This week we returned to the always energetic WikiProject Oregon. When we first interviewed them in June 2009, the project was proud of their successful collaboration system, a WordPress blog, and their tendency to blur Wikipedia with real life. While some of these efforts have slowed a bit recently and several project members have found themselves living far from their Oregon roots, the project has nonetheless continued to foster discussion and churn out Good Articles. The project is currently home to 22 Featured Articles, 4 Featured Lists, and 88 Good and A-class articles. We interviewed Peteforsyth (Pete), tedder, Aboutmovies, and Jsayre64. Pete even offered to write an introduction for this article, so I'll turn it over to the experts:
- Pete: Thank you for the opportunity! Before jumping into the specific questions, I want to say that since the first Signpost article on WikiProject Oregon, many things have changed, but the core has remained the same! The Project has had an evolving cast of characters, but (in my view) there has been a great balance between early members moving on (but generally still checking in from time to time) and fresh, enthusiastic contributors every bit as dedicated to the improvement of encyclopedic content about Oregon. In the two years since your last interview, three of us have left the state (all, oddly enough, to California -- more on that later); but we all continue to stay engaged to some degree. There have been a couple of times when I feared that the momentum of the project would diminish substantially, but in recent months, I have been very encouraged by the level of activity and enthusiasm I've seen. I'd love to hear from some other project members on this point: have we achieved "escape velocity"? What will it take to ensure that the project continues to consistently improve Oregon-related content in the years and decades to come?
Last December, WikiProject Oregon created its 10,000th article, Spruce Production Division, which was displayed on the Main Page as a DYK at the end of December and became a Good Article in February. Share with us the story behind this article. Was its incubation different from most articles created on Wikipedia?
- Jsayre64: Well, you could say it all started with this post on our project's talk page, pointing out that there were nearly 10,000 Oregon-related articles on Wikipedia at that time. We !voted for what article to write together as the project's 10,000th, and we elected Spruce Production Division. We started the article soon after that, and it looked much like this while it was in the project namespace. But I doubt the article would have reached GA status by February if it weren't for a unique group of Oregon editors who were dedicated to making our 10,000th article a good one. It was a collaboration, of course, and it was successful.
One unique feature about WikiProject Oregon is the amount of collaboration that occurs in the real world. Project members meet for "Wiki Wednesdays" each week and three RecentChangesCamp unconferences have been hosted in Portland. What do you do at these meetups? Is there something unique about Oregon that fosters these kinds of offline collaborations? Would this work in other states?
- tedder: Since Ward Cunningham and the Portland ethos runs strong, Wiki Wednesdays (held at the AboutUs.org offices) are about many different wikis, not just Wikipedia. They've involved Wikipedians (especially during OSCON) but generally the Portland Wiki has been at the top of the plurality. In fact, the civic wiki formed out of the WikiWednesdays as a complement to Wikipedia.
- I think the Wikipedia presence has been weak for several reasons- going to an event involves an excursion outside of an introvert's comfort zone, simple contributions can be done just as easily from home. This is different from team activities like deciding on the proper free license, how to handle various issues, which software to use. The most recent WikiWednesday I attended was about a year ago, and it involved drinking, talking, and content contributions. Unfortunately the latter tends towards being an individual activity, much like parallel play.
- There are many things about Oregon that support these types of collaborations. Portland's tech community is notoriously open-everything and well-connected.
- The biggest reason WikiWednesdays haven't been well-represented is mostly the reverse Californication of WikiProject Oregon. Three individuals embarked for Oregon's Mexico over the past ~18 months. This is certainly a minority of the active project members, but all three were from the Portland metro and that removed some of the face-to-face energy.
When we first interviewed WikiProject Oregon, we were amazed by the project's double collaboration of the week system. Is the collaboration still as strong today as it was then? Are there any limitations to the collaboration of the week/fortnight/month concept?
- Jsayre64: I wasn't yet on Wikipedia back then, but I've heard that the project's COTW system has not been as strong in the past year or so as it had been earlier. However, we nominated ourselves for a Triple Crown and received one, found here. Also see Wikipedia:WikiProject Oregon/Triple Crown. This motivated some of us who were not originally included in the award to work on GA and FA content so we could be a part of the project award. User:Another Believer helped get the articles Keller Fountain Park, Director Park, and Hands Across Hawthorne (in record time, by the way) all to GA status. Perhaps Bitar Mansion will be next. He has earned his part in the award; User:EncMstr as well. As for me, I joined the party with a three-way collaboration to get Willamette River to GA status (the article is now under peer review for an FA nomination), and hopefully my nomination of Klamath River will be reviewed and the article will receive the green icon sometime soon. So in summary—although again, I know nothing about 2009 and earlier around here—I would say that the selected collaborations that appear in Template:WikiProject Oregon collab don't receive as much attention as before, but the collaborative spirit has been just as strong with other articles.
- Aboutmovies: COTW has had a slight renaissance in the last few months, but just like the project in general, there has been a drop-off in the last 18 months or so. COTW has dropped off mainly because I graduated and had to start working, thus far less Wiki-time to keep it updated. The overall drop of has to do with similar drops in editor activity by many long-time WPORE members as the real world has reared it's ugly head and spread our members out across the country and/or reduced editing time. Simply put, we need more new blood, which from my understanding is a Wikipedia-wide problem.
- tedder: COTW has definitely dropped off. It's gone from an organized event to an even more grassroots effort. There are good and bad things about this, but I think the biggest advantage is that proposed collaborations happen immediately and are self-sorting. Something like Hands Across Hawthorne would lose momentum if they were confined to the weekly model.
The Oregon Portal is a Featured Portal. How much effort goes into building and maintaining a Featured Portal? What role does the portal serve as a component of WikiProject Oregon?
