The Pot of Gold: WikiProject Ireland
With Saint Patrick's Day just a day away, we thought it would be nice to celebrate Irish culture and history by focusing on WikiProject Ireland. The project is home to over 31,000 articles including 29 Featured Articles and 64 Good Articles. The project features four to-do lists and a variety of helpful categories. The project is also affiliated with the Ireland Portal.
Started in September 2006, WikiProject Ireland has been host to controversy, mostly stemming from the political issues affecting the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Great Britain. In October 2008, the project collaborated with WikiProject Northern Ireland, WikiProject Irish Republicanism, and WikiProject Unionism in Ireland to create a sub-project designed to resolve conflicts between editors with differing views about the political entities that share the island of Ireland.
This week, we asked six members about the project's many achievements as well as the project's struggles with emotionally-charged issues. Included in the interview were Rannpháirtí anaithnid (RA), Evertype, Footyfanatic3000, Fergananim, Scolaire, and ww2censor.
What motivated you to become a member of WikiProject Ireland? Do you live in Ireland or have Irish heritage?
- RA: I joined WikiProject Ireland soon after becoming active on Wikipedia (about three years ago). I'm from Ireland and a sense of community is very strong among Irish people. It seemed like the natural thing to do. At that time, I was living abroad and in many respects contributing to Ireland-related topics was a way to keep in touch with Ireland and other Irish people. I've since moved back to Ireland but the project still provides one of the major hubs around which Wikipedia revolves for me.
- Evertype: I joined a while back, because I know Irish and had an interest in place-names. I have done some work on Gaelic script as well.
- Footyfanatic3000: I joined the project shortly after creating my Wikipedia account. Seeing as I live in Ireland and have never lived anywhere else, I have a general interest in articles relating to Ireland. Like Evertype above, I am also a fluent speaker of the Irish language, and am therefore a regular contributor to the Irish language Wikipedia.
- Fergananim: Began editing about five years ago. I was born, and live, in Ireland. Became a member to fill in the huge pre-1798 blanks, especially Gaelic Ireland. To me it is an effort to dignify our history by sharing it with the world.
- Scolaire: I've lived in Ireland all my life. I discovered Wikipedia about five years ago. At that time I felt that many Ireland-related articles were written by self-appointed "experts" for whom a pithy writing style was more important than things like verifiability. To a large extent I fought that on the article talk pages, but joining the WikiProject gave me access to a wider forum, as well as exposure to a wider variety of articles and topics.
- ww2censor: Having an interest in Irish history and geography, being half Irish and having lived there most of my life, though not for the last 18 years, Wikipedia seemed like the best place to learn about topics of interest and contribute some of my knowledge, so joining this project around five years ago was a no-brainer. At that time it seemed there were many missing, or stub articles on Irish topics.
WikiProject Ireland currently has 29 featured articles and 64 good articles. Which of these articles are you most proud of being involved with? Overall, what have been some of the project's greatest achievements?
- RA: I think that a lot of WikiProject Ireland's greatest achievements have slipped under the radar owing to headline catchers like The Troubles ArbCom and the Ireland-naming question ArbCom. In parallel to the headline catchers is a body of contributions on uncontroversial subjects that can easily go unnoticed. Frequently these can be by the same editors that are under topic bans or the threat of community ban owing to disputes on topics at the intersection between Ireland and Britain. I think the GA and FA list (with some notable exceptions) epitomises that otherwise unseen work. I think the project offers a focus for work aside from the headline catching disputes. The dog's work put into writing and maintaining uncontroversial subjects is very meaningful in terms of a project like WikiProject Ireland.
- Evertype: As RA says above, it's hard to point to successes because of the adversarial attitude many editors involved in this project have. I would like to see more work done on towns and rivers and things like that. But few people seem to be interested.
- Fergananim: I had no involvement in any of the 29. Of the 64, the section titled Prehistoric and legendary ancestors in Irish people is about 98% my unaltered work. I contributed to the article's intro, sub-articles Early history of Ireland, Early Medieval Ireland 800-1166, Irish name and Gaelic Ireland. I am very proud of participating on it.
- I had minimal to zero involvement in the other 63 articles, because they all deal with current or recent subjects, and are thus well covered by fellow Irish Wikipedians. I try to build up the deeper background.
- Scolaire: The article I am personally most proud of is Free Derry, which I took from a short, poorly researched and unreferenced article to GA status. The project's greatest achievement is harder to call, because most articles are improved by individuals or groups of people who are probably all members of the project, but don't work through the project page. Probably the fact that articles are continuing to be promoted is our best achievement.
