The development of the Greek-language Wikipedia: An interview with the general coordinator of the “I participate in Wikipedia” campaign- PART III.
Wikipedia & Greece
In your presentation of the campaign in TedXAthens, you mentioned that “through Wikipedia, Greece can claim a better place on the digital map”. What would that mean in practice? What could Greece earn?
Wikipedia reflects to a great extent the entire digital presence of a society. That is very important as in the 21st century the presence of a country in cyberspace is a basic indicator of its power.
For Greece, there is no correspondence between its digital presence and the cultural riches one can find in its literature, history, geography, archaeology, music etc. That means that the more riches we are able to upload on the Internet and the more these riches are reflected in a structured manner on Wikipedia, the greater the importance of Greek – language Wikipedia on the global digital map.
We live in a Greece of “indignant” citizens, of economic crisis and of dissensus. Do you believe that there are ways for people to embrace an effort of voluntary participation and collaboration such as Wikipedia?
Yes! Much more than before. Wikipedia represents the exact opposite of what makes people indignant; it is a space of a new kind of coexistence, common perception and collaboration. Its existence and growth prove that, on issues that really matter, people can find ways to cooperate and thus operate on an unselfish level and move further away from personal gain, or rather combine personal gain with the interest of the general public.
In a period of crisis, Wikipedia has the advantage of being a living counter-example for everything against which our society protests.
This campaign places great emphasis on the usage of Wikipedia for educational purposes. However, in academic circles Wikipedia is frowned upon. Can the Greek-language Wikipedia reverse this negative attitude?
It is clear that Wikipedia, both the English and the Greek version, has to establish its position and prove its credibility in order to enter the “impassable” realm of education. The English Wikipedia, of course, has already achieved that, and so have the German and the French ones. They managed to conquer the “castles of knowledge”, for example the universities.
In Greece, unfortunately, Wikipedia does not have the necessary amount of articles in order to be considered reliable by academics and teachers. And that is something we need to fight for. The first thing we have to do is to make clear to the academic world that they should also join the Wikipedia community, so that we all work together to build a more reliable encyclopedia. Without their contribution it would be difficult to make that happen.
The good news is that more and more educators agree that the educational process needs to promote the active participation of students on assignments, research, and making the most of the Internet. In this context, Wikipedia could be proven to be quite valuable in educational work, since the in-depth study of an encyclopedia not only broadens the students’ gnostic field but also helps them to become able to recognize valid sources, to manage information and create well-structured texts.
You described this first phase of the campaign as experimental. How will the second phase, which starts in September, go from there?
So far, the campaign has been spread out geographically all over Greece, mainly focused on the fields of education and culture, working with libraries and randomly with schools. Starting in September and since 2011 has been proclaimed as the Year of the Digital Encyclopedia, there will be an intensive effort in schools. The idea is to intrigue students to make the most of the encyclopedia while working along with their teachers by uploading, for example, their assignments on Wikipedia.
Universities, of course, will also constitute a place of action, where we can pursue the general incorporation of Wikipedia in the research procedure based on different ideas such as writing Wikipedia articles as part of an assignment. Finally, we will focus on amateur fields, while there are thoughts about a media campaign.
How long will the campaign last?
As far as I know, it will continue until the year 2013. Two more educational cycles are required in order to reach the critical mass of the 120.000 articles.
If you had the chance to change something in the Greek-language Wikipedia what would that be?
First of all, I would change the text editor, I would add a spell checker and other language tools (e.g. a dictionary). I would also like to see some more helpful translating tools. Thirdly, I would propose the redesigning of the interface, because the “look and feel” of Wikipedia gives an impression of old-fashioned. That does not mean that it needs to be colorful or fancy but I would prefer it to be more modern. All these moves should be made by the other Wikipedias as well, but a great idea is that the Greek-language Wikipedia can function as a testing ground for new ideas, in consultation with the broader Greek-language Wikipedia community of course.
How do you see the future of the Greek-language Wikipedia?
I am very optimistic. Today, there is a huge need for a great and modern encyclopedia. The old printed encyclopedias have been left behind by the developments of the 21st century. Therefore Wikipedia is the most vital, accessible and useful alternative solution we have.
Of course, the Greek-language Wikipedia needs a lot more work in order to actually become useful. The first experimental cycle of the campaign though, showed that there is a strong need for a modern encyclopedia and that participants in the workshops welcome the initiative for the enrichment of Wikipedia. So I do have every reason to believe that in the near future there will be a great increase in participations.
Will this increase be so great that we will see the Greek-language Wikipedia among the ten biggest Wikipedias of the planet?
I believe it would be difficult to find ourselves among the 10 first ones, on the one hand because of our population size and on the other hand because Greece is not in the list of the 10 countries on the planet with the highest rate of scientific production. We can, however, find ourselves on the list of countries which have more than 100.000 or 200.000 articles.
Soon, we can maybe reach 500.000 entries. Our first aim now is to cover the critical mass of articles which will make the Greek-language Wikipedia useful both to the education process and our everyday life, so that nobody needs to check the English-version for lack of a Greek entry.
Giannis Giannarakis Bio
Giannis Giannarakis has been working on the Web, electronic publishing and digital content since 1985. He was the founding member of www.in.gr, one of the most popular news portals in Greece, where he served as director for the first five years of its operation. He has also been active in printed publications, holding very important positions in Lambrakis Press S.A. Today he is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Greek Free/Open-Source Software Society (GFoss) and participates actively in projects of the Greek Research and Technology Network (GrNet. Since January, he serves as general coordinator of the campaign for the enrichment and development of the Greek-language Wikipedia. On his personal blog, he declares himself an incurable believer in social ethics and an advocate of collective intelligence.