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My Knowledge Masters Award for Innovation
Saturday, September 22 2007 @ 01:48 PM EDT

I have just won an award for innovation from the Knowledge Trust and the Louis Round Wilson Academy. I'm telling you because as far as I'm concerned, you won it with me. Here's the wording in the announcement I received:
On behalf of Dr. Jose-Marie Griffiths, founder of the Knowledge Trust and the Louis Round Wilson Academy, it gives me great pleasure to inform you that the Louis Round Wilson Academy has unanimously named you to receive its Knowledge Masters Award for Innovation.

Your commitment and service to the highest principles of stewardship of the world's recorded knowledge are important to every citizen of the world. The innovative work of Groklaw is of indispensable value to those wishing to understand the twist and turns of copyright and intellectual property as related to open source software now and throughout time.

Your work and vision have provided leadership and guidance to others who share your ideals and wish to play a part in 21st century initiatives to secure the record of human achievement for future generations.

When I read it, I blushed. But in a good way. I just couldn't believe it. Somebody actually understood the real purpose of Groklaw, that we were trying to apply principles of open source to a new field, so as to make knowledge of the law more widely available. I called all my family and read that to them. I read it two times to one family member. I was so excited I forgot I had already told her.

The awards were given on September 17. Here are the categories. My category was this one:

Innovation

The Innovation Award recognizes those who further the creative and innovative use of, and balanced access to, the world’s recorded knowledge.

Their website doesn't have this year's winners up yet, so here are all the winners this year in the other various categories:

  • Thomas S. Blanton, director, National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.;
  • Jeffrey Elkner, project leader, Open Book Project and teacher, Arlington County Public Schools, Arlington, VA;
  • John Hanke, director, Google Earth and Maps, Mountain View, CA;
  • Pamela Jones, founder and editor of Groklaw;
  • Brewster Kahle, digital librarian, director and co-founder, the Internet Archive, San Francisco, CA;
  • Ryan P. Allis, co-founder and chief executive officer, iContact, Durham, NC;
  • Thomas Barnett, graphic designer, writer and digital artist, Chapel Hill, NC; and
  • David P. Reed, information scientist, adjunct professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

I know. Who am I, and what am I doing there with these people? The guy who came up with Google Earth? Brewster Kahle? The truth is, though, we did do something first.1 Not everyone on Planet Earth can say that, and it wouldn't have worked without you. Wasn't it fun to work together, doing something no one ever tried before? So, take a bow, and tell all your friends and relatives that you were part of something that will take its small place in history. Tell your grandchildren someday that you were there. As soon as I'm sure it's safe for you, we'll do an official credits page, so you can prove you were there.

It was a black tie affair, and for us females that means a long gown. I have never owned one, so I had to go shopping. As you know, I got royally sick, and so I couldn't be there in person, and my beautiful Cinderella dress I bought for the occasion is just hanging in my closet. But they told me to save it for next year, because those who win awards this year will be formally inducted into the Louis Round Wilson Academy at next year's ceremony.

Of course, once I'm an academician, I won't know youse guys any more. Joke. Joke. We won this award together. I know that the same as you do. If you saw the movie the Parent Trap, remember at the end when the little girls realize their plot to get their divorced parents back together again worked, and one squeals in delight as she slides down the wall behind the easy chair, "We did it! We actually did it!" Well, that's how I'm feeling.

The Knowledge Trust Honors Progarm was set up to do the following:

The escalating need for immediate routes to critical information we can trust is universal. Individual architects of these paths must be engaged in constant dialogue and renewal with informed elders and experts if they are to inspire and engender public trust. As in all eras of rapid revolutionary change, certain enterprises and individuals instinctively adapt to and excel in the new environment.

Individuals who thrive and succeed in the contemporary information environment will become models of excellence for the School, its faculty and the Knowledge Trust, and assist its faculty and founders to redefine and observe new standards for the preparation and discourse that will lead information and library science education in the 21st century.

To identify and encourage leading knowledge professionals, the Members of the Louis Round Wilson Academy has created an annual recognition program of global significance to seek out, recognize and archive the endeavors of Knowledge Masters in all sectors.

I know some of you worried about Groklaw disappearing someday. It never will now, no matter what happens to you or me.

Of course, next year I might feel it's time for a new dress, a red one. Did you know that there are women in this world that pay a thousand dollars for shoes? One pair? Well, I didn't, until I went looking for evening shoes. Look at the red shoes on this discount site, for example, marked down from $935 to $748. You save 20%. Hahahaha. Or for a real savings, spend only $429 for these Pradas on sale. No, of course I didn't. But they are pretty. Someone should do a knockoff. I'd buy that.

I view my principal contribution as being to try to make a hard subject fun to learn. If you listen to Dr. Randy Pausch's Last Lecture on Google video, you'll know what I mean and what I was trying for. Would you like to hear my speech? They were kind enough to have it read for me, because I couldn't be there. Here it is, from my heart:

******************************

I want you to know that this is the most meaningful and treasured of all the awards Groklaw has ever received. Thank you for understanding what I was trying to do with Groklaw. I regret that illness prevents me from being there in person to accept this award. I also wish you could see the beautiful Cinderella dress I bought for the occasion, and I surely wish I could put it on and somehow be there with you.

