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State of the Wiki

From Wikimania 2014 • London, United Kingdom


Wikipedia is a household name — in fact, it’s now one of the five most popular websites in the world, clocking over 21 billion hits every month. With over 110m pages across 287 languages, and a dozen sister projects including dictionaries, newspapers, multimedia repositories and travelguides, it's come a long way since its founding in 2001. Currently, Wikipedia is enjoying an exponential period of growth; the repository of almost limitless information is being added to at a rate of 30,000,000 words per month, almost double that the average human mind could compute in a similar time frame. Astonishingly, the active Wikimedia counter, updating in real time, lies at just under 2.3 billion total edits in Wikimedia projects, a figure indicative of the capacity for outstanding collaboration among members of the Wiki community.

With its growing volunteer-led community, its constantly developing technology, and as a maturing organisation going from strength to strength - Wikimedia is confronting the worlds biggest challenges and re-imagining a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.

With so much change and innovation, we will take you on the journey from the creation of Wikimedia from its humble beginnings, to the key milestones that has lead to its success to date - and provide a glimpse into what the future may hold for the State of the Wiki.

Jimmy Wales

Opening Keynote, Barbican Hall: Thursday 19:00 – 21:00

"We are growing from a cheerful small town where everyone waves off their front porch to the subway of New York City where everyone rushes by. How do you preserve the culture that has worked so well?"

Jimmy Wales is the Co-Founder of Wikipedia, as well as a member of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, the advisory board of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, and the Board of Directors at Creative Commons.

Wales was listed in the "Scientists & Thinkers" section of the Time 100 in 2006 and number 12 in Forbes "The Web Celebs 25". In February 2014, Wales was named one of "25 Web Superstars" by The Daily Telegraph.

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Lila Tretikov

Opening Keynote, Barbican Hall: Thursday 19:00 – 21:00

"For people who are less economically fortunate, or who live in parts of the world where access to information is heavily constrained, Wikipedia is even more critical. It is an utterly unique resource that opens possibilities for more equitable and open world."

Lila Tretikov is a Russian-born technologist specialising in enterprise software. Emigrating to the U.S. as a teenager, she began work as an engineer in California in 1999, founded a company, obtained several software patents and eventually became chief information officer and vice president of engineering at SugarCRM, Inc. She was appointed Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation in May 2014.

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Erik Möller

Barbican Hall: Saturday 9:30 – 10:00

“Lorem ipsum.”

Erik Möller is Deputy Director and Vice President of Engineering and Product Development at the Wikimedia Foundation.

Erik's User Page

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Luis Villa

Barbican Hall: Sunday 10:00 – 10:30

"In six years, certain aspects of Mickey Mouse will start creeping into the public domain, and that means we’re going to have another copyright bill in that time period. I suspect that we as a movement have to be ready and prepared for that."

Luis Villa is Deputy General Counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation. Prior to Wikimedia, Luis worked at the Greenberg Traurig law firm, where his practice focused on open source and peer production of software and media, and at Mozilla, where he led the drafting of version 2.0 of the Mozilla Public License. Before law school, he worked on free software as a developer and manager (aka "herder of cats") at Ximian and as part of the GNOME project.

Follow Luis Villa on his blog and on Twitter

Brandon Harris

Barbican Hall: Saturday 14:30 – 15:00

“There are times when the "vision of the mission" settles and there's this really weird sense of peace and purpose. Like, an understanding of the full implications of "making the sum of human knowledge available to everyone for free." It's a pretty epic feeling. I can't describe it other than "it's one of those emotions where you feel the edges of your eyes start to tear up. I kind of live for those moments, to be honest. You can't live like that all the time, mind you. The practicalities of what we do always bubble up.”

Brandon Harris is an employee of the Wikimedia Foundation and holds the position of Senior Designer. He has worked on Athena (a universal skin for Wikipedia), new editor engagement, article creation workflow and many other tools designed to streamline and simplify interaction between editors.

Brandon's User Page

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What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a collaboratively edited, multilingual, free encyclopedia, supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Anyone with access to the site can edit any one of its articles, ensuring Wikipedia's pre-eminent place as the largest popular reference site on the Internet. This encyclopedia incorporates well over 30 million articles, of which nearly 4.5 million are in English, with in excess of 100,000 regular contributors, referred to colloquially as 'Wikipedians'.

Wikipedia has often been derided by teachers and academics alike for providing a purportedly inaccurate shortcut to easy research information for studying purposes, ranging from middle school homework to undergraduate research and beyond. However, this outdated and oversimplified claim no longer reflects the state of Wikipedia and its growing credibility and reputation.

Wikipedia is simultaneously an encyclopedia, an online database of reference work, a virtual community and a collective memory, with the stated goal of ensuring free and open access to the sum of all human knowledge at the fingertips of every single person on the planet. Owing to its enormous success, Wikipedia has proved the benchmark and blueprint for further projects which resemble the encyclopedia, particularly in the large-scale use of user-generated content.

