Sunday, November 29, 2015

#Wikidata, its fucking amazing quality

Finding this illustration captures in many ways Wikidata. When we are to convince about quality we first have to be totally fucking amazing.

Quality is not an absolute. Quality is in being the best of the pack, in being better that what went before. Some say quality is in making no errors but for me that is a dead end. Quality is in acknowledging errors and dealing with them.

The first thing Wikidata did was bring some needed quality to Wikipedia. It brought all the interwiki in one place and it made for much better interlanguage links and it brought us time to improve on the mess that it was. The other Wikimedia projects and with two projects to go, Commons and Wiktionary it is fucking amazing what a difference it made.

Once Wikidata existed, many people feverishly started to include statements. Its progress can be followed in the statistics set up by Magnus. In a way it is similar to the wild west. Every Tom, Dick and Harry moved in and what has been accomplished is totally fucking amazing. It happened in the wiki way and some watch it in shock because there is no controlling it. Some of what has been done is good, bad and some is totally fucking amazing.

What Wikidata offers is to take much of the drudgery out of Wikipedia. Bassel for instance received the Index Award. The latest prize winners are from the batch of 2013. When this data was from Wikidata, it would be easier to update all fifteen Wikipedias when new data becomes available. It would improve quality and, would it not be fucking amazing to make that happen?

The chair of the Dutch Wikimedia chapter remarked at its annual conference: "So much is about Wikidata". Several of the presentations were about new ways collaborations with GLAM's, the potential they offer is huge. The one person with the biggest impact on Wikidata was mentioned often. It is fucking amazing to hear people from GLAM's say that Magnus's work enables them to contribute to Wikimedia.

All this is happening before your eyes. You have to see it to believe it.

Is #Wikidata a #Wiki?

Initially, wiki wiki was meant to be quick. It was meant to bring you where you wanted to be without much of a fuss. Then it became a metaphor for quick and easy editing; you edit and someone else who knows how to improve it may do exactly that. It was ok to be incomplete, it was ok to be wrong in part.

Nowadays, Wikipedia is celebrating its 15th anniversary and, it is received the Erasmus prize for past performance. Wikidata is in its third year.

Not much of the original notion of a wiki is left. It has benefits, it has drawbacks. The argument for a wiki is inclusion but currently all the excess baggage makes Wikipedia and Wikidata an environment where you can easily feel excluded. It is in practices and it is in language; I am supposed to understand a sentence like: "I think I recall you showing P-hardness of RDFS proper a while ago, which would obviously preclude translation into single SPARQL 1.1 queries (unless NL=P).". I do not and I am not inclined to study sufficiently in order for this to make sense. I am assured that it is not difficult, but hey, do I really need to know this stuff, am I really supposed to make such an effort to be part of it all? Do we need university education or do we need universal tools?

It is the same with the data itself; it has to be immaculate when it is to be included. When it is not "good enough", it is either excluded or it is goes to the data hell that is the "primary sources" environment. When people enter data a statement at a time, such discussions do not take place and it is very much done in the wiki way; quick and dirty at first with improvements following later. Quality is not considered but hey, it is a wiki and we are Wikipedians right?

Poor quality does not have to be a problem when it is seen as an opportunity. It is an opportunity when people are invited and enabled to improve quality. It is an opportunity when our tools are about inviting change in Wikidata itself and consequently bring improved embedded data to Wikipedia.

People do not mind to learn the use of tools when what they learn is directly applicable. People will not mind a challenge when the challenge is realistic and relevant. The problem is very much with the high priests of Wikidom who will sacrifice anything for their perceived consensus. These people fail to consider arguments and became as bad as the people who denounced Wikipedia in the day because it would never work.

#MissingBassel - #Wikidata as a tool II

At the Dutch Wikimedia conference I demonstrated how at Wikidata the data for Bassel Khartabil was enriched. The presentation shows how I added other people who have been awarded the Index award.

There are many ways to measure quality. Bassel is a member of Wikipedia. He deserves to be recognised as such because I hate to think that others like him will see an end to their life for our values. Through the index award, he is linked to for instance Malala. Given the steps of separation, how far off is Bassel from you?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

#MissingBassel - #Wikidata as a tool

We fear for the life of our fellow Wikipedian Bassel Khartabil. Rumour has it that he has been sentenced to death in Syria. We would dearly love to know that he is save and we hope for his release.

I will present at the Dutch Wikimedia conference and my topic is sets and quality. Bassel received the Index award and I will present how to add the award to people who received the award as well.

Some people say that we should not get involved in the case of Bassel because we are .. then they fail to convince me because for me Bassel is not political, he is one of us. Some Wikipedians talk endlessly about what Wikipedia stands for and how important our NPOV is. They however fail to grasp how much Wikimedia fails Syria. Only 732 Syrian citizens are known to Wikidata. Arguably we do not inform about Syria at all particularly not because even Caracalla is seen as a Syrian. As Wikipedia fails to properly inform about Syria, is it that we fail Bassel because he is from Syria as well?

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.