Tuesday, January 10, 2012

OccupediA - Women Contributing to Wikipedia (the first of many such events)

Last Thursday night about 8 women arrived at Noisebridge to learn how to contribute to Wikipedia.  Several things led to this gathering:
  • An article in the New York Times back in October drew attention to the lack of women contributors to the Wikipedia knowledge base and that got me thinking.  
  • Having organized other spontaneous "women get together and learn stuff" events I figured I could take the same approach to Wikipedia contributing, get some women together to create accounts, generate content, learn how to stop vandalism and see what would stick.  
  • Recent participation in activism around the Occupy Wall Street movement also inspired me to try and reach out to communities I am in who are not as technical, to encourage people to come first with knowledge and interest in topics Wikipedia could benefit from and let the tech come second. 
  • A month ago Elsa and I were talking casually about all the the above mentioned things and we decided to just go for it and pick a date, throw it up on the Noisebridge (local SF hackerspace) calendar, and see what we could make happen.
We took over a small makeshift classroom space at the back of Noisebridge. It had one lamp as the primary source of light because the fluorescent holders above were missing their tubes.  A man was near the back working on a dress for fashion school, several other hackers were up front working on their various projects.  Noisebridge was a wonderful place to have this event. It feels like anything is possible in a space like that.

I was happy with the turn out - we had a mix of artists, educators, and tech workers. Also as a bonus one of the attendees, my coworker Boriss, was a seasoned Wikipedia contributor who was able to really detail the ins and outs of the different levels of participation.  I can't stress enough how amazing it was to have her and her knowledge there because there are lots of misconceptions about Wikipedia (I definitely had some) and her first-hand knowledge was inspiring to me.

So the beginning of the meetup went well enough, and as you might expect.  We introduced ourselves, talked about why we had come to the event and what we were hoping to get out of it. We started in on learning how to set up an account if one didn't already exist and we looked at discussion/history/edit and other basic navigations of Wikipedia space.  There were a lot of questions about what belongs in Wikipedia, neutral tone, citations.  The conversations were lively and I found them quite enjoyable.

Here's what I didn't expect: Getting folks interested and excited about Wikipedia becomes REALLY HARD in practice.  Unlike learning Python where the participants can hammer out some code on their own computers in minutes and feel accomplished, there is a lot more complexity to Wikipedia.  There is a lot of confusion about their UI, their purpose, who can do what and when. Very quickly it seemed that the women who had come to the event feared adding anything new to the knowledge base and they were also incredibly intimidated by the UI of the site. It wasn't even clear enough how one would create a new article when none existed.

From this event I learned a lot about organizing and about the intentions of future events like this and I did a little braindumping while we were meeting so I could remember to list them later in this very post.

Things that would help newcomers:
  • Having a "new to wikipedia" moniker next to their nickname for the first N activities on the site (we have this on our Mozilla bugzilla) so that hopefully older and wiser participants would be extra nice to them
  • Find a way to make some of the simpler tasks that help Wikipedia (typos, reverting vandalism, categorizing articles) into a game that a new arrival could play that would start easy and then move more toward the real-life workflow of working on Wikipedia - as a way to warm them to the UI
  • Encourage newcomer to write a straight-up article and have a place for these things to be dumped for inpection/linkage/categorization and otherwise Wikipedia-fying the knowledge dump.  My partner is an English professor and can certainly write good content for Wikipedia but everything about the site is intimidating. There should be a page where she could copy/paste or upload a document of her article and then let people who know wiki syntax and the other requirements an article needs come along and finish it up
  • Make it way easier to find the "adopt a user" program that I hear exists but no one would know to find that from the Wikipedia home page

I will continue to organize these events, perhaps once a month. More reports as they happen.


Sarah Stierch said...

Thanks for sharing your experience Lukas. Any place on Wiki that features the content created and user accounts created? Thanks!

Lukas Blakk said...

Hey Sarah - we didn't get to do very much original input to articles as the learning to navigate Wikipedia and discussing how it works as a culture took up so much time. All our notes are here though: https://etherpad.mozilla.org/OccupyWikipedia

Maryana said...

Hey all - I'm Maryana. I work for the Wikimedia Foundation at their SF office, and I'm a volunteer editor in my spare time. Oh yeah, and I'm also a woman :)

First up, awesome idea and thanks for organizing.

Second, I think I might be able to help with improving this experience the second time around (please tell me when there'll be a second time around!). Need a way to give people smaller, more manageable tasks than creating an article from scratch? Check out WP:Backlog. Need a place to paste draft articles and get peer review before going live? Well, there's this thing called AfC...

Anyway, I'd be happy to get together with y'all and brainstorm pre the next session, dump a few ideas into your Etherpad, or just show up to the next event and be a Wikipedia cheerleader (and hand out swag - I have buttons!). You can reach me at mpinchuk [at] wikimedia [dot] org. Give me a holler :)

judytuna said...

Hey! I'm so glad you did this, and bummed I couldn't make it! Still wearing an ankle brace.
Here's my experience of my first time contributing to Wikipedia: I wrote my first article in December. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verdena_Parker ... My friend Ramon is a linguist and works a lot with her. When I was writing it, I stared at the Notability link a lot. Another a cappella group on campus, Noteworthy, had some fights with wikipedia editors because they were deemed not noteworthy enough, which is hilarious. I remember hearing a lot about the discussion in like 2006 -- one of the notability requirements for a music group was that they tour internationally, and Noteworthy had technically done that since they'd gone to Asia. But they were still denied. There's a different a cappella group named Noteworthy on wikipedia now. Anyway....

I used the AfC/Wizard first, then realized that it was going into a pipeline and had no idea how long it would take until someone looked at it, so I deleted it and created the page for real. After that, I looked on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Wikipedia_articles_needing_copy_edit for a while and reformatted other peoples' new pages. I remember I spent a lot of time on this new-edit page on a Chinese entrepreneur that was obviously copy-and-pasted from their "about" page, and thinking that they probably did not pass Notability. Then I found http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Wikipedia_articles_needing_copy_edit and spent a lot of time reading about "barn stars" and looking at the massive list of articles that needed copyediting. I spent a lot of time installing the bit of code that makes a word count show up on wikipedia pages when you're logged in, and then a lot of time trying to edit a random article I picked on the big list ... it was on antibiotic misuse. It needed a lot of changes, since the tone was definitely not neutral, and had several paragraphs that were repeated paraphrases of each other. I keep wanting to come back and find small obvious errors to correct (since I don't want to do anything wrong).