Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/Single/2020-11-01

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The Signpost
Single-page Edition
WP:POST/1
1 November 2020
 


Kazan House of Tatarstan Government 08-2016.jpg
Information placed on English Wikipedia is paid for by the Government of Tatarstan (Дом правительства Татарстана – Cabinet of Ministers building, Kazan, Tatarstan shown).

Portuguese Wikipedia bans IP editing

Disclosure: the author Érico actively participated in the discussions on ptwiki

In early October ptwiki banned editing by unregistered editors, who are often called anonymous or IP editors. The ban is already being implemented.

The issue has been debated many times since the beginning of Portuguese Wikipedia and has always been very controversial. In recent years the ptwiki community came to an unofficial common understanding that vandalism by IP editors was out of control. IPs were responsible for 85% of vandalism. Despite all the anti-vandalism systems being used, from Huggle to dozens of editing filters, vandalism was no longer being effectively controlled.

The project routinely received complaints that vandalism remained in articles not just for days or months, but for years. It was rare to see IP editors making useful edits within the rules. The community discussed the topic and decided to vote on the subject. More than 70% of voters were in favor of preventing edits from IPs in the main domain and 82% were in favor of preventing article creation by IPs.

This was one of the largest and most decisive votes in the project's history: 169 votes in favor, 69 votes against. The community then contacted the WMF Board of Trustees to argue in favor of the new rule. The WMF has not responded so far, but neither have they interfered. It is not necessary for the WMF to take action, as IP edits are being prohibited through edit filters and IP range blocks.

One community concern is that there could be other interference from people outside the community, who might not listen to their concerns. Such interference has happened before with the developers community, which simply said that banning IP editors was impossible - "this isn't going to happen." Can someone with no experience on ptwiki say "it is simply not possible to ban IPs"? Since the ban was carried out, there has been a substantial increase in creation of accounts and vandalism rates have decreased significantly, allowing editors to spend their energies creating and referencing articles. É

Government of Tatarstan paying for editing

Kazan Millennium tamğa.svg
Kazan written in embellished Arabic script

The government of the Republic of Tatarstan, part of the Russian Federation, will be paying for articles on the Russian Wikipedia, which will then be translated for inclusion on the Tatar Wikipedia and the English Wikipedia, according to reports on Russian Wikinews. Farhad Fatkullin, 2018 Wikipedian of the Year, helped organize the tender with the Tatarstan Investment Development Agency (TIDA) which was won by Anna Biryukova. According to Fatkullin, "TIDA is interested to have Tatarstan-related materials available also in at least 8 more languages, which are German, French, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean."[1]

Vladimir Medeyko, director of Wikimedia RU, said that the chapter assisted in the tender "to help formulate its conditions in the most correct way. In my opinion, this has been achieved, and I am grateful to Farhad." However, they did not place a bid. "We studied the issue of participation in it. I must say that in general we were wary of this in connection with possible reputational risks."

The contract, which has not yet been signed, covers 51 articles, or sections of articles, on ruwiki, plus the translations for tawiki and enwiki, with payment expected to be 990,000 rubles (about $12,500).

Biryukova is a well known commercial paid editor on ruwiki, according to Ymblanter,[2] and declares her paid status on her enwiki user page. According to that page she's worked as a paid editor on 7 articles.

Ymblanter compared the project to Gibraltarpedia, a troubled project paid for by the Gibraltar government which worked with a former board chairman of Wikimedia UK to increase tourism. Ymblanter says "I am not sure why this project should turn out any differently."

He continued "The government of Tatarstan is not the most democratic institution in the world. I expect that most edits would be uncontroversial, but some probably would not be, and we might very well be in a situation when a user is being paid to add POV to articles. In the English Wikipedia, these articles are poorly monitored, and users prefer not to deal with Eastern European topics which have a well-deserved reputation of … POV pushing and edit-warring."

The Signpost asked Fatkullin about concerns that accepting money from the government to write Wikipedia articles had ominous overtones. He responded, in part:

I love the fact that Wikipedia … is seen by many as the place where people manage to find consensus around phrasing their differences in a civil manner & that diversity of views present benefit its readers, promoting the mission of free knowledge. I would clearly like to see institutions and individuals from around the world contributing to and otherwise supporting as many Wikimedia projects in as many languages as they find attractive. … Our main safeguards against "officially approved" government, private, NGO or individually-pushed POV is in following m:Founding principles and WP:5P, whilst democracy without pluralism is indeed the road to hell paved by good intentions.

Biryukova replied to our questions by saying: "The work doesn't imply any influence on the text on the part of the customer. Wikipedia rules are always more important." She added that the work was not profitable from her point of view. "The authors, whom I have involved in this project, understand and accept this fact. From their side, [the] work is more like volunteering". S

Notes:
  1. ^ Email – October 30, 2020
  2. ^ Email – October 29, 2020

Mandatory IP masking

See today's Op-Ed for the WMF's view on this issue.
Ipv4 address.svg
An un-masked IP address is currently displayed for edits made by logged-out users.

Mandatory IP masking is coming to Wikipedia; it's not a question of if, but only of how and when. The Wikimedia Foundation has told all communities that its counsel has determined that displaying IP addresses of logged-out editors can not be permitted,[a] and a technical solution is being sought that would stop short of disallowing logged-out editing altogether (see prior Signpost coverage). The technical solution would show "a human-readable identifier instead of the IP address", aka IP masking.

There is strong opposition to IP masking from administrators and others involved in combating vandalism. At a discussion on Meta, MER-C states that admins need better tools to combat abusive edits. Removing a simple tool like an IP address will have generaly negative and unpredictable effects for fighting vandalism. Cullen328 says that "Unregistered users can either affirmatively consent to public logging of their IP addresses, or register an account. Let's not pursue complex, expensive and divisive solutions when a very simple solution is readily available." OhKayeSierra notes that non-admins also help in fighting vandalism, and is "concerned at the fact that non-administrators weren’t seemingly taken into account with the report, and I would vehemently urge the team involved to keep us plebs in mind going forward with any decisions made." SQL and 6 other editors insisted that vandal fighting tools should be greatly improved before the IP masking issue is considered.

As of 21 October, WMF has tentatively proposed technical changes and a new user right:

  1. The vast majority of people who access our wikis would see the IPs fully masked.
  2. All admins could see them partially masked (the first three octets of an IP address being visible).[b] This could be helpful to see patterns even if they don’t have the new user right. Partially masking them reduces the privacy risk for the unregistered user.
  3. The new user right – in addition to checkusers and stewards – would have access to the unmasked IP.

Existing edit histories would retain the full IP address as currently implemented. B

Notes:
  1. ^ Their actual words were If the Legal department tells us we have to do something for legal reasons – which they unfortunately can't explain publicly in more detail without risk to the projects – we have to take this and do the best we can within the bounds we've been given: the status quo can't remain, and we have to do something about the ways we handle IPs for non-registered users.
  2. ^ WMF engineering stated "parts of an IP address" in the original, apparently not considering IPv6 addresses.

Branding postponement

The WMF announced a postponement of its branding initiative, on September 30. The initiative was expected to include the word "Wikipedia" in the foundation's name, perhaps as the "Wikipedia Foundation". COVID-19 and a Community open letter on renaming were cited as reasons for the pause. The open letter which requested the pause was signed by 970 individual Wikipedians and over 70 affiliate organizations. An ad hoc subcommittee of the Board of Trustees, consisting of James Heilman, Raju Narisetti, and Shani Evenstein Sigalov, will discuss the initiative with WMF staff until 2021, at which time the initiative will resume, perhaps in a different form. S

There's a birthday coming up

Visualisation 1 billion.svg
Visualization of a billion edits: if each edit on English Wikipedia is represented by the tiniest dot and weighs one grain, like a single grain of wheat, then the entire encyclopedia circa the end of this year is the billion-unit cube weighing 65 tonnes.

On January 15, 2021 Wikipedia will mark its 20th birthday. The October publication of the book Wikipedia @ 20 starts the celebration by covering almost every aspect of the encyclopedia in its 22 chapters. The book's publication is covered in The Signpost with an interview with the editors, Joseph Reagle and Jackie Koerner. Reagle's chapter on "The many (reported) deaths of Wikipedia" is published here and a book review. Coincidentally, the billionth edit on enwiki will likely occur in December or January.

If your chapter, affiliate, WikiProject, or other Wiki-entity is planning a birthday event, please let us know at Suggestions for publication in our December issue. S

Brief notes

MediaWiki-2020-logo.svg
Proposed new logo for MediaWiki
  • Winner of MediaWiki logo vote announced: After a second round of voting, the outcome of the selection process of a new logo for MediaWiki was announced. The winning logo, created by User:Serhio Magpie, continues to evoke the sunflower featured in the old logo, but drops the square brackets (symbolizing wikilinks), while the accompanying wordmark still uses camel case in a reference to a linking syntax used in early wikis. As explained in the original proposal for changing the logo, the main concerns about the old logo included its large "number of colors and shades that make it hardly usable for applications like t-shirts or other swag", and the "too realistic" details of the photo-based sunflower image that don't render well in small sizes. The new logo is still undergoing review by the Foundation's legal team.
  • The WMF Transparency Report for January–June 2020 was released this month.
  • New user-groups: The Affiliations Committee announced the approval of this week's newest Wikimedia movement affiliates, the Indic MediaWiki Developers User Group which has 16 members and designers; and the Kurdish Wikimedians User Group with 11 members.
  • New administrator: We congratulate Wikipedia's newest administrator, John M Wolfson.
  • New functionaries announced: Arbitration Committee expanded the functionary team membership as follows. Anarchyte was appointed as an Oversighter; EdJohnston, Oshwah, and Yamla were appointed as CheckUser.
  • Forced logout: Another defensive forced logout for every Wiki user (see prior Signpost coverage) was announced on October 1. Some discussion occurred at Village Pump: Technical over whether it should have been more clearly announced on enwiki.
    GitLab logo.svg
  • Code repositories to move from Gerrit to GitLab: Following a developer community consultation, the Wikimedia Foundation's Release Engineering team announced that the code repositories for MediaWiki and associated software parts will at some point in the future move to a self-hosted GitLab instance. Many details still need to be worked out, but the team plans "to have a GitLab installation ready with a few self-contained repositories moved to it by this coming June [2021]". Gerrit, an open source code review tool developed and maintained at Google, has been used for MediaWiki since the 2012 switch from Subversion to Git. According to a summary of the consultation, "the overall sentiment was mostly neutral with serious and discerning discussion", with enthusiasm about moving to GitLab's more intuitive user interface (Gerrit has long been criticized for being hard to use), but "concerns about the impact of moving to a PR/MR methodology" and the general disruption that is to be expected from such a platform switch. It is especially hoped that GitLab's interface will make it easier to become involved in MediaWiki development, although several discussion participants cautioned that the most important barriers to code contributions by newcomers are likely to be social instead, in particular the code review process (where commits or pull requests have to be inspected and approved by senior developers, often WMF employees).



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86 the murder plot

"Wikipedia's Plan to Resist Election Day Misinformation" by Noam Cohen in Wired features the story of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) appearing on the TV news show Meet the Press with a sticker or campaign button in the background saying simply "86 45". US President Trump's campaign staff tweeted that the sticker meant that she was "encouraging assassination attempts against President Trump," with 86 apparently meaning kill and 45 referring to the 45th president – Trump. To prove that 86 means "kill", they tweeted a screen shot of the Wikipedia article 86 (term), which said that "killing someone" was one of the definitions of 86. Wikipedia's reaction was to first remove that definition as unsourced. Once a source was found, the main definition was expanded and the following words included: "The term is now more generally used to get rid of someone or something. In the 1970s its meaning expanded to refer to murder." Cohen does not mention that an editor was warned for edit warring when they tried multiple times to include the original wording, and then banned indefinitely.

Going further, the Wired article examines Wikipedia's plans to reduce political misinformation, especially on election night, November 3. The 2020 United States presidential election article is now extended confirmed protected. Admins Drmies, GorillaWarfare and Muboshgu were interviewed about their plans to protect other US political articles on election night and alert other admins and editors to watch those articles closely. S, B

Iowa Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield

A Wikipedia @ 20 review

"The Internet should be more like Wikipedia", by Stephen Gossett in Built In is formally a book review of Wikipedia @ 20. It takes three or four topics from the 22 chapter book and runs with them. The first topic is misinformation and disinformation. The main target of the Russian troll factory might have been expected to "be something like Wikipedia, because it's just a hardscrabble, bare-bones crew of people who are kind of keeping the wheels from falling off the thing," according to Brian Keegan, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado–Boulder who contributed a chapter on breaking news to the book. Part of Keegan's answer to why this didn't happen is Wikipedia's social production model. Wikipedia's differences from Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are emphasized such as not having ads, not striving to keep its readers engaged on the the site at all costs, its "strong editorial identity," and a commitment to a neutral point of view (NPOV).

Wikipedia @ 20 co-editor Jackie Koerner is briefly interviewed and points out that NPOV is sometimes in opposition to justice and covering all points of view in matters of race and gender, where reliable sources haven't properly recorded the views of the oppressed. Gossett skips quickly to the topic of artificial intelligence and notes that Wikipedia uses AI to assist its editors rather than replace them.

Wikipedia's future challenges are explained starting with gender equality and "pedantic bureaucracy". Gossett makes a brave attempt to give his readers a taste of the book, but readers will find many more topics than these in the book itself. S

Knowing and sometimes disagreeing

"What We Know and Can Agree On: Wikipedia at 20" by veteran British journalist Simon Garfield in Esquire surveys Wikipedia as it is about to turn 20 years old in January. It should not be confused with the newly published book Wikipedia @ 20, though both extensively cover the history of Wikipedia. Garfield's article starts with a rollicking tour of Wikimania – though it's an idealized version with colorful details patched together from history. The article ends with a history of encyclopedias, with some emphasis on Britannica.

A too short interview with Jimmy Wales elicits the fact that he is a "passionate chef". Jimbo has now found at least one interviewer who listens to him without imposing their own preconceptions. Jimbo explains Wikipedia's governance system:

We are humans, and people do get into arguments, and people who 'aren't here to build an encyclopaedia' show up to push an agenda, or to troll or harass. And dealing with those cases requires a great deal of calm and sensible judgment. It requires building robust institutions and mechanisms. If we were to deal with some problems in the community by allowing the Wikimedia Foundation to become like other internet institutions (Twitter comes to mind), where policing the site for bad behaviour is taken out of the hands of the community, we'd end up like Twitter — unscalable, out of control, a cesspool.

