Category Archives: Wikipedia

Requesting open-licensed, open-format recordings of the voices of Wikipedia subjects for Wikimedia Commons

The Idea

A little while ago, my friend and fellow Wikipedia editor (he’s the Wikipedian in Residence at the British Library!) mentioned to me that Wikipedia could do with more sound files. We discussed recordings of music, industrial and everyday sounds (what does a printing press sound like? Or a Volkswagen Beetle? What do different kinds of breakfast cereal sound like when milk is added?), as well as people’s voices, so that we have a record of what they sound like.

A giant ear-trumpet

Beethoven’s Trumpet (With Ear) By John Baldessari, at the Saatchi Gallery.
Photo by Jim Linwood, on Flickr, CC-BY

In the spirit of Wikipedia, all such recordings would be open-licensed, to allow others to use them, freely. They can then be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons (the media repository for Wikipedia and its related projects) in an open format, namely Ogg Vorbis (that’s like mp3, but without patent encumbrances).

So I’m working on a new initiative to provide short (under ten-second) open-licensed audio clips of examples of the speaking voices of notable people (i.e. people who have Wikipedia articles about them).

What To Do

As a pilot, I’m asking some of my (cough) celebrity friends to kindly record the following, or a variation of their choice, with no background noise:

Hello, my name is [name]. I was born in [place] and I have been [job or position] since [year]

(but without mentioning Wikipedia!) They can do that, in quiet room, with a modern mobile phone, or a computer.

[Stop Press: See update 4, below, for update regarding use of “Vocaroo”, to avoid this step]

Once they’ve done that, they can convert the file to Ogg Vorbis using this free tool and then upload it to Wikimedia Commons, with an open-licence, with no “non-commercial (NC)” or “no derivatives (ND)” restrictions, (e.g. CC-By or CC-By-SA), and add the category “Voice intro project”.

If that’s too much fuss, they can e-mail it, or its URL, to me (andy@pigsonthewing.org.uk), using common file formats like mp3 or .wav, stating that it’s under one of those licences, and CC the mail to: permissions-en@wikimedia.org to formally record the open licence. Then I or other Wikipedia editors will make the conversion.

Alternatively, perhaps, they can point to a suitable, open-licensed, example of their speaking voice, which is already online.

Anyone Can Help

If you’re not the subject of a Wikipedia article, you can still help, by recording and uploading to Wikimedia Commons audio files, as described above, of machinery or everyday activities and occurrences.

Updates

  1. A couple of Wikipedia article subjects have asked why they would do this. In short, so that there is a public — and freely reusable — record of what they sound like, for current and future generations. And so that we know how they pronounce their names.
  2. The uploaded files are now gathered in a Wikimedia Commons category. Thank you to the early contributors.
  3. I’ve been asked about multi-lingual recordings. The best thing would be separate files, one in each language, please.
  4. If you have a microphone on your computer (doesn’t work on iPhone/iPad), it’s possible to record directly into the Vocaroo website, and just email or tweet me a link. But you still need to agree to an open licence!

Day 9 (Thursday) in Washington DC

Thursday was the first day of Wikimania proper, and I arrived at George Washington University by bike. The day began with keynote speeches. Sad to say, while Jimmy Wales is clearly a confident and proficient speaker, the content of his talk was quite uninspiring. The talk on increasing Wikipedia’s diversity, and in particular attracting more female contributors was far more interesting and thought-provoking. We all have a duty to do more in this regard.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get into either of the first two sessions I wanted to, at first, as both rooms were packed to overflowing. Clearly, larger rooms should have been available. However, as the crowds thinned, I did manage to hear the end of the first GLAM session.

I was then interviewed on camera, for a Wikimedia promotional video. Though only seconds are likely to be used, I was questioned under bright lights for over half an hour, after first being subject to a makeup session, “to cover up blemishes”. Cheek — I don’t have any!

I then found two of my female friends, both upset that only male-fit T-shirts were left available to them, due to under-ordering. So much for doing more to increase diversity!

After lunch, I took my seat for a set of GLAM presentations, only to be asked to facilitate the session, with just a couple of minutes notice. The non-arrival of one speaker and technical issues with another’s laptop left me having to fill time, so I took the opportunity to again proselytise about QRpedia (thankfully, the audience were mostly different to that I’d spoken to on the previous day).

