Founding Agreement comments by David Welbourn on 1-19-2005 at 22:13 CST

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As Dave and Nick already know, I am NOT in support of the current proposal to put the ifwiki under the Creative Commons license. My reaction on hearing the proposal was immediate, negative, and violent. So much so, that Dave has suggested that I owe him and Nick an apology. Also, Dave would like me to comment on my position, in the hopes that this issue can be somehow resolved.

Where do I start? My reaction was so negative because of the disgust and horror that filled my mind as I imagined what such a proposal would do if implemented, coupled with the certainty of what would be the result if I declined the proposal. Such a wonderful choice I have been given. As if putting "proposal" in big capital letters or reiterating that it is merely under discussion makes the choice easier. I can capitulate and become someone I despise. Or I can hold my ground and be mocked, pitied, or shunned, risking the loss of friendship.

And I am to explain myself. In print. Again, I have a choice. I can either write to Dave privately. Or I can try my best to describe it here, publicly. The option of silence is denied me. I'm not permitted to let "FUCK" be my final word on the matter. Neither silence nor profanity is useful. Such is not what teamwork is all about. Teamwork is about gathering information, asking the difficult questions, presenting the options clearly, rephrasing what has been already said to make certain the points are understood, and so on.

So if any of the following (or the proceeding) sounds like melodrama, I hope you'll be able to forgive me for it. Explaining my position is something that has been explicitly asked of me.

I suppose I need to start with the IF Theory wiki, the one that contained the Glossary items. If you'll look at how they were done, it became the fashion to sign or put one's initials as the end of an entry. "Original definition by DGlasser", perhaps. Or a more discreet "[ES]". Even I, sheep that I was, did it. Because I thought it was the right thing to do. Because everyone else was doing it. But no printed dictionary or encyclopedia does this. I don't see someone's initials after the definition of tomato, or a signature at the end of a write-up about Japanese culture. Instead, contributors are credited in the opening pages, once, as a group.

And it began to bother me, that these attributions were there. One of my submissions was Zarf's cruelty scale. Who should really get the credit for that? Me, because I copied it into the glossary? Or Zarf, for writing it up in the first place? Why did I sign the entry for "red herring"? Was I really making an honest contribution? Or did I want people to read it and see my name and think, heh, that was pretty good. That David Welbourn, he sure can be funny sometimes.

Greedy David Welbourn. Polishing up a paragraph or two in the hopes for a tiny bit more glory in the "IF Community".

Further developments revealed the shallowness of this attempt. Items in a wiki can be edited. And, of course, if it's proper to credit the original author, then it must also be proper to credit all subsequent editors. "I fixed the grammar and added some links. And here's my name," the neo-contributor thinks to herself. "Well, she didn't know what she was doing," thinks a member of the old guard. "I'll edit her mistakes. And add my name." A simple definition of a term somehow became overloaded with asides and attributions.

Or the entry can be deleted. Gone. "'ROY G. BIV'? What's that got to do with IF Theory? We can delete that." Maybe the official line is that everyone can contribute. But somehow, the prejudices and agendas of a few gets to decide what's important and what isn't.

So. When Dave comes along, a year or so later with IFWiki, I'm a little uneasy. I remember the previous wiki, and my ego, and my foolishness. But lo, the old Glossary is still available, and we can "absorb" it. Dave says Dennis is happy that we're resurrecting it. So, I guess that means it's okay. Since Dennis gave us permission. Even though I'm sure Dennis didn't ask DGlasser, Emily, me, or any of the other original contributors what we thought about the Glossary being "absorbed". Maybe we'd like to think that the Glossary belonged to all of us. But in practical terms, the decision was up to Dennis.

Time for my ego to assert itself again. I think I can say, without contradiction, that I have a rare gift for grunt work involving a lot of repetative typing, cutting and pasting, and formatting. I know I have this talent, and I'm eager to display it. So I quickly copy the vast bulk of the Glossary into the IFWiki. When Dave points out that the discussion parts should be moved into the relevant Talk pages, I don't hesitate to go through the entire Glossary again to do so. Likewise, when the decision is made to put them into a Glossary category, I am happy to go through the Glossary a third time to make these changes. Everyone will be so happy and impressed with me. I wonder when would be a good time (if ever) to start removing the "Original definition by DGlasser" and "[ES]" -type lines, hangnails that they are. Not yet, I think. Maybe when things are more settled, then we can discuss it, I think.

Meanwhile, Dave starts the absorption process with Gunther's Speed-IF pages, and has started a chat on IFWiki itself. Dave starts talking foolishly about how everyone is being wasteful with their efforts to catalogue their own little parts of IF separately, when most of it could be in the IFWiki. Dave starts eyeing Baf's Guide, and wonders how that information might be brought on board. Even though I don't say anything at that time, I knew that sort of talk would not be beneficial. Even as I start copying the Speed-IF information over, I know that this will likely be the last direct absorption. Baf's Guide is too huge to copy, and it would be pointless to try to copy everything in it when it already works so well. Even if Carl were to permit it. Roger Firth flat out denies Dave's request to absorb pages from his site.

And I expect Roger's reaction to be typical. Would Robin Lionheart permit the absorption of the Chronology of Quendor? Would Paul O'Brian permit the absorption of SPAG? Would Stephen Granade permit the absorption of Brass Lantern? Somehow, I don't think they would.

Which brings us to the realm of new content. If IFWiki is to be any sort of resource to be proud of, it's gotta offer something more than rehashed Glossary and Speed-IF blurbs. Nobody quite knows yet what this content should be.