WMF Executive Director Katherine Maher is more extensively interviewed. Most of Maher's interview won't surprise Wikipedians who have followed her career, except perhaps in the detail and clarity of expression. Nevertheless there is an odd detour into epistemology:

I don't think Wikipedia represents truth. I think it represents what we know or can agree on at any point in time. This doesn't mean that it's inaccurate, it just means that the concept of truth has sort of a different resonance. When I think about what knowledge is ... what Wikipedia offers is context. And that is what differentiates it from similar data or original research, not that that isn't vital to us.

Garfield did slip up on a few things. He notes that "an early article on the poodle ... stated simply, 'A dog by which all others are measured'", but seems to have missed the joke: the title of the article was "Standard Poodle". (See here and here (#8) for more about the joke.)

More seriously, he asserts that "On 2 October 2018, [Donna] Strickland was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics ... But good luck trying to find more information on her on Wikipedia the day after the announcement." Actually, a new article was started on Strickland's article early that morning, and by afternoon ran to 3500 words. It got more than 100,000 pageviews on the day of the announcement.

The odd misstatement aside, Garfield's article is a wonderfully readable, in-depth view of Wikipedia's first 20 years. It captures Jimmy Wales's and Katherine Maher's views without the usual preconceptions. And, as with Wikipedia itself, there will be much more content to read in similar articles as we approach Wikipedia's birthday. S

The Christian Post

In "Wikipedia bans editors from expressing support for traditional marriage" the author comments on the deletion of a user box that read "This user believes that marriage is the union between one man and one woman," plus 18 similar userboxes, following comments by Larry Sanger and the right-wing online newspaper Breitbart. Adam Cuerden started the 4th nomination at MfD with the consensus reached that the boxes were hate speech which members of the LGBT+ community found threatening. Some !voters referred to other "political" userboxes, such as those about Black Lives Matter. Admin Ad Orientem resigned after the close. S

Section 230 immunity for internet platforms?

Since last month's coverage in this column ("Both parties agree, curb Section 230"), a journalism professor, a former WMF lawyer, and a Supreme Court Justice have weighed in on the likely changes to Section 230. There could be dangerous water ahead for Wikipedia. S

Bollywood mystery and petitioning to change an article

"The Wikipedia Battle Over the Tragic Death of a Bollywood Star" by Stephen Harrison in Slate covers the conspiracy theories surrounding Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput. The Wikipedia article was viewed 11.5 million times in the week after his apparent suicide. But was he 6 feet 0 inches (1.83 m) tall or 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m)? Did he suffer from depression or was his mood caused by poisoning? Most curious of all, did Wikipedia report his death hours before he died? As if to confirm the bizarre controversy described by Harrison, 5 days later Republicworld.com published "'Sushant Singh Rajput Was Murdered; Please Change His Wikipedia Status,' Demands Petition". S

Collaborating with Wikipedia "is like having an army to work with"

W.H.O. slide, now on Commons

"Wikipedia and W.H.O. Join to Combat Covid Misinformation:" The New York Times reports that the World Health Organization is now working with Wikipedia editors to update COVID-19 information into almost 200 languages, rather than just the organization's 6 official languages. W.H.O. is allowing free use of some of its published information, graphics and videos under the CC-BY 3.0 license; a portal has been set up on Wikimedia Commons where Wikimedians can suggest specific assets to be made available. Ryan Merkley was quoted saying that the participants hope that the arrangement can be extended in the future to "AIDS, Ebola, influenza, polio and dozens of other diseases." A press release from W.H.O. says they are trying to prevent an "infodemic" which includes "the rapid spread of misleading or fabricated news".

Chinese man detained and penalized for reading Wikipedia

Lantern logo.svg
Logo of the Lantern internet censorship circumvention tool used by the penalized reader to access Wikipedia from China

On October 24, a man was arrested in the city of Zhoushan, China for reading Wikipedia using a VPN (virtual private network) tool to circumvent the block of Wikipedia in the country, according to a note published on the website of the government of Zhejiang province (since removed, but preserved at the Wayback Machine). US-based journalist Tony Zy highlighted the case on Twitter, observing that "while using VPN has been deemed illegal in China, this is a rare case for the gov to specifically disclose what the VPN is used for: reading wikipedia for research. ... No matter how comfortable you're with using VPN in China, it is a dangling sword hanging over everyone's head." Radio Free Asia subsequently published an article with more details about the case ("China Now Has The Ability to Track Internet Users Who 'Scale The Wall'"). According to the police report, the man had used the Lantern circumvention tool to "make repeated, illegal queries on the Wikipedia website" on his mobile phone. After being taken to the police station and detained, he "received an administrative penalty, a warning, and an order to cease and desist from connecting to websites outside China". It also mentioned that he had downloaded Lantern following a Baidu search, raising the question whether this China-based search engine is the safest way to find and install such tools.

In a discussion on the Chinese Wikipedia about whether and how to react, some editors proposed to publish a community statement condemning this incident, or a warning to readers, and other argued that such actions might be counterproductive or overtly political. H

Pre-US election coverage

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It's getting harder and harder to tell a legit source from pay-for-play, says The New York Times.

The relationship of Wikipedia to the U.S. electorate gained some attention this month. B

In brief

Down the byways

Odd bits

Az girl reading a book. e-citizen.jpg
Is she reading Infodemic?
  • The great Wikipedia novel: Journalist Stephen Harrison – see two of his current stories above – is writing a work of fiction about an internet encyclopedia named Infopendium during a pandemic. The novel couldn't possibly work in theory: what could be more boring for most folks than reading about people who write encyclopedia entries for fun? In reality there's a new adventure on almost every page, and it's hard to stop reading as you fall down the rabbit hole.
Tentatively titled Infodemic, it involves hired-gun editors, a crusading journalist, and several characters who Wikipedians might think they recognize. While the characters are clearly fictionalized composites of real Wikipedians, you might think you can identify User:Prospero and Doc Luke, but be prepared for surprises as you read on. Railfan and DejaNu are a bit harder to guess, as there are so many Wikipedians who share some of their characteristics. Are you one of them? What journalists may want to know most is who is the main character Morgan? Five sample chapters are available here S


Do you want to contribute to "In the media" by writing a story or even just an "in brief" item? Edit next month's edition in the Newsroom or leave a tip on the suggestions page.



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MIT Press, 376 pp, softcover, ISBN 978-0-262-53817-6, October 2020
Co-edited by Joseph Reagle and Jackie Koerner
Text available online at https://wikipedia20.pubpub.org/

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.
— Jimmy Wales, Slashdot July 7, 2004

Jimmy Wales set Wikipedians an impossible task, of course, but as Wikipedia approaches its twentieth birthday in January we can, with the benefit of hindsight, assess how far we've come in achieving that goal. We can assess where we stand now – our successes and challenges – which leads us to planning for the future.

That's the goal of Wikipedia @ 20, an academic collection of 22 chapters, written by 34 authors and co-authors representing many aspects of the history, present, and future of the world's best online encyclopedia.

At 376 pages, it's a densely packed tome – you're not going to be able to read it all before Christmas – but perhaps it's not long enough to fully cover its immense topic. As a publication of MIT Press, it's academically oriented, but it's also a community collaboration much like its topic, and draws its authors from both the academic and Wikipedia communities. These overlapping communities give the book a rare combination of points-of-view. We can assess how well Wikipedia has worked in both theory and practice. Long-time Wikipedians will find many old friends and acquaintances, including the former Chairperson of the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees, Phoebe Ayers; Yochai Benkler, Heather Ford, Jake Orlowitz, and Benjamin Mako Hill. Wikimedia Foundation's Executive Director Katherine Maher writes the capstone chapter that reviews the past and present but focuses on the WMF's plans for the future.

Most authors give a brief history of Wikipedia from their specialty's point of view, so this book will be an invaluable source for the movement's history for the foreseeable future. Most authors also address their personal histories on Wiki as if their first encounter was a life-changing event.

Defining the scope of Wikipedia in less than a paragraph is difficult, but perhaps we can say "anything that might be part of human knowledge". Defining the scope of the book is also difficult, but let's say "anything that might appear in Wikipedia". Some fairly unusual topics appear, as you'd expect on any writing about Wikipedia. For example, there's a full chapter on using Wikipedia offline.

Bias is perhaps the most common topic mentioned, appearing in at least 13 chapters. Misinformation, disinformation, or fake news appear in at least eight chapters.

Hindsight

Of the five chapters in this history section, two offer the broadest coverage. Reagles's The Many (Reported) Deaths of Wikipedia (See In focus) and Omer Benjakob's and Stephen Harrison's "From Anarchy to Wikiality, Glaring Bias to Good Cop: Press Coverage of Wikipedia's First Two Decades” are complementary, the first reflecting general social and internal Wikipedia points-of-view, the second focusing on journalism's "first draft of history". Both show, with benefit of hindsight, that people and the press didn't understand what Wikipedia was and how it could develop.

Reagle documents how Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in the first couple of years did not expect much from Wikipedia. Sanger predicted that the English Wikipedia would reach 100,000 articles by 2007.

To shake things up, Wales and Sanger set up a wiki in January 2001. They hoped it would lead to some drafts for Nupedia, but their expectations were modest. Wales feared that the wiki would be overrun with "complete rubbish" and that Nupedians "might find the idea objectionable". My reconstruction of the first ten thousand edits to Wikipedia does show a lot of dreck, but it was fertile stuff, being produced and improved at a remarkable rate. Wikipedians hoped to one day have 100,000 articles—a scale a bit larger than most print encyclopedias. In July, Sanger predicted that if Wikipedia continued to produce a thousand articles a month, it would be close to that in about seven years. Amazingly, in less than seven years, in September 2007 the English Wikipedia reached two million articles, some twenty times Sanger's estimate.
— Joseph Reagle, The Many (Reported) Deaths of Wikipedia

The years 2001–2005, according to Reagle, were about developing an identity. Was Wikipedia an encyclopedia or something else?

By 2005 Wikipedia's success at becoming an encyclopedia had made it a target, whether for NeoNazis or "gamers and marketers" who would take advantage of a successful encyclopedia for their own purposes to the extent that they could destroy it. But Wikipedians met these challenges and through 2010 at least, grew rapidly into a very successful encyclopedia. But by 2009 there were signs of a decline in growth, in particular in a decline in the number of editors. Stabilization began about 2014, but it's common to see the period of decline described as extending into 2017.

Coverage in the press is divided by Benjakob and Harrison into similar periods and by the mid-2000s Wikipedia was the subject of stories in major newspapers.

Coverage … has evolved from bewilderment at the project to concern and hostility at its model, to acceptance of its merits and disappointment at its shortcomings, and finally to calls to hold it socially accountable and reform it like any other institution.
— Omer Benjakob and Stephen Harrison, From Anarchy to Wikiality, Glaring Bias to Good Cop: Press Coverage of Wikipedia’s First Two Decades

Other chapters in this section cover the history of the open source community, the history of breaking news coverage on Wikipedia itself, and the history of paid editing, as recounted by a paid editor.

Connections and Visions

Getting away from the past and into the present results in some controversy, and moving into the future is even more precarious.

The topics about the current state of Wikipedia are quite diverse ranging from Phoebe Ayers' chapter on libraries, to the reactions of academics to Wikipedia, to its use in education.

Perhaps the most shocking title here is "The Most Important Laboratory for Social Scientific and Computing Research in History". Yes, the authors, Benjamin Mako Hill and Aaron Shaw, are referring to Wikipedia. However unlikely this title appears to be, the authors may have you convinced before the end of their second paragraph.

Twenty years ago, Wikipedia's founders could not have dreamed they were creating the most important laboratory for social scientific and computing research in history. And yet that is exactly what has happened. Wikipedia and its sister projects have launched a thriving scholarly literature. How thriving? Results from Google Scholar suggest that over six thousand scholarly publications mention Wikipedia in their title and over 1.7 million mention it somewhere in their text. For comparison, the phrase "Catholic church"—an organization with a nearly two-thousand-year head start—returns about the same number of mentions in publication titles. In under twenty years, Wikipedia has become one of the most heavily studied organizations of any kind.
— Benjamin Mako Hill and Aaron Shaw, The Most Important Laboratory for Social Scientific and Computing Research in History

The WMF has its own active research program and sponsors a research showcase and research mailing list. The Signpost has a monthly column Recent research which reviews even more academic articles than the annual Mako Hill and Shaw presentation at Wikimania.

Some general topics of this research include the use of Wikipedia data for research on other topics, e.g. on natural language processing in computing. Other well-researched Wikipedia topics include the gender gap, the quality of Wikipedia's content, including specialized areas such as medical content. The social processes that lead to quality articles are also studied, as are the uses of Wikipedia in education. That's only about half of the topics covered in their chapter.

In the "Rise of the Underdog" Heather Ford emphasizes the importance of verifiability to Wikipedia. New features of the internet such as Amazon's Alexa, Google's Knowledge Panel, and Wikimedia's own WikiData have separated the reader or listener from the sources of information that are contained in Wikipedia's footnotes. This separation leads to battles on Wikipedia for control of the article's narrative.

If one can control how Wikipedia defines and represents a person, place, event, or thing, then one can control how it is represented not only on Wikipedia but also on Google, Apple, Amazon, and other major platforms.
— Heather Ford, Rise of the Underdog


Matthew Vetter challenges the application of the concept of verifiability in "Possible Enlightenments: Wikipedia's Encyclopedic Promise and Epistemological Failure".

Several chapters, including "The Myth of the Comprehensive Historical Archive", "Toward a Wikipedia For and From Us All" and co-editor Jackie Koerner's "Wikipedia Has a Bias Problem" rely on similar reasoning: verifiable sources are often viewed as those coming from the people and institutions that controlled print and other information technology in the past. But these old sources are considered horribly biased now.

(Wikipedia) conserves features of the genre that characterize its emergence from Western Enlightenment logic—especially practices and policies related to verifiability and reliability that are rooted in print-centric notions of knowledge curation. Going forward … how should we understand Wikipedia as a project that promises possible enlightenment? How should we understand Wikipedia as an encyclopedia that fails to fully represent global and multicultural diversity?
— Matthew A. Vetter, Possible Enlightenments: Wikipedia’s Encyclopedic Promise and Epistemological Failure

Jackie Koerner's chapter "Wikipedia Has a Bias Problem" has the most direct exposition of the problem. If you don't think you have a bias problem that affects other people on Wikipedia, you need to read this chapter. Writing about "reliable sources" she states:

The bias toward Westernized publications and knowledge-sharing

practices exaggerates the lack of diverse content on Wikipedia. If there is no source about a person (or a topic) to meet the standards of the Wikipedia community, then no article will be written. That person is excluded from history. By following policies like reliable sources, contributors are replicating and magnifying the bias already depicted by published sources.