Please let me explain why this award is so meaningful to me, and then I'd like to briefly share another idea with you.

My dear grandmother, when she was alive, was a research librarian. For much of my childhood, she lived with us. If you ever saw the old Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movie, The Desk Set, my grandmother was the Katharine Hepburn character.

And a character she was. So, thanks to her, I had the advantage of believing from as far back as I can remember that knowledge is important and helping other people find it is a useful and important job. So important they made movies about you, and two men fought over who got to marry you, and the one who valued you for your brains won. That's an unbelievably rich inheritance for a little girl. By the time I grew up and found out that isn't exactly how the entire world works, it didn't matter, because I already had the confidence to try new things and to believe that I could do them.

It was she who taught me how to think, how to find things in a library, how to approach a research project. She had been an English teacher before switching careers in her middle years, and she taught me English too, how to parse sentences, with diagrams that illuminated for me why it matters how one expresses a thought and how to do it effectively.

So from a very early age, I was trained for what Groklaw became, and I know she would be so proud of me if she could see me accept this award. I can't tell you how much I wish she were alive for this moment.

Groklaw started with an idea back in 2003. I had read on Slashdot and other sites many discussions about legal cases in the news, and I saw that mostly people in the technical community had no idea how the legal system worked. And working with lawyers as a paralegal, I knew that most lawyers didn't understand the tech. My idea was to be a bridge between those two groups, so they could collaborate. That was an early idea, and we tried it out with the first case we worked on as a group, the SCO Group litigation against the Linux community, and while that task continues, Groklaw has grown and spread out in its interests and we now cover all legal news of interest to the Free and Open Source software community.

Recently Groklaw has, in fact, begun a new service. We offer to help lawyers understand technical matters that they may need to understand to properly depose an individual, for example. If they send me their question, I post it and the community provides their expertise. In at least one case so far, that help has been significant.

So the idea was that the two communities could really help one another if they only had a way, and that this would help courts ultimately reach better decisions, because everyone involved would be more knowledgeable. And we did it. I knew we could do it because I could see it in my mind. There were variables, but I knew if they played out right, we had the skills. I knew the idea could work, although no one had done it before. Bob Dylan spoke about that feeling once in an interview, and he said he felt that in the beginning. He just knew what he could do. And he said, don't tell people you know you can do something, because they'll try to kill your dream.

The Internet means there's no one to kill your dream. You can just do it. You don't have to persuade anyone or get credentialed or even think about what others think of your idea.

I mentioned my grandmother for a reason. I have another idea beyond Groklaw I'd like to briefly mention, in hopes someone out there is inclined to find a way to do it. I don't care who does it, but I see the idea so clearly and time is running out to implement it.

Not everyone is blessed with a grandmother like mine. Many children today are latchkey kids, and both parents work. So they are impoverished by not learning the many things families used to have time to teach the younger ones. I'd like to see a living history project done, before the current older generation is gone, videotaping the elderly, or rather making it easy for them to do so themselves, letting them talk about what they know. Why should all that knowledge go to waste, when we have the technology for the first time in history to preserve it? They could share life lessons and show how to do things too, like how to crochet or how to fix things around the house. But most importantly, they could tell about historic events they experienced. Wouldn't that be lovely to have? And the more who participated the more valuable such a life history would be. Thanks to the Internet, there need never be another historical event where only one person, like Josephus, is left to tell his one account. History is a group experience, and I see no reason it should not be told by everyone.

So, in closing, I truly thank the Wilson Trust for this recognition, and I accept it on behalf also of the some 12,000 volunteers who contribute to Groklaw and make it what it is by doing the research about the history of the technology and the law, transcribing of legal documents so the visually disabled can easily access the information with readers and so the information is readily searchable, running to the courthouse to get the legal filings, attending court hearings and reporting on legal events in their local areas. These volunteers are from all over the world, making it possible for the entire Free and Open Source community worldwide to work together, thanks to the Internet, no matter where they happen to live.

There is no time in the day, on any day, when Groklaw isn't being accessed by our readers. I know we filled a need, because our growth is all by word of mouth, because we restrict Google access almost completely. People really do want access to information that isn't processed. According to the most recent Netcraft figures I've seen, Groklaw is now number 765 on their list of the most visited web sites in the world, out of the many millions of sites surveyed. I believed people would value information they trust. And they do.

And I'd like to take this opportunity to also thank ibiblio for making it possible for Groklaw to not only spread its wings but to survive all the storms that ensued. Thank you, Wilson Trust, for this wonderful award. I will treasure it all my life, and I hope someday, I'll have a granddaughter I can tell about this award and all it means to me.


1 There was the earlier OpenLaw project, led by Wendy Selzter at Harvard's Berkman Center, which was an experiment in lawyers working together on mailing lists to collaborate in composing legal briefs in the Eldred and DeCSS cases. While not identical to Groklaw in purpose, form or reach, it was an earlier experiment in applying open source principles to the law, the first that I am aware of.


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