WikiWednesday in September

WikiWednesday last September

I’m proud to be able to announce that we’ve got something slightly different in mind for the May installment of the Portland WikiWednesday.

In little less than a week, we’ll be serving up a short presentation and panel on the research techniques journalists and bloggers (or anyone really) can use to get the most out of Wikipedia.

Often maligned and misunderstood, Wikipedia is nonetheless a body of knowledge that can be a rich resource if used properly. I’ll be giving the introductory presentation myself, with a half hour to answer such questions as…

  • Can journalists avoid compromising standards and still use Wikipedia?
  • How can you find exactly what you’re looking for out of 2.8 million articles?
  • What clues can you look for to assess the veracity of articles and individual facts?

Afterwords, a panel of both Wikipedians and journalists will delve in to their experience with the site, and answer your questions about the nitty-gritty of working with Wikipedia in your research. On this panel will be:

  • Myself (Steven Walling), a Wikipedia adminstrator with years of experience and over 30,000 edits.
  • Pete Forsyth, a Wikipedia administrator with a special expertise concerning Oregon articles in particular, and a key instigator of WikiProject Oregon’s organizing and outreach.
  • Abraham Hyatt, former managing editor at Oregon Business magazine.
  • Dan Cook, former editor of the Portland Business Journal.

This is a little more structured than most WikiWednesdays, but the spirit remains the same. Whether you’re familiar with wikis or just one of the billions of people who use Wikipedia regularly, this should be an interesting and information look at research with the largest encyclopedia in history.

If you go

Where: AboutUs, 107 SE Washington, suite #520 (map)
When: Wednesday May 6th, 5:30pm-7:30pm
Cost: Free (as always!)
More: Calagator and Upcoming


It’s easy to forget just how old Wikipedia is, compared to many of the free culture organizations on the Web. One looming example of this has always been our use of the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).
Founded before Creative Commons, the GFDL was the only copyleft license that even came close to making our work free for others in a way that fit our mission.

But it’s never been a perfect fit. Far from it, in fact.

Clauses such as the invariant sections rule and the burden of printing both the full text of the license and a list of authors have seriously handicapped past efforts to republish works of Wikimedia projects. The GFDL is not really to be faulted for this, since it’s written with software documentation in mind, not an encyclopedia with thousands of authors.

But there’s a solution on the horizon. With the advent of Version 1.3 of the GFDL, we can now legally transition to the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. But the choice to move to Creative Commons rests not with our non-profit, the Wikimedia Foundation. It rests with the people who have licensed their contributions: namely, you. If you’ve got more than 25 edits to a Wikimedia project before the 15th of March, please make your voice heard by voting!

More information:

Hurray, it's Wikipedia Day!Every year on the 15th of January, Wikipedians of all stripes stop for a moment to celebrate Wikipedia Day, the anniversary of the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit going public. This time around, the eighth most popular website in the world turns eight, and somehow it just feels extra special.

We’ve had our fair share of scandals and trolls still haunting the environs, but in retrospect, it’s been an unthinkably brilliant year for the free encyclopedia. Why am I so excited? Let me count the ways. Eight in fact…

  1. We didn’t reach another full million like in 2007, but we have nearly  2.7 million articles. At the current rate of increase, we should have our three millionth article well before the end of ’09.
  2. You can now be knighted for editing Wikipedia. Seriously. Florence Devouard, who rose from within the ranks of everyday contributors to become the Chair of our Board of Trustees, was awarded the French National Order of Merit by President Sarkozy in May.
  3. In middle of a total economic meltdown, 125,000 people still found Wikipedia valuable enough to donate more than six million dollars.
  4. In addition to the six million dollars Wikipedia raised to cover operating costs, we received a special grant from the Stanton Foundation of $890,000 to make it easier for anyone to edit.
  5. Academics, who have either banned Wikipedia outright or simply ignored it in the past, are now engaging with us in new and interesting ways. A prime example are any scientists submitting work to RNA Biology, who must now simultaneously publish in Wikipedia.
  6. Educators aren’t just softening to Wikipedia, they’re actually having their students help write it in droves. Both higher and lower education has been working in Wikipedia for a while, but 2008 was a landmark year. Case in point: a University of British Columbia project contributed the 2,000th Featured Article (our best peer-reviewed work), in addition to hundreds of other great articles written by students at the request of profs.
  7. The worst scandal about founder Jimmy Wales was some boring garbage about his ex-girlfriend. It would seem people still respect the man enough for his personal appeal to mean something come fundraising time, and to read his CNN editorial with Andrea Weckerle about Obama’s CTO.  Either way, if your founder isn’t killing everyone’s confidence by stepping down due to failing health, you’re in good shape (no pun intended).
  8. We’re not even close to being done. Normally, volunteers might be reluctant to admit that their mission is perpetually incomplete, but (in case you hadn’t noticed) Wikipedia is different. Not only are 10 million pages in 260 languages not enough to satiate our geeky lust for information, but we admit from the start that Wikipedia will never be finished. An encyclopedia already so big that you could never finish it, but still not complete? Now that’s exciting. Happy birthday Wikipedia, and here’s to another productive year ahead.