— Jackie Koerner, Wikipedia Has a Bias Problem

This review has only been able to offer you a taste of the book. Six of the 22 chapters are described here in a couple of paragraphs each. If you liked the taste, and if you are a Wikipedian with an academic bent, an academic with a Wikipedia bent, a journalist with an interest in Wikipedia, or just a passerby who is amazed at Wikipedia, we recommend that you get the book or read the online version linked at the top of the article.

See two other articles on Wikipedia @ 20 in this issue




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Johan Jönsson works for the WMF with the technical development of the Wikimedia wikis and Community Relations.

The Wikimedia wikis can be edited by registered and unregistered users alike. When someone isn’t logged in to an account, instead of their user name, the history – and the recent changes feed, your watchlist and so on – will show their IP address. This is mainly for attribution: when you write on the Wikimedia wikis, the copyright still belongs to you. You just give permission for the text to be spread and changed. So we need to attribute authorship to someone: a name, a pseudonym or at least an IP address. But knowing the IP behind an edit is also a tool we use to fight the edits we don’t want to see: vandalism and harassment, spam, and those that push a specific point of view at the cost of neutrality.

Roughly a year ago, a team within the Wikimedia Foundation’s Product department started a process on IP masking – hiding the IP addresses we today show in public. Our goal was roughly to try to address all the problems we knew it was going to bring, and hopefully be able to do it with no more work for vandal fighters than before we started. Recently the Wikimedia Foundation’s Legal department clarified their guidance: for legal reasons – which they can’t explain in detail due to legal privilege, the legal professional rules that control what lawyers can say about their work – this is something we have to do. We’re flexible on the how and the when, but not on the if. Thus that’s the reality we must deal with and the situation we are publicizing to the communities, as soon as we can.

There are other reasons for bringing up the subject, of course. The longer I work on the project, the stranger I personally find it that we publicly publish IPs – which I used to find completely natural, not least since I mainly contributed without being logged in for years in the earlier days of Wikipedia – of people who are trying to help make the wiki better. As a movement, we’ve had occasional debates on whether publishing the IPs really is what we should be doing for about as long as we’ve been doing it. But these are reasons for starting a conversation. Our legal experts telling us that this is something that has to be done is reason to do it.

I think one main communications issue is that we’ve tried to let the Wikimedia contributors in as early as possible and it’s not apparent to everyone where we are in the process. OK, we say, so we have to do this: Please let us know your fears and issues and everything you want us to take into account. This is something we need to solve with the wikis and vandal fighters, so that we can mitigate as much as possible. We try to ask questions as early as possible instead of doing internal planning based on our assumptions. The Wikimedia wikis have very different cultures and needs. They don’t see the same patterns around problems like undisclosed paid editing, harassment and returning vandals. The fact that I’m intimately familiar with this work on one wiki doesn’t mean there aren’t many things we need to learn from the communities, and no single wiki is a good model for all. What works for you or me will not work everywhere else.

We try to take the conversation that normally happens in Phabricator – open, but not easily accessible for most Wikimedians – and put it on the wiki. This means that we’re a couple of steps earlier in the process than people expect us to be. Some see that we plan to mask IPs, try to figure out how this is going to work and come away with the impression oh no, they have no idea what they’re doing. They have no plan. We do have a plan. It’s just that collecting information from the communities before we plan solutions is part of it. There’s time to work this out together. We’re not throwing the switch next week. Whether we know what we’re doing remains to be seen, of course, and I’m not the one to judge.

How do we plan to mitigate problems? Partly by giving more people access to the information that we’ll now be hiding from the public. We’ve been toying with the idea of a system with three tiers. First, we’d either build a new user right or maybe even just make access to the information opt-in, as long as the user meets certain criteria. Second, others could have access to part of the IP, to be able to see which range it belongs to. The threshold for access to the first user right would be lower than adminship on many wikis, since access still needs to be provided to admins on Wikimedia wikis with less stringent criteria, such as five or so users saying sure, why not, this new person seems serious and sincere. Third, the public and those with no interest in the tasks where this information is relevant would see a masked IP. Those who are involved in cross-wiki vandal fighting would need global access. We don’t intend to break the system by putting this on the checkusers and stewards. The details need to be hashed out with the communities.

Partly we’re aiming to solve it by building new tools. We’re trying to make the checkusers’ and stewards’ lives easier by updating the checkuser tool and working on a tool to find potential undetected sockpuppets. We’re working on surfacing the information about what the IP address means in a way that’ll be accessible to more vandal fighters than used to be the case. We want to hear more needs and suggestions.

So we talk to people. In various places and languages, to figure out how it would affect them. It varies: a significant number of English Wikipedia vandal fighters have expressed concern on Meta, while Swedish Wikipedia hasn't, when explicitly asked. The Arabic Wikipedia discussion did not raise the same problems as the Chinese one.

Why do IP masking at all, some ask. Why not disable IP editing instead? We’re investing significant time and resources in trying to solve this because we’re convinced that turning off unregistered editing would severely harm the wikis. Benjamin Mako Hill has collected research on the subject. Another researcher told us that if we turn IP editing off, we’ll doomed the wikis to a slow death: not because the content added by the IP edits, but because of the increased threshold to start editing. We can’t do it without harming long-term recruitment. The role unregistered editing plays also varies a lot from wiki to wiki. Compare English and Japanese Wikipedia, for example. The latter wiki has a far higher percentage of IP edits, yet the revert rate for IP edits is a third of what it is on English Wikipedia: 9.5% compared to 27.4%, defined as reverted within 48 hours. And some smaller wikis might suffer greatly even in the shorter term.

And that’s the heart of the problem: There is no available strategy without risk. Legal risk. Risk of vandalism. Risk of hurting long-term editor recruitment. So we hope to be able to work together, listen to suggestions and problems, and build around potential obstacles and mitigate concerns. Give the communities the tools they need.



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Board composition discussion

Disclosure: the author Nosebagbear has actively engaged on the discussion page of the proposed bylaw changes.

On the 7th October, the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation published a number of proposed bylaw changes for community discussion. The theoretical deadline for discussion was the 26th October, prior to this edition being published, however as of time of writing, the consultation period had not formally been concluded. Any editors wishing to participate are advised to do so rapidly in lieu of a new updated timeline being provided (as requested by a number of participants). The Board Governance Committee (BGC) were scheduled to meet on the 27th October.

Some proposals have been formally clarified in the discussion page, others have clarifications offered by Board trustees, but not speaking on behalf of the whole Board. Where relevant, the latter category shall be noted.

Overview table

Comparison of key changes
Current Revised
Number At least 9, at most 10 (depending on Founder's seat being filled):
  • 3 community-selected
  • 2 affiliate-selected
  • 4 Board-selected
  • 1 Founder
  • Community-selected and affiliate-selected trustees must be in the majority
At least 9, at most 16 (Target of 15/16, but a much lower minimum quorum):
  • 8 community-sourced
  • 7 Board-selected
  • 1 Founder
  • Majority not required to be community-sourced
Community-sourced Trustees
  • 3 trustees selected every 3 years through a “community voting” process determined by the Board.
  • 2 trustees selected every 3 years through a process designed by affiliates and approved by the Board
  • 8 trustees selected as needed to fill open seats through a “community nomination process” determined by the Board.
  • Remove differentiation for affiliate vs. community voting seats.
Terms, Term Limits, and Resignation from Other Positions Outlined and repeated separately for each of the trustee selection methods Outlined in just one place for all trustees (with no substantive changes)
Staff Officers Executive Director, Secretary, and Treasurer CEO, Secretary, and Treasurer, with more detailed descriptions of the officers’ current roles

Summary of Bylaw proposals provided by WMF, with minor additional clarifications on trustee numbers added

A full revision comparison of the specific bylaw texts can be see at the bylaw proposals page, as created by editor Laurentius.

Board structure

The most immediate change would be a 60% increase in the (target) Board size, at 16. This would reduce to 15 in the event of vacancy of the Founder's seat. This slightly increases the appointed proportion (43.75% compared to the current 40%). The Board Expansion resolution and governance recommendations indicate this was heavily due to a workload overwhelming a limited number of trustees, including a need to sit on multiple committees. There was also a desire to be able to add "additional experience, skills and diversity on the Board".

One of the two most-discussed proposals, the bylaw changes would remove the requirement for a majority of the Board (excluding the Founder seat) to be community/affiliate-selected. While the breakdown given in the overview would remain the norm/target, this is designed to provide more flexibility in the event of loss of Community representatives (for example, due to resignations). However, upon issues being raised that the bylaws could permit a format of 1 Community trustee, 1 Founder trustee, and 7 appointed trustees, Amanda Keton (WMF General Counsel) agreed that was "a bug" and would raise the issue with the BGC.

The current "community-selected" and "affiliate-selected" seats will be merged into a single category. Jimmy Wales' Founder trustee seat will be retained at this point. In discussion about a potential change to a non-voting seat, Jimmy Wales stated that In the long run, as is well known, I think of my position in terms of desiring that my role be limited to "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn". That's consistent with a permanent non-voting observer seat.

Trustee selection

Currently the most discussed proposal, the bylaws would be amended from "Community-selected" – the Board approving candidates selected by votes of the Community (subject to their meeting legal requirements) – to "Community-sourced". The WMF had indicated that they specifically wanted the bylaws confirmed before expanding the discussion into defining exactly what "Community-sourced" would mean. Concerns have been raised in relation to the potential for the Board to make choices other than the top-x number of candidates by votes. Individual trustees have stated that community voting will definitely remain part of the process.

The Board has also proposed a Board candidate rubric for evaluating potential trustees. It is unclear whether this would be candidates for all positions or purely appointed members, and if it were applied to elected positions, would it be a guideline for voters or a filter applied by the Board. The rubric includes 4 experience sections: Wikimedia experience, board experience, executive experience, and subject matter experience; and 4 diversity sections: background, geography, language, and political system experience.

Staff officers

The appreciable, primarily administrative changes are that the position of "Executive Director" becomes "Chief Executive Officer" and the current functional process is formalised, where the CEO attends all Board meetings except where there would be a conflict of interest (for example, performance or pay). Board member Raystorm has noted concerns on phrasing that may lead to confusion about circumstances under which the Board would ever be able to meet without the CEO present, which will be taken to the BGC. N

In the News dumps Trump COVID-19 story

When US President Donald Trump tweeted that he and the First Lady had positive tests for COVID-19 at 12:54 am (ET) (04:54 UTC) on Friday October 2, it was immediately big news in the US and internationally. The big US cable networks were all over the story. Despite the late hour of the report, at least two dozen US newspapers had the story on their front pages. The New York Times, which missed getting the story in its morning print edition, had seven on-line stories four hours after Trump's tweet. As the intersection of the two most widely covered news stories of the year, COVID-19 and the US Presidential election, the story was clearly newsworthy.

Nevertheless, the story was nowhere to be seen on the English Wikipedia's main page, though many readers might have expected it to be at the top right hand corner of the page as part of the In the News feature. Instead, over the next three days, in its three main slots ITN reported on the September 30 death of the 91 year-old Emir of Kuwait, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Stanley Cup finals, which ended on September 28, and on October 4, the London Marathon.

In The News does not, however, list stories based on the traditional concept of newsworthiness, which centers around what the editors believe the publication's readers would be interested in reading. Rather, the decision depends on what's called "ITN-worthy." But what is "ITN-worthiness"? A long and heated discussion about including the Trump COVID-19 story helps illustrate the answer. The question is not new, having been discussed previously in The Signpost and twice at the Village pump.

The official criteria for listing an article on ITN are two-fold:

a. There must be a Wikipedia article meeting "a minimum standard of quality" about the subject, though it does not need to be an article about the current event itself. There must also be an update based on current news: "A five-sentence update (with at minimum three references, not counting duplicates) is generally more than sufficient".
b. The event must be significant, and only consensus can determine significance. "It is highly subjective whether an event is considered significant enough ... The consensus among those discussing the event is all that is necessary to decide if an event is significant enough for posting."

A discussion at WT:ITN followed, focusing on the ITN procedure itself, especially the administrator closure of an item of intense interest to Americans and other parts of the world, after comments were allowed for just 83 minutes. During this time, most Wikipedians from North America were sleeping. The discussion had the following timeline:

  • 05:09 UTC (1:09am ET) - ITN story proposed [1]
  • 06:32 UTC - discussion closed for the first time [2]
  • 12:12 UTC discussion reopened [3]
  • 12:38 UTC - discussion closed for the second time [4]
  • 12:48 UTC - discussion reopened [5]
  • 13:01 UTC - discussion closed a third time [6]
  • 13:04 UTC - talkpage discussion on "Closing/re-opening noms" started [7]

WaltCip, who opened the final discussion, later noted that We all know that there's an unspoken rule (as much as we try to deny it) that whenever U.S.-based stories are nominated and compared to stories on other countries, we examine international significance as well as national significance for the simple reason of addressing inherent systemic bias that comes with having lots of U.S. editors. As TRM has said many times: "This is not U.S.-pedia". The fact that other countries are breathlessly covering this event, even in spite of comparative events not being posted on ITN, should have been enough to merit something other than an immediate re-closure.

Nsk92 expressed the opinion that We should retire ITN as a section of the Main Page altogether, except possibly for the RD [recent deaths] portion. We basically are saying to our readers that we know way way way better what's good for them and what's really important. That 8 editors who cast the 'oppose' votes in that discussion count more than all the news coverage in the world and the fact that tomorrow we'll probably discover that the (Donald Trump) Wikipedia article had been viewed by over 500K readers today (or at least I wouldn't be surprised if it were a number in that range). Those readers, they don't know anything about our ITN and ITNR rules, no do they care. But they most definitely know when a story is 'in the news'.

October 2 pageviews for the Donald Trump article turned out to be 434,632, up from an average of 81,000 over the previous two months.

