Interviewee from nl-Wikipedia

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Interview December 2009

Tell me your Wiki-autobiography: When did you get involved in Wikipedia and what were your personal reasons for starting to participate in Wikipedia? Please tell me what for you are the most important or compelling aspects of Wikipedia and its mission.[edit]

I got started in summer 2005, doing a graduation project – a short movie about a famous artist. So I looked into W, and actually did an edit to take advantage of the open platform. Then it went to more edits, fighting vandalism, researching which images are copyrighted. In 2006, I became a sysop, then on to be a board member in local chapter. I switched from working on W to W sports, then concentrated on creating partnerships with cultural institutions.

My focus is GLAM – galleries libraries art galleries museums – trying to get donations and cooperation with them for letting us have images. Plus I endeavor to get new volunteers by doing projects with these institutions. This is a global effort. The Manhattan chapter had a picture taking day that was part of this, plus a few other chapters. We have done this in my nation with Creative Commons. We got 45 museums to participate. This involved 5,000 photos, as well as attracting lots of people who had not known about W and its free culture – a new audience.

Do you contribute both in [native language] as well as English? Any other languages? What are your activities in each language? Which is the most frequent after [native language], and so on?[edit]

I also add links to languages I don’t understand in order to add an image. But I contribute in Dutch and English. I read in German.

Articles related to art and culture interested me the most, movies, musicals, bands, and more general things like sightseeing tourism in cities – especially Italy. I also contributed many photos in both Dutch and English W.

How much time do you now typically spend contributing to Wikipedia each week. In what capacities?[edit]

About 10 – 15 hours a week between GLAM and chapter work. Right now we are fund raising, and recruiting new members. I’m the chapter secretary - responsible for greeting them and marketing them.

Have you ever recruited someone else to become a Wikipedian? If so, what typically convinces them to register and begin editing and writing?[edit]

Usually, when someone who knows a subject and has visited W and noticed errors, I always show them they can click and edit. I show enthusiasm when I speak to them, and they are motivated to get hands on. If you connect them with something they are interested in, that is more motivating.

When you talk to people in your country about becoming a Wikipedian, are there consistent reasons they resist converting from a reader to a contributor? Please elaborate. How do you personally address those reasons?[edit]

Two main ones: editing is not so user friendly, and the newbies in the community usually are not received well. The first edits can semi-automatically send a warning for incorrect edits that threaten blocking. A few moderators are so enthusiastic about combating vandalism, many times they forget that there’s another human being on the line who could be intimidated by warning templates.

What anecdotal stories can you tell me about the experience new Wikipedians have in your [native language] Wikipedia community? Are there typical impressions, common feedback of any kind, positive or negative?[edit]

I get the impression after 5 years in the community that many folks say that the W community is aggressive and hostile to newbies. I’m not sure that is a new phenomenon, just talked about a lot more. Early on in 2003, there was a kinder more collective mindset that promoted civility and helpfulness. But as it grew larger, rules started to affect a formal atmosphere and there are so many long-time veterans who have quit because of this tendency. But I don’t think this problem is just on W, but with many online communities and open source ones.

This happens on line in contrast to what happens in person. Meet ups help.

At the highest level, then, my question is: Are there any differences to note between the English-language Wikipedia community and the practices in the [native language] Wikipedia community?[edit]
I understand that mandatory polices – such as the five pillars, verifiability, no original research, and neutral point of view – should not be different. But how about in terms of guidelines, or general culture? For instance, let’s walk through the following and you can verify whether they are consistent in your community compared to the English-language community:

The German and English W are in contrast. The German rules are very high standard, where Star Trek characters should never make it as an article the way it happens in English W. Dutch W is in between, but notability is a hot subject. Example: a 14 year old girl wanted to sail around the world, which garnered a lot of media. A controversy ensued about whether the notability was there – it was 50/50 split. Dutch Wikipedians like to talk and argue and discuss, which can lead to boredom as every rule comes up repeatedly.

