June 25, 2018

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June 24, 2018



FIFA World Cup 2018 Stadiums in Russia 1 | © Harry Wood © map data OpenStreetMap contributors


  • On the tagging mailing list there was a discussion on whether amenity=shelter implies a building=yes tag. Judging from the answers, the topic is more complex than expected.
  • The OSM US Camera lending program is so popular that the goal needed to keep the camera had to be increased to 1 million OSC contributions, in order to ensure sustainability of the program. This will only affect new applicants.
  • [1] After Harry Wood featured the FIFA World Cup stadiums on wiki.osm.org as "photo of the week", ШТОСМ studied the maps and imagery for each of them and explains the reasons behind sub-par representation of these stadiums on OSM. Turns out there was no project to map any of these and there is still no recent imagery for the cities. The author points out that OSM still "won" by being used in MAPS.ME, which is the official partner of Rostourism.
  • Mapbox discontinues its support of their navigation data map.
  • Norgeibilder is the best available imagery for Norway, and the OSM community obtained permission to use it for mapping. With the latest release of iD the new orthophoto layer is now the default in iD, via the Editor Layer Index. Laser imagery (both DSM and DTM) is also available for the whole country, also through the ELI.
  • Mapbox has released 184,000 possible turn restrictions for more than 35,000 intersections in 23 cities in the USA. The restrictions can be viewed on a map (takes time to load). The restrictions should be double checked before entering them into OSM.


  • OSM Belgium has named Matšeliso Thobei (OSM tshedy) from Maseru in Lesotho as Mapper of the month. Matšeliso is currently studying spatial planning in Ireland and has mapped extensively during her 3 years at OSM. In the interview she tells how she came to OSM, explains her motivation and her background.
  • The first of the Top Ten Tasks, a reporting function and complaint management system for openstreetmap.org, has been in use since June 16. Users, map notes (both by mail to the DWG) and spam diary entries (message in IRC channel #osm-dev) can now be reported in the browser with a few mouse clicks.
  • nyampire published a blog post about Shinsyu University of International’s switch to OSM. SUI is a fake university and famous for pranks in Japan. As SUI wrote in the html source "In order to avoid harm to OSM" they added their "university" only to a local instance of OSM data.


  • The SotM Latin America 2018 will take place on September 24th in Buenos Aires. Proposals can be submitted until August 25.
  • Mappy published (fr) its report of SotM-FR 2018. The conference covered many topics, including pedestrian, cyclist and automotive navigation, public transport, humanitarian mapping, tools for mapping and a lot of new ideas.


  • Víctor Olaya presented his book "Introduction to GIS", available under CC-BY license. You can find it on GitHub.


  • Richard Fairhurst shows on Twitter the differences due to the new clustering of bicycle parking spaces on cycle.travel.
  • Last week’s defibrillator map is – as some readers have noted – not updated. Therefore we would like to draw your attention to two alternatives today: emergency-map by wambacher and defibrillators in Austria.
  • Christoph Hormann continues his series of suggested improvements to the rendering of water related objects. After his blogpost about waterbodies and fords "Water under the bridge" he follows up with a new post "The way of the water" with suggestions on how to improve the rendering of water barriers i.e. dams, lock gates and weirs as well as water sources, namely fountains and springs. Here is an example implementation that he published on GitHub.


  • The EU Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee has endorsed (de) the new EU Copyright Directive, which introduces an ancillary copyright for headlines and text excerpts as well as upload filters. The plenary will vote on it in the first week of July. Wikimedia Germany presents (de) their view. On change.org you can sign a petition against the upload filters and ancillary copyright.


  • The BBBike extract service now offers OpenStreetMap data extracts in GeoJSON format. The step follows the shutdown of all of Mapzen’s services, including the Metro extracts, where the GeoJSON download was an often used feature. GeoJSON is an open alternative to the proprietary ESRI-Shapefiles.
  • Mapbox announced the release of RobotSat. While the OSM blog post highlights the feature extraction from aerial and satellite images with "polygon recommendation" at the end, the announcement at mapbox.com also mentions tracking of deforestation, fires and landuse as well as measuring the impact of natural disasters and humanitarian crisis.

    With the Robosat recognising multiple features based on the aerial and satellite images, this is a step towards using AI or machine learning for mapping, Christoph Hormann (imagico) points to his own blogpost and we also previously reported about the research paper that talks about issues related to the same.


  • The company Sentiance announced Loc2Vec, an AI product to predict human behaviour. The neural network consumes location data like tiles generated by customized OSM-Carto stylesheets and outputs semantic similarity between different locations. Very simple put, the system gets some intuition and can say which venue a person is more likely to visit based on a given inaccurate location.
  • In the OSM forum a user asks for data sources for city models. He is working on the project OpenGlobus.org that aims to become a JavaScript library that can display interactive 3D maps with map tiles, imagery, vector data, markers and 3D objects.
  • Biswesh Mohapatra wrote a blog post on his background, how he came to the Google Summer of Code 2018 and his experience about working on the JOSM PT_Assistant plugin.
  • Princi Vershwal wrote a blog post on her work on Vector Tiles for the iD Editor during the Google Summer of Code project. She prepared the implementation of data in .pbf (Protocolbuffer Binary Format) and .mvt (Mapbox Vector Tiles) format.


  • The current release state of the software around OSM can be found on wambacher’s software-wachtlist.
  • Version 0.9 of the OSM-C-Tools (Osmconvert, Osmupdate, Osmfilter) has been released.
  • Version 2.9.0 of the iD editor was released. Support for Bing Streetside 360-degree panoramic image layer was added among other features. A Microsoft employee explains on the GitHub pull request which usage of the imagery is permitted and which not.

OSM in the media

  • The Italian newspaper La Stampa publishes an article about the upcoming State of the Map in Milan.
  • Grab (the Uber of the East) has been sponsoring a number of mapathons in Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore. Their latest effort in Malaysia, with 50 university students, has generated a number of articles in the press including this one on Behind the Wheel.

Other “geo” things

  • Nastya Parygina published an article about FOAM. It is intended to replace more traditional geospatial databases with blockchain technology. It claims to be decentralized, up-to-date due to economic incentives and technology agnostic and has trusted historical data due to blockchain technology with a higher accuracy compared to GPS. A white paper goes a little bit more into the details. With regards to OSM, the article wrote that FOAM will solve the issues of unverified edits and the vandalism in general.
  • An article on The Conversation discusses why we cannot always trust what we can see in satellite imagery.
  • Topi Tjukanov wrote an article about the database PostgreSQL with its PostGIS extension, targeting consumers of spatial data. However, the article is worth reading for anyone who wants an easy written explanation of what PostgreSQL and PostGIS are and why it is worth using them.
  • Xiaomi has launched the world’s first dual-frequency GNSS smartphone, bringing decimetre levels of accuracy to consumer grade equipment. The new GNSS chip BCM47755 used by Xiaomi is able to receive all currently available satellite positioning systems i.e. the European Galileo, the well known US based GPS, the Russian GLONASS, the Chinese Beidou and the Japanese system called QZSS.

Upcoming Events

Where What When Country
Mumble Creek OpenStreetMap Foundation public board meeting 2018-06-21
Leoben Stammtisch Obersteiermark 2018-06-21 austria
Essen Mappertreffen 2018-06-22 germany
Kyoto 幕末京都マッピングパーティ#05:会津藩と京都守護職 2018-06-23 japan
Essen 4. OSM-Sommercamp und 10. FOSSGIS-Hackingevent im Linuxhotel 2018-06-22-2018-06-24 germany
Amagasaki あまらぶBosai literacy+:地域防災マップ作成講座 2018-06-24 japan
Rome Incontro mensile 2018-06-25 italy
Bremen Bremer Mappertreffen 2018-06-25 germany
Lübeck Lübecker Mappertreffen 2018-06-28 germany
Dusseldorf Stammtisch 2018-06-29 germany
Stuttgart Stuttgarter Stammtisch 2018-07-04 germany
Bochum Mappertreffen 2018-07-05 germany
Urspring Stammtisch Ulmer Alb 2018-07-05 germany
Ise 世古をマッピング!:伊勢マッピングパーティ 2018-07-07 japan
Munich Münchner Stammtisch 2018-07-10 germany
Cologne Köln Stammtisch 2018-07-11 germany
Berlin 121. Berlin-Brandenburg Stammtisch 2018-07-12 germany
Milan State of the Map 2018 (international conference) 2018-07-28-2018-07-30 italy
Dar es Salaam FOSS4G & HOT Summit 2018 2018-08-29-2018-08-31 tanzania
Buenos Aires State of the Map Latam 2018 2018-09-24-2018-09-25 argentina
Detroit State of the Map US 2018 2018-10-05-2018-10-07 united states
Bengaluru State of the Map Asia 2018 (effective date to confirm) 2018-11-17-2018-11-18 india
Melbourne FOSS4G SotM Oceania 2018 2018-11-20-2018-11-23 australia

Note: If you like to see your event here, please put it into the calendar. Only data which is there, will appear in weeklyOSM. Please check your event in our public calendar preview and correct it, where appropriate.

This weeklyOSM was produced by Anne Ghisla, Nakaner, Polyglot, SK53, Spec80, SunCobalt, YoViajo, derFred, jinalfoflia, keithonearth.

Understanding participation gaps: Why users don’t hear of Wikipedia, don’t visit it, don’t know they can edit, and don’t contribute

reviewed by Miriam Redi

“Schematic drawing of a pipeline of online participation” (Figure 1 from the paper, by Aaron Shaw and Eszter Hargittai, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Participatory platforms such as Wikipedia offer a unique opportunity to make knowledge production more equitable and inclusive. However, digital inequalities necessarily limit the democratic potentials of collaborative knowledge repositories, eventually reducing the number of active contributors in these spaces.

But what are ‘digital inequalities’, what are the factors and processes behind such ‘participation gaps’? This paper[1] investigates these questions by (a) modeling online participation in knowledge spaces as a sequence of engagement steps, and (b) using a data-driven approach to describe the factors (gender, education, internet skills) generating gaps at each step of online knowledge production in the concrete case of Wikipedia. In 2014, the authors had already published related research that had been more narrowly focused on Wikipedia’s gender gap, see our earlier review (“Mind the skills gap: the role of Internet know-how and gender in differentiated contributions to Wikipedia”).

The authors first theorize a ‘pipeline’ of knowledge production. The ‘pipeline of online participation’ is a sequence of engagement stages that internet users must go through to become increasingly involved in participatory websites. To become an active contributor, an internet user must have 1) heard of the participatory site 2) visited the site 3) known that anyone can contribute to the site 4) effectively engaged with knowledge production. Each step of the pipeline has ‘leaks’: the number of contributors is lower than the number of people who knows anyone can edit, which is lower than the number of people who visited the site, and so on.

