Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

Posts by Jawad Qadir

The Impact of Wikipedia: Salah Almhamdi

Salah Almhamdi found Wikipedia to be an important source of information during The Arab Spring.

Throughout the Arab Spring in 2011, Wikipedia served as a reliable source of information for up to date information about the protests occurring in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. Protesters uploaded pictures of the events onto Wikimedia Commons, while many users outside of the affected countries updated the related articles on Wikipedia to manage the influx of information coming out everyday.

For Tunisian Wikipedian Salah Almhamdi, the Arab Spring made him more aware of Wikipedia’s online presence and its ability to provide a cooperative, open-source experience.

Almhamdi first learned about Wikipedia as a student in 2003, when he would use the online encyclopedia for research. A few years later, he began editing articles. It wasn’t until the Arab Spring, however, that he took a more active role as an editor.

“After the Arab Spring, and during it, I started the article of Wael Ghonim,” said Almhamdi. “He’s the Googler, the Egyptian visionary and activist.”

Almhamdi credits Wikipedia for being one of the few safe havens online, where users could engage in political discourse without the threat of government interference in pre-revolution Tunisia. “The government doesn’t track the first one who edited the website, and so sometimes it’s semi-hidden,” explained Almhamdi.

He offered his reasoning as to why the Arab Spring sparked his interest in writing more articles on Wikipedia. He explained the difficulty in discussing political issues openly prior to the Revolution in Tunisia. “We used to follow the news of the Middle East and the other regions and to give our opinions on it,” said Almhamdi, “But we didn’t follow our domestic issues, related to politics, because it was risky at the time.” He added, “I’m more politicized now, actually. It’s a general trend in the region.”

In addition to serving as a source for information, Almhamdi described how Wikipedia’s open-source platform can be used as a model for creating a more transparent government in post-revolution Tunisia. “In making the societies more open, people will have more open mentalities and will have more information and that will have an effect on society and on government also,” said Almhamdi.

“There is a collaborative wiki website about the constitution because now we are writing the constitution,” he added. “so anyone can for example, a citizen can have a voice and say what does he want to see in the constitution.”

Profile by Jawad Qadir, Communications intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller

Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day: Roman Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain

Davd Coral Gadea's photo of the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia, Span, Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day for 22 January 2012.

David Corral Gadea’s photo of the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia, Spain, Wikimedia Commons POTD for 22 January 2012.

As an active contributor to Wikimedia Commons, Spaniard David Corral Gadea understands the advantages of taking part in a community of fellow photo enthusiasts. For him, the project serves as a tool for sharing the wonders of his own culture and history with the rest of the world.

Although he is not a photographer by trade, Gadea has been able to utilize his skills in his work as a graphic designer and a web designer. He explained that his parents introduced him to the world of photography, as they took an interest in the process of capturing and collecting images as amateurs. However, he attributes his growing interest in photography to the encouragement of his partner, who gave him the confidence to share his photos with the world. “It was my partner who has been encouraging me to introduce my photos to competitions and enhance that facet of my creativity,” said Gadea. “I think she made a good point because it hasn’t been going badly.”

Since publicly displaying his images on Commons, Gadea has had personal success within the larger community. Not only has his image of the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia, Spain, been chosen as the Commons Photo of the Day, but it has also been awarded second prize in the worldwide Wiki Loves Monuments photo competition. To capture the image, Gadea took advantage of a family vacation. “I have been fortunate to be in interesting places, while always having my camera with me,” he said.

“The day I took this photograph there was a spectacular blue sky. It was a beautiful day of summer with good weather and we had a fantastic night wandering around the old town, taking pictures and enjoying the friendliness of the people of Segovia,” he said.

Gadea also explained how he has always been drawn to images with an epic quality about them, which has greatly influenced his own work. In his Aqueduct photo, Gadea utilized a low angle to create a larger-than-life quality, while still focusing on the beauty of the natural world around him. “I have always been struck by the pictures that are out of the norm, spectacular photographs that take you to cry, WOW!” he explained.

Gadea expressed his surprise upon learning of his placing in the Wiki Loves Monuments competition. He added that he hopes similar competitions will inspire more amateur photographers to contribute to Commons and Wikipedia.

