Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement


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.”


Wikipedian Ihor Kostenko dies on the Maidan

This post is available in 2 languages: Українська 7% • English 100%

The original post was published on the Wikimedia Ukraine blog. The English translation can be found further down this page.


На Майдані загинув вікіпедист Ігор Костенко

Ігор Костенко

20 лютого 2014 року під час протистояння у Києві трагічно загинув Ігор Костенко — активний дописувач української Вікіпедії, журналіст, студент-географ.

Ігор Костенко народився 31 грудня 1991 року у селі Зубрець Бучацького району на Тернопільщині. Після закінчення школи вступив до Львівського університету імені Івана Франка, де навчався на 5-му курсі географічного факультету за спеціальністю «Менеджмент організацій». Паралельно з навчанням працював журналістом видання «Спортаналітика».

Ігор був активним дописувачем української Вікіпедії, писав під ім’ям Ig2000. Ігор зареєструвався 23 липня 2011, і вже того ж місяця почав писати перші статті. За два з половиною роки він написав понад 280 статей, зробив понад 1600 редагувань. Мав широке коло енциклопедичних інтересів — писав статті спортивної тематики (футбол, Формула-1), з географії, економіки, а також про історію українського війська. Його стаття про есмінець «Незаможник» українського та радянського флоту першої половини XX століття  була визнана спільнотою як одна з найповніших та отримала статус «доброї статті». Крім цього, він написав і ряд повідомлень про спортивні події до Вікіновин.

Ігор також активно займався просуванням української Вікіпедії в соціальних мережах, через які намагався залучати нових дописувачів. Адміністрував групу дописувачів Української Вікіпедії у Фейсбуку, де постійно розміщував цікавинки про Вікіпедію. В серпні 2013 року запропонував провести Вікіфлешмоб — запросити в певний святковий день якомога більшу кількість українців написати нові статті до Вікіпедії. Вікіфлешмоб пропонувалося провести 30 січня 2014 року до 10-річчя української Вікіпедії, проте через трагічні події в країні його довелося скасувати. Ігор вірив, що флешмоб допоможе поповнити Вікіпедію тисячами нових статей за день та запропонував стратегію його реалізації, однак до його проведення, на жаль, він не дожив…


Researching collaboration for a better world: John T. Riedl (1962 – 2013)

Does it matter that women are mostly not editing the most important information resource in our world? Does it matter that one of the most important artifacts in human history tends to be written mostly by males? […] That seems to me really important, and the question for this community, for people with our skills, is: what can we do about it? We know how to redesign socio-technical communities so that they work differently: what would be a Wikipedia that was more welcoming, that worked better for women?

John Riedl, Community, Cooperation, and Conflict in Wikipedia, talk at UC Irvine, March 2, 2012

John Riedl in 2010

Last year, at a lecture given at UC Irvine, computer scientist John Riedl urged students and researchers not to remain passive scholars of online collaboration, but to “design tools to directly change how the world works”. At the time when he gave this advice, John was already years into a long fight with cancer. He died this past Monday, leaving among his legacy one of the most important bodies of research on Wikipedia, and inspiring a generation of computer and social scientists to think of software design as a way to build better social systems.

With his students and collaborators at GroupLens Research – the group that he co-founded at the University of Minnesota in the 1990s – John made enormous contributions to our understanding of Wikipedia, studying among other things:

  • How to recommend relevant work to Wikipedia editors (a project which resulted in the development of SuggestBot, a tool still widely used by our community, Cosley et al. 2007)
  • The survival of individual contributions and the exposure of temporarily vandalized articles to readers (Priedhorsky et al. 2007)
  • How article creation and article deletion have evolved over the years as a result of Wikipedia’s growth in topic coverage and policies (Lam and Riedl 2009)
  • How Wikiprojects function, and how the diversity of their membership affects group productivity and member retention (Chen et al. 2010)
  • The impact of quality control mechanisms (such as reverts) on new contributors, the quality of their work and their survival (Halfaker et al. 2011)
  • Wikipedia’s gender gap, providing the first quantitative evidence of its impact on Wikipedia’s content, in a paper that received the “Best Full Paper” award at the WikiSym 2011 conference. Just last week, it was prominently cited in a strategy presentation here at the Wikimedia Foundation, by deputy director Erik Möller. (Lam et al. 2011)

John believed in Wikipedia research as a way to improve the quality and sustainability of our projects. And as a member of the Wikimedia Research Committee he also actively participated in discussions to develop policies and incentives to promote research of relevance to our volunteer communities.

