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Over at Elephant in the Lab, Paul Börsting and Maximilian Heimstädt blogged about “Wikipedia as Science Communication” and provide a neat step-by-step guide for researchers who want to improve their field’s coverage in the world’s most important encyclopedia:

Instagram, TikTok, Clubhouse: Today, researchers who want to share their work with non-academic audiences can choose between a vast array of digital platforms. Some of them vanish as quickly as they appear. Others attract an audience that is looking  for something other than scientific content. This blogpost is a plea for researchers to consider one of the most important and yet oftentimes neglected digital platforms when thinking about science communication: Wikipedia. Occupying a stable position among the most accessed websites, it has become the most popular encyclopedia worldwide. However, when considering various alternatives for digital science communication, many scholars think of Wikipedia as just  another profile page on the web, complimenting their institutional website. However, they are missing the point. The great but underappreciated advantage of Wikipedia is that it allows researchers to communicate research results and scientific expertise in exactly the place where people look for it: in topical Wikipedia articles. In this way, Wikipedia provides one of the most straightforward and effective means to share knowledge and to leverage research findings towards societal impact. Engaging with the vibrant  community of co-editors on Wikipedia is also not a one-way street but in turn can broaden one’s horizon and potentially inspire future research.

Check it out!

In a very recent study on “Paid vs. Volunteer Work in Open Source” (PDF), Dirk Riehle and others found that “about 50% of all open source software development has been paid work for many years now and that many small projects are fully paid for by companies.” However, in openly licensed projects outside of the software realm, the co-existance of paid and volunteer contributors is often considered problematic. For example, while paid coding is uncontested and vital for open source software, paid editing in Wikipedia is often seen as a danger to both the project’s neutral point of view and the motivation of unpaid contributors.

How serious the effects of Wikipedian’s skepticism towards paid editing can be was evidenced last week, when the Wikimedia Foundation dismissed Sarah Stierch, one of its most prominent employees, because of paid editing. The current issue of Wikipedia’s community newspaper Signpost is entirely devoted to

the dismissal of Sarah Stierch, whose paid-for editing activities were first revealed in a blog post. This included a screenshot of Stierch’s profile on oDesk, a global clearinghouse for the hiring and management of remote workers. The profile showed that she had been paid US$300 to author a Wikipedia page for an “individual”, along with two billed hours for a “Wikipedia Writer Editor” job that was “in progress”.

On a more general level, paid editing had already been an issue in the German Wikipedia community. Wikimedia Germany, the local Wikimedia chapter organization, had even funded a project on “Grenzen der Bezahlung” (literally: “Limits of Paying”) to discuss and evaluate issues around paid editing. The project was run by Dirk Franke, a long-standing member of the German editing community, who very recently has taken up a position with Wikimedia Germany (unrelated to paid editing). The following interview was conducted in German and Dirk Franke emphasized that he was speaking only for himself, not his new employer.

Dirk Franke (Foto: Tobias Schumann, CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Dirk Franke (Foto: Tobias Schumann, CC-BY-SA-3.0)

You have been working on the limits of paid editing in Wikipedia in a project funded by the Wikimedia Foundation. What was your main question? 

Dirk Franke: Actually, the project was funded by the German Wikimedia association, which is legally independent from the focal Wikimedia Foundation. In addition, I have not conducted the project for Wikimedia but rather in the course of a grant program, where members of the community could suggest different projects; I always understood it that way that I was conducting the project for the Wikipedia community and not so much for the chapter association.

The question was more a practical one. Paid editing is both a forseeable problem and a forseeable development. Thus, the question was, how can I encourage the community to think about the issue even before the problem is immediately around the corner and it is in fact to late?

Read the rest of this entry »

About three months ago, I blogged about potential explanations for Wikipedia’s diversity problems (see “‘Middle-aged White Guys’“). Last weekend, a truly bordercrossing crowd gathered in Berlin to discuss strategies for addressing these problems at the first Wikimedia Diversity Conference. Due to other commitments I was not able to take part the whole time but I have enjoyed most of the sessions I was able to attend.

