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Share of featured articles in the English and German Wikipedia

The following is a posting to the wikien-l mailing list in response to a question Pete Bartlett raised and to which Stan Shebs formulated a theory. Feel free to edit it, though. --Elian Talk 03:19, 27 April 2006 (UTC)

Pete Bartlett
"Why is de: better than en: is a great question. They appear to have covered classic encyclopedic topics much better than en: and their proportion of Exzellente Artikeler is double that of our FAs, despite standards. How to learn from de would be a great thing to discuss."
Stan Shebs
"In a word: "Ordnung".
The full range of connotation is not easily translated into English, but the disambiguation page for de:'s Ordnung connects to lots of telling things, such as en:'s social structure and the like. At the risk of playing amateur sociologist and offending everybody, I'll opine that while the German cultural liking for "Ordnung" sounds to USians and Brits an awful lot like a compulsion to "follow orders", in the WP context I think it translates to a greater sense of duty to help achieve communal goals."

"As a German Wikipedian, I would dispute this. It is definitely not Ordnung and a sense of duty which makes the difference between the English and German Wikipedias. And even if this claim comes up again and again, I'm not even sure that German Wikipedia is really better than English Wikipedia. They are different and have different strengths.

Now... let me collect some differences, I leave it to the reader to draw his own conclusions.

On 2nd April 2006 the category:Living people on en contained 81,930 entries while the number of all German articles which were tagged with Personendaten (= almost all wikified biographies) was 86,830. I was surprised.


When I compare RfA on en and de, I counted some support votes on en: 31, 53, 45, 48, 61, 81, 28, 76, 50 on de: 72 (losing candidate), 6 (losing candidate), 93, 143 (losing candidate!), 92, 55 It seems rather strange to me that the bigger community has less participation on such an important topic as is "who should become an admin". I didn't look at the criteria voters use on en, but they might be also a bit different. On de candidates who really do a lot of useful cleanup work are regularly turned down if they are not able to show that they are also good authors. Other no-nos are bad behaviour, ignorance, and especially ignorance and wrong actions in image copyright questions.

Social structure

The German Wikipedia has a geographical advantage here because it covers a smaller area than the English. I may be a bit exceptional, but I estimate that I've met at least 150 Wikipedians in person. Those 150 Wikipedians know others who know others... there is a rather close network of personal relationships among German Wikipedians (including, of course, the Wikipedians from Austria and Switzerland). This becomes especially important in case of conflicts: a good editor becoming wikistressed, deleting his userpage and quitting? He'll be flooded with emails and maybe a calm discussion with one of his friends on the phone will sort the problem out.

Let's look at the structure of the IRC channels now. English Wikipedia has the general channel #wikipedia with an extremely low signal to noise ratio, the a bit more quiet #wikipedia-en and - I may be mistaken on the following: a closed admin channel, a bootcamp, mediation, probation and Esperanza (whatever this is).

German Wikipedia has: the general channel #wikipedia-de for socializing, coordinating general work on the wiki, discussing events on wp, calling an admin for quick vandal bans etc. Rarely people who chat too much off topic (=not Wikipedia related) receive a friendly kick. Other channels: #hist.wikipedia where most historians hang out. #phil.wikipedia - meeting channel for the philosophers. #bio.wikipedia - home of the biologists. Some people frequent only the topic channels and not the general one. The biology channel was the first topic channel set up, and reflects the strength of the German Wikipedia in biology. The Projekt:Lebewesen (living beings) is the most active project on de and their work fills one whole column on featured articles alone (the historians are catching up).

General atmosphere

It's difficult to get hard data on this, but the thing I hear most often is: atmosphere on the English Wikipedia is much more relaxed and people are friendlier and politer. There are even a few users who left the German Wikipedia because of this reason and work only on en. So it might be true. This feeling is often connected to the behaviour on AfD. Hurtful comments are frequent there, combined with a much lower threshold for deletion in an AfD: articles which are tagged as stub on en are usually proposed for deletion on de (and either expanded or deleted).

One group of prominent editors sticks to the maxims on the page "Be cruel" ( ). This is not meant literally, but in the sense of Larry Sanger:

 "To attract and retain the participation of experts, there would have
 to be little patience for those who do not understand or agree with
 Wikipedia's mission, or even for those pretentious mediocrities who
 are not able to work with others constructively and recognize when
 there are holes in their knowledge (collectively, probably the most
 disruptive group of all). A less tolerant attitude toward disruption
 would make the project more polite, welcoming, and indeed open to
 the vast majority of intelligent, well-meaning people on the Internet." 
                                            --Larry Sanger

Referring to this "meme" (it's not a guideline), users have - undisputed by the community - been blocked for "disturbing good authors from writing articles". Leads to blocking and banning customs. The German Wikipedia has no arbitration committee. A poll to establish one has not reached a necessary majority, the community divided about the question. Long term bans are decided by a community vote, short term bans are pronounced at the individual admin's own discretion. If another admins thinks a ban too harsh, he may shorten or lift it. Wheel wars about such issues are rare, though. Usually an admin who gets into too many wheel wars is desysopped - not instantly, but after a while.

