|Volume 2, Issue 8||20 February 2006||About the Signpost|
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An interview with Jimbo Wales
Just five years ago, when Jimbo Wales founded Wikipedia, the project's goal of 100,000 articles  seemed ambitious. Yet today, the project, now one of the top 25 websites in the world according to Alexa, is nearing closer to 1,000,000 articles in English, and 3.5 million articles across all languages. This week, the Signpost interviewed Jimbo Wales, asking him questions that our readers have submitted.
Wikipedia Signpost: Raul654 asks: "Recently, there were revelations about organized attempts by US Congressmen to whitewash their articles. What is your take on this, as well as earlier reports of Corporate astroturfing?"
Jimbo Wales: The question is invalid. There were no revelations of organized attempts by US Congressmen to whitewash their articles. Not any evidence of "corporate astroturfing" of which I am aware. There was evidence that some congressional staffers edited Wikipedia in inappropriate ways. But the internal evidence of the type and style of these edits do not suggest "organized attempts".
WS: Nichalp asks: "Budget permitting, are there any plans to increase the number of Wikipedia servers, specifically into the less developed countries?"
JW: We are always buying new servers. There are no specific plans to add servers in less developed countries, but we have looked into it as a possibility. We are particularly interested in doing so if it helps increase access and reduce costs for those users.
WS: An anonymous reader asks: "How much of a role do you feel the Wikipedia community (and the communities of its sister projects) should have in the running of the Wikimedia Foundation? Do you see an increasing separation of the organization from the projects? If so, do you regard that as beneficial or a potential problem?"
JW: The community has always been and will always be absolutely crucial to the running of the Wikimedia Foundation. We are increasing the community input and activity in the foundation through a new series of committees to delegate things to community members which have traditionally been handled by me or the Board. I do not see any increasing separation of the organization from the projects, quite the opposite. I consider the increasing integration of the community and the foundation as overwhelmingly beneficial.
WS: ALoan asks: "English Wikipedia is approaching 1 million articles, but less than 1 in a thousand are Featured articles. The list of featured articles English Wikipedia should have has few featured articles, and recent surveys of articles chosen at random show that many articles are poorly written. How can we get from here to an encyclopedia of well-written articles? Or should we not worry too much about coverage and content?"
JW: We should be tightly focused on the quality of our coverage and content. The goal of Wikipedia is to create and distribute a freely licensed high quality encyclopedia. The path to that goal will require us to be flexible and thoughtful. The first steps will come soon with the article review system, which will initially be used simply to gather data. After we have data, we can begin to work on how we will focus our attention to improve quality.
WS: GeorgeStepanek asks: "You've said that 'Wikimedia's mission is to give the world's knowledge to every single person on the planet in their own language.' But very few of the wikipedias in the languages of third-world countries are seeing as much activity as the first-world language wikipedias. Do you have any ideas on how this could be turned around?"
JW: I am a believer in outreach. I would like for the Foundation to raise money specifically to pay one or more minority language co-ordinators. The goal would be to reach out in a more organized way to professors and graduate students and expat communities who have good Internet access, to seed projects for languages where the majority of speakers have poor internet access.
WS: Jacoplane asks: "How do you feel we will be able to reach Wikipedia 1.0? The tools currently available for vetting our articles are crude at best. The Featured article process seems too slow, and the article validation feature seems to have died a quiet death. Are you planning a big push on this front?"
JW: Isn't that the same question as the quality question? The article validation feature has not died a quiet death at all.
WS: Quadell asks: "Most important decisions on Wikimedia projects are handled with consensus. However, we sometimes have to deal with legal issues, especially related to copyright law. For instance, we as a community may need to decide whether to consider a certain use "fair", or how to deal with conflicting copyright claims. Dealing with this through consensus is problematic, since we can't do something illegal even if there is widespread misguided support for it. In general, how can we as a community deal with these issues?"
