Wikipedia movement meets in Frankfurt

5th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

4 August 2005, FRANKFURT - In a few short years, Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia edited mainly by enthusiastic students, has become a major force on the internet: on Thursday the activists began a meeting in Europe to discuss the way forward.

4 August 2005

FRANKFURT - In a few short years, Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia edited mainly by enthusiastic students, has become a major force on the internet: on Thursday the activists began a meeting in Europe to discuss the way forward.

A wiki is a web application that allows any surfer to add content or alter what has already been written.

The term is based on a Hawaiian phrase "wiki wiki", meaning "quick", and that certainly describes the Wikipedia: since 2001 it has grown to more than 2 million entries in more than 60 languages.

While the bulk of Wikipedia (640,000 articles) is in English, the choice of Frankfurt as venue for the August 4-7 conference reflects the huge role of German as number-two language, with the tally of 270,000 German entries surpassing the French and Japanese combined.

"Wikipedia's main obligation is to be neutral," said Jimmy Wales, father of the project, after his arrival in Frankfurt from Florida. Wales, 38, has a simple philosophy: information should be free to all and all Internet users should be free to write it.

With a web browser, anyone can fix a spelling mistake or wrong fact, add a paragraph or write a whole new article.

Other Internet users can check at a glance how the article was changed and by whom.

Wales' early work on Wikipedia was inspired by the open-source software movement. Wiki software was there before Wales: it dates from the mid-1990s. But the idea of using a wiki to distil the world's knowledge into a single reference work came from him.

In 2003, he created the Wikimedia Foundation to oversee the creation.

Kurt Jansson, 28, the chairman of the German Wikipedia association, says the local community of article authors is pretty mixed: "We've got 13-year-olds writing, and 80-year-olds."

A disproportionate number of the articles are written by university students, and the average age of contributors is about 30, Jansson thinks. He is a sociology student in Berlin, where 20 enthusiasts regularly meet for a beer together.

Even such an idealistic, grass-roots movement needs a certain amount of authority from above: an elite group, the administrators, can delete faulty or biased entries. Practical jokers often write fictitious definitions which have to be eliminated.

Other articles prompt spirited discussion over their accuracy or judgement. Administrators then decide what should stand.

Users can also nominate articles for a mark of excellence.

Administrators also intervene when two authors feud over a topic, for example a political biography. Wikipedia aims to present a "neutral point of view" that embraces both sides of any question.

The rate of culling is fairly high: in German for example, 400 new articles appear every day and 60 articles are deleted.

Jansson says it is not uncommon for people to enter articles about themselves, but that is not allowed. Judgements about the quality of novelist for example have to come from independent sources.

The whole scheme is managed by volunteers, and Jansson voices astonishment that there are always enough, even for the boring jobs. Financing comes from donations: there is no online advertising.

Enough money has come together for nearly 100 servers in Florida that contain the information, and the foundation operates other projects including Wikibooks (a free textbook site), the Wiktionary which defines words and the news portal Wikinews.

At the conference, researchers will present papers, there will be tutorials for newcomers and the movement will debate, mainly in English on the practical uses of wikis.

In its article defining itself, Wikipedia openly discusses controversy about its quality. Traditional encyclopaedia publishers say their articles are peer-reviewed, meaning one scholar writes them and another reads them to see if they are accurate and up to date.

In essence, Wikipedia follows a different path to quality with the assumption that most errors will be eliminated if a large number of people read an article and fix the errors little by little as they go along.

More information at: http://wikimania.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Copyright DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news

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