Celebrities and experts

The following is an observation, based on a few discussions in the english wikipedia which follow a certain pattern:

I recently tagged Everson Mono Unicode for deletion per WP:NOT, writing "Wikipedia is not a font catalog". Should it be? Realistically, the trouble with putting fonts into Wikipedia is that you probably can't show font samples without having copyright problems, and a font catalog without font samples is worthless. --John Nagle 05:48, 6 June 2006 (UTC)

I'm Michael Everson and I didn't know that Tarikash had put up an article about my font until today. There are a number of other Unicode fonts which do have articles (Arial Unicode MS and Gentium for instance), also adding mine wasn't a new sin by any means. I'll be happy to improve the article, if you'll remove the tag for deletion. As far as notability goes, Everson Mono was one of the first fonts to try to have a large repertoire of characters, and in glorious monowidth. Evertype 07:42, 6 June 2006 (UTC)

In the english Wikipedia it seems increasingly common for people who are notable enough to have an article to participate in Wikipedia as normal users. Evertype is just an example, there are more and more notable people. It seems to slowly become fashionable to have a user account on Wikipedia. In the german Wikipedia "border-line" notable people are often driven away, if their biography or article about their work is put in question in deletion debates. If there are real notabilities participating as authors, they usually don't identify themselves. This doesn't mean that German Wikipedia had not its share of involved researchers and university teachers but participating in Wikipedia does not seem to be as publicly acknowledged by the society as in the Anglo-saxon world.

Wikipedia namespace and rules

Wikipedia namespace: This topic probably comes closest to Stan's assumption of "Ordnung". Personally, I love the Wikipedia namespace in the English Wikipedia. There is so much to discover, so many obscure, interesting or funny pages. However, without counting, I have the impression that en has many many more pages in this namespace than de. German Wikipedia namespace has no humour warnings like the english (it contains humourous pages, though) and pages are not categorized in policies, guidelines, essays etc. Distinctions between these categories are fluid while most german Wikipedians maintain that there exist only four rules, as summarized on de:Wikipedia:Richtlinien.

When I look in Category:Wikipedia style guidelines, I find a huge number of good advices, guides for almost everything (hey, even a whole page for how to set dashes). The number of German pages is much lower. Pages in the Wikipedia namespace are routinely scrutinized if they are really necessary and often merged into existing ones or deleted.Übersicht is a rather complete overview of all important documentation pages.


References are not as common practice in the German wikipedia as in the English. This has to do with the policy for external links which limits the number of external links in an article to a maximum of five. These have to be the "best the web offers". Following this policy, single references were often removed from articles in the past. A policy to exempt references from the external links rule and a working template system was set up only after the Seigenthaler affair in the English Wikipedia and in reaction to it. Since then, the German Wikipedia tries to catch up with the English Wikipedia by strongly encouraging users to source their articles but is still way behind.


The userbox problems on the English wikipedia were closely followed by some german Wikipedians and when the custom swapped over to de, dealt with in the following way: All non babel and non geographical userboxes were moved to user subpages of their creators. A list of those someone had created in the wikipedia namespace was proposed for deletion 6th January 2006 and deleted.

Special projects

Last point of this long mail: the impressive German projects like the printed wikireaders, the DVD, the writing contest with big media echo etc. In my opinion, these are due to several factors:

  1. The independence of the German community from Jimbo and the Wikimedia Foundation. The English Wikipedia is very much a monarchy, with people looking to Jimbo for advice and guidance. The German Wikipedia had, and has, nobody with Jimbo's authority. People had to deal with the fact that there is no ultimate appeal. This has consequences for the social structure (which evolved to what I'd characterize as a meritocracy with a few prominent and influential editors) but also for the possibility to realize such projects. People had to act on their own, so they did it.
  2. Personal dedication and leadership of individual Wikipedians. Most projects were team work, but there was usually one person who invested much more work than the others. The driving force behind the Wikipedia academy, a three day workshop at the university of Göttingen in June is one editor, Frank. The driving force behind many successful initiatives like the writing contest is Achim Raschka. The driving force behind the Wikipedia exhibition at the university library in Göttingen were Frank (who organized it) and me, who carried it out. The WikiReaders were produced by individuals. etc.
  3. For the DVD and WikiPress: the luck to find a good partner company which is crazy enough to chance such a risky project, and whose bosses and employees "grok" the Wiki way. The first thing Vlado, one of the Directmedians and a Reggae expert, did after the first CD was finally ready for production was to expand the article "Riddim" to four times its size - at 2 o'clock at night. Just to relax...

