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WMRU director forks new 'pedia, birds flap in top '22 piccy, WMF weighs in on Indian gov's map axe plea

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By Andreas Kolbe, Jonatan Svenson Glad and HaeB
The Picture of the Year 2022, by Prasan Shrestha, showing a great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), little egret (Egretta garzetta) and a gadwall (Mareca strepera) in Taudaha Lake, near Kathmandu, Nepal

Picture of the Year 2022

The Picture of the Year contest on Commons for the year 2022 has concluded. The top 12 images can be viewed here; all 56 finalists can be found here. – AK

Wikimedia Russia director starts Russian fork and is replaced

Wikimedia Russia logo

On 24 May 2023, long-time Wikimedia Russia director Vladimir V. Medeyko (User:Drbug) announced "Рувики" ("Ruviki"), a Russian fork of Wikipedia (Google translation of the announcement). Below are some excerpts from the announcement on habr.com, as translated by DeepL and Google:

I have been a part of the Wikimedia movement for nearly 20 years. And I can say with absolute certainty: Wikipedia is a great project. Because of its importance to the world, it has become a natural monopoly. This means that it is very difficult to reform. Primarily from the fact that it is scary to screw it up.

My colleagues and I have long wanted to try various innovations and reforms. But, as mentioned above, this is extremely difficult in Wikipedia.

Fortunately, Wikipedia is a free project. Anyone can use its content for any purpose, including creating their own project based on it. A project that one can safely try to develop!

And this is what we (as individuals) have decided to do: to start a new encyclopaedic project which is a fork of Wikipedia. That is, it is based on its content (all 1.9 million articles in Russian), but it will develop in a different way – with the said innovations and fundamental reforms.

We have only started to implement our project now, because two powerful motivating factors have emerged in 2022.

The first has to do with the issue of credibility. It has been bothering me for a long time. Back in 2008, at a Wikimedia conference, I discussed the problem of unreliability of articles in Wikipedia, the negative impact on readers, and ways to overcome it. Various mechanisms for ensuring reliability and neutrality have emerged and evolved since then. But the events unfolding in Ukraine have created unprecedented pressure on them – and in my view, the Wikipedia mechanisms are not coping well with this pressure. The need to find additional mechanisms has increased dramatically.

The second factor has to do with artificial intelligence. This topic interests me even more. At a press conference in 2007 I predicted that Wikipedia materials would be actively used in training samples for artificial intelligence systems. By 2022, this has become a reality, with Wikipedia texts used to train a wide variety of systems. On top of that, the past year has seen a boom in large language models. And it was found that the quality of a training sample is especially important for them, otherwise the occurrence of "hallucinations" in the output increases sharply. It is easy to predict that both search engines and Wikipedia will become irrelevant unless ways are found to integrate them with artificial neural networks.

I've also always been concerned about the atmosphere of the project – the friendliness, the focus on compromise for the sake of education and cooperation. I have had many discussions with fellow Wikimedians on this topic. In our view, Wikipedia is suffocating without an influx of newcomers; drastic measures are needed to attract them.

Finally, Wikipedia has an ambiguous reputation in Russia, and it has become difficult to attract participants as well as partners to organize events to support it. But at the same time the public demand for new Wikipedia-like projects has grown.

According to Russian Wikinews, this is the last known photograph (on Commons) of the fork's founders Vladimir V. Medeyko (middle) and Dmitry Rozhkov (left) as members of Wikimedia RU, showing them attending the funeral of User:Соколрус who had volunteered to serve in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and was killed in a mortar attack near Lysychansk in March.

The fork has been welcomed by those media outlets which are still allowed to publish in Russia, such as TASS. Ruviki will not be the first Wikipedia fork to be published in Russia. Runiversalis, which had difficulties getting started last fall, now claims to have 1,920,588 entries, but does not seem to be operated according to the usual Wikipedia rules. Adding to the expected confusion is that the new fork's name "Рувики" is pronounced "Ruviki", the same as a common name for the original Russian Wikipedia, RU.wiki.

In community discussions on the Russian Wikipedia and elsewhere, as well in a Russian Wikinews article, it was pointed out that concerns about AI and newbies might not be the main drivers of this project, and that it should rather be seen in the context of what the fork's announcement appears to allude to as the "pressure" ("давление") that it criticizes Wikipedia as not handling well. Namely, the list of articles banned by the Russian government has increased greatly since last year due to the addition of coverage of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, but they remain accessible in Russia as long as authorities are reluctant to block Wikipedia entirely.

