Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2017-06-23/Op-ed

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Facto Post: a fresh take: Exploring sourcing issues in Wikimedia projects, a solution in Wikidata and fact mining, and a newsletter to continue the conversation.
Wikicite 2017 in Vinna by Mardetanha (88).JPG
Wikicite 2017

I come late to the vision thing. I remember still that when I was standing for the Foundation Board in 2006, one Wikimedian described my platform as "pragmatic", though not in a good way. I suppose I have usually felt that the main way to build an encyclopedia is an enormous amount of painstaking effort. Right now, though, I feel the need to kick up a fuss.

The catalyst was the latest in the WikiCite conference series. I missed the Vienna meeting in late May, but it was clearly vibrant in a way that can only be welcomed. I started the Facto Post mass message to bottle the buzz.

Backstory: Wikimedia integration

I count myself as a four-tab Wikimedian. This means that when I sit down to my machine, I have Wikipedia, Commons, Wikisource and Wikidata tabs open. I have been heavily involved with Wikisource since 2009, and Wikidata since 2014. I arrived on Wikipedia in June 2003. So, where is Wikimedia heading right now? I have taken part in the current Wikimedia movement strategy exercise, and have mixed feelings about it. Radicalism? I don't see it there.

I have tried thinking about Wikimedia integration around Wikidata. I think this is happening, but it is hard to explain to anyone not already a Wikimedian working on several of the sister projects. Some people seem to feel threatened by Wikidata. Others regard it, with rather more justification, as the sonic screwdriver of the Wikimedia universe: Brion Vibber is supposed to have said that it solves all problems.

Presentation and content

I put my head over the parapet with s:Wikisource talk:Wikimedia Strategy 2017#Greater scope for data, citation reform and integration on Wikipedia, and make the clear case for our place in education. What would I be meaning there?

"Citation reform" suggests something is broken. Not everyone would agree. But consider whether the reader is able to view Wikipedia references consistently, in a given style. Is there a setting in "Preferences" for that? No, there may be 100 different referencing styles used in Wikipedia, and by convention there has to be a good reason for an editor to change the referencing style in an article. Normally, and this is a strength of Wikipedia, the reader is the customer here. In the way references are presented, the original author of an article has more of the status of someone who is "always right", in selecting the citation style.

Software engineers are going to recognise the issue here, namely separation of presentation and content. The essential content of a reference can be displayed in numerous ways, e.g.: which comes first, given name or family name of an author (content)? The reader who really wants family name written first, which always reminds me of old library card indexes, could in principle have that option via "Preferences" (presentation). That is a futuristic idea: another is that we should actually know the area of text that a reference applies to. (Strange but true, we don't now.) In any case, Wikidata could do the job of implementing the separation.

Integration: a fresh take

Here and now, I'm still talking about integration, but in a more encyclopedic way. Crucially, too, in a community way. The input-output issues around Wikidata now seem like a good way to understand things in the large, not just Wikidata's place among sister projects. Wikidata inputs (automated, semi-automated, and via the fact mining which I'm working on at WikiFactMine project). Holding areas such as mix'n'match, potentially LibraryBase. Wikidata outputs, not just to infoboxes but via SPARQL, and some form of WikiCite export (in other words, reuse of bibliographic and citation data held in Wikidata).

What I was saying in detail about citation reform is a technical possibility once the WikiCite project takes hold. It is a good example of a way ahead. I would think less of a Wikimedia movement strategy that didn't mention such things.

So I mean to take "post-Wikidata" seriously. About five years since its inception, there is a new perspective available, coming from Wikidatans, but not only them. Librarians find it of interest, some of the open science crowd, those looking for the salvation of digital humanities.

Facto Post

I felt, already last summer, that Wikidata was undeniably doing something for the digital humanities, moving our take beyond GLAM. See Andrew Gray's blogpost in the first issue of Facto Post. People really should get behind new tech possibilities for Wikimedia, I say. I believe that the "technophile versus Luddite" stand-off is divisive rather than helpful. I respect the caveat-oriented scepticism that is appropriate to new technology, but the difference between entering a caveat and nitpicking is a judgement call. So, I will go so far as to question the judgement of those who can only find nay-saying in their hearts.

To get past the title, Facto Post is a play on words. Ex post facto is Latin for "retrospectively", so reversed is possibly "prospectively"? But the play is also from the middle of "WikiFactMine", on which I'm currently working: I have a summer job as Wikimedian in Residence, at ContentMine, whose project it is. Fact as in "fact mining", a subarea of text and data mining, for us the extraction of scientific facts from original papers. Some of them are headed for Wikidata, as referenced entries.

Tim Berners-Lee himself is planning a revised Web; he praised our governance, if adding that Wikipedia is not perfect. And it is not. We are still straining to adjust Wikipedia to the semantic Web concept, his previous version. In fact, the potential is only just becoming apparent in terms of Wikimedia content being much more easily manipulated. Taming the plethora of referencing styles is just a start. The excitement is emergent, not just another "next big thing". I sought to nail it in the Editorial to the first issue of Facto Post. No doubt several passes will be needed.

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