERN, CERN knew that we're taking government money for developing all this stuff, we should commercialize it, we should spin off, we should build some of this lab equipment, something, we ought to be spinning off companies, but we don't have any idea how to do that.
Americans know how to do that, we have no idea how to do it.
In Europe, we don't have people with the skills, we don't understand entrepreneurism, we don't understand funding, we don't have venture capital, culture at all.
So there was sort of a two-ways guilt, you know, we should be doing this thing, but we don't know how to do it.
So when we were trying to say, no, it's really, really important for the web, just for the web to exist, it has to be royalty-free.
And then, one point, there was a point, you can look at the, this graph is the NSF backbone traffic on the Gopher port 79, at a certain point the University of Minnesota, which controlled Gopher, said, they sent around an email message on the Internet saying, not now, maybe later, and not for servers, sorry, not for clients, only for servers, and not for academics, only for commercial people, and anyway, only a very small amount, but possibly, we might be charging royalties.
At that point, the Gopher traffic plunged.
Because everybody thought, hey, why am I working in my garage for the University of Minnesota?
Or they were saying, actually, as an engineer at IBM, if you read the Gopher code, you have to leave, because we can't afford it.
So that was a pretty good argument, look what happened to that. Okay, so we said, okay, it's free, it's free.
And it was again, April, it was 18 months after we started the project, and fortunately, one of the directors, some of the directors, they managed to get a consensus on the board, and we got the stamp thing, yes.
And so many people were waiting for that moment to get involved. The world thanks you, again, most of us wouldn't be in this room if not for that decision, so it's pretty amazing.
We were talking last night, and we were talking backstage about sort of the risks of the consolidation of the Internet, and you said that the thing that scares you is if one big company takes control or one government takes control of the web.
Do you think that, if you look forward, if your time machine, you set it for 20 years from now, as opposed to 25 years ago, is the consolidation of the web inevitable, or is there something that, is some of that original ethos of massively distributed bottoms up, is that, will that win out over time?
I think that when, for a huge number of people right now, not the people in this room, who create a new website twice before breakfast, and send it around, and send it to their friends, but they tweet it to their friends, and when they tweet it to their friends, Twitter, they do that on Twitter, and Twitter is completely dominant in that area.
Facebook doesn't dominate the world, but it dominates the US, and there's an awful lot of people who just get up in the morning, or actually don't get up in the morning, they actually, on their cell phones, before they get out of bed, go on to, the first thing they do is to go on to not the Internet, not the web, Facebook, and that's where a lot of their life, that's where their social life happens.
So it's what we call a monopoly, okay, these things happen, this is the way the market economy is designed to work, but when you look back, a previous monopoly, it's like a time in the UK, that you had to buy the phone from the general post office, and they were all exactly the same color, and the same shape, because the general post office didn't have any incentive, AT&T too, had a monopoly of phones, and the interesting designs, which went into, only when that monopoly was broken, did suddenly you get all kinds of different phones, so you could see that monopolies tend to be, they tend to squash innovation, because whatever, if there's only one place that is really selling product, then it's great to work in their labs, but it's no fun to work anywhere else, and the startup world doesn't exist, what's been great about the web has been the startup world, which has driven it, so yeah, I think it's, if it turns out that people want, they don't ask you to develop a website, they ask you to develop a Facebook page for them, then you don't have a lot of creativity going into that, and everything is completely controlled by this one company.
So between the duopoly in mobile apps, and the sort of move to apps, the monopoly in social networks, the monopoly in search, which worries you the most about the future of the web?
It's interesting, because they're quite orthogonal, no, worrying about the monopolies, when Netscape hit the scene, then immediately everybody was worried, because Netscape was completely dominated, when it was seats sitting in front of screens, everybody was using Netscape, and so they felt, people thought, well that was, Netscape had complete control of the web effectively, and so they worried about that, fretted about that continually, until suddenly they woke up one morning and realized they weren't worrying about Netscape anymore, they were worried about Microsoft, and why were they never worried about Microsoft before?
