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Expanding local history with The Wikipedia Library

Find out more about The Wikipedia Library!

If you are an editor on the English Wikipedia, you might have noticed the recent uptick in announcements for accounts offered by The Wikipedia Library! The Wikipedia Library gives active, experienced Wikipedia editors free access to a wide range of paywalled databases – reliable sources that are vital for their work (see also: “The Wikipedia Library Strives for Open Access“). We have been having a lot of success meeting the goals of our Individual Engagement Grant from the Wikimedia Foundation. Established partnerships, like that with JSTOR, are expanding, getting Wikipedia editors more access to high quality research materials! Moreover, because of those successes, we are having many fruitful discussions with organizations large and small that are interested in helping Wikipedians create public knowledge and link Wikipedia in to the larger network of scholarly source materials.

We surveyed Wikipedia users interested in the Wikipedia Library about which sources would be best for us to get access to, and one from that list, British Newspaper Archive, has been a very active recent success. It started with 50 accounts and has since expanded to 100 because of the enthusiasm in the initial sign-up period. An archive of high-quality scans of newspapers from the collection of the British Library, it provides a great source of reference materials for Wikipedia articles about 18th, 19th, and early 20th century Britain and its global interests. Even though the accounts have only been available for a couple of weeks, Wikipedians have been successfully using them to create new and expand old articles about historical topics, both about local history and topics of national British interest. These range from articles about geographical features (Swithland Reservoir) to sports (1884 FA Cup Final and Jack Kid Berg), coal mines (Pendleton Colliery) to politicians (Sewallis Shirley).

User:Sitush’s experience

As part of our partnership with the British Newspaper Archive, they have offered us an opportunity to talk about improving Wikipedia on their blog, highlighting the success of the account donation. More importantly though, it enables us to communicate to their social media audience – researchers investigating historical topics through old newspapers – how Wikipedians motivated by similar interests are able to use that research to provide knowledge to our vast audience. Here is what one of our Wikipedia editors who got access through this partnership, User:Sitush, shared on their blog about his new account:

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Wikimedia Foundation offers assistance to Wikipedia editors named in U.S. defamation suit

Since posting, we have learned that Mr. Barry’s attorney has requested to withdraw their complaint without prejudice and their request has been granted by the court. Mr. Barry’s attorney has further indicated that Mr. Barry intends to file an amended complaint some unspecified time in the future.

Wikipedia’s content is not the work of one, ten, or even a thousand people. The information on Wikipedia is the combined product of contributions made by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. By volunteering their time and knowledge, these people have helped build Wikipedia into a project that provides information to millions every day.

With many different voices come many different perspectives. Resolving them requires open editorial debate and collaboration with and among the volunteer community of editors and writers. Disagreements about content are settled through this approach on a daily basis. On extremely rare occasions, editorial disputes escalate to litigation.

This past month, four users of English Wikipedia were targeted in a defamation lawsuit brought by Canadian-born musician, businessman, and philanthropist Yank Barry. In the complaint, Mr. Barry claims that the editors, along with 50 unnamed users, have acted in conspiracy to harm his reputation by posting false and damaging statements onto Wikipedia concerning many facets of his life, including his business, philanthropy, music career, and legal history.

However, the specific statements Mr. Barry apparently finds objectionable are on the article’s talk page, rather than in the article itself. The editors included in the lawsuit were named because of their involvement in discussions focused on maintaining the quality of the article, specifically addressing whether certain contentious material was well-sourced enough to be included, and whether inclusion of the material would conform with Wikipedia’s policies on biographies of living persons.

A talk page is not an article. It is not immediately available to the readers of the encyclopedia. Its purpose is not to provide information, but a forum for discussion and editorial review. If users are unable to discuss improvements to an article without fear of legal action, they will be discouraged from partaking in discussion at all. While some individuals may find questions about their past disagreeable and even uncomfortable, discussions about these topics are necessary for establishing accurate and up-to-date information. Without discussion, articles will not improve.

