Tuesday, January 01, 2019

The #decline of #Wikipedia (as we know it)

Regularly, we are told about misgivings about Wikipedia. It can not stay as it is, it is in decline; it is all doom and gloom.  NB the use of the phrase "doom and gloom" increased in the 1950s.

So Wikipedia will not remain as we know it? GOOD, it forces us to think how we can improve what we have. When things are to change, what will have a healthy impact? How will we get something that serves us better in "sharing the sum of all knowledge". How will we get more people use what we have to offer and how will we entice more people to contribute to the data collection that is included in all the Wikimedia Foundation projects.

First thing; our projects need to be less US-American. For me, a POV situation I was in, was "obviously"decided in favour of only considering the USA point of view; I let it slide but went to pastures green. The money we raise is for: "keeping the servers going". An objective a bit too limited to my taste but it raises the cash. Money is mainly raised in the USA but in order to be truly global, it is better to raise more equally in every country at least for the amount it cost to serve it. Gapminder is where you may be reminded that money is everywhere. As to the servers, why have all crucial eggs in one USA basket? Given its current politics, there is indeed a potential doom and gloom scenario possible. Having them more dispersed will bring our data closer to our audience, our editors as well. Benefiting them with better performance; that is the easy win. A more complicated solution is in the implementation of the Vrije Universiteit research of a peer to peer MediaWiki.

When our projects are to be less US-American, it is important for spending to be more global too.

When today's Wikipedia practices are no longer considered to be set in stone, we can finally implement features that enable, ensure and enhance its future. First, we should be less self centric; after all there is only one sum of all knowledge and we define only a part of it. Magnus showed how to maintain lists in an efficient way and Amir added recently a "task" to Phabricator to implement proper disambiguation of "red links". We are increasingly aware, not only of the references of all Wikipedias but also of publications by scientists that enable their work to be found. Complement this with the scientific papers we publish and we improve the public relevance of scientists by making them findable, by pointing to their science.

With a changed approach at Wikipedia, we may be bold and change the outlook on what Wikipedia is there for as well. Why not make Wikipedia the gateway to information held elsewhere? Why not show a Scholia page for every scientist we know, why not offer the books at OpenLibrary or inform on the availability of books at the local library?  Why not partner with other organisation we have a shared objective in. But most importantly let us be aware that an African professor teaches in Africa and that we allow for and enable the context of our partners and volunteers.

For me there is no reason for doom and gloom as there are so many opportunities to become even more effective. With a whole new year in front of us; let us do well.
Thanks,
        GerardM
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