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This week, we interviewed members of the grand WikiProject Russia. Started in November 2006, the project has grown to include 80 members maintaining over 32,000 articles, including 66 featured articles and lists. There are 15 task forces, 5 portals, and a variety of subprojects covering some of Russia's regions and historical periods. We interviewed Ymblanter, Ezhiki, Greyhood, Artem Karimov, and Buggie111.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Russia? Do you speak Russian? Have you contributed to the Russian Wikipedia?
Ymblanter: Russian is my mothertongue, and I was involved for four years with Russian Wikipedia, where I created about 600 articles, was an admin for three years and twice served in the Arbitration Committee. In May 2011, after a sequence of events, I decided that the environment over there became too hostile for me and left. By chance, I knew that in English Wikipedia there was no article on Yakov Bukhvostov, a renowned 17th century Russian architect. I created the article and got a welcome message from Ezhiki, which contained a link to WikiProject Russia. Out of curiosity, I followed the link, found the list of articles for improvement, expanded the recommended article on the town of Solvychegodsk, and quickly discovered that many articles on related topics are in a pitiful state. Since then, I improve (or create where missing) articles on Russian topics which I find important, mostly on physical and human geography and history. I am moving geographically, having created articles pertaining to Arkhangelsk Oblast and currently doing Vologda Oblast. My estimation is that if I still work alone, I will need ten more years to improve/create articles.
Ezhiki: Russian is my first language, but I've been living in the United States for many years now. I've been involved with WikiProject Russia in one form or another since its creation in 2006, occasionally helping with various aspects as it developed. I toyed with the idea of contributing to the Russian Wikipedia in 2004 (the year I discovered Wikipedia), but it was still in the nascent state then, which made contributing pretty much anything quite a challenge. Eventually, I confined all my activities to the English Wikipedia where I remain to this day. And since 99% of the topics I work on Wikipedia is related to Russia, it'd be surprising if I didn't end up being involved with this project at some point. The project, to me, is a focus point where people sharing their interest in Russia can congregate and coordinate efforts.
Greyhood: I speak Russian, and the language is a part of my professional interests. My Wikipedia experience started 3.5 years ago, while I was fascinated with the lists of countries and created many of them, or transferred from other resources to the English Wikipedia with the help of my modest programming skills. I also collected these lists into templates. When all the on-wiki available lists were gathered and most important missing lists created, I realized that there was little to nothing else for me to do in the country rankings area. I attempted moving to the Russian Wikipedia and creating lists there, but it turned out to be of little fun for me to repeat the same work with the language being the only difference. On that point my activities on the Russian Wikipedia mostly ended. By that time, however, I was deeply fascinated with Wikipedia itself, its reading and editing, and so I just went to the topic I knew best, Russia, and started improving the article. I noticed that many key articles and topics about Russia were in a poor state or missing. To fill the gaps quickly and according to my list-crazy habits, I started creating and improving Russia-related lists and templates: List of Russian people, Russian explorers, artists, scientists, inventors, inventions, souvenirs, World Heritage sites, major economical projects and others. In order to make these things, I had to pass over and to check thousands of articles, and soon I acquired a better and more detailed knowledge on the state of Russia-related topics, on which things were missing or needed improvement. I made a huge to-do list for myself, containing the articles about Russian economy and technology to be created or improved. Then I realized that I won't be able to create and improve all those articles in my to-do myself, unless I work hard for many decades. So I decided to join WP:RUSSIA and share my experience, knowledge and tasks with other editors. Together with Ezhiki, an extremely nice and helpful editor, we set up the thematic task forces for the WikiProject Russia early this year, and provided various bot instruments for them (popular pages lists, featured content updating, article alerts, assessment statistics). We are finishing the assessment of all WP:RUSSIA articles with task force parameters, and I'm filling the task forces' to-do lists with the names of most important articles to create or improve.
Artem Karimov: My native language is Russian. I have contributed to Wikipedia since 2006 both in English and Russian-language editions. Although most of my edits lie in the area of the neighbouring WikiProject Metros of the former Soviet Union rather than that of WP:RUSSIA directly, my edits are still aimed at improving articles about Russia. In my opinion improving articles about Russia helps bridge the gap between English-language readers and us, Russians. Feeling that because of your very edit the foreigner comes to know your homeland better and the stereotypes get broken is what has motivated me to participate in building an encyclopedia for these 5 years.
Buggie111: As half my family is Russian, I have strong ties to it and speak it fluently. My main Russia-edits here are on Russian battleships, the Moscow Monorail and the city of Bronnitsy. I have waded through ru.wiki a bit, but only for some maintenance work and a poorly accepted GAR.
The project is home to 56 Featured Articles, 9 Featured Lists, 25 A-class articles, and 183 Good Articles. Have you contributed to any of these articles? What are some challenges faced by editors trying to improve articles related to Russia? Do you have any tips for editors bringing articles through the FA or GA process?
Ymblanter: No, I was not involved in any of these. The problem is that the majority of editors in the project are ethnic Russians, and we sometimes have troubles creating flawless prose (like correct placement of "the" or using correct tenses and so on). Every such editor would need to seek help of native speakers in copyediting and review.
Ezhiki: The majority of those articles cannot, unfortunately, be credited to WikiProject Russia. While they all fall into this project's scope, most of them became featured via the efforts of other WikiProjects or individual editors not connected to WikiProject Russia.
As far as my contributions go, I have one featured list under my belt (List of administrative and municipal divisions of the Republic of Adygea), and I made a lot of minor contributions to a good number of other FAs, FLs, GAs, and regular articles alike.