A brief rest at a fellow delegates’ neighbouring hotel was followed by a Metro ride to the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism, for another reception, where I had an interesting chat about our comparative health care systems, with American doctor, Roy Poses, President of the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine, one of the session panelists, and chatted to a high-school student from Pennsylvania, who was attending Wikimania, chaperoned by her non-Wikipedian mother. Truly, a fascinating spectrum of people were attending, and made welcome.

Day 6 (Monday) in Washington DC

Sunday continued

Yesterday evening, I followed the instructions, sorry, advice of fellow Pink Floyd fan , and ate a burger at a branch of Five Guys. Wow. Forget McD*n*lds, which is a pale impersonator. This was a tower of succulent meat, pickles and relishes, served with a sackload of fries, cut from real potatoes, not processed mash. And the flavours..! Absolutely delicious.

After that, I did something I’d always wanted to do. I walked, alone into a proper, American bar, “RFD – Love the Beer“, took a stool at the counter, ordered a beer (Founders American Ale, a really good porter from Michigan), and struck up a conversation with the locals. One was a young African-American woman, recently graduated, who was enjoying a Belgian ale. She was very interested to hear about “Beer Beauty“ — perhaps a DC franchise is in order?

Monday

I gave a talk this morning, about Wikipedia and QRpedia, to a bunch of staff from the US National Art Gallery, plus guests from the Smithsonian Institute and other bodies. A daunting audience and this was in a proper auditorium, lights dimmed, and all. I’m pleased to say I acquitted myself well, and received very favourable feedback.

As I was in the gallery, I spent a couple of hours (days would be needed to do it proper justice) viewing the highlights (the only DaVinci painting in the US, works by Rembrant etc.) and the impressionists, including a pair of Monet’s paintings of the Cathedral at Rouen.

The rest of the day was spent riding bikes and waking, taking in the sights, window shopping, and acquiring a new hat; a poor substitute for the one I lost yesterday, which has yet to reappear. I finally saw and at the same time heard an (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and heard a (Corvus ossifragus).

This evening, several of my fellow Wikimedians, from the UK and elsewhere, arrived. I’ve been catching up with old friends, including some from Germany and Holland, who I met and saw for the last time in Amsterdam last December. Monmouthpedia founder and I had a stroll to nearby Chinatown, and a remarkably cheap and filling Chinese meal. Then another beer, a “Fat Tire” amber ale, at RFD.

And then I wrote this. And now I’m going to bed.

The BBC, Open Content and Wikipedia

I had a really interesting meeting with Robin Morley, the BBC‘s Social media lead for the English Regions, a couple of weeks ago. After he gave me a very interesting tour of their premises in Birmingham’s Mailbox (where, in its former guise as Royal Mail’s Birmingham head office, my father Trevor had an office), he described to me the work he does.

We then discussed how his London colleagues insert automatically content from Wikipedia, into the BBC website’s pages on wildlife (example: Barn Owl), and on music (example, of course, ). I contributed to the former by writing markup to make them emit the ‘species’ microformat, of which I’m also the author.

Screen capture of BBC article on Pink Floyd, linked to in post

BBC article on Pink Floyd, including Wikipedia content (links to original article)

They are able to do this because all of Wikipedia’s content is available under a . In other words, anyone can reuse it, for free.

I suggested to Robin that his news staff could similarly reuse Wikipedia content. For example, the article “Birmingham Assay Office silver name plaque stolen“:

screen shot of BBC article linked to from this post

BBC Birmingham & Black Country article on a theft from Birmingham Assay Office (links to original article)

could use text from Wikipedia in a pullout (a sub-section, or box at the side of the article) which might say:

The Birmingham Assay Office is one of the four remaining assay offices in the United Kingdom.

It opened on 31 August 1773 and initially operated from three rooms in the King’s Head Inn on New Street employing only four staff and was only operating on a Tuesday. The first customer on that day was Matthew Boulton. The hallmark of the Birmingham Assay Office is the Anchor.

Services provided by the office include nickel testing, metal analysis, plating thickness determination, bullion certification, consultancy and gem certification.

Text in this section copyright Wikipedia authors, licenced

All that would be required would be for credit to Wikipedia to be given, and the pullout text (but not the whole BBC article) to be made available under the same open licence, as above.

This could be done on articles about all sorts of topics: people, places, organisations, events and more, as well as sports reports.

