You're the Director Now

Last summer, filmmaker and AlterNet columnist Rory O'Connor traveled halfway across the globe to document "WikiMania," the first global gathering of the self-styled "wikipedians" responsible for the phenomenal growth of the free online encyclopedia that has become one of the world's most popular websites. By the time he returned home, O'Connor, head of media company Globalvision Inc., was ready to hop on the wiki bandwagon himself. Instead of making a documentary about the WikiMania phenomenon, he decided to create the world's first "Wikimentary."

"We need to do more to encourage open participation in media," says O'Connor. "We need to open it up to more voices and get rid of this notion that media-making is only the realm of a professional priesthood."

The concept of the wiki -- a computer program that allows anyone to create, modify or edit -- is the brainchild of software developer Ward Cunningham, who designed the first "writeable web page" program about a decade ago and dubbed it the "wiki," after Hawaii's 'wiki-wiki' quick transports (everything you ever wanted to know about Wikis is HERE).

The not-for-profit organization Wikimedia first adopted the wiki tool to create and, later, a host of other citizen-authored reference works. (Instead of Webster's, there is Wiktionary, an online dictionary and thesaurus; for Bartlett aficionados, there is Wikiquote, etc.)

Now, O'Connor and his partner Danny Schechter have expanded the open source media universe to include visual media -- a citizen-authored wikimentary.

At WikiMania, they interviewed everyone from wiki creator Cunningham and Wikipedia driving force Jimbo Wales, to open source bigwigs Richard Stallman and Mitch Kapor, taped dozens of keynote speeches and work sessions, wrote a script and edited a 13-minute "rough cut" of the proceedings. Then, in the wiki spirit, they posted it and all the media they had shot on the web for others to edit as they liked. A wikimentary. O'Connor chose to make the material free to use under a Creative Commons License, and it is available for download.

"What it really means is that anyone can participate in the making of one or literally countless versions of a 'WikiMania' film," O'Connor says. "Anyone can download all or part of the video material, add new material, and create new videos on the same issue. It's an exciting experiment and the ramifications are enormous."

The wikimentary also creates an opportunity to address the credibility issue of information found on the internet while capturing attention through video. Due to heightened media attention concerning the recent Seigenthaler affair -- where John Seigenthaler discovered his false biography on Wikipedia -- stringent actions have been taken. Seigenthaler was accused on the web encylopedia of being a suspect in the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and evenutally took legal action. Volunteer administrative wikipedians are now designated to remove false text and even lock entries when deemed necessary.

"The wikimentary is an idea that can shorten and perhaps one day eliminate the gap between media makers and users, also known as "producers" and "consumers," says O'Connor. "Working together, we can create a new tool and a potentially global revolutionary power to democratize media and the spread of information."

Similarly, by taking strides to create their own Wikimentary material, artists can improve society and change the future for the better, just as it has already proven in other wiki areas. It is also an opportunity to bring back core values of journalism that have disintegrated in today's society.

"Media organizations and individuals must learn to surrender control. Paradoxically, by doing so, they'll ultimately end up maintaining more control," remarks O'Connor. "Those who embrace these changes will prosper in the future -- and those who don't will wither and die."

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