Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

Profiles

Luis Villa: “I wanted to be an Internet lawyer”

Around legal circles, the Wikimedia Foundation is often seen as a curiosity. With a fraction of the staff of other top ten websites, the Foundation arguably does more with less. The core of this complex apparatus consists of two indispensable parts − a strong volunteer community and an equally dedicated legal staff.

Luis Villa

As deputy general counsel, Luis Villa is at the forefront of this eclectic mix that combines traditional legal counsel with community advocacy that stretches across 700+ communities. With a year under his belt at the Wikimedia Foundation, he feels that he’s doing what he always wanted to do. “Out of law school I told someone at my summer job that I wanted to be an Internet lawyer,” says Villa. “He basically said there’s no such thing, but now I have that job!”

Luis’ interest in law and technology go as far back as high school, recalling the United States vs. Microsoft court proceedings as a moment that ignited a curiosity in him for politics and technology. Embracing his passions, he pursued a degree in Political Science and Computer Science at Duke University. “When I started studying computer science and political science in 1996, those were two separate things,” Villa explains. “I was interested in political philosophy and I was interested in computers and I didn’t really think the two had much overlap.” It wasn’t until he read Lawrence Lessig’sCode and other Laws of Cyberspace” that he realized how much overlap there was between the two.

His first job was in quality assurance for Ximian, scoping out bugs and figuring out why things were crashing. While at Ximain he worked extensively on the GNOME open source project doing quality assurance − eventually becoming a board member. He went on to work at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society as a “geek in residence” at Harvard. After a comprehensive search into a variety of institutions with a strong intellectual law faculty, he enrolled at Columbia Law School, graduating in 2009. Before working at a law firm, he spent a year at Mozilla, leading the project to revise the Mozilla Public License. Luis later joined Greenberg Traurig, participating heavily in the Google Oracle lawsuit. While at Greenberg he became an outside counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation. With a background well tailored to the Foundation’s goals and needs, Luis eventually made the decision to join the Foundation full-time as deputy general counsel.

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How a teenage student from Malaysia set a high Wikipedia standard for editing

In 2009, when she was 15 years old, Evangeline Han began contributing to Wikipedia from her home computer. Evangeline was being home-schooled, and her computer — and Wikipedia — were a gateway to sharing knowledge with others who were also learning outside the classroom. Evangeline has since made close to 10,000 edits — among the most edits for anyone her age from Malaysia.

Evangeline Han

“I think it’s important,” she says, “that young people edit Wikipedia.”

But Evangeline’s advice is tempered by her own reality: In Malaysia, she had to get her parents’ permission to become a Wikipedian. And the rule in her household was: home-schooling first, Wikipedia second. “They were fine with me editing,” Evangeline says of her parents, “as long as I did my schoolwork and I didn’t do Wikipedia during my school time.”

Evangeline’s love of Wikipedia dovetailed from her love of books and reading. She has been an avid reader since early childhood (her favorite book is Pride and Prejudice), and she started a book blog in 2010, where she writes reviews, interviews authors, and lays out her thoughts on the written word. When she doesn’t have too much homework, Evangeline, who’s a speed-reader, will finish one book per day. “When growing up, my parents encouraged me to read classic books, especially those books that won awards,” she says. “And I had this curriculum based solely on books. That’s why I grew up with a love for reading.”

Evangeline became so adept at editing Wikipedia that she was a Wikipedia Ambassador — a position that has volunteer mentors advise university students who are editing Wikipedia in the Wikimedia Foundation’s Wikipedia Education Program. “I will check through all the articles,” she says, “and make sure they are reliably sourced and give students advice if they need help and also review their articles.”

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Open letter for free access to Wikipedia on mobile in South Africa

This post is available in 8 languages: English Afrikaans العربية •  Español German • Français עברית • Nederlands • Português • русский • isiXhosa

English

In November 2012, the students of Sinenjongo High School penned an open letter on Facebook, encouraging cellphone carriers to waive data charges for accessing Wikipedia so they can do their homework. In May 2013, filmmaker Charlene Music and I asked them to read their open letter on camera. Below is the video of their letter:

The cost of data is a major obstacle to accessing the free knowledge on Wikipedia for hundreds of millions of people. These students want their cellphone carriers to sign up to Wikipedia Zero, a partnership program organized by the Wikimedia Foundation to enable mobile access to Wikipedia – free of data charges – in developing countries.

