Did Wikimania 2008 foreshadow the Egyptian revolution?
Under the eyes of an authoritarian government: Reception desk at Wikimania 2008
The current media debates about the role of digital communication technologies in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 focus mostly on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but Wikipedia was mentioned a few times as well. As already noted last week, activist Wael Ghonim made headlines by saying "Our revolution is like Wikipedia... Everyone is contributing content, [but] you don't know the names of the people contributing the content. This is exactly what happened".
In an article about the role of the Internet for the protesters on the New York Times' "Link by Link" blog ("Egyptians Were Unplugged, and Uncowed"), Noam Cohen drew from, among other things, impressions and contacts made at Wikimania 2008:
||This comfort with a relatively free-flowing Internet was on display in 2008, when Wikipedia's annual convention was held in Alexandria, at the new high-tech library built near where the legendary Library of Alexandria had been.
Filled with much of Egypt's technical class, which included many women, the gathering was billed as an effort to bolster Arabic Wikipedia. The relatively low number of articles didn't accurately reflect the importance of technology in the Arab world, the thinking went. Many Egyptians had an active, even bustling, Facebook presence, and attempts were made to organize protests at the site on behalf of bloggers who had been persecuted by the government.
Trying to draw a direct line to the recent events where the government had shut down the entire Egyptian Internet to quell the protests, Cohen quoted Moushira Elamrawy, "an advocate for free culture and free software in Alexandria" nowadays working for the Wikimedia Foundation (where she recently became "Chapter Relations Manager", see Signpost coverage; in fact she received the news about Mubarak's resignation during her first IRC office hour). She "remembered the conference as a chance for the budding techie community in Egypt to meet in person. Two years later, the Internet shutdown showed the need for an independent community of technical experts to protect Egyptians' connection to the world. The day the Internet was shut off represented a point of no return, Ms. Elamrawy said. 'It was definitely one of the most provoking things. We felt abandoned – completely isolated from the world.'"
In his 2008 coverage of the event, Cohen had observed that "In Egypt, Wikipedia is more than hobby", putting "the enthusiasm for building a stronger Arabic Wikipedia" among the young local participants in the context of the then-ongoing April 6 Youth Movement.
The choice of Egypt as the site of Wikimania 2008 had initially been controversial because of the Egyptian government's human rights record (Signpost coverage).
Guardian interviews Jimmy Wales after his move to the UK
The Guardian featured a long portrait of Jimmy Wales last week ("The Saturday interview: Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales"). It opened by noting that Wales had just moved to Britain to join his fiancee, who was Tony Blair's diary secretary, is currently a director at Freud Communications, a London-based PR firm (where she is handling the 2012 Summer Olympics) and is about to give birth to Wales' second child. Author Aida Edemariam then covered many topics about Wales' life and Wikipedia that have been reported elsewhere, adding several details, for example that Wales had grown up as a "'super-geek' with thick glasses and a very early interest in computers". While describing Wales as "generally being the suave public face of his company [i.e. Wikipedia - sic]", the article also gave examples of how he was still doing "some of the nitty-gritty" of Wikipedia editing, "of keeping an eye on new entries, vetting the quality of their sources, flagging up inappropriate bias ..., and reverting anything dubious". Wales noted that there are several kinds of vandalism, distinguishing libelous modifications of BLPs from more harmless edits that are called "sandboxing – people are treating it like a sandbox – they know they can't really hurt anything." The article claimed that Wales "is, in fact, generally dismissive of traditional modes of authority – peer-reviewed journals, the requirement for strings of letters after names. 'I think people have to recognise that the traditional modes of authority weren't that great.'" On Wales' actual company Wikia, the article reported claims by unnamed critics that it "in effect piggybacks on the reputation built up by the legions of unpaid contributors to the encyclopedia, and thus ruthlessly exploits them", a charge dismissed by Wales.
Essay examines systemic bias toward African topics, using disputed deletion example
A recent essay titled "The Missing Wikipedians" argues that "as large parts of Africa go online, it is expected that they will start to edit Wikipedia and that they will edit it in their own language. Both of these assumptions may be incorrect." The author, South African Heather Ford, a former member of the Wikimedia Foundation's advisory board, published the essay on her personal blog, but it will be part of an upcoming reader edited by the "Critical Point of View" (CPOV) Wikipedia research initiative (cf. Signpost interview with two of its organizers).
