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News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

The Impact of Wikipedia: visual storytelling

(This video is part of a series produced for this year’s Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser. You can also view this video on Youtube.)

A montage video, Impact of Wikipedia, part of a series showcasing Wikimedians.

Every year for a handful of weeks in November and December, the Wikimedia Foundation has traditionally asked Wikipedia users to support the 5th largest website in the world with whatever donation they felt appropriate. The fundraising banners on the top of Wikipedia bring in the resources needed to keep the Wikimedia projects freely available to everyone in their own language and they guarantee that the sites will not have to rely on advertising.

Building on the effort last year to feature Wikipedia editors and contributors in fundraising appeals, the Foundation has produced a series of videos that dive deeper into what inspires these volunteers to improve the Wikimedia sites. These videos are replacing the fundraising banners today as part of a thank you campaign to everyone who has supported Wikipedia.

The interview footage for the videos was shot by a film crew at the 2012 Wikimania Conference this past July in Washington, D.C. Leading the crew was the Wikimedia Foundation’s Visual Storyteller, Victor Grigas, who is a filmmaker by training and has been a Wikipedia editor since 2005.

With the videos, Grigas said he hoped to show a personal side to Wikimedia and the process of why volunteers edit or donate their time. He found that the reasons editors cited for contributing ranged from wanting to share a love of baking, to an interest in white water kayaking, to a desire to create a more open society where information is available to everyone for free.

“Everybody is a nerd about something, and this is an outlet to express yourself in a way that deeply and profoundly influences other people,” Grigas said.

Finding Wikipedians amid the crowd of over 1000 attendees at Wikimania was an involved process. Grigas and his team reached out to editors through their userpages on Wikipedia and they set up a recruitment table in the conference cafeteria.

The team converted a number of hotel rooms near the conference site into mini studios, shooting each interview on two digital SLRs at different angles and focal lengths. They recorded with professional sound equipment, and to accentuate the interview subjects, they used light kits and shot against white paper backgrounds. In all, Grigas and his team conducted on-camera interviews with approximately 100 Wikipedians, capturing over 120 hours of footage.

“I started with a 20 minute cut that became a 6 minute cut and now the final version is just over 4 minutes,” explained Grigas of the video above. “One hundred plus hours of footage cut down to 4 minutes.”

In editing, Grigas chose to intersperse the wide-angle secondary camera footage with the primary camera so the audience could catch a glimpse of how they staged the sets. “I like the behind-the-scenes thing because Wikipedia is all about that,” explained Grigas. “Being behind the scenes allows anybody else to be able to see what equipment was used to make this, and then they can replicate it themselves too.”

In order to make the videos as widely accessible as possible and keep the focus on the editors’ stories, he elected to leave out music. “First of all, I’ll spend a lot of time trying to find music that fits the right mood. Then music has cultural baggage attached to it. I’m going to reach less people,” said Grigas. “I wanted people with a critical mind to be able to judge it and tear it apart and not feel like there’s music manipulating them.”

Grigas added, “Also I love remix culture and I thought I’d release something with a clean dialogue track that people could easily remix and sample. I’d love to hear a Bassnectar track or something that uses these sounds.”

The videos were fine-tuned using an array of software, including the open-source audio editor, Audacity. Grigas said the audio mixing process was streamlined thanks to the program and its ability to easily analyze and remove room tone from the soundtrack.

To help localize the videos, Grigas has provided English subtitles to his cuts and he’s hoping to get help from the large community of volunteer translators who work on Wikimedia projects. “Captions in multiple languages are something that we now have the ability to crowd-source with the new HTML5 video player. I’d love to see the community help to translate these short videos into their local languages,” he said.

Though the videos were part of the fundraiser and were originally meant to encourage contributions, Grigas is hopeful they also humanize the editing process. The videos, he said, do “a great job of explaining how Wikipedia functions and how it is generated, but he wants “people to learn something about the movement and about Wikipedia and then as time goes on, maybe they will donate potentially in the future.”

Interview and profile by Jawad Qadir, Communications Intern

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