He was an contributor to the English Wikipedia himself, with over 100 edits since signing up in 2005. In one of his last Wikipedia edits, John added well-cited information about promising new therapies to the article about Melanoma, the form of cancer from which he was suffering. One of his former students recalls that “he’s fought it as hard as he could, with as much knowledge as he could seek.” As with his own research, he shared this knowledge with others.

We wish to remember John for his relentless intellectual curiosity and extraordinary kindness and humanity, which made him an invaluable collaborator, mentor and friend. We owe to John much of what we know about our projects and we are immensely grateful to him for laying the groundwork for so many of us at the Wikimedia Foundation.

Dario Taraborelli
Senior Research Analyst

Remembering Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)

Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wikipedia meetup in 2009

Aaron Swartz was found dead in his New York apartment Friday, an apparent suicide. Aaron was a prolific hacker and a free culture activist. He was also a Wikipedian. Today, the Internet community at large is reeling from Aaron’s early death, and Wikimedia is joining in remembering an extraordinary individual.

In 2000, as a 13-year-old, he was the youngest finalist in a teen website competition with his project “The Info Network”, an online encyclopedia inviting anyone to contribute their knowledge. Aaron would later recall that while he was not able to find enough contributors for his first web site, “luckily, several years later, my mother pointed me to this new site called ‘Wikipedia’ that was doing the same thing.”

At age 14, Aaron co-authored RSS 1.0, an important web standard. Later he founded Infogami, a startup which would merge with Reddit, which today is one of the most influential social news sites. He led the development of the Open Library, a project launched by the non-profit Internet Archive in 2007 with the aim of offering “one web page for every book”, integrating user contributions through a wiki interface.

In 2003 he started editing Wikipedia. His userpage lists more than 200 articles he started or contributed a large amount of content to. His most recent edit was on Thursday, January 10.

In 2006, he was a candidate for the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, which in part is elected by the Wikimedia community. It was during that time that he wrote a series of essays about Wikipedia, sharing his concerns, hopes and dreams for the project’s future.

This included “Who writes Wikipedia”, which proposed that the role of casual contributors to the encyclopedia is often severely underestimated, and that protecting the encyclopedia’s fundamentally open nature was critical to its future. “If Wikipedia continues down this path of focusing on the encyclopedia at the expense of the wiki, it might end up not being much of either,” Aaron wrote. His essay triggered a debate and research that continues to this day.

In recent years, Aaron’s focus was on online activism. He believed strongly that the freedoms that we take for granted online are constantly under threat and need to be defended. To this end, he co-founded Demand Progress, and was one of the leaders in the grass-roots campaign against legislation known as SOPA and PIPA, a campaign which Wikipedia participated in through the 2012 Wikipedia blackout. Aaron’s keynote at the Freedom to Connect conference in 2012 re-tells the important story of how SOPA and PIPA were ultimately defeated.

Aaron also strongly believed that the public should have free access to the laws that govern it, and to publicly funded scholarship and scientific research. In 2011, he was indicted for allegedly breaking into MIT’s network to download large amounts of scholarly materials.

Family, friends and those close to the case have raised questions about the fervor and zeal with which Aaron was pursued — Lawrence Lessig’s post “Prosecutor as bully” provides some important background, as does expert witness Alex Stamos’ summary.

Whatever caused Aaron to take his own life, it is a shocking and painful loss of an extraordinary individual who has touched so many through his ideas and actions. His friends and family have started an online memorial to share remembrance stories, and Wikipedians are also leaving comments on his talk page. We join them in remembering Aaron Swartz, a beautiful human being.

Further reading:

Wiki inventor supports Wikimedia Foundation with donation of award winnings

Ward Cunningham

“Come on in and I’ll trust you to contribute in good faith and to make your words a gift to this community.”

That’s the spirit of the original wiki, invented by programmer Ward Cunningham, that persists in Wikipedia today. It’s also one of the great quotes from an interview Ward did recently in honor of winning the Excellence in Programming Award from Dr. Dobb’s Journal.

This award has been given out intermittently since 1995, and exists to recognize outstanding contributions to software development. It also comes with a donation of $1,000 to a non-profit of the recipient’s choice. Ward has kindly chosen the Wikimedia Foundation, in order to support Wikipedia and all our projects.