JW: I don't think there is any real problem with this. The community is strongly in support of following the law. I don't know of any particular cases of widespread misguided support for something illegal. In particular cases, there can of course be [dis]agreement, but I have never seen anyone in the community argue that we should not listen to the advice of our legal team.
WS: Raul654 asks: "Where do you see Wikipedia in 10 years?"
JW: I don't know. My favorite answer to this is to say, the real question is: where will the world be after 10 more years of Wikipedia. :) Seriously, I think we'll eventually see a tapering off of new article creation in the large language wikipedias as more and more "verifiable" topics are covered. At this point, most changes will be expansions and updates and quality improvements to existing articles. But in 10 years, it seems likely to me that many languages which are now quite small will have very large Wikipedia projects. Our community will continue to become more diverse as more and more people worldwide come online.
WS: Kevin Myers asks: "The values reflected in certain Wikipedia policies (anti-censorship, neutral point-of-view) are problematic in cultures where freedom of expression is limited, as the blocking of Wikipedia in mainland China and arguably the Muhammad cartoons controversy attest. As Wikipedia expands internationally, do you foresee Wikipedia becoming increasingly controversial in countries where "Western values" are seen as a potential threat?"
JW: I don't think that neutrality and objectivity are really controversial among most people of the world. It is true that the leadership in some places does not value these things, and may actually work against these things, but we can not deviate from our goals to accommodate them.
WS: On a similar topic, Vsion asks: "Are there currently any efforts being undertaken by the Foundation to address the People's Republic of China's blocking of Wikipedia or to alleviate its effect?"
JW: Beijing-area Wikipedians are working to have the block lifted. Our position is that the block is in error, even given China's normal policies. Wikipedia is not propaganda, it is basic information. We expect that the block will be lifted.
WS: David.Monniaux asks: "The Foundation receives daily accusations of libel from semi-well-known people who have an entry on Wikipedia or are mentioned in some Wikipedia entry. What do you propose? Would a strict application of the rule of citing controversial claims suffice, in your opinion?"
JW: Yes. I think that our current systems do a good job of addressing these sorts of complaints, although it is very time-consuming for us here in the office. What really works wonders is a very strict application of the rule of citing controversial claims particularly relating to biographies of living persons. The new policy on biographies of living persons is a very strong step in the right direction.
WS: Tony Sidaway asks: "In the past six weeks the number of userboxes on English Wikipedia has risen from 3500 to 6000 and, despite your appeals for restraint, the number pertaining to political beliefs has risen from 45 to 150. Can the problem of unsuitable userboxes still be resolved by debate?"
JW: My only comment on the userbox situation is that the current situation is not acceptable.
WS: Larsinio asks: "How can Wikipedia effectively explain to the public its open-contribution model without simultaneously worrying the public about inaccurate information?"
JW: I think we do a reasonably good job of that. The best thing is to point to our overall quality while at the same time pointing out that we are currently a work in progress. Over time, this answer will change as we move toward '1.0'. At that time, we can point to '1.0' for those who are made nervous by the live editing.
WS: Rob Church asks: "Do you consider the encyclopedia to be 'finished'? Do you think it ever can be?"
JW: Nothing is ever finished. Human knowledge is always growing.
JW: I think this question is too hard for me to answer. I almost never "announce" anything, and features are developed publicly by the community. I think other people have a better idea than I do what will happen in the next year or two. :) Ask Brion [Vibber].
WS: Celestianpower asks: "If you had not founded Wikipedia, and had just been referred to it by a friend, how active a contributor do you think you would be?"
JW: [I] dream fondly of such a scenario. I might actually get to edit articles then. Instead of spend the morning (this morning) documenting transactions and taking phone calls.
WS: OpenToppedBus asks: "The last fundraising drive was less successful than had been anticipated. Do you see a shortage of money holding back Wikipedia/Wikimedia in the short-to-medium-term, and are there any plans to bring in income from sources other than individual donations?"
