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Swedish Wikipedia's millionth article leads to protests; WMF elections—where are all the voters?

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By The ed17 and Tony1

Swedish Wikipedia reaches one million articles with a bot

With Erysichton elaborata, the Swedish Wikipedia passed the one million article rubicon this week, following closely on the heels of the Spanish Wikipedia last month. While this is a mostly symbolic achievement, serving as a convenient benchmark with which to gain publicity and attention in an increasingly statistical world, the particular method by which the Swedish site has passed the mark has garnered significant attention—and controversy.

The Swedish Wikipedia, alongside the Dutch and much smaller Wikipedias, is one of the few to allow bots—semi-automated or automated programs—to mass-create articles. Using this method has allowed them to leap from about 968,000 articles in May to about 1,044,000 now, with about 454,000 of them being bot-created. This puts them as the fifth-largest Wikipedia, up from ninth just one month ago, and the same method has pushed the Dutch past the Germans, who had long held the title of second-largest Wikipedia. By comparison, the Polish Wikipedia, which had a similar total to the Swedish in May, is now at 973,000 articles.

The Dutch and Swedish totals come despite their far smaller userbases—for example, the Germans have an active userbase that is five times the size of the Dutch and eight times the size of the Swedish. By the same metric, the Polish are twice the size of the Swedish.

The bot-created articles themselves are basic enough: they are about four sentences long, with an infobox and sources from a common database. Each article is tagged with {{Robotskapad}} a template that notes its origins. Before it received attention for the achievement it represents, Erysichton elaborata provides an excellent example.

The Signpost contacted the bot operator, Lsj, for his thoughts. He told us that the idea for bot-created articles came from the Dutch Wikipedia and an idea mentioned on the Swedish equivalent of the Village Pump in early 2012. While a "handful" of editors were "adamantly opposed", the great majority were in favor. Several smaller trials were conducted before the large-scale project that led to the millionth article, including on birds and sponges.

He told us that bot-created articles can offer significant benefits to Wikimedia communities: "human minds should not be wasted on mind-numbing tasks that a machine can do equally well. Let the machines do the grunt work, and let humans do what requires real intelligence." Bots are also better and far faster at repetitive tasks than humans, who can inadvertently introduce errors. Any bot errors, which in an ironic twist are typically kindled human mistakes, can usually be fixed by a second bot run, similar to what Lsjbot will be doing to add images to the biological articles it has created.

The very concept of bot-created articles, though, has garnered significant opposition in the Wikimedia community as a whole, particularly from German Wikipedians. The prominent editor Achim Raschka authored a piece in the German-language news outlet Kurier. He lamented the Swedish Wikipedia's "bitter" milestone, which puts a spotlight on an article that has little more than "their existence and taxonomic pigeonholing" and omits key information like where the species lives or what it does. Raschka told the Signpost that these stub articles impart little useful information to readers—he asks, "who could be helped with [these] fragment[s] of data?" He also pointed at an entry Denis Diderot wrote for the Encyclopédie, titled "Aguaxima":

... the bot is always right, uses a neutral language, forms complete sentences, provides verifiable facts and makes no trouble, unlike us human authors. It knows ... correct formatting, rarely [vandalizes], addresses no other authors offensively, sought no barrier tests, never complains and is easily turned off without resistance. There are no bots with gender bias and of course no problems with the author leaving the site. If in any topic people are missing, there is no problem, as the programming of a few new bots by specially trained bots, perhaps with steward rights, proceeds rapidly. They are absolutely reliable even with a vote. ... We simply need to take note: Bots are better Wikipedians, our days are gone. We have only consumption, sex and drugs. But this does not have to be bad, right?

Schlesinger, "Die Zukunft heißt Botpedia," 16 June 2013.

A separate Kurier article by Schlesinger, which hyperbolically compared the bot-created articles to the famous novel Brave New World and claimed that bots can and will replace human editors, is a non sequitur. While bots can create article shells and—as can be seen on the Swedish Wikipedia—even short stubs, they can never be programmed to mass-create detailed articles capable of becoming featured or even good articles.

There was also extensive discussion on the Wikimedia-l mailing list and a Wikipedia blog post.

Lsj was unaware of the wider German-language attacks on bot-created articles, but after examining them, found that they were principally based in deeply held principles, making them difficult or impossible to provide an effective counter-argument.