Robin seemed to like the idea, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he and his colleagues make use of Wikipedia content.

Update: Another post, “The BBC, Regional News and Sport, and Hyperlocal Blogs” about something else we discussed at our our meeting, is now published.

How eBay could help Wikimedia Commons get more open-licensed images

Here is a screen-shot of a recent eBay auction (ends 18 April):

eBay auction page for '18th Century Token Warwickshire General Elliot Henry Biggs 1792 Birmingham'

It’s for a 1792 trade token, commemorating General Elliot and worth a halfpenny at Henry Biggs, of Moor Street, Birmingham.

Here’s the close up of both sides of the token:

Both sides of the token

I’ve taken the liberty of using the latter image without asking permission, to illustrate the points I’m making in this post, and it’s(permission now obtained) The latter image is one of many I could have chosen — eBay is full of such pictures, of old tokens, coins and medals, old books, documents and ephemera, plus all sorts of other objects. Those images lead transient lives, effectively disappearing when their auctions end.

I’d really like to upload it to Wikimedia Commons, the repository of media for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, and freely reusable by anyone.

It could then be used to illustrate Wikipedia articles on the general, trade tokens, and various aspects of Birmingham’s history — and by anyone, on other websites or printed projects. All the benefits of free content would apply.

I’ve written before about open-licensing images, what it means and how to do it.

Of course I could ask the seller concerned for permission to upload their image to Wikimedia Commons, but doing so on an individual basis would be time consuming and require them to send e-mail to a third address, confirming their agreement. Doing this on a large scale is infeasible, and contacting individual sellers many times — or several people contacting them —  would be irritating to them.

I would like eBay to consider (after discussion with me and the Wikimedia community) introducing a feature where their sellers are asked to confirm that they are the author of such images and, if so, to tick a box releasing them under a suitable Creative Commons licence (as described in my earlier post).

These open-licensed images would then be flagged, be searchable, and could perhaps be made available via an RSS feed or feeds.

Wikimedians could then add them to Commons individually, after checking that the subject of the image was not itself subject to copyright (in the case of, for example, a recent book or CD cover). As with uploading open-licensed Flickr images to Commons, tools to expedite this could be written.

Sellers with Commons accounts could even be given the opportunity to upload images to both sites at once.

What about it, eBay? Can someone put me in touch with the relevant people there?

The Prime Minister, Social Media Surgeries and Me

The Prime Minster, David Cameron, really likes me. He’s just given me a “Big Society” award.

Well, not just me, but the whole Social Media Surgery movement, of which I’m proud to be a part. I’ve been standing on the shoulders of, and often shoulder-to-shoulder with, giants.

It all started in 2008, when a couple of very clever friends of mine, Pete Ashton and Nick Booth, decided to hold an event, in Birmingham, to which anyone from a not-for-profit organisation was invited, and where they would get free assistance in using the web, and especially social media tools, to promote or conduct their socially-useful activities, with “no boring speeches or jargon”.

The event — dubbed a Social Media Surgery —  went so well that they decided to repeat it regularly, and as soon as I head about it, I offered my assistance. I’ve been involved ever since.

Over the last three or four years, as well as the original and on-going Central Birmingham surgery, I’ve helped at Social Media Surgeries in Aston, Coventry, Digbeth, Dudley, Perry Barr, Stourbridge and elsewhere, I’ve also set up and run sessions near where I live in Oscott, north Birmingham, and in Walsall, and more impromptu Social Media Surgery sessions at unconferences like LibCamp.

I’m not alone. Surgeries directly spun off from what we do in Birmingham have been held in over 50 towns and cites, in pubs, community halls and cafes, on trains, and in tents at country fairs, and in several other countries.


Me, in my cool shades, helping at Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery in July 2011. © Gavin Wray, CC-BY-NC-SA

Literally hundreds of organisations have benefited. I personally have helped bereavement counselling services, organic fair-traders, residents’ associations, target-shooting rifle clubs, arts festival organisers, parks’ friends groups, model railway clubs, Oxfam supporters, art galleries, cyclists’ groups, hospices, local historians, and many others, to use Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Google Docs, and a host of other online tools. I’ve even taught a few to edit OpenStreetMap or edit Wikipedia, and to avoid conflicts of interest when doing the latter, by declaring them and not being overly promotional.