We will be sharing the longer documentary about the class as soon as it’s ready. While we are still editing the longer documentary, we’re looking for:

1.) A few skilled volunteers who can help to translate captions to accompany the video above and the longer documentary. There are currently eleven official languages in South Africa alone. We need volunteers to create captions for all those languages, and as many other languages as possible.

2.) A motion graphics or digital artist who could help us design and animate a few titles, maps and statistics for the documentary. If you are interested, feel free to email me: vgrigas at wikimedia.org or get in touch with me on my talk page User:Vgrigas.

3.) If you agree with these students, please share the video above.

Victor Grigas
Visual Storyteller, Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikipedia editor profile: Tony the Marine

Antonio “Tony the Marine” Santiago

In 2004, Antonio Santiago, aka Tony the Marine, began editing Wikipedia by expanding upon the work that his son started on the free encyclopedia. Since then, he has become a passionate researcher, broadening and polishing articles about Puerto Rican military history. Six years after his initial edit, then Puerto Rican Secretary of State Kenneth D. McClintock called Santiago the Commonwealth’s foremost military historian.

Santiago, a Vietnam veteran, father of three, and loving husband of 40 years, said his contributions are a direct product of his background. Born in the South Bronx to Puerto Rican immigrants, he credited his perspective on history to his experience growing up Latino in the United States. In 1969 he was accepted into Columbia University, but chose to join the Marines, where he served until 1975. Though he grew up in New York City, Santiago said his abiding interest is in his parent’s homeland of Puerto Rico. His time in the military made him revaluate the role of Latinos in the United States, which, in turn, led him to view American politics towards Puerto Rico differently.

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Emily Temple-Wood: A cool Wikipedian on a big mission

Emily at Wiki Boot Camp DC 2013

A self-professed geek, Emily Temple-Wood was 12 years old when she waded into the world of Wikipedia. Bullied in school, as geeks often are, Temple-Wood found Wikipedia to be an outlet where she could be judged by what she contributed. Having read a children’s encyclopedia from cover to cover at the age of five, it was only natural to go from consuming the knowledge in encyclopedias to creating it. “I love to collect information, and I love that I get to share that information with the world,” Temple-Wood said.

12-year old Temple-Wood made her first mark on Wikipedia by editing an entry for an album released by Taiwanese singer Angela Chang titled “Flower in the Wonderland”, which she admits was a “random” selection to get her feet wet with. Since then, Temple-Wood, now 19, has been more selective about the content she edits. Over the years, she has edited or initiated articles on a wide-range of subjects; from genetic diseases to endangered languages. Two of her first big projects included Cannon and History of Timekeeping Devices, which were both promoted as featured articles. Her article on Birt-Hogg-Dubé Syndrome, became her first good article in the area of Medicine, with which she credits helped establish members of WikiProject Medicine . Her eclectic range of interests are exemplified in her academic choices. A sophomore at Loyola University in her hometown of Chicago, Temple-Wood is majoring in molecular biology with an additional three minors— Arabic Language and Culture, Islamic World Studies, and Women and Gender Studies; plus, she works in a developmental biology lab.

Despite all her academic commitments, Temple-Wood has made it her mission to ensure that female scientists get their due recognition on Wikipedia. She co-founded the WikiProject Women Scientists last November after coming across WikiProject Women’s History-Ada Lovelace Day 2012, which exposed a significant gender bias across Wikipedia’s science domain. A substantial number of female fellows belonging to the prestigious Royal Society, a sort of who’s who in the world of science, had no Wikipedia articles written about them. “I got pissed and wrote an article that night,” Temple-Wood said. “I literally sat in the hallway in the dorm until 2am writing that article.”
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“Good Pictures do Matter” – Miha Grmek

Panorama of Lake Bled in northwestern Slovenia

5 years ago Miha Grmek began uploading his photographs to Wikimedia Commons. By doing so, he hopes to have allowed countless others to travel vicariously through his images.

Grmek loves to travel. Before every trip he uses Wikipedia as a tool to learn as much about his destination as possible. It was during one of these pre-departure research sessions of Scotland that he realized the pictures in his own collection were of higher quality than some of those he came across on Wikipedia. In many instances, Gremek explains, “The beautiful places I had visited did not have any pictures at all.” That’s when he understood just how much of a positive impact he could have by sharing his photos.