Wikimedia Ukraine secretary Bohdan Melnychuk strongly criticized the fork in the Wikipedia Weekly Facebook group, saying that –

... at the moment Russian Wikipedia is on the brink of being banned in Russia [...] the concern here is not that there is a fork created per se. The concern here is that there are forks being created so that the most successful of them gets to be named the Wikipedia's replacement by the Russian government, while the Wikipedia proper gets banned in Russia.

Medeyko has since been replaced as director of Wikimedia Russia by Stas Kozlovsky and is now indefinitely blocked on Russian Wikipedia, alongside Dmitry Rozhkov, another longtime editor involved in the fork. Kozlovsky told RTVI on the day of the fork's announcement that (DeepL translation):

Vladimir Medeyko, the director of Wikimedia RU, happens to have been secretly involved in the preparation of such a project. There will be a general meeting today to strip him of his directorial powers. [...] Wikipedia is distributed under a free license; anyone can take the content of Wikipedia and use it – it is absolutely normal. It's not normal to use the authority of the director of Wikimedia RU to do this, and to do it in secret for several years. In my opinion, it's not very pretty.

For further discussion see the Wikimedia-l mailing list thread and the Wikipedia Weekly Facebook group. – AK, HaeB

U4C Building Committee

Seven African boys with white body painting on stilts
Not the U4C Building Committee, but the runner-up in the 2022 Picture of the Year contest, showing Ethiopian children with traditional body painting playing on wooden stilts

The U4C Building Committee has been set up. Its members are:

According to the page on Meta, the task of the U4C Building Committee will be "to draft a charter that outlines procedures and details for a global committee to be called the Universal Code of Conduct Coordinating Committee (U4C). The U4C Building Committee will convene to define and set up the U4C to coordinate the on-going work of the UCoC. This work includes the enforcement, annual review and possible revision of the Universal Code of Conduct and Enforcement Guidelines. The U4C development and implementation will happen over the next year. This crucial work is the next step in providing community structures for the Universal Code of Conduct." – AK

Indian map dispute

Map of India
One of the maps of India identified as requiring attention

A letter written by Jacob Rogers on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation's Legal Team to the English Wikipedia community at the NPOV noticeboard addresses concerns raised by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) of the Indian government regarding maps on Wikimedia projects. It acknowledges that India, along with several other countries, has laws that deem maps not conforming to the Indian government's national border outline as illegal. In 2023, MeitY sent the Foundation direct complaints about specific maps and provided a list of 81 URLs on Wikimedia projects, primarily English Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. MeitY expressed its intention to block access to Wikipedia in India if the Foundation did not respond to their demands.

The Foundation, following its standard practice in responding to government demands, explained the community-governance processes of the Wikimedia projects. It emphasized that content and editorial decisions are made by volunteers, and the Foundation has no authority to make changes based on government requests. MeitY acknowledged and agreed with this stance, clarifying that their request did not involve deleting any content from the Wikimedia projects.

However, MeitY made two specific requests to the Foundation. Firstly, they requested that the Foundation inform users (editors) about MeitY's demands. The Foundation considered this request reasonable and aligned with its transparency principles, and therefore decided to make the information public by writing the letter. Secondly, MeitY asked for notices to be added to pages where maps did not comply with Indian law. They also requested a reference to the official Survey of India map, which they had recently released into the public domain and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

The Foundation's Legal Department reviewed the requests and opined that informing the community about MeitY's notices was a reasonable course of action, consistent with transparency principles. However, regarding the second request, the Foundation understood MeitY's concern to be the potential misinterpretation of maps' depiction of disputed borders. In response, they suggested the addition of language to image captions in an encyclopedic style to address some of MeitY's concerns while adhering to existing content policies.

After conducting a thorough manual review of the 81 URLs shared by MeitY, the Foundation meticulously identified twelve maps of India that required attention. These maps were spread across eight pages and notably lacked any indication of the border dispute in their visual representation or accompanying captions. The identified maps are as follows:

Recognizing the importance of providing a more balanced and contextual understanding, the Foundation acknowledged the potential benefit of addressing the border dispute in relation to these maps.