The Wikimedia movement has long owed much of our success to the work set down in the original wiki and its community. From inventing the software we depend on, to serving on our Advisory Board, Ward’s contributions since 2001 have been essential for us to create thriving community-based projects.

While the award from Dr. Dobb’s is for Ward’s contributions to the craft of programming, we think that some of his most important contributions to the world are less technical. As he says about the original wiki: “everyday that I spent hours on that wiki, I would say to myself, ‘I’ve got to stop doing this. I’ve got to focus on my business. I have work to do.’ Thank goodness I didn’t bother to do that work and fiddled with wiki instead!”

That description of donating time to a cherished project is a sentiment mirrored today in the volunteer contributions of Wikimedians all around the world. Thank you to Ward for his continued generosity over the last 11 years.

Steven Walling
Community Organizer

Wikimedia supports American Censorship Day

Today (Wednesday, November 16, 2011) is an important day in Washington, DC.

This morning, hearings take place regarding the “Internet Blacklist Bill” – a bill that, if approved, would overturn laws relating to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbor, and would allow any government or corporation to block a website, remove it from a search engine, and/or cut it off from payment processors or advertisers. In response to these hearings, organizations like Wikimedia, Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, and many more are joining together to declare American Censorship Day.

If approved, this bill would have disastrous effects for Wikipedia and its sister projects.

Why is this bill an issue for a project like Wikipedia?

In a nutshell, Wikipedia relies on Creative Commons licenses and a series of established, community-led open collaboration processes to ensure that its information and media are a part of free culture, and that copyrighted materials (which may inadvertently end up on Wikipedia or its sister projects) can be quickly and effectively removed so we remain in compliance with US copyright law.  Our global, volunteer community understands these laws well – maybe better than any other online community on the net – and they work hard to ensure that everything on Wikipedia and its sister sites complies with the law.

The Internet Blacklist Bill would change all of that.  The bill would allow corporations, organizations, or the government to order an internet service provider to block an entire website simply due to an allegation that the site posted infringing content.  In addition, sites like Wikipedia could be required to monitor for any “banned” links, resulting in delegated proactive censorship of the Web, not to mention significant additional costs to Wikipedia, a site of a non-profit charity.  Useful international sources of knowledge and information – which often serve as a basis for our articles and projects – could be blacklisted if rights owners simply felt that there was some infringing content. Individual contributors could face criminal liability for posting or sharing a copyright work for what we consider to be common fair-use situations.  The DMCA system, which allows Wikimedia and its volunteer community to quickly remove copyright-violating material at the request of the copyright owner, would be overturned.  In short, our users and all of our projects, would be forced to operate in an untenable legislative environment, putting Wikipedia at the beck and call of the rights owners as opposed to the distribution of free knowledge. Simply put, this bill is a reckless and burdensome model in Internet censorship.

The future of Wikipedia, the free knowledge movement, and tens of thousands of open and free projects is at stake, and we must stand up to oppose this bill.  Join us in these efforts by spreading the word.  If you are in the United States, contact your local government representative, and take a stand on American Censorship Day.

Jay Walsh, Communications


Open source hackfest benefits WMF, community

On May 24th and 25th, the Wikimedia Foundation hosted a CiviCRM coding sprint in our San Francisco office. CiviCRM is the premier open source constituent relationship manager; WMF uses it to store donor and contribution information. Our CiviCRM database contains more than a million contact records and a million contribution records.

CiviCRM, The Free and Open Source Solution for the Civic Sector

The sprint was a terrific success. The eight participants squashed many CiviCRM bugs — and the Foundation directly benefited, as they improved CiviCRM contact/contribution search performance by 15 to 25 times! Formerly, it could take more than two minutes for someone to search among the contribution records. The developers’ tweaks, hacks and patches whittled that down to about 4-6 seconds per search. This will save innumerable hours for WMF administrators and fundraisers.

The Foundation’s Arthur Richards, a fundraising engineer, enthused: “Any software tool, open source or not, comes with headaches; the beauty of tools like CiviCRM is that we can solve our own problems. Thanks to having some great hackers in one place, we managed to mitigate one of our biggest CiviCRM pain points in a matter of hours.”

You can read more details about the sprint on Donald Lobo’s CiviCRM blog.