JW: The last fundraising drive was more successful than had been anticipated, by a long shot. It was the most successful fund drive in our history. [Regarding a quoted goal of $500,000], Mav wrote something like that somewhere, in a scratchpad kind of way. That number was just a placeholder and had nothing to do with me or the official view of the foundation. He's apologized repeatedly for it.
WS: Thryduulf asks: "What is your single greatest wish for Wikipedia?"
JW: I would have to just point back to our original goal: a freely licensed high quality encyclopedia for every single person on the planet. That's what I remain focused on daily.
Arbitrator Mackensen resigns
Mackensen blanked his user page on February 19. Arbitrator Raul654 removed Mackensen from the Committee member list, the first public notification of his resignation. A day later, Mackensen clarified his actions, saying "...I resigned this post on February 19, 2006. My reasons for doing so are my own, and I am not willing at the moment to revisit what was for me a painful, if necessary, decision."
This followed his recent involvement in the ongoing dispute over userboxes, which continues to cause problems despite an Arbitration Committee ruling and repeated urgings from Jimbo Wales for cultural change to discourage the more objectionable uses. The latest episode involved a number of userboxes being deleted under the new speedy deletion criterion for templates, especially the explicitly political type which Wales had criticized. Mackensen had been one of several administrators involved in deleting these. A few of these were restored by Guanaco after being debated on Wikipedia:Deletion review, and that forum has now become a focus of attention, to the point that the discussion has been split off to a separate subpage.
It is unknown how soon the post vacated by Mackensen will be filled. Jimbo Wales had left open the possibility to appoint new Arbitrators from a pool of highly supported candidates from the last election; however, it's not clear whether Jimbo will choose to do so right away, or to appoint candidates after more leave the committee, as he did in July and October 2005.
Mackensen's resignation brings the Committee's active membership to twelve members, down from the fifteen members on the Committee after Jimbo appointed new Arbitrators in January. Filiocht is listed as inactive, and due to illness has not taken any Arbitration-related actions since his appointment. Additionally, Sam Korn is currently on vacation.
Access issues in mainland China revisited by media
Although no change in the situation has been reported, the blocking of Wikipedia in mainland China has become the subject of renewed attention. The subject's timeliness having increased in the context of other news stories, the predicament was the focus of an extensive story published by The Washington Post on Monday.
Following the recent news that Google is acquiescing in the government's censorship requirements, controls over internet content in mainland People's Republic of China have become a frequent topic in the media. Reports about Google's start of a google.cn search engine frequently mentioned Wikipedia as one of the sites that was blocked. Amid vocal criticism of this and similar decisions at other tech companies to cooperate with the PRC's efforts, members of the U.S. Congress have also expressed concern and called for hearings. A certain irony might be seen here, given that some have drawn a connection between the PRC's online censorship and the recent furor over Wikipedia edits by congressional staffers.
With this context, a new press report about Wikipedia access in mainland China has appeared, dealing with the block first imposed last October (see archived stories). This article, published February 20, was credited to Philip P. Pan of the Washington Post Foreign Service. Andrew Lih, commenting on it in a blog post on the Center for Citizen Media website, highlighted the significance of this issue in Asia because "for most other languages, there is no general knowledge encyclopedia that is freely available". Accompanying the story, the Post published translations of two letters written last October by Wikipedia editors Shi Zhao and Cui Wei, appealing for the block to be lifted.
In the course of his story, Pan covered a number of important aspects in the development of the Chinese Wikipedia. This included efforts to keep the project from fragmenting over various cultural and political issues. For example, the implementation of a software conversion between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese characters was discussed.
One anecdote involved a user who raised concerns about "China-centrism" over whether, for example, the Second Sino-Japanese War article should be called that instead of the "War of Resistance against Japan", even though the latter is the name by which most Chinese would know this conflict. As Pan noted, the debate reflected a larger tension, one that frequently crops up in political naming disputes on any Wikipedia, between the practice of favoring common names and the neutral point of view policy.