The letter emphasized the Wikimedia Foundation's support for the community's editorial decisions and processes. If the community collectively decided not to take any action in response to MeitY's requests, the Foundation would communicate this decision to MeitY and would also attempt to challenge any potential blockage of Wikipedia in India. In conclusion, the letter expressed gratitude to the readers for their time and consideration. – JSG

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I'd like to personally thank those Russian Wikipedians who have stood up for the values of the Wikipedia community. +1, they deserve a lot of respect. In this kind of situation it's obviously much harder to do that than for most of us in other countries. But it's also especially valuable.
Regarding your theory about the Russian authorities though, they don't really seem to try very hard to to fool the public into thinking that they aren't planning to close Wikipedia - there have been several recent statements to the contrary, e.g. by Valery Fadeyev:

"'My opinion on Wikipedia is that it should be shut down. (...) There is no alternative now. It is necessary to create an alternative as soon as possible and close Wikipedia - this is my position,' said the head of the HRC [ Human Rights Council ]."
— lenta.ru/news/2023/04/04/matveychev/, Google Translate

Regards, HaeB (talk) 05:45, 6 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
It's nice to agree on things. +1 form me too, for the record. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 04:56, 7 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for your thanks. We have a very harsh times now and keeping Wikipedia values is very difficult and dangerous. -- ssr (talk) 09:14, 7 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Fadeyev is not one who influences decisions like that. He may say anything, it is not any indication of real plans and intentions of those who really make decisions. Dr Bug (Vladimir V. Medeyko) 23:49, 7 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Zooming out a bit from individual people's failings: We weren't able to cover that angle in the Signpost story (and it would probably be premature anyway), but from the ruwiki village pump discussions, it seems that there are some concerns and questions about the chapter's financial transparency in recent years (and also about its collection of personal data, through Medeyko). At m:Wikimedia Affiliates Data Portal/Reports, Wikimedia RU is currently flagged as past due for both its activity and financial reports (the most recent one dates from 2020 in both cases), and on May 31 it received a "Notification of Affiliate Expiration - Renewal pending submission of reporting". This kind of organizational transparency in financial and other matters often tends to be viewed as a boring formality - until it suddenly isn't. The aforementioned notification indicates that failings in that regard at least do not go entirely unnoticed. But one may wonder if more effective and timely enforcement could help chapters who are at the risk of drifting off into situations like the one that the remaining WMRU members apparently have to repair now. Regards, HaeB (talk) 05:45, 6 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
If I remember correctly, Wikimedia.ru was designated by the WMF as "ineligible for funding" in smth like 2012 due to persistent lack of delivering activity reports in time. And the situation with reporting was apparently bad all the way down, but this did not lead to any consequences. Ymblanter (talk) 10:09, 6 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that you didn't reach me for comments. I thought it would be interesting to have first-hand explanations from a long-term wikimedian. :)
What Mr. Blanter writes about me above is a lie. I'm not "mainly interested in money". Wikimedia RU was never a great source of money, I was getting much more money as a professional programmer and analyst. After 22.02.2022 Wikimedia RU lost any prospects of getting grants, universities stopped to accept our lecturers, partners rejected or postponed contests... It became impossible to promote free knowledge with a link to Wikipedia in Russia. Last months the only reliable source of money for Wikimedia RU was my personal salaries from sources absolutely unrelated to Wikipedia and Wikimedia movement. As for Wikimedia RU reporting - I agree that my reporting is poor; but please take in account that activities that I was making at Wikimedia RU are normally divided between several professionals - accountants, lawyers, programmers, system administrators, translators, writers, couriers, etc; any faults are agressively criticised, this is quite demotivating and forcing a procrastination; and that I asked colleagues for help with preparing the report but got little help; I was wishing to step down for years, but it was clear that no one wished to take my shoes. However, I'm still going to help colleagues in Wikimedia RU to the extent they and I wish and can. I wish the colleagues success!
The statement "he openly supports the Russian invasion of Ukraine" is another lie. I understand that I know too few about real causes and circumstances of the actions to take any side, and so have never expressed a support for any side.
The statement about claimed Wikimedia RU ineligibility due to lack of reporting is untrue too, to my best knowledge. Wikimedia RU has never received or requested funding from WMF (the personal travel grants to Wikimedia Summit and CEE Meeting are not counted). It seems that Mr. Blanter mixed up with ineligibility for annual grants due to absense of record of specific projects grants (which Wikimedia RU simply has never asked for too, that's why there was no records).
There's a lot of other lies. I still hope that you are interested in truth, not hoaxes. So your questions are welcome! Dr Bug (Vladimir V. Medeyko) 23:24, 7 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
I am not interested in discussing anything in you. You are not a user in good standing. I hope T&S will take care of your global account soon. Ymblanter (talk) 11:59, 8 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
