The Bold Sisters of Wikipedia

On: September 22, 2009
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About Desiree de Jong
Désirée de Jong is a 22-year-old student at the University of Amsterdam. She just graduated with a bachelor degree in Media & Culture, specialization in Television Studies. Besides that, she's done voluntary work in France for half a year and did an internship at a children's television program. In september 2009, she started her Master in New Media, at the UvA as well. She has special interests in the mix between television and 'new' media, politics and music.


Even though the site Wikipedia itself is the most known project of the Wikimedia foundation, there are several sister projects that are interesting and worth of researching. There is, for example, the Wiktionary, which is, quite obviously, a dictionary, but also less common projects like Wikispecies, a ‘free directory of life’ that aims to describe all sorts of life on earth, and Wikisource, a place where publications can be found such as Barack Obama’s Health Care Speech.

But does the Wikipedia user have any idea of these sites, which in fact can be seen as extensions of the Wikipedia encyclopedia? I doubt it. I doubt it for I hadn’t mentioned such a Wikipedia sister project myself, when I was attempting to add some new information to Wikipedia.

I had my glorious ‘Wow, I can add some new info to Wiki’-moment when I looked up the entry on ‘chocolate cake’. There was a description of the history of the cake and several cake types, but I could not find a real recipe for it. So I wrote one myself and added it to the site.

A nice Wikipedia Birthday Cake

I first, intentionally, called it the ‘original recipe for a chocolate cake’, and wasn’t surprised to find it deleted in about ten minutes since there can probably not be an original recipe for any food. But my second attempt, with the same recipe now named ‘a recipe for a chocolate cake’, was deleted as well in about the same time. So why wasn’t I allowed to add it? I discovered my attempts to be in contrast to the rules of Wikipedia. On ‘What Wikipedia is Not’ I found that:

“Wikipedia articles should not read like instruction manuals. [..] This includes tutorials, walk-throughs, instruction manuals, game guides, and recipes.”

The thought behind these rules is that entries on Wikipedia are supposed to be objective. A recipe of a chocolate cake can never be the original recipe and show the reader how a chocolate cake is exactly supposed to be prepared. It can therefore not be noticed on Wikipedia. But at the same time these restrictions don’t seem to fit in Wikipedia’s idea of being an encyclopedia, a “summary of all human knowledge”.

Who determines whether a basic recipe of a cake does belong to this summary, or rather should be dismissed? The purpose of an encyclopedia is, after all, to give information to its reader. If there’s a reader who really searches on the entry chocolate cake because he wants to find the recipe, he’ll be disappointed only because of the fact that some people at Wikipedia decide the recipe is not appropriate. Maybe it would even be interesting to show more than one recipe on the Wikipedia entry, because there would be more cultural diversity on the encyclopedia and that would give a more complete view on ‘human knowledge’.

Just before giving up on these thoughts and on writing chocolate cake recipes, I scrolled down the chocolate cake entry and discovered a little rectangle box at the right bottom corner of the page. It linked to the Cookbook page of WikiBooks: yes indeed, a sister project of Wikipedia. There were several recipes of a chocolate cake on it… Why hadn’t I noticed that before? Apparently, Wikipedia did think of this issue of objectivity and cultural diversity, and came up with the sister projects as an answer to them. While on Wikipedia objectivity seems the rule, s WikiBooks looks like the perfect place for subjectivity and discussion. ‘Wikibookians’ are even encouraged and empowered on the site to be bold!

So maybe there should be a larger focus on these sister projects, for Wikipedia users to find the information they need. It would come in handy if the entries on Wikipedia itself focussed more on these sisters projects by making the links to them more prominent. In the case of the chocolate cake, that would mean the reference to the recipe on CookBook shouldn’t be a tiny link in the corner of the page, but instead part of the division into paragraphs on top of the page. There could be a paragraph called ‘recipe’, with in that short paragraph just a reference to the recipes on CookBook. By doing so, all ’sisters’ of Wikipedia can work together and become more accessible to the users.

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