Not surprisingly, the article on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, known on the Chinese Wikipedia as the "June 4 Incident", was also analyzed at length. The story covered the efforts to find a balance there between PRC perspectives of these events and those in the Western world, an ongoing process that included a major overhaul by longtime editor Sheng Jiong.
With little to report in the way of immediate news, the story concluded with a summary of the current situation: "The number of people using the Chinese Wikipedia site has dropped, but devoted users are finding ways to access it." It noted that most registered users on the Chinese Wikipedia are from the mainland. Activity continues despite the block, partly by use of proxy servers, but most would undoubtedly like to see the block lifted.
Wikimedia chapter incorporated for the UK
A local chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation for the United Kingdom, to be known as Wikimedia UK, officially came into existence last week. This is now the sixth group to organise itself as a local chapter.
The chapter was incorporated under the legal name of Wiki Educational Resources Limited on Tuesday, 14 February. While incorporation means that it has legal status as a Company, it is seeking Charitable status and will shortly be applying to register as a charity. If this is successful tax deductions may be available for donations to the chapter. As an independent organisation from the Foundation, and subject to UK law, it will use its resources on specific projects as well as supporting the work of the Wikimedia Foundation.
The successful incorporation is the result of efforts that have been ongoing for nearly a year. A number of meetings were held in recent months, both in person and over IRC, to work on the elements necessary to the process. Several of those heavily involved comprise the chapter's initial Board of Directors, which consists of Alison Wheeler, Jon Garrett, James Forrester, Andrew Walker, and David Gerard. Responding to the news of incorporation, Foundation Trustee Angela Beesley said, "Congratulations to everyone who has been involved in setting this up!"
The chapter's objectives, as stated in the Memorandum of Association, are generally to promote "information and educational resources covering the world's knowledge and languages to all persons, everywhere". This parallels Jimmy Wales' stated goal of giving "every single person on the planet...free access to the sum of all human knowledge."
Additional information about the structure of the new chapter is contained in the Articles of Association. As pointed out by David Gerard, the chapter has no authority over content on Wikipedia or any other project of the Foundation, due in part to concern over UK libel laws.
News and notes
Main Page redesign
The redesign project for the Main Page, after working on various ideas for several months, has completed an open editing session and nearly settled on a proposal. Among other things, the redesign incorporates both the featured picture of the day and the Did you know section. This would replace the current system of rotating them, a practice that began last July (see archived story). The organizers plan to submit the redesign for a community vote beginning March 1.
One question that remains unsettled in the proposed redesign is whether to include a search box as part of the page (in addition to the search box that is part of the navigation sidebar on every page). A straw poll is being held this week about whether this is desirable, with preliminary results indicating that people are about evenly split on the issue.
- The Norwegian (bokmål) Wikipedia has reached 50,000 articles. (Corrected from February 6)
- The Finnish Wikipedia has reached 50,000 articles.
- The Spanish Wikipedia has reached 100,000 registered users.
- The Persian Wikipedia has reached 10,000 articles.
- The Indonesian Wikipedia has reached 17,000 articles.
- The Alemannic Wikipedia has reached 500 registered users.
- The Czech Wikipedia has reached 25,000 articles.
- The Catalan Wikipedia has reached 25,000 articles.
- The Bulgarian Wikipedia has reached 5,000 registered users.
In the news
Wikipedia may be the "next big thing"
Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development and chair of the Mozilla Foundation, discussed the Wikipedia model in detail in a keynote speech at the Open Source Business Conference on February 14; Ross Mayfield summarized the talk at "Learning from Wikipedia", and blogger Dan Farber also had a report: "Mitch Kapor: Why Wikipedia is the next big thing" (ZDNet).
Quotes from Ross Mayfield's summary:
- [Mainstream media] failed to notice that after the Seigenthaler affair, the Nature article showed a comparison in favor for the quality of scientific articles over the Brittanica. The quality was roughly equivalent for Wikipedia and fact, not statistically different. But in the Brittanica articles were poor. But after the article came out, the quality of those very articles improved [in Wikipedia].