Masem responded to Nsk92 with WP's not a newspaper, and ITNs not a news ticker, and people coming to WP's front page and ITN expecting to see a snapshot of world headlines are very much in the wrong place. Even considering that DT getting covid is a major story that goes beyond a newspaper (it is appropriate to be documenting in WP), its still a story that has gained undue coverage because it is 1) about the US and 2) right before the election.

The 12,000-word WT:ITN discussion was closed on October 6. B S



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Andinoacara rivulatus - Karlsruhe Zoo 01 edit1.jpg
A green terror which has failed our spooky season hopes. An otherwise excellent featured picture by H. Zell. Oh, and they come in colours other than green, like this one.

This Signpost "Featured content" report covers material promoted from 20 September through 20 October. For nominations and nominators, see the featured contents' talk pages.

Featured articles

16 featured articles were promoted this period. Text samples are from the articles, but may be edited for length, as featured article leads tend to be on the longer side.

Limusaurus inextricabilis, the only species in Limusaurus, has only been found "mired in mud pits created by the footprints of giant sauropod dinosaurs."
Apollo 14: Alan Shepard on the Moon's surface, next to a United States flag
Eastern façade of the building that originally housed the Biblioteca Marciana
  • Hunky Dory, nominated by zmbro. A quite strong FA from a first time contributor.
A Rasta street vendor in South Africa's Eastern Cape
The Magnavox Odyssey console and controller

Featured lists

15 featured lists were promoted this period.

Stapelia hirsuta, the "hairy" starfish flower
An 1837 portrait of Thomas Cole by fellow Hudson River School painter Asher Brown Durand.
Four viverrid species (top left to bottom right): Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), common genet (Genetta genetta), masked palm civet (Paguma larvata), and binturong (Arctictis binturong).

Featured pictures

29 featured pictures were promoted this period.




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This traffic report is adapted from the Top 25 Report, prepared with commentary by Igordebraga, Kingsif, Mcrsftdog, Maka the Two Star Meister and Rebestalic.

I heard the news, baby, lots about a disease.
But you won't read it about here, baby.
There are other topics that you need. Oh yeah!
Ain't talking 'bout COVID!
Can't stand the pandemic anymore!
Ain't talking 'bout COVID!
We want our lives from before!

(data taken from the Top 1000 Report)

Trouble by the dozen, stakes have never been higher (September 20 to 26)

Most Popular Wikipedia Articles of the Week (September 20 to 26, 2020).png
Most Popular Wikipedia Articles of the Week (September 20 to 26, 2020)
Rank Article Class Views Image Notes/about
1 Amy Coney Barrett 3,475,060 Amy Coney Barrett.jpg After Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at the age of 87, with a career as a lawyer and justice that inspired a movie and a documentary, another woman was nominated to fill her seat at the Supreme Court, namely Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which could be the Tweeter-in-Chief's final big act before the election in November.
2 Ruth Bader Ginsburg 2,939,448 Ruth Bader Ginsburg 2016 portrait.jpg
3 Shooting of Breonna Taylor 2,696,497 Breonna Taylor Memorial Louisville Kentucky.jpg Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her own bed by Louisville Metro Police on March 13. The shooting was protested this summer, in conjunction with the George Floyd protests, but the current wave was sparked by a grand jury indicting only one officer for wanton endangerment of Taylor's neighbors.
4 S. P. Balasubrahmanyam 1,924,388 S. P. Balasubrahmanyam in 2013 (cropped).JPG The COVID-19 pandemic is still off the list, but still takes some famous victims, like this prolific Indian musician – he held the Guinness World Record for recording the highest number of songs by a singer with over 42,000 songs!
5 Ratched (TV series) 1,488,145 RatchedLogo.png Ryan Murphy rose to fame with Glee, but apparently really wants to frighten viewers. His latest show, currently on Netflix, takes a page from Hannibal in exploring the origins of a famed villainous character that won its portrayer an Academy Award – in this case, Nurse Ratched (#13) from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
6 Enola Holmes (film) 1,161,239 Millie Bobby Brown by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg Netflix came to the rescue of a movie that if not for the pandemic would've probably earned a theatrical release, adapting the first book of Nancy Springer's The Enola Holmes Mysteries, a series where Sherlock Holmes had a teenage sister and she solves mysteries on her own. Director Harry Bradbeer was responsible for another work revolving around an English woman who breaks the fourth wall a lot, but thankfully, unlike Fleabag, Enola Holmes is actually good.
7 Schitt's Creek 933,431 Schitt's Creek logo.svg Splitting the latest Netflix hit and its main star is the big winner of this year's Emmys, a Canadian comedy where a formerly wealthy family is forced to relocate to the title location, a small town they once purchased as a joke.
8 Millie Bobby Brown 770,917 Millie Bobby Brown by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg One year after co-starring in a Legendary Pictures movie about some overgrown lizard, this English actress got another job from that production company. Only this time, the movie (#6) couldn't hit theaters and had to go to the same streaming service that launched Brown's career by making her play a weird kid with a numerical name.
9 Deaths in 2020 768,735 Cemitério de Alcainça - Portugal (36462534073).jpg And now the end is near,
And so I face the final curtain...
10 Dan Levy (Canadian actor) 723,140 Dan levy vogue 2019 6.jpg One of the two co-creators of #7, alongside his father Eugene Levy, Dan had a great night at the Emmys, with four awards including Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series playing David Rose, a pansexual spoiled child who has to adjust once his life goes riches-to-rags.

Well, they say it's kinda frightnin', how this younger generation swings (September 27 to October 3)

Most Popular Wikipedia Articles of the Week (September 27 to October 3, 2020).png
Most Popular Wikipedia Articles of the Week (September 27 to October 3, 2020)
Rank Article Class Views Image Notes/about
1 Proud Boys 3,156,661 A right wing organization, founded by Gavin McInnes (with a name, believe it or not, originating from a Disney song), that has been involved in violence during the George Floyd protests in Portland and Seattle. At the first debate, Trump (#6) was asked to denounce right wing violence, but instead told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by." He later said he had never heard of them. The Proud Boys listened. So did the gay community, who responded by posting "Pride/Proud Boys" images on social media to drown out the associated hashtags.
2 Amy Coney Barrett 2,031,099 Amy Coney Barrett.jpg Trump's nominee to fill #25's Supreme Court seat. A reception for her was held in the White House Rose Garden on September 26, which may have led to a COVID-19 outbreak; Barrett herself tested negative.
3 Joe Biden 2,006,956 Joe Biden (49404622558) (cropped).jpg He's gone up in the election polls, not that they can be taken as golden. He called #6 a clown on live TV broadcast around the world.
4 Watts family murders 1,557,212 Frederick, CO.jpg Netflix released American Murder: The Family Next Door, a not-Ryan Murphy-created documentary about this crime story on September 30. Looks like people have swapped out musicals for true crime on their TV list.
5 Hope Hicks 1,551,856 Hope Hicks thumbs up on 8 November 2017 detail, from- Donald Trump and staff on Air Force One (cropped).jpg A member of the GOP campaign who was the first confirmed case of the misinformation-ridden White House COVID-19 outbreak. It was first said she gave it to everyone else, which is perhaps not true.
6 Donald Trump 1,360,610 Donald Trump at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, October 2020 (cropped).jpg What Trump hasn't done this week would be shorter to explain. He was in hospital with COVID-19, not long after being just one part of the worst presidential debate ever. Also, his taxes got released (did you forget about that?) and showed that he paid $0 for 10 of the last 15 years, and only $1500 over 2 years while President.
7 Beau Biden 1,216,530 Vice Presidential Point - 3219469260.jpg The sons of #3 were a subject of Trump's rather hate-filled interruptions during the debate.
8 Hunter Biden 1,156,403
9 Enola Holmes (film) 960,934 Henry Cavill by Gage Skidmore 2.jpg Henry Cavill has now played another iconic character starting with an S, Sherlock Holmes, even if the title makes clear the subject of this Netflix release is his sister, played by Millie Bobby Brown.
10 Chris Wallace 941,406 Chris Wallace (cropped).jpg This journalist moderated the last presidential debate of 2016, and had the ungrateful job of moderating the first of this year, where #6 interrupted, taunted, and bullied, even leading his opponent (#3) to ask him to shut up.

And in the end, in dreams we will depend (October 4 to 10, 2020)

Most Popular Wikipedia Articles of the Week (October 4 to 10, 2020).png
Most Popular Wikipedia Articles of the Week (October 4 to 10, 2020)
Rank Article Class Views Image Notes/about
1 Eddie Van Halen 3,847,894 Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum.jpg Dutch expatriate Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was one of the most skilled guitarists ever, as demonstrated by his trademark solo "Eruption", and the music world mourned his death at the age of 65 after years fighting cancer.
2 Kamala Harris 1,943,062 Kamala Harris - 2020-10-03.jpg After a terrible debate between the presidential candidates, the one between their running mates was held, and again the Democrat – namely, this Californian senator – turned out to be the better one, if only for how the Republican behaved.
3 Watts family murders 1,908,167 Frederick, CO.jpg Netflix released American Murder: The Family Next Door, a documentary about this crime story regarding a family man who decided to kill his wife and children in Frederick, Colorado (pictured).
4 Van Halen 1,350,412 VH.DSC 0229.5 19 12 (7235649364).jpg Like Santana, a rock band named for its immigrant guitarist (#1) – plus his brother – that achieved great success, to the point a teenage singer was criticized for never having heard of them.
5 Mike Pence 1,289,038 Mike Pence (50438784373).jpg The current vice president showed many of his flaws in his debate against #2, such as repeating many of Trump's false or misleading claims, including that the administration had "always" been truthful about the COVID-19 pandemic, and refusing to commit to accepting the results of the election if the Republicans lose.
6 The Haunting of Bly Manor 1,138,014 Biernacice dwór(WLZ13).jpg The Turn of the Screw had an unpopular adaptation early this year with The Turning, but seems to have gotten the right treatment in this Netflix show (which if the title seems familiar, it's because the same people from The Haunting of Hill House are involved).
7 The Boys (2019 TV series) 947,763 Season 2 has ended, blowing minds (and heads) along the way, and featuring a scene of a Nazi being beaten that everyone approved, including the Nazi. Season 3 (of maybe 5) and a spin-off are confirmed.
8 Wolfgang Van Halen 906,967 VH.DSC 0340.5 19 12 (7235714952).jpg #1's son (given Eddie has "Ludwig Van" in his name, he chose another composer for him) who eventually became Van Halen's (#4) bassist at just 15 – replacing a guy who was there for decades but had fallen out of Eddie's graces – and his first wife and "Wolfie"'s mom, an actress who currently hosts cooking shows on the Food Network.
9 Valerie Bertinelli 883,313 Valerie Bertinelli.jpg
10 Donald Trump 837,568 Donald Trump at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, October 2020 (cropped).jpg Caught COVID-19, is apparently without symptoms. Though apparently he won't use his recovery to promote hydroxychloroquine, unlike some idiot who likes Trump very much.

Miss the beat, you lose the rhythm, and nothing falls into place, no (October 11 to 17, 2020)

Most Popular Wikipedia Articles of the Week (October 11 to 17, 2020).png
Most Popular Wikipedia Articles of the Week (October 11 to 17, 2020)
Rank Article Class Views Image Notes/about
1 The Haunting of Bly Manor 2,838,889 Director Mike Flanagan on the set of Before I Wake.jpg The second installment (after Hill House) of the Haunting TV shows, created by Mike Flanagan (pictured), was released on Netflix – everyone's best friend this year – on October 8. It's a horror-lite show based on some of Henry James's works, and has made lead Victoria Pedretti, something of an internet darling.
2 Amy Coney Barrett 1,919,067 Judge Barrett at the US Capitol.jpg Trump's longest lasting effect on the American govenment will be his choices for Supreme Court justices. For those not familiar with the institution, it's a small group of unelected judges that decide on many of America's social issues. Trump's third placement on the Court, Amy Coney Barrett, would mean that Republican appointments will control 6 of 9 seats. At hearings this week, Barrett refused to give her opinions on abortion, LGBT rights, and whether Trump would have to recognize the results of the upcoming Presidential election.
3 LeBron James 1,102,173 Lebron wizards 2017 crop.jpg James led the Los Angeles Lakers to victory in the 2020 NBA Finals, and was named MVP for the fourth time. Meanwhile, his son Bronny was grounded for smoking marijuana, preventing him from participating in FaZe Clan activities.
4 QAnon 1,077,338 QAnon vendor (48555556067).jpg This wide-reaching conspiracy theory has its ideas on everything from how incumbent US President Donald Trump is being attacked by a deep-state cabal and paedophiles to how the 2020 Western United States wildfire season started. QAnon kicked off in 2017 with posts, or 'Q drops', by an author called 'Q' (hence the name). It has since spread from shady social media platforms like 4chan to mainstream social media platforms like Twitter. Facebook doesn't like it, and has promised to essentially ban QAnon from existence there, and YouTube is also targeting it. Hardships experienced by all sorts of things caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have made things worse.
5 Harshad Mehta 848,833 Harshad-Mehta.png Everyone loves a good scam! This guy was the principal actor of the 1992 Indian stock market scam. This week a movie / web series Scam 1992 ended up drawing a new generation to his story and to his wikipage.
6 Deaths in 2020 794,250 Visitação ao cemitério Campo da Boa Esperança (30435947320).jpg The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death
7 Conchata Ferrell 762,663 Conchata Ferrell.JPG The beloved character actress best known for Two and a Half Men died on October 12.
8 The Boys (2019 TV series) 740,646 Karen Fukuhara (close-up).jpg The spin-off Supe-Porn was informally announced on October 3 and took a while to register on peoples' radar. It is exactly what it sounds like.
9 Rafael Nadal 738,487 The Spanish clay court specialist just won the French Open, again.
10 Watts family murders 676,359 With Drops of Blood splatter illustration 1.png People are still fascinated with the documentary about this, released in September.

Non-stop talker, what a rocker (October 18 to 25, 2020)

Rank Article Class Views Image Notes/about
1 Kristen Welker 1,443,494 Kristen Welker by Gage Skidmore.jpg The moderator for the last of the 2020 US presidential debates, with election day rapidly approaching. Welker's performance was praised by members of both parties.
2 The Haunting of Bly Manor 1,252,492 Biernacice dwór(WLZ13).jpg Victoria Pedretti has been through a lot in just two years: traumatized by a haunted house, part of the Manson family, stalked by a psycho... and now she deals with creepy orphans in this adaptation of The Turn of the Screw.
3 Sacha Baron Cohen 1,215,348 Borat Sagdiyev.jpg Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the sequel to the 2006 mockumentary film Borat (#19), was released to Amazon Prime Video on October 23. The film features Borat Sagdiyev (Baron Cohen), a Kazakh television host, travelling America with his teenage daughter (played by Maria Bakalova).

