Before starting my internship as the Wikimedia Training Intern at the University of Edinburgh, I did not know much about Wikipedia and its sister projects. I had obviously used Wikipedia; to settle arguments, as a springboard for research and as a helping hand in some particularly difficult pub quizzes. However, I had not given much thought to where that information came from, how it was curated, maintained and what prompted people to edit freely and in their spare time. The goal to make Wikipedia the ‘sum of all human knowledge’ lies behind the work of many editors. It is this possibility of open access to all knowledge for all that drives people. The majority of editors want to preserve information, such as creating an online database of small, nearly extinct languages. For many, it is also a wish to share knowledge, to help people and to make the internet a bit better that drives them to contribute. It is a noble aim and one that many strive to help achieve both within the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK, the UK branch of the Wikimedia Foundation.
However, I do acknowledge that Wikipedia and the other Wiki platforms are not perfect. They sadly reflect the biases that are inherent in our society. Only around 18% of all biographies on the English Wikipedia are on women and there are even less on women from the Global South. The representation of ethnic minorities is also problematic. A study in 2011 found that the perspective on Wikipedia tends to come from the Global North and this is something that needs to change as the editors of Wikipedia are predominantly male, college educated, white and in their 30s. Therefore, to make Wikipedia a better place we need to make learning how to edit and maintain Wikipedia accessible for all and we need to persuade people to get involved from all backgrounds to try to address the systemic bias on Wikipedia.
One way is through edit-a-thons, where people come together with a goal to edit and create articles around a particular topic. For example, a group called Women in Red create Wikipedia articles about notable women that are lacking from Wikipedia and they helped to increase the percentage of articles about women on the English Wikipedia from around 15% to around 18%. During my summer, I attended events aim at improving representation of women such as the NHLI Wikithon for Women in Science and events hosted by the Women’s Classical Committee. Both had great speakers and showed me the possibility for social activism that Wikipedia holds.
Another way to increase access to Wikipedia is through training materials. Making accessible and understandable ‘how to’ videos and content for Wikipedia and Wikidata, an open machine-readable database, has been a main focus of my internship and over the last few weeks I have been finalising what I have made and making a website for this information. This is not a final solution for Wikipedia and Wikidata training but hopefully it will be a place where most questions can be answered for those taking their tentative first steps into the world of wiki. Not only do we need to persuade people to edit but we also need them to continue to edit and this training resource could mean that there is a safety net for new editors to fall back on for help.
Working from home has had its difficulties. Waiting for software, for a headset and sending many emails which could have been short conversations in person are some of the things that have slowed down my work. It also is important to stay motivated when working from home as the days can blur especially when there is no distinction between home and work. However, the team at the university have been very friendly, they have been around to have video calls if I need any help and extremely supportive. Everyone is going through a strange time and working from home has been a good learning curve and one that will be important for my final year at university where most of my studying will take place remotely.
I am grateful for the skills I have learnt this summer during my internship and for an opportunity to learn about the positive work that we can collectively do on the internet. Hopefully, I will continue to edit Wikipedia and in a small way increase representation on the internet and open access to knowledge for all.
Thanks especially to Ewan McAndrew for all the help and guidance this summer!
(Arthur's Seat in September - Hannah Rothmann. CC-BY-SA.)