Because they're not just controlling the browser, they're controlling the operating system, and linking them together, and so they have total control, and so it's hopeless, and they worried about Microsoft continually, until one day they woke up, and they realized that they were actually more worried about Google, because it wasn't the browser that people were using, it was a search engine they used on that browser, which actually controlled their experience, and where they actually went to, and maybe now they're not, maybe some of them are thinking, well actually, I don't care about the search engine, because the only thing people are searching for is Facebook, so the lesson is, yeah, you can be a monopoly in one space, but then suddenly, it's not that suddenly somebody has chipped you up, like Facebook has chipped up Friendster, because that's going to happen too, suddenly you can become, something else can be the cool version of you, but it's that actually suddenly another axis is where the monopoly power is, and so that might happen, we find that there's another axis, it might be that for some reason, at any point, if Facebook were not, suddenly there's something more cool than Facebook, then people would switch really quickly, people switched from Gopher, even though the folks in the ITF were saying, some people, I remember, in the plenary, said, the lead that Gopher has over all the other protocols is, it's unstoppable, and somebody stood up and said, you've noticed that people can pick things up on the Internet pretty quickly, well you know what, they can drop them pretty quickly too, so is that what, I mean, is that what has allowed the web to thrive and be as, I mean, that's the consistency that has lived throughout it, is that any one of us in the room can pick it up and creativity allows that continued innovation, do you think that that holds true in the future?
It's a platform, so the Internet, 1969, Vint Cerf and company made the Internet as a platform which allowed me to write a, somebody to write a program on one computer and write a program on the other computer and get them connected together, and the Internet had no attitude about what that program should be, similarly, the web has no attitude, you can just get a computer, plug it into the Internet, put a web server on it, the web has got no attitude about what you're going to use it for, so that's what a platform is, a platform is neutral, platform is a blank sheet of paper, platform is crying out for creativity, that's why there's so much really cool stuff out there, it's because you can do whatever you can imagine.
So you've spoken out about the importance of network neutrality and some of the fights that are happening there, are you following what Facebook is doing in India with free basics and zero rating around the rest of the world, and what do you think about that, I mean I sit and watch television every night and T-Mobile is talking about how wonderful it is that I can stream from five different music services for free to my mobile phone, but I worry about the sixth music service that didn't get picked up by T-Mobile and now the ladders are getting pulled up behind them, what is the role of network neutrality going forward and how important is that for the future of the web?
It's really, really, really important, sorry I was told to project more for them, it's really, really, really important, you really need to spend a lot of time worrying about that sixth, because these people come from the table business, they are used to having the pleasure of telling you in a flyer that they send around to your house every month, these are the TV shows we've got for you this month, this is the sport, and these are the movies, and they're proud of the fact they're giving you access to 200 movies, but actually 200 movies, even if you make them in-house, but if it's only, never mind how big the end is after the 200 movies, always, the walled garden will always be really boring, and boring for you as, maybe not so boring for you as somebody watching the movies, if you just want to watch, you know, the same movies as everybody else, but for somebody who's making movies, so never mind the sixth, what about the 708th person, so that's keeping a world in which, we need to keep the web as a world where anybody can create movies and let people immediately start to watch them.
So if I'm Mark Zuckerberg, and I'm sitting here and talking to you, and he says, well okay, but how are we going to get the next billion people online unless we give them some sort of taste, unless we have some sort of subsidy that is coming online, and sure, maybe the top five streaming services are willing to subsidize getting that next billion people online, what's the alternative, how do we continue to expand the Internet to reach those places that can't really afford it right now, if you don't allow the Googles and Facebooks and Apples to subsidize that access?
