Photo by Dietrich Michael Weidmann, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Photo by Dietrich Michael Weidmann, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Dietrich Michael Weidmann is a bureaucrat on the Esperanto Wikipedia and a former General Secretary of the World Esperanto Youth Organization. Here is his story.

Can you please elaborate about yourself?

I am a linguist, legal translator, manager of a translation company and a Swiss-German National.

Where do you come from? Tell us about your native place / places where you spent your childhood and teen years?

I was born in the city of Zurich, my mother is German, my father Swiss, so I have German and Swiss nationality. After my parents separated I passed several years in several homes for children; from there I have no good memories. Despite the not very good situation a could pass the examinations for the mathematical-scientific college and after passing the Matura. But after I started to learn Esperanto in the age of 16 my personal interests changed from natural sciences to languages and after my Matura I decided to change the branch and to start linguistic studies. In 1987 I achieved the lic. phil. in general linguistics (this corresponds in our days to the degree of a Master of Art).

How did you first discover Wikipedia in general and more importantly in Esperanto?

I discovered the Wikipedia in very early time, in 2006 in the Esperanto movement and started to contribute to the German, Alemannic and Esperanto-Wikipedia and also started to upload pictures to commons (until now I added nearly 16’000 photos mostly from Switzerland).

When did you realize that you could edit Wikipedia?

In 2006.

What’s the most interesting thing you have used Wikipedia for

I own a Translation Company and Wikipedia is a wonderful help in my daily work, so for me my personal contribution is a kind of compensation for what I get from Wikipedia. Before Wikipedia existed, in my company I had to spend every year a lot of money for lexica, since there is Wikipedia I could save all this money, so there is for my clear, that I have to give something back!

Can you elaborate on the diversity of language Wikipedias you have worked upon?

Important contributions I made only on the German, Alemannic and Esperanto-Wikipedia and for Commons. For the other projects I made only small corrections, added links, pictures and also sometimes helped to fight against vandalism.

Do your near and dear ones support your Wikipedia pursuits?

My family also likes very much Wikipedia and they like of course my work for this project.

How do you find Community environment on Esperanto Wikipedia and your role as the admin/Sysop of Esperanto Wikipedia?

The Esperanto-Community is around the world is a little bit like a small village. As I was from 1986 to 1990 General Secretary of TEJO (the World Esperanto Youth Organization) I know most of the important Esperantists around the world personally and also several active Esperanto-Wikipedian meet regularly during several Esperanto-conferences around the world.

What strategies to you suggest for the growth of Esperanto Wikipedia?

The quantitative growth of Esperanto-Wikipedia is no problem, but there is a big problem in the quality, as from the more than 1000 more or less regular contributors unfortunately more than half has not a very high level of language knowledge and so the other half often loses a lot of time correcting the errors of those people. For me for this reason we have now in the Esperanto-Wikipedia to focus more on the improving of the quality of the existing articles than to be busy in adding new ones.

How do you feel crossing themassive number of edits on Esperanto Wikipedia?

I do not count anymore my edits—for me it is just important to give something back to the community. The number also is relatively big, as I make often a lot of corrections of mistakes and that of course are often small edits.

What are your future Wiki goals and ambitions?

My next big goal for Esperanto-Wikipedia is that all the 1000 must have articles in the Esperanto-Wikipedia will achieve the level of “legindajartikoloj” (“Good articles”) – this goal will take certainly a lot of time to achieve, but it is not impossible.

Have you participated in offline Wiki events (meetups, editathons, etc)?

I participated in several meetings of Esperanto-Wikipedians during the Universal Esperanto-Congress each year in summer and I also already took part in meetings of the Alemannic Wikipedians in the region of Zürich.

How do you see the role of Esperanto Wikipedia vis-à-vis other Wikipedias?

The role of the Esperanto-Wikipedia is very special, because in the Esperanto-Wikipedia the contributions are made partly by some of the most important authors and members of the community, which makes Esperanto-Wikipedia very different from all other Wikipedia-projects. One very important common goal of Esperanto and Wikipedia is the idea that access to knowledge should be free for all mankind.Historically Esperantists already exchanged information through the borders of the several political blocks in the world, when were was now Internet. During the so called “Cold War” the Esperanto-movement was the only NGO which was represented on both sides of the so called Iron Curtain. I remember when in 1979 I guided a group of young people for a travel group on train from the International Youth Congress in Austerlitz in the Netherlands to the Esperanto-World Congress in Lucerne. In this group there were 32 people from 22 countries (among them China, USSR, USA, Morocco and Israel). When we arrived at the Swiss border, the customs stopped the train for two hours, because for them this group was just an impossible mixture: American, Israeli, Russian, Chinese and Moroccan people together in the same travel group, was against all the prejudices of a normal custom officer of this time… just impossible … but we were real! Finally the called the President of the Swiss Confederation who personally confirmed that all the visa were valid and that this group was expected for the congress in Lucerne. This event I never forgot and it was decisive for my whole life.

Can you elaborate a bit on your Esperanto Wikipedia colleagues?

Our Esperanto Colleagues are a very mixed public, but we all have in common this cosmopolitan idea of a united world and this makes the Esperanto community so different from the other Wikipedian communities. Of course also on Esperanto Wikipedia happen often big discussions and disputes, but as we know each other very well we after most of this disputes in the end find a consent, so I feel much more unity than in the other Wikipedian projects.

How practical is collaborating with Wikipedias in constructe languages, like Esperanto, Ido, Lojban, etc?

Personally I have contributed with about 3000 edits to the Volapük-Wikipedia, but I have also to notice that the other Wikipedias of constructed languages are not really living projects but without any exception the initiative of one single person. When this motor person disappears these projects will probably die. This is the case now for the Volapük Wikipedia which has no more active administrator. I guess that also the Ido and Lojban Wikipedia will once have this sort. This will not be the case in Esperanto-Wikipedia which has several hundred active contributors, 18 administrators and 3 bureaucrats.

What is your message for new Wikipedians?

My message for new Wikipedians (in all projects) is that they should before starting with edits study the help pages on the main page the know about the most important edit rules. There is important in Wikipedia the seek consent and not to know better than the whole community. There is also important not to lose courage, if other do not share ones opinion and also there is important to understand what Wikipedia is and what not and in discussions there is needed patience. The organization of Wikipedia functions in the way of a direct basic democracy and that means if you want to be lucky in Wikipedia you have to learn to make compromises and accept the decisions of a majority, which sometimes may not be easy. It is important to understand, that Wikipedia is teamwork, so it is not necessary to make everything alone but you can get help from others. And if you are not too proud to ask for help, than you will make the beautiful experience that others like to help and support you and you will gain suddenly friends.

Syed Muzammiluddin
Wikimedia community volunteer