In reply to Hubertl's sarcastic mailing list post, Lsj commented that the statistics, including view counts, editor numbers, and participation, contradict Hubertl's argument.

Still, a major problem could come from human error. Lsj acknowledges that source materials' errors could then creep into articles, but explains this by saying that a second bot run would fix the problem. The obvious rhetorical reply is simple: what if an error only creeps up every so often and is not fixable by bots? What if these errors are not caught until a significant amount of articles are created? A small base of active users may not be able to deal with the required cleanup.

Despite the risks, carefully planned bot-created articles could hold significant benefits for the Wikimedia movement. As Lsj told the Signpost:

While German-language Wikipedians lament the loss in quality in these programmatic articles, especially when compared to their stringent biology project guidelines, a short article may be better than none at all. This advantage is particularly apparent in smaller languages, whose Foundation projects have few editors and limited sources of information on the Internet, but far less so for wikis with larger userbases and article counts. It remains to be seen if more wikis will choose to bolster their content in this way.

This article was updated with comments from Achim Raschka.

Low voter numbers in WMF elections

Voter turnout by day, showing the onset and the effects of emailed reminder notifications halfway through the election period.

With little more than a day before voting closes for the WMF elections for three community seats on the ten-member Board of Trustees, fewer than 1700 Wikimedians out of a purported 90,000 active editors have turned out to vote—about one in every 50. This compares with a vote of almost 3500 in the last elections for these two-year seats, in June 2011.

Voter proportions by language
Arabic is spoken in 27 nation states by nearly half a billion speakers; but where are the voters?
The disappointing rate of participation is despite a lengthy pre-election period and almost two weeks of voting, with banners on all WMF sites and reminder emails sent out. The graph shows the day-by-day vote until the time of publication. The typical spurt of interest followed by a rapid fall-off in numbers occurred twice: once at the open of voting on 8 June, and once a week later on 15 June, corresponding to the distribution of email notifications.

Risker, a member of the volunteer election committee, commented: "It is lower than I would have expected ... It may be that the active community of 2013 is not as interested in the 'meta' aspects of the Wikimedia movement as in the past, as we have mostly followed the same processes as existed over the past several elections. Or it could be something entirely different. It's generally much harder to figure out why people don't do things than why they do them."

Of the 1659 votes cast at the time of writing, 592 (35.7%) are from English-language sites, 221 (13.3%) German, 157 (9.5%) Italian, 153 (9.2%) French, 82 (4.9%) Spanish, 55 (3.3%) Commons, 48 (2.9%) Polish, 41 (2.5%) Chinese, and 310 (18.7%) from all other languages.

Other languages on the radar are Japanese (27 voters) and Indonesian (12)—both welcome signs of the beginnings of a closer engagement with the worldwide movement—and Hebrew (10), Finnish (9), Danish (7), and Norwegian (7).

A notable disappointment is Hindi, with one voter out of some 200 million native speakers and a significant number of second-language speakers—the fourth-most-spoken language in the world—and an active and growing offline movement in the subcontinent.

Arabic, counting all dialects, has well over 400 million speakers, including 300 million native speakers, but managed to garner only four voters; this is despite a marked shift from the English and French Wikipedias to the Arabic Wikipedia in Arabic-speaking countries, and a successful start to a WMF education program in Egyptian universities.

Editors can vote until UTC 23:59 Saturday 22 June, by clicking on this link to the SecurePoll interface. Instructions on voting and information about candidates is at Meta. The close of voting corresponds to Saturday afternoon to evening in the Americas, before sunrise on Sunday morning in the Subcontinent, and early to late Sunday morning in East Asia and Australia/New Zealand.

In brief

In this issue
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Low voter numbers in WMF elections

