Where in the world is Wikipedia?
A bubble map of the global distribution of English Wikipedia edits on 10 May 2011
Why does Oregon
get so much love?
is "the world's first Wikipedia town"
The WikiProject Report normally brings tidings from Wikipedia's most active, inventive, and unique WikiProjects. This week, we're trying something new by focusing on Wikipedia's dark side: the various regional and national WikiProjects that are dead or dying. How can some tiny municipalities and exclaves generate highly active, cross-language, multimedia platforms (see MonmouthpediA and GibraltarpediA) while the projects representing many sovereign countries and entire continents wallow in obscurity? Today, we'll search for answers among geographic projects large and small, highly active and barely functioning, enthusiastic about the future and mired in past conflicts.
Where are we?
Surprisingly, neither the size of a geographic area nor the area's population seems to correspond with activity at WikiProjects. In terms of the sheer number of articles under a project's belt, the United States, India, Australia, Canada, and France each outnumber all of Africa lumped together. Meanwhile, the project covering all topics about the world's most populous country, China, has roughly the same number of articles as the task force covering just United States military history. But simply having a large number of articles doesn't mean people actually contribute or even pay attention to a particular project. After all, the only countries represented in the top 50 most watchlisted projects on Wikipedia are Japan and Germany.
Writing a weekly column about WikiProjects for the Signpost has allowed us to uncover some other peculiarities. For instance, we've interviewed the highly active WikiProject Oregon twice (2009 and 2011). When we approached WikiProject California, Oregon's southern neighbor and the most populous state in the United States, we had difficulty finding editors who thought the project was even "worthy" of an interview. That's a far cry from the strong responses we've had from tiny states like Connecticut and other entities like the District of Columbia. But alas, most of the projects covering states and cities in the US are far from active and, as a sign of the untenable status of many state-wide projects, WikiProject United States has absorbed the technical aspects of most state projects to ensure their neglected banners, templates, and categories don't rot away.
Canada is another matter. Despite a wealth of WikiProjects covering Canadian provinces, territories, regions, cities, communities, and related topics, only a few of these projects have active talk pages, with typical conversation threads for the past year consisting of a couple unanswered questions from non-members and a smattering of bot-delivered notifications. Most discussion of Canadian topics is directed to the Canadian Wikipedians' notice board. The WikiProject Report knows firsthand how difficult it can be to find an active Canadian WikiProject. After two years and several false-starts, we snagged a single editor willing to talk about WikiProject Toronto.
The United Kingdom has the opposite problem. WikiProject United Kingdom is actually an extension of the UK Wikipedians' notice board, although heated discussions may also erupt on the independent notice boards for Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish Wikipedians, as well as the talk pages for WikiProject Scotland, WikiProject Wales, and a variety of overseas territories. The projects covering the constituent countries of the United Kingdom are in such disarray, one exasperated member of WikiProject Scotland commented earlier this year that "nobody really gives a flying f*** about the Scotland-related content here at Wikipedia" to which another editor responded "Scotland is atrocious, but it's the same for most of the US, especially geography, full of stale articles nobody has added anything significant to since Rambot did his ramming."
There are hierarchies of projects representing regions, counties, and cities in the UK that each have their own talk pages, regardless of whether the project is active, semi-active, or inactive. But who actually watches all of these talk pages? If you want to find a lively discussion about the UK, the best places to go are the projects covering politics, military history, the ludicrously productive GLAM projects for Monmouth and Gibraltar, and a variety of transportation projects, whether by road, railway, or waterway.
Discussions about Australian articles tend to gravitate toward the Australian Wikipedians' notice board and the state project for Western Australia, leaving most of the city and state projects as empty shells. WikiProject Sydney's talk page redirects to the Australian noticeboard while smaller cities have retained their talk pages, for better or worse. Most of these projects were thriving communities a few years ago, evidenced by the many talk pages that are sorely in need of archiving. A few active projects still exist for topics like Australian politics and Australian rules football.
