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Bradypus.

The editorial teams of German Wikipedia bring together Wikipedia volunteers from different subject areas. The oldest editorial team of the German Wikipedia is Redaktion Biologie, which originated from the Lebewesen portal [which literally means “living beings” portal and roughly corresponds to the English Wikipedia’s Animals portal, whereas the Redaktion Biologie has similarities to the English Wikpedia’s WikiProject Biology. This editorial team supervises Wikipedia articles on biology related subjects such as animals, plants and other life forms.

Redaktion Biologie has always been one of Wikipedia’s most active editorial teams. It has made numerous decisions that have profoundly shaped the appearance of the German edition of Wikipedia well beyond the area of biology. The influence exerted by these editors has contributed significantly to Wikipedia enjoying an excellent reputation in German-speaking countries today.

In Kurier, the Wikipedia Signpost of the German Wikipedia community, Achim Raschka recently posted a retrospective account of the first ten years since the Lebewesen portal was founded. We are pleased to include a lightly-edited version of this text here in the Wikimedia blog.

Dirk Franke, Wikimedia Deutschland


On January 1, Wikipedia’s Portal:Lebewesen and the Redaktion:Biologie editorial team celebrated their tenth birthday. A lot has happened in past ten years. On January 1, 2004, the Lebewesen portal was founded and with it came a core team of Wikipedians working together in this area. Since then, the editorial team has evolved; it has influenced and been influenced by other areas; and most important of all, it has relentlessly continued its work. Today, we oversee approximately 40,000 articles – that’s about as many as the entire German Wikipedia had when it first started – as well as countless additional articles from many other areas of biology.

The Lebewesen portal has always been the main hub of the editorial team, and even today its main focus is on biodiversity – with no end in sight. However, looking at the earliest versions of the portal, then still clothed in a shade of unappealing off-pink, you can tell how much groundwork was needed at the start. Articles [posted on January 3, 2004, for example, included new entries on crocodiles and ammonites, and even one on Bacillus anthracis, while the list of unwritten articles still included many major category entries. In the Plants area, the “Lilies project” was particularly popular at the time. In the Animals area, basic structures were being established across the board. Articles on micro-organisms and fungi were being added sporadically.

Basic groundwork

Lilium carniolicum from the Tscheppa Gorge, Austria.

From the outset, the Lebewesen portal was less about producing large numbers of articles than about providing a platform for collaborative work on the Lebewesen articles. The contributors, who like to describe themselves as “Lebewesenikis,” would hold virtual meetings on the discussion page to work out the nuts and bolts of their area; the issue of species notability, for example, was sorted out very quickly by simply declaring all biological species to be relevant (according to the Wikipedia article on species diversity, there are around two million living species in existence today, not to mention countless extinct species). Instead of getting caught up in theoretical nitpicking, the team was more interested in establishing basic quality guidelines. In order to implement these, a portal-specific quality assurance procedure was set up. New articles undergo an input control check, and for several years now, quality assurance has been actively supplemented by bot-generated maintenance lists. The Portal:Biologie evolved as a parallel project for more foundational articles and unfortunately has never received as much attention as it deserves.

Meetings, book grants, species identification aid and more

Lebwesenikis hiking through the Elbe marshes.

A first biologists’ meeting was held in Vienna in 2006, with a second meeting on the island of Heligoland a year later. The meetings continues to be held annually and has become a highlight on the editorial team’s calendar. Along with discussions on hot topics in biology (and inevitably also Wikipedia itself), these meetings also include day trips to locations of biological interest, typically involving extensive hikes. Productive outcomes from the meeting’s exchanges include earlier versions of today’s Wikipedia:Literaturstipendium (book grant) and Wikipedia:Bibliotheksrecherche (library research), both initially from a private initiative in 2007 known as “Die Lange Anna” (in reference to Heligoland’s “Tall Anna” rock formation). Since 2011, we have access to a photographic microscope, funded and supplied by Wikimedia Deutschland as part of their technological support program. Further notable initiatives include the highly popular species identification aid for contributor photos and the Wikipedia:Article Marathon (which is currently underway again). Naturally, our Lebewesen authors are regular visitors to the map workshop in order to obtain distribution maps for their articles and they regularly (and successfully) participate in the German Wikipedia’s writing contest.

Quo vadis?

Who am I? – Identification aids in Wikipedia.

No retrospective would be complete without looking to the future: Essentially, we have at least another ten years ahead of us. First up, the members of the editorial team will need to engage with the latest innovations of the Wiki world; most pertinently, we need to figure out how Wikidata will affect our articles, and how we can maintain our stringent quality levels during this process. While several Lebewesenikis (the present author included) have concerns about this, others are already very active in the Wikidata area; initial ideas include future database-generated queries on subjects such as country-specific floras and faunas. We will also look into bot-generated articles, although the German Wikipedia is by no means intending to follow the Swedish example of using bots to create hundreds of thousands of animal and plant articles. Instead, the use of bots is being researched for the maintenance of existing articles and for author support. Media files will also be an important aspect of the Wiki future, starting with photos of the described forms of life (which are still largely lacking) as well as video clips, sound recordings and specialized maps. And last, but certainly not least, we need to devote our energies to content – we are still missing around 2 million articles in the Lebewesen portal, and there are 40,000 existing ones to keep updating. That’s enough to keep several generations of Lebewesenikis busy! At this point I would also like to thank everybody who has contributed and helped out over the past ten years (too many to mention by name), I’m very much looking forward to working together over the next ten years.

Achim Raschka, German Wikipedian