So when we started the Web Foundation a few years ago, the web was reaching 10% and 20 % of the people in the world, now it's reaching 40%, so this thing is growing, and it's growing in what would come clearly in S-curve at some point, so this particular point in time, we are all witnessing the point where the access to the web is changing from being a minority on the planet to being a majority thing on the planet, so this time is only going to be for a while, so in other words, we are waiting, so what will get these other people on board as quickly as possible, getting the price of phones down, getting the price of connectivity down, the price of phones is coming down a lot, connectivity not so much, so we have heard already today, ideas on the stage about funding it with advertising, obviously it can be funded by benevolent people from outside, if you are trying to establish your brand of soap, for example, and you have got a developing country where you haven't been seen at all, but you think it may be worth investing in giving the people, investing in infrastructure a lot, if you are a foundation which is trying to cure disease, and you are delivering it by hand, delivering health messages to women by hand at the moment, printing stuff and ship dropping it by helicopter, you might look at thinking if I just gang up with everybody else and we actually deliver cheap Internet service to these people, it will be so much more efficient for delivering our messages and getting health care and allowing them to create their own health care information, which will be much more efficient than us giving them our health, so if all of the people who have got good reason to invest in a medium term in the five years, maybe could be get together, be coordinated by people like the alliance for affordable Internet, for example, and if we make sure that, as the alliance for affordable Internet does, make sure there aren't any extra special luxury taxes on Internet, make sure that you have a competitive situation as well, that a given country doesn't have to do a deal with a monopoly, so there is a big list of things to look at to try to make it, to get people a real Internet which is actually open, which allows you to connect to anything.
I want to leave time for questions, because I am sure everyone in the audience would love to pick your brain on things and we will have time for a few questions, but you are teaching and have a lab at MIT and Southampton, what are the things that your students are working on there that you are really excited about that is going to accelerate the adoption of the web or move sort of the expansion of human knowledge forward and what are those things that you are excited about in the labs right now?
Okay, so they are working on a bunch of stuff, let me tell you about one of them which gets me coding, so there is this idea that everybody who uses the web now has given up their data to the man, to that nameless thing which gives us all three good things, and we get three good things because we have given up our data, our data is monetised, the reason that our data is given up, we have to give it up because they monetise it, they may abuse our privacy, but you know what, at the end of the day the three things are so nice and shiny, so I think that is actually a myth, one of the pieces in that myth is that the data for example about me, when I go for a run, my gadget, my phone records that exercise, for the man, for the advertising community, that is one data point, that a guy that looks like me sort of went for a run that long and took this long, for me actually it is really important, it is to do with whether I will be able to do the half marathon in six months time, it is to do with whether I am meeting my goals, it is to do with whether I will be able to go and have dessert at the next meal, and in fact if you pull in what I think the myth is that that data point about me is more interesting to people, is more valuable to people who integrate it with lots of other data points, similar data points about running, than it is to me when I integrate it with all the data about myself, so what we are doing is we are building a new world in which we separate the apps from the data, so it is a little bit like a cloud world, if you are cloud people then you can imagine writing an app for cloud, but the rule is that you don't get to write the server side at all, you get a standard server side which makes the whole web look like one great big Unix system except where any data file can be treated as a database, with a standard API, you don't get to write your APIs, so in fact developing apps is really cool, you just write your apps, you imagine the data structures that they will produce, as people use your apps they create data structures, but they create it because we are separating the app from the data, when they start using the app it says to them, hey where do you want me to store this data, and they say oh I'm going to store it on my home server because I'm a geek and I'm like that and I don't trust anybody else, or I'm going to serve it, this is actually stuff I'm doing for working, I'm going to store it on a Cloudflare internal server, or I'm going to store it on a server that I trust out there, maybe Cloudflare will run servers for people where the deal is you completely own your data, you join this movement of people claiming back their data, so what you have to do is you have to run servers where people trust you, you would have to just allow them to do whatever they want with the data, and then I think then we are aiming to get a revolution, what we would like to see is a complete ecosystem where all the apps I use store data in places, in a small number of places that I control, different places depending on what sort of data, and then the apps I can then write are really cool because they integrate across all that data, I can write an app which looks at all my bank statements, and looks at my training, and looks at my blood tests which I got back from the hospital, and all kinds of stuff, and all Internet of things stuff, and so when you pull all that stuff in about me, then that's very empowering, then I can write apps which really understand me very much better, give me much more value, much more empowering, also socially when I share this sort of stuff with my family, so that's the vision we're working on, it's called solid, so solid.mit.edu or github .com slash solid since you ask.
That's awesome, thank you for sharing, I think we have time for two or three questions, are there any questions, there must be questions, who has a question in the audience, we have mics that are coming around, Trey obviously, there's a mic right here.
Thank you, I was going to ask what can I do as an individual on a day-to -day basis to contribute to making the web a more open place?