The History of Wikipedia

The conceptual underpinnings of Wikipedia began in the years prior to its founding, with the idea of an entirely free online encyclopedia evolving from proposals by Richard Stallman in late 2000. This revelatory concept flew in the face of ideas even proposed by Wikipedia's charter company, Bomis, which sprang in to being in 1996 with Jimmy Wales on board. Nupedia, Bomis's brainchild, along with contemporary online encyclopedia's such as Microsoft Encarta and Encyclopedia Britannica, stopped short of Stallman's crucial concept that no central organisation should control editing.

As such, when Nupedia launched in 2001 as a free online encyclopedia, it mirrored the approach of its peers and only accepted content submitted by experts. However, this modus operandi resulted in the stagnation of Nupedia owing to the lengthy peer review process employed by academic publications and journals. Wikipedia, which originally launched to source content for Nupedia, proved to be more popular because of its immediacy and so Jimmy Wales and business partner, Larry Sanger, decided to fund the project as a charity. As a result of Wikipedia's success, Nupedia content merged in to Wikipedia in 2003 and ceased to exist, providing the framework for Wikipedia as we know it today.

By 2005, Wikipedia had become the world's most popular reference website, although such success was not without incident. The vandalizing of a living persons biography resulted in a number of rule changes, including a stricter policy on biographies of living people and the tagging of such articles for stricter review. It had not escaped the attention of Jimmy Wales that volume had placed a threat on quality. At Wikimania in 2006, he earmarked a new editor privilege, 'oversight', allowing specific versions of archived pages with unacceptable content to be marked as non-viewable.

Wikipedia and the Wiki community have evolved as an almost organic social entity, generating debate and controversy internally and externally along the way. As the community has grown statistically, criticisms and schisms among Wikipedians and editors have infringed upon and nearly derailed the stated aims of the Wikimedia foundation. More specifically, controversies that have garnered national and global attention have highlighted the difficulties in running an organisation with a community driven aim. Media institutions have been keen to seize upon any flaw in Wikipedia's armour, perhaps because its model can be seen as a threat to more traditional modes of publishing.

Wider controversies have stemmed from multiple issues arising from vandalism, committed both deliberately and indirectly. Numerous politicians and media personnel amongst other have had their biographies targeted by vandals, resulting in re-publications of misinformed quotes and information in other media outlets. French composer Maurice Jarre is one prominent example; a made up quote later attributed to an Irish student was reproduced in his obituary on sites such as The Guardian while American Right-wing political broadcaster Rush Limbaugh publicised misinformation on Florida judge Roger Vinson owing to a falsified biography.

Another criticism labelled at Wikipedia is its openness to exploitation. Owing to the fact that Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, any person prominent enough to have a biography on Wikipedia could potentially edit their own, and rivals', pages as a means of self-aggrandizement. In March 2012 the Bureau of Investigative Journalism discovered that UK MPs or their staff had made thousands of edits to Wikipedia pages in order to limit coverage of the 2009 expenses scandal. Many of the edits involved removing unflattering details that numerous politicians justified as 'removing misinformation and untruth'.

Nevertheless, its this openness that has led to Wikipedia becoming a reference work of great value. The project marked its 10th anniversary on 15th January 2011 and further statistical success followed in the year; the English wikipedia passed 500 million page edits in November with the German version following at 100 million.

Since 2012, Wikipedia has continued to grow, both statistically and as a social entity. Wikipedia took a public stand against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which was proposed in the US congress. Jimmy Wales announced that Wikipedia would be offline for 24 hours on 18th January 2012 as a protest against what the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikipedia community saw as the endangerment of free speech and online innovation. As things stand in 2014, Wikipedia is the 6th most popular website according to Alexa Internet (although ranked 5th by ComScore), and is by far the biggest online encyclopedia, standing at over 31.2 million articles in 287 different languages. On average, the Wikimedia projects receive over 21 billion page views from more than 500 million unique visitors every month. The global repository of free knowledge, from such humble origins, has developed in to the greatest collection of information ever shared by mankind.

The role of the Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit organisation based out of California on the West Coast of the United States, founded in 2003 by Jimmy Wales as a means of funding Wikipedia and its sister projects through non-profit means. The charitable organisation operates on an ambitious scale, supporting not only Wikipedia but the other Wikimedia projects such as Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons and Wikispecies, each with their own large scale collections of freely licensed material with articles numbering in at least the hundreds of thousands. The Foundation boasts 142 employees globally with an annual revenue of US $48.6 million.

