Review: Wikimedia

Review of our meeting on 7th January with speaker Doug Taylor 

Wikimedia is a mansion, each door of which opens onto a new mansion, and that onto many more mansions. A TARDIS of seemingly infinite portals, corridors and rooms. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, is the most developed and well-known project but there are 17 in total, including Wikiquotes and Wikibooks, all devoted to bringing free educational content to the world so that every human can share in the sum of all knowledge.

Doug Taylor is a long-standing active volunteer and trainer for Wikimedia UK. He has been editing Wikipedia pages since 2008 and his talk focussed on how the encyclopedia works – what do you see if you speak a different language? Who decides what an article on Donald Trump, or coronavirus, or Brexit will say? How has it grown so exponentially that it now has over 55 million articles and 1.7 billion unique users each month? How does it stop articles being vandalised, or edited too much, or filled with fake news?

And the answers? Doug explained that each language has its own Wikipedia. If there are people willing to create articles in a language, Wikipedia will support them. So far there have been 317 different language ‘editions’. The English version has 6 million articles while the Welsh one has 132,300 and the Cornish edition, 4,400. Many articles are available in several languages, as editors can highlight articles and ask for fellow editors to translate them.

Wikipedia is written and edited by volunteers. The whole point is that it is open and created by its users, by anyone. What became clear listening to Doug was just how protective editors are. Like parents, they oversee sections of the encyclopedia – usually subjects they particularly care about, and are on the lookout for any odd changes. They talk to each other and each article will have on average 6 supporting pages with a history of changes, and discussion between editors.

One safeguard of quality is that every piece of information needs a source, a reference to a reliable report or publication. Within a day of the storming of the US Capitol, a massive article had been written to a high news standard with 250 source references. Several editors would have contributed. Such an article attracts vandals so it was locked after a few days. In the 20 years since Wikipedia was created, its volunteers have created numerous software triggers and protocols to identify malicious interference.

Wikipedia says of itself that it is not a reliable source. At any time, there may be inaccuracies which will remain for a period until they are picked up by editors. But it is a fantastic starting point for research and an amazing introduction to subjects beyond reckoning. All free, and all there for anyone with access to a smartphone or computer. Thank you Doug for such a knowledgeable and fun introduction!

Review by Hester Brown

There is a very interesting article on Wikipedia in Prospect Magazine which you can read here.