Lessons from another Wikipedia: Czech WikiProject Protected Areas
Emblem of the Czech WikiProject Protected Areas
Percentage of protected areas with photos in particular districts of the Czech Republic after a one-year period with green ticks indicating 100 percent coverage
This image of Dactylorhiza majalis
in the natural monument Vojovická draha was the result of a grant targeting protected areas
This image of Pulsatilla pratensis
was taken by a student as part of a collaboration with the Charles University
Grant participants are also documenting different types of environmental management like the pictured attempt to build ant hills
Famous trees are included in the scope of this WikiProject, like this one in Český Těšín
This week, we ventured outside our Anglophone bubble to see whether WikiProjects thrive on other Wikipedias. With dozens of language versions from which to choose our first foray into non-English WikiProjects, we started with the Czech Wikipedia's innovative WikiProjekt Chráněná území (WikiProject Protected Areas) which covers protected areas of the Czech Republic. Started a little over a year ago, WikiProject Protected Areas has incorporated a variety of social media, classroom projects, partnerships with NGOs, automated article creation, and other initiatives that build articles, improve categorization, unite nomenclature, and add geographic coordinates. The project has contributed a large collection of images to Commons, and even managed to produce and distribute a concentration game. The project has also gained the attention of the Wikimedia Foundation, which highlighted the project twice on the Foundation's blog with posts about the project's ambassador program and production of the concentration game. We interviewed the project's founder, Chmee2, who also wrote the following summary of the project's work:
- Wikipedia's dozens of language versions are being written by enthusiasts who struggle to create a viable equivalent to the English Wikipedia – both for readers and editors. Czech Wikipedia is one of these, and exceeded 200,000 articles last year. The other Wikipedia versions are not only a source of valuable content that one can translate to enrich articles of his language version; often, the Wikipedia versions can share something that crosses the language barrier much more easily: an idea.
- The aims of WikiProject Protected Areas extend beyond the usual concerns of WikiProjects – of improving encyclopedic content and acquiring new photos. We have set a long-term goal to attract readers so that they become editors of Wikipedia themselves. The need for new editors is one of the main challenges all Wikipedia language versions face. Nowadays, the Internet offers may opportunities to self-realize through writing; to maintain growth, Wikipedia has to offer such interesting projects that readers will be convinced to start contributing.
- WikiProject Protected Areas was established just over a year ago. It has since gone quite a long way: from revising existing entries (uniting their nomenclature, sorting and categorising the content, adding GPS coordinates) and instituting automated article creation (so as to make writing of articles as easy for new editors as possible) to the creation of a comprehensive category tree on Wikimedia Commons. As of January 2012, our project has grown to 2,300 articles of varying quality but always with staple content and a standardised appearance. This has proved to be quite a milestone because as our activity began to show in recent changes and in community discussions, more and more experienced editors joined our project. However, Czech Wikipedia is just a small project with as few as 80-100 active editors. Thus, it was a question of time before all editors interested in nature and environment took part in our project. It reached a peak and further efforts to gain more members within Czech Wikipedia have been in vain.
- We soon realized that there are just not enough Wikipedians willing to help us. Editors were overloaded with lots of other interesting projects and it was getting harder and harder to intrigue them in this particular one. We had to find an another way to attract new members. The most straightforward solution was to look for them outside Wikimedia projects, in public – so as to find new people and convince them to contribute. However, this meant that we had to learn how to successfully address the public. The environment of Wikipedia is not the best place for an advertisement, not to mention the emotions these approaches can evoke in the community. Fortunately, the Internet now offers an easy-to-use platform: social networks.
- Social networks represent an easy and effective way to share information with readers, i.e., potential editors. They provide a unique opportunity to find your target group and supply them with news on whatever topic you like, while simultaneously giving background information about how Wikipedia works. This led us to establish fan accounts on two of the social networks most popular with Czechs (Facebook and Google+). These continue to attract recognition, with more than 400 fans so far. We regularly write about the project's latest good articles, new photos of protected areas, and other interesting news from the field of environmentalism. Simultaneously, we explain how Wikipedia works and encourage the fans to actively contribute to Wikipedia—we continually reassure them that contributing to our online encyclopedia is very simple and beneficial. We do our best to assist those who do decide to contribute, either by giving help directly or by correcting their work. Indeed, our effort slowly bears fruit: together with our fans, we have been able to correct several mistakes, gain new pictures of previously unphotographed protected areas and establish contact with other groups that have similar goals (such as the Czech GLAM initiative).