The Indonesian voters are partly helped by campaign via Indonesian Wikipedia Facebook Groups. I curious though, how accurate the language count of the voters, if, let's say, I'm voting from Meta? Bennylin (talk) 11:13, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I tried to vote but gave up. Simply too difficult. Seems it is organised for programmers. Besides of that WMF and so on (local chapters etc) in my experience really does not connect to the average contributor. It does not mean WMF etc is irrelevant, but that for someone who want to have fun contributing to Wikipedia it is simply a step away from the fun. Best regards Ulflarsen (talk) 15:26, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I voted last year but not this time simply because I found it such hard work. Its like the voting system has been designed for some theoretical 'ideal' rather than what would engage voters. (talk) 21:54, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I agree. I'm a veteran editor and member of a Wikimedia chapter, but found the voting process to be confusing. I gave up on it on my first attempt, but ploughed through it on my second attempt. The quality of the candidates seems high, and it's a shame that the voting system doesn't encourage participation. Nick-D (talk) 01:21, 22 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I didn't made it on my first attempt too. The problem was: it's on wmf site, the first thing (well, almost) that I noticed was that I was not logged in. Then after I ignored that and tried to vote anyway, lo and behold, it said that I wasn't logged in. I decided to gave it a second chance after several days (I reckon very few people would do second chances) assuming that the first was a glitch and hopefully didn't happen again, and I successfully voted. Have it been tested on non-programmers yet? For wikis that didn't have any representation among the candidates, it felt like I was voting for UNICEF board members: interesting, but would never connect personally. Not that far from steward elections. Bennylin (talk) 17:16, 22 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
All you have to do is select whether you support, oppose, or are neutral on the candidates, right? How do you all above think that the WMF can improve the interface? Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 01:28, 22 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I'd suggest a 'flatter' structure to the website, and separate votes on each category with the explanatory material more clearly displayed - I found that I had to dig around for information about what it was I was voting for. Nick-D (talk) 10:18, 25 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I left a note on a few of the Wikipedia pages, e.g. Arabic Wikipedia. There are now five votes from ar.wp. ;-( John Vandenberg (chat) 06:47, 22 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I'm not interested on the elections. The WMF did not supply any reason why to vote. So who cares? Many don't, neither do I. Matthiasb (talk) 21:16, 27 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I agree. I abstained from voting mainly due to my unfamiliarity of the candidates, and the voting interface, though I doubt it is possible to simply, is simply too difficult to decide. I cared about this election, but couldn't bear to vote someone that I have never heard of. --Hydriz (talk) 03:21, 28 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
It's really interesting what happened to the Arab language. It has enough very active and active editors and more than enough readers according to statistic provided by wikimedia server. Compares to Javanese language Wikipedia who struggle with adding editors and still creeping up on readership. Both have similarity: their increase (probably) caused by project based effort. It shows that project, regardless additional editors to article number result - don't make community. (talk) 05:45, 28 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

A million articles... With a bot

I must say I find it hard to understand why so many people are vehemently opposed to bot-generated stubs. I myself am very much in favor of bots doing the tedious work of creating stub articles for individual species in invertebrate zoology and botany. I do understand the inevitable Immediatist versus Eventualist disagreement on Wikipedia, but still... I am amazed that in Wikipedia (of all places!) so many people intensely dislike the idea of bots creating these helpful little stubs. Once stubs are in place it is extremely easy for relative newcomers to add images or other useful pieces of information. It is a big nuisance to have to create your own stub every time you want to add an image of a species that is not represented, and I think many people who are not very experienced may be put off by that necessity. I know that some people loathe stubs, but until we ban humans from creating stubs (which are much more likely to be error-prone and much harder to fix), I don't see why we should say it is terrible to let bots create them. Invertzoo (talk) 00:06, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I'm with Invertzoo on this matter. I think such stubs are useful. Like seed crystals. It seems to me that regardless of their being sketchy on a social/statistical/competitive_ego level (i.e. to pump up stats to achieve 'milestone' recognition) the use of such stub creating bots still has a practical benefit in seeding encyclopedic articles. I'd like to encourage folks to give consideration to how much 'keeping score' and 'viewing things as a competitive game' may be influencing some peoples attitudes. Their initial emotional responses. Would this issue be any where near as contentious if weight hadn't been given to a numerical milestone in the first place?
Technology progresses and automation is part of that. I'm not writing this with a stick in the mud, nor on papyrus w/ a reed pen, nor on vellum w/ a quill, nor on paper with a typewriter. It seems sensible to me to take advange of software based tools in a software based environment. Subject to human consideration and oversight. A consideration might be to flag such stubs for review or automatic deletion if there's no growth within some period of time, say 6, 12, 18 months or whatever and to have them posted into an organized category so that folks who specialize in the relevant fields may easily access them. Feed, facilitate, and foster them instead of damning their diminutiveness. --Kevjonesin (talk) 04:27, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I am torn with Lsj's style of editing, especially after bearing witness to what it has done to the Cebuano and Waray-Waray Wikipedias, where his bot was first deployed. On the one hand, yes, bots do help increase the coverage of a given Wikipedia, but it does no good if they stay as stubs forever ("permastubs"). The Cebuano and Waray-Waray Wikipedias are beset with the problem of having tens of thousands of stubs on virtually everything, but no editors to expand the content. We can't presume that editors will just magically jump in and edit: what if they don't?
For me, I will always emphasize quality over quantity on smaller-language projects. I would prefer a Wikipedia which has thousands of well-written articles, compared to a Wikipedia which has hundreds of thousands of permastubs. --Sky Harbor (talk) 06:58, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
It's a pity that ceb.wp and war.wp will always be remembered as sv.wp's experiment sandbox. Bennylin (talk) 17:18, 22 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I'm also with Invertzoo on this. User:Polbot used to create species articles (scroll to bot function #6) from a database back in 2007. So don't call kettle black on this one, because we were there in the past. OhanaUnitedTalk page 06:54, 23 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for that, Ohana—I wasn't aware of any similar bots on en.wp beyond the early rambot. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 07:01, 23 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
English Wikipedia is also pretty heavy on current and former bot-created stubs, by Rambot, Polbot and others. Even though there are a lot of well-developed bird articles, most were started by Polbot. They helped us by adding useful information, saving human editors time, and providing an invitation to edit the articles. The German Wikipedia just has its own philosophy on stubs, human or bot written. English and Swedish Wikipedia use them as one step to gradually, incrementally building up content, while they want a more finished product. I don't care whether bots inflate counts, since using them is productive, if you don't have such strict standards. —innotata 14:16, 24 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Without wishing to join the debate here, let me just add a few pertinent facts:

