The development of the Greek-language Wikipedia: An interview with the general coordinator of the “I participate in Wikipedia” campaign. PART II.

On: July 7, 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.

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http://shampoohelps.wordpress.com    

You can read part I of the interview here.

The existing community & the new users

Usually, the users are the ones who approach Wikipedia. With this campaign, however, it is the Wikipedia community that approaches the public. What is the difference between the experience offered to the user by an organized effort and the experience of discovering Wikipedia on one’s own?

I think you just touched upon the most interesting point of the campaign. Initially, many editors thought that it would be pointless to include in the workshops the very basics, since it had never crossed their mind that people might have never noticed the “Edit” button or that they would not know how to proceed with the editing.

And yet, the reality was revealed in the statistics of the Greek-language Wikipedia. In contemporary Greek society — from research work at schools to universities — there is both a lack of familiarity with respect to encyclopedic issues as well as a lack of knowledge on how articles or academic assignments should be written, structured and presented.

Many things that some people take for granted are novelties for others. The workshops showed that most people do not know that with just a click of a button they can participate in Wikipedia. Moreover, a majority of the participants thought that Wikipedia is being written by “someone else”. Therefore, I am not sure whether a different kind of an ad campaign would have been effective. To me, the most efficient way is to make it experiential, so that all participants get a feeling of how things work within the Wikipedia community and maybe later transmit it to their immediate social network.

Make it viral in a way…

Exactly. It is obvious that in the 2 or 3 hours a seminar lasts, not all practical issues can be dealt with. We know for sure, however, that we succeeded in lowering the psychological and gnostic barriers, which for many people were considered to be insurmountable. Thus Wikipedia became a lot more accessible.

As it has been mentioned in the workshops, the existing Wikipedia community consists of about 45 active users. So we are talking about a small community that produces a great amount of articles. What are the pros and cons of such a small community?

The figures are not correct. What is accurate is that less than 100 people are the ones who do most of the work. The rule for the Greek –language Wikipedia is 80-20, as for most projects of this kind. That means that the core community, which at this time amounts to less than 100 people, is the one who works the hardest. However, it is of vital importance for the community that we give all editors the chance to contribute to the degree he/she feels comfortable with and in any topic that he/she is interested in. That is the basic idea of Wikipedia.

Sometimes I think that the role of the hundreds, thousands “passers-by”, who enjoy making small contributions, is underestimated. This is what led the Wikimedia Foundation to publish an announcement saying that lately the number of the new editors seems to be decreasing.

This decrease could be attributed to three factors: 1. In the era of facebook and blogs, everybody has a lot more things to attend to, 2. Wikipedia still has an old interface, which makes life difficult for its editors, 3. There is a lack of adequate help or a more positive attitude towards newcomers and the potential mistakes they might make before getting the hang of Wikipedia. That is why many people hesitate to take the first step.

Participating in the workshops, I noticed that many members of the community know each other personally. This is something which is not always the case in the English Wikipedia. Is this personal relationship also reflected in the collaboration of the editors within the Greek-language Wikipedia? And if it is, does this have a positive or a negative impact?

I do not think that knowing each other personally influences the editors’ encyclopedic standards. As far as I know, most editors and administrators have met through their collaboration on the encyclopedia and have gotten to know each other in person in the Wikipedia meetings and workshops.

Let us not forget that usually on “works of knowledge” what counts most are each person’s contributions. A good friend of mine and an active blogger says: “On the Internet, the anonymous, the well known and the pseudonymous are defined ONLY by the quality of their writing”. I believe this is the case even more where Wikipedia is concerned. Even if someone is funny and pleasant but the outcome of his work does not satisfy the others, his personality cannot counterbalance these defects.

This campaign seeks to attract new editors. The fact is, however, that whether the new editors will stay or not depends up to a certain point on their interaction with the most experienced editors. What kind of moves should be made in order to make the new editors feel more welcome in the Greek-language Wikipedia?

The aim of the campaign is to sensitize the public for participation in the encyclopedia. That means that there has to be a very positive attitude towards the new editors and their mistakes. One must not forget that one of the most basic elements of Wikipedia is to consider the mistakes of the newcomers as steps during a learning process.

I myself have heard of many cases where new editors were judged harshly. The positive effect of the workshops is that they brought the experienced editors in touch with the public. When the campaign was first launched, only few experienced editors could imagine that the majority of people had never noticed the “Edit” button and that new editors were facing psychological and practical obstacles during their fist attempts.

Furthermore, many people thought that a campaign on the internet would be enough, likes the ones that Wikipedia does from time to time. I, on the other hand, believed and still believe that in a country which has problems with digital illiteracy, a low number of Internet users, and hardly any familiarization with encyclopedic works and reference works, the difficulties of familiarizing oneself with Wikipedia is just another aspect of a more general problem: There is a great lack of knowledge on encyclopedias, cooperation and creation of structured texts. That is exactly why more work is needed, as well as a different attitude of welcoming and dealing with the new editors.

At this point, we need more new editors and we need them fast. This, of course, can be quite risky. Thus, experienced editors will find that they need to dedicate more time on “mentoring” and on correcting the mistakes of the newcomers.

Through the workshops, the “newbies” were taught how to write and edit Wikipedia articles, but also learned a lot about Wikipedia’s culture. Was there anything for older editors to learn?

I believe that, through the workshops, the experienced editors got a clearer picture of the outlook of the society and of the potential users and editors of the Greek-language Wikipedia. At the same time, they realized the problems that the new editors are facing in their interaction with the existing community. Let us not forget that Wikipedia is a living and learning organism. Therefore, in order to see the Greek-language Wikipedia grow, we have to keep learning from the world around us and work on our community consciousness.

Luckily, people who participate in Wikipedia are first and foremost lovers of knowledge, open-minded and therefore eager to learn.

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