The researchers then quantify participation gaps at each step of the pipeline, focusing on Wikipedia as an example of a participatory website for online knowledge production. To do so, they collected survey data from around 1.5K US adults. The survey included questions regarding Wikipedia usage and awareness, encoding the users’ position in the knowledge production pipeline (e.g. ‘have you ever heard of this site?’, ‘have you ever visited this site?’, ‘Have you ever edited a Wikipedia page?’). Other survey questions gathered respondents’ attributes including gender, age, education level.
Results show that leaks of engagement at each step of the pipeline actually exist: 83% of internet users actually visited Wikipedia, while only 68% of users know that Wikipedia is editable. This suggests that interventions aimed at closing participation gaps need to increase awareness among a broader range of internet users: “Transforming the culture of participation among existing Wikipedians—an area of intervention that receives considerable attention—will not overcome participation gaps.”

Then, the authors identify factors impacting participation, and interventions to improve participation gaps.
To understand which attributes predict that a user has heard of, has visited, knows that anyone can edit, and has contributed to Wikipedia, the authors use various statistical tools. These include a regression model treating respondents’ answers regarding Wikipedia usage as dependent variables, and respondent’s attributes as independent variables.

Results show that high education, high internet skills and younger age associate to increased participation at each step of the pipeline: the authors observe that this gap could be filled by promoting interventions that reduce technical and knowledge-based entry barriers.
Although income and racial background explain early stages of the pipeline, they are not predictive of whether a user is a contributor of Wikipedia. This suggests the need for interventions addressing early participation gaps in minorities and lower income classes by reducing internet experience and autonomy obstacles.

A gender gap is visible only at the latter stages of the pipeline, showing that women tend to contribute less and be less aware of the possibility to contribute. This supports the need for continued efforts to recruit female editors, but also suggests that campaigns should be put in place to increase awareness among women that Wikipedia is editable. More in general, there exist vast education, gender and skill gaps between who has visited and who knows that Wikipedia can be edited. This awareness gap in turns affects the probability of being a contributor.

Edit-a-thon participants are motivated by desire to change the views of society

reviewed by Barbara Page

A study published in Information Research[2] evaluated the motivations and interactions of those who edit and also confirmed the findings of a previous study.[supp 1] Editors who participated in a four-day February 2015 edit-a-thon on the Edinburgh University campus were found to be motivated by their desire to change the views of society. Out of 47 participants in this Scottish study, nine were interviewed afterwards. The authors proposed that their observations apply to editing behavior of Wikipedia editors not attending the event. Wikipedia was described as a ‘social media site’ and the findings of this study could be applied to other collaborative social media elsewhere. “…[C]ommons-based peer production processes, such as Wikipedia editing, serve as a form of social influence and that volunteers can be motivated to change societal views.”

“Evaluating Wikipedia as a self-learning resource for statistics: You know they’ll use it”

reviewed by FULBERT

This recently completed study,[3] still awaiting its volume and issue assignment, began with an acknowledgment that Wikipedia is very widely used by students, often as their first introduction to areas of study about which they know little. As a result, it may be more valuable than ever that disciplinary areas not only know what their students find, but actively take steps to improve the content as it will be accessed and used regardless of its being encouraged or discouraged.

The authors identified and utilized a six-step framework for curriculum evaluation to assess five statistical Wikipedia articles that were considered integral to an understanding of that area: arithmetic mean, standard deviation, histogram, confidence interval, and standard error. They were careful to explain that their assessment was done at a specific period in time, and as Wikipedia articles are edited and revised regularly, what they worked with at the time may not be what exists in the articles themselves right now.

The researchers found inconsistencies of quality, presentation, and levels of accuracy across the articles, and while that may not be surprising, it was determined that most of the articles assessed would not be recommended for readers learning about the concepts for the first time on their own. While the authors point out that Wikipedia attempts to be an encyclopedia and not a student self-learning tool, they found that the students would not distinguish this point and would likely look up new concepts and learn about them from their Wikipedia articles. The implications of their study suggest that stakeholders, especially in education, work with fundamental articles themselves or with their students to improve them. As novice learners in a difficult subject such as statistics may often try to self-learn via Wikipedia, it is suggested that teachers recommend it only for an overview of the topic and not for in-depth understanding. Likewise, it also called for educators within disciplinary communities to recognize that students will use Wikipedia as a learning tool regardless of what they tell their students, and thus it is suggested that the main articles related to the subject matter themselves be improved by the community for the benefit of their own students.

“Wikipedia as a Pedagogical Tool: Complicating Writing in the Technical Writing Classroom”

reviewed by FULBERT

The transparency of information on Wikipedia can be used for many educational purposes within higher education, in part due to the levels of access and agency it provides to students of technical writing. While there are many pedagogical applications of Wikipedia to this student population, the suggestions of this study[4] are readily applicable to educational purposes within other fields and disciplines.

The author conducted a literature review that addressed issues of wiki technology, and how the technical elements can best be integrated and supported amongst students; Wikipedia within higher education, including how its usage can support democratic involvement of students; and Wikipedia and community, which included elements of communities of editors who support their work in a broad manner. Bounding pedagogical recommendations within the wiki literature, including both technical along with collaborative aspects, is a useful way to frame the following discussion related to engaging with Wikipedia activities.

The activities discussed were created by the author for an upper level technical writing elective, though students came from broader disciplinary backgrounds, such as English, psychology, and engineering, amongst others. They were grouped into various categories, starting with the View history, to understand the overall page makeup with elements of the writing process, notion of authorship, and history of how certain articles developed. The Talk page was explored through writing as a process, citations, and the exploration of idealogical language usage. The Edit function was explored through writing within community guidelines, writing for readers, and how to write within a wiki environment. Finally, assessment activities were discussed, many of which took the form of student reflective writing on their learning experiences. While the student activities originated within a course on technical writing, they included valuable lessons that involved learning about power and authority and how they manifest through writing. It seems many of these suggestions and experiences may be readily translated into other academic areas within higher education for related benefits.

“When the World Helps Teach Your Class: Using Wikipedia to Teach Controversial Issues”

Reviewed by Piotr Konieczny

“Teaching with Wikipedia” is becoming increasingly a norm – perhaps not as ‘a very common activity’, but common enough that there are thousands of courses doing it, and dozens of academic papers reviewing the effectiveness of this approach. A paper[5] recently published in PS – Political Science & Politics discusses educational benefits of teaching about controversial issues through the case study of one of such assignments, involving students writing Wikipedia articles on a topic related to inequality for the course taught by the author (a 2015 Kent State University upper-division writing-intensive seminar in political science titled “The Politics of Inequality”). The author, familiar with materials released by the Wiki Education Foundation, followed many recommended ‘best practices’, such as dedicating class time to teaching students about both Wikipedia editing how-to, and the site’s policies related to article quality.

The author found Wikipedia editing environment conductive to peer reviews. Students appreciated the collaborative nature of the project, enabling peer reviews of one anothers work, and understood and were motivated by the fact that their work was intended for the wider world and had long term impact, extending beyond the immediate duration of the course. Most crucially, Wikipedia’s neutrality policy posed an interesting challenge for the students, who had to find reliable sources to back (or challenge) their views. The biggest challenge, unsurprisingly, “Wikipedia’s clumsy interface and formatting”. In the end 85% of the students found the assignment useful. The author likewise found the experience helpful, noting that the assignment “yielded generally positive results”. Unfortunately, despite the author’s positive conclusions regarding this teaching activity, it seems that this (2015) course has been the first and last course using ‘Teaching with Wikipedia’ approach by the author.

On a final note, the paper includes the detailed syllabus and supporting materials used to develop this activity for a course, helpfully facilitating the reuse of this project by other instructors. It is also commendable that the supplementary materials included the course name and Wikipedia course page.


Running the numbers

reviewed by Barbara Page

This study is a fascinating description of what data can do when Wikipedia biographies are compared against time and place. The articles of notable people were correlated to time and geodata. A ‘center’ was determined about which the biographies exist. Currently this ‘barycenter’ oscillates between Morrocco, Algeria and Tunisia. One example of how the data was used was to compare the changes in human lifespan across the centuries from 60 years in the 1400s to 80 years in the 1900s. The changes in arts, literature and women’s biographies relative to sports biographies is not surprising. The ratio of more current biographies of women, artists and sports people impact more recent data.[6]


reviewed by Barbara Page

Scientists are influenced by Wikipedia and Wikipedia in turn influences the literature. Two articles Circadian clock and Circadian rhythm, their editing histories and ‘debates’ were examined over a period of ten years. Those conducting the study evaluated the influence that ‘ground-breaking studies’ had on the development of the topic. The problems that the scientific community has with Wikipedia content and editors were also described.[7]

Conferences and events

See the community-curated research events page on Meta-wiki for other upcoming conferences and events, including submission deadlines.

Other recent publications

Other recent publications that could not be covered in time for this issue include the items listed below. contributions are always welcome for reviewing or summarizing newly published research.

