Thursday, June 14, 2007

What do you do for the smaller projects

As I mentioned earlier, Anthere gave a great presentation at the Holland Open Software Conference. One question was asked and answered and it is still going around in my head. "What does the Wikimedia Foundation do for the smaller projects and languages ?" Anthere's answer was truthful; her answer was that we do not do much. When it does not happen now, we will wait for it to happen later.

It is a truthful answer and given the resources we have as an organisation, there is not much more that we can do. There are all the issues, all the dramas all the opportunities of the big projects to deal with. And these are to be dealt with either by the community of a project itself or by one of the staff of ten people that is to keep some of the biggest websites of the world going.

I discussed this with people like Sabine, and the conclusion is very much, there is no Wikipedia. There is an English language, a German language, a Neapolitan language etc Wikipedia. They are all individual projects. They may share many of the basic values, but in the end these communities, these projects are very much left to themselves.

So what do we do for the smaller projects. We very much want these projects to succeed. We now insist on some initial content and some initial localisation before we start a project in a new language but really once they are started they are on their own. There is no evaluation, no monitoring of the project and only when things are deemed to be REALLY problematic it may get attention.

So what should we do for the smaller projects. There are people, organisations who are willing to pay money for content in specific languages. This content can be truly in the spirit of the Wikipedia, it may be geared towards certain subjects. One of the best reasons for accepting and promoting this is that by creating a supply, a demand will follow.

Having created content on many Wikis, we have a grasp of what it takes to create content. The most relevant deliverable however is not the content, the hardest and most valuable deliverable is the creation of a community. This is hard because you cannot buy a community, this is hard because it is not clear what a community will consider to be important and this is hard because their opinion may not coincide with what is important to you or to an organisation that makes a content creation project possible.

We live in a world where deliverables need to be measurable. Content creation can be measured; you can pay a translator or a writer. You can spend money and deliver a product that includes interwiki, wiki links, images and conforms to style guides. But you can not guarantee that you build a community at the same time. Building a community takes time, it means that the people that make up this community need to be able to influence the process. All the right things can be done, but there is no guarantee that an autonomous community will evolve.

Anthere is right in many ways when she says we do not do much to help new projects. The Wikimedia Foundation cannot do much because it does not have the resources and it will happen; the smaller projects will take off. This process can be helped along by the creation of content. Growing the projects is a process, it takes people and effort. The growth of projects can be accelerated with investment however the mix has to be right to make a project truly part of the Wiki movement.

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