Lsj (talk) 16:27, 23 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I am aware that JinJian made a request for bot-generated stubs after he generated his own set of stubs which pushed the Waray-Waray Wikipedia up to 100,000 articles, and I am aware that your wife is Cebuana (yes, I've been following both the Cebuano and Waray-Waray cases for some time now), but the question still stands: what guarantee do we have that increasing article counts in this manner will generate the editorship necessary to update them? Wikimedia Philippines for one is slowly starting to establish a user group for Waray-Waray speakers (of which JinJian is the only Wikipedian in that group so far), and we're hoping to attract more editors, but in the absence of that, the likelihood of the two Wikipedias being full of permastubs is more probable. This is why editors on the Tagalog Wikipedia have opposed the mass generation of stubs: we feel that it is not in our best interest to dilute the quality of the encyclopedia for the sake of increasing article counts, and to this day we're still feeling the effects of having so many stubs which can't possibly be updated.
I am happy that you helped the Swedish Wikipedia get to one million articles using your bot, but at least the Swedish Wikipedia has a sustainable community that can work toward expanding those stubs. That cannot be said for the Cebuano and Waray-Waray Wikipedias, which at most have only one active editor each. --Sky Harbor (talk) 16:50, 23 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
So I do my best to recruit more editors in Cebu, see e.g. here :) You do have a valid concern, but frankly, I don't believe the bot articles are lowering the average article quality on cebwp, a lot of the manually created stubs are worse. Compare e.g. hand-written ceb:Mananap (animal) with any of the bot-created articles. Cebwp and warwp both lack critical mass today, without enough articles to attract a solid reader base from which to recruit editors, and not enough editors to create that article base. My hope is that bot creation can help to break out of that vicious circle. Possibly that's a vain hope, but hand-writing isn't getting them off the ground either. Lsj (talk) 20:16, 23 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

The bot won my contribution time

As someone who often tries to add photos of plants or animals that I know almost nothing about (having simply copied their binomial from a label), I completely agree with Invertzoo. I would really prefer not to have to look up all the bits and pieces to make a stub if they can be scripted from a database. If the stub is already there, I can even add a picture to another language wiki. I guess that's why sv:Gudeoconcha sophiae ceb:Gudeoconcha sophiae war:Gudeoconcha sophiae, and sv:Epiglypta howinsulae ceb:Epiglypta howinsulae war:Epiglypta howinsulae have illustrated articles about Gudeoconcha sophiae and Epiglypta howinsulae, species which live(d) solely on an English speaking Island, while the English Wikipedia does not! (Undoubtedly User:Invertzoo, a Gastropod expert, will help me rectify this, but that's not the point.) --99of9 (talk) 10:23, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