Grmek bought his first SLR when he was 18 years old and he credits the camera with helping him begin to take photography more seriously. In 2008, he acquired a Nikon D200 DSLR, which he jokingly refers to as a “dinosaur,” due to its relative age. It was with this dinosaur that he placed sixth in the 2012 Wikimedia Commons Photo of the Year competition with his panoramic photo of Kranjska Gora in Slovenia (below).

When he’s not taking photos, Grmek spends his time working for a company that specializes in railway engineering and surveying. “I’m not a professional photographer,” he admits. “It’s more of a hobby. I just love to take pictures when the time allows. It is nice to break up the routine of daily work.”

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Wikimedia Commons, “a step towards equality and freedom”

The Tivoli Bridge in Sète

A year is not a long time, but it’s been more than enough for Christian Ferrer to develop into a well-practiced photographer.

Hailing from Sète, a small town in the region of Hérault on the south coast of France, Ferrer does not need to go far to find the breathtaking scenery that attracts so many tourists to the area. His photography exhibits these stunning vistas with precise composition and excellent color balance, bringing to life the picturesque nature that Southern France is so famous for.

His favorite photograph is not of the famous landscape, however, but of a rusted bridge not far from his house. Ferrer explains, “I prefer the countryside to the city, but my region is full of tourists during the summer and I avoid taking the car on the weekend.” He adds, “I looked for subjects near my home and I thought of this bridge. I tried to exploit the wide angle. I am rather satisfied with the result.”

Crique de l’Anau, a cove in Sète

A 36-year-old truck driver and goods handler, Ferrer is perhaps not what most people would imagine when they think of a photographer with his ability. Possibly because of these potential misconceptions, Ferrer remains modest in the face of his talent. “I began to contribute principally to have the possibility to share my photos,” Ferrer says. “My motivation is to share my images and confront my work to the criticism of others. I don’t think that I’m gifted enough or experimented enough to give a lot of advice to others.”

The critique he has received from other Wikimedia Commons photographers has been a terrific teacher. Since his first upload in January of this year, his technique has steadily improved. In his nine months of activity on Commons, Ferrer has had eleven of his photos selected as Featured Pictures and dozens more of his images have received various accolades on the website.

“Almost all that I know about photography, I learned by contributing on Wikimedia and by listening to the advice and criticisms of the other contributors,” he explains. “I try to obtain the best technical quality on subjects which I find encyclopedic, while bringing a small artistic touch in the composition.”

Ferrer’s experience with Commons has clearly had an impact on him. He calls the platform “a great opportunity” for budding photographers, thanks mostly to the community of quality photographers. The repository’s end goal is also something he agrees with. “I like collecting beautiful photos, it is what gave me the desire to practice photography.”

He adds, “When I find a beautiful one on the Internet, I despair when it has a low resolution. It is essential to establish a suitable multimedia database which is free of copyright and within the reach of all…it is a step towards equality and freedom.”

(View more of Ferrer’s photos on his Wikimedia Commons user page.)

Profile by Joe Sutherland
Wikimedia Foundation Communications volunteer

Change the world and make it more free: Stanislav Kozlovskiy

This post is available in 2 languages:  На русском языке 7% • English

English

Stanislav Kozlovskiy

Stanislav Kozlovskiy, a neuroscientist and lecturer at Lomonosov Moscow State University, discovered Wikipedia for the first time in 2003. At the time he wrote about neuroscience, mathematics, history, psycholinguistics and genetics in his popular blog. He quickly became interested in Wikipedia and began editing articles there. Soon he found out that Wikipedia existed not only in English but in other languages as well, including Russian.

“In the English Wikipedia there were maybe over 100,000 articles at that point,” he said. “In Russian, there were about several hundred articles and, to be honest, they could hardly be called articles at all. So I gave up my blog and started writing articles for Russian Wikipedia.”

Kozlovskiy said that Wikipedia was not really well-known in Russia and there were not many users in it at that time. One of the first steps he took was to write the very first article in Russia about Wikipedia, which appeared in a popular computer journal Computerra. After the publication of this article, he sad, the number of active users in Wikipedia increased almost twofold.

Today, Kozlovskiy is the Executive Director of Wikimedia Russia, the official chapter in the country. The organization raises money, arranges conferences for Wikipedians and negotiates with copyright holders of photo archives to get them to publish those archives under a free license. Kozlovskiy was able to convince one of the biggest news agencies in Russia, RIA Novosti, to release a part of their photo archive as CC-BY. Those photos are currently used in Wikipedia articles in multiple languages.