Baron Cohen also starred as one of #6 in #9. I haven't seen it, but I assume it's hilarious.

4 Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 1,198,795
5 Joe Biden 1,110,580 Joe Biden official portrait 2013.jpg Biden is the Democratic nominee for President this year, and (at the time of writing) is just over a week away from facing off against President Trump. The polls are looking good for Biden, with Five Thirty-Eight giving him an 83% chance of victory.
6 Chicago Seven 1,096,352 Constrial3.jpg The Chicago Seven were a group of seven (eight if you include Bobby Seale) public figures charged with crossing state lines to incite the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests. At the time, it was seen as a show trial by the Nixon Justice Department, and now, it's been dramatized for Netflix.
7 Three Red Banners 928,659 Biden Harris logo.svg The logo of the Biden campaign (pictured here) has three red lines. A meme comparing this to a Maoist slogan is, apparently, very popular.
8 Harshad Mehta 907,204 Harshad-Mehta.png The perpetrator of the 1992 Indian stock market scam is the subject of the appropriately titled SonyLIV series Scam 1992.
9 The Trial of the Chicago 7 872,083 Aaron Sorkin at PaleyFest 2013.jpg Aaron Sorkin's retelling of the trial of #6 was released to Netflix on October 16. As one of the only movies to come out this year, it's probably gonna walk away with 3 Oscars.
10 Khabib Nurmagomedov 801,099 Хабиб Нурмагомедов-2. 12.9.2019 (cropped).jpg Better to leave at the top, thought this Russian MMA fighter who decided to retire with an undefeated record (something probably harder to do on MMA than boxing, where there's at least Rocky Marciano and Floyd Mayweather Jr.) of 29 wins after the latest UFC event, where he beat Justin Gaethje.

Exclusions

  • These lists exclude the Wikipedia main page, non-article pages (such as redlinks), and anomalous entries (such as DDoS attacks or likely automated views). Since mobile view data became available to the Report in October 2014, we exclude articles that have almost no mobile views (5–6% or less) or almost all mobile views (94–95% or more) because they are very likely to be automated views based on our experience and research of the issue. Please feel free to discuss any removal on the Top 25 Report talk page if you wish.



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In January 2021, Wikipedians will celebrate the twentieth birthday of our encyclopedia, now the world's encyclopedia. Wikipedia @ 20, a book of 22 chapters from MIT Press, helps mark this birthday. Co-editors Joseph Reagle and Jackie Koerner agreed to be interviewed on the occasion of the book's publication. Other stories in this issue related to the book include a book review, and Reagle's article from the book on The many (reported) deaths of Wikipedia.

Joseph Reagle

Signpost: Many of the authors of the chapters include a couple of paragraphs about how they were first attracted to Wikipedia. How did you first get involved with Wikipedia? How did you get involved in editing "Wikipedia @ 20"?

Joseph: A long time ago I was working at the World Wide Web Consortium for Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web, and was excited by the emergence of blogs and wikis. When I returned to grad school in 2003, I figured my PhD work should be related to one of those topics, and I’m glad I chose Wikipedia. It’s an extraordinary project, and I thought the twentieth anniversary would be a good opportunity to reflect on its two decades and see what they tell us of expectations fulfilled or disappointed, myths confirmed or busted, lessons learned, and the probable future.

Jackie Koerner

Jackie: Like Joseph, I became deeply interested in Wikipedia in graduate school. I was completing an internship for the campus department of information systems. I studied information sharing amongst departments. I found the practices terribly inefficient and greatly improved by adopting wikis for documentation. Eight years later I experienced a sudden depression. After my PhD I planned to stay home with my daughter. That meant I left my full-time job, the non-profit I started, graduated, and completed a research project all at the same time. I had unscheduled time for the first time in my life. I didn’t know what to do. My husband suggested I take some of the literature review from my dissertation and add citations to Wikipedia. Editing Wikipedia @ 20 is just one of the great things that I found myself involved with after that first edit in 2016.

Joseph: One of the exciting things about the collection is the emergence of inversions in Wikipedia's history. Jackie and I aren't the only ones to have begun with an interest in Wikipedia while students. This is the case for many of the contributors, who now use Wikipedia in the classroom as teachers. For us, Wikipedia was new – and not necessarily appreciated by or approved of by our teachers – and now, as Alexandra Lockett writes in "Why Do I Have Authority to Edit the Page?", most of our students have never lived in a world without Wikipedia. From then to now, Wikipedia went "From Faculty Enemy to Faculty Enabler" – the title of Robert Cumming’s essay.

SP: The subtitle is "Stories of an Incomplete Revolution". How do you define the "revolution" and why do you think it is incomplete?

Joseph: When discussing possible titles, I kept thinking of Andrew Lih’s (2009) book The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia. In the tech world, it is easy to speak of "revolutions," but it’s rare for the phenomenon to stick around as conceived – most everything becomes just another advertising platform – and people's attention moves on to the next "revolution".

Wikipedia was revolutionary because it exemplified what Yochai Benkler, author of the essay "From Utopia to Practice and Back" labeled "commons-based peer production". That is, "nobodies" were collectively building the largest encyclopedia in human history. How was this possible and where might it take us? But then, over the years, this "revolution" was outpaced by social media platforms, dependent on user surveillance and overrun by misinformation. Also, Wikipedia's aspiration to represent "the sum of all knowledge" had fallen short. So though Wikipedia was revolutionary, the revolution itself didn’t happen as envisioned and hoped for.

Jackie: Precisely. There is still much to be done. The sum of all human knowledge is an exciting phrase but it only becomes a mission if we truly live it. Some of the policies and practices on Wikipedia interfere with knowledge equity, which is access to quality educational content available for all people regardless of their geographic or personal identities. These policies worked when there was not something better, but just like society evolves and changes with the needs and awareness, Wikipedia needs to do the same. Contributors in the book mention challenges to inclusion – particularly chapters authored by Black Lunch Table, Art + Feminism, Whose Knowledge?, and Alexandria Lockett. Katherine Maher brings the volume to a close with a nice call to action for us all to really consider what the future of Wikipedia looks like. My hope is we all listen to what these activists and scholars are saying and reflect on how Wikipedia should change to be more inclusive. If we don’t there is no way we can claim to be the sum of all human knowledge.

SP: The book marks Wikipedia’s twentieth anniversary, which is a conventional time to look back and take stock. But is there something else special about the present, is there something happening now that makes this period special?

Jackie: Certainly. We are living in a time with rampant misinformation, blatant acts of racism by people in power, and systemic dehumanization. Oh, and let’s just add in a global pandemic. This is a time when people need to have quality information. Over the past few years, we have seen this need grow with the increasing reliance of tech giants on Wikipedia’s information and related APIs to combat misinformation and propaganda on their own platforms. We as contributors shouldn’t look back and say, "Wow! We did great and that’s why people trust Wikipedia!" but rather, "Great job! What can we do better? How can we safeguard information from bias and manipulation and improve knowledge equity during this time of uncertainty?"

Joseph: Jackie is spot on about the serious challenges of our moment and the important role Wikipedia has to play. Indeed, seeing Wikipedia’s portrayal flip from the dietary equivalent of a Big Mac, in its first decade, to the "good cop" of the Web, in its second, is another one of those extraordinary inversions described by Omer Benjakob and Stephen Harrison in their chapter "From Anarchy to Wikiality."

SP: There are three main sections to the book, titled Hindsight, Connections, and Vision, which I view as roughly: past, present, and future. Perhaps one of most striking things about Wikipedia is how little it has changed in some ways over the last 15 or 20 years – in article format, in its major rules, in the types of editors it attracts, in technology, even the appearance of the main page! Do the chapters of the book show something beyond a slow moving evolution, or do you see real fast-moving change in any particular areas? Do you see any of the proposed changes in the Vision section having a real chance of being implemented?

Joseph: The organization of the collection into three parts seems so natural now, but there was a moment when we were wrestling with how to organize the twenty-two chapters. Given my interest in historical insights, and Jackie’s work with Wikimedia 2030, we had natural bookends: past and future. The idea of a section on connections was inspired by the essay "Three Links," by Amy Carleton, Rebecca Thorndike-Breeze, and Cecelia Musselman. They wrote how "working with the encyclopedia and its community has been a valuable forging ground, shaping each of us into links in a wide-reaching mesh of personal and professional connections". The book exemplifies how Wikipedia connects volunteers, teachers, librarians, scholars, and activists; many of our contributors bridge these communities by serving in multiple roles.

To your question on the pace of change, I describe the phenomenon I see at Wikipedia as a type of vertigo. Alfred Hitchcock pioneered the camera technique of the dolly zoom: of zooming in on the subject, optically, while pulling the camera back on its dolly. It feels as if the vision is advancing while the subject, roughly speaking, remains in place. That said, I am inspired by the piece "Towards a Wikipedia For and From Us All" by Adele Vrana, Anasuya Sengupta, and Siko Bouterse from Whose Knowledge? They took the editorial charge of illuminating myths in Wikipedia’s two decades to heart (e.g., "The gender gap is the main or only diversity problem to solve on Wikipedia") and proposed practices to move forward.

Jackie: That is exactly it. Joseph’s right. We wrestled with the organization, thinking of section names, and rearranging chapters. We kept coming back to the chapters where people felt such intense personal fulfillment from their work with Wikipedia. "Three Links" did inspire us to name the section. I think that’s the section of the book people will feel the most nostalgic reading. We all have such unique stories about how Wikipedia became a part of our lives.

Like Joseph wrote [in his chapter], "At this point, it’s foolish for anyone to predict Wikipedia’s death. While such a prognostication makes for catchy headlines – which will probably continue – Wikipedia persists." The Wikipedia community is invested in Wikipedia’s success and now the broader world is depending on it more than ever, as Heather Ford writes in her chapter "Rise of the Underdog."

The chapters in the Vision section express frustration with a lack of growth over time, which can be difficult to hear for long-time contributors. During my work with Wikimedia 2030, it reaffirmed my understanding of how Wikipedia is crucial to knowledge equity and quality educational content. Unfortunately, Wikipedia is at an age now where we should expect certain things, like a Code of Conduct, a better handle on harassment, and more progressive policies and practices to embrace knowledge equity. We as a community need to reflect on how we must grow in age-appropriate ways so we don’t end up on the Internet’s obituaries after all.

SP: The most controversial topic will likely be a perceived contradiction between Jimmy Wales famous goal, "imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge" and the tools of the Age of Enlightenment that Wikipedians use to document that knowledge – mainly the printed word, together with the concepts of verifiability and reliable sources. The argument is most often applied to women, who for social and economic reasons have been left out of many books and other "reliable sources" for centuries, but the same arguments apply to the LGBTQ+ community, indigenous peoples, and religious and national minorities. Do you see Wikipedia modifying its commitment to verifiable sources? Or do you see a modification of the commitment to provide knowledge to "every single person on the planet"?

Joseph: My intellectual origins are in the Enlightenment tradition of classical liberal and libertarian thought. This contributed to my attraction to Wikipedia as a place where people could civilly but vigorously knock heads within the constraints of reason and science. That’s still my default disposition. However, when I first read Susan Herring’s work in graduate school about how men dominate online conversations under the pretense of reason and flaming miscreants, I began to appreciate how "open to all" is not necessarily so. This began my work on gender bias in Wikipedia and free culture – and the geek feminism response.

Wikipedia's policies on reputable sources is also aligned with my default way of thinking. Quacks, scammers, and POV pushers need to be repulsed so that Wikipedia is not overrun. I still think this is the case but also, now, appreciate how this perpetuates the biases in what, historically, has been deemed worthy of notice. I greatly appreciate those who've thought about and experimented with oral citations, for example, and would like to see such work continue, but I haven't given this issue enough thought to say I understand it well or if there is a possible solution. This is something I'd like to better understand.

Jackie: I have to smile considering this question. Joseph and I had some deep conversations about bias, gender equity, and lived experiences during the development of this book. We differ in perspective, but this is what made our co-editorship of this book so strong!

I believe education is a human right. I want everyone to have access to the sum of all human knowledge and see themselves represented there too. I deeply understand how not all knowledge is created equal. Dominant power structures foster an environment where people feel empowered to create inequitable standards. Alexandria Lockett’s chapter "Why Do I Have Authority to Edit the Page? The Politics of User Agency and Participation on Wikipedia" engages with what it is like to experience barriers to knowledge diversity on Wikipedia.

My hope is Wikipedia contributors choose to engage with what knowledge is and not what we have been told knowledge is. For Wikipedia to honestly represent knowledge the verifiable sources policies must change.

SP: The book is unusual in many ways. At 373 pages (22 chapters), it's large. It’s academic, being published by MIT Press, with about two-thirds of the authors working in academia. At the same time, almost as many of the authors are Wikipedians. It's open access, working with a new MIT project PubPub, which is a platform for scientific communities. It's published with a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. How did all these pieces of the production process work together?

Joseph: It wasn’t easy! We touch on this a bit in the preface so I'll just say, in short, how grateful I am for the effort, wisdom, and support of everyone who helped make it happen.

Jackie: I can only echo what Joseph said. I feel inspired by every one of the contributors in the book and in the Wikipedia @ 20 project https://wikipedia20.pubpub.org/. I am grateful for all the kindness, hard work, and energy from everyone involved.



Reader comments


On October 15 the Wikimedia Foundation posted this article on Diff
Sandister Tei of Accra, Ghana, was announced today as the 2020 Wikimedian of the Year.

When Sandister Tei first started editing Wikipedia in 2012, contributions from her home country of Ghana comprised less than one percent of total edits made to the website globally.

Limited access to the internet and internet-enabled devices certainly contributed to the low levels of participation. But, from Sandister’s perspective, the bigger issue was a general lack of awareness about Wikipedia, how it worked, and how to get involved.

I was really excited how you click edit and then you can make changes to the information you see, and then it goes live and people find it useful. I was totally intrigued by that.
— Sandister on editing Wikipedia for the first time in 2012


Sandister set out on a mission to change this.

Since that time, Sandister has helped found the first Ghanaian Wikimedia community; recruit and train new local volunteers; and encourage Ghana’s participation in larger Wikimedia initiatives, such as Wiki Loves Monuments.