Great question, as an individual what do you do, so you join these organisations, so for example just like you can join EFF, there's a web foundation, there's a place to go to look at what's happening, there's a web we want, the web we want coalition is a coalition of organisations who are in this space like EFF, so you can join those, so that, and there's two things you need to do, you need to be proactive and reactive, because partly it's proactive, it's just working, it's just going, helping people sit down and write better legislation, help people just check, going through checking the law and what is this net neutrality stuff they put in, is it really, as I was told this morning, it's not up to snuff, so it's working steadily, proactively, but there's also being available reactively, because yes, this is the sort of thing where you do actually have to protest in the streets, remember SOPA, remember PIPA, remember ACTA, net neutrality has been defended by people going out there and throwing computers through windows, you don't have to throw computers through windows, but standing there with packards and doing the civil disobedience thing, so sometimes, and it may be, you may be protesting a government, it may not be your government, it might be your government, you may be protesting a big corporation, you may live in a country like China where it's hard to tell the difference between corporation and government and you may live in a country like the United States of America where it's hard to tell sometimes the difference between corporation and government, just saying, so that's, you have to be prepared to take action, because if you spend 95% of your life using the web, building on it, using the fact that you can be creative on it, you maybe have to spend 5% of your life defending it.
Other questions? Anyone?
Last chance. I'm just wondering if there's anybody you would point us to, anybody that we probably don't know about, somebody we haven't heard of who's really thinking creatively about where the net's going, we know the usual suspects and you're one of them, but are there, who's the person who's 25 years old now who's going to do something like you did?
Well, so we've, so the problem I've described that we've been tackling at the lab, we've called the re -centralizing of the web, so the movement is called, we call it re-decentralizing the web, with a little irony, because it was supposed to be decentralized originally, okay, so now it's become centralized socially in the way people use it, so if you start talking, so if you start looking, talking, if you go around holding workshops like Brewster did in his archive church a little while ago, they've been various in Europe, if you hold workshops about re-decentralizing the web, then you will find people who are thinking out of the box.
Who are the three people we should be following on Twitter that we're not following?
The question for the video stream is, who do you admire? I admire anybody who can do things that I can't do, because I have skills that I can't do, like that's an awful lot of people, like people who are CEOs, because I don't have a CEO skill, for example, I admire also anybody who does things that I don't want to do, like taking out the garbage and cleaning the bathrooms, and so I admire a lot of people.
Well, we first met in a basement in Davos back in 2012, and it was the early days of Cloudflare, and you were very patient to let me describe what it was that we were doing, and I remember very clearly at the end of that that you said, that's very interesting, but if I were going to use you, I'd really have to trust you, and that's been sort of a theme which has really stuck with us as a company over the years, and so it's a real honor to have you here, and thank you for being a part of our second annual Internet Summit.
Hello, hello, hello. I'm really looking forward to the next 25 minutes. Victoria's the CTO of the Wikimedia Foundation, and before that, she spent her whole career building and doing research in amazing, both enterprise and consumer companies, and has just a ton of perspective, but currently, as CTO of Wikimedia, why don't you start?
I mean, I'm sure the vast majority of us in this room have gone to Wikipedia in the last month, so we know Wikipedia really well, but you're the CTO of the Wikimedia Foundation, so why don't you start by just giving the audience a little bit of an overview of what is the Wikimedia Foundation?
Thank you for that. So first of all, let me tell you a little bit about our mission.
So we pride ourselves in aiming to make available the sum of all knowledge to every human being on the planet.
That's our mission. That's our goal.
We're a non-for-profit. We are actually headquartered just up the street here on New Montgomery Street.
There are about 260 of us in the foundation. There are many, many thousands of us outside the foundation that are all working together to create some of the sites that you all know and love.
I'm not surprised that many of you actually would have been on our sites.
Wikipedia is the number five most visited site on the planet, so we're right behind Google, Baidu, YouTube, and Facebook, thank you.
Keep coming. We enjoy having you. We are the guardians of the projects.
There are 12 projects that are currently in the movement that we support. Wikipedia is the most prominent one of those, but there are many others.
Some of them I believe are in the next three to five years going to be just as influential as Wikipedia has been during our first 15 years.
Wikidata, it's one of those projects that we're very proud of.
