Thursday, November 26, 2015

#Wikipedia - #Freebassel and #Erasmusprijs

Yesterday our Wikipedia community received the Erasmusprijs. It was a wonderful occasion where the king of the Netherlands handed the prize to three Wikipedians :).

It was wonderful. I met with many old friends, it was the first time that I was in the presence of our king and queen, and princess Beatrix.. AWESOME is the word.

One burning topic, something that tempered the spirits, was Bassel, our fellow Wikipedian from Syria who has been sentenced to death. He embodies our values and the values of the Erasmus society. One question that was considered was what to do.

We can steal a page out of the book of Amnesty International and the director of the Dutch branch suggested calling embasies. It did work for Amnesty in the past. We may ask attention for Bassel on the Wikipedia central notice and, this is being worked on.

More ideas came up. I met with old friends from the Tropenmuseum. They are the original GLAM partners and they will consider providing us with material about Syria or Iraq. Thinking along these lines, it could become a "snowball project" where every GLAM is asked to participate and donate from their collection.

I met an old friend from Germany, she came up with the idea of asking refugees to edit Wikipedia in whatever language about their country, their topics. It would keep them occupied, not happy but busy in a positive way and make them Wikipedians like Bassel.

The only thing we can really do as Wikipedians is do what we do best. It is provide information in a neutral point of view. Arguably because of the lack of information about Syria we are not doing what we should do. Recognising this it is fitting when we support Bassel by writing in our own way in our own project about Syria, its people, its history. It is the best message that we can give. Like Bassel we dream of a world where we can all share in the sum of all knowledge.

Friday, November 20, 2015

What kind of box is #Wikipedia

At #Wikidata we know about likely issues at #Wikipedia. The problem is that #Wikipedia does not seem to care. When Wikipedia is about quality at some stage likely issues are important to tackle, they are the easiest way of improving quality.

There are three scenarios:
  • It is incorrect, and Wikidata knows about a correct alternative
  • Wikidata is wrong and needs improvement
  • Both Wikidata and Wikipedia have it wrong
At present, Wikipedia is a black box, communication may go in and it is neither obvious nor visible that quality improvement suggestions are taken seriously. It follows that when Wikipedia sees Wikidata as a foreign body, at some stage all the quality suggestions become toxic and it gets out of the box. Such a box has a name.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

#Wikipedia on #Syria and #Iraq in the light of #Paris

There is no excuse for what happened for what happens. Now that the news of Paris sunk in, lets consider the other side. The other side are the people of Syria, Iraq.. Countries where many people suffer beyond belief. They are from places that have a rich history, brought us many notable people and even when we look for it, we will not be able to find it in Wikipedia or Wikidata.

If there is one thing that is most often true about an "enemy", it is that you do not know them for who they are. Our true enemy is not the people from Syria or Iraq, they are the people that describe themselves as Daesh. By there own definition they are apart from Syrians and Iraqis.

This distinction is important and, it does not help that we know so little in any language about Syria, Iraq, the notable people, the history, the culture. The lack of knowledge is often seen as a necessary component of discrimination and the associated belief that the other is the enemy.

The war is now uncomfortably close, it hit Paris and who is next? Refugees have arrived in Europe and they have their story to tell. To understand these stories, it is important that Wikipedia has enough information to fill in the background. It is vital that Wikipedia, Wikidata knows about those who are not the enemy.,

Saturday, November 14, 2015

#Wikidata - #India and the #Peshwa culture

CIS announced in its newsletter a large donation of Marathi books about the Peshwa culture. It is hard to overestimate the relevance of this gift. It makes knowledge available to 73 million people. It provides sources to the history of a large part of India. This is the text:
1000 Marathi books by Marathi-language non-profit to come online on Marathi Wikisource with Open Access

As the Maharashtra Granthottejak Sanstha (MGS), a non-profit organization working for the preservation of the "Peshwa" culture in Maharashtra, and based in Pune, India, celebrated its 121st anniversary recently, the organization relicensed 1000 books for Marathi Wikisource under CC-by-SA 4.0 license so that the books could be digitized and be made available for millions of Marathi readers. Avinash Chaphekar from the organization signed a document permitting Wikimedians to digitize the books on the Wikisource. On this special occasion of the anniversary, a three-day book exhibition was organized starting October 30.

Answering our question "Could you please share with us your ideas of opening these invaluable books for Wikisource? How they are going to be useful for the online readers to learn about the Peshwas?", Mr Chaphekar says:

“These books are of historical importance and cover topics that are rarely covered well anywhere else. This information should reach to more people. Right after our Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommended to read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin as it contains a lot of messages for a common man, a lady walked to us once and asked if she can read this Marathi. Such books that were published by the Sanstha should not be kept closed as a lot many readers are searching for such books. We might not have a very great presence in the media or the Internet. How does any reader who does not know us buy a book? If these books are available online they could at least find and read them”
As I follow what is new, I often check what Wikidata has to say. What I find is often a lack of information. There is a wealth of data about minor nobility from the Netherlands. Given the major relevance of a nawab of Awadh or indeed a Peshwa, many improvements can be made to acknowledge the relevance of a major culture

Sunday, November 01, 2015

#Wikipedia versus the sum of all knowledge II

A question was raised again: "Whatever happened to Wikipedia, the encyclopedia anyone can edit"?"  It was meant to be a rhetorical question. It assumes that everyone can edit Wikipedia and do "all" things necessary. It is a funny because practically it has never been true. 

