Interviewee from sv-Wikipedia
December 2009 Interview
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.
I started in 2005 when I searched for information in the Internet about a singer that my mother played for me when I was younger. And there were many things on the Internet not particularly well written, like about this singer. Wikipedia had a small article on this singer, which let me discover that I knew more than was in the article, and then I saw the edit page. This really excited me that they just let people write about their passion. So I started writing and got immediate feedback with positive suggestions, helping me wikify it and so on. Fortunately I did not make the typical newbie mistake of making a totally new article, but just modify the existing one. I knew from experience that no one reads a personal web page, but everybody will follow your efforts in Wikipedia. It’s fun to get read and be appreciated. I often describe that initial moment of discover and motivation when I give lectures. It always gets a great reaction.
I also explain that reverts are a positive in terms of why vandalism and other quality assurance issues are so well taken care of on Wikipedia – there are always eyes watching.
In Swedish Wikipedia in the early days it was easy to become an administrator, which I did after 6 months, nominated by one of my new friends. (It’s harder now.) Swedish W did not have a press contact at the time, so I volunteered for the role in early 2006. Then I became a member of the Swedish arbitration committee – one of the five members when we had such a committee. Then we disbanded it for lack of conflicts, so we did not need this layer of bureaucracy. Then in 2007 we started talking about having a chapter, and I was asked to be the Chair. Then Frank came to speak about Wikipedia Academy, and we talked for two days straight.
Then I wrote an essay about quality on Swedish Wikipedia, which was translated into three other languages. Incidentally, we laid out our plan for quality assurance in a way more similar to the standards on German Wikipedia than English W. That’s because Germany had a Wikipedia Academy, had contacted scholars to participate, and generally were very active and well funded in developing their standards. So we followed in kind, and it started to change our community efforts, inspiring projects such as a project to improve stubs or delete them. So my essay inspired two or three successful projects that continue today. This in turn inspired me to write my book about how Wikipedia works in 2007, releasing it in September 2007 – one of the first books ever about W. It deals with the culture of Wikipedia, its people and history, based on interviews I conducted.
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?
I only contribute in Swedish. I was a linguist before becoming a writer, and I think that if you try to write in any language other than your mother tongue, you immediately become about 10% more stupid! I do read and research in other languages though.
How much time do you now typically spend contributing to Wikipedia each week. In what capacities?
I used to contribute more articles and have fallen below 100 edits a month. But I don’t have time between my lecturing and getting others to participate. If I can write a good article in an hour vs lecturing about how to write for Wikipedia and attract 10 new members, then I’m really saving time and increasing productivity by recruiting.
I’ve contributed to Commons for a couple of years now, both my own pictures but also by contacting famous people and persuading them to contribute under Copyleft. The same with archives and museums – and I’ve uploaded some of the most high-resolution images on the Commons.
Have you ever recruited someone else to become a Wikipedian? If so, what typically convinces them to register and begin editing and writing?
Yes, in my lectures. I motivate them with my own AHA moment – when I discovered that you could actually edit and contribute. I start on the main Wikipedia page and explain everything they need to know – from the tabs at the top, to the menus on the left such as recent changes. And when they see the recent changes, they immediately understand how many people participate globally. I go to recent changes by way of the history tab at the top – so we make the first edit together so they can see how our edit shows in the History tab, then we go to recent changes to show its global visibility. It underscores the accessibility.
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?
There are one or two obstacles that work against large-scale participation. The first is having enough time to write and defend articles. So I try to convince them that if they find an error, just to do it, however small. The theory of the Long Tale tells me that every time I convince someone to edit in small scale, it justifies my lecture efforts. The time factor is the most pressing.
Regarding new demographics, we need scholars, working people of all kinds from engineers to hair dressers. People don’t see their own kind of knowledge as important, and we need to change that. We’ve already covered the subjects that a traditional encyclopedia has covered, and have added to it with articles on television shows and such. But we need to add common regular subjects – like hair styles. So getting these kinds of folks to contribute can help us expand.