Projects for Germany and France each employ a sea of task forces which only show activity in spurts, usually resulting from a heated discussion spilling over from article talk pages. As a whole, Europe tends to be hit or miss. We definitely found signs of life at the active projects covering Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Switzerland.
India has a project, task force, or workgroup for everything, but good luck finding an active one. Most discussion takes place at the Noticeboard for India-related topics. Pakistan also sports a lively talk page and a laundry list of semi-active and inactive subprojects and task forces. Japan and South Korea are better represented than their more restricted neighbors in China and North Korea.
For the rest of Asia, Africa, South and Central America, and much of Europe, an eerie quiet pervades their talk pages. A single WikiProject will exist for each country with dead umbrella projects hovering above to provide some organization by region and continent. The few country projects that have task forces or subprojects often rely on other, more active projects like WikiProject Film, WikiProject Military History, or WikiProject Football to keep these task forces going on a day to day basis.
Why the difference?
The top 10 countries where editors reside, as measured by a 2011 WMF survey
The discrepancy between some geographic areas is likely a result of several factors, but chief among them is Wikipedia's systemic bias (there's even a WikiProject for that). Native English-speaking editors from Anglophone countries tend to contribute most to the English Wikipedia. A 2011 survey conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation found that 20 percent of Wikipedia editors come from the United States, while all other English-speaking countries are in single digits. Together, English-speakers account for 52 percent of all Wikipedia editors across all language versions of the encyclopedia.
With these editor demographics, it is no surprise that English-speaking parts of the world tend to be better represented by articles on Wikipedia and have a wider range of WikiProjects dedicated to building and maintaining those articles. Additionally, countries and regions where English is an official language (like India and Pakistan) or where English-language schooling is common (like some European countries) participate more than countries without broad teaching of English.
Outside of language barriers, access to the Internet is a prerequisite for contributing to an online encyclopedia. Groups who statistically have less access to the Internet are also underrepresented on Wikipedia, including people in developing nations and the poor in industrialized nations. But this does not always explain why certain states, provinces, and cities within the United States, Britain, Canada, and Australia tend to be more active than others.
Communities with large populations may benefit from having a larger pool of potential editors to draw from. On the other hand, smaller communities may be more cohesive and enable closer collaborations and even meetups in real life. Some areas may feature a confluence of notable landmarks, historical events, or recent news coverage that drive residents to contribute or attract editors from outside the area. Other areas may benefit from their obscurity, with highly motivated members attempting to put their town or region on the map.
Finally, there's the pure chance that two or more highly active contributors just happen to be from the same town, province, or small country. Maybe they found each other on the project's talk page or while working on some related topic. Friendships (or animosities) developed until the real-world community became the basis for a WikiProject community. If this is the case, it's likely that more Wikipedians are out there, unaware that their neighbors in real life are also toiling away on Wikipedia unnoticed.
What can be done?
How can this
be a neglected part of the world?
All Wikipedians should take note of all the communities in which they have come into contact at some point in their lives. Where were you born? Where do you currently live? Where have you traveled? Where do your family and friends call home? Where would you like to go someday? Look up the Wikipedia articles for each of these places and see what shape the articles are currently in. Check the talk pages for these articles to see what WikiProjects currently oversee the articles and add these WikiProjects to your watchlist. Finally, start improving these encyclopedia articles. If the people who have lived in these places and experienced their communities don't care enough to improve the articles, why should we expect anyone else to bother?
But don't stop there. Check out the articles for neighboring cities, states, provinces, regions, or countries. Watch their projects' talk pages. For the more adventurous, Wikipedia's greatest need is in the global south. As one blogger quipped, "there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia."
Africa possibly poses the greatest challenge. Every country in Africa has a project, but most serve as little more than placeholders with no significant edits or discussions in years. With 54 recognized sovereign countries and nearly a dozen disputed territories, it may be too much to ask that every one of these WikiProjects be revived at the snap of a finger. But until these communities begin to grow on their own, someone should at least be watching the projects to ensure that questions don't go unanswered and new contributors feel that they're not alone.