Thinking about the major challenges this WikiProject faces, I would have to say that the main one is the lack of manpower. The WikiProject has existed for five years now, but at no point of time did the number of active contributors exceed half a dozen, and even those participants tend to stick to one or two subject areas they are particularly interested in. Needless to say, collaboration in such an environment is difficult, and everyone is all too often left to their own devices. The project also lacks a good organizer, a person who can motivate other participants, develop a strategic plan of growth, and coax others to act. The scope of the project is huge—Russia has over a thousand years of history, a vast territory, and a rich cultural heritage—there is a potential there for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of articles. However, only a very small portion of this potential is presently covered in the English Wikipedia in any form, and even a smaller portion is of acceptable quality.
I also agree with Yaroslav that the language barrier is an issue. Editors knowledgeable about Russian topics and possessing a good command of the English language are a rare breed indeed, but the language barrier also works in reverse—native English speakers interested in Russia have access only to a very limited set of sources in English; doing more requires a good command of Russian, which isn't exactly a popular language to learn in the West.
Greyhood: I have contributed to several good and featured articles, but mostly when they were already GA and FA, with an exception of the Renewable energy in Russia. As Ezhiki has correctly said above, the majority of WP:RUSSIA featured content exists thanks to work by other, often related, WikiProjects or individual editors. Unfortunately, WP:RUSSIA currently lacks manpower and procedures for major collaborative works of many editors. But we are fulfilling different kinds of tasks now, and personal collaboration between two or three editors is commonplace. Lack of manpower and organization are major issues, but I hope we will be able to overcome them in future, just as currently there is progress in other areas, such as project's infrastructure, article assessment and access to illustrative material. The latter used to be quite serious issue in the past, but the situation has significantly improved in recent years and months. Thanks to user Russavia, who managed to procure a permission from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's press secretary Natalya Timakova to use images and media from the presidential website Kremlin.ru, now we have a lot of free illustrations for articles about Russian politics. Thanks to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, which started donating images for Wikipedia this year, now we have some free high quality documentary photos to illustrate the articles about World War II, Soviet history and Russian economy, and hopefully will have more if RIAN continues donations.
Buggie111: I am able to take credit for one FA and have helped out on other FA's and GA's. The words above are true, since my addition to the project, I've see very little talkpage action compared to WP:MILHIST or WP:FOOD.
The project is the parent of 15 task forces. Are you involved with any of them? How active are these groups in general? What are some tasks that WikiProject Russia has delegated to the task forces?
Ymblanter: No, I am not involved, and my impression is that the project now is so much understaffed that basically the same people are running the project and all task forces. In this sense, nothing has been delegated.
Ezhiki: The task forces are a brainchild of User:Greyhood, who's been instrumental to the revival of the whole project in the past year or so. I've been involved with the technical side of setting them up, while Greyhood is the one primarily responsible for their content and structure. The idea is that having well-defined task forces will help new participants (or old and bored participants) to easily identify the areas which are in need of most work, as well as to provide some ideas to those looking for something to do and not knowing where to start. The task forces were only recently implemented, so it's still early to judge whether they are a success, but there have already been several occasions when articles were found and improved using the task force infrastructure. As the number of participants increases, the benefit of having the task force infrastructure already in place should become even more pronounced.
Greyhood: The task forces are a recent innovation, their pages are still in the process of construction, and many WP:RUSSIA participants have not yet been notified about this new development. However, by now most of the work on the task force to-do lists is done; some 90% of WikiProject Russia articles are assessed with task force parameters (sorted into subtopics), and an additional 19,000 articles have been added to the project since the start of assessment campaign this year, almost doubling the size of the project's article inventory. I hope that when the assessment and the task force pages are 100% ready, and when more editors are made aware of the task forces and join them, we will be able to delegate some tasks and organize collaborative work better.
Does the project collaborate with the projects of neighboring countries or with projects that focus on historical countries like WikiProject Soviet Union?
Ezhiki: We are certainly open to collaboration with any such projects; unfortunately, the ones which have most overlap with ours are also the ones which are mostly inactive. Those which aren't face the same problem of the lack of manpower as WP:RUSSIA.
Buggie111: I created Portal:Moscow from scratch, mainly because other capital city portals were in existence. I don't think there was any clear-cut plan, however.
Ezhiki: Buggie111 is right—there is currently no plan to do anything about the existing portals or to create new ones. The ones which already exist were created by individual enthusiasts, not as a part of a WikiProject initiative. That said, if someone is itching to do some portal work, they are most welcome to join and do so!
What are the project's most pressing needs? How can a new contributor help today?
Ymblanter: We just need more manpower. In my opinion, the best help would be to systematically identify important missing articles/stub and just to create/improve them. It does not currently happen on a regular basis.
Ezhiki: We don't just need more manpower, we need a lot more of it. The project is presently fairly well-organized and makes a number of useful tools available to the editors, but it takes people to use those tools and to act on the findings. My advice to a new contributor would be to find the task force closest to his/her talents, and just start working on the articles identified as needing work.
Artem Karimov: As Steve Balmer walked around shouting "developers, developers", we need editors, editors, editors. For example, when we design a change in the layout of Moscow Metro stations articles, it is not possible to implement all of them immediately. Why? There are more than 150 of them. If we had 150 editors, work would be much easier.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Ymblanter: I try to avoid by all means any disputable topics, but I know that some of the project members are involved in these. It would be good to have an opinion from them on how these disputable issues are handled.
Next week, we'll try to find a solution to the global financial mess. Until then, bring your entrepreneurial spirit to the archive.