It's a collection of structured data that really pulls together concepts in the web in a way that is completely reusable and allows us, for example, to be much more productive as we spread our content in all manner of languages.
We're present in 299 languages as of last count for Wikipedia. Out of 6,000 plus, so we have ways to go yet.
These are the things that we do. Perhaps it might be interesting also to talk about the things that we don't do.
Oftentimes people assume that we do editing.
I've been in the foundation just a little under a year, and I can tell you the first thing that happened to me, I would get masses of emails from people who were notable enough to have a biography asking me how to go about changing things and asking me to edit.
So I would show them how to edit themselves, and then I would tell them also that we don't actually edit as Wikimedians.
We edit as community members, but we don't edit as members of the foundation.
The other thing that we don't do is we don't monetize our users, our content, our presence.
We don't monetize our content. We don't monetize our traffic.
We are completely funded by donations, and this is, you know, perhaps a bit proverbial, but it is true.
Our average donation is $15. So hopefully that gives you a little bit of an understanding of the breadth of what we do.
Yeah, no, it's amazing.
It definitely does. So, you know, if your mission is to help bring free education to everyone, to all, getting to everyone can be hard, right?
Let's start by the second part.
So how do you get access to people in hard-to-reach areas, whether it's developing countries?
Like, what makes that hard or easy from your perspective?
I think it's definitely a challenge for us, and it's kind of interesting.
You know, we of course, you know, we build this movement primarily in North America and Europe.
That's the places where it's most prominent. Our ambition, of course, goes much beyond that.
And we started actually doing some pretty well-defined and focused research.
So we had researchers just this past year in Brazil, in Mexico, in India, in Nigeria, trying to understand what the local communities need in order to be able to leverage the knowledge that others create in other parts of the world, and also to create their own knowledge, because all knowledge really is contextual.
You know, what you need to know in San Francisco is different than what you need to know in Athens, Greece.
I mean, locality is really important for us.
And, you know, one of the things that we found is people really don't know who we are.
So in this so-called global south research that we've been doing, people often think that we're the same as Google.
So one of the things that we are working really hard around is putting some emphasis on the brand and the mission and communicating with people what it means so that they can, in turn, you know, hopefully come to us and become part of the community and the movement to service those in those regions.
That's great. That's important.
You know, we just heard from Darren and Larry on the last panel, and this notion of fake news came up.
And, you know, as I was hearing that, of course, I thought, well, what is the foundation's point of view around fake news, and what can you do to either give us hope for the future?
So first of all, the foundation and the Wikipedia, in particular, does not deal in news.
One of our core principles in the foundation, in Wikipedia, I should be more precise, is what we call NOR, so no original content.
An encyclopedia should be something that reflects on existing knowledge.
It's not a place where you go to publish knowledge. So we really don't support news as such in Wikipedia.
But what we do do, of course, is we believe very strongly in verifiability.
So the content that we put out there, we're going to make sure that it's as reliable as we can make it.
And, of course, it's really almost a conundrum for those on the outside to comprehend how this happens.
We have an active community of 200,000 editors that, you know, go in day in, day out and make changes to our content.
How do they do that? How is it that our content, for the most part, is pretty accurate?
I mean, nobody would argue it's 100 percent right, but it always gets better, and it always keeps growing.
Well, you know, in our community, in our movement, there are these three principles that we live by, and one of them, as I mentioned, is no original content.
The other one is verifiability. So anything that appears in Wikipedia has to be backed up by a source.
So I don't know if sometimes, you know, I wish I had the T-shirt, so we often say citation needed.
So if you go to an article and you see citation needed and you have time, please look, and maybe there's a source that you can refer to to help make the article better.
The other thing that we do is we maintain and ask our community to hold itself accountable to a neutral point of view.
So, you know, these are the three core principles around which our content is built, and the way that these principles are implemented and embedded in our community is because people truly internalize and believe them.
So there are 200,000 people out there that are each watching, you know, part of the artifact and make sure that these principles are upheld, and I can tell you they're very vocal and hold each other truly accountable.
So in our world, it works because we're open, and I have to tell you this.
I don't know how many of you read The Post.