  • “Ongoing Events in Wikipedia: A Cross-lingual Case Study”[8] From the abstract (of this extended abstract paper): “In this abstract we present preliminary results of a case study with the goal to better understand how researchers interact with multilingual event-centric information in the context of cross-cultural studies and which methods and features they use.”
  • “Wikipedia as a gateway to biomedical research: The relative distribution and use of citations in the English Wikipedia”[9] From the abstract: “This study aims to establish benchmarks for the relative distribution and referral (click) rate of citations—as indicated by presence of a Digital Object Identifier (DOI)—from [English] Wikipedia, with a focus on medical citations. […] all DOIs in Wikipedia were categorized as medical (WP:MED) or non-medical (non-WP:MED). Using this categorization, referred DOIs were classified as WP:MED, non-WP:MED, or BOTH, meaning the DOI may have been referred from either category. Data were analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics. Out of 5.2 million Wikipedia pages, 4.42% (n = 229,857) included at least one DOI. 68,870 were identified as WP:MED, with 22.14% (n = 15,250) featuring one or more DOIs. WP:MED pages featured on average 8.88 DOI citations per page, whereas non-WP:MED pages had on average 4.28 DOI citations. For DOIs only on WP:MED pages, a DOI was referred every 2,283 pageviews and for non-WP:MED pages every 2,467 pageviews. DOIs from BOTH pages accounted for 12% (n = 58,475).”
  • “What are the ten most cited sources on Wikipedia? Let’s ask the data”[10]
  • “Leveraging structural-context similarity of Wikipedia links to predict twitter user locations”[11] From the abstract: “…we propose a novel framework for predicting the location of a social media user by leveraging structural-context similarity over Wikipedia links. We measure SimRanks between pages over the Wikipedia dump dataset and build a knowledge base,mapping location information (e.g., cities and states) to related vocabularies along with the likelihood for these mappings. Our results evolve as the users’ tweet stream grows. “


  1. Shaw, Aaron; Hargittai, Eszter (2018-02-01). “The Pipeline of Online Participation Inequalities: The Case of Wikipedia Editing”. Journal of Communication 68 (1): 143–168. ISSN 0021-9916. doi:10.1093/joc/jqx003.  Closed access (but still available via archive.org)
  2. Hood, Allison Littlejohn, Nina (2018-03-15). “Becoming an online editor: perceived roles and responsibilities of Wikipedia editors”.  Information Research, vol. 23 no. 1, March, 2018, paper 784
  3. Dunn, Peter K.; Marshman, Margaret; McDougall, Robert (2017-10-30). “Evaluating Wikipedia as a self-learning resource for statistics: You know they’ll use it”. The American Statistician 0 (ja): 0–0. ISSN 0003-1305. doi:10.1080/00031305.2017.1392360. Retrieved 2018-01-28.  (Wikidata information via Scholia)
  4. Andrew David Virtue: Wikipedia as a Pedagogical Tool: Complicating Writing in the Technical Writing Classroom Wiki Studies (2017) volume 1, number 1
  5. Cassell, Mark K. (April 2018). “When the World Helps Teach Your Class: Using Wikipedia to Teach Controversial Issues”. PS: Political Science & Politics 51 (2): 427–433. ISSN 1049-0965. doi:10.1017/S1049096517002293. 
  6. Gergaud, Olivier; Laouenan, Morgane; Wasmer, Etienne (2016). “A Brief History of Human Time: Exploring a database of ‘notable people'”” (2016-03). Sciences Po Economics Discussion Papers, Sciences Po Departement of Economics. 
  7. Benjakob, Omer; Aviram, Rona (2018). “A Clockwork Wikipedia: From a Broad Perspective to a Case Study”. Journal of Biological Rhythms: 074873041876812. ISSN 0748-7304. doi:10.1177/0748730418768120. 
  8. Gottschalk, Simon; Demidova, Elena; Bernacchi, Viola; Rogers, Richard (2018-01-22). “Ongoing Events in Wikipedia: A Cross-lingual Case Study”. doi:10.1145/3091478.3098879. Retrieved 2018-02-12. 
  9. Maggio, Lauren A.; Willinsky, John M.; Steinberg, Ryan M.; Mietchen, Daniel; Wass, Joseph L.; Dong, Ting (2017-12-21). “Wikipedia as a gateway to biomedical research: The relative distribution and use of citations in the English Wikipedia”. PLOS ONE 12 (12): –0190046. ISSN 1932-6203. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0190046.  Scholia entry
  10. Miriam Redi, Jake Orlowitz, Dario Taraborelli, Ben Vershbow: “What are the ten most cited sources on Wikipedia? Let’s ask the data”. blog.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 2018-04-23. 
  11. Huang, Chuanqi (2018-01-17). “Leveraging structural-context similarity of Wikipedia links to predict twitter user locations”. Colorado State University. Libraries.  (MSc thesis)
Supplementary references:
  1. Benkler, Y. & Nissenbaum, H. (2006). Commons-based peer production and virtue. Journal of Political Philosophy, 14(4), 394-419.
Editor’s notice: The March and April issues were skipped.

Wikimedia Research Newsletter
Vol: 8 • Issue: 05 • May 2018
This newsletter is brought to you by the Wikimedia Research Committee and The Signpost
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June 23, 2018

When using ogv.js in the old IE 11 browser to play VP9 video, one of the biggest CPU hotspots is the vpx_convolve8_c function, which applies pixel filtering in a target area.

The C looks like:

All the heavy lifting being in those two functions convolve_horiz and convolve_vert:

It looks a little oversimple with tight loops and function calls, but everything is inlined aggressively by the compiler and the inner loop unrolled. The asm.js looks something like:

(Note some long lines are cut off in the unrolled loop.)

This seems fairly optimal, but know that those multiplications are slow — they’ll be floating-point multiplication because the semantics of JavaScript’s floating-point multiply operator don’t lend themselves well to automatic consolidation into integer multiplication. And it’s already an optimization that it’s doing _that_!

Normally emscripten actually doesn’t emit a multiply operator for an integer multiplication like this — it instead emits a call to Math.imul which implements 32-bit integer multiplication correctly and, when implemented, quickly. But in IE 11 there’s no native Math.imul instruction because it’s older than that addition to the JavaScript standard…

The emscripten compiler can provide an emulated replacement for Math.imul when using the LEGACY_VM_SUPPORT option, but it’s very slow — a function call, two multiplications, some bit-shifts, and addition.

Since I know (hope?) the multiplications inside libvpx never overflow, I run a post-processing pass on the JavaScript that replaces the very slow Math.imul calls with only moderately slow floating-point multiplications. This made a significant difference to total speed, something like 10-15%, when I added it to our VP8 and VP9 decoding.

Unfortunately optimizing it further looks tricky without SIMD optimizations. The native builds of these libraries make aggressive use of SIMD (single-instruction-multiple-data) to apply these filtering steps to several pixels at once, and it makes a huge improvement to throughput.

There has been experimentation for some time in SIMD support for asm.js, which seems to be being dropped now in favor of moving it directly into WebAssembly. If/when this eventually arrives in Safari it’ll be a big improvement there — but IE 11 will never update, being frozen in time.

June 22, 2018

Dr. Jackie Koerner, User:Jackiekoerner
ImageFile:Jackie Koerner.pngChris Koerner, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Jackie Koerner is a Visiting Scholar partnered with San Francisco State University’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. The Visiting Scholars program connects experienced Wikipedia editors, like Jackie, with access to academic sources. The partnering university thus expands the reach of their collections, and a Wikipedian is better equipped to continue spreading free knowledge.

Jackie created an article for the 504 Sit-in as part of her Visiting Scholar position, which was recently featured on Comedy Central’s Drunk History. Read our write up about it here.

She has contributed more than 5,000 words to the existing article about disability in the United States, expanding the article’s coverage of demographics of those with disabilities, links between poverty and disability, and stigma and discrimination that people with disabilities face in the American schooling system.

And she has created the article for the Superfest International Disability Film Festival, a cultural event that began in Los Angeles in 1970 and is now a two day festival in the San Francisco Bay Area. The festival features films focused on real life experiences of people with disabilities, as well as films that star and were developed by people with disabilities. Sign language interpreters and film narrators are available to make the film experiences accessible for all. Jackie has added more than 7,000 words to the article and other editors have since contributed as well.

Jackie has already made great progress in her position, having contributed almost 30,000 words to Wikipedia articles related to disability rights and culture. Follow along here!

Jackie wrote about why she was drawn to the Visiting Scholars program here. For more information about Visiting Scholars, visit our informational page or reach out to contact@wikiedu.org.

ImageFile:SFSU Humanities Building.jpg, Michael Fraley, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr.

The Visiting Scholars program connects experienced Wikipedia editors with academic sources they’re looking for to improve their work and workflow. Wiki Education takes care to match these Wikipedians with academic institutions whose collections encompass a topic area of interest. These academic institutions then provide the Wikipedian with remote access to their sources, and expand the reach of their knowledge through the world’s most accessed online source of information.

Our current Visiting Scholars cover a diverse range of topics and articles on Wikipedia, depending on their interests and access to sources. But this week we’re highlighting a common thread: how Visiting Scholars have improved topics related to our Communicating Science initiative. We recognize that the public relies heavily upon Wikipedia for their scientific information. Ensuring that information is accurate, representative, and up-to-date is important as people incorporate that knowledge in their political and daily lives.


Andrew Newell, or User:RockMagnetist on Wikipedia, is the Deep Carbon Observatory Visiting Scholar. He has been working on the article about scientific literacy, which the United States National Center for Education Statistics defines as, “the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity.” Scientific literacy encompasses skills to understand scientific methodology and theories as they are written or as they appear numerically. The article traces the history of conceptions of scientific literacy. In the United States during the 1950s, science education treated the purpose of scientific literacy in terms of strategic challenges to solve (space race). Modern definitions of scientific literacy frame the concept in terms of preparing citizens to make informed political and behavioral decisions that affect their lives.


Jackie Koerner, or User:Jackiekoerner, is the Visiting Scholar partnered with the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. She has improved the article on Native American disease and epidemics, specifically adding a section detailing epidemic connections to disability. Diseases and epidemics within Native American communities have increased the population of people with disabilities. For example, diseases such as small pox and scarlet fever could result in blindness, deafness, and increased rates of suicide. Jackie cites Kim E. Nielsen’s work, A Disability History of the United States, published by Beacon Press. The book examines US history through an intersectional lens, following how concepts and laws around disability have intersected with policies around slavery, gender discrimination, and immigration.

Women in STEM

Lillie Eginton Warren (1902), uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Rosiestep.
Image: File:Lillie Eginton Warren (1902).png, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, or User:Rosiestep, is Northeastern University‘s Visiting Scholar committed to closing Wikipedia’s gender gap. This week, we’re highlighting an article she created and developed about American educator, author, and inventor Lillie Eginton Warren. Warren invented the Warren Method of Expression Reading and Numberical Cipher, an educational method to help deaf and hard-of-hearing adults understand conversation by studying facial muscle expression. She and her assistant, Edward Nichie, expanded deaf education to adults, because until the 1890s it was reserved for children. Her method earned a patent in 1903 from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Only about 17% of Wikipedia’s biographies are about women. And an 2016 independent study finds that Wikipedia biographies of women are more likely to mention their roles as mothers or wives, over their careers or other accomplishments. Improving Wikipedia’s representation of women in STEM, in particular, provides examples of career paths for future women scientists. Reading about successful women can also help alleviate the threat of negative stereotypes in STEM fields and beyond.

For more information about the Visiting Scholars program, visit wikiedu.org/visitingscholars. Or click here to read more about our current Scholars.

This week at our team offsite in Dublin, I looked at our performance data from an angle we haven't explored before: mobile device type. Most mobile devices expose their make and model in the User Agent string, which allows to look at data for a particular type of device. As per our data retention guidelines, we only keep user agent information for 90 days, but that's already plenty of data to draw conclusions.