“It was a pleasant surprise to discover that my picture had been awarded,” he said. “I am very proud that my contribution has helped bring attention once again to an emblematic monument as the Aqueduct of Segovia. I warmly thank the effort and work of each and every one of the people who have made and will enable these projects and many others that will do so in the future.”

Jawad Qadir, Communications Intern

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

Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day: Cab Calloway Gottlieb

William P. Gottlieb’s photo of Cab Calloway, Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day

William P. Gottlieb is one of the most celebrated American jazz photographers. His photo of jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway, above, is the Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day for 25 December 2012

Although Gottlieb studied and taught economics at the University of Maryland, in 1938 he began writing a weekly jazz column for the Washington Post. From there, he purchased a speed graphic press camera and became a writer and photographer.

Gottlieb was unpaid for many of these photos. Instead, he intended to use them to enhance his columns. His early work for the Post is also credited with introducing white audiences to the local Washington jazz scene.

According to the Library of Congress’ music specialist Larry Appelbaum, “Gottlieb is mostly known for his iconic portraits of leading jazz artists in the studio or on and off the bandstand between the years 1938-48, documenting the important transition in American music from swing to be-bop.”

Although his most well-known image is the photo of Billie Holiday first seen in Down Beat Magazine, Gottlieb’s picture of Cab Calloway during a recording session in Columbia Studio is indicative of his style.

“First, it is shot at a recording session instead of in a photographic studio,” explained Appelbaum, “So he has to rely on minimal additional lighting. Second, we see his characteristic style of composition; in this case shooting low angle with Calloway holding music. It is an intimate portrait; accessible, and aesthetically beautiful without indulging in deification or stereotypes.”

In 1995, Gottlieb donated his photos to the Library of Congress with the stipulation that the Gottlieb Estate retain rights to the images for 15 years. During this time low-resolution versions of the photographs were still accessible through the Library of Congress website for research purposes.

The Library of Congress immediately digitized all 1600 prints and negatives and built a website to provide access to the images, including essays and interviews with Gottlieb. In 2010, Gottlieb’s entire collection officially entered the public domain and can now be downloaded as high-resolution jpeg or tiff files free of charge.

According to Appelbaum, “It was an extraordinarily generous gift to the world from a great artist.”

You can find more information about William P. Gottlieb and get full access to all his photos on the Library of Congress website.

Jawad Qadir, Communications Intern
Special thanks to Larry Applebaum from the Library of Congress for his contributions to this post

The Impact of Wikipedia: Ravan Jaafar Altaie

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

Ravan Jaafar Altaie and the impact she has had on the world through editing Wikipedia.

Like so many other Wikipedians, Ravan Jaafar Altaie was inspired to edit Wikipedia as a way to learn more about the world around her. As a native of Iraq, she also hoped to make a difference for Arabic speakers by expanding content on Arabic Wikipedia.

After frequenting the online encyclopedia as a reader for several years, Altaie was encouraged to try her hand at editing in 2008, when she heard about the “Add to humanity, add to Wikipedia” initiative started in Egypt. “That was the first time that I was aware that you can really edit Wikipedia instead of just consuming the information and using it for yourself,” said Altaie. “So once I heard about this, five minutes later I registered in Wikipedia and I started editing it.”

When describing one of her first editing experiences, Altaie was impressed by the collaborative spirit of the encyclopedia and by its immense reach. “I started many articles. One of them, I think it was about a lady, called Mariam Nour. So, and this was my first article. So I forget about it. Maybe two or three years later, I was having some time in Wikipedia, I passed by this article. I was shocked. It was grown!” she exclaimed. She said more than 100,000 people had read the article, which astonished her.

“You feel like you affected and influence more than 100,000 people. I think this is a very amazing thing.”

According to Altaie, editing an article allows a user to take time to research a specific topic or area of interest. She explained that by providing information to others by editing an article, an editor is discovering and learning new information at the same time. This perspective has motivated her to research and write about such diverse topics as the moons of Jupiter, the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci and the Arab Spring.

“There is always something new to write about,” explained Altaie. “If I want to know some information about some subject  — I don’t know anything about it — I start an article because I will search for the sources.”