In part one on this topic, I spoke ecstatically about how Wikipedia, in our quest to be more user friendly, could find some inspiration in SocialText’s ability for both WYSIWYG and wiki text editing of a document. Upon further exploration, I’ve found that a few other enterprise wiki software providers, such as Atlassian’s Confluence platform, include dual Rich Text/Wiki Text editing modes. Wikia is also testing a new Rich Text editor of their own, but it is pure WYSIWYG, rather than an optional mode one can choose in the editing window. which, as Angela has kindly pointed out in the comments, also has optional rich text or wiki text editing capability .

But whether it’s SocialText, Wikia or Atlassian, the larger point still stands.

MediaWiki development has done a fabulous job of scaling to meet the crushing demand of some of the biggest wiki communities in the world. A rich ecosystem of useful extensions has sprung up as well, much like the garden of delights to be found among Firefox add-ons.

But the one area that enterprise development has outstripped MediaWiki is in catering to those who need a dead simple wiki. (In all fairness, MediaWiki does have a WYSIWYG extension, but I personally find it to be unsatisfactory, and it is rarely used.)

Why is the enterprise so much better at producing wikis for the neophyte? Because their customers absolutely demand it.

When you’re dealing with a company full of people who almost never step outside the box of Microsoft Office and email, just introducing the idea of a collaborative workspace is like pulling teeth. If there is any real technical hurdle at all, then you can expect your product to fall flat.

I am a drunken cheerleader for commons-based peer production wherever it appears. But within the wiki community, ease of use is the one realm where the profit motive has admittedly produced better results. I say we take it as an opportunity to recognize the success of others, so that we may duplicate it.

With that frame of mind, I’d love to hear what your favorite usability features from enterprise wikis are, and how they might help Wikipedia.

The 3 millionth image!

The 3 millionth image!

Wikimedia Commons, the free-content media repository that is a sister project of Wikipedia and WikiProject Oregon, now has 3 million media files to choose from. The milestone file in question is an image of Haishan Station, which is a stop on the Taipei (Taiwan) rapid transit system. Since March 2007, Wikimedia Commons has routinely had over 100,000 files uploaded every single month. It is now not uncommon for tens of thousands of files to be uploaded in a single day.

Within Commons, WikiProject Oregon draws primarily from Category:Oregon and its 27 sub-categories. I’m unsure of the exact statistics of Oregon files on Commons, as categories don’t automatically count how many files are within them. But I do know that there is still a vast amount of images requested for Oregon Wikipedia articles. These requested photos are a great way for people who aren’t interested in writing an encyclopedia to participate in the project.

After a vote in which fifteen candidates stood for a single open Board of Trustees position at the Wikimedia Foundation (the non-profit that oversees Wikipedia and other projects), Ting Chen has won. You can view the full results of the election here. The following is his candidacy statement:

Chen at Wikimania in Taipei I was born in Shanghai, grew up in Harbin of northeast China, and moved to Germany at age of 20. Now I live in Mainz and work at IBM as a programmer.

I began participating in Wikipedia five years ago and have edited and translated lots of articles between DE, EN, and ZH, so I know well how the three Wikipedia projects grew over the years, their history and current status, and their character, strengths, and weaknesses. As an active administrator and bureaucrat at ZH.WP, I am also devoted to daily cleanup work and community interactions. I also helped organizing Wikimania 2007 Taipei.

I strongly believe and hold that Wikimedia and its projects should remain open, neutral, simple, and diverse.

If elected to the Board, I will:

  • Support development of the MediaWiki software for enhanced usability.
  • Support measures to attract and retain new editors.
  • Facilitate communications among Wikimedia communities of different projects and locations.
  • Advocate for lingual, cultural and other diversities in the Wikimedia community.
  • Promote collaborations between Wikimedia and universities or other nonprofit/public institutions of education and research (e.g., libraries).