Another example: how do you get a stock broker, who makes so much money, to contribute for free? We need to convince them that contributing is fun and satisfying – expressing oneself and coming into contact with people of common interests whom they otherwise would never know. Emphasize fun. And that you are taking part in something that is changing the world, and will continue to for the foreseeable future.
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?
The level of negative experiences for newbies is partly true in Swedish W – using the same automated tools and templates as you see in English W can create a bad impression. But we are not as far gone in vandalism due to lower traffic in our community.
All the tools and templates etc. are a complication when they are automatically used and produce a negative effect, because it prevents editors from just talking personally to newcomers through the system. We need to break the cycle of the template and instead just initiate human contact to explain any rules or formatting issues. It has to be an invitation to learn and respond by means of a personalized message. So we remember we are people no robots.
We need to teach the regular users how to be friendlier, which is not easy. I’ve started to write a new essay – 10 thoughts about users on Swedish W. This includes complimenting people for good work – saluting them. Barn stars are part of it, but we need to get people to meet in person, because it’s harder to be uncivil and angry with someone whom you’ve met personally. We should encourage this more, perhaps by putting an image on user page, by organizing more meet-ups, and taking part in other activities together.
When we started our chapter, we tried to arrange as many meet-ups as possible, more than one a month in several cities. And that improved the climate considerably. But the point is to focus on the user more, and to appreciate them. The problem does not start with newcomers, but the regular users.
Another helpful strategy to make things more civil: There’s a suggest bot on Wikipedia, to help users to find pages to edit. This contradicts the impression that all the low hanging fruit has been taken. Also, there is a formalized wish list – you can put your name on that list to generate automatic notifications about your area of interest. These are things that can create a sense of welcome and positive participation.
I’d like to ask about what ensures quality articles in your [native language], and whether there are any regional differences for the Bookshelf project to keep in mind.
- Regarding “Policies and Guidelines, There is a distinction between a policy, which is mandatory, and a guideline, which is advisory. Guidelines are more complex rules that help to keep Wikipedia's quality high. There are three core content policies (V, NOR, NPOV), which are supported by a host of associated guidelines. These guidelines include the concept of notability and various principles defining the boundaries of Wikipedia's coverage.
Swedish W and English W have one big difference: the number of editors. We don’t have that level of participants where one or several people are exclusively focused on one function or another. I think small Wikipedias in general need people to be hands on in several different areas. I recommend this in my lectures.
The problem lies in a preconception that the only thing to do in W is to write articles. Perhaps using profiles of actual people and how they contribute in various ways would help dramatize the variety of ways to participate. We need to “show” this through interviews and voices.
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?
- 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:
In small Wikipedias, the guidelines and rules should be scaled down to the ones that are necessary. Compared to English W – it’s easier to stay with the basics in Swedish W. Same thing with policies and guidelines – we only implement those things that are in effect self-selected according to our usage needs. If the founding guidelines are not that important, it will not be translated to our language. In this vein, English W should study what guidelines the smaller communities have bothered to translate to determine which are most useful.
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?
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
Our article evolution is more or less the same, with more focus on improving previously created articles instead of new ones. We are very collaboration-oriented. In any community where people claim that articles have one main author – well that’s not really Wikipedia. It weakens NPOV, etc.
One other major guideline that may differ in your community compared to the English-language Wikipedia community is: Notability: Notability seems to be much more controversial and therefore more open to debate than Verifiability, No Original Research, and Neutral Point of View. I understand, for instance, that the bar is much higher in Germany for what is a notable subject than is the case in the United States. Please comment for your community.
On Swedish W we have stricter rules on Notability, because of our lower number of articles. So we don’t need articles on every cellphone model for instance, or vacuum cleaners. Perhaps when we have more people participating as editors and writers, we can aspire to this. We also have lower standards regarding citations, but we’re trying to improve. But most of our active participants started in 2005 before we concentrated on sources and Verifiability, and it’s a hard habit to add. But we’ll get there.
Have there been any significant Content Disputes and Edit Wars in your region because of regional history or cultural norms?
- (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.)
We have a long history of cooperation given our geography and culture, so we don’t really have so many conflicts.