- I became convinced that Wikipedia was going to be the next big thing. And things like it. I have some history here. Next big things I have gotten right before:
- [If] I was pointing someone now for what was going to be a big thing, it would be doing something where you harness the efforts of a community, one that is truly empowered. People here, basing their business on Linux; having a widespread community is what makes it goes. The community should own the underlying resource, the knowledge base created, because they will contribute if they know it is a commons, not owned by the business organization which commands attention of people who come in.
Another look at Wikipedia's future was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on February 19, in "Institute for the future", an interview with "professional bystander" Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future:
- Q: Can we continue to speed things up or is there a logical limit to information overload?
- A: I don't think information overload is a function of the volume of information. It's a derivative of the volume of information plus the sense-making tools you have. [...] The rise of Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia) -- that's a sense-making tool. These are tools that help us make sense of information. I think it was Samuel Johnson who said, "There are two kinds of information in this world: that what you know and that what you know where to get."
- Q: You talk about the benefits of using wikis and a divergence of thought. How do the two things come together? What are your thoughts on the reliability of Wikipedia in this culture of polarized thought?
- A: I'm actually an optimist about what lies ahead. Are wikis reliable? It depends on the specific business. Is Wikipedia reliable? You bet. Wikipedia is a researcher's dream.
The Washington Post published a long story covering the ongoing block of Wikipedia in Mainland China (see related story) on February 20, entitled "Reference Tool On Web Finds Fans, Censors" (registration required). The story was reprinted on MSNBC: "Chinese Wikipedia finds fans, censors".
According to a February 16 press release ("The Wikipedia Muhammad Cartoons Debate"), the Iraq Museum International is publishing a three-volume e-book containing over a thousand pages of conversation from various Wikipedia discussion pages, covering "the heated online discussions among the users of Wikipedia, the world's largest Internet encyclopedia, as they edited articles dealing with the notorious satirical drawings of Muhammad first published in Denmark." The e-book is released under the GFDL, as Wikipedia requires.
Comedy of misunderstandings in The Times
"Comedy of errors hits the world of Wikipedia", published February 12 in The Times, noted several individual instances of vandalism in prominent Wikipedia articles. However, the article makes a false allegation: "One saboteur, codenamed Thruston, changes the same sentence in Blair’s entry on an almost daily basis to accuse him of setting out to “destroy” civil service neutrality." The reporter apparently misconstrued Thruston's single edit to the Tony Blair article, his reversion of an inappropriate edit, as vandalism itself. Even then, the edit Thruston cleaned up was a violation of style guidelines, not the destructive vandalism the article cites.
The piece also interprets everyday recent changes patrol as a state of "attack", saying "Hackers are abusing this openness to vandalise the site so frequently that its gatekeepers are relying on a volunteer army of nearly 1,000 supporters to police and correct the entries," and mistakenly says "Wikipedia is now planning a fixed version of its encyclopedia which cannot be changed." The story was reprinted or summarized in several other newspapers (including "Wikipedia - separating fact from fiction", The New Zealand Herald) and blogs (including "Wikipedia or Wackypedia?", p2pnet).
New York Times
- "Wikipedia entry had fake data on Yarmuth", The Courier-Journal, Kentucky, highlights vandalism regarding candidate John Yarmuth which remained in his competitor Anne Northup's article for several days.
- "Wikipedia gets input from Capitol Hill" Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (subscription required)
- "Rewriting history - with the click of a mouse", The Philadelphia Inquirer opinion column
- "Comment: You've been Wikipediad", PC Pro magazine
- "If it comes from the Net, it's not necessarily true", Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota)
- "Wikipedia (n): An unreliable source", Marquette Tribune (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
- "Wikipedia is wildly popular, but use it with a grain of salt, educators warn", The News-Sentinel (Ft. Wayne, Indiana)
- "UNL Wikipedia posts not raising alarms for officials", Daily Nebraskan (University of Nebraska-Lincoln College Paper)
- Preval wins Haiti presidency by agreement on blank ballots, JURIST Legal News and Research, on René Préval
- Why we don't use 'Torino' in Olympic coverage, London Free Press "'Anglicisation of place names', according to Wikipedia, 'was once universal ....'"