The essay centers around the case of the article Makmende on the English Wikipedia, about a fictional superhero that last year became what has been called Kenya's first Internet meme. Around that time, blogger and Berkman fellow Ethan Zuckerman (also a member of the WMF advisory board) had tried to look up the term on Wikipedia and instead encountered deletion log entries telling him that the article had been speedily deleted three times (a later version was kept). This prompted him to write a blog post presenting the deletions as a case of what Wikipedians call systemic bias: "Makmende may never become particularly important to English speaking users outside of Kenya. But the phenomenon's quite important within the Kenyan internet". Ford's essay expands on Zuckerman's blog post, quoting from a subsequent AfD: "Wikipedia editors claimed that the article needed to be deleted because there existed 'no reliable sources, and no claims of notability'. Pointing to the lack of sources relating to African culture online [a user] came back with this retort: 'The problem is that there is hardly any content on African influences in the 90's and 80's which may make it hard to make the connections'. However, Ford also noted that "interestingly, Makmende does not exist in the Swahili version of Wikipedia ... There seems to be a disconnect between where ordinary Kenyans want their cultural narratives to live, and where outsiders imagine it."
The essay was discussed on the Foundation-l mailing list, where participants questioned the accuracy of the description of the deletions. Thewub argued that "this particular example is portrayed absolutely incorrectly", explaining that the first version had been rightfully deleted as G1 ("Patent nonsense, meaningless, or incomprehensible"), consisting only of "Makmende. Kenyan Superhero. Spawned. Not born. Amphibious. Breaths underwater." The next two speedy deletions concerned a copyright violation. And the AfD had in fact resulted in an eight keep votes and none for deletion except the nominator (but only his statement was quoted by Ford). He concluded "Honestly, I think this is an example of Wikipedia working pretty well. The only problem was perhaps a misleading third deletion summary" (citing G3 - "pure vandalism" - instead of G12 "Unambiguous copyright infringement"). Last year, Wikimedia Trustee SJ had offered similar clarification about the speedy deletions in the comment section of Zuckerman's blog post.
Asked by the Signpost for comment, Ford acknowledged that "thewub makes some good points about the exact sequence of events that I think are important to add to the story", but that they would not refute the larger arguments in the essay, which had used the Makmende deletion "as a story that epitomises Wikipedia's current growth problems and the challenges it faces as it seeks to 'make all human knowledge accessible'."
Indeed the Foundation-l criticism did not extend to the rest of the essay. After citing various researchers on the slowing growth of Wikipedia, rising revert rates and deletionism, and questioning the expectation that increased Internet access in developing countries will generate an influx of new Wikipedians, Ford comes back to the Makmende example, asking "why was the Kenyan community so determined that the Makmende article exist on the English version of Wikipedia?", despite the existence of a Wikipedia in their own language, with much less bureaucratic red tape. To answer this, she applies four different kinds of motivation to contribute to public good in online cooperations that sociologist Peter Kollock identified: Anticipated reciprocity by other users, reputation, a sense of efficacy (having an impact) and need (of others, i.e. altruism).
In the conclusion, Ford argues that for "people in developing countries like Kenya ... the motivations for contributing in English Wikipedia are ... much greater than [for] contributing to the Swahili version, but it is unlikely that the vast holes in geographical and cultural content will be filled when the costs of contribution are so large." She observes that "far from having nothing left to talk about, Wikipedia has a number of holes", but that it needs "a strategy for dealing with local notability".
- Vandalism detectors collaborate: A new paper, titled "Wikipedia Vandalism Detection: Combining Natural Language, Metadata, and Reputation Features" was presented in a poster session at the International Conference on Intelligent Text Processing and Computational Linguistics (CICLing) conference on February 21 (abstract, full paper). According to West.andrew.g, one of the authors, it grew out of discussions at Wikimania 2010, and "combines the logic of the WikiTrust and WP:STiki systems with some natural-language techniques ... a collaborative approach to collaborative application security". (See also related Signpost coverage: "Vandalism detection competition", "Spam attacks"). Another talk at the conference was titled "Providing Cross-Lingual Editing Assistance to Wikipedia Editors". Interestingly, the conference website asks visitors to "Please help us to improve the Wikipedia article about CICLing".
- Wikipedia wooing the world: A Malaysian daily newspaper, theSun, ran an article describing how Wikipedia "has wooed and won the world over to become an indispensable tool for millions of users", giving a quick summary of its history and quoting Jimmy Wales, Larry Sanger and German sociologist Christian Stegbauer. The Deutsche Presse-Agentur article had previously appeared in German some weeks ago.
- Students getting "conflicting messages" about Wikipedia: The Equinox, a student newspaper at Keene State College in New Hampshire, USA, reports that "Wikipedia approval remains divided in academia". Some professors encourage the use of Wikipedia as a starting point for research, while others prohibit it altogether, "putting students at an ethical disadvantage" since they then "must not reveal to their professors all of the sources with which they have worked to gather knowledge about a topic for fear of receiving a failing grade". The college is described as having "professors of both viewpoints, sending very conflicting messages to students." Examining the reliability of Wikipedia, the article erroneously stated that "each page is reviewed by an editor staffed by Wikipedia", but that "there is a delay time between when information is posted and when it is reviewed, posing the great question: how accurate is the information?", posing the great question how accurate the information in the rest of the article was.