So much for a comparison between English and German Wikipedia. I noticed that I wrote much more about de, as I know the project much better. Maybe someone else could add more facts about en. I'm placing this text also on User:Elian/comparison - feel free to edit and add comments there (and of course fix my poor English ;-).

Greetings, elian"

Kat Walsh

A few thoughts on this: one thing that I believe seriously harms en.wikipedia is the mistaken perception that Wikipedia is a venue for "free speech" -- rather than encyclopedic and encyclopedia-building speech. Part of this is due to the heavy proportion of US editors, many of whom are quite young, and many of whom do not understand that the First Amendment to the US Constitution does not apply to Wikipedia; part may also be a mistaken understanding of what "free content" is.

The idea that editors have a right to free speech in the pages themselves harms the ability to create neutral articles with a sense of perspective; in the project and user space even more so as the standards by which we can mark content as unacceptable are even more vague, and left to the judgment of the community. The userbox debates are a facet of this: self-expressive, yes, but divisive and in some instances actively promoting activities that harm the community: vote-stacking, copyright violation, nationalism, personal attacks. The pushes to eliminate them have been seen not as an attempt to repair this but as "censorship" of users' right to free speech. (The large statement in a box at the top of my user page that has been there for some months is a response to this.)

I have the impression that this is nowhere near so much of a problem on de; but I cannot read it to tell...

Additional thoughts

In conjunction with the comment about "Ordnung", I notice that on German Wikipedia there seem to be fewer articles heavily composed of edits by fly-by-night users who have added random facts and thoughts here or there. Perhaps German Wikipedia has a better culture of getting the article right the first time and evolving from an already good product. You don't find massive trivia and quotation sections or bizarre shifts in tone or structure. One explanation, however, is that English Wikipedia began more as a rough experiment and the early evolution led to distortion in many articles. On English Wikipedia, many of the most important, "early" subjects still contain traces of a sloppy beginning from years ago. Also, the greater participation by non-native speakers in English Wikipedia (and perhaps also by overzealous juveniles) may result in greater problems with awkward prose and structure.

Another thing I find in the German Wikipedia is that an individual article is more likely to represent a coherent unit that will fully explain a subject. English Wikipedia is too quick, in my opinion, to divide articles up all over the place, frequently without creating an adequate summary in the originating article. And this frequently results in everything being ignored. See History of the United States, for example. Tfine80 23:31, 29 April 2006 (UTC)

Its interesting to note specific examples however... we happen to have an FA on Colditz Castle in Germany... their article for it was a bare stub. It now is a mere translation of some of the articles content (that I spent several days researching/verifying sources and translating from german to english...) While I agree the DE wiki tends to have a better overall editing unit, I think the fact that EN had a featured article on something local to them that was a mere stub for almost a year until it was fixed up 28 May 2006 shows that both still have a ways to go.  ALKIVARRadioactive.svg 02:15, 2 June 2006 (UTC)
There'll always be such situations, where a foreign article is much better then the "domestic" one (especially when it comes to Wikipediae with a very low article count). Your example seen vice versa: de:Alagnak River vs. en:Alagnak River. --32X 03:23, 26 January 2007 (UTC)
As a Brit who was an adolescent when the various colditz books and the Colditz (TV series) were first shown I can understand why the place might be more famous in England than in its native Germany. Such anomalies will happen - not far from me is a statue that the Chilean ambassador to London formally visits every year. ϢereSpielChequers 13:28, 24 July 2009 (UTC)

Only a little discovery: the English Wikipedia doesn't demand to name the source (used for a edit). In Help:Summary nothing is written about it and Wikipedia:Reliable sources only explain, which sources to choose (and similar things. In contrary the "edit summary" field is called "Zusammenfassung und Quelle" (summary and source) in the German Wikipedia (documented under de:Wikipedia:Zusammenfassung und Quelle). -- Amtiss, SNAFU ? 15:48, 17 June 2006 (UTC)


Surprisingly, there has been no mention of the fact that en.WP has seen a strong move over the past few years towards disciplined wikilinking. No longer are many articles half speckled with messy blue, mostly diluting the high-value links. Chronological links are now deprecated unless there are special reasons for one. This is a major issue if you want to create professional-looking text, and want to get the most out of the wikilinking system by avoiding the dilution of high-value, useful, relevant links. Tony (talk) 03:17, 21 December 2009 (UTC)