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Wednesday, 3 September 2008

A new wiki experiment/manifesto


As regular IPKat readers will know, before I became an IPKat co-blogmeister I had the idea of setting up a wiki containing all the IP law an aspiring UK patent attorney (which I was at the time) might need at their finger tips in preparation for taking their foundation or finals papers, but which would also be useful for them once they qualified.  This was created at ukpatents.wikispaces.com back in July 2006.  The site has now been going continuously for just over two years, having been built up, updated and annotated where necessary in the meantime.  It contains linked versions of the UK patents act and rules, together with the registered designs act, the CDPA and a fair amount in the way of annotions in the form of links to case law and other resources. 

What wasn't really known at the time was how keen other trainees and patent professionals might be to contribute.  It turns out (at least from the site's access statistics) that many are apparently keen to have the benefit of such a resource but, with some small exceptions, there has been very little in the way of active contribution.  This is a tad disappointing but, as Geeklawyer recently pointed out, not entirely surprising given the pressures that lawyers in general tend to be under (billable hours really matter, by the way).

As a result, I am a little sceptical about the possibility in the foreseeable future of a wiki-type 'free legal web', as envisaged by Nick Holmes (see the vision here), and also doubt whether there is sufficient impetus for the more fantastic-sounding vision of a Wikipedia of English law, as suggested by Richard Susskind (coincidentally, only a couple of months before the ukpatents wiki was born).  After all, for such a resource to be realisable, the professional time of real people would be needed to create and maintain it, and those people really need to be trained lawyers specialist in their field, and not just technicians or students. Where is such a resource to be found?

In the meantime, the ukpatents wiki had been left in a situation where it was freely available for all to view, but the work of updating it was clearly not being shared.  To me, this all started to seem a little unfair, and I was tempted to simply rein it all back in and use it instead as a purely personal resource (which is where it started), partly just so I wouldn't get any stick for it being out of date.  However, after a little rethink, I have decided that, for an indeterminate experimental period at least, the site will carry on being freely available but only to those who become members, and then only to members who are willing to admit to who they are in real life. Any contributions that are made can then be attributed to real life people, with real life reputations to build and uphold.  The site organiser (whether me or anyone else) can also keep an eye on, and communicate with, those who are actually making use of the site.  

It seems like a good idea to me but the IPKat and I would be interested to know if any readers have any better ideas. Are open legal wikis the law the way forward, or not? Are closed and supervised wikis a better idea? Are there any other experiments out there that might show the way? Is there a possibility of getting more engagement from the legal profession in such schemes, or is the legal profession one that simply does not fit with this kind of collaborative venture? All suggestions gratefully received. 

Photo credit: suzijane/flickr.

7 comments:

Francis Davey said...

Its an interesting conundrum. I think there is some future in this kind of undertaking, but quite what shape it should have I don't know. I will (I hope) be attending Nick Holmes's barcamp on 18 October and I will throw your comments into the pot.

A key difficulty with wikis is (inter alia) a lack of individual recognition. One of the drivers for many lawyers to write is just exactly the marketing/reputation that it affords. A wiki ends up submerging the author's contributions to the extent that it is hard to gain that same reputation. Or at least I think that it is not sufficiently foregrounded.

Maybe some collection of knols (assuming they take off) is an alternative, or some other way of generating the work.

There is also a need to generate traffic. I tried a similar project a while ago, but could not get people to read it. Even I lost interest - why write what no-one will look at.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that the lack of interest in David's wiki has lead to many readers of the IPKat just seeing a white box in the left hand column.

Anonymous said...

May be the lack of contribution comes from a reticence to change something which appears to the reader to be incorrect but may infact not be. Is there a function to email proposed changes so if they are blantantly incorrect the integrity of the wiki is not compromised? This may be particulary true if, as you seem to suspect, a lot of the users are students.

David said...

If the last commenter had used the wiki, they would notice that there is a 'discussion' facility on every page. This is a useful way to point out any possible errors or omissions without affecting the integrity of the page.

Nick Holmes said...

I should stress that a "Wikipedia" was Susskind's wording, not mine. For reasons which Francis gives here and on the FLW blog, a "Wikipedia" is not the answer. For the FLW to have the authority it will need and for contributors to achieve the recognition they want and deserve, a closed system will be necessary. That's not to say others shouldn't be able to comment and contribute, just that the integrity of the "articles" needs to be demonstrated and preserved.

Please do comment on the FLW blog and please do participate in the Barcamp.

Nick Holmes said...

Correction - Rather than a "closed system", I meant that contributions and edits should be restricted, not access.

Stephen Moore said...

For just under a year now CaseCheck (www.casecheck.co.uk)has been delivering high quality Scottish Court and Employment Tribunal case summaries, articles and expert opinions to over 30000 unique visitors - for free. To me the free legal web is a certainty with the only question being ‘free, yes, but to whom?’ CaseCheck has been a success thus far because law firms and stables of advocates (barristers’ chambers) understand the freemium model where they can form a relationship with CaseCheck’s users. Such law firms pay to mark a category as their own. Their content is fantastic and therefore CaseCheck and the free legal web is,potentially, of realy value to its users.

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