In the same vein as the above question, are there any differences in how an article evolves in your non-English-language community compared to the English-language Wikipedia community?[edit]

(Refer to
1 Creation: a new article is born
2 Beginning of incremental improvement
3 Experimentation with collaborative editing software
4 Maintainance: "wikifying"
6 Protecting article integrity
7 Added to WikiProject
8 Editorial discussion on talk page begins
9 Substantial article improvement process begins
10 Second quality assessment
11 Good article process
12 A new development
13 Further incremental improvements

I’ve noticed folks who don’t write articles but who contribute by categorizing, or by making lists of articles not written yet but with many linked-to. Or editing grammar, or adding lines of information. Then on to an article, taking a picture. There are any small steps in the W career.

Let’s talk about standards for Community and Communication in your region, which involves how to communicate and how to reach consensus and manage conflict.[edit]
The core tenets of the wiki way, like Assume Good Faith and Please Don't Bite the Newcomers, have been with the community since the beginning. How are they holding up in your community?

In the Dutch community, it’s in two camps. One assumes civility, but many moderators who have been doing it for years tend to get negative, and can scare away newbies. One example I often see – kids from schools who vandalize W get a block. But then they finally come to the realization that editing W is more fun than vandalizing it. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing to start the W career by vandalizing, because it can lead to a contributor.

The most common way people get into W is by accident. And when they get the initiative to write, that’s when they should feel the most welcome and be encouraged by others to continue their involvement.

Have there been any significant Content Disputes and Edit Wars in your region because of regional history or cultural norms?[edit]
(Case Study for Poland: Gdańsk/Danzig - In the case of Gdańsk/Danzig, the particular problem of referring to places now in Poland, but which were in Germany before 1945, dogged the English-language Wikipedia almost from the outset.)

In general, we see similar problems – like how do you write the name of a certain king who went by different names. There are disputes about how to organize things, like a subject matter that has many choices, so do you go to the most popular article or a disambiguation page?

There are sometimes discussions that seem unlikely, pointless, and endless: like in Dutch W there was a controversy about a hamlet now nonexistent – what Dutch word to use for “hamlet.” The talk page is endless compared to the article itself. Also things about particular subjects with experts following them engender disputes – especially in areas like natural sciences, or math, where certain folks really think they explain it better than others.

Would you say that the incidence of content disputes and editing wars between editors in [native language community] is any higher, lower, or about the same as you observe in your English-language activities? If so, why is that?[edit]


(Brief discourse on the ground-breaking nature of Wikipedia as a free encyclopedic resource, the nature of encyclopedic style, what Wikipedia is not, and its open nature of editing and reversions that contributes to protecting quality.)

It would be good to emphasize that Wikipedia is not commercial, not a company asking you to work for free, that no one and yet everyone owns it.

The top reasons why anyone should become a contributor and help to make Wikipedia better.[edit]

Showing who’s behind W by including talking heads – from school boy to housewife or a retired prof – would really help to humanize W and how everyone can edit. One of the real psych problems about why oldies don’t welcome newbies is that they don’t know how to communicate to them about how to take part correctly. It’s better to say what you can do rather than emphasize what you cannot do.

Free Licenses[edit]
(high-level description of what they are, why they are valuable and how they relate to Wikipedia; to be introductory and NOT technical)

It’s important, but really difficult to explain copyleft. Because it’s mostly law and a difficult matter. Many folks don’t understand open source projects, vs. folks who contribute because they like to be hands on. Most people participate not because of ideology but because they want to pursue something that interests them and be involved.

In regards to making Wikipedia friendlier to users, consider the Commons experience. When you upload a picture to commons, the first thing you see is an endless list of what you can and cannot do, and on and on, completely ludicrous. No incentive to read, and it creates confusion. I’m amazed people upload after the first time. Even the upload button is hard to find.