I take a couple tentative stabs at it. I create the Current Events page, and I start work on a list of games from 2004, in the hopes that the list will be viewable and editable by the IF Community in preparation for the Xyzzy Awards in March. In previous years, the list wasn't available early to the community at large, and never directly editable, and I thought this and the Current Events pages would make good use of a wiki's abilities.

Of course, grunt work is a lot easier, and I found myself raiding Baf's Guide and IFMudders' homepages for author info, so I could assemble authors pages that went a bit beyond what Baf's Guide does. There is a tendency to think that Baf's Guide covers everything that everyone does, but this just isn't true. Baf's Guide is primarily a guide to the games in the IF Archive. But not all games are in the archive, and there are other contributions people make besides writing games.

Also, by gleaning information from two places and reformatting it for the IFWiki, I feel confident that I'm not violating any copyrights. I'm copying information, yes, but not the display of it. And further, I make sure that every author page I write has a Links section where I can list the sources for the information I used. It was my hope that by doing it that way, the original authors of the information I used would be acknowledged, and that I would be okay, morally and ethically. And once the pattern was set, others would be able to follow it and do likewise with new pages. I felt I was doing a good thing.

While I was doing all this, other people started their own attempts at new content. To my considerable dismay, they were all of the outlined essay variety. Standalone pieces that were outlined to present a biased viewpoint. Essays that invited you to help "fill it in" if you agreed with the viewpoint, and disinvited related pages on the IFWiki that addressed the exact same topics. Even though I'm dismayed by these developments, I keep it to myself. After all, we're all still trying to figure out what we want. Better to let them have a fair crack at implementing their schemes and discuss what needs changing later. If I criticize now before they've even tried, they're going to get defensive. Perhaps when they see on their own that these essays are top-heavy and don't play nice with the other pages, they'll be willing to change them on their own without my having to say anything.

And then comes the day when the proposal is proposed. And all my worst fears of all the proceeding flit through my mind at high speed:

  • Page after page of (c) David Welbourn. Imagining: Marnie Parker (c) David Welbourn. Or worse, Marnie Parker (c) David Welbourn, David Cornelson, etc. My private shame with the Glossary would be nothing compared to this. How dare I claim to own in any way the names and works of all these other people, even tangently? The information isn't mine! I got it from Baf's Guide and their own pages! How dare I try to wrap these tatters around me, adding my name to each and every one?
  • Imagining those copyright notices propagating outside the IFWiki like a virus. Never to be erased or expunged because a Creative Commons license won't let you revoke it once applied. Ever.
  • Even if that's not how it works, even if it's just a (c) IFWiki rather than (c) David Welbourn, is that really any better? Is there any good reason to forcefeed the name "IFWiki" onto everyone who just wants to use the information? Is there some hidden agenda to brand information under the IFWiki name?
  • If a page starts (c) IFWiki, and someone edits it, does it stay that way? If someone wants to add their name specifically, do all the other names in the page's history become explicit also?
  • What would this mean to my list of games from 2004? If the list is (c) IFWiki in such a way, how could I then give it to Eileen? To accept it, wouldn't that mean part of XyzzyNews has to be (c) IFWiki also? Is she likely to go for that? Not bloody likely.
  • Would places like CAAD, an Italian site which quietly documents much of what happens with English IF, shun IFWiki if it had such a license? Or would the desire to document us be enough that they would welcome being infected with the Creative Commons license? Or, if they ignore the license and copy IFWiki anyway, what am I supposed to do about it? Am I being forced to police my contributions? If I don't agree to be a good Gestapo member, doesn't that make the license worthless? What am I being asked to do here, really?
  • Why are Dave and Nick suggesting this? Are they looking forward to seeing their names or "IFWiki" plastered onto all things IF? Spreading like the clap? A stain that can never be erased? They say they're not interested in attributions, but what else is the license for?
  • What if I say 'no'? Then what happens? Dave is going to press and press and press until I say 'yes', isn't he? He says it is 'just a proposal', but he's already got Nick's support. Nick, who is a proven author and authority on IF. How am I supposed to compete with that? Nick has prestige value. Nick is someone you want on your team. How am I supposed to say 'no' to something both Nick and Dave want? What counterarguments can I possibly say?
  • But I have to say no. Saying yes is too awful. I'm going to be the bad guy. Again. And again, it's friends who are screwing me over. By "doing the right thing". They will be acting in the IFWiki's best interests, they'll say. And it'll be unfortunate that I'm upset about it, but it really couldn't be helped. They'll be sorry I'm hurt. But they won't be sorry about their decision. That's a life lesson I've learned the hard way: that good people, your friends even, acting for the best of reasons, will hurt you.
  • In pain, fear, and frustration, unable to explain, I say "FUCK" and leave the channel.

Some afterthoughts:

  • It's not clear to me whether the proposal plans to have IFWiki as a whole covered by one license, or if each and every page of IFWiki is to get its own individual copy of the license.
  • It's not clear to me who will own the license(s). As Dave keeps reiterating, the IFWiki is not owned by any one individual or even a specific group. And yet, as the example of Dennis agreeing to let Dave absorb the Glossary shows, the owner of the IFWiki is Dave, no matter how he tries to present it as otherwise.
  • It's not clear to me what the license(s) protect, since the nature of a wiki is that its content and format is changeable by anyone and anytime. Remember, copyright protects format and presentation, not raw information. But if the format and presentation can change freely, in what way can this license protect the wiki?
  • Nick's bracketed explanation within the proposal about how we should interpret the license is, I believe, not part of the license itself but a suggestion. There is no reason for me to believe that anyone reading the license has to apply it that exact way, and I believe that once the license is applied, contributors would be within their rights to insist on equally valid but differing interpretations.

-- David Welbourn 22:13, 19 Jan 2005 (Central Standard Time)