In our opinion, this lawsuit is an effort to try and chill free speech on the Wikimedia projects. Since Wikipedia editors do not carve out facts based on bias or promotion this lawsuit is rooted in a deep misinterpretation of the free-form truth-seeking conversations and analysis that is part of the editorial review process that establishes validity and accuracy of historical and biographical information. As such, we have offered the four named users assistance through our Defense of Contributors policy. Three of the users have accepted our offer and obtained representation through the Cooley law firm. We thank Cooley for its assistance in the vigorous representation of our users. The fourth user is being represented by the California Anti-SLAPP Project and is working closely with the Wikimedia Foundation and Cooley.

Lawsuits against Wikipedia editors are extremely rare — we do not know of of any prior cases where a user has been sued for commenting on a talk page. The Wikipedia community has established a number of dispute resolution procedures and venues to discuss content issues that are available for anyone to use. Most content disputes are resolved through these processes. We are unaware of Mr. Barry taking advantage of these processes to work directly with the editors involved in this lawsuit or the greater Wikipedia community to address these issues.

Wikipedia’s mission is to provide the world with the sum of all human information for free and we will always strongly defend its volunteer editors and their right to free speech.

Michelle Paulson, Legal Counsel

Luganda Wikipedia project

A logo for Wikipedia in the Ganda language.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to write articles in one of Wikipedia’s least represented languages? Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to combine sustainable development, village and school development and mobile learning with Wikipedia in a developing country? Well, here’s my experience doing just that!

Caroline Gunnarsson & Paulina Backstrom, two Wikipedia ambassadors who taught Wikipedia in English and Luganda in Uganda through a project directed by Wikimedia Sweden & WWF.

Our names are Paulina Bäckström and Caroline Gunnarsson. We are two 20-year-olds from Sweden. Our journey began in 2012, after our first trip to Uganda during high school. As part of an exam we were asked to write Wikipedia articles based on our experiences from the trip. Wikipedia’s unique value as a source of knowledge and educational tool inspired us to embark on a project. To read more about the background of our project, please go to our page at Uganda pilot.

Our project is called “Luganda Wikipedia.” We all know what Wikipedia is, but what’s Luganda? Luganda is Uganda’s second largest language, with about seven million native speakers and ten million second-language speakers. Around 16 million Ganda (people living in the Buganda region), speak Luganda.

However, Luganda is often considered a neglected language. Why? I do not have an answer for that. But when you talk about Luganda being neglected on Wikipedia, I have a bit more insight. In January, the Luganda Wikipedia page contained only 166 articles (!). A deserted Wikipedia indeed. It was disheartening to see so many speakers and readers of the language but so few articles, we wanted to make a change. Wikipedia must be one of the best ways to share knowledge in the modern world. Imagine how much knowledge people in Buganda (and other parts of Uganda) can share with each other, with only access to a computer and internet. The mission for the two of us, was to teach Ugandans how to write in Wikipedia, start a local Wikipedia community and plant a seed for the future of  Wikipedia in Uganda. You can summarize the project like this, as noted on our pilot page: “The purpose is to expand Luganda Wikipedia with articles on sustainable development and open up a world where knowledge is freely accessible to everybody in Uganda.” Beautiful words in theory, but did it work in practice? Let me just say that the number of articles in Luganda have risen from 166 to 198. We have inaugurated Uganda’s first (and perhaps Africa’s first) Wikipedia center (computer center) in a small village called Mbazzi, where villagers, who are almost all farmers, are contributing their knowledge. We have also started “Wiki clubs” at different schools.
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The sixteen-wheeled Wikipedia machine

The Spokes team, just before setting off from California.

For most people, a cross-country bike ride sounds like a daunting prospect, but for Ethan Sherbondy, a computer science senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it was a welcomed challenge.