Until then, WikiProject Africa, WikiProject African Diaspora, and the unique WikiAfrica can serve as a clearing house for editors wanting to build content about the countries and communities of Africa.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, projects covering Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria saw small bursts of activity, but much of that energy has receded in recent months. WikiProject Arab World can serve as a springboard for reviving and sustaining the projects of Northern Africa and Western Asia, but only if editors are watching and participating.
In Latin America, projects for Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela are growing, but could use help building articles, geotagging, and finding reliable sources. WikiProject Mexico is surprisingly quiet, considering the vast number of bilingual expatriates living in the United States and elsewhere. WikiProject Caribbean alone has 27 subprojects and working groups that need attention.
In Asia, the projects for smaller countries are often overshadowed by China, India, and Japan. That hasn't stopped those smaller countries from drawing contributors. The talk page for WikiProject Vietnam is just as active as China's. The project covering the Koreas has performed admirably, even though tough censorship in the North limits coverage of one side of the peninsula. Editors interested in Asia will find projects from Mongolia to Brunei that could use help.
Europe is not without its shortcomings. The talk page for WikiProject Italy is primarily a home for unanswered questions. WikiProject Hungary isn't even included in WikiProject Europe's list of child projects. The projects for Austria, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Portugal could use more members. If WikiProjects covering large countries like Spain struggle to stay active, what hope is there for the microstates?
The top level projects for the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and India need to determine at what point their vast arrays of child projects and task forces actually impede their efforts. Can some of these child projects be revived or should they be consolidated?
WikiProject United States has already begun to consolidate, streamlining a few tasks while aggravating some active child projects in the process. However, even in the country that is the most covered by Wikipedia, there are significant holes that need addressing. City projects from Miami to Seattle need a facelift. States from Texas to Maine could use a shot of adrenaline. Topics ranging from presidents to superfunds to the wild west are lacking the editors needed to build and sustain their articles.
The United Kingdom needs help improving communication between its separate communities, building on the abilities of its most active projects while coaxing editors to contribute to areas outside their hometown or hobby. As the aforementioned exasperated Scot complained, "we all potter about doing our own little projects." The WikiProjects for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland need rejuvenation and their corresponding noticeboards should either be integrated with the projects' talk pages or merged with the UK noticeboard. Sure, not every project can compete with Gibraltar in terms of editor enthusiasm, but building an encyclopedia requires more than simply keeping calm and carrying on.
WikiProject Canada, while a good place for discussion, desperately needs to revive or consolidate its child projects. A proposal is already being discussed that would redirect the remaining talk pages to the Canadian noticeboard, hopefully avoiding situations "where the occasional post at the sub-projects is met by the deafening sound of crickets."
Likewise, Australian and Indian editors are needed for inactive and semi-active state and city projects everywhere. WikiProject Sydney, WikiProject Canberra, WikiProject Mumbai, and WikiProject Delhi should not be overshadowed by WikiProject Lowell, Massachusetts.
How can we keep it going?
In an attempt to adequately cover projects from all over the world, the WikiProject Report has sought out geographic diversity for our interviews whenever possible, succeeding in some respects and failing in others. A skim of the archives reveals that English-speaking cities, regions, and countries still receive an undue proportion of our coverage. When we do cover other parts of the world, we've skewed toward Eastern Europe and Asia, neglecting much of Africa, South and Central America, and non-anglophone parts of Western and Central Europe. Inequalities even exist among the English-speaking parts of the world. The United States and Britain are represented particularly strongly while Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and others barely register. We've started including WikiProjects from Wikipedia's other languages to expand our horizons, but we'd still like to see more of the English Wikipedia's geographic projects return to fully active status.
Today, we challenge every Wikipedian to find a corner of the world that they already know or that they want to learn more about. Dust off a forgotten WikiProject, add it to your watchlist, and start expanding the neglected articles. It is our hope that more projects from neglected geographic regions will be featured in the WikiProject Report in the years ahead. It can be difficult to find projects with active members who are willing to share their experiences, but if you're willing to seek out new ways to build a better encyclopedia, we'll find you.
Next week, we'll see how one of the most active WikiProjects rewards its members. Until then, we hope you find motivation in our past adventures.