Richards was especially excited to “highlight how awesome it is working with other open source projects and using other open source tools. We get to scratch each other’s backs, which helps support a sustainable, healthy ecosystem of software/communities. Also, using open source tools like CiviCRM – while not without their (often big) pain points – is great because we can fix the software ourselves. While the tools are free to use, with a little bit of elbow grease and some resources, they can be molded and fixed to meet our needs much easier (and likely much cheaper) than relying on proprietary tools. Plus, the CiviCRM community has been instrumental in helping us troubleshoot, solve problems and add new features to meet our usage requirements.”

The CiviCRM community is planning to run another code sprint in the fall in Northern California; please contact them if you’d like to participate or even host it. In the meantime, Wikimedia and thousands of other nonprofits will enjoy the CiviCRM improvements developed in May.

-Sumana Harihareswara
Volunteer Development Coordinator, Wikimedia Foundation

“How Wikipedia Works” hits our shelves

Thanks to our friends at No Starch Press, San Francisco-based publishers of one of the largest and most detailed guides to Wikipedia ever printed (and available under the GFDL!) the bookshelves at Wikimedia Foundation’s offices in San Francisco are over-flowing with how-to knowledge.

In January the publishers offered to provide us with a few hundred copies of “How Wikipedia Works” to give to Foundation visitors, particularly editors and contributors.  Authored by Wikimedia Foundation board member Phoebe Ayers, and long-time Wikipedians Charles Matthews and Ben Yates, the 500+ page book discusses the culture, history, technology, and impact of Wikipedia, while also providing a detailed primer for getting involved and participating among the community of editors.

Our thanks to No Starch Press for  their generous donation and their continuing support of the Wikimedia mission.

Jay Walsh, Communications

Sue Gardner joins Ada Initiative advisory board

Today the Ada Initiative announced the appointment of Sue Gardner, ED of the Wikimedia Foundation, to its first advisory board. The Ada Initiative launched just a few weeks ago, and has the aim of promoting the visibility and participation of women in open-source culture. The group, founded by Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner, will undertake unique research in the field of women in open-source culture, provide consultative services to organizations and businesses, and develop training and education services.

The Initiative‘s namesake, Countess Ada Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852), was considered one of the world’s first computer programmers, and was almost certainly the first woman in computer programming. She collaborated with Charles Babbage, the creator of one of the first mechanical computers, the analytical engine, writing what is generally considered the first code instructions for a computer.

From Wikipedia,

She was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron (with Anne Isabella Milbanke), but had no relationship with her father, who died when she was nine. As a young adult she took an interest in mathematics, and in particular Babbage’s work on the analytical engine. Between 1842 and 1843 she translated an article by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea on the engine, which she supplemented with a set of notes of her own. These notes contain what is considered the first computer program—that is, an algorithm encoded for processing by a machine. Though Babbage’s engine was never built, Lovelace’s notes are important in the early history of computers. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities. [1]

Wikipedia has been in the news recently following a New York Times story highlighting the lack of women participating in the project, based on researched gathered by the United Nations University Study.  Interest in the topic has brought new thinkers to the Wikimedia community, which also recently resulted in the creation of a Wikimedia gender gap mailing list, which is open to the public.

Congratulations, Sue, and good luck to everyone involved in the Ada Initiative!

Jay Walsh, Communications

[1] Ada Lovelace. (2011, February 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:03, February 24, 2011, from

Wikimedia selects Watchmouse for global monitoring services

Earlier today we announced our selection of Watchmouse website monitoring to assist both the Foundation and anyone around the world in keeping an eye on our server uptime and status.  With Watchmouse’s help, the Foundation now has a public status page, which is maintained offsite on servers independent from Wikimedia, that reports our uptime and accessibility levels from over 50 locations around the world. The service breaks out each of the primary server systems of the Foundation, because it definitely takes more than one computer to keep us up and running.

This is the first time Wikimedia has offered a publicly visible, externally hosted website monitoring service. Uptime is of course critical for reaching all of Wikimedia’s users, but also for ensuring that our wikis are open and editable to everyone, all the time.

With a rapidly growing, and global, audience of hundreds of millions of readers and contributors, Wikimedia’s properties have become an integral part of how the world accesses and shares knowledge.  This new service is particularly important as the Foundation establishes its permanent data center infrastructure, and looks beyond the US and Europe to establish more data centers (more regular updates from our engineering team can be found on the Wikimedia tech blog). Publicly sharing where downtime (and uptime, of course) is being experienced also helps us maintain our mission focus on transparency and accessibility.

Thanks for joining us as mission supporters, Watchmouse!

Jay Walsh, Communications