This makes perfect sense. I do wish that WMF projects would lose their sense of base-10 thresholds as some kind of competition; it really detracts from the quality of articles as the more important benchmark of success. Tony (talk) 10:42, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
If the base-10 competition inspired the bot to write stubs for me to add to, then I'm not that unhappy with it. But I'm all for celebrating quality as well as quantity. Do you have a way of benchmarking quality across wikipedias? (Even within en-wiki - do we celebrate e.g. base-10 FA/GA/FL/FT/FP moments?)--99of9 (talk) 11:57, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I like the idea of bots doing the grunt work and preparing an easy to improve stub for us squishier types of contributors. Starting an article from nothing can be intimidating for people, not to mention hard if you want to do it well, with all the categories, info boxes etc. Also, I find it heartening to see smaller wikipedias expanding this way. I didn't notice if the bots were using information from the English wikipedia to help with the work, but one of the reasons I contribute to the English wikipedia is my hope that some of this great collection of people's good will can one day find its way to Slovene wikipedia as well. --U5K0'sTalkMake WikiLove not WikiWar 18:30, 23 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Raschka's comments: wording/grammar mess

The following needs someone who actually knows what it's supposed to mean to fix it:

Raschka told the Signpost that these articles were stubs a impart little useful information to readers—he asks, "who could be helped [these] fragment[s] of data?"

Should it be "were stubs that impart" or "were stubs and impart" or something like that? And the direct quote is [fixed from the original] but winds up still making no sense. Should it be "helped [by these]"? DMacks (talk) 00:44, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Fixed, thanks! I tried to make two sentences into one and then forgot to fix the grammar. :-) Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 00:51, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for the quick fix! DMacks (talk) 05:18, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Where voters come from

I noticed the statistics regarding where the voters come from. It does skew the numbers greatly that all links to the SecurePoll page in the Signpost article and the meta page explaining where to vote, are to the English Wikipedia version. If a great number of people have an account there, I wouldn't be surprised if many of them didn't bother changing the URL to their home wiki. -Svavar Kjarrval (talk) 01:07, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

An account is not enough, they also have to be active enough to be eligible on the wiki where they open Special:SecurePoll; for most users that's only their home wiki, though e.g. I may be eligible on a dozen wiki. The Meta pages link either to Meta or to a local page, only the English version should link here. --Nemo 08:17, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Language Voters Very active
United States
United Kingdom English
592 3321
Germany German 221 982
Italy Italian 157 445
France French
153 795
Mexico Spanish
82 542
Poland Polish 48 245
China Chinese
41 299
Japan Other
310 ru 658
ja 346
pt 201
nl 249
sv 114
Now this table is more representative. I mean, if you take enough time to read the candidates' opinions, then I guess very voters have less than 100 edits a month. (source:
The number of English-language voters doesn't seem that high to me. --NaBUru38 (talk) 01:14, 27 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]


The portrait of Jimmy Wales is hilarious and skillful. I have no idea why anyone would vote to delete the portrait, and the image is a flattering likeness of Wales, so I can't imagine why he objected to it if, indeed, he did. -- Ssilvers (talk) 21:54, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

For what it's worth, he considered it to be Hostile environment sexual harassment. You may or may not agree, but such concerns are surely worth taking seriously. The arguments to delete the picture were mostly based on the assumption that it was created in order to harass or humiliate a living person; in the end, however, Commons decided to keep it. Robofish (talk) 21:18, 24 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

pl wiki and sv wiki

"By the same metric, the Polish are twice the size of the Swedish." Userbase = active editors?

Compare sv an pl wiki. Stub ratio = 0.4135 for sv wiki and 0.5067 for pl wiki; depth = 18 for both of them. Pl wiki has more stubs! Long pages: in pl wiki and in sv wiki. Number of edits = 37486690 in pl wiki and only 23063785 in sv wiki. More users = more edits =/= more larger articles. 1 bot = thousands of stub-creators. Sławek Borewicz (talk) 22:40, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Something else. Bot activity article creation: 16% in pl wiki and 47% in sv wiki. Compare with stub ratio. Sławek Borewicz (talk) 22:50, 21 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I needed 25 26 (Sorry, ceb:Burg was also created by a bot) --Metrónomo (talk) 01:38, 5 July 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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