Altaie finds motivation in the hope that knowledge can be spread in the Arab world through Wikipedia and she has attempted to help bridge the educational gap between the developed and developing world. “I think Wikipedia gave me this chance to really make a huge difference in the world,” she said. “I don’t know if you know this — information in the Arab world has been censored for many decades. So it’s really great to have free knowledge and free information given for people with reliable sources, with a great group of people reviewing this information.”

As more and more users turn to Arabic Wikipedia, editors like Altaie aim to increase the content, either by translating existing pages from other languages, or by creating original articles. The importance of such a source was illustrated by the widespread reliance on Wikipedia for reliable information during the Arab Spring when Altaie and her fellow Arabic-speaking Wikipedians provided day-to-day coverage of the events.

According to her, the significance of an online tool like Wikipedia is limitless. She said that by providing a means to make a change for the better, Wikipedia can serve as an investment in the future collective knowledge of the world.

“This is the best investment you are doing because you are affecting yourself, your children, the coming generation to have a free source, a free knowledge, an amazing encyclopedia, affecting all the fields of their life,” she said. “It’s like an investment for your future and for your children’s future.”

Profile by Jawad Qadir, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller

The Impact of Wikipedia: Dumisani Ndubane

(This video is part of a series for this year’s Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser. You can support Wikipedia and free knowledge by contributing at donate.wikimedia.org. If you have trouble viewing the video below, please let us know in the comments and try watching it here.)

Dumisani Ndumane explains how Wikiversity helped him become an electrical engineer

For some, Wikipedia is used as a research tool and source of information to supplement their education. However, for many, rising tuition costs and a decrease in financial aid make it impossible to get a college degree. In these situations, the online encyclopedia and its sister projects give users the opportunity to engage in higher education when a classroom setting proves beyond reach.

For South African Wikimedian Dumisani Ndubane, pursuing a traditional education in electrical engineering was a significant challenge. Ndubane is from a family with modest means in a small town east of Johannesburg. The government grant that afforded him the opportunity to attend school his first year didn’t cover enough expenses beyond that. By his second year, he could only afford tuition and books, but not accommodation.

“Coming from a poor family, that was a big decider,” he said. “It’s all good and well to pay for someone to go to school but if they are hungry, there’s not anything much they will learn when they get there. That became a very big problem for me going into my second year.”

Dumisani was compelled to drop out of school. Fortunately for him, however, the growth of online college programs and the electrical engineering courses available on Wikiversity made it possible for him to continue his studies remotely.

Ndubane first encountered Wikiversity in 2006 — the first year for the free online university project. After being discouraged by the lack of electrical engineering courses available on it, he decided to contribute the material he learned through his classes to Wikiversity.

“I was doing circuit analysis and I thought, ‘Why not put this stuff online that I’m learning, and see who else is doing the same thing,’” said Ndubane. “So that’s what I started doing. I started transcribing my notes that I was taking for my studies and putting those online to create a circuit analysis page at Wikiversity.”

Through adding material to Wikiversity, the 29 year old engineer also learned about the importance of collaboration in the Wikimedia universe. After uploading class notes, lessons and quizzes, Ndubane found that users with an interest in circuit analysis began offering their help to the course as well, while others fixed formatting issues specific to Wikiversity.

“It started growing,” said Ndubane. “We had about eight lessons in a space of six months fully developed, with questions corrected and so on. That was the fastest I’ve ever done anything like that.”

In addition to creating courses for Wikiversity, Ndubane utilized the project as a study companion for the accredited online courses he eventually took through the University of South Africa (UNISA). Happily, Ndubane finally obtained his degree in 2012.

His hope is that, like him, users that are able to use Wikiversity as a source of information will be motivated to create and add their own courses to the growing project.

“Maybe there’s someone else who just dropped out of a mainstream university or institution of higher learning like I did who isn’t getting the chance to go back there,” he said. “But maybe they will get into Wikiversity, they will want to get more information on the subject matter.”

He added, “If I change it with one course, maybe they will get motivated and add another course, and so on and so forth. It can be a domino effect, if you want to think of it where people get to contribute on courses that mean something to them, like electrical engineering means to me.”

Profile by Jawad Qadir, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller 

Wiki Loves Monuments 2012: the Belarusian finalists

Church of St. Alexis, Wiki Loves Monuments Belarus 2012 Finalist

This past September, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 proved to be a success in Belarus. In the first five days alone, participants uploaded over 700 photos culminating in a grand total of nearly 7500 pictures at the end of the month. WLM organizers in Belarus encouraged participants to capture the country’s aging cathedrals and castles in Belarusian villages by compiling a list of attractions in different cities and regions.

