Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What a Wonderful Crowd

Announcing Jimmy Wales, the man who started it all (©Wikipedia)
As I had already announced in March, last week Red Baron attended Wikimania 2014, the 10th world meeting of the Wikipedia Community in London. My readers know that I am an active author and editor in Wikipedia Deutschland although the number of my "edits" has decreased with time. The main reason is our rather active local scene - we meet monthly for a Stammtisch - so that over the last years many missing articles about Freiburg's people, buildings and history have been written and thoroughly edited by my peers and me.

The phenomenon of a decreasing number of active contributors to Wikipedia is felt all over the world. Therefore the Wikipedia Foundation is making great efforts to "recruit" new authors. Before I will dig into this topic further let me briefly mention other subjects that were discussed in London.

Free Access to Information

Jimmy presenting the state of the Wiki (©Wikipedia)
In his opening speech Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales congratulated the Community, i.e., us the contributors, for building the greatest encyclopedia the world has ever seen. Everybody should have free access to all knowledge everywhere.

More than 2000 cramped in the Barbicon Auditorium.
Red Baron knows where he sits (A hint: Look for large leg room) (©Wikipedia)
Thus in providing considerably human and financial resources the Wikipedia Foundation is helping developing countries with the writing of their on-line encyclopediae. Here Wikipedia's idea to make all information available to all people is seen under the particular aspect of education.

Education yes, but not like this (©Wikipedia)
In South Africa pupils and students using their cell phones (they all seem to own one) now have free access to Wikipedia's Internet site. The project is called Wikipedia Zero and shall be extended to other developing countries.


Wikipedia's call for open access to all information is a permanent call. One of the biggest problems is Copyright, e.g., on pictures.

As an "illustration" the by now famous selfie of an ape was the running gag at the conference. A curious female macaque had snatched the camera of a wildlife photographer. The camera found later was loaded with a number of weird photos the ape had shot. One of the pictures was a selfie that a Wikipedia author later used to illustrate an article with the result that the photographer requested royalties for "his" picture. Even the Badische Zeitung ran a column about the story.


A big topic discussed at the conference was Wikidata. The present system of storing and particularly of finding pictures in Wikipedia is cumbersome. The photos are stored in a database called Commons in categories (or sometimes not) from where they can be drawn to illustrate articles. When I need a picture my way of working is to upload a photo that I took myself into Commons (hopefully into a correct category) and then place it into my article. There are Community members who prefer to shoot perfect photos rather than to write articles. However, to find those sometimes excellent photos in Commons is difficult for me and others in particular if they are labeled only in a language like Danish or Greek or are uploaded with no description at all.

Here Wikidata should help where the focus is on structured data called items that could be abstract concepts like love, hate or real objects like a kitchen or a broom. Each item has an identifier that is unique in all Wikipedias and a page in which all data of the item are collected.

For a demonstration of Wikidata you go to: https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Wikidata:Main_Page
Search for the item Edison in typing the name into the search field. A list will open. There you chose Thomas Alva Edison with the identifier Q8743 and his page of collected data will open. When you scroll to the end of the page and you will see all Wikipedias in which the inventor has an article.

You may be disappointed. Wikidata is a database not an encyclopedia like Wikipedia. The work of extracting data from existing sources is mostly done by bots. These robots are small computer programs searching for specific information on items in various sources. Although they will not err in searching, the information they find may be inconsistent, wrong, or incomplete. Here is where human intelligence must come in. The Community is asked to correct and to complete the data. You see fields in the page for doing this and you may be tempted to do so. But didn't you not read somewhere that Thomas Alva Edison was a Freemason?

Red Baron in a red polo-shirt (what else?) in the back trying to keep his mouth shut
 in a discussion on Commons and Wikidata (©Sebastian)
As one speaker said: Wikidata is only at its beginning, it is fascinating and unpredictable, and full of unexplored potential.

New Authors

You will encounter a couple of hurdles when you like to join the Community and add a contribution to the open encyclopedia. Creating or working on articles in Wikipedia is not straightforward. Presently you will compose your article in Wikitext, a typing platform that contains elements of html. As a beginner you make your experience sometimes the hard way but you hopefully will learn by doing as Red Baron.

One way to overcome the entrance hurdle is the introduction of a Wikipedia Visual Editor. Although this looks promising its implementation is difficult because people work on different platforms. Some experienced writers in Wikipedia use Wikitext only, others even hate the Visual Editor as in their opinion it will compromise the fine tuning of articles.

Another way to attract new people into the Community is to address their gaming instinct. Newbies should consider creating articles as a game and editing as fun. As with time they encounter experienced colleagues, they will receive medals for their participation in Wikipedia.

Give 'em medals (©Wikipedia)
For me the most promising approach to gain new authors is the automatic creation of stub articles containing a minimum of information with the help of bots. Let me explain: a bot will go through lists of all villages including the smallest hamlet and will place formatted stub articles in Wikipedia for those places not covered. Peopl being frustrated by the fact that their place of living does not have an article in Wikipedia yet may now sit down and just type the missing information into the existing stub article.


In closing Wikimania 2014 Jim Wales honored a couple of people especially the organizers for a job well done.

Wikipedian of the year is Ihor Kostenko, a Ukrainian student, who was shot in the head at Maindan Square in Kiev. He had written 280 articles in the Ukrainian Wikipedia.

Red Baron swimming in a sea of Wiki freaks learned fascinating new things at Wikimania 2014. I had a good life in London with the Community. What a wonderful crowd!

... and a morning delight

No comments:

Post a Comment