A while ago, Brenda Dayne of the Cast-On Podcast, got off on a "free culture" and "wiki" kick and there was as a result a bunch of buzz in the knitting world about building an encyclopedic collection of knitting information.

I have say that encyclopedias, even new Wikipedia-esque projects are probably always doomed from the beginning. The balance between specificity and generality is really hard to play correctly, and possibly the larger problem is that encyclopedias are predicated on some sort of existent universal objective positionally, which frankly doesn't exist. All knowledge is culturally and historically constrained, and encyclopedias need to minimize this for the sake of their projects. But this is a criticism of encyclopedias in general, not specifically of wikipedia or wiki-style encyclopedic project. And I think I should be quick to reiterate a point that I've made before that the wiki format should not really be defined by the encyclopedic structure despite the success of wikipedia.

Back to knitting and "free" distributions: Some knitters took issue with the GFDL, which is a permissive licensee that Wikipedia uses and was designed for the documentation that accompanies Linux and other free software. The issue with the GFDL is that not only does it allows anyone to edit it and distribute it, but it also allows anyone to take any GFDL (or GPL, the software counterpart) content and sell it and make profit on the content, provided that their work is also licensed under the GPL or GFDL. What this means for "linux companies," like Red Hat, or Novel can sell you linux, but they have to provide the source code, and if you want to start a version of Linux (or company that uses Red Hat code,) you can, without consequence. Provided that if you distribute that version of Linux to anyone else, you have to also give your code away.

For instance, it's pretty clear that Google has an internal Google-Linux version, that's different from anything else on the block and you can't buy it or get a copy of the code, but since they don't distribute it at all, it stays in the company and they don't have to give away copies of the code. The way most Linux companies make money is they say "here, buy this linux software, and we'll give you technical support for a given period of time," or "we'll install the software and configure your machine," and so forth. In a very real sense, the money that you pay "for" linux or other free software is really for auxiliary services, not for the software.

Some knitters had a problem with the fact that other people/companies could take their work/writing from a GFDL source and sell it without any of that profit going to the original author. There was a move toward a Creative Commons licenses, amongst knitters, so that a "non-commercial use," could be negotiated. While I like this idea, and I think Creative Commons licenses are a great thing, in this case it means that (since a wiki project) is community project, it's quite likely that no one can exercise a commercial use of CC content.

For instance, it's my understanding that while I have a creative commons license on TealArt that allows anyone to redistribute or create derivative works provided that they "share alike", you can basically do what ever you want with TA content so long as you don't try to make money off of it; I (or the other authors) can take TealArt content and use it commercially. In such a community situation, this wouldn't be possible, and I suspect that such a license in a community situation means that no one can make money (even the "original" creators) off of the content. But I'm not a lawyer.

This isn't to draw attention or notice away from Sarah Bradburry's KnitWik, which I think is a great project, but I think there are some serious reasons to consider a more GPL/GFDL like approach. This fits in line with my earlier discussion about monitizing creativity, and also I think it would be worthwhile to reconsider the analogy between open source software and knitting, because it seems to me that if open source is such good idea for software (and I think it is in the long run) then it very well may be a good idea for knitting if we get the analogy right.

I think I'm probably done for the moment, but I wanted to create a small list of ideas and question that I'd like to address in the future, related to this idea:

  • Is there a layer of information that goes into knitting design and documentation that isn't typically exposed in "closed"/conventional publications? (that would be equivalent in role to source code)?
  • The role of editors and communities and the sometimes very
    "conventional" development models that "open" projects use.
  • The way GPL/GFDL knitting projects can be used commercially.
  • Technological methods of attending to such a project.

If you have an opinion, please chime in.

Cheers, tycho