- Nevertheless, social sites are not the all-powerful key to success of a WikiProject. It is crucial to actively grow in more directions. This was the reason why we decided to seek collaborations in the education sector. In the beginning of the 2011/2012 winter term, we set up a project with the renowned Institute for Environmental Studies at Charles University in Prague. Our WikiProject organised a seminar during which the students were supposed to contribute to Wikipedia. Thirty participating students picked one protected area each, taking pictures of it and improving the corresponding article. By the end of the term, the Czech Wikipedia was enriched with 30 high-quality articles mainly about Czech protected areas, but also covering the Finnish Kevo Protected Area and Kobuk Valley National Park in Alaska. The project also yielded dozens of photos of previously unmapped protected areas. The students played an active role in seminar, which proved to be crucial to the high quality of the outcome. However, the retention of students on Wikipedia is questionable, as they often ceased to contribute after they handed over their assignment (Editor's note: This effect has also been seen in student projects involving the English Wikipedia). However, in a couple of years, these students will be members of different social groups and undertaking a wide range of jobs, and whenever they come, they will remember good memories about Wikipedia and the knowledge of how it works. It might help us in the future to open different doors and keep our good name alive.
- We also explore other ways of reaching potential editors – attending conferences, giving lectures and offering leaflets. A small game for people of all ages is one example of an unusual method of publicising our mission: together with other authors and using some pictures from Commons, we created a concentration game about the protected areas. The leaflet of the concentration game includes our logo, explanatory text about contributing to Wikipedia, and what our WikiProject aims to accomplish. We printed 3000 copies of the game, and many important environmental institutions helped us to distribute it (including Krkonoše Mountains National Park Administration and Czech Union for Nature Conservation). Currently, we are working on a short film about our efforts and organising open-air workshops with botanists (to improve our capabilities in this area). We try to be active in every possible way and we want the public to hear about us. We believe that this is the way to attract new Wikipedians – and thus enable further development of Wikipedia – rather than by just writing articles on our own.
How does this project compare with other projects on the Czech Wikipedia?
- In my humble opinion, we are the most successful WikiProject on Czech Wikipedia, as the other successful WikiProjects – for example WikiProjekt Kosmonautika (WikiProject Astronautics) – mainly target the development of encyclopedic content and do not actively seek new editors. On the other hand, I understand that content production is important for Wikipedia and I really appreciate the work of all the WikiProjects that we have. However, I enjoy the diversity of activities in our WikiProject: we write articles, take pictures and attract new editors to join us!
Has your project taken inspiration from any other projects?
- It partly builds on the WikiProjekt Fotografování (WikiProject Photography) I established in 2007. There I learned that it is possible to gather quite a large group of Wikipedians under one "flag" if you offer an interesting topic. However, at that time, we were not able to engage in outreach beyond Czech Wikipedia; hence why I established this new project. It must have interesting content not only for Wikipedians, but also for travelers and photographers. Our project has a lot in common (by having similar targets) as the worldwide GLAM movement, but we have had to walk most of the paths ourselves.
What can other projects learn from your experiences?
- Mainly the methods using which we connect with our readers and share our problems and success stories with them. We use fan pages on Google+ and Facebook to discuss with them and to get their feedback. It helps us make our WikiProject better and more friendly for them and attract them to participate too. I already saw several Facebook fan pages from different Czech projects (such as Czech GLAM, the Ambassador program, and FČO) that probably follow in our tracks on social networks. Honestly, I am proud that we have served as an example and that we mark new ways for other Wikipedians!
Please share the successes and setbacks of using social media like Facebook and Google+ to promote the project. How frequently do you post updates? Have you been able to recruit new editors from social media websites?
