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Anniversary coverage continues; Thai government translates Wikipedia; brief news

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By Tilman Bayer, WOSlinker, Guoguo12 and Lumos3

Wikipedia's tenth anniversary marked by unprecedented media coverage

The tenth anniversary of Wikipedia on January 15 brought unprecedented amounts of media coverage (some of which had already begun earlier, see last week's "in the news"). Many reports recounted the history of Wikipedia, numerous notable pundits gave their interpretation of the project's significance, and prominent Wikimedians such as Jimmy Wales were much in demand for interviews and quotes.

Outside comments

British historian and author Timothy Garton Ash told readers of The Guardian that "We've seen America's vitriol. Now let's salute Wikipedia, a US pioneer of global civility", which he described as "an American invention which, for all its faults, tries to spread around the world a combination of unpaid idealism, knowledge and stubborn civility", contrasting it with "the vitriolic incivility of American political discourse, as heard on talk radio and cable channels such as Fox News". (A version of the same op-ed that appeared two days later in the LA Times omitted mention of Fox News and carried the less evocative title "Look it up: Wikipedia is turning 10".) The well-known motto "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet ..." was described by Ash as "almost Lennonist".

Worrying about "a hothouse orchid the size of a barn": Bruce Sterling

The Atlantic collected opinions from "All-Star Thinkers on Wikipedia's 10th Anniversary", including Bruce Sterling ("I worry about their frailty. ... Warm, kindly, humane Wikipedia didn't grow up in today's Internet. Now it's like a hothouse orchid the size of a barn."[1]), Scientific American editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina ("Wikipedia underscores an evolutionary lesson: we've always gotten farther as a species collaborating than going it alone" [2]), Ethan Zuckerman ("Wikipedia's victory was getting the rules – and importantly, the rules for making rules – right, and trusting that the process would lead to substance" [3]) and Clay Shirky ("[Wikipedia] took one of the best ideas of the last 500 years – peer review – and expanded its field of operation so dramatically that it changed the way authority is configured" [4]). Jonathan Lethem's highly critical piece ("the generation of an infinite number of bogusly 'objective' sentences in an English of agonizing patchwork mediocrity is no cause for celebration") met with rebuttals by Wikimedians Andrea James on Boing Boing and David Shankbone on his personal blog.

In a different article ("Wikipedia – an unplanned miracle", The Guardian), Shirky focused further on Wales' and Sanger's "radical" idea of "putting the people who care in charge, rather than anointing experts or authorities". Shirky said that a wiki "has at its core only one social operation: I care." He explained that "what looks like a stable thing is in fact a result of ceaseless attempts to preserve what is good, and to improve what isn't. Wikipedia is best understood not as a product with an organisation behind it, but as an activity that happens to leave an encyclopedia in its wake".

Wired UK published a series of articles in the form of a "Wikipedia Week", one of them ("Viewpoints: what the world thinks of Wikipedia") featuring opinions by Larry Sanger, Wikipedia researcher Joseph Reagle, Robert McHenry (former editor-in-chief of Britannica), Wikipedians Siska (from Indonesia, cf. Signpost coverage) and User:WereSpielChequers, and others.

As an example for "how disruptive to our understanding of the world can Wikipedia be", an anniversary article on ReadWriteWeb compared the Wikipedia article Battle of Horseshoe Bend (1814) to the entry on the same topic in the 1970 edition of the American Peoples Encyclopedia, noting that the paper encyclopedia left out vital information about the battle ("a story of deeply racist betrayal"). "It's like Wikipedia is to the encyclopedia what Wikileaks is to a White House press conference."

Indian news outlet NDTV explained "How Wikipedia wooed and won the world", using a short summary of its early history and quotes from German sociologist Christian Stegbauer.

Die Zeit, the largest German weekly newspaper, featured Wikipedia on its title page with the headline "Das größte Werk der Menschen" ("the greatest work of human beings"); its coverage included an article by German Wikipedian Logograph about the daily work of an administrator. Die Zeit also programmed a web widget showing animated recent article edits from the German Wikipedia that can be used on any website.

Al Jazeera quoted a wide range of commenters, from Wikimedia's own Sue Gardner to critic Andrew Keen (noting that the article about him was in a vandalized state at the time of the interview).

