This week, we invited the members of WikiProject Birds to share their experiences and a flock of eight editors answered our call. This very active project is home to over 100 active members and boasts a collection of 63 featured articles, 19 featured lists, 49 good articles, 2 featured sounds, and a vast library of featured pictures. The project dates back to April 2003 when Tannin created the project's page, including in the first few sentences the same mission statement that remains at the top of the project's page today: "The aim of this project is to set out broad suggestions about how we organize data in the bird articles. These are only suggestions, and you shouldn't feel at all obligated to follow them." WikiProject Birds is part of WikiProject Tree of Life and home to the Domestic Pigeon Task Force. Included in this week's interview are Sabine's Sunbird, Jimfbleak, Innotata, JerryFriedman, Casliber, Shyamal, MeegsC, and Maias.
What motivated you to become a member of WikiProject Birds?
- Sabine's Sunbird: It simply happened that I discovered Wikipedia while I was working for a charity that worked with birds, doing bird research. So I started writing about birds (at other points I may have written more about conservation or monkeys). After that it was natural that as I was writing about birds I'd be talking about writing about birds at the place to do so.
- Jimfbleak: I'm a long-time birder, seemed natural to write about the subject of my hobby.
- Innotata: I think most of us are like Jimfbleak.
- JerryFriedman: Yep.
- Casliber: Me too. It also allows us to bridge a much-needed gap between guidebooks with (generally all too brief descriptions) and scientific literature, to bring lots of fascinating facts about birds into general circulation for laypeople and combine the articles with lots of nice photos, which have exploded all over the web in the past few years with the rise of really good digital cameras. We can create something really unique here WRT a wiki bird species repository of accessible knowledge.
- Shyamal: The potential for good and low-cost information - especially out in the tropics - for local users - who cannot afford anywhere as much as trans-national birders can and who are in a position to produce additional knowledge (not here on WP of course) if only they knew what could be figured out or verified. I have written about this elsewhere in greater detail.
- MeegsC: When I first visited Wikipedia (after reading an online BBC article about UK librarians bemoaning its use, incidently), among the first things I looked up were a few bird species. It didn't take me long to see how much work there is to do on the subject — and to discover the Birds wikiproject. I've been hooked ever since.
With so many birds in the world, how does the project determine notability? In addition, how does your project get 15,325 pages sorted and improved?
- Sabine's Sunbird: Improving so many articles is obviously somewhat haphazard. We have had a sustained drive towards making sure that every bird family (an taxonomic rank - pigeons, or gulls or albatrosses are all families) has at least a start-level article, and at present only a very small number (no more than five) families are still stubs. This is obviously complicated by the rather fluid state of avian taxonomy in science at the moment - what is a family today my be several families tomorrow, or maybe not one at all.
- Innotata: Notability? It is well accepted that any species and most taxa higher than this are unquestionably notable. Issues of notability, and for my part concerns of splitting too much, come up with subspecies, and individuals and varieties of birds kept in captivity.
- Casliber: Species pages are the natural starting point for most and the easiest to improve -also they are all inherently notable. Bigger articles require concerted work, often over some months.
- Maias: For me all recognisable taxa, including distinctive subspecies, and especially those isolated from significant gene-flow, are notable. The notability of higher taxa is taken for granted, so I focus more on the largely neglected lower taxa such as island forms.
- Shyamal: The species pages are certainly approached in a haphazard way. Editors may work on a particular group of birds, of a particular region, of current interest or just whatever they fancy. Some editors may even just review the latest scientific publication and update a few factoids on the relevant articles. There are some editors (e.g.: J. M. Garg User:Jmgarg1, Tom Tarrant User:Aviceda and others) who have added pictures, often to rather sparse articles. A collection of pictures and scattered factoids can sometimes stimulate editors to reorganize and update articles.
There are no unassessed articles within your project. How did you accomplish this and do you have any advice to other projects with large backlogs of unassessed articles?
- Jimfbleak: I suppose that we are fortunate in having good numbers of contributors, some of whom are more conscientious than me in fixing unassessed articles.
- Casliber: It ain't rocket science to determine - I generally consider it a rough guide which allows one to glance at the assessment table to see the state of articles as a whole....and realise what a long way to go we have :/
- MeegsC: We had a big hit on unassessed articles — which then numbered more than 5,000 — a few years ago, with a couple of editors (particularly Maias and Dixonsej) doing a vast bulk of the reviews. Since then, it's been a whole lot easier to stay on top of things!
WikiProject Birds currently has 63 featured articles, 19 featured lists, and 48 GAs. How did you achieve this and how can other projects get to this point?
- Jimfbleak: I think the collaborative approach is a strength. Although only a minority are formal topic collaborations, there is a willingness to help with sourcing, copyediting and the other thankless tasks involved in reaching GA/FA. having said that, some of the FLs are probably not at current FL standards
- Innotata: I think birds are a pretty obvious topic to have plenty of quality articles on, with so many species of interest to so many people. And having contributors like Jimfbleak and Casliber is another factor.
- Casliber: There have been enough active contributors to really create a thriving collaborative environment, since 2007 or so, and shows no signs of slowing down in the near future. Feedback as you go is extremely helpful in breaking down writers' block.
- MeegsC: I think we push each other a little bit. Jimfbleak and Casliber are probably the editors who've brought the most articles to FA and GA status, and both have challenged — and helped — many of the rest of us get there as well. It helps to know you'll have a critical eye or two looking things over before you take articles to the "lion's den"!