I'm not a regular reader, but I started reading it recently. They have a new tagline, democracy dies in darkness, and when I read that, it's a very powerful thing for me personally, and I reflect on the work that we do in the foundation, and for us, really, it's exactly the opposite.
It's like truth thrives in openness. So openness for us is really, I think, how we manage to create content that is high quality and does not contain fake, you know, fake material to the extent we can help it.
That's amazing. When, you know, when there's something controversial posted on something like Wikipedia, how fast does it get reverted?
Oh, goodness, I mean...
Like, are we talking about hours, days, months, minutes? It very much depends on how, you know, how top of mind the topic is, but sometimes it's seconds.
I mean, content that is verifiably incorrect very rarely persists, I would say, past a week or a month.
We have a very, very active, again, editor community that are passionate, and maybe I can say a little bit about that.
You know, when I first joined the foundation, I met James Heilman.
He's now on our board. He's an ER doctor, and I was told that he's one of the most prolific contributors.
You know, if you look at Wikipedia, there are two places where most content exists, and one is medicine, and the other one is, any guesses?
Politics? Actually, it's military history.
Ah! It turns out that military historians are really enamored of our platform and they do a great deal of work.
So, back to James, I said to him, listen, you have a very demanding job.
I mean, I don't know how you do your job. How do you find time to edit?
And he said, look, you know, I went to school because I want to help people.
I can see maybe 20 people in my office every day. If I write an article in Wikipedia, I know that, you know, a million people a month come to look at it.
I mean, it's an amazing platform for people that have skill sets to really help the world, right?
So that's what really brings those people to us. That's amazing. One of the reasons why I got into technology instead of the medical field is I also wanted to go into the medical field to help people, and one of the reasons why I found myself into technology is because it's another way to be able to help people at scale.
That's right. And so that definitely resonates. You know, one of the things we were talking about as we prepared for today is that everything on Wikipedia has to have a source, a citation.
That's right. But that must be hard to have to go back, especially since some of that, as we go towards more walled content and gardens online, what are the implications for, again, truth lying in the open from your perspective?
So we take that very seriously, and, you know, one of the initiatives that maybe I can say a little bit about is our initiative for open citations.
So this past June, through a heroic effort of one of the researchers in my team, we were able to liberate 45% of all citations on the planet.
So, you know, think about that for a moment.
All of a sudden, you know, millions, like 16 millions of citations became available for everybody to use.
And, you know, this is material.
It's not only material for the verifiability of the articles, which is very important, but it also is very important for researchers.
For example, if you remember, like about a year ago, we had the Zika virus outbreak.
It was very new.
Nobody knew much about it, but people began to build knowledge very rapidly. By being able to share the citation graph around the Zika virus, I am absolutely convinced this community was able to accelerate finding solutions by months, years.
So, you know, again, openness has all these unintended, unexpected consequences.
So we, you know, we advocate vociferously for openness, for content that's not behind a wall.
We go beg and plead with publishers to make articles available to us.
And sometimes our communities also take controversial steps. I don't know how many of you remember, but a little while ago, the English Wikipedia community decided not to allow citations or references to the Daily Mail, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, in the encyclopedia.
And they did that because they felt that as a source of news, that newspaper at that particular point in time was not reliable.
So they took that decision unilaterally. And again, back to what the Foundation doesn't do, that's not something that we decided to do at the Foundation.
That's what the community decided to do in order to make sure that they were true to the three principles that I spoke about earlier.
Oh, wow. And has that since been reversed?
I don't believe so. Oh, wow. That's a powerful community.
Very opinionated. Yeah, definitely. You know, you mentioned at the beginning that, you know, the Foundation builds a lot of tools, open source tools.
Like, it's not just Wikipedia.
So what are one or two, and you quickly touched on the data, the tools, but what are some of the other open source tools that you're building that others in this audience on the livestream might find useful to help?
I think that's a great question. And again, openness is at the center of everything that we do.
The fact that we develop tools that help us also give us the opportunity to help others help themselves.
So, you know, you talked about Global South, we talked about 6,000 languages.
You know, the Foundation, you'd be surprised perhaps to hear, we're 260 people.
You know, we're not going to be present in 6,000 geos to do these things.
If we support and build open source tools and make them available, we give people the tools that they need to help themselves.
