Sunday, March 20, 2016

Wikipedia 15

On March 16, 2016, the German Wikipedia celebrated its 15th anniversary. In 2011 Red Baron reported on the 10th birthday of the English Wikipedia that got its first articles uploaded on January 15, 2001. Germany's free encyclopedia was second following only two months later.

Here I like to re-mention my first article in the German Wikipedia published three years later on March 6, 2004, about Karl von Rotteck, professor at Freiburg's university. When I started my Wiki activities the German Wikipedia had about 100,000 articles, now there are more than 1.9 million entries and we are still growing.

The Wikipedia Foundation authorized, i.e., financed our monthly Stammtisch numbered 111 in the form of a seminar that took place in the library of the Institut für Pharmakologie und Toxikologie (Otto-Krayer-Haus) of Freiburg's university.

In his welcoming introduction Professor Klaus Starke, former chair holder, Wiki author, and host of the seminar, introduced Otto Krayer, name giver of the building. Krayer was born in Köndringen near Freiburg in 1899, studied medicine focusing on pharmacology, and obeyed his conscience when in 1933 he was offered the chair of pharmacology at the University of Düsseldorf. Following the Nazi takeover the position had been opened up by removing the Jewish professor. Krayer wrote to the Prussian Minister of Education: I consider the elimination of Jewish scientists an injustice ... I prefer to renounce a position corresponding to my inclination and ability rather than to decide against my conviction ... Needless to say, as a result of his letter Krayer lost his job. He went abroad and following some appointments in other countries he became head of the Department of Pharmacology at Harvard University in 1939.

In his talk on Virtuelle Mediävistik und Wissen im Prozess Professor Bent Gebert mentioned that 79% of the students use Wikipedia. However one of his colleagues had once told his students: Wikipedia is awesome as a first source of information but you cannot rely on anything.

Gebert for his part rather deplored the frequently outdated information in Wikipedia as far as topics about the Middle Ages are concerned and he had noticed how frustrating it was for students to see their written seminar papers graded and then vertically filed.

With these two premises in mind he therefore asked his students to write new articles about medieval subjects in a collaborative and collective effort using MediaWiki. This resulted in a boost of motivation. His students collect, interpret, edit, and stylistically improve contributions to the articles. Instead of living by the atavistic attitude "my knowledge is mine" teams of two to five people successfully work together and are rewarded that their texts will be used and continue to be improved.

The second speaker, Matthias Frank, introduced the Semantic MediaWiki (SMW) that turns "a wiki into a powerful and flexible knowledge management system". Frank gave the following example starting with a

MediaWiki: In the west the city of Karlsruhe touches the river [[Rhine]].

The MW becomes a Semantic MW:

In the west the city of Karlsruhe touches the river [[touches::Rhine]].

This is like a construct of Subject (Karlsruhe) Verb (touches) Object (Rhine).

Red Baron has some experience with relational data bases, e.g., Oracle where information is retrieved with the help of sometimes complicated queries. With SMW it becomes possible to store information in wiki pages that can be queried and published semantically.

Kai Woodfin reported in his talk Translating Wikipedia about the challenge for students of English to translate German texts into English. In the exercise he had perviously used articles of about 300 words taken from the German press. As in Professor Gebert's case the result of all those translations ended in the paper bin. Recently Kai had asked his students to translate articles taken from the German Wikipedia into English. Here again many students participate in the translation of -- what else? -- articles about Freiburg. An example is the Freiburg Bächle where the German version is classified as lesenswerter Artikel (good article). As a side effect of their translation efforts students are familiarized with Wikipedia techniques, e.g., the creation of individual user pages and they learn to read the contents of existing articles critically. So they considered the German article about Theater Freiburg in parts incomprehensible. That raises the question whether their translation in the English Wikipedia is better than the German original.

The seminar ended by slicing and eating the birthday cake pictured above:

Admire the skillful hands of our colleague who had organized all so well.
Thank you, Ireas.

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