- I try to post updates every day and sometimes even several posts per day if I find something interesting or important. With these posts, I do not focus only on Wikipedia projects, because I think we have to offer interesting content in order to attract new fans (i.e. potential new editors). I also share news and videos from other sources and I just generally try to build a community of people interested in the environment. We can then add some information about Wikipedia or some of our challenges associated with our WikiProject to a much wider society of fans. And yes, we were able to encourage several people to join Wikipedia (though often only as one-time editors), who then mainly upload images of protected areas, memory trees or some interesting plants and animals that we were missing on Wikipedia. It usually is only small and short-term assistance, but we really appreciate it. Unfortunately, I can not report any new long-time editors joining Wikipedia because of the Facebook/Google+ fan pages, but I strongly believe that this is only a question of time.
What limitations have you encountered in using the various social media websites? Do you think other projects could use social media to attract attention and improve articles?
- The main limitation is that people are afraid of editing Wikipedia ("press the edit button"…) and that we are not able to show them the editing of Wikipedia in person. The other point is that you never know what the reaction to your post will be. Will they be interested in it? Also, it is necessary to look for new posts on different topics. It is absolutely unthinkable to post the same link to an article every day. In a couple of days, it would be terribly boring for fans, so you have to be innovative. Despite all these disadvantages I strongly recommend that other projects use social networks as well because that way, you can easily reach Wikipedia readers and introduce them to our dreams, goals and stories about us.
What was the greatest benefit you saw from conducting the university seminars? What lessons have you learned from the classroom project that you can use to improve seminars for future semesters?
- The greatest benefit for me was the opportunity to talk directly to students in the class, discuss their written articles, and provide prompt feedback. Students were also highly appreciative of the fact that they could ask about Wikipedia rules and that I corrected articles after they had written them. What really surprised me was the fact that students had invested more time to their task because they had known that their work would be read by other Wikipedia readers. It was clear that positive motivation and explanation of all the task steps were crucial to assure high-quality articles, because students thereby identified more with their work. What could be done better next time? We must be more strict about timekeeping during presentations. They will not be allowed to drag time during real conferences; students have to learn to plan their time.
How did your project create relationships with real-world institutions like the Krkonoše Mountains National Park Administration and the Czech Union for Nature Conservation?
- Well, we tried to use non-official avenues: social networks, e-mails and the memory games which we printed. Most of the important institutions manage their fan pages on Facebook or, at least, some staff members have accounts. I commented on their posts several times with some additional info and links to our articles on Czech Wikipedia. Later, I wrote them e-mails or messages on social networks with an offer to distribute to them a printed copy of memory game about the protected areas. They agreed because it was kind of a present, and because Wikipedia is non-profit (as is widely known in the population). Now we have a good reputation within these institutions and it will be probably easier to negotiate with them in future. It is also great that people from these institutions provide us with contacts to other governmental organisations. Through this, we received access to an official photo archive of the Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic, and we are negotiating terms of cooperation and acceptance of the content.
Has aligning the project with these institutions caused any point of view concerns or political complications?
- Because our partners are NGOs or government organisations focusing on nature protection, we do not have problems with political issues or accusations of POV. However, I cannot rule out that it will not happen in future.
Have you contributed to projects in other languages of Wikipedia like the English Wikipedia's WikiProject Czech Republic or French Wikipedia's Projet République Tchèque? What difficulties have you faced trying to translate articles from Czech to other languages and the other way around? What can be done to improve collaboration between different languages of Wikipedia?
- I cannot speak for others, but I tried to post some posts to the talkpage of WikiProject Czech Republic with an offer that I can produce images from the Czech Republic; however, there has been no response. The penetration of our WikiProject Protected areas in the English Wikipedia is low, but this is probably because of the little significance Czech protected areas has for most foreigners. However, our activity has deeply affected Wikimedia Commons because of a deep re-categorization of all protected areas and the production of a whole new category system. I also transferred this system to English Wikipedia and as an experiment, I tried to translate one short article about a protected area (Řežabinec a Řežabinecké tůně). A very positive thing for us is that editors from the Slovak Wikipedia are translating our content very widely! My main problem in translation from Czech to English is that because of the minor significance of these articles on the English Wikipedia, nobody polishes my Czenglish (although that would be very welcome). How can cooperation be improved? A crucial step is making cross-wiki templates, because it is not easy to remember two sets of them. As a second idea, a group of editors from English Wikipedia should be established that would be interested in Czech protected areas because, then, translation of our articles would be much faster and easier.
Next week, we're going to rock your world. Until then, enjoy our previous singles in the archive.
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