Since there is extensive documentation on most of the sessions available online, I will only highlight some of my personal insights:

  • In her talk on “Diversifying India through outreach among women“, Netha Hussain emphasized the importance of Wikipedia Zero to increase participation in countries, where mere Internet access is not self-evident. Wikipedia Zero enables mobile access, free of data charges, to Wikipedia in developing countries via cooperations with local internet service providers. While some criticize the initiative because of it being a violation of net neutrality principles (see, for example, this mailing-list discussion), it really seems to be a great opportunity to lower access barriers in poorer countries.

Wikipedia_Zero_Logo_and_photo Read the rest of this entry »

As we have discussed repeatedly on this blog (e.g. “Middle-aged White Guys“), one of the most puzzling issues in analyzing Wikipedia is its continuous decline in active editors since 2007, shortly after a period of exponential growth:

The number of active editors (>=5 edits/month) in English language Wikipedia (Halfaker et al. 2013)

Active editors (>=5 edits/month) in English language Wikipedia (Halfaker et al. 2013)

Aaron Halfaker, together with R. Stuart Geiger, Jonathan Morgan and John Riedl, has now published results of their research efforts to understand the reasons behind this editor decline in American Behavioral Scientist under the title “The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration Community: How Wikipedia’s reaction to sudden popularity is causing its decline” (see Preprint PDF).

One of Halfaker et al.’s core findings is that, while the proportion of desirable newcomers entering Wikipedia has not changed since 2006, the proportion of them being reverted in their first session has increased (“good_ faith & golden” refers to sub-groups of desirable newcomers): Read the rest of this entry »

„Welcome to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.“ This inviting welcome message is placed right on top of the English Wikipedia’s main page. Similarly, the vision of the Wikimedia Foundation, the formal non-profit organization behind Wikipedia, reads as follows: „Imagine a World in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.“

Both these lines represent the utopia of digital inclusiveness. ‘Anyone’ should have the possibility to contribute to Wikipedia’s quest for collecting the world’s knowledge. ‘Every single human being’ shall take part in this digital knowledge exchange. In Wikipedia’s early years, critics questioned whether this radical openness allowed for a high-quality encyclopedia to emerge. The main concern was how quality and neutrality of the Wikipedia could be preserved when anyone can change, delete or amend anything at any time (in 2005, for example, the Guardian asked “Can you trust Wikipedia?“).

Responding to these questions, Jim Giles compared in a Nature article (2005) Wikipedia and the renowned Encyclopedia Britannica and found a similar number of errors in both encyclopedias; more recent studies confirm these results with different methodologies (see, for example, Rodrigues 2013). Furthermore, Wikipedia’s quality management became much more sophisticated over the years, for example by introducing “sighted versions” checked by experienced Wikipedians. And even though there are still regularly reports on manipulated or wrong articles in Wikipedia, the end of print encyclopedias nevertheless made it the undisputed winner in the battle of encyclopedias. Today it is hardly possible to make an online search without finding a Wikipedia reference prominently placed in the results list. Wikipedia has effectively become the central directory of world’s knowledge. Read the rest of this entry »

Inspired also by the series on algorithm regulation on this blog, I am currently working together with Claudia Müller-Birn on the issue of algorithmic governance in the case of Wikipedia. In the course of this research project, I stumbled upon the case of flagged revisions/sighted versions, which very nicely illustrates the concept of algorithmic governance.

With Wikipedia Germany taking the lead in 2006, some Wikipedia language versions introduced sighted versions of articles as a measure to secure against vandalism and improve article credibility. The concept is described in the English language Wikipedia as

a system whereby users who are not logged in may be presented with a different version of an article than users who are. Articles are validated that they are presentable and free from vandalism. The approved versions are known as Sighted versions. All logged-in users will continue to see and edit the most recent version of a page. Users who are not logged in will initially see the most recent sighted version, if there is one. If no version is sighted, they see the most recent one, as happens now. Users looking at a sighted version can still choose to view the most recent version and edit it.

Since its introduction in the German Wikipedia, the concept has evolved in a complex set of rules determining how Wikipedia edits are sighted. The core idea is that registered Wikipedia editors automatically receive the status as a passive or active “reviewer” depending on their respective editing history. Edits of a user with the status of a passive reviewer are automatically considered to be sighted; active reviewers have additional rights such as actively marking versions as sighted or removing the respective status.

Read the rest of this entry »

Earlier this year, the board of the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind the free onlince encyclopedia Wikipedia, decided to substantially reform its governance structures (see “Contours of Future Wikimedia Governance: More Centralized, More Diverse“). Two issues were key in this reform: allowing for greater diversity of potential models of affiliation, in addition to the established model of national chapter organizations, and centralizing fund raising and dissemination in a newly formed body termed “Funds Dissemination Committee” (FDC).