Features and admins
Ten users were granted admin status last week: Essexmutant (nom), Chick Bowen (nom), Josiah Rowe (nom), Sjorford (nom), Elf-friend (nom), Xaosflux (nom), TexasAndroid (nom), SoothingR (nom), UkPaolo (nom) and Martyman (nom).
Ten articles were featured last week: Memory Alpha, Wayne Gretzky, Belarusian Republican Youth Union, Cape Horn, Sydney Newman, Phil Collins, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Battle of Badr, Thrasybulus and Pink Floyd.
The following featured articles were displayed last week on the main page as Today's featured article: Douglas Adams, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Epaminondas, Shielded metal arc welding, Yagan, Political integration of India and James T. Aubrey, Jr..
Five pictures reached featured picture status last week:
Bugs, Repairs, and Internal Operational News
Last week in servers
Server-related events, problems, and changes included:
- February 14-15 — Recovery from the crash of zwinger.
- February 15 — mailman back online, upgraded to 2.1.7.
- February 17 — srv55, srv57, srv61, and srv67 taken out of service due to bad RAM.
- February 17 — Wikidiff2, a C++ port of the "compare differences" algorithm, disabled due to adverse effects on apaches.
- February 18 — Wikidiff2 fixed, re-enabled.
- February 20 — German Wiktionary enables sysop patrolling.
The Report On Lengthy Litigation
The Arbitration Committee closed five cases this week.
A case against Carl Hewitt was closed on Friday. As a result, Carl Hewitt was banned from "autobiographical editing" involving himself or his students, both in editing articles and in adding links and categories. In addition, Hewitt was placed on probation. He had been accused of POV editing on Carl Hewitt, the article on himself.
A case against users on Rajput was closed on Friday. As a result, Shivraj Singh, DPSingh, Gurkhaboy, Ss india, Son of Kurus, Sisodia, 184.108.40.206, Suryabandhu, Kinsman of the Sun, Indologist, shonan, 220.127.116.11, and other related throwaway accounts and IPs have been banned from editing articles relating to Rajput. In addition, all editors on Rajput were reminded of basic Wikipedia policies regarding NPOV, verifiability, and citing sources. The editors above were accused of "sustained edit warring" for an extended period of time.
A case against KDRGibby was closed on Saturday. As a result, KDRGibby has been placed on indefinite personal attack parole, probation, and general probation. In addition, KDRGibby is prohibited from "keeping personal attacks ... in his userspace." KDRGibby had been accused of incivility, personal attacks, failure to assume good faith, point of view editing, and edit warring on articles relating to Wal-Mart and Communism.
RJII and Firebug
A case involving RJII and Firebug was closed on Saturday. As a result, RJII has been placed on indefinite personal attack parole, probation, and general probation. In addition, RJII was cautioned about point of view editing. Firebug, meanwhile, was counseled not to expect perfection from other editors. RJII was accused of personal attacks, point of view forking, and violating prohibitions on using original research. Firebug had been accused of failure to assume good faith.
A case against Theodore7 was closed on Monday. As a result, Theodore7 has been placed on a one year personal attack parole, and banned from editing articles relating to astrology and astronomy for six months. In addition, Theodore7 is required to make valid, civil edit summaries. Theodore7 had been accused of making improper reverts and personal attacks against other users.
Cases involving Leyasu (user page), Boothy443 (user page), Dyslexic agnostic (user page), VeryVerily (user page), Tommstein (user page), Zeq (user page), and editors on WebEx and Min Zhu are in the voting phase.