I looked at the top 10 mobile devices accessing our mobile sites, per country, for the past week. One country in particular, India, had an interesting set of top 10 devices that included two models from different hardware generations. The Samsung SM-J200G, commercially known as the Samsung Galaxy J2, which was the 5th most common mobile device accessing our mobile sites. And the Samsung SM-G610F, also known as the Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime, which was the 2nd most common. The hardware of the more recent handset is considerably more powerful, with 3 times the RAM, 23% faster CPU clock and twice the amount of CPU cores than the older model.

Being in the top 10 for that country, both devices get a lot of traffic in India, which means a lot of performance Real User Monitoring data collected from real clients to work with.

With the J7 Prime retail price in India currently being double the J2 retail price, one might wonder if users who use the cheaper phone also use a cheaper, slower, internet provider.

Thanks to the Network Information API, which we recently added to the performance data we collect, we are able to tell.

Looking at Chrome Mobile only, for the sake of having a consistent definition of the effectiveType buckets, we get:

effectiveType  J2 J7 Prime
slow-2g 0.5% 1.1%
2g 0.8% 0.7%
3g 27% 28%
4g 71.5% 70.2%

These breakdowns are extremely similar, which strongly suggests that users of these two phone models in India actually experience the same internet connectivity quality. This is very interesting, because it gives us the ability to compare the performance of these two devices from different hardware generations, in the real world, with connectivity quality as a whole that looks almost identical. And similar latency, since they're connecting to our data centers from the same country.

What does firstPaint look like for these users, then?

Device Sample size Median p90 p95 p99
J2 1226 1842 4769 7704 15957
J7 Prime 1798 1082 2811 5076 12136
difference -41.3% -41.1% -34.2% -24%

And what about loadEventEnd?

Device Sample size Median p90 p95 p99
J2 1226 3078 9813 14072 29240
J7 Prime 1798 1821 5635 9847 28949
difference -40.9% -42.6% -30.1% -1.1%

Across the board, the difference is huge, even for metrics like loadEventEnd when one might think that download speed might be an equalizer, particularly since we serve some heavy pages when articles are long. OS version might play a part in addition to hardware, but in practice we see that older Android devices tend to stick to the OS version they were shipped with, which means that those two factors are tied together. For example, worldwide for the past week, 100% of J2 phones run the Android version they were shipped with (5.1).

These results show that device generation has a huge impact on the real performance experienced by users. Across the globe, users are upgrading their devices over time. This phenomenon means that the performance metrics we measure directly on sampled users with RUM should improve over time, by virtue of people getting more powerful devices on average. This is an important factor to keep in mind when measuring the effect of our own performance optimizations. And when the median of the RUM metrics stay stable over a long period of time, it might be that our performance is actually worsening, and that degradation is being masked by device and network improvements across the board.

Given the eye-opening results of this small study, getting a better grasp on the pace of improvement of the environment (device generations, network) looks like a necessity to understand and validate our impact on the evolution of RUM metrics.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit NUI Galway last week for the annual CELT Symposium. It was the first time I’d been to Galway, but it reminded me a lot of a (much!) bigger version of my home town of Stornoway in the Western Isles so it felt a bit like home away from home.

The theme of this years symposium was Design for Learning: Teaching and Learning Spaces for Higher Eduction and, as always, it was a really thought provoking and engaging event. Although I’ve never been to CELT before I always follow the conference hashtag on twitter so it was great to be invited to participate in person this year. I’m not going to attempt to summarise the entire symposium, but I do want to briefly mention a few highlights.

Alastair Blyth, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at the University of Westminster, opened the conference with a keynote on Re-imagining Learning Spaces in Higher Education. Alastair noted that conversations about space are never just about space, they’re conversations about pedagogy, curriculum, technology, time and most importantly people. Learning is a social process, so learning spaces need to be learner centred and inclusive, and they need to enable collaboration between both students and teachers.  Alastair also highlighted the important civic function of universities, which blurs the boundary of public and private space.  This is a function that has always been central to the University of Edinburgh and indeed the university’s civic mission is written into the institution’s vision for open eduction.

Lorna Campbell & Donna Lanclos, CC BY-SA 2.0, Catherine Cronin

Anthropologist Donna Lanclos also gave a really inspiring keynote on supporting active learning pedagogies through creative physical spaces.  Creating the space is just the starting point, staff need time to develop a curriculum that maximises the effectiveness of active learning spaces. Experimenting with teaching in this way can be unsettling for students, as it’s a different model of authority. Teachers that are comfortable in active learning spaces, are comfortable with the realisation that they are not the main point of the learning experience.  Research shows that active pedagogies and active teaching and learning strategies break down inequalities in student success. If we choose not to adopt these approaches, then it becomes a social justice issue.  Donna cautioned against asking students what they want from libraries and learning spaces; instead, ask them what they do, where they go, ask them about their own learning spaces. We need institutional spaces that facilitate collaborative learning, we can’t just send our students to Starbucks. Donna also introduced us to the wonderfully icky concept of Sticky Campuses – campuses that students want to come back to.

Another session that really captivated me was Catriona Carlin‘s lovely talk about designing biodiverse spaces to feel joy and inspire learning. Catriona reminded us that the outdoors isn’t just for ecologists, the outdoors enables people to think outside the frameworks that constrain them, allowing them to notice, observe and think.  A timely reminder for us all!

Given the Symposium’s focus on physical teaching and learning spaces, I was a little worried that my closing keynote, The Soul of Liberty,  on digital open learning spaces, might be a little off the mark, so I was really encouraged by all the positive feedback I got from participants on twitter both during my talk and after I posted the transcript here on my blog.  It’s particularly gratifying to see such a positive response to our Open Content Curation Student Interns and the Wikimedia in the Classroom initiatives led by our wonderful Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew.  I’d also like to give a little shout out to Alice White, WiR at the Wellcome Library, and my colleague Anne-Marie Scott, whose gorgeous photographs of the Processions collaborative art work I used in my slides.

I’d just like to finish by thanking Catherine Cronin and Ian McLaren for inviting me to the Symposium and to all at NUI Galway who worked so hard to make it such a welcoming and engaging event. Tapadh leibh a huille duinne!

June 21, 2018

Photo by Zack McCune/Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0.

About half of the world does not use the internet. That’s 3.9 billion people who are unable to share in the sum of all knowledge.

While there are many causes of this, one of the key barriers to internet adoption around the world is a lack of digital literacy. That’s why the Wikimedia Foundation is partnering with the GSMA to place Wikipedia as one of five apps included in the Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT) which teaches the basics of using the internet and common applications.

MISTT is a visual and easy to follow curriculum that helps trainers demonstrate the value and the functionality of the internet on smartphones. Course participants learn the basics of internet use via several of the most commonly used platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Google and YouTube. Now Wikipedia is also included within MISTT, thanks to a collaboration between the Wikimedia Foundation’s Partnerships & Global Reach team and the GSMA’s Connected Society Programme.

The module will be used in projects in Chad, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso in the next few months. The outcomes from similar previous trainings in Rwanda are encouraging, and demonstrate the MISTT’s potential in building digital literacy skills and driving uptake and usage of mobile. This in turn will increase the awareness and reach of Wikipedia.

GSMA and Wikimedia are aligned on the need to support individuals in low and middle income countries gain the basic skills needed to access Wikipedia and other internet services. In order to make Wikipedia a truly global free knowledge resource, we need participation from the world. While it is widely known and used in the US and Europe, only 30% of Wikipedia traffic comes from emerging countries. Our aim is to allow everyone living in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East to share in the sum of all knowledge. In 2016–17, we conducted extensive research to better understand the full spectrum of barriers to accessing and participating in Wikipedia. We found that basic awareness of Wikipedia—i.e. “Have you ever heard of Wikipedia?”—is far lower in low and middle income countries than in North America and Europe. For example, while 87% of US internet users had heard of Wikipedia, the same was true for only 19% and 27% of Iraqi and Nigerian internet users, respectively.

How are we going to reach these underserved individuals? In the last year, we’ve worked to raise that awareness of Wikipedia in Iraq and Nigeria, the latter through video campaigns we conducted which received over 15 million views combined. Looking forward, the Wikimedia Foundation is focusing on efforts to bring communities that are left behind by different barriers, including digital literacy challenges, that still impede many people from accessing and contributing knowledge on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia sites. Real knowledge equity means finding ways to bring everyone into the Wikimedia movement, and that includes reaching those who are starting to become digitally aware, and many who may be experiencing the internet for the first time on their phones.

As part of our 2030 vision, the Wikimedia Foundation is working to expand partnerships with organisations like the GSMA to empower communities through digital skills training and participation in knowledge creation and sharing. It is with this in mind that we will continue to collaborate with the GSMA to adapt the MISTT with Wikipedia module to other countries and regions as part of our efforts to increase awareness and global participation with Wikipedia.

Jack Rabah, Regional Manager, Strategic Partnerships – Middle East and Africa
Wikimedia Foundation

The Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT) can be found on GSMA’s website. It is currently available in Bengali, English, French, Hindi, Kinyarwanda and Swahili.


  • We had our all-staff meeting in February, one of two such events throughout the year. It was a great opportunity to discuss the organization’s future strategic direction in general and begin our annual planning process for next year.
  • George Mason University Visiting Scholar Gary Greenbaum brought the article on U.S. President James K. Polk up to Featured Article status this month. It’s an article that receives a lot of traffic; good work Gary!
  • Product Manager Sage Ross made several key behind-the-scenes reliability improvements to the Dashboard this month. The Dashboard now uses a more reliable email system — laying the groundwork for future improvements in surveys, announcements, and notifications for instructors and students. Volunteer contributors, aspiring summer interns, and our current Outreachy intern have also made notable contributions, including a way for the Dashboard to monitor Good Article Nominations.
  • Director of Development and Strategy TJ Bliss attended the National Summit for Democracy in DC, where he discussed the role that Wikipedia has and can play in driving fact-based decision-making. He held several conversations with potential funders who are interested in the work that Wiki Education is doing to promote information literacy and improve the fact-base on Wikipedia.



Educational Partnerships

Educational Partnerships Manager Jami Mathewson attended the Ocean Sciences Meeting, a venue for marine scientists to share knowledge and research across disciplines, including geology, physics, and chemistry. The meeting is co-hosted by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), The Oceanography Society (TOS), and the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), whose members’ lives and careers are dedicated to understanding and conserving the world’s largest ecosystem. She spoke with dozens of university instructors, graduate students, undergraduates, and industry professionals, and the ethos toward Wikipedia was overwhelmingly positive. One researcher “confessed” to reading Wikipedia as a quick refresher on topics related to his research, and another instructor even remarked that Wikipedia is “one of the great things of the information age.” We’re actively looking for more geology and oceanography students to improve Wikipedia, making information about the earth more readily accessible to its inhabitants, and we look forward to working with these new program participants.