To give you an example, kind of the core stack that we run at the Foundation is something called MediaWiki.
Some of you may be familiar with it. MediaWiki has been around quite a long time.
Today we put 99% of our traffic through it.
It's a lot of traffic. But the most surprising thing perhaps about it is that there are literally hundreds of thousands of installations for MediaWiki outside the Foundation.
And in surprising places, Department of State, Department of Energy, actually the intelligence community.
The intelligence community has a product called Intellipedia.
And I believe like on average they get 350,000 hits per day.
That is all built on MediaWiki. So again, sometimes unintended consequences.
A marquee user of MediaWiki that I'm really excited about is actually the San Francisco MoMA just down the street here.
So they use MediaWiki. So, you know, another way of making, of giving people tools to create and share knowledge.
Another example is our Wikimedia Cloud Services team. So we have, we run something called Tool Forge.
So what we're doing is we're taking both compute and storage, but most importantly data, data sets from what we see in our sites and make them available to volunteers who then write tools.
And you'll be amazed at the productivity and the ingenuity of the tools that these folks produce.
So Tool Labs, I think when I last looked, one quarter of the edits that happen go through Tool Labs.
They support, I don't know, like, again, last I heard it was like, you know, 4 billion calls to the API.
They support 1,400 tools.
So, you know, you come to us, we will give you what you need, which includes a lot more than just, you know, compute and storage.
We will give you data sets to work with.
And people make magic happen. It is amazing. I feel like the foundation is a study in people coming together around the world.
Yes. It is pretty incredible.
I mean, there's been some pessimism today, but this is an example of some of the optimism of the power of people working together.
I have a question, one more question, and then we'll go to questions.
And I can see Kalia really wanting to ask you a question.
So we'll make sure we get to you, Kalia. But Victoria, you know, so Wikipedia is one of the top five sites on the Internet.
So of course you want to keep that position and expand to more languages, although you've covered, I'm sure, the vast but you have great surface area of the most popular ones.
What's next for the foundation? When you guys think about 10 years from now, your future, like what do you want, do you and your team want to accomplish?
You know, I think we want to continue to scale.
And how we get there and what this means for us, actually it was a matter of a lot of introspection.
And again, this will tell you a lot about how we work.
We're just coming to the tail end of an eight-month consultation process with our community about what our strategy ought to be for the next five to 15 years.
We accomplished a lot in the first 15. What do we want to do in the next 15 years?
And, you know, as you say, as you said, I came from a corporate background.
And you know how strategy is made in corporate. You go to the boardroom and you, you know, you figure it out and then you say, you announce what, how it's going to be.
Well, I can tell you this is not how it works in our movement.
We're at the tail end of a process that literally engaged thousands of people, thousands of volunteers all over the world to come together and tell us how they want to develop their movement.
Because, you know, it's not our movement.
It's their movement. And at the end of that, we did a great deal of work in synthesizing what we heard.
And what we heard was that we're going to continue focusing on what we call knowledge equity, making knowledge available to everybody.
Like the community told us that they want us to be bolder.
They want us to have more influence in the world, more positive influence in the world.
And they also told us that they want us to look far beyond the confines of North America and Europe.
They want us to be present in other places where people can use free knowledge.
So that was really interesting.
The plurality, the kind of diversity of opinion, the openness of that conversation was just breathtaking to me.
I'm really glad we're coming at the end.
Now, though, the hard part comes for us at the foundation, because now we'll actually have to figure out how we get there.
Yeah. So maybe, you know, next time you have one of these conversations, I'll be able to tell you what our plan is.
But my job between now and Christmas is to figure out what it means for us, what it is we should be doing, at least from a technology perspective, to get us there.
Yeah. And then execute on it. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
Great. Let's move to questions. We have a question for Victoria, please. So will Victoria – Kalia.
Go ahead, Kalia. Hi. Hi. So I don't know if you read in the news lately, but Silicon Valley has a gender issue.
It has some other issues, too.
But I actually went and looked up the research on the gender makeup of the Wikipedia community, and it's 90% men.
Right? So you're saying, like, I'm – like, we're talking to our community.
I'm like, yeah, but who's your community? And I know for myself, like, when they were going to erase Dana Boyd's article because she wasn't prominent enough, I was like, I'm done.