It’s been one of the most rewarding of the many voluntary activities I’ve performed. And as a result of all our work, we have now received the aforesaid award.

The Prime Minster said:

This is an excellent initiative — such a simple idea and yet so effective. The popularity of these surgeries and the fact that they have inspired so many others across the country to follow in their footsteps, is testament to its brilliance.

Congratulations to Nick and all the volunteers who have shared their time and expertise to help so many local groups make the most of the internet to support their community.

If you work or volunteer for a non-profit organisation, why not pop along to your nearest surgery? And if you already use such tools, even a little, why not pop along and offer to share your knowledge? If there isn’t a surgery near you, why not set one up?

On the other hand, your work is commercial (or you work for a not-for-profit organisation, but require additional or more intensive support), that’s part of what I do for a living. I’d be happy to hear from you.

I should also comment on the name of the award, since the surgeries have been running long before the current government came to power and before their “Big Society” brand was heard of, and would be held even if neither of those two things had occurred. We do this because we want to give to the community and help those who are prepared to try to improve their world, not because of a political ideology.

In closing, my thanks and congratulations, to my fellow surgery managers and surgeons (many of whom have written blog posts about receiving the award), especially those who’ve helped at the surgeries I’ve run and to the patients, whose appreciation and continued use of what we’ve shown them, make it all worthwhile.

Politician pin ups – open-licensed pictures, please

Politicians, like visits to the dentist and taxes, are a necessary evil. We all moan about them, but someone has to take care of the machinery of state.

So it’s important that we hold them to account, and elsewhere document their activities in a neutral way. Hyperlocal bloggers do the former, and the latter takes place on Wikipedia, and on sites like the excellent OpenlyLocal (both of whose content is open-licensed).

To illustrate such articles, bloggers and Wikipedians need photographs of the politicians (and senior officers). While it’s possible for individuals to take such pictures (and even open-license them, as I described previously), it would be better if such pictures were available from official channels. Such organisations already take or commission professional quality shots and make them available to the press. If they don’t already, they should make sure that their contract with photographers pays for full rights, enabling open-licensing.

I recently asked Birmingham City Council’s press office to make their pictures of members of BCC’s cabinet available under an open licence, and, to their credit, they did so. I was then able to use one of them on :

Wikipedia article using a picture open-licensed by Birmingham City Council

Some might ask “but what if the pictures are misused, to misrepresent those people”. Well, if someone’s going to do that, then they won’t bother about copyright anyway, and other laws (libel, human rights) already enable redress.

So come on all you councils, civil service departments, police forces/ authorities and so on — let us have pictures of your elected members and senior officers, free (i.e. with no “non-commercial” or “no derivatives” restrictions) for reuse on our blogs, Wikipedia and other sites. Major companies, too, could do this for their most-public board members.

Then there’s all public bodies’ other photographs. After all, West Midlands Police kindly agreed to my request to open-license the fantastic aerial shots from their helicopter…

St. Martin in the Bullring Church, Birmingham
Birmingham’s Bull Ring, from the West Midlands Police helicopter. Although this picture is ©WM Police, I can use it, here and on Wikipedia, because they kindly make it available under a CC-BY-SA licence

Lightning Talks Strike Twice

I very much enjoyed attending Local Gov Camp North West last weekend. Although it was attended by fewer people than other unconferences I’ve been to (due to people crying off for fear the impending snowpocalypse would leave them stranded in northern wastelands; I mean Preston), this meant it was a more intimate event, the smaller groups allowing everyone a chance to speak more. I curated lots of links tweeted during the event, using Pinboard.

IMGA0025

Rapt attention at Local Gov Camp North West — pic © John Popham, CC-BY-NC-SA

With some attendees also leaving early as news of snowbound roads and delayed trains filtered through to us, it seemed that we wouldn’t be able to fill the final hour’s worth of breakout sessions. This gave me the chance to propose trying something I’ve wanted to do at a GovCamp since experiencing them at GLAMCamp Amsterdam last December: lightning talks.

The three-day GLAMCamp event had one hour of such talks scheduled, but they proved so popular that it was agreed to set aside another two. Anyone who had an idea to pitch, a story to share or a problem they wanted help to solve, could speak for a maximum of five minutes (less if that was all they needed), but unlike most unconference sessions, they could speak to most of the attendees at once.

Details of the GLAMsterdam lightning talks were captured on an Etherpad for Saturday and an Etherpad for Sunday, which have links to individual videos of several of the talks.