Sandister teaching a Wikipedia workshop at Republica Accra 2018.

It’s not just about editing Wikipedia; you can also build communities around it.
— Sandister Tei

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sandister and the rest of the Ghanian Wikimedia community faced many challenges, as lockdown regulations forced the cancellation of all in-person gatherings and events. Not only did Sandister help her User Group stay connected and informed, but she also contributed actively to Wikipedia articles about the pandemic’s impact in Ghana. This helped make information about the pandemic more accessible to people in Ghana, and it educated the rest of the world about how COVID-19 was affecting Ghana.

I look around me now, and I see Ghanaian and Sub Saharan African excellence movement-wide.

Sandister Tei 05.jpg

Today, in celebration of her pioneering and tireless work with the Wikimedia Ghana User Group, Sandister was named the 2020 Wikimedian of the Year!

The Wikimedian of the Year is an annual tradition to honor the efforts of one of the movement’s exceptional contributors. Typically, Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales announces the name of the recipient during his closing remarks at Wikimania. Of course, this year, things happened somewhat differently (Wikimania 2020 in Bangkok was postponed due to COVID-19). But the announcement was still as special as ever.

In fact, Jimmy Wales surprised Sandister with the news of the award over a video call, and you can see some highlights from the recording yourself here:


Surprise call with Sandister CC BY-SA 4.0

As Jimmy says, “In a community dedicated to free knowledge, Wikimedians of the Year are the closest things we have to celebrity. … But the Wikimedian of the Year is about more than an award — it’s a recognition of the role that volunteers play in this huge, sprawling global movement.”

We could not agree more. And we are thrilled to recognize Sandister’s remarkable contributions to the Wikimedia movement.

I hope that Wikipedia in whichever shape or form it’s in by then (even if it’s a chip to be installed in the brain), would be even more relevant to open knowledge contributors, and the users.
— Sandister on her hopes for Wikipedia in 20 years

Learn more about the 2020 Wikimedian of the year announcement on Medium. Watch the recorded livestream event on YouTube.



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Wikimedia Research Newsletter Logo.png
A monthly overview of recent academic research about Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, also published as the Wikimedia Research Newsletter.

OpenSym 2020

The fifteenth edition of the annual OpenSym conference (originally known as WikiSym) took place as an online event on August 26–27, 2020. Pre-pandemic, it had been expected to be held as a physical event in Madrid, Spain, which is now envisaged to become the location of next year's OpenSym instead. The program included several papers about Wikipedia and Wikidata:

"Exploring Systematic Bias through Article Deletions on Wikipedia from a Behavioral Perspective"

Reviewed by OpenSexism

In "Exploring Systematic Bias through Article Deletions on Wikipedia from a Behavioral Perspective"[1], the authors ask "Is content supposedly of more interest to women being actively deleted from Wikipedia?" To answer this question, they identify "a broad set of Wikipedia article pages that may have interest to a given gender" using a set of terms drawn from popular magazines whose declared readership is primarily men or women (terms were identified at two points in time, 2004 and 2014). The identified terms are then matched to Wikipedia articles to determine the most likely audience for each. (The authors include a list of identified terms in an appendix, where one can see whether men or women are associated with things like balsamic vinegar, bagel, bandage, biomedical engineering, dishwashing, and constipation.)

Once the Wikipedia content is matched to a demographic, the authors use Wikipedia's public deletion logs to collect deletion information. Comparing deletion rates, they find "no significant qualitative differences in the rates of AfD ["Articles for deletion (AfD) is where Wikipedians discuss whether an article should be deleted"] or CSD ["The criteria for speedy deletion (CSD) specify the only cases in which administrators have broad consensus to bypass deletion discussion, at their discretion, and immediately delete Wikipedia pages or media"] for articles of supposed interest to women compared to articles of supposed interest to men." Regarding the 2014 terms, they also note that from “our initial list of topics of supposed interest to women, about 31.9% of topics could not be matched to an article using the matching method, and 15.1% of terms of supposed interest to men were in the same condition. These represent potential content that is not currently in Wikipedia."

"To be fair," the authors note in the discussion, "there is more content of possible interest to women that was, likely, never included and therefore it is not possible for it to be deleted." This observation is also echoed in the brief section dedicated to biographies: "That is, biographies that might be of more interest to women are perhaps not being deleted or nominated for deletion simply because they are not there in the first place." The authors conclude by urging that "future work should be done around the more pernicious ways that system bias is reinforced."

Recommended reading: "Wikipedia Has a Bias Problem" by Jackie Koerner,[supp 1] see also the book review in this Signpost issue

According to Ortega y Gasset, the masses dominate...
... but Newton holds that the "giants" are most important

"Who Writes Wikipedia? An Investigation from the Perspective of Ortega and Newton Hypotheses"

Reviewed by Tilman Bayer

It has long been debated whether Wikipedia's success rests more on the work of a small core of highly active editors, or the infrequent contributions of a large number of casual editors. (One such discussion took place in in 2006 between Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Aaron Swartz, then a Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees candidate, and has been referred to in context of subsequent research.)

This paper[2] (which alludes to Swartz' 2006 analysis in its title) presents an extensive data analysis aimed at illuminating this question, framed using concepts from the sociology of science: The "Ortega hypothesis" (named after José Ortega y Gasset, author of The Revolt of the Masses), which posits that the progress of science mainly rests on many smaller contributions, versus the "Newton hypothesis" which instead asserts that it's rather a small number of genius scientists who are advancing science (named after Isaac Newton's dictum that he "stood on the shoulders of giants"). To quote the "conclusion" section:

"The study visits the prevalent belief that only top 1% of the users in peer-production communities are sufficient for running the system, as proclaimed by the existing rules such as 1–9–90 rule and Newton Hypothesis. The analysis highlights that in Wikipedia, the masses who interact with the portal very infrequently, are also required in the system for their small but useful pieces of contribution in bringing new pieces of knowledge to the articles. The results endorse the claims of the Ortega hypothesis in Wikipedia and recommend examining and reconsidering system policies made solely based on Newton Hypothesis."

The analysis is based on the revision history of the 100 most edited articles on the English Wikipedia, examined using the KDAP tool (which was co-developed by one of the authors and presented in a separate paper at the conference, see below). The contributions of masses and elites are examined through three research questions:

  1. focused on what new content they insert – measured e.g. by the number of words, images, references, or wikilinks (interpreted as "factoids") contributed
  2. "the proportion of good content contribution by masses" as opposed to vandalism, based on ORES content scores
  3. "activities involving up-keeping of the existing content such as restructuring and formatting of the content", defined as edits that either removed content, changed "positioning of the existing content" without adding new content, or introduced formatting changes such as wikilinks, external links or bolding text

The paper's data analysis is much more detailed and sophisticated than e.g. Swartz' brief 2006 study, but also involves some choices that cast doubt on the interpretation of the results, or at least rely on a definition of "community" that is quite different from those usually used in research and discussion about collaboration on Wikipedia. In particular, "mass" and elite" are defined per article, using edit count percentiles, rather than via an editor's contributions and experience on Wikipedia overall. The authors briefly acknowledge this limitation:

[... ] the analysis considers each Wikipedia article as a standalone community. Therefore, there may be cases where a user is making a large number of edits overall, but very few edits in the article under consideration. This might reflect a need to examine the entire English Wikipedia to judge each user’s overall contribution, thereby, considering the English Wikipedia to be a community ..."

(Contrary to what the paper implies, the latter was also the approach used by Swartz in 2006, who defined elite users using their overall edit count on the entire site.) Another open question is how representative the 100 most edited articles are for Wikipedia's entire content of over 6 million articles.

Overlooked in Wikipedia research so far: Edit filters

From the abstract:[3]

"The Wikipedia community [...] has built a sophisticated set of automated, semi-automated, and manual quality assurance mechanisms over the last fifteen years. The scientific community has systematically studied these mechanisms but one mechanism has been overlooked — edit filters. Edit filters are syntactic rules that assess incoming edits, file uploads or account creations. As opposed to many other quality assurance mechanisms, edit filters are effective before a new revision is stored in the online encyclopaedia. In the exploratory study presented, we describe the role of edit filters in Wikipedia’s quality assurance system. We examine how edit filters work, describe how the community governs their creation and maintenance, and look into the tasks these filters take over."


A platform to analyze "collaborative knowledge building portals" such as Wikipedia

From the abstract and paper:[4]

"We describe Knowledge Data Analysis and Processing Platform (KDAP), a programming toolkit that is easy to use and provides high-level operations for analysis of knowledge data. We propose Knowledge Markup Language (Knol-ML), a standard representation format for the data of collaborative knowledge building portals. KDAP can process the massive data of crowdsourced portals like Wikipedia and Stack Overflow efficiently. As a part of this toolkit, a data-dump of various collaborative knowledge building portals is published in Knol-ML format." "Various tools and libraries have been developed to analyze Wikipedia data. Most of these tools extract the data in real-time to answer questions. A common example of such a tool is the web-based Wikipedia API. [...] However, the downside of using a web-based API is that a particular revision has to be requested from the service, transferred over the Internet, and then stored locally in an appropriate format. [...] Apart from web-based services, tools to extract and parse the Wikipedia data dump are available [but are, in the opinion of the authors, either too limited to specific use cases or "restricted to basic data"]."

(The tool was used for the "Who Writes Wikipedia? ..." paper also presented at the conference, see review above)

Predicting an article's quality rating based on editor collaboration patterns

From the abstract:[5]

"We present a novel model for classifying the quality of Wikipedia articles based on structural properties of a network representation of the article’s revision history. We create revision history networks [...] where nodes correspond to individual editors of an article, and edges join the authors of consecutive revisions. Using descriptive statistics generated from these networks, along with general properties like the number of edits and article size, we predict which of six quality classes (Start, Stub, C-Class, B-Class, Good, Featured) articles belong to, attaining a classification accuracy of 49.35% on a stratified sample of articles."


"Dynamics of Edit War Sequences in Wikipedia"

From the abstract:[6]

From the abstract: "we perform a systematic analysis of the conflicts present in 1,208 controversial articles of Wikipedia captured in the form of edit war sequences. We examine various key characteristics of these sequences and further use them to estimate the outcome of the edit wars. The study indicates the possibility of devising automated coordination mechanisms for handling conflicts in collaborative spaces."


"The Wikipedia Diversity Observatory: A Project to Identify and Bridge Content Gaps in Wikipedia"

From the abstract:[7]

"... we present the Wikipedia Diversity Observatory, a project aimed to increase diversity within Wikipedia language editions. The project includes dashboards with visualizations and tools which show the gaps in terms of concepts not represented or not shared across languages. The dashboards are built on datasets generated for each of the more than 300 language editions, with features that label each article according to different categories relevant to overall content diversity."

See also earlier coverage: "Wikidata calculates cultural diversity"

Other recent publications

Other recent publications that could not be covered in time for this issue include the items listed below. Contributions, whether reviewing or summarizing newly published research, are always welcome.

Compiled by Tilman Bayer

"The Falklands/Malvinas war taken to the Wikipedia realm: a multimodal discourse analysis of cross-lingual violations of the Neutral Point of View"

From the abstract:[8]

"Despite the copious amount of literature on neutrality in Wikipedia, little research has yet applied multimodal discourse analysis to tackle cross-lingual violations of the Neutral Point of View (NPOV). Consequently, this study draws on selected visual and textual data from the English and Spanish Wikipedia entries for the Falklands/Malvinas War to prove that the inclusion of certain images and lexemes in particular contexts can be good indicators of NPOV violations. The data set used in the research consisted of the introductory sections, table of contents and images from the two Wikipedia entries and a set of selected comments posted on their talk pages. The findings suggest that specific lexical and visual choices are ideologically motivated and go against the principles advocated by NPOV. This is further attested by the fact that some lexical choices are contested by Wikipedia editors on the talk pages ..."

"Identifying Cultural Differences through Multi-Lingual Wikipedia"

From the abstract:[9]

"We present a computational approach to learn cultural models that encode the general opinions and values of cultures from multi-lingual Wikipedia. Specifically, we assume a language is a symbol of a culture and different languages represent different cultures. Our model can automatically identify statements that potentially reflect cultural differences. Experiments on English and Chinese languages show that on a held out set of diverse topics, including marriage, gun control, democracy, etc., our model achieves high correlation with human judgements regarding within-culture values and cultural differences.

"Towards Extending Wikipedia with Bidirectional Links"

From the abstract:[10]

"A WikiLinks system extends the Wikipedia with bidirectional links between fragments of articles. However, there were several attempts to introduce bidirectional fragment-fragment links to the Web, WikiLinks project is the first attempt to bring the new linkage mechanism directly to Wikipedia ..."


"Ripples on the web: Spreading lake information via Wikipedia"

From the article (which is lacking an abstract):[11]

"[...] we argue that Wikipedia is an ideal venue for centralizing and improving the availability of facts about lakes. We give a brief overview of lake information on Wikipedia, how to contribute to it, and our vision for the broader dissemination of lake information. [...] Over 18,000 English Wikipedia articles exist for lakes and over 700 English Wikipedia articles exist describing aquatic processes in lakes. These articles reach a wide audience as they collectively have over 200,000 views per day."


"An encyclopedia for stock markets? Wikipedia searches and stock returns"

From the abstract:[12]

"We present empirical evidence that collective investor behavior can be inferred from large-scale Wikipedia search data for individual-level stocks. [...] we quantify the statistical information flow between daily company-specific Wikipedia searches and stock returns for a sample of 447 stocks from 2008 to 2017. The resulting stock-wise measures on information transmission are then used as a signal within a hypothetical trading strategy."


"The Most Important Laboratory for Social Scientific and Computing Research in History"

A chapter[13] in the "Wikipedia @ 20" book looks at how scholars have studied Wikipedia in the first two decades of its existence, coming to

"... one overarching conclusion: Wikipedia has become part of the mainstream of every social and computational research field we know of. Some areas of study, such as the analysis of human computer interaction, knowledge management, information systems, and online communication, have undergone profound shifts in the past twenty years that have been driven by Wikipedia research."

While not a comprehensive literature review per se, the paper provides a bird's eye view, identifying the following main research areas: "Wikipedia as a Source of Data", "The Gender Gap", "Content Quality and Integrity", "Wikipedia and Education", "Viewership", "Organization and Governance", and "Wikipedia in the World".

