“The Community is Our Editorial Board”

Jimmy Wales
Jimmy Wales

Mr. Wales, for you, which are the most important results of Wikimania?

Wales: By gathering together people from more than 50 nations, all Wikimedians, we cemented the bonds within the community and there were many excellent opportunities for people to learn about what is going on in different language projects. I expect the amount of global collaboration to increase substantially within the project.

You seem to be comfortable with the accusation that Wikipedia does not provide a level of reliability comparable to other encyclopedias. Do you not need a central quality management system in the long term, which would also enable obsolete articles to be classified historically?

Bauer: Quality management is already in place. The exact form varies from one language community to another, but the main features are similar. For example, articles can be tagged with revision notes for viewing by the assistants who edit the articles. These range from “The article is too brief, please expand” to specialized notes such as “The article is specific to Germany, please make universally valid”, which are particularly common when it comes to legal topics. Authors can submit their articles to the community for assessment on review pages and, if no objections are raised, propose that they be included among the excellent Wikipedia articles

It’s worth mentioning that outdated or obsolete information is far from being a problem for Wikipedia. The community aspires to be faster than traditional news media. If a personality passes away, for example, his or her biography is often updated on the very same day, as was the case with Johnnie Cochran.

Is it not the case that sooner or later the significance and reach of Wikipedia will force you to allocate the costs to users or recoup them via advertising?

Bauer: The contents of Wikipedia will always be available free of charge. This is ensured by the free licence under which the Wikipedia contents are published. We will attempt to avoid introducing advertising on the site for as long as possible. The donation campaign that’s currently underway shows that there’s still a great willingness to donate among our users. What’s more, we’re currently making every effort to attract large-scale sponsors such as companies or other charitable organizations to provide us with financial support.

Is the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation able to coordinate the many new Wikimedia projects such as Wikibooks, Wikiquotes, or Wiktionary?

Bauer: Those projects are run by an active community of authors who, in most cases, manage the projects themselves. Only very rarely does the operating organization intervene, say, in the case of legal infringements or noncompliance with our main principles.

Has Wikipedia already become a touchstone for other online reference works?

Wales: There are now many specialized works of reference online that are modelled on Wikipedia, most of which have a similar structure to Wiki and, like Wiki, operate under a free licence. Take my for-profit site Wikicities, for example, which hosts communities creating knowledge bases on all sorts of topics.

In how many languages is Wikipedia currently available?

Bauer: Wikis are currently available in 200 languages, although some are still at the development stage. At the moment there are ten different language editions with over 50,000 articles – the most widely spoken European languages plus Japanese – 20 editions with over 10,000 articles, and 42 with over 1,000. Many non-native speakers from all over the world contribute to the English edition, which boosts its growth, of course. The huge success of the German and Japanese editions is presumably down to the widespread use of the Internet in these countries.

What criteria does the coordination committee use to prioritize translations?

Bauer: The Wikimedia Foundation’s motto is that “every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge”. Of course, this also includes the knowledge being available in as many languages as possible. First of all, there has to be a sufficient number of volunteers in a particular language to set up an edition of Wikipedia. These volunteers then receive a Wiki to work in. All the editions are independent of one another and each is managed by the local community. If you compare different editions of an article in Wikipedia, in most cases you’ll see that the contributions have been written separately and originally for that edition, rather than simply being translations. It’s more fun for authors to write their own articles than to translate others.

How does the editorial board ensure that important entries are not deleted?

Bauer: In Wikipedia, it makes more sense to ask: How does the editorial board ensure that unimportant entries are deleted? The answer to both questions is: The community has the final say on which entries are deleted. On special pages in Wiki, users debate whether an article fulfills the relevancy and quality requirements and, on the basis of the arguments presented, a decision is made on its inclusion. Only administrators selected by the community are permitted to actually delete entries. Other users can remove current contents, but all the old versions of an article are stored in the version history. It takes no more than a few clicks of the mouse for a user to restore articles that have been deleted, for example, by vandals.

How have you been able to prevent hackers from abusing the site up to now?

Bauer: We regularly receive mail from people who want to make us aware of a hole in Wikipedia’s security, along the lines of: “I’ve just come across this. As you can see, it would be easy for me to change your page. I just wanted to let you know that there’s a gap in your security…” To be honest, for a genuine hacker, this is very unattractive. The community monitors misuse of the site. Our software offers a range of possibilities for tracking changes to articles, for example, articles can be placed on an observation list and new entries can be listed. Many users continually monitor the most recent changes and reverse any unwanted changes. Analysis by researchers from IBM and MIT indicates that simple vandalism is usually remedied in a matter of minutes. Administrators can also block persistent vandals or temporarily protect particular pages against changes.

How does the editorial board ensure that links have been set up to related information?

Bauer: The community is our editorial board. In the German edition of Wikipedia, there’s a basic rule which states that only a limited number of external links to an article can be set and that they must meet strict quality requirements. Active users review the articles in accordance with these rules and remove or correct links.

Which search engine technology do you deploy? Do you also take semantic web principles into account?

Bauer: At present, Mediawiki, Wikipedia’s software, uses the Java-based search engine Lucene. How effectively the principles of Semantic Web integrate with Wikipedia is the subject of ongoing analyses, which have been presented on Wikimania.

What is Wikipedia at the moment and how do you see its future development?

Wales: Wikipedia is already the largest existing encyclopedia in English and German, and this distinction will soon be true in many other languages. Our focus going forward, therefore, is not on size but on quality. It is our intention to be not only the biggest, but also the most complete, accurate, and neutral encyclopedia ever built.