Because the lightning talks were only a few minutes long, there wasn’t really time for people to grow bored if a particular talk wasn’t relevant to them, and they could always check their mail or social media, grab a drink or take a comfort break if they did. I gave a quick, inpromptu talk on my deployment of microformats on Wikipedia. Many people, who wouldn’t have elected to come to a full session on the topic, told me they found it useful.

I’m glad to say people at #LocalGovCampNW (as we hash-tagged it) readily accepted my proposal and am grateful for that, and their participation. We restricted the talks to just three minutes (I was ruthless with my stopwatch app), and despite people having had little time to prepare (which I think was a disadvantage), and no use of Powerpoint (unlike at GLAMcamp), we managed to cover several topics in about 20 minutes, ranging from SMS alerts to data visualisation and from promoting an upcoming event, the Eureka Festival of Resources, to my talk on BrewCamp. While some talks were curtailed after the allotted time, conversations could be and were continued afterwards, and online; the interested participants having had the opportunity to identify one another.

John Popham caught the talks on video, as part of his “celebration2.0” project :

Daniel Goodwin, Chief Executive of St Albans City & District Council, said they “provided an interesting insight into people’s concerns“.

Why not try a session of lightning talks at your next unconference?

Bullet points from UK Govcamp 2012

I spent Friday and Saturday at UKGovCamp2012, a splendid unconference, in London, for people interested in the use of digital technologies in local and national government. Or “Glasto for Geeks” as it has famously been described. My friend and fellow attendee Dan Slee has suggested that we all blog a list of 20 thoughts we brought away from the event. I’m happy to oblige.

Steph Gray planning sessions at UKGovCamp 2012. Picture by David J Pearson; some rights reserved.

  1. Our national and London rail systems are overpriced, and the former’s ticketing is ridiculously over-complicated.
  2. It’s a good idea to walk (or cycle) through London, rather then getting the tube. You’ll see great architecture and public art, and get a better impression of how the various districts are laid out. But wear sensible shoes.
  3. Geeks do have great senses of humour. Especially those at our generous hosts and butt of jokes, Microsoft.
  4. There is still a lot of uncertainty about Open Data — what’s it for, what do we want, how should we use it. This is good, because — despite some valid concerns about the centralisation of innovation more generally — there is still room for us to innovate with Open Data.
  5. There are a lot of Brompton bikes in London. I’m determined to take mine on a future trip.
  6. We need better systems in place for using social media in responding to emergency situations. Expect some exciting news about a new project I and some fellow attendees are planning, soon.
  7. Anke Holst does not appear old enough to have a teenage child.
  8. When beta.gov.uk comes out of beta, and current .go.uk domains are “retired”, it’s really, really important that existing links to them, from external sites, still work. And by work, I mean go to relevant content, not a home page. As a very wise man once said, “Cool URIs don’t change“.
  9. It’s possible to spend one or two days at an event with good friends, and still fail to manage to say hello to them. Apologies if that’s you.
  10. Open Data and Freedom of Information are the two are opposite sides of the same coin. If an organisation has people responsible for Open Data and FoI and those people are not either the same, or closely linked, then that organisation has a problem.
  11. Terence Eden is not only (with ) a generous host, but also an impressively entertaining speaker. If his day job fails (it won’t) he has a viable alternative career in stand-up observational comedy. I went to his QR code session not only to learn, but to enjoy.
  12. If you ask them, people who share will kindly change their settings, so others can tag them.
  13. If you put three expert™ Wikipedia editors together in a room you will get at least four interpretations of the Conflict of Interest policy.
  14. Twitter still rocks. Its so ubiquitous (to us) that we forget that; and that some people still don’t get it.
  15. There are — contrary to popular perception — people working in Government who are keen to and do, make the images they produce available under open licences, so that others may reuse them. OpenAttribute may be useful to them.
  16. I want a Scottevest!
  17. People like having the #ukgc12 bookmarks curated on Pinboard.
  18. People recently turned, or thinking of becoming, freelance need more advice and help, and perhaps a support network.
  19. If our wonderful organisers Dave Briggs and Steph Gray are “the Lennon and McCartney of gov digital people”, who is going to be The Frog Chorus?
  20. Beer tastes even better when it’s free. Thank you, kind sponsors.

See you there next year!