- Pete: An observation: the Portal draws in the neighborhood of 1,000 page views per month. This stands in contrast to the highest-rated content the project has worked on, which draw thousands or tens of thousands of views per month. I feel the Featured Portal drive was more valuable as a tool for building our sense of shared purpose and scope, than for serving Wikipedia's readers. There is, of course, great potential for this to change: imagine the kinds of uses schools, museums, foundations, or other institutions could find for the portal. But in order for that to happen, I believe that Wikipedians' ideas of how to construct a portal -- which has not exactly been a hotbed of innovation -- would need to shift substantially, and/or there would need to be strong and sustained efforts to communicate with those kinds of institutions in the state.
- The community-building aspect, though, is not to be taken lightly. I learned a great deal from the editors leading the charge on the portal, and felt more motivated than ever to create good content.
- Aboutmovies: There was a lot of collaboration in the creation and drive to featured status. However, the last few years I think it is pretty much just me adding new content to it. Luckily we still have active editors to get articles to GA/FA status so that I have new articles to work into the portal.
Does WikiProject Oregon collaborate with any other projects? Have you considered annexing the wayward WikiProject California?
- Pete: Thanks a lot for blowing our cover. Three of our operatives have been deeply embedded in the California Wikiverse during the last two years, covertly studying their infrastructure, the weaknesses in their social order, etc. etc. We have borrowed heavily from their technology and even attempted praying (to no avail) to their sun gods. But thanks to your public inquiry, the entire operation has now been compromised.
- Okay, in all seriousness, I may have some useful observations to share. As a current resident of San Francisco, and as former Public Outreach Officer for the Wikimedia Foundation, I've had the chance to get to know Wikipedia communities in Oregon, California, and around the world. I have a couple of theories: (1) Size matters. Wikimedia Chapters, by and large, have been successful in countries similar in size to Oregon: for instance, many European countries. If it's possible for Wikipedians to get together in person, whether in organized groups or just casual meetups, it facilitates community-building. And (2) An existing sense of community. This is difficult to measure, but I think very important. Portland, my former hometown, is the biggest city in the state; but it's not very big compared to California's Bay Area, where I live now (which is one of several large population centers in the state). While living in Portland, I felt strongly that "my people" were not merely Portlanders, or people who shared my various hobbies and interests, but Oregonians more generally. I have the sense that is common in Oregon. Not ubiquitous, but common. Finding other Wikipedians interested in focusing on the state was exciting, but also felt natural. In San Francisco, I don't get that sense. Things move faster here, and there are more people. People seem to gravitate toward smaller communities: they identify, for instance, with Silicon Valley culture, or Burning Man, or the various non-profits in the area, more than they identify as Californians. I suspect these (and surely other) factors tend to make it more difficult to organize Wikipedians in a huge state like California than in Oregon.
- That said, I've also had the pleasure of being involved with a number of local efforts here -- and we've even begun to try to coordinate a bit between the states. Both cities had vibrant celebrations of Wikipedia's 10th anniversary, and were able to share the experience via the magic of YouTube and other social networks. More recently, we both had a go at putting on local versions of the Great American Wiknic, which had a big draw here in SF, and didn't quite get off the ground in Portland. I am hopeful that those of us in Greater Cascadia will work together more closely in the years to come!
- tedder: Pete is correct. We are Oregonians (and Portlanders) in our hearts, and it's hard to move away from that. I tend to migrate every four years but Portland is the only place I have attachment to. My Portland-centric article creation has certainly dropped off, but my time has also dropped off, so I tend to do more wikigardening than creation.
What are the project's most pressing needs? How can a new contributor help today?
- Pete: Above all, just come say hi -- and tell us a little about your interests -- on the WikiProject Oregon talk page. Unlike other projects, we haven't gone too far in the direction of setting up sub-projects or task forces. I think the biggest advantage of our approach is that everybody talks in the same place; although we might have varied interests, we try to support each other's content-building efforts, and teach each other wiki tricks along the way. I'm sure others will have specific suggestions -- but the important thing is, just come make your interest known!
- Jsayre64: I think that what's extremely important to the project's future are new editors. If you take a look at the talk page, you'll find that most of the editors involved in the discussions have been on Wikipedia for at least two years, and many for more than three years. And I agree with Pete; enthusiastic new members should come introduce themselves as well as their Oregon-related interests on the talk page. I guarantee the project's members will be welcoming, and more likely than not, they will be interested in working within the project with the new members.
- tedder: We have diverse interests. New members add to this diversity. Some enthusiasm for a subject that happens to have an Oregon component is always nice. If nothing else, the project talk page is a vibrant hub of activity. This has led to various "adoptions" of pages- a few of us adopted Hazen, Nevada when we stumbled across fantastic pictures, for instance, and research into tiny mostly-abandoned Oregon towns led me to the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company and a handful of towns in Utah and Idaho.
- Aboutmovies: Cash, and lots of it, so we can buy Idaho and annex and put to rest once and for all the Idaho's Portugal issue. Though some sort of ability to legally provide access to all of the paid archives of the Oregonian, Register-Guard, and Statesman Journal newspapers would be beneficial.
Anything else you'd like to add?
- tedder: I've been able to contribute some technical skills towards Wikipedia based on the needs of WikiProject Oregon. For example, this list (which enables this watchlist) was manually generated until I wrote some perl to handle it. Having that list updated daily allows us to monitor new article additions and also to celebrate our 10,000th article with a collaboration (Spruce Production Division, as JSayre64 mentioned above). This service is used by other projects- see Wikipedia:WikiProject Cue sports/Admin, for instance. It also prompted me to rewrite the hugely popular AlexNewPageBot when it went missing, but that will be covered in a future WikiProject Oregon blog post.
Next week's article will be very animated. Until then, draw your own conclusions in the archive.
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