In China, the Communist Party's newspaper People's Daily published an overall positive article (in Chinese - Google translation) about Wikipedia as a "knowledge revolution", comparing collaboration on Wikipedia to "children's collective participation in the 'clay sculpturing' game, full of creative, playful pleasure".

Mashable worried "Wikipedia celebrates 10 years, but will it survive another decade?", and defended Wikipedia against its "reputation for loopy reportage", pointing out that "Wikipedia is, in the best-case scenario, an antidote for the echo chamber of the web." One of the statements in the article, that "two Ayn Rand devotees, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, created Wikipedia" drew a rebuttal by Sanger: "I am not, and was not, an 'Ayn Rand devotee.'"

On Inside Higher Ed, a librarian described how she had "come to appreciate the way that Wikipedia in so many ways helps students understand fundamental features of how information works", familiarizing them with the concept of references and demonstrating "that knowledge itself is a community project" and not "just for school."

US website Politico observed that "Wikipedia has become a go-to reference guide for political insiders and mainstream Americans alike", quoting several experts, one of them describing Wikipedia as "the 800-pound gorilla that flies" and "itself a political achievement".'s editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff warned "Wikipedia: You Still Can't Trust It", pointing to the history of the article about himself, and alleging bias in the article about Microsoft. NetworkWorld listed "The 10 biggest hoaxes in Wikipedia's first 10 years" and the Huffington Post compiled a slideshow of "the funniest vandalized entries".

Canada's National Post seemed to remain on the fence about Wikipedia ("10 years on, Wikipedia’s potential still unknown"). Alluding to Larry Sanger's announcement of Wikipedia on January 17, 2001 ("Humor me. Go there and add a little article. It will take all of five or ten minutes"), the newspaper said: "When Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger started out, all they were asking for was five or 10 minutes of your time. Instead, we’ve given them a decade." used the Wikipedia article on Jesus "as a guide to the online encyclopedia's 10-year history", surveying its version history since the page was started on March 3, 2001 by Jimmy Wales (sample: "On Jan. 19, 2005, Wikipedia Jesus got a security detail; unregistered users were now forbidden to edit the page").

On his "The Wikipedian" blog, William Beutler (User:WWB) described how he was interviewed by Ukrainian TV station INTER.TV about Wikipedia on the occasion of the anniversary.

Notably absent from the anniversary coverage was UK website The Register, whose harshly critical (and at times highly inaccurate) reporting has accompanied Wikipedia during most of the last ten years.

Jimmy Wales and Sue Gardner quoted

Bristol University's "Victoria Rooms", site of Jimmy Wales speech on January 13

On January 13, Jimmy Wales was in Bristol, UK, to celebrate the anniversary (coinciding with the city's "Festival of Ideas"). He presented at the Bristol Cathedral and Bristol University's Victoria Rooms (video recordings) and received considerable media attention (example: "Jimmy Wales outlines Wikipedia future for Bristol"). MacWorld [5] and technology news website Tech.blorge ("Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales: App stores a clear and present danger]") highlighted his personal remarks that the app store model introduced by Apple was "a threat to a diverse and open [IT] ecosystem", arguing that "we own [a] device, and we should control it." On this issue of net neutrality, however, Wales "argued that many of the concerns ... were hypothetical and didn’t pose an immediate danger. While he noted the entire issue was complicated ... he said elements of the campaign for net neutrality were 'highly overblown'."

In contrast, the Wikimedia Foundation's Executive Director Sue Gardner said in an op-ed for The Guardian that "the fate of network neutrality (the concept that aims to keep the internet open and free) is under attack everywhere, particularly in the mobile space, and I'm continually surprised by how few Americans seem to understand the issue and why it matters", wondering if "the power of Wikipedia to join people together in a vast social enterprise was just an aberration. I fear that the conditions that gave rise to it may be disappearing". (See also earlier Signpost coverage: "Wikipedia as a poster child for net neutrality")

In a video interview, The Daily Telegraph asked Jimmy Wales about differences between the various language versions of Wikipedia. He said that there were "kind of the same", fueled by "a certain geek culture which transcends national culture", and that the Wikipedia communities he had seen around the world consisted mostly of "the same kind of people" – "super geeky and really smart", although for example meetups in India were still even more male-dominated than those in the US or UK. Regarding the controversial fundraising banners featuring his personal appeal, Wales was quoted as saying "there were 9 million people asking me to stop staring at them". But according to a portrait in The Globe and Mail ("Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales: The man with all the answers"), Wales still doesn't frequently get recognized in public "except at Apple stores and in Germany, where Wikipedia apparently has become a minor national obsession." The article also quoted Mitch Kapor, who "has known Mr. Wales since 2003 and acted as an informal mentor", and credits him with leadership skills that avoid exercising direct authority – "a less farsighted person would be tempted to retreat from volunteer control, decentralized [power], and anonymity".