Wiki Education hosted a booth at the National Association of African American Studies & Affiliates 2018 Joint National Conference.

Outreach Manager Samantha Weald spent a week in Dallas at the National Association of African American Studies & Affiliates Joint National Conference. The event is co-hosted by the National Association of African American Studies, the National Association of Hispanic and Latino Studies, the National Association of Native American Studies, and the International Association of Asian Studies. Attendees came to present about and discuss African, African-American, Hispanic, Latinx, Asian, Native American, and Indigenous culture and history. With our commitment to growing and disseminating research related to these histories, this conference enabled us to recruit diverse content and voices for our programs and for Wikipedia.

In February, we continued our efforts to engage more potential instructors with a webinar, joining the York College, City University of New York faculty at their three-day Wikipedia-focused event. The faculty are interested in expanding CUNY engagement on Wikipedia, and we are excited to collaborate with them as they bring more instructors into the Classroom Program. Thank you to Greet Van Belle for coordinating the events and bringing everyone together to learn more about how Wiki Education supports instructors and students as they improve Wikipedia.


Classroom Program

Status of the Classroom Program for Spring 2018 in numbers, as of February 28:

  • 327 Wiki Education-supported courses had course pages (183, or 56%, were led by returning instructors)
  • 5,483 student editors were enrolled
  • 53.8% students successfully completed the online training
  • Students edited 2,360 articles, created 101 new entries, and added 590,000 words

Enrollment continued to surge in February. Students have started contributing, and Wikipedia has more than 100 new articles thanks to these contributions! Wikipedia Content Experts Ian Ramjohn and Shalor Toncray have fielded several excellent questions about tone, length of article, and writing style on Wikipedia. Program Manager Will Kent continued to offer office hours in February. He was consistently impressed with the caliber of questions and the personal investment from instructors and students alike. Will also had the opportunity to visit a few local classrooms this month, a wonderful opportunity to see students in action and troubleshoot some of the more difficult parts of the assignment.

Student work highlights:

Shalor and Ian have been pleased with the quality of student contributions so far. For many classes we’re just getting started, but we already have some amazing new content, from the improvement of psychology articles to entirely new articles about women in cinema. Keep up the good work, everyone!

Here are some recently-expanded and brand new articles:

Time travel might be possible for an alien doctor who can travel to any place or time, but humanity can only experience the past via media such as films, artwork, and books. Students in Katherine Holt’s Modern Brazil class with The College of Wooster chose to examine how the past impacts the future by assisting in the creation and expansion of the Wikipedia’s article on the 1578 book History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, which covers Huguenot Jean de Léry’s experiences living in a Calvinist colony in the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and later with the Tupinambá Indians. Staying with the Indians gave the author access to the tribespeople’s daily lives, which he faithfully recorded in his account. Some of the things he was privileged to witness were likely parts of the Tupinambá Indians’ lives that people outside of the tribe rarely got to witness in part or full, which is why the text is regarded as a highly significant work for multiple disciplines. It’s worth noting that de Léry’s time spent with the Tupinamba people did give him a substantial fright during a trip to a village that was currently in the middle of a celebration. When he realized that part of the celebration involved cooking and eating a prisoner, de Léry chose not to participate. While he was resting in his bed one of the Tupinamba came to offer him the prisoner’s foot! As de Léry did not speak the Tupinamba people’s language and his interpreter was not available, he mistook the person’s actions to mean that he was going to be the next person to get eaten – something that was clarified by morning. Prior to the class’s improvements the article was a two sentence stub created by their instructor and lacked information about the book’s content, context, or historic legacy. Thanks to these students the book’s importance to fields such as anthropology, history, and even biology and geology is clear, due to the amount of detail in de Léry’s accounts.

When it comes to size, Jedi Master Yoda put it best: “Judge me by my size, do you?” Even on Wikipedia, smaller contributions can still make a huge impact when it comes to editing. One student in UC Berkeley professor David Harris’s Civic Technology course noticed that the article for digital literacy needed improvements. They specifically paid attention to the term’s definition in the article’s opening — which is typically the first thing that someone will read when opening a page on Wikipedia, or what will appear in Google’s Knowledge Graph on the search results page. While the prior version wasn’t exactly incorrect, it wasn’t necessarily the best and most accurate way to describe the concept of digital literacy. They changed the opening to better define how digital literacy is the set of skills and knowledge needed for a person to fully participate in a technologically based society. It’s a small edit, but better clarifies the point to incoming readers hungry for knowledge, showing proof that “Size matters not.”

When we see an image, it’s reasonable to assume that we remember less than we actually saw. It can be surprising to discover that we may remember more than we saw. When shown a tightly cropped image, people’s memories often extend the margins of the image, and remember things that weren’t actually there. Boundary extension is the name given to this phenomenon. A student in Greta Munger’s History of Psychology class took the short, stubby article that existed in Wikipedia and expanded it into a substantial article that looks at this in depth. Comic book therapy uses comic books in the rehabilitation process. People either create comic books as a therapeutic exercise, or read and discuss comic books and graphic novels that discuss similar experiences and diagnoses. Here again, a student in the class expanded a short Wikipedia article into a much more detailed exploration of the topic.

One student in the class created a new article about high performance organization. Others made major expansions to a range of articles including maturation and environmentalism, which discusses two competing models for the way in which children acquire cognitive skills, music therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, and the psychological concept of adjustment.

Students in Kathryn Haas’ Women in STEM class have been helping to fill gaps in Wikipedia’s coverage by creating and expanding articles about women in fields related to science, technology, and medicine. The contributions of women in these fields in the 19th and early 20th century is often overlooked, and a lack of coverage exacerbates that problem. Margaret MacDonald was a Canadian nurse who was one of the first women to hold a high-ranking position in the Canadian military. Emily Fortey was a British chemist who worked as a researcher between 1896 and 1904 before leaving science to pursue a career in politics. Martha Austin Phelps was an American chemist best known for her work on arsenic who completed her Ph.D. in 1898. Charlotte Fairbanks earned a Ph.D. from Yale before becoming a medical doctor in 1902. These are just a few of the many articles that this class worked on.

In the University of California Santa Cruz professor Minghui Hu’s History of Qing China class, two of her students decided to try their hand at uploading images to Wikimedia Commons. One uploaded an image of Fan WenCheng, a Chinese minister who served as an adviser during the Qing dynasty, while the other added an image of a white domesticated rabbit eating some freshly washed lettuce. Animals proved to be a popular upload choice with other classes as well, as a Paradise Valley Community College student in Paula Crossman’s IFS201-25138 took the opportunity to upload a photograph of a sacred cow roaming Tian Tan Buddha square.

Fan WenCheng, a Chinese minister who served as an adviser during the Qing dynasty. Uploaded to Commons by a student.
Image: File:Fan WenCheng.jpg, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
White domesticated rabbit eating some freshly washed lettuce. Uploaded to Commons by a student.
Image: File:History140B许安.jpg, 李许安, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
A sacred cow roaming Tian Tan Buddha square. Uploaded to Commons by a student.
Image: File:Big Buddha Sacred Cow.jpg, Cisca657, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Community Engagement

This month Community Engagement Manager Ryan McGrady announced an exciting new Visiting Scholars opportunity at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, through the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures. A Wikipedian interested in using Rutgers’ resources to write about endangered languages would gain access to the university library’s databases, ebooks, and digitized collections, as well as resources through its affiliate library at Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute.

Viewers of the Comedy Central program Drunk History learned about the 504 Sit-in this month, a 1977 demonstration for the civil rights of people with disabilities. Anyone who went to Wikipedia to read more about it encountered an article created by San Francisco State University Visiting Scholar, Jackie Koerner.

George Mason University Visiting Scholar Gary Greenbaum brought the article on U.S. President James K. Polk up to Featured Article status. This is the latest in a series of Featured Articles about United States Presidents — articles which receive thousands of page views every day. The Polk article, for example, has been viewed more than 80,000 times just in the past month.

James K. Polk
Image: James Polk restored.jpg, by Matthew Brady (restored by Superwikifan), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight has been busy writing about women writers as Visiting Scholar at Northeastern University. This month her biographies included Mary Mapes Dodge (1831-1905), a popular American children’s author known for the novel Hans Brinker, and Mary C. Ames (1831-1884), who received the largest ever salary paid to a newspaper woman up to that time.

Mary C. Ames
Image: Mary Clemmer Hudson from American Women, 1897.jpg, author unknown, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Barbara Page is one of Wikipedia’s most active editors. As Visiting Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh she has created or significantly improved hundreds of articles. This month she continued this work, starting and extensively developing the vaginal epithelium article, the aglandular inner lining of the vagina consisting of multiple layers of squamous cells.

We were very happy with the progress our Wikipedia Fellows have been making this month, as they begin to make substantial edits to Wikipedia. For example, Jenn Brandt, one of the Fellows affiliated with the National Women’s Studies Association, significantly expanded and reorganized the article about award-winning author Margaret Atwood. R.G. Cravens, representing the Midwest Political Science Association, expanded the article about LGBT conservatism in the United States, adding a new history section and improving its sources. Michael Ramirez, who comes to Wikipedia Fellows through the American Sociological Association, has been making several improvements to the masculinity article, adding material about the social construction of masculinity and improving the section on nature vs. nurture aspects of the subject.

Margaret Atwood
Image: Margaret Atwood 2015.jpg, by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


Program Support


Executive Director Frank Schulenburg and Director of Programs and Deputy Director LiAnna Davis participated in a series of radio interviews about Wiki Education’s Classroom Program this month, along with local participating faculty and students. Two of Frank’s interviews, with Florida radio stations WLRN (find the whole segment here) and WMNF ran in February. LiAnna’s segment, with California station KPFK, was scheduled to run in March.

We featured six testimonials by instructors in our Classroom Program on our blog this month, reflecting on the Fall 2017 term. Dr. J. Wesley Leckrone discusses the importance of his political science students learning how to write in a non-biased manner. Dr. Deborah Stine shares why 85% of her public policy students prefer a Wikipedia assignment over a traditional executive summary assignment. Dr. Kathleen Crowther stresses the importance of increasing Wikipedia’s coverage of women in medical fields. Gerald R. Lucas explains why he believes Wikipedia to be the most successful Digital Humanities project to date. Longtime Classroom Program participant Dr. Joan E. Strassmann shares some secrets of teaching with Wikipedia that she’s learned over the years. And Dr. Edward Benoit, III writes about the global reach of a Wikipedia assignment. We take perspectives from instructors into account when improving our resources and support, and love to hear that so many are eager to share stories about their experience.