See also the more extensive review of this and other chapters of the book in this Signpost issue


References

  1. ^ Worku, Zena; Bipat, Taryn; McDonald, David W.; Zachry, Mark (2020-08-25). "Exploring Systematic Bias through Article Deletions on Wikipedia from a Behavioral Perspective" (PDF). Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on Open Collaboration. OpenSym 2020. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 1–22. doi:10.1145/3412569.3412573. ISBN 9781450387798.
  2. ^ Chhabra, Anamika; Iyengar, S. R.S. (2020-08-25). "Who Writes Wikipedia? An Investigation from the Perspective of Ortega and Newton Hypotheses" (PDF). Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on Open Collaboration. OpenSym 2020. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 1–11. doi:10.1145/3412569.3412578. ISBN 9781450387798.
  3. ^ Vaseva, Lyudmila; Müller-Birn, Claudia (2020-08-25). "You Shall Not Publish: Edit Filters on English Wikipedia" (PDF). Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on Open Collaboration. OpenSym 2020. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 1–10. doi:10.1145/3412569.3412580. ISBN 9781450387798.
  4. ^ Verma, Amit Arjun; Iyengar, S. R.S.; Setia, Simran; Dubey, Neeru (2020-08-25). "KDAP: An Open Source Toolkit to Accelerate Knowledge Building Research" (PDF). Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on Open Collaboration. OpenSym 2020. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 1–11. doi:10.1145/3412569.3412575. ISBN 9781450387798. / Code on GitHub
  5. ^ Raman, Narun; Sauerberg, Nathaniel; Fisher, Jonah; Narayan, Sneha (2020-08-25). "Classifying Wikipedia Article Quality With Revision History Networks" (PDF). Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on Open Collaboration. OpenSym 2020. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 1–7. doi:10.1145/3412569.3412581. ISBN 9781450387798.
  6. ^ Chhabra, Anamika; Kaur, Rishemjit; Iyengar, S. R.S. (2020-08-25). "Dynamics of Edit War Sequences in Wikipedia" (PDF). Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on Open Collaboration. OpenSym 2020. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 1–10. doi:10.1145/3412569.3412585. ISBN 9781450387798.
  7. ^ Miquel-Ribé, Marc; Laniado, David (2020-08-25). "The Wikipedia Diversity Observatory: A Project to Identify and Bridge Content Gaps in Wikipedia" (PDF). Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on Open Collaboration. OpenSym 2020. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 1–4. doi:10.1145/3412569.3412866. ISBN 9781450387798.
  8. ^ Góngora-Goloubintseff, José Gustavo (2020-04-07). "The Falklands/Malvinas war taken to the Wikipedia realm: a multimodal discourse analysis of cross-lingual violations of the Neutral Point of View". Palgrave Communications. 6 (1): 1–9. doi:10.1057/s41599-020-0435-2. ISSN 2055-1045.
  9. ^ Tian, Yufei; Chakrabarty, Tuhin; Morstatter, Fred; Peng, Nanyun (2020-04-10). "Identifying Cultural Differences through Multi-Lingual Wikipedia". arXiv:2004.04938.
  10. ^ Olewniczak, Szymon; Boiński, Tomasz; Szymański, Julian (2020-07-13). "Towards Extending Wikipedia with Bidirectional Links". Proceedings of the 31st ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media. HT '20. Virtual Event, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 239–240. doi:10.1145/3372923.3404841. ISBN 9781450370981.
  11. ^ Stachelek, Joseph; Hondula, Kelly; Kincaid, Dustin; Shogren, Arial; Zwart, Jacob (2020). "Ripples on the web: Spreading lake information via Wikipedia". Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin. 29 (3): 70–72. doi:10.1002/lob.10382. ISSN 1539-6088. closed access
  12. ^ Behrendt, Simon; Peter, Franziska J.; Zimmermann, David J. (2020-11-01). "An encyclopedia for stock markets? Wikipedia searches and stock returns". International Review of Financial Analysis. 72: 101563. doi:10.1016/j.irfa.2020.101563. ISSN 1057-5219. closed access
  13. ^ Hill, Benjamin Mako; Shaw, Aaron (2020-10-15). "11 The Most Important Laboratory for Social Scientific and Computing Research in History". Wikipedia @ 20. PubPub. ISBN 9780262538176.
Supplementary references and notes:
  1. ^ Koerner, Jackie (2019-06-18). "Wikipedia Has a Bias Problem". Wikipedia @ 20.




Reader comments


Wikipedia’s death has been predicted many times in its twenty years. Reagle groups these dour prognostications into four periods. Though this history shows making predictions is foolhardy, Reagle predicts Wikipedia has many years of life ahead of it.
Reagle is the co-editor of Wikipedia @ 20 with Jackie Koerner. Reagle and Koerner are interviewed by The Signpost in this issue and Wikipedia @ 20 is reviewed. This article is from a web version of the book chapter in Wikipedia @ 20 and is licensed CC-By 4.0.

Many Wikipedians can recall a favorite article that has since been deleted. My forsaken favorite is "Failed Predictions", one of the two thousand articles deleted on a November day over a decade ago. I appreciated how the article evidenced shortsighted thinking about technology given the many dismissals of the radio, telephone, and computer. Some quotes were apocryphal, such as Bill Gates's purported claim that "640K [of memory] ought to be enough for anybody", but I believed the article could have been improved with time. Despite similar lists having survived, "Failed Predictions" was expunged in 2007 from the English-language version of Wikipedia—the focus of this essay.

Although we lost Wikipedia's article on failed predictions, we gained Wikipedia itself as a topic of prognostication. Some have claimed that the young Wikipedia was a joke, that it wasn’t an encyclopedia, that it would fail; mid-life, some claimed that the English Wikipedia was dying or dead; more recently, we have seen claims of its demise and extinction. Claims about Wikipedia's death are not included in its "List of Premature Obituaries", but the topic does have a stub.

I began following Wikipedia in 2004 as a graduate student interested in wikis and blogs. When it came time to choose between the two, I chose Wikipedia. Blogs tended to be insular and snarky. Wikipedia had its conflicts, but people were at least attempting to work together on something worthwhile. Plus, its historical antecedents and popular reception were fascinating. In 2010 I published a book about Wikipedia's history, culture, and controversies: Good Faith Collaboration.[1] And at that point, I thought the dismal predictions about Wikipedia were over. Yet they continued.

As Wikipedia's twentieth-anniversary approaches, I look back on those who spoke about the project's future to understand why they doubted the "encyclopedia anyone can edit" could make it this long. (See chapter 2 for a broader take on Wikipedia press coverage.) I discern four periods of prognostication within which people expressed skepticism or concern about Wikipedia's early growth, nascent identity, production model, and contributor attrition. Given how often such bleak sentiments are expressed as premature obituaries, we’ll see that I am not alone in thinking of Mark Twain's quip about exaggerated reports of his death.

Early growth (2001–2002)

Not all predictions about Wikipedia falling short have been from its critics. The earliest predictions, from its founders no less, were not ambitious enough.

As I've written before, Wikipedia can be thought of as a happy accident—a provocation to those who confuse Wikipedia's eventual success with its uncertain origins.[2] The encyclopedia that anyone can edit was initially part of a project of an elect few. Jimmy Wales, the entrepreneur behind Bomis, a men's oriented web portal, had hired Larry Sanger, a new philosophy PhD, to launch Nupedia, an encyclopedia for the new millennium. Although Nupedia was online and inspired by open source, Nupedia's experts worked within a rigorous multitiered process. And it was slow going: by the end of 2000, only two articles had been completed. Wales likened Nupedia's process to being back in graduate school: an intimidating grind.

To shake things up, Wales and Sanger set up a wiki in January 2001. They hoped it would lead to some drafts for Nupedia, but their expectations were modest. Wales feared that the wiki would be overrun with "complete rubbish" and that Nupedians "might find the idea objectionable".[3] My reconstruction of the first ten thousand edits to Wikipedia does show a lot of dreck, but it was fertile stuff, being produced and improved at a remarkable rate.[4] Wikipedians hoped to one day have 100,000 articles—a scale a bit larger than most print encyclopedias. In July, Sanger predicted that if Wikipedia continued to produce a thousand articles a month, it would be close to that in about seven years. Amazingly, in less than seven years, in September 2007 the English Wikipedia reached two million articles, some twenty times Sanger's estimate.

Wales's initial pessimism and Sanger's modest estimate are humbling in hindsight. Yet such mistakes can now be taken as a source of pride. This is not true of the modest expectations of Wikipedia's first critic.

Peter Jacso, a computer science professor, regularly published "Peter's Picks & Pans" in a journal for information professionals. In the spring 2002 issue, he panned Wikipedia, likening it to a prank, a joke, or an "outlet for those who pine to be a member in some community". Jacso dismissed Wikipedia's goal of producing one hundred thousand articles; he wrote, "That's ambition", as this "tall order" was twice the number of articles in the sixth edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia.

When I asked Jacso about this pan from seventeen years ago, he had not given it much thought. To be fair, he published over eighty "Picks & Pans" between 1995 and 2009. And he now concedes that Wikipedia has "worked exceptionally well" thanks to the thousands of contributors working under "constantly updated guidelines". Jacso's early skepticism arose because so many other projects had failed: "I did not anticipate that the free Wikipedia service could realize what even the richest companies such as Microsoft failed to do, as demonstrated by the trials and tribulation of the subscription-based Encarta".[5]

Jacso and Wikipedia's founders exemplify three ways of thinking about the future. Like Jacso, people look to similar projects to get a sense of what is feasible: even established and well-funded projects had failed to create sustainable online encyclopedias. Or, like Sanger, people extrapolate linearly; in this case, taking the first six months of Wikipedia as the norm for the next seven years. The only model people didn’t make use of was exponential growth, which characterized Wikipedia article creation until about 2007. In "Why Technology Predictions Go Awry", Herb Brody identified this cause as underestimating a revolution.[6] Now, hopeful entrepreneurs default to this model in their predictions, but this is only because of early examples such as Wikipedia.

Nascent identity (2001–2005)

Just as Wikipedia's emergence and initial growth confounded early expectations, the identity that we now take for granted, the nonprofit "encyclopedia anyone can edit", was not a given at the start.

First, Wikipedia was conceived by Wales as a possible commercial undertaking. Wikipedia was originally hosted at wikipedia.com, and by 2002 Sanger and Wales were hinting that Bomis might start selling ads on Wikipedia, in part to pay Sanger's salary. Wikipedians objected—Spanish Wikipedians even left to create their own. Given these objections and the deflation of the dot-com bubble, Sanger was laid off. Wales changed the site over to a .org domain and began work to establish the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which happened in 2003.

Second, there was the question of whether Wikipedia was a wiki, an encyclopedia, both, or neither. In Wikipedia's first year, Wales visited the wiki of Ward Cunningham to put this question to the inventor of the wiki.[7]

My question, to this esteemed Wiki community, is this: Do you think that a Wiki could successfully generate a useful encyclopedia? –JimboWales

Yes, but in the end it wouldn’t be an encyclopedia. It would be a wiki. – Ward Cunningham


— Ward Cunningham, Jimmy Wales, and Larry Sanger, "Wiki Pedia"

This interaction is a storied part of Wikipedia's history, and in subsequent years Cunningham was often asked about Wikipedia and his prediction. When he was asked if Wikipedia was still a wiki in 2004, he responded, "Absolutely. A certain amount of credit drifts my way from Wikipedia. I’m always quick to remind people that my wiki is not Wikipedia, and that there's a lot of innovation there. I’m proud of what the Wikipedia community has done, I think it's totally awesome". He thought Wikipedia's talk pages, where contributors discuss their work on an article, were especially useful. Cunningham also conceded that Wikipedia was an encyclopedia: "If someone were to ask me to point to a modern encyclopedia, I would choose Wikipedia. Wikipedia defines encyclopedia now."[8] However, Cunningham's concession did not settle the matter. Elsewhere, the debate over Wikipedia's identity continued.

Shortly after being laid off, Sanger resigned from all participation in Nupedia and Wikipedia. He was unemployed, looking for work, and didn’t see his contribution as a part-time hobby. However, he remained in Wikipedia's orbit, defending his status as a cofounder and, eventually, becoming one of Wikipedia's most prominent critics and competitors. This began in December 2004 with an essay on "Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism". Sanger objected to Wikipedia's culture of "disrespect toward expertise": while Wikipedia was open to contributions from all, Wikipedians still ought to defer to experts.[9] This deference to expertise was something he would attempt to restore at Citizendium, his 2006 fork of Wikipedia.

Sanger's essay led to another discussion about Wikipedia's identity, with two media scholars, danah boyd and Clay Shirky, taking opposing positions. (Boyd lowercases her name and pronouns.) Boyd recognized that though Wikipedia was useful, its content was uneven and often embarrassingly poor, leading her to conclude: "It will never be an encyclopedia, but it will contain extensive knowledge that is quite valuable for different purposes". She prefaced this with the sentiment that "this does not mean that i dislike Wikipedia, just that i do not consider it to be equivalent to an encyclopedia. I believe that it lacks the necessary research and precision". Anticipating Citizendium, she suggested this lack of quality could be remedied by "a vetted version of Wikipedia, one that would provide a knowledge resource that is more accountable and authoritative".[10]

Alternatively, Clay Shirky recognized that although Wikipedia's content was sometimes inferior to traditional encyclopedias, it was sometimes superior, especially on contemporary topics on which Britannica was silent. He also believed that it was myopic not to recognize Wikipedia as an encyclopedia.

The idea that the Wikipedia will never be an encyclopedia is in part an ahistorical assertion that the definition and nature of encyclopediahood is fixed for all time, and that works like Britannica are avatars of the pattern. Contra boyd, I think Wikipedia will be an encyclopedia when the definition of the word expands to include peer production of shared knowledge, not just Britannica's institutional production.[11]

I was partial to Shirky's argument then and remain so. Yet boyd maintains her position though her concern has shifted. Boyd believes Britannica had its shortcomings and biases, and Wikipedia has improved; yet the latter is special given "how Wikipedia ends up serving as a form of data infrastructure". Wikipedia is relied on as "an information backbone that shapes the core network structure of search engines". This means it has an outsized effect on the world and is then "made vulnerable by those who seek to control algorithmic systems".[12] For boyd, to label and understand Wikipedia merely as an encyclopedia ignores its importance.