Kozlovskiy also works to reform Russian copyright laws to make them more liberal. He participates in working groups and round tables about intellectual property legislation in the State Duma, the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Culture, among others. He said he tries to eliminate unnecessary restrictions, which harm Russian Wikipedia’s development.

Kozlovskiy met with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who was not previously familiar with the concepts of copyleft and free license. “He did not know that there are problems with using such licenses in Russia and that the use of works is restricted in many ways, for example, there is no ‘freedom of panorama,’ said Kozlovskiy, who explained to the president the importance of solving these issues for Wikimedia projects such as Wikipedia.

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Ilya Utekhin profile: “Wikipedia, The New Stage of Our Civilization”

This post is available in 2 languages:  На русском языке 7% • English

English

Ilya Utekhin

Though Ilya Utekhin became a Wikipedian only in more recent years, the St. Petersburg-based university lecturer has lived the ethos of community and sharing all his life.

Utekhin was born into communal living and came of age at a time in the Soviet Union when people could not buy Western rock music in stores. Rock music was considered underground culture then, and Utekhin was among a community of Russians who exchanged their records with each other, using cassette and tape recorders to record the music. At the time, counterculture was spread by samizdat, or self-publishing.

“The political dissidents published underground journals [using] typing machines,” Utekhin said. “Parallel to that … the recordings on cassettes were a part of the free exchange. There was no notion of copyright, because it was much more important to spread the word.”

Utekhin first became involved with Wikipedia when he came across an inaccurate entry about the rock band to which he belonged as a 14-year old. Since then, he has contributed to entries about everyday life in the Soviet Union, including life in Soviet communal apartments, an experience that has colored his outlook and influenced the course of his profession. Following his undergraduate degree in linguistics, Utekhin pursued graduate studies in anthropology, though he was unclear about his focus area. As he observed communal living behavior and sought to deconstruct it, he became interested in describing everyday social reality, decoding the structures behind how people behave, including how they communicate. Eventually, his studies blended anthropology with sociology and cognitive science. “At some point I found the topic – and that was everyday life, which is difficult to imagine as an object of scientific research, but, you know, I was born in so-called communal apartments.”

One of Utekhin’s Wikipedia entries in Russian is for an esoteric subject called affordances, which refers to the perceived properties of an object that allow people to perform an action. Today, the concept of affordance is widely applied to usability design (for instance, a computer mouse affords not only grasping it, but also pointing on the screen with a cursor). At the time he made his entry, Utekhin was teaching a class about the anthropology of computing that explored the design and evolution of computer technology and how people interact with the technology to make it integral to their lives. When Utekhin saw there was no Russian entry about affordances, he changed that.

Today, Wikipedia plays a no less palpable role in Utekhin’s academic life. When his students ask him what they ought to write in an exam, his response is: what would you write for a Wikipedia entry?

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Wikimedia Commons photographer profile: Airwolf

Frecce Tricolori RIAT 2011

If you’ve seen a great aviation photo on Wikimedia Commons, odds are good it was taken by Łukasz Golowanow (User:Airwolf).

A book translator professionally, Golowanow’s passion is aviation and he documents his hobby with remarkable skill. Every winter and spring, he travels across Europe to as many airshows as possible, taking photos and contributing them to his website, Konflikty.pl, and Wikimedia Commons, the free knowledge repository behind Wikipedia.

“I am what you might call a proselytizer,” said Golowanow. “ I deeply believe in the all-around beauty of aviation and want to share my passion with as many people as possible, and in order to do this, I share my photographs.”

Golowanow came across Wikipedia in late 2005 while looking up something for his homework, and he uploaded his first image July 2006. Back then, he said, good aviation photos were sparse, inspiring him to fill a niche.

When it comes to photography, Golowanow likes shooting multiple subjects at once. “I prefer taking photos of aerobatic teams in formation rather than individual aircraft. I think the perspective, the overlapping, the different angles and position of aircraft in relation to one another, provide some great opportunities for a unique shot.”

Golowanow took the photo above of the Frecce Tricolori, the aerobatic team of the Italian Air Force, in July 2010 at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). It was selected by his peers on Wikimedia Commons as the Picture of the Day for 6 August 2013, indicating that it is one of the finest images on the site.

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