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.

A case-study framework for open content projects: free high school science texts and the case for continuous learning

Cynthia Jimes

By Cynthia Jimes.

Participatory research model. What sorts of technologies were already been used by them. The research tools built upon what was already in use. Interviews and email discussions with FHSS team. Survey and interviews with core volunteers. PhD studnets put together a science textbook at the university of Cape Town, to be released early 2008. It is not going to be Creative Commons . The textbooks will be printed and also made available in a website. The website of life sciences is:

They use a content authoring platform. They decided to go for a collaborative management system rather than a wiki because it is too open. There are people working on the content form many differnet parts of the world. The content assingment tovolunteers was devided into small chuncks so authors would not feel overwhelmed.

Volunteer recruitment: multiple methods of recruitiment: flyers, f2f networking, ads on facebbok and listserves. They achieved 420 volunteers from 2002 up to now. 50 are active (12%) and 10 (2%) are core. The core ones share the vision with the creators of the project. Content was created online and off-line.

Volunteers tried to have a very transparent production process and created a monthly newsletter to let people know of the developments of the project (good or bad).

The questions in my mind: are there authoring guidelines in terms of pedagogy and a carefully thought syllabus. What makes a volunteer qualify for writing the course? How is it going to be available, only on print? They decided not to use the Creative Commons license – so what type of license do they use?

The conclusion of teh study is that they try to install a culture of collaboration within the project. Some teachers want to pioneer the books with tehir students. The project leveraged community resources.


Content licensed in the GNU (GPL)

It makes me think that this is a good example of collaboration, content pulled from the users, from teachers. This is a good example of the ‘pull’ of content. This must be a really fascinating projetc, I would imagine that they had long discussios about what is it that people need. They eventually got funding for the project.

I appproached Cynthia and asked to run an interview with her, to serve as a ‘case’ to illustrate what pulling content from users would look like. She will get back to me and we are planning to do it using Flashmeeting, in the coming weeks.