Language has never been the subject of public policy in Anglophone countries, so it might come as a surprise to English-speakers to learn that in some countries there is a tradition of state support and intervention on language issues. This is particularly so in France, where the tradition stretches back for more than three centuries: there, it has been seen as an important part of building the nation state and, during the 20th century, of binding together French-speakers worldwide. Among notable policies have been several laws to resist the contamination of French with English words, and controversial moves to suppress the teaching in schools of minority languages in France – reverted by a 2008 law providing greater acceptance of multilingualism and support for such teaching.
Adrienne Alix, the director of programs at Wikimedia France, has posted a report on a collaboration between the chapter and DGLFLF, a unit in the French Ministry for Culture and Communications that is dedicated to furthering government language policy. Adrienne told The Signpost that aside from French itself, more than 50 languages fall into the ambit of the Ministry: "some of them are regional languages like Provençal and Corsican [minority languages spoken in France itself]; others are from the overseas territories – an astonishing 27 languages just in new-Caledonia, and more than 20 creole and Indian languages in French Guyana, a small country in South America".
Adrienne says, "last May, the DGLFLF asked the chapter to write a report about French on Wikimedia projects. The report was well received, and as part of a larger report on the French language was distributed among all deputies in the national parliament. The Ministry frequently cites the document to show the importance of the internet in sustaining languages."
Chapter representatives then attended by invitation a major conference in French Guyana last December to explain the significance of WMF projects to both French and the minority languages. "The DGLFLF was very interested in the philosophy and work of the Wikimedia movement, and discussions after the conference resulted in an ongoing collaboration to publish a Wikibook on the event (in French, in progress). The Wikibook publications are designed to promote language issues and contain many links to WMF projects such as Wikipedia and Commons. She points out that "content about French overseas territories and native languages is not so good and this combined effort by government and chapter is really promoting better contributions." A bonus is that a year ago, the DGLFLF decided to release content under a licence similar to CC-BY.
Some 10 employees of the Ministry are involved in contributing to the Wikibook project and making Wikipedia edits. The Signpost asked whether such close involvement by the state employees might lead to the political slanting of content, against the independence and neutrality so keenly guarded by the Wikimedia movement. Adrienne says the chapter has been "very careful to train the people from the Ministry to be real contributors in terms of neutrality and sourcing; they're identified by a userbox on their userpage and have no special rights. We don't have any problem at this time."
Significantly, the collaboration is likely to lead to further joint work: "We're thinking about other projects for francophone areas that have poor internet access, with the DGLFLF and with some other institutions including the World Organization of Francophonie." Adrienne will present a paper to Wikimania 2012 in Washington DC (July 12–14) entitled What place for the "small languages" on Wikimedia projects?. There, she will discuss the chapter's experience in the light of key questions for the movement as a whole – among them, the best way to create a Wikipedia or a Wiktionary in a language that has no fixed writing system and the best way to work with a local administration regarding questions of language.
A debate on whether to integrate WikiTravel, or parts of it, into the Wikimedia universe unfolded over the last week on Meta and the Wikimedia-l (I, II, III). The project aims to create a free collaborative travel guide, and its main language version, English, provides around 25,000 articles. Another possibly affected project could be Wikivoyage, a longstanding WikiTravel fork run by the German community.
The proposal is backed by significant parts of the WikiTravel-community, including the project founders Evan Prodromou and Michele Ann Jenkins, as well as Stefan Fussan, the chairman of the board of the Wikivoyage association. It also commands some support in parts of the Wikimedia-community, led by Doc James. Proponents of the idea argue that taking WikiTravel on board would be mutually beneficial, since Wikimedia would broaden its scope of educational material on the one hand and the possible new member of the family would benefit from improved software (the project currently runs on an older version of MediaWiki), as well as new funding environment.
However, to date there has been no official statement addressing the points raised in the discussion from Internet Brands, the entity which owns the trademarks to and runs WikiTravel. Additionally, several commenters on wikimedia-l raised concerns in regard to the neutrality of the content, and questioned the purported educational nature of travel guides in principle. Another aspect discussed was possible new forms of conflicts of interest (WP:COI) that might come from adopting such a project format.
A roadmap of the process of evaluating the workability and technical aspects of merging between now and June is outlined on Meta. The case is being discussed as the new Sister Projects Committee (see Brief notes) gets off the ground with discussing procedures affecting the possible merger.
HighBeam 2.0: The first round of handing out free HighBeam accounts to the community for one year (Signpost coverage) ended on April 9. The partnership-project handed out several hundred of the originally agreed 1000 accounts so far. Accordingly, a second round of applications will open on Monday, April 16, with the same requirements – a one-year-old account with 1000 edits – as the first round. Editors interested in scientific sources may also be interested in a project hoping to facilitate access to JSTOR, which the Foundation is working on together with Raul654.
Sister Projects Committee: The creation of a new Sister Projects Committee, aimed at improving the regulation of the new project process and located on Meta, was announced on April 10.
WMF March report: The Wikimedia Foundation's activity report for March 2012, highlighting Mobile, Arabic outreach and MediaWiki development, has been published on Meta.
IRC office hour: The log of the first IRC office hour held by the WMF's chief of finance and administration, Garfield Byrd (on April 12), which tackled issues such as donations in different currencies and the preparations for the new Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC), has been published on Meta.
New administrators: The Signpost welcomes our newest administrator, ItsZippy (an editor who focuses on philosophy- and theology-related articles) at the second attempt. According to one co-nominator, Steven Zhang, "the key skill he brings to the table is experience in dispute resolution". Although the successful result means that two admins have been promoted within a fortnight – only the second time that has occurred this year – ItsZippy's promotion does little to stop the continuing drought engulfing RfA, which could see as few as fifty editors promoted in this calendar year.
Milestones: The following Wikipedia projects reached milestones this week:
New England Wikimedia General Meeting: On April 22, Wikimedians in New England will be holding a meetup at the Boston Public Library which will be an opportunity to plan for the future of the local community, raise awareness about real-world outreach and discuss the possibility of forming a new Wikimedia chapter in the area. All are encouraged to come.