Wikipedia’s founder offers some interesting ‘leaks’ about Wikileaks

13Jan11

The more I read and follow the Wikileaks saga the more I have mixed feelings about its positive outcome in the larger context. Nobody can deny its importance in showing the world that the Emperor Wears No Clothes. People have the right to access most government information and secrecy cannot be a viable (nor justifiable) practice in today’s global village. Collaborative technology and online strategies are great tools to dig up and disseminate sensitive data, providing citizens with means and push to fight for social change.

However, it’s also clear that the cablegate is the product of a tiny, old-fashion cyber-elite attempting to “teach” the rest of us how to (supposedly) use current IT tools to support their own fight against conspiration theories, (alleged) military secrets, big powers. Wikileaks (or more accurately, Mr. Assange) has decided to step up his quasi-personal battle to “destroy an invisible government”, by abusing crowdsourcing tools and social media spaces. He did not hesitate in resorting to a classic top-down approach and an elitist strategy to discredit and fight ‘big powers’ on its own terms, with no consideration whatsoever for the many ordinary people struggling every day to promote social change through citizen media and local activism, moving at their own pace and with their own small targets.

These “spectacular information hacks” are essentially a political statement to quickly capture the attention of millions and (more to the point) major western media — well beyond the actual disclosing of ‘secret information’. Finally Julian Assange got the spotlight he has been pursuing forever: big media adore him and world governments love to hate him. The last remnants of the ‘hacker community’ got their revenge. And everybody will forget to listen to the voice of the voiceless.

The hard-to-get-through tweets of some unknown villagers about blood diamonds and the coltan conflict that fuel Congo’s forgotten wars will be less and less news-worthy. Nobody will want to read a post in broken english (maybe due a quick translation from an alien local dialect) about indigenous people trying to make sense of the internet to support their social and environmental struggles in the Brazilian forest. But, hey, why bother? Our cyber-heroes will watch and protect us all.

Maybe I’m just over-reacting. Or becoming hopelessly older. However, many are trying to clarify several misunderstandings about the basic nature of the Wikileaks affair. And if you don’t like Jaron Lanier’s criticism, here is a fresh perspective – again, from a fellow nerd. In an interview for BBC News focused on Wikipedia 10th anniversary (to be celebrated worldwide on 15 January), today Jimmy Wales also talks about Wikileaks.

“The core of their work is not about Wiki at all – Wiki is a collaborative editing process, it’s a group of people coming together to collaboratively write something. And what Wikileaks is doing is getting documents and leaking them.”

Even more interesting, Jimmy Wales provides some ‘leaks’ about unsolved matters on the Wikileaks part regarding its most treasured asset, “their own” web domains:

Technically, the Wikia company [Wales’ for-profit business] has until this week legally owned domain names including wikileaks.net, wikileaks.com and wikileaks.us.

“We transferred the domains to them but they never completed the technical part,” said Mr Wales. “All they needed to do was sign in and complete the transfer but they have never done it.”

He said the domains had been registered “defensively” when Wikileaks launched in 2006.

“When they first launched they put out a press release that said the ‘Wikipedia of secrets’, which would have been a trademark violation.

“So someone in the office registered two or three domains.”

He said that he regularly tries to prompt Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange to complete the transaction, to no avail.

“I saw someone else say that he’s prone to saying ‘I’m busy fighting superpowers’ and that’s exactly what he said to me.”

Mr Wales said the domains would expire “this week”.

“I’m not renewing them,” said Mr Wales.

“We may ping them and say they are loose.”

Oh, yeah, Wikileaks: you are soooo sexy.



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