Over the last two months, Wikimedia moved forward in both regards. First, the former “Chapters Committee” was officially transformed into the “Affiliations Committee” for making recommendations to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees on the recognition and approval of Wikimedia movement affiliates. Such affiliates need not only be traditional chapter organizations but can also be thematic organizations or user groups, as is explained on Meta-Wiki:

While chapters support and promote the Wikimedia projects in a specified geographical region or country (for example, Wikimedia Argentina), thematic organisations will support and promote the Wikimedia projects in a specified thematic field or focus area (for example, Wikipedia Astrophysics Editors). User groups, on the other hand, will be loose associations of local volunteers, highly variable, but still within the overall mission of supporting and promoting the Wikimedia projects (for example, a WikiProject Stroopwaffle).

The Affiliations committee has already developed guidelines for the creation of each of these three potential affiliate models (see, for example, the “Step-by-step Thematic Organization creation guide“). Interestingly, the previously discussed idea of “Movement Partners” – like-minded organizations that actively support the Wikimedia movement’s work – has not been implemented so far.

Second, on November 15, the FDC published its first recommendation to the board of how to allocate funds to eligible entities within the Wikimedia Movement, i.e. mainly Wikimedia chapters. Several points in this recommendation are remarkable:

  • The proposal of Australian chapter, while acknowledging its pioneering role in working with Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM), was rejected entirely due to “compliance aspects of previous grants, and gaps in the present proposal with regard to alignment and metrics”. Also in the case of the French chapter, the FDC recommends to allot only $94,000 instead of the $961,109 that were applied for. If the FDC wanted to state examples, it did; however, the FDC left a door open in allowing both chapters to apply again in a second round of proposals.
  • The largest chunk of funds – with about $4.5 million more than one third of the total amount of $11.14 million – goes to the focal Wikimedia Foundation Headquarters, with one FDC member opposing the decision. Seemingly, this FDC decision was the only one that was not made unanimously. Moreover, the FDC did allot exactly the amount of funds the Wikimedia Foundation had applied for, while in many other cases it reduced the amounts.
  • In the case of the oldest and by far largest chapter organization in Germany, the FDC recommends full funding, less Wikimedia Chapters Association (WCA) membership fees, leading to a total amount of to $1.79 million. Eliminating membership fees for the WCA is a delicate decision, since the WCA was founded by Wikimedia Chapters in the run-up to the establishment of the FDC as a counterweight to the Wikimedia Foundation – even though both sides publicly assert each other of their reciprocal support. Explaining the elimination of WCA membership fees, the FDC argues that the WCA “is not yet a legally incorporated entity, and may apply for FDC funding for start-up staffing and other expenses.”

The recommendations by the FDC are set to be approved by the Board of Trustees by December 15, 2012.

As far as the community of Wikipedians is concerned, both these recent developments in terms of broadening the scope of potential affiliates and of reforming funds dissemination have not dampened calls for further democratizing the formal Wikimedia organization. On Meta-Wiki, a lenghty page is devoted solely to discussing the different avenues for Democratizing the Wikimedia Foundation. Topics in the current “initial brainstorming” phase include the ‘Board Mystery‘ (“The board is a very mysteriously functioning body, nobody knows how it works or what it does.”), term limits for board members (“They can be limited to 2-3 terms, even if re-elected.”), and referenda on movement-wide decisions (“Do we need to improve or clarify the process for global votes?”).

Probably, the current changes in Wikimedia governance let the genie of governance reform out of the bottle. Wikimedia’s organizational structures have been revealed as contingent and open for change. I think it is safe to predict that the establishment of the Affiliations Committee and the FDC will have been just the beginning of a series of governance changes in the near future.


