Singaporeans are known for taking on major tasks with great efficiency, from building the world's largest ferris wheel, to converting a tiny island into an economic powerhouse and creating a new mathematics rage in the United States. Displaying that same can can spirit, Wikipedians on our Singapore WikiProject have made Singapore one of the most comprehensive topics on Wikipedia.
This week the Signpost interviewed two Wikipedians from Singapore, Jacklee and Hildanknight, about our Singapore coverage and the efforts of WikiProject Singapore. These two SGpedians tell us what brought them to Wikipedia, how they ended up focusing on Singapore (serendipity, as always, plays an important role), and give us some insights into the project itself. With several thousand articles on Singapore, it is hard to imagine what more could be said about the city state but, as Jacklee and Hildanknight point out, there is more work to do and some important gaps in coverage (Singapore–Malaysia relations being a prime example).
Could you share some of your history as a Wikipedian with Signpost readers? Your first edits. Your passions. Why you are willing to spend hours on an unpaid and largely unrecognized endeavor like this one. That sort of thing!
Jacklee: I started editing Wikipedia on 15 September 2006. I don't remember exactly why, but suspect it was because I was looking for some information, saw something erroneous, and decided to correct it. My first article was "Declaration of Religious Harmony", and I have to say it hasn't really changed much since I created it. I've stuck around because I find the process of researching and writing articles very fulfilling. It probably appeals to some innate need of mine to create some order out of chaos, and I suspect I am unconsciously using it as a form of displacement activity to avoid getting "real" work done! I also feel that since so many people use Wikipedia as their first port of call for information, there should be accurate facts available on topics that I'm interested in. I used to challenge myself by writing articles that I know nothing about, and am proud to have taken "Edward Wright (mathematician)", "Emery Molyneux", "Richard Hakluyt" and "Robert Hues" to FA status. But these days I tend to stick to articles that relate to Singapore law (one of my longest was "Pedra Branca dispute") and Singapore personalities (particularly artists and writers, for some reason – recent examples include "Han Sai Por" and "Rex Shelley").
Hildanknight: My first edit, on 11 February 2006, was creating the article GTalkr. At first, I mostly edited articles about websites, but I struggled to understand the policies and was frustrated by excessive anonymous vandalism. Then I started working on two articles about Singaporean movies and chanced upon the Countering Systemic Bias WikiProject, which inspired me to focus on Singapore-related articles to improve Wikipedia's coverage of the Lion City. On 15 July 2007, I Not Stupid became my first GA. Since then, Homerun (film), Denise Phua, Yip Pin Xiu and I Not Stupid Too have attained GA status, taking my GA tally to 5, with Murder of Huang Na awaiting review. I hope my GAs are read by thousands of people, unlike my blog posts (which only a few friends read) and essay assignments (which only my teacher reads). Yes, I have a strong passion for writing and aspire to be a professional writer. I also enjoy doing research and finding out more about things that interest me. There is also that tinge of altruism – that feeling that I am doing something good for the subjects I write about, for my country, for Wikipedia and for the world.
Jacklee: Yes, I agree that the project seemed more active when I started editing Wikipedia in 2006. Nowadays, I don't see editors communicating with each other through the talk page of the SGpedians' notice board much, though from time to time I have received responses to messages that I've left, usually after a while. I don't really know the reason for this. Perhaps members of the project just beaver away at articles that they are interested in on their own without feeling the need to get in touch with other members. That's what I do mostly, anyway.
Hildanknight: Per the 90-9-1 rule, most SGpedians edit infrequently. Some of our best contributors, such as the legendary Aldwinteo, have left, possibly because they became disillusioned with Wikipedia or busy with real life. Then there are editors like Chensiyuan, who are prolific GA writers but prefer not to work on Singapore-related articles. Our Little Red Dot is short of talent. Like our gahmen says, perhaps we need foreign talent, such as Zscout370!
Jacklee: I know that some meetups were held in the past, but at the time I was studying abroad and couldn't attend. No meetups have been arranged since I returned to Singapore. InfernoXV left a message about meeting up on the project's talk page a while back and I responded with a request for more information about what happens at these meetups, but he hasn't replied.
Hildanknight: I attended a meetup several years back. That was when Terence Ong, Tdxiang, Mailer diablo, Huaiwei and other SGpedian pioneers were still active. Unfortunately, I do not remember much about the meetup, except that we walked around the central area of Singapore and chatted about Wikipedia. I am not aware of any off-wiki collaborations. I certainly hope we can organise some, but we would need more participants!
WikiProjects are all about coordination and collaboration. Can you share some of the success stories, articles where the project has come together to push an article into GA or FA status or helped resolve a difficult and contentious issue.?
Jacklee: As I mentioned, I tend to work alone on articles, but did expand "Flag of Singapore". Subsequently, Zscout370, who has a special interest in vexillology, took it to FA. Hildanknight, also known as J.L.W.S. The Special One, has been active in trying to get SGpedians to collaborate on projects. He started the project's GA drive, nominating articles that he regards as having potential and encouraging editors to adopt the articles and take them to GA status. I'm not sure the drive has been a roaring success, but I've tried to do my part by creating or improving articles that I'm interested in and nominating them for DYK or GA status. An interesting project that J.L.W.S. is keen on pursuing is to have a special Wikipedia presence for Singapore on its National Day (9 August) in 2010. This will involve getting a Singapore-related article to GA, having Singapore mentioned in OTD and nominating a few articles to appear on DYK on that day. I'm pretty busy at the moment and expect to be this year, but will do what I can to help.