Blog posts:

External blog posts:

Digital Infrastructure

In February, we made a slew of changes to the Dashboard to make it more effective for people organizing and supporting large-scale Wikipedia editing programs — relevant for both Wiki Education staff and the Wikimedia program leaders using the global community Dashboard outreachdashboard.wmflabs.org. Volunteer contributors, aspiring summer interns, and our current Outreachy intern have been very busy, and several of their contributions are worth calling out. Amit Joki added the ability for the Dashboard to monitor for Good Article Nominations on English Wikipedia. Jacob Stoebel built an administrative Settings interface, which allows us to more easily manage admin roles and will be a foundation for managing other settings and system-wide features as well. Pratyush Singhal simplified the development setup process, created our first automated setup script for new developers to set up their environments quickly, and fixed a wide range of small bugs as well. Outreachy intern Candela Jiménez Girón shipped a pair of major features in support of the Art+Feminism 2018 campaign: the ability to create new Wikipedia accounts directly from the Dashboard, and a new system for rapid statistics updates for short events like edit-a-thons.

Sage made several key behind-the-scenes reliability improvements this month. The Wiki Education Dashboard now uses a more reliable email system that can handle larger volumes of email, laying the groundwork for improving the email capabilities of the Dashboard for surveys, announcements, and better email notifications and reminders for instructors and students. Sage also re-engineered the system for fetching and storing training module content and translations for the global community Dashboard, which — even after short-term fixes in January — was strained beyond its breaking point with the volume of translated training modules. We expect it to be considerably more reliable now, even with further increased usage.


Finance & Administration / Fundraising

Finance & Administration

For the month of February, the total expenses were $174,000 versus the budgeted $240,000. This variance of ($66K) is expected, ($55K) reduction in Programs due to reduction in Payroll and the Research and Engagement program. And ($12K) under budget in Governance, as the Board meetings budgeted for February occurred December and January. The gap in the Programs budget is also due to project hiring for Guided Editing, which was budgeted for the beginning of January, but has not yet been spent. We will not begin that spending until we receive the grant for the project, as indicated in our plan.

The year-to-date expenses of $1,252,000 were under the budgeted amount of $1,545,000 by ($293,000). For the most part, Governance is on track, just ($2K) short of budget YTD. As expected, Programs is the most under budget due to changes in budgeted personnel ($70K), Professional Services ($98K), Travel ($24K), Associated marketing costs ($8K), administrative costs ($9K) and indirect costs associated with a lowered occupancy ($20K). Fundraising is under budget ($20K) YTD due to a shortage in Travel in December/ January, but is on track for the month of February. General and Administrative has been under budget due to Personnel changes at the end of Q2 and has not quite picked back up, as expected in the budget and is still under budget YTD by ($42K).


In January, we began seeking smaller “sponsorship” grants for the 40 or so specific topic areas that we support via our Classroom Program (e.g. biology, women’s studies, anthropology, etc.). In this fundraising approach, we are hoping to attract funders who care deeply about specific topic areas and help them see the importance of ensuring Wikipedia’s coverage of these topics is improved. We are excited to announce that this month we received our first topic sponsorship grant: a $50,000 donation from Craig Newmark Philanthropies for Women’s Studies. This one-year grant will support about 200 students to edit Wikipedia articles in ten different Women’s Studies courses. We also began sending requests for sponsorships to other potential funders in key areas that we focus on in our Classroom Program, including anthropology, art/art history, astronomy, and physics.

At the end of February, TJ traveled to Washington DC to attend the National Summit for Democracy. During this meeting, people from around the country and from all political sides worked together on crafting recommendations for defending and strengthening democratic norms and institutions. A key part of this conversation related to the role of media, accountability, and facts in a functioning democracy. Many people, including TJ, raised the need for improving information literacy among citizens and the role that Wikipedia does and can play in driving fact-based decision-making. During this summit and in other meetings in DC, TJ held several important conversations with potential funders who are interested in the work that Wiki Education is doing to promote information literacy and improve the fact-base on Wikipedia.


Office of the ED

Current priorities:

  • Running a successful all-staff meeting
  • Streamlining internal processes
  • Improving staff safety and disaster preparedness
Ryan at all-staff.

One of the highlights of the month of February was our all-staff meeting in San Francisco. These meetings happen twice a year and the February meeting traditionally serves as a starting point for our annual planning process. This year was special insofar as we’ve all been involved in creating our new strategic plan for 2018–2021. The many discussions we had around the future strategic direction of Wiki Education provided us with enough ideas and food for thought with regard to next year’s plan. Also, as part of the all-staff meeting, we engaged in mapping out our organization’s capacity and robustness in different areas. Our discussions around these topics weren’t just an informative exercise for everybody on staff, the results will also add to a global capacity map of the Wikimedia universe. Other than that, we held a number of different peer-learning sessions (e.g. a Salesforce training organized by Jami) and optional social events (e.g. the traditional “Mission Burrito Night” at LiAnna’s house).

Staff during the first aid training.

Also in February, we hosted two safety and disaster preparedness trainings. During the first training session, staff learned how to provide basic first-aid, including how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation and how to use an automated external defibrillator. A week later, our instructor talked us through what to do in case of a disaster like an earthquake, a fire, or a tsunami. We all know that the “big one” may hit California during our lifetime, and we feel much better prepared for different emergency situations.


* * *

Chemba is a ward in the eponymous district of Tanzania. Chemba had 16047 inhabitants at the 2012 census. Lately a lot of additional information has been added to the existing articles (in Swahili or English) to Wikidata.

There are plenty of practical reasons why Chemba is notable. In 2010 I blogged about the "Geograph" project in the UK. Britain was divided by a raster in order to have representative pictures for the whole of the country. Obviously we could do the same for any and all countries in Africa. They do have digital cameras in Africa, maybe not everyone but that is not the point.

Africa is notable and, we want to close the gap in coverage of Africa. So we want to know about all the wards of Tanzania, not just Chemba. We need coordinates, maps and photos. There is census data for 2012 and all this, including maps and photos, can be shared in any language once the data is available in Wikidata.

The point of all this; make obvious what we do know and what we know is missing. In the end, the devil is in the details but Africa is a continent full of bright people who can make the difference.

June 20, 2018

It has been a while since the last mediawiki_selenium release! 💎

I have just released version 1.8.1. 🚀

Notable changes:

  • Required Ruby version is 2.x
  • Upgrade selenium-webdriver to 3.2
  • Integration tests use Chrome instead of PhantomJS
  • Added license to readme file
  • Documented Sauce Labs usage in readme file
  • Updated Special:Preferences/reset page

I would like to thank several contributors that have improved the gem since the last release: @hashar, @Rammanojpotla, @demon and @thiemowmde! 👏

My QuickStatements tool has been quite popular, in both version 1 and 2. It appears to be one of the major vectors of adding large amounts of prepared information to Wikidata. All good and well, but, as will all well-used tools, some wrinkles appear over time. So, time for a do-over! It has been a long time coming, and while most of it concerns the interface and interaction with the rest of the world, the back-end learned a few new tricks too.

For the impatient, the new interface is the new default at QuickStatements V2. There is also a link to the old interface, for now. Old links with parameters should still work, let me know if not.

What has changed? Quite a lot, actually:

  • Creating a new batch in the interface now allows to choose a site. Right now, only Wikidata is on offer, but Commons (and others?) will join it in the near future. Cross-site configuration has already been tested with FactGrid
  • You can now load an existing batch and see the commands
  • If a batch that has (partially) run threw errors, some of them can be reset and re-run. This works for most statements, except the ones that use LAST as the item, after item creation
  • You can also filter for “just errors” and “just commands that didn’t run yet”
  • The above limitation is mostly of historic interest, as QuickStatements will now automatically group a CREATE command and the following LAST item commands into a single, more complex command. So no matter how many statements, labels, sitelinks etc. you add to a new item, it will just run as a single command, which means item creation just got a lot faster, and it goes easier on the Wikidata database/API too
  • The STOP button on both the batch list and the individual batch page should work properly now (let me know if not)! There are instructions for admins to stop a batch
  • Each server-side (“background”) batch now gets a link to the EditGroups tool, which lets you discuss an entire batch, gives information about the batch details, and most importantly, lets you undo an entire batch at the click of a button
  • A batch run directly from the browser now gets a special, temporary ID as well, that is added to the edit summary. Thanks to the quick work of the EditGroups maintainers, even browser-based batch runs are now one-click undo-able
  • The numbers for a running batch are now updated automatically every 5 seconds, on both the batch list and the individual batch page
  • The MERGE command, limited to QuickStatements V1 until now, now works in V2 as well. Also, it will automatically merge into the “lower Q number” (=older item), no matter the order of the parameters

I have changed my token by now…

For the technically inclined:

  • I rewrote the interface using vue.js, re-using quite a few pre-existing components from other projects
  • You can now get a token to use with your user name, to programmatically submit batches to QuickStatements. They will show up and be processed as if you had pasted them into the interface yourself. The token can be seen on your new user page
  • You can also open a pre-filled interface, using GET or POST, like so

One thing, however, got lost from the previous interface, and that is the ability to edit commands directly in the interface. I do not know how often that was used in practice, but I suspect it was not often, as it is not really suited for a mass-edit tool. If there is huge demand, I can look into retro-fitting that. Later.


Photo by Jason Krüger/Wikimedia Deutschland e.V., CC BY-SA 4.0.

Those of us who spent years working inside the Wikimedia movement tend to forget how strange it actually is to the rest of the world. Many Wikimedians may not know a lot about the Visiting Wikimedian program from Wikimedia Germany (Deutschland), but if not, you’d probably be able to get to Meta-Wiki and get an idea of what it’s all about.

However, now try to imagine explaining this idea to a consular officer at a German embassy who you’re really hoping will issue you a visa to enter the country. Good luck!

This was my reality earlier this year, as Wikimedia Germany invited me to be this years’ Visiting Wikimedian to support organising the 2018 Wikimedia Conference (WMCON), the annual meeting of representatives of Wikimedia organizations and groups.. Is it a job title? No. Is it a study program? No, and WMDE is not a college. Is it an exchange between subsidiaries in different countries? Well, no. This is a learning program for a person from a sister affiliate to gain expertise in organising an international conference and to share it back home.

Luckily, the embassy/consular officer got the idea!

Since Teele Vaalma of Wikimedia Estonia invented this program in 2016, it has become more refined: it is tougher to get into, the stay in Berlin is longer, and probably more difficult to let go when it’s time to leave.