The corporate governance of the Wikimedia Foundation consists of a 10 strong board of trustees, each serving a set term, 9 of which have been selected by the community, chapters or other members of the board. The only emeritus selection, Jimmy Wales, was appointed to the board by business partners owing to his exemplary work in establishing Nupedia, Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation itself. The board of trustees is a reflection of the global nature of the community with Members at the Board-at-Large representing North American, European, South American and Asian chapters of the Wikimedia foundation. In addition, the Wikimedia Foundation boasts 40 distinct national or sub-national chapters. These chapters are legally independent of the Wikimedia Foundation and have entered in to a 'Chapters Agreement' with the Foundation and are involved in organising regional conferences, outreach and global events such as Wikimania. Wikimedia UK, based in London, is the partner chapter who will be supporting the 2014 Wikimania Conference at The Barbican, London.

The first Wikimania event took place in Frankfurt, Germany in 2005 with the 2014 edition occurring in London, UK. This ambitious festival includes the conference, an unconference, festival, meetup, hackathon and party, spread over 5 days in August this year. It will incorporate six main themes that the Wikimedia Foundation values at the core of the movement, ranging from social machines, the future of education and free culture to open scholarship and open data.

Further to Wikimania are projects such as the Wikipedia Usability Initiative and the Public Policy Initiative, both developed in response to the growing size and popularity of Wikipedia in particular. In December 2008 the Wikimedia Foundation announced a restricted donation grant of $890,000 from the Stanton Foundation to improve Wikipedia's accessibility. The grant was used to appoint project-specific staff to the technology department with a stated aim of the analysis of obstacles participants encounter when editing Wikipedia, ranging from small changes to more complicated syntax such as templates. The initiative ultimately culminated in the introduction of a new Wikipedia skin named Vector. The Public Policy Initiative, also sparked by a generous grant from the Stanton Foundation of $1.2 million, concerned the improvement of public-policy articles, resulting in a collaboration with 10 universities as a means to maintaining said articles. Completed on campus sites or online, the students of professors of the partner universities were aided by 'ambassadors', volunteer editors of Wikipedia.

The Future of the Wiki

Whereas publications such as the Encyclopedia Britannica have ended as non-digital entities, the future of Wikipedia, the largest digital-only encyclopedia of its era itself is open for debate. In 2007, a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology declared that Wikipedia entries and edits were officially on the decline, a fact that flies in the face of the increasing popularity of the site in terms of global page views. However, there are an increasing number of voices that are stating that Wikipedian's are on the decline and that the limits of the volunteer driven model have been reached, with issues such as unevenly distributed topics and a narrow group of people as editors (it has been estimated that 90% are male) being touted.

However, these issues on the volunteer front do not translate to the foundation, particularly in terms of finances. Under outgoing executive director Sue Gardner, the annual fundraising figure has increased by over a factor of 10 to $45 million.

Future ventures are beginning to move beyond the walls of the encyclopedia itself. In order to ensure its future success Wikimedia has heavily invested in outreach as a means of furthering the aims of Wikipedia. Crucial to this concept is the notion of a 'Wikipedian in Residence'. Usually financially compensated by a Wikimedia chapter or related institution, the Wikipedian in question works in-house at an organisation (such as a gallery, library, archive or museum), not only to facilitate improvement to Wikipedia entries related to that organisation but to act as an intermediary to drive improved relationships and encourage the release of information under open licenses. The duties of a Wikipedian in Residence revolve around outreach amongst staff (at the institution) and the public, arranging training courses and of course making contributions to articles.

Like Wikipedia, Wikidata is a collaboratively edited knowledge base supported by the Wikimedia Foundation. However, its intention is to primarily act as a common source of certain data types, made readily available for use in editing Wikipedia articles. Launched on 30th October 2012 and funded jointly at a cost of $1.3 million by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Google Inc. its three primary phases involve centralising language links, providing a central place for all infobox data and creating and updating list articles based on data in Wikipedia. In short, this enables Wikidata not only to be read and edited by humans, but machines as well. It self identifies as being 'for data what Wikimedia Commons is for media files'. Its knowledge base is wide ranging, ensuring accurate data on a wide range of information, for example birth dates or population, which can then be employed in use on Wikipedia itself. The centralization of access to structured data, such as the aforementioned statistical data and interwiki references will enable greater use of use and more refined accuracy across other Wiki projects in the future.

As a further method of outreach, the Wikipedia Education Programme has a very simple premise: have professors and lecturers set their classes the task of editing and contributing to Wikipedia articles for class assignments. There is an ever expanding list of education programmes throughout not only Europe and North America but Asia, South America and Africa too. As of this moment, more than 6,500 students have participated, adding quality content to more than 10,000 wikipedia articles in numerous languages. These forays into education and academia are only just beginning and this ever expanding area for outreach programmes is continuing to evolve at a rapid pace.

Projects, themes and proposals on the Future of the Wiki will undoubtedly take centre stage at the Wikimania conference 2014, as Wikipedia and the Wikimedia's Foundations leading minds gather to share ideas and concepts to propel Wikipedia in to the next decade and more.

Wikimedia Foundation Engineering Goals 2014 - 2015