- ww2censor: Personally, because I prefer to see quality rather than quantity, I would love to see many more Irish featured and good articles and am proud of my contribution to Postage stamps of Ireland which was mostly my work. I was happy to help avoid the demoting of Geography of Ireland and George Moore from featured article status a couple of years ago and would like to see more participation in article improvement. To this end Ireland, as the project's lead article, should have been a featured article a long time ago but only rose to being a good article for a time. Helping to bring article assessments from 1,044 in July 2007 to the current number of 31,000+ (I prefer to reduce this by about 5,500 for the assessed categories, templates and dab pages) with so few active assessors is a great achievement and a mostly thankless task done in the background.
Has your project developed particularly close relationships with any other projects? Has the Ireland Collaboration been successful in relieving tensions between editors in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?
- RA: (This is quite a long answer, I'm sorry. It also focuses solely on my WikiOgre interest in the broad topics of Irish nationhood. There's much to more to WikiProject Ireland than that.)
- The main thrust of the Ireland Collaboration project so far as been on the "Ireland naming question", namely how to disambiguate between the two "Irelands": the island and the state (which are not coterminous and so require disambiguation of some sort). This is a question that reaches deep into the psyche of the national question in Ireland and one that the community found impossible to answer unanimously for many deeply-felt reasons involving the balancing conflicting policies and guidelines, practical concerns and opposing perspectives on history, identity and the national question.
- The substantive question was eventually resolved by a community vote, which has left many editors feeling they had been steamrolled. Ultimately, in trying to reach an answer, I feel the Irish community on Wikipedia has been left deeply riven by the experience. Participation, to my eyes, is visibly lower on many pages and tensions between editors involved are raw. The question itself aside, the outcome for the community was not good.
- The Ireland-naming question was not one of editors from Northern Ireland set against editors from the Republic of Ireland, or of nationalist and unionist editors differing in perspective. We've dealt with those types of issues before and in most instances have learnt to amicably resolve apparently impossible-to-reconcile perspectives. I can understand editors from outside of Ireland (and the UK) imagining tensions to be between editors from the North and south of Ireland (or specifically, between the nationalist and unionist Irish). In fact, in my experience, there are few such tensions. Northern Ireland has its own WikiProject but the two "Ireland" WikiProjects are overlapping both in terms of their remit and participants. There is no dividing line between the two, both projects are one in many respects. (Of course from a UK perspective, WikiProject Northern Ireland is a component part of WikiProject UK and a sister project to WikiProjects England, Scotland and Wales whereas WikiProject Ireland is not.)
- Most times, in my experience, where tensions arise it is between editors from Ireland (North and south) and editors from the island of Great Britain - but that too it not so simple. Editors from from Ireland (North and south), Scotland and Wales often share comparable perspectives on history, politics and national identity and concerns about how these can be accommodated on Wikipedia. Of course, we differ too at times - sometimes in ways we find surprising - but these differences can usually be worked out in a way that accommodates the varying perspectives neutrally. An important aspect to over-coming national tensions, I believe, is self-awareness of one's own perspective and understanding that none of us come from a neutral point of view. Where tensions are most strained, in my experience, it is when editors are not conscious of the fact that they have a point of view on these matters. On those occasions, editors can be very rigid in their beliefs and assume that any perspective other than their own is unreasonable, imbalanced, POV pushing or fringe.
- Evertype: The Collaboration project was a monumental failure. At one point, frustrated with endless endless endless repetition I appealed for Arbitration. An Arbitrator was appointed, and then quit. Another was appointed, and his remit to us was more or less "Figure it all out for yourselves". At length I instigated a poll to try to get something to happen. What's happened is that the poll has succeeded in nothing. Contentious article names are locked until September 2011 when the whole sorry story will start over. I quit the Collaboration Project and regret, at this point, having spent so much time trying to work for consensus -- to solve the problem which is a set of contentious names. Rightly or wrongly, the names are contentious to some people, even if not to all, and the only way out of that trap is to use different names.
- In addition to quitting the Collaboration Project, I have pretty much focused my editing energies on other topics in the Wikipedia.
- Footyfanatic3000: Unfortunately since ArbCom gave the order that all discussion over the "Ireland naming dispute" be held at the Collaboration project, the project has become a place for endless, pointless debate. In fact the founder of the project, Gnevin, recently wanted to change the name of the project to "WikiProject Ireland Naming Debate", something which caused even more argument among users.
- An attempt could be made at relaunching this project with its' original goals, and creating another project for the "Ireland naming dispute". Until then, however, this collaboration project is just a waste of time.
- Fergananim: I no longer participate in current affairs projects because there is too much spite. I prefer to work with editors who, like myself, are prepared to agree to disagree, then get on with making the article the best it can be. There are very few wikis working in my areas of interest, and I am always grateful to work with them.