To attend WMCON, one needs to be selected by one’s affiliate or community. WMCON is organised by Wikimedia Germany, the oldest and the largest chapter. After having attended WMCON in 2017 as participant, I was eager to join the next conference from the organizational side. I was so happy to be chosen!

Transitioning into living in Berlin was relatively simple. The only major challenges were in finding a room, which took some time, but ended very well; and in getting used to using and thinking in euros, which you have to do when your bank account is measured in hryvnias. It also took some effort not to feel lost looking at the Berlin public transport map.

Working in Wikimedia Germany’s office appeared to be amazing. I was given an office tour and introductory talk with every department. I found a workplace ready for me, with the supplies which I would need to be productive. I particularly found pleasure in many small things: for instance, in Ukraine I was working remotely from home. In Berlin it was a pleasure to ask something and immediately receive an answer—vocally, without writing, calling or even moving from my chair. Or the fresh coffee I could drink every morning. Or the special feeling of perfectly tuned team where everyone knows their duties and deadlines. Or—and this is not a small thing—weekly meetings that were held in English just for my sake. Or being able to ask “give me something to do”. Pure joy.

Since my main task here was to learn, I was free to choose what I want to focus on. I chose looking closely at the program design process, and so Cornelius, Program and Engagement Coordinator of WMCON, took me through all the stages of building the Capacity Building Track: from identifying the most repetitive needs of the participants, looking for the participants who are willing to fulfill these needs, having briefing calls with future speakers, to helping speakers at the conference itself, having the debriefing calls and writing down summaries of the sessions.

“When you are available for new tasks, tell me”, said Daniela, Logistics and Event Coordinator, and so at times I switched to logistics tasks: setting up the hotel rooming list of participants, designing name badges and signs for the site, thinking of a party game, and writing emails. Thanks to Davit Saroyan of Wikimedia Armenia, Visiting Wikimedian in 2017, who took on conference design last year, I only had to change the colors of the signs this time! We also implemented the Buddy Project again this year, aimed at pairing experienced participants with newbies at the conference, and I was the one who made the pairs and trios. Sadly, several embassies rejected visa applications of our attendees, which ruined some perfect buddy matches, and we weren’t able to hear the input from these people at the sessions, too.

I was sad to be wasting a lot of paper, so his turned to my beloved hobby of making kusudamas. Photo by Vira Motorko, CC0.

The coolest thing about the way WMDE prepares WMCON is in its planning. If you have ever read about learning patterns on Meta-Wiki, you probably often saw the following recommendations: plan ahead, be prepared. To me, the peak of planning the Wikimedia Conference is a so-called “production schedule”. This document is a detailed schedule of activities that need to be completed by different involved parties during the conference days. From what hour we are transporting the material to the venue, when are the preparations to the next day done, who is responsible for changing room settings in between the sessions to when is the food served and when are the breaks and who is going to check whether everything is ready for the next day—you can find it all in a single spreadsheet. The venue was expecting to get this kind of plan from us but even they were amazed by the level of detail Daniela managed to provide. That’s why writing a production schedule for an event is the learning pattern that I decided to write as the outcome of my visiting-wikimedianship.

During the conference there was a volunteer assigned to every room to help the speaker with whatever they need, that be preparing slides or tracking time. This person was called a “Room angel”. And I had to be one, too, so I thought to myself: since I’m an angel, I might as well have wings. This is how I tinkered paper wings and wore them in turns at the conference. Someone called it a “little angel cosplay”, so be it. A little fun at the serious conference.

Photo by Jason Krüger/Wikimedia Deutschland e.V., CC BY-SA 4.0.

While fun, the Wikimedia Conference also tackles some very serious material. The strategic direction of the Wikimedia movement was largely formed here, for instance, and related discussions will remain the main purpose of WMCON for the near future. I was glad to see some really devoted participants. In my point of view, attending WMCON is not a prize—it’s a working conference where you are representing one’s entire community and tasked with taking back as much knowledge as one can. To be truly productive, you need to plan ahead and be prepared.

Now what? I’m going back to Lviv, Ukraine, where we will host the CEE Meeting 2018 in October. My native chapter waits for me to bring in new knowledge that we can use while organising this regional conference for Wikimedians of Central and Eastern Europe. I dream of a meeting that evolves into a powerful learning conference, just as WMCON is evolving in its decision-making. My impressions are still raw and I have a lot to process, but I want to do my best, because this is what Wikimedians do.

I’m not very good at taking home souvenirs, struggling to choose something memorable. So I decided to leave something memorable instead: I had a haircut and made a pair of paper wings for each of my teammates from Event Management. I like this team so much, that I hope these wings will be able to lift them up when they need and make it all a bit lighter.

Vira Motorko, Project Manager
Wikimedia Ukraine

Would you like to be the next Visiting Wikimedian for the Wikimedia Conference 2019 at Wikimedia Deutschland? The next application process will start in September/October this year. Check the page on Meta-Wiki for updates. If you would like to learn more about the Wikimedia Conference 2018 in Berlin and its outcomes, check out the recently published conference report.

User:Czar is a Visiting Scholar hosted by the Smithsonian Libraries and the National Museum of African Art. That means he has access to high-quality, academic sources to improve a variety of topics on Wikipedia related to African art. On English Wikipedia, subjects from outside the English-speaking world are often underrepresented. These gaps exist due to a variety of factors (editors’ access to sources, language barriers, how much time local Wikipedians have to edit, etc.). That’s why connections like this between experienced Wikipedians and academic institutions, made possible through our Visiting Scholars program, are important.

Czar has made more than 70,000 contributions to Wikipedia since 2005. He is an administrator as well as prolific content writer, having taken several entries to Featured Article (FA) or Good Articles (FA) status (labels reserved for the highest quality articles on Wikipedia). When he received the Visiting Scholar position in the beginning of 2017, he noted that “the chief obstacle to writing a high-quality, free encyclopedia is access to reliable, secondary sources.”

Since then, he has brought even more articles up to Good Article status, including the biography of Nadia Kaabi-Linke, as well as the article about London’s contemporary African art fair, 1:54.

Flying Carpets | 2011. Nadia Kaabi-Linke.
Image: File:Nadia Kaabi-Linke Flying Carpets.jpg, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Nadia Kaabi-Linke is a Tunis-born, Berlin-based visual artist. Her art has explored immigration visa interrogation, Tunisian identity, domestic violence, the connection between war heroism and machismo, and more. Nadia’s work, Flying Carpets, was featured at the 54th Venice Biennale and purchased by the New York Guggenheim in 2016. The structure references a bridge in Venice where Arab and African street vendors displayed counterfeit wares for sale on carpets. Thanks to Czar, Nadia has a comprehensive biography article on Wikipedia.

1:54 is an annual contemporary African art fair in London. The fair was first organized in 2013 to expand opportunities for contemporary African artists in worldwide exhibitions and markets. It’s name refers to the 54 countries for the one continent of Africa. The fair is one of the only of its kind in the primary art market, and continues to expand annually.

Czar has also created and brought these articles up to Good Article status through this Visiting Scholars connection:

  • Rwandan politician and women’s rights activist Judith Kanakuze, whose legislative activism has brought about Rwanda’s first legal definition of rape;
  • Lagos sound artist Emeka Ogboh, who’s known for his installations of soundscapes that represent city life in Lagos;
  • Angolan photographer Edson Chagas, who has used African masks in his photography to explore themes of city identity and consumerism;
  • the National Museum of African Art, a comprehensive article that includes information about the museum’s history, architecture, collections, and exhibitions;
  • and more!

The Visiting Scholars program connects university libraries, departments, and other institutions with experienced Wikipedia editors. The university provides remote access to research resources, such as academic journals and digital collections, and the Wikipedian improves articles about topics of interest to both parties. Thus, experienced Wikipedians are supported in their mission to bring comprehensive knowledge to the public platform, and academic research reaches a worldwide audience.

For more information about our Visiting Scholars program, see our informational page. To follow along with Czar’s work, check out the Dashboard.

Image: File:Nadia Kaabi-Linke Flying Carpets.jpg, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by Czar.

June 19, 2018

Wiki Education’s Classroom Program exists to create a bridge between academia and Wikipedia. Our systems of support are ever-evolving to fit the needs of the growing number of students and staff we help, meaning we continually improve resources and create new ones in response to feedback from program participants.

We’re excited to announce two new subject-specific brochures for students editing Wikipedia articles related to cultural anthropology and LGBT+ studies. PDFs of these resources are available for download on Wikimedia Commons here and here.

While our online trainings prepare students for Wikipedia’s general mechanisms and policies, subject-specific brochures provide supplemental guidance for editing in particular topic areas. Instructors who create a course page on the Dashboard can see the full array of free brochures we offer, which cover a variety of topics including women’s studieshistorybiographiessociology, and more.

To discuss adding a Wikipedia assignment to your course, email contact@wikiedu.org. For more information about teaching with Wikipedia, visit teach.wikiedu.org.

Photo by Ricardo Liberato, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Not much more than a year before Napoleon rose to become the leader of France, he led an army across the Mediterranean in an effort to conquer Ottoman Egypt. The campaign resulted in failure three years later, but three years was more than enough for the invasion force’s unusually large scientific contingent to uncover many artifacts from Egypt’s ancient past, like the Rosetta Stone.

Western European interest in ancient Egypt skyrocketed with the publicizing of these discoveries by the British, who took possession of many of them when the French army in Egypt was forced to surrender—and that interest has persisted to the present day. I talked with pseudonymous volunteer Wikipedia editors Iry-Hor and Mr Rnddude, who both focus on ancient Egypt.

  1. What fascinates you both about ancient history, and specifically the Egyptians?

Iry-Hor: Ancient history, from the Neolithic revolution until the end of the Bronze age (c. 1100 BC) is the central yet short period over which we grew out of more than 200,000 years of relatively slow-paced prehistory and into a bewildering race to technological advancement and total planetary dominance. This makes me very curious as to what exactly happened then. I always find it thrilling to read ancient sources relating long past events which would have vanished were it not for a few surviving texts. Now the Egyptians are, with the Sumerians, the oldest civilisation there is, with hieroglyphic writing appearing roughly simultaneously with cuneiform (the skeptics can see Abydos tomb U-j). At the same time, the Egyptians advanced the organisation and concept of state much further and much more rapidly than the Sumerians. Fascinating stuff.

Mr Rnddude: History has always been interesting to me. I’ve always wondered about things like: “what were the Greeks up to?”, “How did the Romans rise and fall”, etc. In the case of the Egyptians, I find the pyramids to be the most interesting, followed by their complex and extensive mythology, and then the hieroglyphic writing form. I get to cover all three topics while writing about the pyramids. That’s really about it.

