In the spotlight: Wikipedia @ the OU Conference 2010 – day 2

Live blogging, 3:30 pm

Openness in Education: Talk by Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia

Jimmy starts by  explaining that at Wikipedia it is not necessarily the case that anyone can edit everything – there’s a specific group of contributors that edit, monitor and make the content available to the world. He also explains that there is no relationship between Wikipedia and Wikiversity.

Jimmy discusses a little bit about the history and scale of Wikipedia. It was ‘ the great experiment’, he says, being the core idea to create a global encyclopedia supported by volunteers. The vision statement is that every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge . Wikipedia is defined by Jimmy as  “a free and high quality encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers in many languages”. Neutrality and quality are extremely important at Wikipedia. He argues that a minimum level of reliability is necessary for the encyclopedia to be respected and popular. It is managed by a series of community processes and control. At Wikipedia the idea of neutrality has been the core : the firm rule is that there’s a neutral point of view. Wikipedia does not take a stand on any controversial issue – the reader is free to make their own judgement .

What is free access? At Wikipedia it’s first freedom of speech. The texts and the software of Wikipedia are all free. He argues that Wikipedia is not necessarily the most helpful format of information for the students to learn with- but everything there can be repurposed in many different ways. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, which means that not everything belongs to Wikipedia. IT offers a summary of the human knowledge with the depth of the material depending on the subject.

Wikipedia is a charity supported by donations, the average size for donation is about $30 (dollars), but there is obviously big funding coming from the big players, as Google etc, says Jimmy. The core of the donations however is made by small donours. Over 275 million people visit Wikipedia every month. Funding at Wikipedia happens organically, he says, not necessarily ‘top-down’.

There’s about 100,00 active contributors to Wikipedia,a ll volunteers. The site is global. There are more than 3 million entries in English, but more than 500 million entries in other languages. There are 308,000+ articles in Chinese alone, but it’s small relative to the number of Chinese speakers that are online. Wikipedia was banned in China for over 3 years. The Chinese government has losen up in many ways, and now Wikipedia is generally available in China, but certain pages are banned (e.g. some things about Tibet, the independence of Taiwan etc). It’s the 53rd most popular website in China. Jimmy says that they would like to be more popular in China, and that it’s fast growing over there. Wikipedia has caused a cultural impact in China, he argues.

Wikipedia allows for Global content comparisons. In different parts of the world, certain content can be more or less popular. Ex. ‘Sex’ is popular in every language except French and Spanish. There are certain topics that are equally popular, such as Star Trek and Star Wars…

Question: what’s next for Wikipedia? In the short term, Jimmy explains that the three priorities for them are: 1. quality (in the large languages, e.g. English, instead of adding more, improving quality), 2. Growth in the developing world (by running pilot projects ), 3. Usability (the software is not as user-friendly as they would like it to be).

Question: Many educators are asking students to create Wikipedia pages, what are your views on that? Answer: sometimes excited, sometimes not as much. It depends on how the project is structured – quality is needed, and this usually happens when the students are given appropriate background.

Question: How has been quality control over the years, and how have you dealt with that? Answer: Several phases related to quality control, the most famous quality problem beying vandalism.However, this is the problem we have lots of hands on. Issues of bias for example, related to less popular and controversial topics (e.g. Palestine, scientology etc). These articles are closely monitored and are of high quality. More obscure topics (that people do not care about much), are also problematic, because there are not  many people monitoring them. We are trying to get a system in which we can go through the less popular topics, and that’s a challenge for the future, I think – says Jimmy.

Question: how is consensus generated? Answer: there’s a pretty informal mechanism to reach consensus, but it’s mostly based on the issue of neutrality, as I mention before. We developed some techniques over the years, as for example, mentioning many different sides of the same story.

Wikipedia is a very innovative way of sharing content, and it was an insightful talk by Jimmy Wales.

Thesis overview map v1

I have been thinking on how to restructure my PhD thesis to reflect the examiners’ comments. It is a difficult task because I have to use the same data I collected yet within a slightly different perspective. Today I thought I should have a go and try to visualise the whole thesis and check for consistency, connectedness, flow and main ideas. I used Compendium as a tool for drawing a concept map. It is quite difficult to show the connectivity of all concepts because  Compendium does not offer ‘curved lines’,  but even though I tried to represent it (surely this design can be improved, just waiting for enlightenment!). Below is the first draft of the map – I know many other versions are to come. I still have to populate the map with further ideas for the chapters within each node and change most of the arrows to ‘both ways’, rather than the ‘one way’ relationship between concepts. Hopefully this map will be a good working tool for me in this restructuring task.

thesis-overview-v11