Костел Девы Марии, Wiki Loves Monuments Belarus 2012 Finalist

Organizers hoped that the competition would serve as a chance to enrich Wikipedia with images of Belarusian national heritage, which will be shared with future generations. Their goal was accomplished as many photographers focused on the country’s gothic churches set against the unbelievable landscapes in various rural regions. The top ten photos reflect the contrast between churches that have been remodeled and revitalized and those that are decaying as shells of their former selves, illustrating the need to document these buildings before they disappear forever.

For more information about Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, go to http://www.wikilovesmonuments.org and be sure to check out all all the finalists from Belarus.

Jawad Qadir, Communications Intern

Мірскі замак, Wiki Loves Monuments Belarus 2012 Finalist

Wiki Loves Monuments 2012: The Panamanian Finalists

Barrio Sur, Wiki Loves Monument 2012 Panama Finalist

Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 proved to be a huge success in Panama, where 120 participants added nearly 2500 photos to Wikimedia Commons. As stated by the WLM organizers in Panama, the competition offered contestants the chance to illustrate the heritage and valor of the Central American state through the perspective of a lens. This year’s winners embodied that philosophy, as their photos portrayed Panama’s statues, historic neighborhoods and theaters.

The judges separated winners into two categories. The first category was for the general public, where winners were awarded with cash prizes. The second category exclusively centered on student participants, where winners received Canon Powershot cameras in addition to cash rewards.

For more information about Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, go to http://www.wikilovesmonuments.org and be sure to check out all the Panamanian winners here.

Jawad Qadir, Communications Intern

Torre de la Catedral Panama, Wiki Loves Monuments Panama 2012 Finalist

Plaza Herrera, Wiki Loves Monuments Panama 2012 Finalist

Wiki Loves Monuments 2012: the Indian finalists

Rear Side of Taj Mahal, 1st Place, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 India

The finalists in the Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 competition from India include these three wonderful photos. India was the country with the most participants in the entire contest, where over 2,200 photographers contributed nearly 16,000 photos. Participants in India represented 15 percent of the 15,000 total contributors from around the world.

Comprised of various ancient cultures that date back to time immemorial, it should come as no surprise that India provided one of the biggest challenges in capturing as many historically significant sites as possible. With the help of the Archeological Survey of India, Wiki Loves Monuments organizers concentrated their efforts on shrines of national and international importance. Chief among those monuments is the Taj Mahal, which garnered 1st place in the national competition. Shot against the red dawn, the image above takes an original look at one of the world’s most admired man-made wonders. Other Indian finalists include photos of the country’s revered tombs, temples and military forts.

For more information about Wiki Loves Monuments or to see more pictures from the finalists, visit http://www.wikilovesmonuments.org. Also be sure to check back here, where we will continue to feature the winner’s from the contest.

Inside the Caves, 2nd Place, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 India

The 9 Stupas, 3rd Place, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, India

Wiki Loves Monuments 2012: the Austrian finalists

Schlosskapelle Pottendorf, 1st place, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 Austria

We’re happy to bring you more of the winning national photos from Wiki Loves Monuments 2012. These two images come from Austria, where a highly motivated group of volunteers collaborated closely with many cultural partners, such as the Bundesdenkmalamt. With their effort, Wiki Loves Monuments proved to be a huge success in Austria for the second time, with nearly 300 users contributing more than 10,000 photos. While highlighting the country’s bridges, churches and palaces, the top-10 photos show great diversity in terms of landscape, time, space and season.

As Lodewijk Gelauff from the international organizing team pointed out in a recent blog post, the Austrian volunteers also helped the organizers of Wiki Loves Monuments in Southern Tyrol (in the north of Italy) and Slovakia compile and organize their monument lists.

The top-12 international winners will be announced in early December. For further information about the contest and more updates, go to www.wikilovesmonuments.org. You can also see all the finalists from Austria and other participating countries on Wikimedia Commons.

Jawad Qadir, Communications Intern

Brücke Knittelfeld-4, 2nd place, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 Austria