Having a (Red Rubber) Ball With Wikipedia

Jimmy Wales, CEO of WikiMedia, was the closing speaker at Sun's Worldwide Education and Research Conference this week. His talk was the last in a series of fun, work-filled experiences of the week, including spending a day with James Gosling, treating Greg Papadopoulos to a Jersey breakfast sandwich, and visiting the American Girl Place with Ingrid vandenHoogen while we talked about branding, and participation. It was work and fun together in every way.

More on Jimmy Wales later. He gets his own entry. First we need to have a ball. Literally.

I ended last week by sending out copies of Kevin Carroll's mini-book, Rules of the Red Rubber Ball, to my entire staff. Carroll was the brainpower behind Nike's "Play" ads, and has a remarkable feel for global communities. In his book, he asks a series of fundamental questions about how we derive happiness through our work, and two of them stick out to me: "What gives you primal joy?" and "What would you do for free?"

If you see the beginnings of some open source commentary, you're on the right track. Wikipedia is an open source encyclopedia. People add entries because it's fun. Sometimes it's vanity speaking but most of the time it's an interest in sharing knowledge, however narrow. It's fun the same way that winning Trivial Pursuit (without cheating) is fun.

Rather than ruminate, I edited. My first thought was to add some of my peculiar knowledge of things Princeton to an entry. Ingrid had accused me of being "over the top with number 8", but she has no clue how bad it is when it's Tiger related. Checked the Colonial Club article to see if Eric Schmidt was mentioned, and alas the first recorded use of Wikipedia to get to Google (rather than the converse) proved me late to the game. Instead, I added a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald's reference to Colonial in This Side of Paradise, in which the salad bar host of my salad days was termed "flamboyant."

I could have easily have added comments about the semi-official club sound (vocalization, not creaking, although the difference is minimal), or the fact that Colonial was the only eating club to have "Club Fool" as a titled officer (I'd name him, but he's currently trading bonds for a major European investment bank). I thought about said Club Fool's rubber chicken appearing on ESPN (twice) during the 1984 NCAA basketball tournament, being tossed into the live camera shot much to the delight of the other club undergrads who were in on the joke and cheering wildly at home.

But that's precisely the limitation: most of that fun is interesting or mildly amusing only to a hundred or so people who share common memories with me. What I tried to add to Wikipedia was a connection between Princeton, Colonial and the author most of us read in high school. With that angle, I tied fun and work together. The joy wasn't perhaps as primal as watching a rubber chicken take flight, but I'll do it again. For free. And perhaps make a new work habit out of it.

Participation age. Share. Everybody and everything connected on the network. Big words around our big branding campaign. In a sterile environment, they are what Wales called "un-fun" ideas. But tie what you love to what you do and the vehicle for its free, global delivery, and it's fun. Rules to live (and share) by.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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