A “lazy” Wikipedia. An active community. An interesting story: Following the campaign for the development of the Greek-language Wikipedia, Part I

On: May 11, 2011
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About Ilektra Pavlaki
Here I am in Amsterdam. Studying in the New Media Master Program and hoping that by the end of this year I will have gained new experiences, new friends, brand new goals. My bachelor was in Communication, Media and Culture in Athens. Then I found myself a 90% dreamy job as a copywriter in a global advertising agency (BBDO). Great boss, big clients, small income :) Fun Theory and Free Hug Campaign magnified my interest in new media. "So, there must be a way to combine passion -advertising- and curiosity-new media-. Let's find out" I said. So... here I am in Amsterdam.


In the first 10 years of its existence, Wikipedia, this unusual “experiment” as it used to be called, has evolved into the world’s greatest reference source. Far more than that however, Wikipedia’s most surprising achievement is that it turned the creation of an encyclopedia, previously perceived as a boring, elite-only process, into an exciting experience; such exciting in fact that it has intrigued communities from all over the world to get passionately involved in the formation of their own local Wikipedia version.

A “lazy” Wikipedia.

The Greek Wikipedia started out as a separate language edition in 2002, back when Jimmy Wales’ dream of “every single person on the planet having free access to the sum of all human knowledge”, seemed more like an illusion and less as a vision. In the years that followed however, the Greek Wikipedia did not manage to exhibit the exponential growth that other languages had. Instead, it remained “numb”, with both the community and the number of contributions growing at a quite slow pace.

An active community.

On November 26th 2011, a TEDx talk in Athens revived my hope that the Greek Wikipedia could still walk out of its lethargy. In his presentation, Yiannis Giannarakis announced the launch of the “I participate in Wikipedia” campaign. This long-term initiative, which kicked off officially in January, aims at making the Greek version of Wikipedia truly “useful” both in education and daily life by: a) doubling the number of the articles, in order to reach the critical mass of 100.000 and b) improving the quality of its content.

The campaign is sponsored by the Greek Free/Open-Source Software Society and the Greek Research & Technology Network, while it is supported by the Greek Ministry of Education, which declared 2011 as the “Year of Digital Encyclopedia”. The most important part however, is that the success of the initiative relies entirely on the engagement of the local Wikipedia community. That is why the campaign promotes itself as an open-invitation towards the existing contributors and the prospective ones to support the project.

An interesting story.

This open-invitation was one that I could not reject. Especially after having given to a previous post of mine the title “Greek Wikipedia calls for Βοήθεια (Help)!”. Instead, I decided to change my thesis topic, pack up my belongings and book a flight back home, in order to follow the campaign and attend the workshops and presentations that have been planned across Greece. That was my goal. What difficulties I would encounter, how would the community react in my initiative to follow their initiative, what feedback there would be in the workshops, all these were -and in some degree still remain- unknown. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

In the first 6 days of my research, I had the opportunity to meet some of the most experienced Wikipedians. Working with them helped me realize that it’s not the software, nor the grandiose vision that makes Wikipedia unique. It’s the “human-ness of everything inside” it, as Joseph Reagle calls it. Because in this community, people with different personalities and different backgrounds –the entrepreneur with the tiny car that narrates amazing stories of all kinds during the breaks, the builder that discovered Wikipedia by accident and has been writing since then hundreds of articles for every important building in his city, the student that doesn’t give up his hopes that one day the Wikiversity will grow big, the fireman that keeps buying books for every new article he wants to write- can co-exist and collaborate with one thing in common: their desire to turn the Greek version of Wikipedia into one of the best in the world.

The truth is that there is much more to say about this overwhelming experience of studying the re-birth of an Wikipedia, but I have to take off for my next workshop. I will keep you posted :-)

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