- Scolaire: Our own project has not always been as active as it might be, but other projects such as WikiProject Northern Ireland have been far less active, so as a result it's hard to develop "relationships" with them. The Ireland Collaboration Project was a bold initiative on Gnevin's part, but I think it would have died a natural death if the "Naming Debate" hadn't moved there, simply for want of commitment. Like RA, I don't think there is tension between Northern and Southern editors. We're all members of WikiProject Ireland anyway, and we collaborate just fine there. The obvious exception is articles related to The Troubles, where pro-republican and anti-republican editors regularly involve themselves in edit-wars and talk page slanging matches, but very little of that spills over onto the project. The Ireland naming debate raised a lot of passion among a quite small number of editors (including myself and a couple of the above posters), but again I think it had very little impact on the great majority of Irish editors, and hardly featured at all on the WikiProject Ireland pages.
- ww2censor: Unfortunately, from where I sit, no and not that I can see. Though I read most of the contentious issue stuff I now tend to avoid even bothering to comment. It all gets too heated for me and takes away from constructive editing. Roll on 2011!
What is your vision for the project? How do you see the project itself, as well as the articles within its scope, developing over the next few years?
- Footyfanatic3000: A long-term ambition of this project has been to promote Ireland to featured status. This has been made difficult due to the dispute over the name of the article. Apart from that most articles about towns and places in Ireland are currently in a poor, unreferenced state, and need to be either improved or expanded.
- Fergananim: I don't feel so much a member of the project as much as a person who is listed as on the project. There are very few editors working in my areas of interest, which often means minimal collaboration and thus I don't feel part of a team. As to where it will be, who knows? I write purely for the pleasure of it, and for the occasional gratification of thanks.
- Evertype: As of now I don't feel much like a member of the project, as I said above. Occasionally I have looked in on some Talk pages of some articles and mostly it's the same crappy snippishness from a number of editors.
- ww2censor: We ought to improve the better articles, many of which need citations and references and more editors who can stay the course. It is a pity that some editors have been burned out and/or moved on, and for some the naming dispute was too much. With 23,000 Start-class and Stub-class articles there is enormous room for improvement if there is involvement.
- Scolaire: How the project develops will depend very much on the people who take the lead. I'm not much of a visionary myself, or a leader either. I think there is much more focus generally on quality standards, and it's the momentum there that will take the articles forward. It's encouraging to see people enthusiastic about topics such as medieval history and towns and townlands. However, I believe that even the contentious articles will become good articles with increased involvement from people with good research skills, writing skills and/or mediation skills, and I hope I will play my part there.
What are WikiProject Ireland's most pressing needs? How can a new contributor help today?
- RA: For historical reasons, we have a great deal of ground to cover as a project with few people to cover it. Only through co-operation can we do it effectively. On the aspects of the project that I am actively involved in, I think the most pressing need facing us now is to overcome the tensions arising from the Ireland-naming question and to build a sense of common purpose again. I think we need to become stronger as collaborators. New contributors could do a lot to heal those tensions - coming as they would without any memory of them.
- I think we need to build common ties with the (non-Irish) UK WikiProjects. Good relations exit at present, at an individual level at least, but a mutual sense of awareness could head-off trouble happening again. However, there is a sense among Irish editors that closer co-operation with the UK WikiProject could swamp Irish perspectives (and a similar reluctance to cede British perspectives on the other side).
- Footyfanatic3000: Probably the most pressing need for his project is to de-POV a lot of Republican-related articles and to do a rework on many articles about towns in Ireland.
- Fergananim: Participation, communication.
- Scolaire: Probably the most pressing needs are organisational. For example, a recent conversation on the talk page highlighted problems with article assessment, mostly caused by a lack of people willing to do the assessments. Other things such as the "Adopt an Article" scheme mentioned above would be more feasible if more people were willing to get involved in running them. Trouble is, Irish people tend to enjoy talking more than doing.
- ww2censor: More constructive editing and, to echo some of the above, perhaps a major project revamp would stimulate the cooperation, participation and communication necessary that seems to exist in other projects where article collaboration does work. Both new and existing editors just have to look at the Irish popular pages to see how many of the popular articles viewed are of poorer quality than one might expect; that's a good place to start.
Anything else you'd like to add?
- ww2censor: Join in and talk to some of us to find out what you can do besides just going it alone.
- Scolaire: I hope this Signpost article will motivate people to join the project and become active. We're capable of great things!
You might have noticed the new sidebar in last week's issue. The WikiProject Report team has started this feature to deliver weekly news about all WikiProjects in addition to the traditional interview. We hope you enjoy it and check out the listed projects. Go to the WikiProject Desk to submit your own project's news and announcements for next week's issue of WikiProject Report.
Have a safe and happy Saint Patrick's Day! Next week, the Report will focus on a task force of demigods. Until then, check out the archive.
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