It never mattered. Wikipedia had people operating bots, add sources, add images, add templates and only because of this cooperation Wikipedia was functional. When an editor did not know how to do something, he had to learn new skills or had someone else do the job for him.

Wikipedia is a living project. Things change and consequently the skills needed evolve as well. Sometimes new technology is disruptive and old technology is grandfathered; no longer potent, no longer relevant. 

Three years ago Wikidata made its first appearance. From the start it was disruptive, It replaced the old interwiki links and we all benefited from a much more robust technology. This is however a niche area of Wikipedia so nobody complained.

Wikidata has ambitions; it has the potential to serve the sum of all available knowledge. To achieve this over the years data from many sources, often Wikipedias were harvested and found their place in one integrated environment. At this stage, selected areas of information may be served to Wikipedia from Wikidata. 

We are at a stage where Wikidata is increasingly the objective best place for particular fields of information and where a local Wikipedia becomes a backwater, becomes stagnant. People who care about external sources for instance moved a long time ago to Wikidata because it was much more inclusive. It allowed for easy cooperation and comparison with external sources. It had VIAF link to Wikidata in stead of Wikipedia. 

The issues we will face will be similar to the ones at Commons. Wikidata is  a project separate from Wikipedia. It has its own set of rules, its own set of priorities. Bluntly speaking, its user interface sucks bigtime for newbies and it is hard to grasp many concepts. Have a look at a page like this. It may prove disruptive to Wikipedians in a big way.

The problem we face is that for "grey beards" like me, them olden days are gone. New technology that is obviously superior will replace the current crop of tools. It must do so because expectations of service and quality change. Wikipedia is increasingly used from a mobile phone and we are stuck in so many ways with desktop (not even laptop) technology. 

The sum of all knowledge may be edited by anyone who cares to in the Wikisphere. It may become increasingly easy to do so when we care about the user experience for our editors and are willing to let go of all the cruft we accumulated over the years.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

#Wikipedia versus the sum of all knowledge

Today #Wikidata is celebrating. Its achievements are great. The developments over the last three years have made a difference. Expectations for the new year are good; the glass is filling and half full and the air above is buzzing with ideas.

I comment often on things Wikidata. Most often I have a point, sometimes I am wrong but that is the prize for independent thought. <grin> Blazegraph for instance IS the SPARQL software Wikidata uses. </grin> It is like templates, it is another language to learn and I am spoiled having used Magnus's wonderful toolset featuring WDQ.

As Wikidata matures, it will be a challenge for Wikipedia to adapt. Business is not as usual. It is not the WMF introducing technical novelties, it is another community that knows Wikipedia intimately well and knows where the skeletons are hidden. Wikipedia has never been about the sum of all knowledge. At most it is the knowledge that is deemed notable in one language at a time. Wikidata knows about all knowledge that seems notable in all Wikipedia languages. Wikidata is expected to indulge in "article placeholders". Guess what, they will include what is deemed not to be notable but what is notable elsewhere. Article placeholders as I understand them, will be generated texts. They will not be always that easy or obvious to create. Thankfully we still have Reasonator to fill in the gaps.

The future for Wikidata will include more of the sum of all knowledge. The notion of aiming for the sum of all knowledge gave focus to the effort that build Wikipedia. With Wikidata we already have the sum of all available knowledge in the Wikisphere. It will be surpassed as more linked data will poor into Wikidata. Information that will be new to the Wikisphere, information that Wikidata will happily share with all takers.

The future will be great particularly when Wikipedia is able to adapt.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

#Wikidata - #Blazegraph does it matter?

In an argument that is hardly of relevance for all of us, issues about Wikidata centre around a tool called blazegraph. The tool is server based and as we do not all have a spare server to run a tool like this what does it take to make this relevant?

When issues with a tool have an impact on Wikidata, it is hardly a problem for the rest of us. When people make points like this they are in "insularly thinking mode", it is self centred on them and their ivory tower peers.

This mode of thinking can also be found in their tools that puts them in places where mere mortals do not venture. When asked, Wikimedia Labs is maybe for later. At issue is that integration of such tools for the rest of us is not considered. Labs is exactly there to have all the tools and share result and integrate for better results.

When tools like Blazegraph are only available in proprietary settings, arguments about this kind of proprietary use should be irrelevant. This does not need to be. All it takes is the installation of Blazegraph in a Wikimedia Labs setting for the "rest" of us.