A BBC radio feature recounted the beginnings of Wikipedia, based on an interview with Jimmy Wales, who named inherently funny word as one of his favorite articles on Wikipedia.

An article on The New York Times "Bits" blog titled "Wikipedia Marks 10 Years of Edit-It-Yourself", illustrated with a photo of Jimmy Wales demonstrating Wikipedia in 2001, said that according to Wales, despite efforts to make the uploading of media easier, "the site would never become flashy", quoting him as saying "we are not going to become Facebook, we are not going to become MySpace or YouTube". Sue Gardner stated that "Wikipedia is modest. It isn’t a beautiful site. It looks a little awkward — sometimes the writing is a little bit awkward," but that people still have "a deep and abiding affection for it." In addition to Brazil, she named Egypt as a possible location for a new office of the Wikimedia Foundation (after the one which is going to open in India in the next months). In a Reuters interview [6], Gardner emphasized that the Foundation would remain a non-profit: "We don't move in the world of IPOs and valuation and investment. We never talk about it, we never think about it."

Compiling and assessing the anniversary coverage

Other lists of media coverage:

In her anniversary message on the Foundation's official blog, Sue Gardner observed:

On Wikipedia Review, a web forum devoted to criticism of Wikipedia, regular participants seemed to agree with Gardner's observations, lamenting the positive media coverage of the anniversary as "just another measure of how badly The Wikipedia Review is falling down on the job of educating the public about the real nature of Wikipedia, Wikia, and the Wikimedia Foundation", and observing that "the 'comments campaign' clearly hasn't worked – not enough people read these [a reference to the frequent posting of negative comments by Wikipedia Review members in the comments sections of online news articles]. What is needed is PR for the other 'Wikipedia Story' on US or British or other national media."

Thai government machine-translates entire English Wikipedia into Thai

"Global Watchtower" (a blog of a Massachusetts-based market research company about "Globalization in Practice") reports that on January 7, "in the run-up to Children’s Day, Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced the launch of the complete English-language Wikipedia in Thai. This was presented as a gift of knowledge to the children of Thailand from the government and local business partners". The 3.5 million articles were machine-translated by translation company Asia Online and are already online (example – translation of scrimshaw, the provenance and license of the text appear to be stated correctly). Proofreading is to be done by ten employees of the company who will concentrate on the most popular articles, as well as by "crowdsourced" volunteers who will also be able to add content – the company's vice president explained that "we will add social networking components over time to enable discussions of the content and nurture the creation of more Thai-focused content." Global Watchtower called it "quite possibly the single largest translation project currently underway." It appears to have been already discussed by the Thai Wikipedia community.


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Wow, the ReadWriteWeb article really chose a bad example and claims too much for Wikipedia. ReadWriteWeb asserts that before Wikipedia, readers "would have had no idea" about some nasty aspects of 19th century U.S. policy towards Native Americans. That's only true if readers limited their reading on the subject matter to out-of-print, 40 year-old sources like the one cited by ReadWriteWe. But there's been a revolution over those 40 years in how historians write about Native Americans; a reader without Wikipedia could learn the story after a visit to a library or bookstore. Wikipedia cannot claim any credit for this revolution, but we can help educate people about it. If anything, Wikipedia is often behind the times in this area, since too many editors prefer older sources that are freely available on the web to the modern scholarship which is still mostly to be found in books. —Kevin Myers 15:34, 19 January 2011 (UTC)[reply]

I envy Sterling's experience here. Perhaps he had crafted a walled niche for himself and shielded his sanity from all the wiki-hate. NVO (talk) 18:09, 20 January 2011 (UTC)[reply]


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