Last summer, he and seven other students, under the moniker of Spokes, set off from California, cycling through Washington D.C. and visiting twelve major cities along the way to teach local kids about science and project-based learning.

“Two summers ago, a friend of mine named Turner proposed this idea of doing a bicycling trip, initially just as a fun thing,” Sherbondy explained. “Then we started thinking, maybe we could use the bike trips as an opportunity to help people, and maybe learn some things about the state of this country that we live in.”

Throughout the trip, the group was often unable to access Wikipedia due to poor signal coverage over remote areas of the United States. “The idea of not having access to Wikipedia actually horrified me,” he said, “because I’m one of those sorts of people that is just constantly reading articles and learning things through Wikipedia.”

Thankfully, the team was armed with Kiwix, an offline version of Wikipedia. With the software, they held “learning festivals” in schools and community centers, teaching local children about engineering and computers.

“Something that consistently surprised me was that there was almost a stigma against science and engineering. Or even if there wasn’t a stigma, there was just kind of this vacuum, like an absence of understanding of what this whole chunk of society does from day-to-day.”

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A GLAMorous romance

This post is available in 2 languages:
English  • Català

English

QR codes at Joan Miró Foundation, 2011

One of the most fruitful collaborations between the community of Catalan-speaking Wikipedians and the GLAM institutions (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) is taking place at the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona. Let’s peer into this little love story between GLAMwiki pioneers.

The first rendez-vous occurred in September 2011, when the Foundation was preparing the exhibition “Joan Miró and the Scale of Evasion” using QRpedia to offer the visitors QR codes linking to Wikipedia articles. A wikimarathon followed by a translation campaign was organized by wikiGLAM volunteers in order to assure complete articles translated in several languages for the seventeen most remarkable works in the exhibition. The participation in this first experience consisted mostly of core editors who worked on the initial seventeen articles and created fifty more. All these articles, originally written in Catalan, were completed with a range of two to fifty translations. Their effort resulted in more than 12,000 readings of QR codes during the period of the exhibition.

This was the beginning of a great friendship; the GLAMwiki experiment proved that a community of motivated volunteers and the good predisposition from a welcoming institution could bring good results. However, after this first experience together, the volunteers and the institution each followed their own paths.

Miró Editathon, 2013

The next rendezvous would come two years later, in 2013. Espai 13, a space within the Joan Miró Foundation devoted to exhibit works of young and emerging artists, was celebrating its 35th anniversary. Wikipedia volunteers and the institution thought that this was a good occasion to work together again. They ran another wikimarathon together, the longest organized in Catalonia so far, lasting 35 hours, topped by the coincidence of creating the 400,000th article of Catalan Wikipedia during the event.

This time, core Wikipedia editors mingled with a legion of new users who came from universities and the fine arts scene. They created 121 articles (in Catalan, Spanish, English, and even French) about artists and commissioners involved with Espai 13 during its thirty-five-year history. The romance between Wikipedia and the Joan Miró Foundation made clear steps forward. The names of the viquipedistes were listed in the acknowledgments section of the exhibition, and a plaque was hung in the main room to remember the wikimarathon that created Wikipedia articles for all the featured artists.

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Wikimedia RU expands Wikipedia Voice intro project to include music

WikiMusic logoRecently, Wikimedia RU (the Russian Wikimedia chapter) successfully launched the Russian version of the “Wikipedia voice intro project” and expanded it to incorporate the “WikiMusic” project. Now it not only covers celebrity voices but also free music – which prior to this had no significant presence in any Wikimedia project.

How did it happen?

The recent launch of the “Wikipedia voice intro project” got extensive coverage in Russian and European press. While the topic was hot, directors of Wikimedia RU achieved an agreement with the chief editor of “Echo of Moscow” radio, Alexei Venediktov, to start a similar joint project in Russia – “WikiVoices“.