Which of these articles are you most proud of being involved with? Overall, what have been some of the project's greatest achievements?
- Sabine's Sunbird: Without question I think that getting bird to featured status was the best thing we did. It was unbelievably hard work to cover such a massive topic concisely, and took a lot of effort from a lot of people, but it is a vitally important article for the Wiki as a whole and gets 170,000 views a month.
- Jimfbleak: I didn't do much for this, but it's hard to write at higher taxonomic level than species, and this is as high as you can get in the project
- JerryFriedman: I think one of our best ("greatest" seems a little strong) achievements is de-stubbing most of the family articles, as Sabine's Sunbird mentioned above. Some people are too modest to mention their very big part in this, but I'm proud of my small part. Other than that, I'm happy about some photos I took; even though they're not very good, they're better than nothing.
- Innotata: I would say Jimfbleak's featured and good topics and the other ones we have in progress. For most of these one user started the effort to improve a bunch of related articles and writes the articles, but gets tons of help from other editors.
- Casliber: bird was a real project that those involved should be well proud of. The collaborations provided an early impetus to get things moving for a year or two, but seemed to lose traction as a few of us got up to speed in churning out content really, and the last couple haven't seen much action. The fact there is an article on every species is amazing, and I hope one day to see every bird article with an image - that would be something great to see. And Snowman is doing a great job ferreting out photos (presumably) to that end. I myself found our first collaboration Common Raven very rewarding. I think it really set the ball rolling and the article just came together and really read well. If you get some really good photos and learn stuff along the way, that is a great bonus. Cockatoo was a bit like that too.
- MeegsC: Personally, I'd have to list the flight feather article. Project-wise, I'd have to concur with the comments about Bird; various editors — particularly Sabine's Sunbird, who's done great work on a number of articles — did a super job here.
Many projects are dealing with little activity and initiatives ending unsuccessfully. Has your project experienced these and what lessons have you learned from them?
- Jimfbleak: We're pretty active, although the monthly collaboration sometimes fizzles out.
- Sabine's Sunbird: Collaborations sometimes suffer because we pick articles that are important but hard to work on. Passerine is the current pick but hasn't had much happen because it is arguably a harder subject to write about than even bird was. Simpler topics, such as species like the Cattle Egret and Common Raven, have led to successful FACs.
What are the most pressing needs for WikiProject Birds? How can a new contributor help today?
- Jimfbleak: All the articles exist, so it's mainly a matter of improving them.
- Innotata: All the articles exist? I think you mean virtually all the taxon articles. We don't have that many decent articles on subjects like bird anatomy and suchlike; look at List of terms used in bird topography. There still are articles to be created, articles to be cleaned up, and most species articles still are short. Every project on Wikipedia has things to be done; here a good place to start is Template:Birds tasks.
- JerryFriedman: In particular, there are thousands of stubs with just taxonomy and range, which Quadell (who I don't think is a member of the project) very kindly had Polbot make from IUCN data. They can all be de-stubbed. And lots of articles, especially older ones, need sources and copyediting, as well as additional information. In my opinion, the most valuable information is what can't be found easily at other Web sites, but everything helps.
- Casliber: Jerry sums it up well. A scan of the Good and Featured work also shows some patterns as to what editors are interested in, so certain subjects are overrepresented. It'd be great to get more bird articles from places like Africa, South America and Asia improved as well. Finally, it would be nice to develop some Good or Featured material on aviculture and really core species such as Budgerigar, Cockatiel and Chicken up to speed.
- MeegsC: And, of course, photos and recordings! Many of the species pages — particularly those from parts of Africa, Asia and South America — have no pictures at all. And sound recordings are lacking for most species.
Anything else to add?
- Maias: A personal observation; the topic of birds seems to have a natural and well-defined core, which follows the taxonomic rankings, as well as a large and diverse peripheral area which overlaps with the interests of several other projects or project groups – including biography, books, organisations, countries, protected areas, physiology, diseases etc. The project contains a small group of around half a dozen long-term committed editors who have put in a huge amount of effort, individually and cooperatively, on the core taxon articles, researching, editing and finding illustrations, resulting in already good and steadily improving coverage. I do not count myself as part of this core group as my interests and efforts lie more on the periphery. However, the existence of the central group of editors has, in my opinion, acted to focus and encourage efforts by a much larger group of editors who contribute in various ways throughout the project. How stable this situation is, I do not know; it has served relatively well for the three years or so that I have been involved. Long may it continue to do so.
- Shyamal: The contents of the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Internet Archive are of growing importance and Wikipedia articles seem to be playing an important role in the indexing of relevant contents there. The Encyclopedia of Life was born with similar aims but have a sharp delineation - and do not deal with other associated topics such as biographies, geographical information, history and culture and their increasing association with Wikipedia is perhaps predictable.
- Sabine's Sunbird: Shyamal mentioned that we have benefited from several users who have contributed many images, and I wanted to sing the praises of another group that have massively enriched the Bird WikiProject and therefore the Wiki as a whole, the numerous Flickr contributors who have made their photos available on a licence we can use. Photographers like Kip Lee, harper, Dario Sanches and Michael Woodruff have immeasurably improved our coverage by donating images from hard to reach parts of the world.
Next week, we'll look at a revived project that focuses on the written ideas of Wikipedians like you. Until then, read volumes of our previous work in the WikiProject Report archive.
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