My message was not addressed to you. Also I would mention that harassment is prohibited towards the user in any standing. Dr Bug (Vladimir V. Medeyko) 14:05, 8 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Which indeed happened yesterday. Ymblanter (talk) 07:22, 26 July 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@Drbug: I did ping you at the time but received no reply. I guess I could have emailed ... apologies. It was a busy week. This said, I quoted a lengthy part of your statement advertising the new site on habr.com. Regards, Andreas JN466 22:30, 8 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
He doesn't like to reply to people, especially on telephone, that's why many people came to not liking him. -- ssr (talk) 07:20, 9 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Ah, great! I'm happy that the question was asked indeed, and it was my fault not yours that I didn't notice the ping. And your professionalism meets my expectations, I'm no more surprised! Dr Bug (Vladimir V. Medeyko) 10:53, 11 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
One question I have is – do you feel that the Russian Wikipedia has a NPOV problem, with official Russian views not adequately represented?
One thing I have often thought about is that free knowledge by and large seems to follow (or be reverting to) the same patterns that existed fifty years ago: political blocs with separate knowledge cultures that are relatively homogeneous internally, but quite divergent from other such cultures.
Looking at online encyclopedias, we see this most clearly with China, which has its own huge online encyclopedias, but is absolutely resistant to Wikipedia. Russia might be going the same way, it seems to me. I could see India going that way too at some point over the next decade (see above article).
When I first heard of the NPOV idea, almost 20 years ago, I imagined a source where you can read truth claims from all major sides: a source that would tell me what Chinese people are being told is true by their media, what people in the US are told by their media (though I feel that the Western media landscape is considerably freer and more diverse), what Russians are told by their media, and so forth. All attributed of course: stated not as fact, but as the truth claim of the American, Russian, Chinese, Indian etc. sources in question.
Now over the years it has become clear that Wikipedia is not that project. Neutrally reporting an ideological opponent's speech that one firmly believes to be propaganda, or a lie, just seems to go against people's grain – it goes against the grain of people everywhere. But the cost of having your own view prevail is that people will eventually go off and do their own thing. And this kind of seems to me to be what is happening here.
So maybe we are destined to have political blocs, each with its own monoculture, much like we did 50 years ago. The Chinese have their encyclopedias, the Russians will have theirs, and the rest of the world has Wikipedia (until someone gets big and powerful enough to split off and do their own thing). Does any of this resonate, or do you see something else happening entirely? Either way, I'd be interested in your views. Cheers, Andreas JN466 23:09, 8 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
It's a very, very interesting question. It is complex, so it's hard to answer in a few words, but I will however try :).
Wikipedia is not perfect by its very nature, so there have always been some deviations from the NPOV from the very beginning, and there always will be.
But NPOV still is a great idea, and it works greatly to a certain extent.
You are absolutely right that it is very hard for editors to handle the opponents' positions neutrally. However, NPOV often work even with passionate edtiors when there are a significant mass of neutral editors, who don't have strong feelings for or against any side.
It is not the case in the Russian edition of Wikipedia regarding the Russo-Ukrainian situation. The West is obviously involved in at least an information warfare, the topic is very acute and affects many users closely, so there are quite few neutral editors. In particular, the so-called mediators are not sufficiently neutral, most of they are not able to consider the topic in cold blood (most of them have a strong view of the situation, some even used harsh derogatory words against Putin). Russian-speaking editors from Africa or South America would probably help, but unfortunately they are not numerous in Russian edition of Wikipedia. Therefore the systemic bias is a bit more tangible in this case. I feel the deviations are mostly materialized not in omissions of some facts (but sometimes that happens too), but in the wording that that over-emphasizes the one side's political agenda in the situations when it is not necessary (and there're no such harsh wording and overexposure of failures even in articles about sentenced Nazi criminals).
I agree, I think you are right, we live in a time when the world is dividing, but in the way different that in the Cold War era. Unlike those times, it's pretty hard to cut off the flow of information almost completely now. But each side would try to support its own information sources.
And maybe that's a good thing for people, for readers in particular: a monopoly is often a problem, even if it is a bona fide benevolent monopoly... Dr Bug (Vladimir V. Medeyko) 10:53, 11 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@Drbug: Thanks. The idea of a single source representing all viewpoints sounds appealing on one level. (In a discussion on Hacker News, someone once said to me that such a source might well present more lies to its readers, but would unquestionably also contain more truth. I often think about that comment. )
This said, the resulting monopoly of such a source – if it could ever exist – would instantly represent a huge weakness. (I wrote about this aspect once here in the Signpost, years ago, in the context of Wikidata.)
So speaking generally, I agree that it is good to have a pluralist landscape, with multiple sources presenting different viewpoints accessible side by side.
Good luck with the project! Regards, Andreas JN466 16:51, 14 June 2023 (UTC)[reply]





       

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