Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement


Happy Birthday, Ward Cunningham, inventor of the wiki

Interview with Ward Cunningham, inventor of the wiki.
View directly on Wikimedia Commons with subtitles (click “CC” in the player), which are editable on this wiki page
Also view here on and here on

I’m convinced that Ward Cunningham will go down in history as one of the greatest programmers of all time. He invented the wiki, based on an offline HyperCard system that he had developed to track ideas as they flowed through his company.

According to Cunningham (in the video above), “A wiki is collaborative software. It’s software – I made it on the web and allowed people to come to a website and create something. I think what’s really turned out is that people discovered that they can create something with other people that they don’t even know, but they come to trust and they make something that surprises all of them in terms of its value.”

The Wiki-Wiki bus

He named his invention the WikiWikiWeb after he took a ride on an airport shuttle in the Honolulu airport called Wiki-Wiki:

“It was my first Hawaiian word that I learned as they were trying to direct me to the Wiki-Wiki bus between terminals. ‘Wiki’ is an Hawaiian word that means quick and so ‘Wiki-Wiki’ means very quick so (the WikiWikiWeb) is the very quick web.”

In 2011, former Wikimedia Foundation staffer Matthew Roth and I had a chance to interview Ward on camera in the Wikimedia Foundation office in San Francisco. We were in a mad dash to find inspiring stories for the 2011 Wikimedia fundraiser (out of the dozens and dozens of interviews we conducted, Ward’s would be one of the thirteen stories that made it into the fundraising campaign). Given a chance to capture a first-hand account of the very early history of wikis, we had decided to move some tables around and record the interview on video. At the time, there was no need to use his video interview for fundraising purposes, so I archived the footage and moved on.

My apologies to Ward that it’s taken so long to get his interview published. It is full of fascinating insights about the nature of online collaboration. Some excerpts:

On anonymous editing
“I encouraged people not to sign their words [on the wiki]. I thought: Your words, your ideas are a gift to the community and you shouldn’t be claiming credit for it, because then nobody else is going to improve it: They are going to feel it’s yours. So I discouraged that.
I used that a lot myself. I did probably 80% of my editing anonymously, (more…)

Wikipedia Zero will accelerate Wikipedia in Nepal

This post is available in 2 languages:
English  • Nepali

Screenshot of Nepali Wikipedia.

This is a guest post from Nepali Wikipedian Ganesh Paudel and does not necessarily express the views of the Wikimedia Foundation. 

On May 6th mobile operator NCELL announced the launch of Wikipedia Zero in Nepal. Wikipedia Zero is expected to be a very useful service in Nepal, where over 90% of internet users access the internet using their mobile phones. The service will provide Nepalese users in very remote areas access to Wikipedia – free of cost. The local Wikipedia community, Wikipedia Education Program leaders, Wiki Poject Med and all volunteer contributors are excited by the news.

The Wikipedia Zero team and local Wikimedians are communicating with Nepal Telecom, the government owned mobile operator company, to encourage them to start this service as well. Throughout the years, Wikipedia has been established as an increasingly effective educational tool. There will surely be an acceleration in use and expansion of Wikipedia after launching Wikipedia Zero in Nepal. Currently, five languages have pages that serve the Nepal Wikipedia community – Nepali, Newari, Bhojpuri, Pali and Sanskrit. Ten other language Wikipedia pages are in test phases. This service will broaden the path to develop local content in all 123 languages spoken in Nepal.

So what exactly is Wikipedia Zero? Wikipedia Zero is a free browsing service that allows users to surf Wikipedia pages without incurring data charges. The name refers to the zero cost of using the service. The Wikimedia Foundation provides this service in collaboration with mobile operators. If the user clicks on an external link, a message will warn them that ‘this service is chargeable’ to ensure that accidental data charges are not acquired.


Donating His Estate to the Wikimedia Foundation: The Story of Jim Pacha

Jim Pacha – Legacy Donor, Wikimedia Foundation


As he reflected on his life in a video interview with the Wikimedia Foundation on April 29, Jim Pacha beamed and smiled a lot. During the talk, Pacha was reminded of all the remarkable things that happened to him, including highlights in learning and career advancement. Pacha became a senior software engineer at a prestigious aerospace company, even though he never graduated from college. He entered his profession at one of its lowest ranks and through the years mastered the necessary skills through study and hard work.

“The thing I’m proudest of,” Pacha said, “is that I’m essentially self-educated. I got started as an assembler. I worked my way through as a technician, and then as a junior engineer.”

An illness prompted Pacha to consider how to give back to the world, and he decided to donate much of his estate to the Wikimedia Foundation, to support our vision of bringing the sum of human knowledge to people everywhere. Pacha wanted others to benefit the way that he benefited, and he believed Wikipedia — with 30 million free articles on every subject imaginable — embodied his highest ideals. Prior to his legacy gift, Pacha made regular donations to the Wikimedia Foundation.

“Educating the world and getting everybody on the same playing field — I think it’s great,” he said. “And the fact that it’s done with no advertising is a big thing, because I really don’t like what’s happening in the world today, with corporate involvement in everything. And I like the fact that Wikipedia is on the World Wide Web, so basically the whole world can access it.”

Pacha passed away on May 7 at age 66. He accomplished much in his life. Growing up in Illinois, he wanted to see as much of the United States as possible. He visited 45 states. He loved playing golf, even though the game turned into “flog” when he was on the course, he joked. “My handicap would probably be in the 30s and 40s,” he said laughing. Pacha came from a long line of determined people, he said. His father, Harold Pacha, fought for the United States in World War II, and retired as a Brigadier General. Pacha’s last name, which is pronounced like “pay-shuh,” is rooted in family that came to the United States in the 1840s from central Europe. “When they came to Ellis Island, the spelling was something like Pdeskja. It’s one of those names — you hear it, you can’t spell it, you see it, you can’t say it.”

At Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, located in Boulder, Colorado, Pacha designed, developed, integrated, tested and maintained instrument sensor and spacecraft simulations. It was a key position for a company that has helped support such operations as the Hubble Telescope, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, and NASA’s CloudSat observation satellite. Pacha began using Wikipedia in 2006. “It was in conjunction with doing research for a project I was working on,” he said. “It was on propulsion systems or something along that nature.” Pacha went on disability in October of 2011 due to his illness, and made arrangements to make his legacy gift to Wikimedia in April 2014, after his health took a turn for the worse.

His illness, Pacha said, reminded him of what was important in life. “The vision of the Wikimedia Foundation is quite altruistic, and that’s basically my take on the world as well,” he said. “That would include medicine as well as education, in terms of everybody should have access to it. I realize that’s a pretty big dollop, and if we can get to the information part of it, that will help.”

Pacha’s gift to the Wikimedia Foundation is the largest legacy gift in our history. We’re extremely grateful for his generous donation, and we offer our most heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. Thank you, Jim. Thank you for everything that you did in your life.

Caitlin Virtue, Development Outreach Manager, Wikimedia Foundation

If you’re inspired by Jim Pacha’s gift and would like to to learn more about legacy giving, please visit:

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 2004

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

2014-04-16: Edited to replace image

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