It should be mentioned that Echo of Moscow has the largest audience among Moscow radio stations and broadcasts in more than 40 cities in Russia, the United States and Baltic states. It has the highest citation index between all Russian media, exceeding even TV channels. So, we are really happy to start working together with such a partner. According to the agreement, Echo will do the following:

  • ask their guests for short neutral stories about themselves without propaganda, advertising or personal attacks so that they will be suitable for future usage in Wikipedia;
  • search through their archive records (dating back to 1990) and provide us with interesting samples;
  • not only provide us with records of guests who came to their studio but also ask their external correspondents to make such records;
  • publish  photos of their guests under free licenses.

“Waves of the Danube” waltz.

Gypsy song from the opera “Carmen.”

“The Lost Chord.”

Voice Recording of speech “On the cultural role of the gramophone.”

Echo of Moscow not only agreed to donate such materials but also did a lot for simplification of this process: all records are posted at their official website with information about the person and direct statement of CC-BY-SA license for the records. The log of uploads is prepared in the machine-readable XML format and new records are automatically uploaded to Commons via bots in the free OGG format. At the moment about 40 records were uploaded: now we have voice records of the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel (with translator), the USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev, journalist Vladimir Pozner and many other famous people.

Fortunately, that’s not the only good news we want to share. While we were announcing the start of WikiVoices project on the, we were heard by the Russian State Archive of Sound Recordings. This archive was founded in 1932 and at the moment has more than 240,00  records. Many catalogs are not available online and many records are not digitized, but the Archive is ready to convert desirable records into the digital format and donate them to us.

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For Rexford Nkansah, Wikipedia represents the future of education for his country

Despite its growing economy, Ghana is not the first place one would associate with technology, but for 20-year-old native Rexford Nkansah, it’s second nature.

Wikipedians attending WikiAfrica’s Open Africa 2014 course in Cape Town in February of 2014. From left: Abel Asrat, Rexford Nkansah, Michael Phoya, Cyriac Gbogou, and Erina Mukuta.

“In Ghana you don’t have hobbies like skiing or going to restaurants,” he says. “So these are the little things I do to keep myself busy.” The youngest of five, Rexford is now spearheading a campaign to form a Wikimedia Chapter in Ghana. “I’m actually considered to be Ghana’s Wikimedia person,” he explains.

He first stumbled upon Wikipedia in 2006, and like many, at first did not realize what made it so special. It wasn’t until five years later that he began contributing himself. “I thought – how can anyone, anywhere on the planet put in anything just like that? So I decided to read about it, to learn the rules for editing, and that’s how it all started.”

A biography on Ashesi University founder Patrick Awuah was his first foray into writing, an article that took him six hours of non-stop work. “I took my time to write it. I sat down, researched, did everything, put it all together, added photos… I just dedicated that time to do it. I said, this guy – I need to do something to say thank you to him, for how he’s helping Ghana grow.”

Nkansah is a passionate web developer, and is keen on emphasizing the value of open source software. “Not all of us have access to credit cards, buying something online is like going a million miles to fetch something,” he says, “so when you get free software, you get happy about it. Because software that is not free… it’s hard to pay for it even if you have the money.”

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Wikimedia-RU changes Russian Civil Code

FOP in RussiaOn March 12, 2014, the Federal Law that introduced changes to the prime source of Russian civil law, the Civil Code, was signed. This sign-off brought to life many amendments that Russian members of Wikipedia have been eager to see for a long time.

The main changes relevant to Wikimedia projects are listed below:

  • introduction of free licenses: before license agreements were only in the form of a written agreement; now CC-BY-SA-3.0, which is used by Wikipedia, has a legal basis and Wikipedia editors can defend their own author rights;
  • freedom of panorama: now photos of architectural and urban development objects and objects of garden design in public places can be published under free licenses without consent of architect or designer;
  • now an author can revoke publication of own materials only before such publication actually occurred;
  • libraries now have right to create electronic copies of certain types of works.

These changes are a result of a lot of hard work on behalf of Wikimedia-RU, the local chapter of Wikimedia movement in Russia – proposing, discussing and defending amendments to the Code.