Hildanknight: With our shortage of regular contributors, collaborations are difficult. In addition, most SGpedians prefer to work alone, which explains the limited success of the GA drive. But the FA Flag of Singapore – a collaboration between Jacklee and Zscout370, with some help from me – shows what SGpedians are capable of when they work together. Another example of a successful SGpedian collaboration would be our very first FA, Mass Rapid Transit (Singapore), which was co-written by two pioneer SGpedians: Mailer diablo and Huaiwei. I believe that Jacklee and I can make the National Day collaboration a great success.
Speaking of contentious issues, are there any major unresolved issues regarding Singapore related articles? I recall, for example, the Singapore Airlines and Singapore Airlines fleet battles, but they seem to have died down. Are there other similar issues?
Jacklee: I started editing Wikipedia after these big debates, so I wasn't involved in them. There was a heated debate a while back about whether articles relating to Singapore's underground system should be called "Mass Rapid Transit" or "Mass Rapid Transit (Singapore)", but I don't think there have been any other contentious issues since then (thank goodness).
Hildanknight: Occasionally, articles on notable Singaporean topics were nominated for deletion (or even speedy deleted). Such deletions exacerbate systemic bias and have caused conflict between SGpedians and non-SGpedians. This could be avoided if nominators would first do a quick search for sources.
Just looking at the huge numbers of articles on Singapore, it seems to me that Singapore is probably one of the best covered areas on wikipedia. Could you point to some glaring gaps in our Singapore coverage? Topics you think are not covered or are undercovered?
Hildanknight: Is Singapore "one of the best covered areas of Wikipedia"? I doubt so. The two most glaring omissions I can think of are Singapore–Malaysia relations and Racial harmony, but there are others. Besides addressing the most obvious cases, we have to improve the depth of coverage. For example, most articles on Singaporean Members of Parliament are stubs or non-existent. But it is up to us to address these gaps through article writing, instead of complaining about said gaps.
Every project has its own special set of problems. Could you outline some of the unique issues and challenges that editors of Singapore-related articles face and give us some idea of how you go about addressing them?
Jacklee: Like it or not, many Wikipedia editors rely on free sources of information on the Internet to reference the articles they work on. This may not be too much of an issue in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States where there are currently a lot of reliable free websites such as those run by newspapers. However, in Singapore the website of the main English-language newspaper, The Straits Times, is largely subscription-only, and even the limited free content expires after a while. The latter is true of the websites of the free tabloid daily Today and the TV news channel Channel NewsAsia. Therefore, to write quality Singapore articles, one has to have access to subscription databases such as Factiva and be willing to research print sources. Fortunately, the National Library of Singapore has just launched NewspapersSG, an online resource of over 200 historic and current Singapore and Malaya newspapers digitized from its microfilm collection. Although the most recent articles are not available – the coverage is currently from 1831 up to 2006 – I hope we will see better Singapore articles resulting from more use of the database.
Another problem is that a lot of stubs are created but never developed into fuller, useful articles. C'mon guys, we've had enough "hit and runs" – stick around and improve those articles!
Hildanknight: Major challenges the SGpedian community faces include:
With our population of only 4.5 million (few of which are native speakers of English), there is a shortage of regular contributors. Thankfully our regular editors, past and present, include some very prolific article writers, such as (only Singapore-related articles are included in the following tallies) Sengkang (63 DYKs), Aldwinteo (15 GAs) and Jacklee (1 FA and 18 GAs, with more to come). With 5 GAs to my name, I still have a long way to go!
Due to our small size and the nature of our media, good sources are scarce. Some sources are in Singlish, Chinese or Malay. Remember, Singapore is a multiracial, multilingual, multicultural and multireligious society. The solution? Print sources and Factiva.
Most Singaporeans are not native speakers of English. In addition, the Wikipedia commuity and culture are far more liberal than most Singaporeans, so cultural differences can cause problems. For instance, Singaporeans may prefer to defer to authority instead of being bold and may follow the letter, rather than the spirit, of policies. But, being Singaporeans, we will rise to the challenge and learn what we need to learn!
Some policies are unintentionally biased. For example, our restrictive image policies fail to consider that in Singapore, photography is banned in many places and people taking photos in public sometimes receive unwanted attention from security personnel. As mentioned above, articles on notable Singaporean topics are sometimes nominated for deletion (or even speedy deletion) by editors who fail to search for sources.
Signpost readers are always ready to chip in and help out. Any message for them on how they can get involved in the project or ways that they can advance the project?
Quality photographs relating to Singapore are always welcome. I can often be found at the Wikimedia Commons keeping "Category:Singapore" in order. Editors can help transfer freely licensed images here at the English Wikipedia over to the Commons, and upload suitable images from external sites such as Flickr. If they are not sure how to categorize such images, they can place them in the main category and someone (probably me) will come along to do so.
Hildanknight: SignPost readers and all Wikipedians, your contributions are most appreciated! Of course, the best contributions would be GAs about Singaporean topics, but you could also help out by:
Adding references to an unsourced Singapore-related article (such as Xinyao).
Copyediting and reviewing Singapore-related articles, especially those which SGpedians are trying to push to GA status.
Fighting vandalism to Singapore-related articles.
Note that these suggestions are not exhaustive; feel free to contribute to Singapore-related articles in other ways that benefit the encyclopedia.
On behalf of all our Signpost readers, thank you Jacklee and Hildanknight for the time and thought put into answering these questions. Readers, our interviewees have shown that even a well covered topic has important gaps and that there is a perennial need for copy editors and Wikignomes of all types. If you have the interest and expertise in any of these activities, or have access to references on Singapore related topics, do try to stop by and help increase our coverage on Singapore. Photographs, copy editing, reviewing, and referencing are some of the many ways that all Wikipedians of whatever stripe can chip in and show the Singaporean "can can" spirit!
Next week, we'll take a look at a project that has a mighty roar (or a number of other sounds). Until then, feel free to sit back, relax, and catch up on the previous editions of WikiProject Report in the archive.