Clearly, questions of identity are not as easy to resolve as those about growth. As David Nye wrote about the "Promethean problem" of technology prediction, a technology's symbolic meaning is as important as any technical utility in shaping its often unforeseen uses.[13]

Production model (2005–2010)

Wikipedia's supplanting of Nupedia demonstrated the benefits of open and easy peer production. In 2005, law professor Eric Goldman predicted that this same model meant that "Wikipedia will fail within 5 years".[14]

Communities, especially online ones, struggle with scale. As a community grows, personal interactions are no longer sufficient for making decisions. This is the endogenous challenge of scale. The exogenous challenge is that a larger community is also a larger target. For example, at the beginning of 2005, white nationalists were marshaling off-site to save their pet article "Jewish Ethnocentrism" from deletion. Wikipedians weren’t sure how to quickly and effectively respond to this threat.

In response, Jimmy Wales said he could, reluctantly, play the part of benign dictator. Wales responded, "If 300 NeoNazis show up and start doing serious damage to a bunch of articles, we don’t need to have 300 separate ArbCom cases and a nightmare that drags on for weeks. I’ll just do something to lock those articles down somehow, ban a bunch of people, and protect our reputation and integrity." And as the crisis is dealt with, "we can also work in parallel to think about the best way to really take care of such problems in the long run".[15]

Throughout 2005, Wikipedians struggled with such problems, prominently reported as "growing pains". This was the year that John Seigenthaler Sr. condemned the project for falsely implicating him in John F. Kennedy's assassination. This was also the year that Goldman not only predicted Wikipedia's death but made a bet of it with fellow law blogger, Mike Godwin, over dinner.

I remarked to Mike that Wikipedia inevitably will be overtaken by the gamers and the marketers to the point where it will lose all credibility. There are so many examples of community-driven communication tools that ultimately were taken over—USENET and the Open Directory Project are two that come top-of mind—that I didn’t imagine that my statement would be controversial or debatable. Instead, I was surprised when Mike disagreed with my assertion. Mike's view is that Wikipedia has shown remarkable resilience to attacks to date, and this is evidence that the system is more stable than I think it is.[16]

Mike Godwin is best known for his eponymous "law" that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1". If this maxim reflected some cynicism, his bet against Goldman—and his joining Wikimedia as general counsel in 2007—reflected some optimism. Godwin believed Wikipedia could manage its growing pains. For example, in 2005, Wikipedia experimented with semi-protection, which limited edits to regularly vandalized pages to accounts older than four days. This was one of the "long run" solutions Wales alluded to at the start of the year. As Godwin wrote, "I think part of the design of Wikipedia was to allow for the evolution of contributor standards, even though as a 'foundational' principle anonymous contributors will always be allowed to edit it. Such evolution ought to be enough to keep Wikipedia alive and vital in the face of a changing digital environment."[17]

In 2006, Goldman affirmed his belief in Wikipedia's predicted demise. Its success made it a target, and defending the project would lead to Wikipedian burnout. Those who remained would be overloaded, and "thus, Wikipedia will enter a death spiral where the rate of junkiness will increase rapidly until the site becomes a wasteland".[18] Media critic Nicholas Carr had less patience, announcing the death of Wikipedia that very year. Unlike Goldman, Carr did not have a plausible theory; he simply wanted to bury the myth of openness as Wikipedia ceded to the "corrosive process of compromise". Others rightly called Carr on his histrionics, with Shirky responding that "news of Wikipedia's death is greatly exaggerated".[19]

By 2009, Goldman had agreed with Shirky and conceded his bet with Godwin. Though Wikipedia had introduced some barriers to vandalism and bad-faith edits, "in total Wikipedia's current technological restrictions are fairly modest".[20] In 2010, Goldman wrote, "My 2005 prediction of Wikipedia's failure by 2010 was wrong." Competitor projects might arise, but they too would have to follow Wikipedia's model of balancing openness with limited protections. (And competitors tend to presage Wikipedia's death in the headlines: "Google Knol—Yup, it's a Wikipedia Killer", "Wolfram Alpha: Wikipedia Killer?", and "Is Owl AOL's Wikipedia-Killer?"[21]) Goldman remained an active user and was pleased to wish the site a happy tenth anniversary. Wikipedia's model of peer production remained its lifeblood, rather than a source of sickness or external threat.

As Wikipedia approaches its twentieth anniversary, Goldman has confirmed his assessment of Wikipedia's success, though he remains concerned about the quality of lesser-visited articles and the lack of new contributor growth (discussed in the next section). Additionally, he noted that two things he did not anticipate were the effectiveness of nofollow web links—such links are ignored by search engines, making them less attractive to spammers—and the growth of Wikimedia's staff: "I don’t know what Wikipedia would look like without the active support of 100+ full-time staff".[22]

In any case, Goldman's prediction shows what not to do as a successful tech prognosticator. Like those of a neighborhood fortune teller, predictions ought to be nonspecific in content and time. Goldman predicted Wikipedia's death (rather than subtle changes in openness) in a five-year horizon (rather than "soon") and specified the process of its demise (a death spiral). Although this weakens the likelihood of a prediction, it clarifies rather than obfuscates the concerns discussed. Kudos.

Contributor Attrition (2009–2017)

I underestimated Wikipedia in its first few years, as did everyone. However, in subsequent years, I was confident Wikipedia would continue as a wiki and as an encyclopedia, despite the dismal prognostications by some.

However, in 2009, it became clear that the English Wikipedia was facing possible senescence. That year, researchers found evidence that Wikipedia's new article growth had slowed or plateaued. Additionally, new contributions were being increasingly deleted and reverted, and the balance of activity was favoring experienced editors over newcomers. Over the next five years, researchers, Wikipedians, and the Wikimedia Foundation documented similar changes and attempted remedies. Headlines reported on an "aging" Wikipedia that was on the "decline" and "slowly dying".[23]

Though one prominent Wikipedian invoked Twain's "exaggerated death" quip again in Wikipedia's defense, the trend was undeniable and the concern was widespread. Attempts to retain contributors, to make the site easier to use, and to recruit newcomers were belied by a 2014 story. The Economist reported that the past seven years had seen the number of active editors with five or more edits in a given month fall by a third.[24] Wikipedia's statistics page shows that the active editors fell from a peak of fifty-three thousand in 2007 to around thirty thousand in 2014. Without the efforts to shore up Wikipedia, these numbers could have been even worse, but things weren’t getting better.

Through 2017, the prognostications remained dismal as people spoke of Wikipedia's "extinction event" and wrote that "Wikipedia Editors Are a Dying Breed". A 2015 New York Times opinion piece asked, "Can Wikipedia Survive?"[25] The fear in many of these pieces was that Wikipedia's problems were being compounded by peoples’ move to smartphones, where editing Wikipedia is not easy.

Nonetheless, it appears that the number of active editors has been stable since 2014, never dropping below twenty-nine thousand, and that this pattern of fast growth and plateau is not unusual for wikis.[26] Therefore, the English Wikipedia's growth to maturity might be likened to that of the quaking aspen (populus tremuloides). The tree grows aggressively toward maturity, sending out roots from which new trees grow. Even if the English Wikipedia has slowed, the larger Wikimedia grove continues to grow.

Conclusion (2020–)

At this point, it's foolish for anyone to predict Wikipedia's death. While such a prognostication makes for catchy headlines—which will probably continue—Wikipedia persists. It has survived modest expectations, an identity crisis, spammers, and contributor attrition. Wikipedia is undoubtedly an encyclopedia; it's the go-to reference of the twenty-first century. Although getting a handle on Wikipedia's hundreds of templates and policies is daunting, some continue to make the effort.

It isn't wrong, of course, to be concerned about Wikipedia. It's an important website that has become even more so in its last decade. Wikipedia is among only a handful of significant noncommercial websites. It's doing a decent job at resisting large-scale misinformation and manipulation. And its data is increasingly relied on by other web services.

It isn't wrong to think about the future, but there's a difference between the future and hype. I appreciate Goldman's five-year prediction. Unlike clickbait, his prediction was based on a plausible theory with specific implications. This kind of prediction can sharpen our discussions rather than muddle them.

The only prediction that I'd hazard for the next ten years is that Wikipedia will still exist. The platform and community have momentum which no alternative will supplant. And by then, the Wikimedia Endowment, started in 2016, should have raised its goal of a $100 million toward maintaining its projects "in perpetuity". The English Wikipedia community will no doubt face challenges and crises as it always has, but I don’t foresee anything so profound that only a husk of unchanging articles remains.

I predict Wikipedia will live.

Acknowledgements: I was able to improve this essay with the help of LiAnna L. Davis, Jackie Koerner, Jake Orlowitz, Ian Ramjohn, and Denny Vrandečić. Thank you.

References

  1. ^ Joseph Reagle, Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), https://reagle.org/joseph/2010/gfc/
  2. ^ Joseph Reagle, "Wikipedia: The Happy Accident", Interactions 16, no. 3 (2009): 42–45, http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1516016.1516026.
  3. ^ Stacy Schiff, "Know It All: Can Wikipedia Conquer Expertise?" The New Yorker, July 31, 2006, 3, http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/07/31/060731fa_fact; Larry Sanger, "Let's Make a Wiki", nupedia-l, January 10, 2001, http://web.archive.org/web/20030822044803/http://www.nupedia.com/pipermail/nupedia-l/2001-January/000676.html.
  4. ^ Joseph Reagle, "Wikipedia 10K Redux", Open Codex (blog), December 16, 2010, https://reagle.org/joseph/blog/social/wikipedia/10k-redux.html.
  5. ^ Joseph Reagle, "Wikipedia 10K Redux", Open Codex (blog), December 16, 2010, https://reagle.org/joseph/blog/social/wikipedia/10k-redux.html.
  6. ^ Herb Brody, "Great Expectations: Why Technology Predictions Go Awry", in Technology and the Future, ed. Albert H. Teich, 7th ed. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), 113.
  7. ^ Ward Cunningham, Jimmy Wales, and Larry Sanger, "Wiki Pedia", C2, January 2001, http://wiki.c2.com/?WikiPedia.
  8. ^ Ward Cunningham, "Interview/Ward Cunningham", Wikimedia Quarto 1 (2004), http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Interview/Ward_Cunningham.
  9. ^ Larry Sanger, "Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism", Kuro5hin, December 31, 2004, http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2004/12/30/142458/25.
  10. ^ Danah boyd, "Academia and Wikipedia", Many-to-Many (blog), January 4, 2005, https://web.archive.org/web/20060316184224/http://many.corante.com/archives/2005/01/04/academia_and_wikipedia.php.
  11. ^ Clay Shirky, “Wikipedia: Me on Boyd on Sanger on Wales," Many-to-Many (blog), January 5, 2005, https://web.archive.org/web/20050107003720/www.corante.com/many/archives/2005/01/05/wikipedia_me_on_boyd_on_sanger_on_wales.php
  12. ^ Danah boyd, "Email to Joseph Reagle". February 21, 2019.
  13. ^ David Nye, "Technological Prediction: A Promethean Problem", in Technological Visions: The Hopes and Fears That Shape New Technologies, ed. Marita Sturken, Douglas Thomas, and Sandra Ball (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004), 171.
  14. ^ Eric Goldman, "Wikipedia Will Fail Within 5 Years", Technology & Marketing Law Blog, December 5, 2005, http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2005/12/wikipedia_will.htm.
  15. ^ Jimmy Wales, "Re: Neo-Nazis to Attack Wikipedia", wikien-l, February 7, 2005, http://marc.info/?i=20050207162911.GO29080@wikia.com.
  16. ^ Goldman, "Wikipedia Will Fail Within 5 Years".
  17. ^ Mike Godwin, "Will Wikipedia Fail in Five Years?" Godwin's Law Blog (blog), December 6, 2005, https://web.archive.org/web/20060206175448/www.godwinslaw.org/weblog/archive/2005/12/06/will-wikipedia-fail-in-five-years.
  18. ^ Eric Goldman, "Wikipedia Will Fail in Four Years", Technology & Marketing Law Blog, December 5, 2006, http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2006/12/wikipedia_will_1.htm.
  19. ^ Ross Mayfield, "Nick Carr Is the New Dave Winer", Ross Mayfield's Weblog, May 25, 2006, http://ross.typepad.com/blog/2006/05/nick_carr_is_th.html; Clay Shirky, "News of Wikipedia's Death Greatly Exaggerated", Many-to-Many, May 25, 2006, http://many.corante.com/archives/2006/05/25/news_of_wikipedias_death_greatly_exaggerated.php.
  20. ^ Eric Goldman, "Wikipedia's Labor Squeeze and Its Consequences", Social Science Research Network, August 13, 2009, 6, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1458162.
  21. ^ Christopher Dawson, "Google Knol – Yup, It's a Wikipedia Killer", ZDNet, July 28, 2008, https://www.zdnet.com/article/google-knol-yup-its-a-wikipedia-killer/; Christopher Dawson, "Wolfram Alpha: Wikipedia Killer?" ZDNet, May 17, 2009, https://www.zdnet.com/article/wolfram-alpha-wikipedia-killer/; TechCrunch, "Is Owl AOL's Wikipedia-Killer?" Mediapost, January 18, 2010, https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/120803/is-owl-aols-wikipedia-killer.html.
  22. ^ Eric Goldman, "Email to Joseph Reagle", April 29, 2019.
  23. ^ Kaldari, "Reports of Wikipedia's Demise Greatly Exaggerated", WikiVoices, August 19, 2009, http://web.archive.org/web/20120127062644/wikivoices.blogspot.com/2009/08/reports-of-wikipedias-demise-are.html; "The Future of Wikipedia: WikiPeaks?" The Economist, March 4, 2014, https://www.economist.com/international/2014/03/04/wikipeaks.
  24. ^ Julia Angwin and Geoffrey A. Fowler, "Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages", The Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2009, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB125893981183759969; Adrian Chen, "Wikipedia Is Slowly Dying", Gawker (blog), August 4, 2011, https://gawker.com/5827835/wikipedia-is-slowly-dying; Tom Simonite, "The Decline of Wikipedia", MIT Technology Review, October 22, 2013, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/520446/the-decline-of-wikipedia/.
  25. ^ Andrew Lih, "Can Wikipedia Survive?" The New York Times, June 20, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/opinion/can-wikipedia-survive.html.
  26. ^ "Wikipedia Statistics English", Wikimedia, January 31, 2019, https://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediaEN.htm; Nathan TeBlunthuis, Aaron Shaw, and Benjamin Mako Hill, "Revisiting the Rise and Decline in a Population of Peer Production Projects", Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’18, 2018, http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/3173574.3173929.




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