Wikimedia-RU officially started work on changes to the Civil Code in 2009 when the first open letter to the State Duma was published.

In 2010, we sent a detailed list of our proposals to the Codifications Council. The list was a result of real wiki-corroboration: editors published their comments and proposals on the village pump and all ideas were brought together by WM-RU. Afterwards, the list was published on a number of popular websites where it gathered feedback from external users who helped evaluate possible drawbacks of proposals and suggested some additional changes. The Final list of proposals became “a light at the end of the tunnel” for WM-RU.

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A Proposal for Wikimedia’s New Privacy Policy and Data Retention Guidelines

Shields, circa 1870

Privacy policies play a vital role in protecting the privacy of users. At the Wikimedia Foundation, our Privacy Policy is particularly important to us, because it is a key way we protect our users and reflect their values. It also has a broad impact, because it protects and governs the information of over twenty million registered users and 490 million monthly unique visitors.

Our current Privacy Policy was approved by the Wikimedia Board of Trustees in October 2008 and has not been updated since. Given the growing concern over privacy, especially on the internet, it is important to have an updated policy which reflects both technological advances and the evolving legal issues surrounding new technology.

So, almost eight months ago, we started a conversation with the Wikimedia community about key privacy issues. Based on that conversation, we crafted a new draft Privacy Policy and introduced it to the community for feedback about five months ago. And, thanks to that feedback, we created and discussed Wikimedia’s first Data Retention Guidelines. Today, we are closing the community consultations on the new draft Privacy Policy and Data Retention Guidelines. [1]

The new proposed Privacy Policy will now be presented to the Wikimedia Board of Trustees for review before its next meeting in April 2014. If approved, it will replace the 2008 Privacy Policy.

We would like to thank the many community members who participated in the discussions. The new proposed Privacy Policy and Data Retention Guidelines would not be what they are today without your help. (You can actually see the changes to the drafts in the Policy’s and Guidelines’ wiki revision histories that happened as a result of your feedback!) We received hundreds of questions, comments, and suggestions. In fact, the discussion on the Privacy Policy, along with the related Data Retention Guidelines and Access to Nonpublic Information Policy (whose consultation is also closing today) totaled approximately 195,000 words, making it longer than the Fellowship of the Ring! Together, we have created a transparent Privacy Policy draft that reflects our community’s values.

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Developing through Collaboration: A New Access to Nonpublic Information Policy

The Wikimedia projects depend on countless dedicated community members who generously donate their time, knowledge, and skills to the free knowledge movement. In addition to creating, editing, and maintaining articles, some community members have taken on important roles in safeguarding and supporting the projects. They protect the sites against vandalism, respond to helpdesk emails, and ensure that users are not violating Wikimedia policies, among other things. To that end, certain community members are entrusted with limited amounts of nonpublic information regarding other users.

In 2007, the Board adopted the current Access to nonpublic data policy (“current policy”) to set out procedures for entrusting community members with nonpublic user information. For two reasons, it is time to update that six-year-old policy:

  • Current identification practices are not consistent with the current policy; and
  • The new policy should provide guidance about:
    • how and when to use those access rights;
    • when and to whom nonpublic information may be shared; and
    • what specific confidentiality obligations should accompany those access rights.

Under the current policy, community members with access to the nonpublic user information are required to be “known” to the Wikimedia Foundation. However, current identification practices in fact do not result in the Foundation knowing the identities of the community members with access rights: (1) community members now provide an identification document or copy to a member of the Wikimedia Foundation’s staff; (2) the staff member informally “checks” it; and (3) the staff member returns or destroys the identification or its copy. As a result, the identities of many community members with access rights have progressively become unknown to the Foundation over the years.

In this spirit, we drafted a new Access to Nonpublic Information Policy draft (“new draft”) and announced the start of a community consultation on September 3, 2013, to get community feedback on the new draft.

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