I don't even want to try. Right? And then even in my own area of professional expertise, digital identity, I dabbled in editing, but it was like, oh, no, those are – like, just kind of this – the culture of who's invited to participate, whose articles – articles – like, what articles are challenging or not.
I don't know if it's still true, but there was, like, more articles about women porn stars than women scientists.
Right? So I don't want to end on a negative note, but I actually think, like, maybe – But you raise a very good point.
How are – how is both the leadership and your leadership of a community that has these gender issues that are also in Silicon Valley meaningfully addressing them going forward?
You know, that's a great question.
So the first thing I wanted to say – and this is a little unusual. At sea level, you know, the L2s at the foundation, there are nine of us.
Seven of us are women.
I have never worked at a place where this is the case. Broadly, within the foundation itself, we are fairly balanced.
Not so much in technology.
I would like it to be better. But I sympathize and I agree with your comments.
One of our – I don't want to say challenges, but, you know, we don't know who people are.
So people that edit can use whatever identity they want. In fact, they can have multiple identities and so on.
So we don't actually know what percentage of our editors are female, you know, other groups and so on.
We have a guesstimate from research that various universities have done that is somewhere between 10 and 25 percent.
It's still – Are women. Are women. Still vastly underrepresented.
And that manifests itself, of course, in bias in articles. So about three months ago – excuse me, three weeks ago, I was at a hackathon that we organized up in Montreal.
One of our engineers actually did an amazing piece of work going through articles, biographical articles about men and women and noting the differences.
So it was mind-blowing to see that in a women's biography, the chances are that the first paragraph of the biography will talk about what their spouse, what their husband was doing.
I can tell you this was not the case in male biographies.
So, you know, it's a problem that we are very well aware of. How do we service it?
You know, from a technology perspective, you know, I will give you a technology solution.
We're building tools that our community can help – can use to help them reduce bias when possible.
But, you know, the real solution is not to have bias in the first place.
So a lot of the work that our community engagement department is doing is to precisely try to break down those barriers that make the experience of becoming an editor not welcoming.
And I know exactly what you mean.
A community that's been around for 15 years that has found a way of working and has matured is not necessarily like the easiest place to get into.
It's a little bit like refugees moving in from Syria.
It's like, no, look, this is our neighborhood.
We know how this works. Go away. You're different. And we really want to break that down.
I think the first step is recognizing it. Definitely. I also want to say that I resonate with your point about being difficult – it's difficult to write articles.
You know, when the project started, the idea was that you write three bullets, you throw them in there, and then others will come and make it better.
Now they're so good that it's really hard to write one that is the best one.
Our community engagement department is working with people to give them tools to get there.
In technology, for example, we'll do recommendations. To the extent that we can have a profile of who you are, we'll say, you know, there's an article over here that we think we can help with.
Go in there first and make your first edit and build credibility and capability.
Become a respected member of the community, and then we'll get better.
So hopefully this answers some of your questions. It was really good.
I'm glad that you asked that. It's a work in progress for sure. Definitely.
So one of the things you talked about is the idea that things in Wikipedia are footnoted, and often those footnotes refer to links on the web, and those links are brittle because they're talked about retrieved on such and such a day, and then that particular website isn't there, goes away, changes.
So I'm wondering if there can be a partnership between Wikimedia and Internet Archive so that the page can be archived, that you can look at the page as it was retrieved and verify that it actually said that.
And one of the additional reasons that that's useful is the federal circuit has ruled that Wikipedia is not admissible in court as prior art evidence, but the links are.
And so those links could actually be evidence introduced in court.
So again, I'm really excited that you asked this question.
We should make this session like five hours long. There we go. So next time we'll do that.
But we know that we're not going to succeed in our mission without partnerships.
So we look to build partnerships with everybody, including the Internet Archive.
So one of my to-dos actually from Wikimedia, our recent conference in Montreal, is to come down and meet with the Internet Archive and see how we should be able to work together to do exactly what you proposed.
Amazing. Well, we have literally business development happening in real time on stage.
And so please give me a round of applause. Thank you, Victoria. Thank you for all the work.
Thank you. Thank you.