A Free Knowledge Movement
Do you have that bad impression about Wikipedia? So had I. At university we are not allowed to use it as a reference, and normally when you ask your friends’s opinion he/she will say something like “Oh that thing where anyone can write and change?! Nah that’s not really reliable”.
The truth is, there are already more than 17.000.000 articles in wikipedia around the world, around 410 million users per month, wikipedias in more than 270 languages and if we would print them there would be more than 260 wikipedias. Generally when looking for some definition or factual information people go to wikipedia. When you “google it”, normally wikipedia comes up as one of the first links, as it ranks among the top ten most-visited websites worldwide.
So what is wikipedia, what is its role, and how does it work?
Actually Wikipedia makes part of a wider project called WIKIMEDIA Foundation, a Free Knowledge Movement. Their committment lies on the statement
Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. (Wikimedia)
This last monday, on the 4th, I attended a really interesting event of Wikimedia UK at BBC Broadcasting House in Bristol – Bristol Wiki Academy 2. We as participants were received by the team of Wikimedia UK board members and experienced wikipedia contributors. They were there dedicated and focused on promoting Wikimedia and manly training participants to be active and confident in the global Wikimedia community.
The Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization, that operates several online collaborative projects, as you can see in the image bellow. The flagship and its first project is Wikipedia co-founded by Jimmy Wales.
So how does Wikipedia work?
As a Open & Free web based, collaborative, multilingual Encyclopedia, all the contributors are volunteers. To start collaborating the e-volunteer creates, preferentially, an account getting an username. Then he can contribute editing others’ articles, updating information, adding pictures, translating articles in different languages or complementing referencing for example. The point is always to improve the new or already existing article. The majority of the articles has a quality classification, which can range from “stubs” (less quality, normally in its early stage) until “featured articles”, the high quality ones. The latest were first evaluate by the community and in consensus it was decided that they were good enough to be ranked in the best category. According to the criteria a good article has to be well written, factually acurate and verifiable, broad in its coverage, neutral, stable (in its meaning) and illustrated my images and/or diagrams with the respective copyrights status.
Probably you still might think that all those volunteers are not professional and so their work can not be accurate. However, what it really works here is the collaboration effect. Among more than 100.000 volunteers, there is a strict control. Members of the community predominantly interact with each other via “talk” pages. Each article has a “discussion” wall where contributors debate about the article, and they can speak to each other as well on the “user talk pages”. Every single alteration to an article is updated on the “history” wall, turning it easy to detect alterations to articles you are interested in.
(image example of a history page on a random wikipedia article)
So imagining the situation of a “vandal” writing wrong or offending information about something with any hidden interest, the watchful community would detect it, discuss about it, contact the the “vandal” contributor, propose a deletion, and delete it. The wide community contains people and experts from totally different areas, from physicians to historians, who commit their expertise, skills and time to a free global knowledge world.
You might ask as I did, to one of the Wikimedia UK board members, Martin Poulter, what is their big motivation to be a dedicated wikipedian? Martin, with a twinkle in his eye, told it is almost like a mission. A commitment to contribute to a better knowledge movement. Moreover, you as a contributor, get recognition by the community about your work. Martin is an expert wikipedian in Psychology subjects, while Jezza, also present in the event, is an expert of editing and good writing practices being recognised for its numerous revisions and contributions on high quality articles.
The Education is one of the biggest challenges of Wikimedia. In the USA, Wikipedia is already working intensively near some universities, trough student ambassadors. Bristol got recently its first student ambassador, also present in the event, from Bristol University. They argue that Wikipedia can be an excellent tool for students to develop critical thinking, as the publications are constantly having improvements and being criticised by the community. The students would learn how to accept criticism, improve the editing process, and learn other skills to become more employable people. Also, subjects of study in the different areas, from science to art, could with Wikipedia be communicated to the World, improving the global knowledge.
As a dynamic organization Wikimedia is continuously embracing new projects, like the cultural heritage sector. Recently Derby Museum has emerged in the QR code experiment that would link the codes to Wikipedia articles. A contest was run in the museum between contributors to improve the articles related to the museum exhibits. The interactive experience is a huge opportunity considering the enormous increase of smart-phones as a major and extending market.
One of the Wikimedia Foundation projects that also cought my bigger interest is the Wikimedia Commons, a repository of more than 10 million free-use pictures, sound, moving images and other media files. In a digital economy, Wikimedia just uses free use software, motivating the sharing in order to receive more and more content to a free and global knowledge.