Today I learnt from the blog of Wikimedia Germany about plans to merge the two wiki-based collaborative travel guide projects Wikitravel and WikiVoyage into a new Wikimedia project such as Wikipedia or Wiktionary, governed by the Wikimedia Foundation. Denis Barthel from Wikimedia Germany describes the history of the two projects as follows (my translation): went live in July 2003 with the goal to collaboratively create a travel guide under an open license. Today, Wikitravel features 19 different language versions with up to 26.000 travel guides. In 2006 the founders decided to sell the trademark “Wikitravel” to the firm Internetbrands to put Wikitravel on more solid grounds. Internetbrands provided for hosting and guaranteed independence of the community with regard to contents. First problems arose when Internetbrands decided to run ads on the site. This decision led to a debate on principles and eventually to a fork: the German community refused to work in a commercial environment. As a result, WikiVoyage emerged, carried by a German-based association. WikiVoyage hosts the bigger stock of German articles (~12.000 compared to ~5.000 at Wikitravel) and a very active and well organized community. Furthermore, there is an Italian version with a shared database for images similar to Wikimedia Commons and “Locations”, some kind of WikiData for locations.

Currently, the Wikimedia Communities are debating whether accepting a merger of these two communities as a new Wikimedia project is both feasible and desirable. And while the majority seems to support the inclusion of the newly merged project into the family of Wikimedia projects, several concerns are raised: Read the rest of this entry »

Two days ago, Sigrid and I have submitted a paper on community governance in the realm of Creative Commons and Wikimedia to this year’s Academy of Management Annual Meeting. Today, I have learnt about major upcoming changes in governance of the latter of our two cases. Wikimedia is at the brink of abandoning its decentralized and geography-based network of Wikimedia chapters and replace it with a much more centralized network of different types of movement organizations.

Logo of the Wikimedia Foundation

The current governance structure of Wikimedia, the formal organization behind the global community of volunteers responsible for Wikipedia, had emerged comparably unplanned. The focal Wikimedia Foundation itself was founded two years after Wikipedia had been launched as a side-project of the quality-controlled “Nupedia“. And while Wikipedia had been transnational from the very start with versions in German, Catalan, Japanese, French and Spanish only two months after its launch, the Foundation was not. The first local Wikimedia branch in Germany was founded independently from Wikimedia headquarters and only formally recognized as a formal Wikimedia chapter after the fact. Following the German example, so far 38 membership-based chapter associations have been founded and formally recognized. Together, these chapters nominate two members to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

With the exception of two US chapters in New York City and in the District of Columbia, all these chapters are related to countries. One of the main reasons for tying local chapter organizations to countries is a financial one. Many Wikimedia chapter organizations such as the German, the Polish or the Swiss chapter receive tax exempted donations. This is one of the big advantages of local chapter organizations and even a rationale for founding them as grassroots organizations in the first place. The same time, however, this also restricts the flow of funds within the organizational network. Donations to the German Wikimedia chapter, for example, cannot easily be transferred to the focal Wikimedia Foundation in the US due to legal restraints.

Read the rest of this entry »

In spite of its regular portrayal as “anarchic”, “anything goes” was never true for Wikipedia. Beginning with the list of principles issued by its founder, Jimbo Wales, a continuously growing number of rules guides contributors to and hence development of Wikipedia. One of the most prominent rules is the aim of delivering a “Neutral Point of View” (NPOV). Other important rules deal with notability. While the NPOV is debated with regard to every single article, Wikipedia’s several “notability guidelines” try to resolve the question which information ought (not) to be included in the free online encyclopedia in the first place. Over the years, long lists of conventions have emerged for all kinds subjects. Regarding people, for example, the English Wikipedia lists in detail the notability criteria for members of different professional groups – ranging from Academics over Criminals and Diplomats to Entertainers (including actors, comedians, models, etc.).

But notability guidelines or, as they are called in the German Wikipedia “relevance criteria” (“Relevanzkriterien”), share the problem of all taxonomies, namely a certain degree of arbitrariness; an arbitrariness that makes them particularly prone to being criticized and challenged. In the English Wikipedia debates about notability even led to the formation of two antagonistic camps: The “Association of Deletionist Wikipedians” (ADW) sails under the banner of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his famous quote:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

The opposite camp assembles around the “Association of Inclusionist Wikipedians” (AIW), which goes even back to the old Romans for their motto:

“The motto of the AIW is Conservata veritate, which translates to, ‘with truth preserved.’ This motto reflects the inclusionist desire to change Wikipedia only when no knowledge would be lost as a result.”

While both “associations” exist since 2004 and their dispute seemed to be rather settled, recent controversies about “relevance” in the German Wikipedia demonstrate that and how such rules may still be re-negotiated: Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
August 2021

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