  1. To Iry-Hor, why the fifth dynasty?

Iry-Hor: When I started reading Ancient Egypt topics on Wikipedia, I decided to do it systematically by going back in time from Cleopatra until the earliest ruler I could reliably find (the actual Iry-Hor), reading all the articles along the way. This was in 2012, and although I could follow internal wikilinks until the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt, at this point the article quality completely broke down. Most were very sketchy and nearly all contradicted one another. I ended up contributing a lot on this period, not only to remove the contradictions and add all the missing pharaohs but also to present competing hypotheses in a consistent way. In addition, since a picture speaks a thousand words, I decided to try to have at least one picture per article pertaining to an historically attested pharaoh of that period, something which User:Khruner, others, and I finally completed recently after many adventures (e.g. the picture of the scarab of Sekheperenre necessitated lengthy dealings with the Ashmolean Museum).

At the same time, I realised that while working on a difficult and confusing historical period is interesting, many great pharaohs had sketchy articles too. I thus started to randomly select rulers to work on, such as Intef IIINeferhotep ISeth-Peribsen and Amenemhat IV. At this point I had started to write good articles, yet every time my work felt unfinished to me, thus I had to make a featured article out of every pharaoh I could work on. (Editor’s note: “featured” and “good” articles are markers of high quality on the English Wikipedia, having been peer reviewed by fellow editors against several editorial standards. They are usually abbreviated as “FA” and “GA,” respectively.) The Fifth Dynasty was the perfect fit for this task : there is a wealth of sources and material owing to the continuing excavations in Abusir, it is weirdly popular with readers, it is rich in great pharaohs, yet was poorly covered by Wikipedia. It has long-lived kings (Nyuserre IniDjedkare Isesi) and shadowy figures (ShepseskareMenkauhor Kaiu), kind rulers (Neferirkare Kakai) and anecdotes, e.g. Sahure was apparently so enthralled at the success of his expedition to Punt that he made a relief of himself taking care of trees brought back by the expedition. He is the only pharaoh ever to have been depicted gardening. So that was it. I now realise that the 5th Dynasty is also full of truly important firsts in Egyptian history, all of which will be synthesised in the final article—on the dynasty himself.

  1. Do you have any academic training in ancient history?

Iry-Hor: Not in Ancient History, no; unfortunately I was pushed to study maths and physics when I was a student as I was doing pretty well on these subjects and did not have enough self-confidence at the time to say I wanted to do something else. I have tried to make up for this regret by learning Middle Egyptian hieroglyphics, some Akkadian, and the general chronology of the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods but this is all self-taught. 1 hour per day did the trick back when I had lots of free time.

Mr Rnddude: No, nothing formal. I chose ancient history as an elective for my senior years in high school, alongside biology, chemistry and physics. History is just a subject that interests me. I went on to study aviation, for a pilot, at University. History is unrelated to my career choice, unless I become an aviation historian at some point.

  1. What are your favorite articles you have written and why?

Iry-Hor: This is hard to tell, reason tells me to like Nyuserre Ini for the amount of research I have invested in it, but I have a soft spot for the featured article on Sheshi, a relatively obscure pharaoh of the Second Intermediate Period. Sheshi was a lot of fun to research as he is one of the few very well attested pharaoh regarding whom you can find Egyptologists disagreeing with one another on every single aspect of his life, time and reign. Sheshi was today’s featured article on the 1st of March. (Editor’s note: Today’s featured articles appear on Wikipedia’s main page, and usually receive tens of thousands of views in those 24 hours.)

Mr Rnddude: Battle of Antioch (218), as the first article and A-class I ever worked on; followed by Caracalla, one of two Roman emperor Good Articles I’ve written; and Pyramid of Neferirkare, the first pyramid I’ve worked on and my first Featured Article.

  1. What challenges have you faced in writing these featured and good articles?

Iry-Hor: Writing a featured article is a lot of work and the main challenge for me is to find the time needed to do enough research to be satisfied that the article covers everything there is to be known. Beyond this, I can see from my earlier wikipedia work that it takes time and efforts for a wikipedian to learn to write good or featured articles. It seems to be a kind of maturation process that’s needed to grow from a young editor and into a featured article author. I read the article « Wikipedians are born, not made », and while I adhere to the analysis presented by the authors (even my first days of activity fit with their predictions!), I would add that the birth is only the beginning and experienced wikipedians are made through continuing efforts.

Mr Rnddude: The challenges were different for each article. For the Battle of Antioch, the main challenge was getting to grips with reliable sourcing. I predominantly used the ancient texts of Cassius Dio and Herodian of Antioch backed with secondary sources. This was before I had ever heard of any Wikipedia policy and I’d really just picked some random article to work on. I got it through GA easily enough, but failed the first military history (MILHIST) wikiproject A-class review, primarily because of the abundance of primary sources in the article. One particular section was overflowing with primary sourcing and had to be rewritten to comply with Wikipedia’s policy on original research. I managed to get it accepted at A-class in my second attempt. (Editor’s note: A-class is another marker of high quality on the English Wikipedia, albeit not widely used.) I’m not, however, satisfied that the article meets FA standards.

My next two articles were written at the same time, those for Macrinus and Caracalla. Both are current GA articles. The major challenge for both these articles was the writing. I can get a lot of research done in fair order, but writing and researching simultaneously led to very jarred prose. Caracalla in particular was a problem because of the breadth and depth of research available on him. I ended up having three reviewers at GA for that one article. The original reviewer felt the prose needed work, but that this could be accomplished in short enough order to justify putting the article on hold while I worked on it. A second reviewer came in towards the end of the review with extra comments. Their primary concern, as I recall, was with the historiography section of the article. They felt that the authors and historians opinions presented were not authoritative enough to be mentioned and that the article lacked stronger sources in that section. They also had problems with prose elsewhere, but I was in the middle of rectifying those concerns as it was. Finally, a third reviewer dropped by noting that a historiography section was above and beyond what was required for GA and summarily passed the article once the prose issue had been dealt with. By this point the review had been on hold for a month. That was by far the most difficult experience I had had at any review. It did not help that I was simultaneously having Macrinus undergo the same process. I have worked on a couple of other GA articles since that time: Burebista, a Dacian king who has become a legendary figure in Romanian historiography, and Gaius Antonius Hybrida, a ruthless consul of the Roman Republic.

Finally there is my first Featured Article: Pyramid of Neferirkare. In terms of challenges, I had most barriers removed through the help of Iry-Hor. When I needed a source, Iry-Hor provided it to me. When I nominated the article for GA, Iry-Hor took on the review and helped me suss out the finer details to move the article a few steps ahead. The article was ready for an FA review when I submitted it. I’ve had lots of helpful comments and no major issues. I should credit Tony1 for writing a brilliant guide for writing featured article worthy prose which certainly helped me improve my writing, and I should mention Ceoil’s assistance in tightening the prose.

  1. How does Wikipedia’s coverage of ancient history compare to other sources on the internet?

Iry-Hor: There is no question that Wikipedia is far beyond other web sources, with the exception of certain specialised encyclopedias, such as the Oxford Encylopedia of Ancient Egypt (which isn’t supposed to be available on the web by the way…). And even there, I can say that good and featured articles are always more detailed, broader and richer than the corresponding entries on the specialised encyclopedias. Unfortunately, Wikipedia is still very much patchy, with few such high-quality articles and many important topics are far from good enough to win the comparison. Take for example the article on the Old Kingdom of Egypt. I am convinced that we will ultimately get there however, as every article is only one wikipedian away from reaching featured quality.

Mr Rnddude: Wikipedia is all over the shop with regard to the quality of its articles. In my experience, ancient history articles that haven’t had a guiding hand tend to fall into one of two groups. (1) Stub or short articles in need of great expansion. This issue is prevalent among more obscure topics and persons. (2) Generally comprehensive and detailed, but disjointed and poorly sourced articles. Every article I’ve worked on falls into one of those two categories. It’s difficult to compare it to other online sources because the answer is quite varied. In comparison to other free sources, usually better. In comparison to paid or subscription sources, often more detailed but less accurate.

  1. Why do you think so many people remain fascinated by the ancient Egyptians even today?

Iry-Hor: I must say this remains mysterious to me: while I can understand that people are drawn to the Great Pyramid of GizaRamses II or Akhenaten, I do not quite understand why Djedkare Isesi or Unas receive between 60 and 120 readers a day on average. These numbers might seem tiny to people working on popular topics, but they still represent thousands of views every year for pharaohs that are far from well-known ! Even the most obscure pharaohs (try NuyaWazad or Wepwawetemsaf) get at least 5 – 6 views a day. A back of the envelope calculation shows that no more than 1 view a week corresponds to someone hitting the random article button, so that leaves you wondering why someone would want to read about Nuya ? Anyway, I am just glad I could contribute on these articles!

Mr Rnddude: In one word: pyramids. Pyramids are the quintessential icon of the ancient Egyptian world. If you know even one thing about the Egyptians, it’s going to be the great superstructures that stand as the last surviving ancient wonder of the world. It helps that their purpose and construction remains shrouded in mystery.

  1. What articles are coming up next for you both?

Iry-Hor: Userkaf and Sahure both need to reach FA to complete the 5th Dynasty, and after that the article on the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt itself would have to be written. This will be a monumental task, as we will try to cover everything from the administration, religion art and architecture of the period. I hope that Mr Rnddude will provide his expertise on pyramid construction techniques and mortuary temple architectures for this article. Once this is done, an all-featured topic with 10 articles (more if some pyramids reach FA) will be completed and the 5th Dynasty spell will finally be broken. I might then finish the article on the Gebel el-Arak Knife, or see if Pepi I and Sobekhotep IV need help.

Mr Rnddude: I’m taking a short break from the Fifth Dynasty right now. There are nine pyramid articles for the period that I’m aiming to bring to featured article status. I have brought one pyramid to FA, one pyramid to good article status, one was brought to GA by Iry-Hor, and the rest are in various stages of development from stub to generally comprehensive. I’ve been doing some work on the Twelfth Dynasty’s Senusret II and his pyramid. Whether or not I’ll pursue GA for those two articles is to be determined. I just chose them for a change of pace.

  1. Where are you from, and what do you do for a living?

Iry-Hor: I shall only say that I hold a 1851 Research Fellowship and work on algebraic combinatorics and quantum mechanics. Publish or perish makes work very stressful for young researchers like me and so editing Ancient Egyptian articles is a welcomed break from the pressure. As a consequence, I have vowed never to edit Wikipedia on any other topic—a vow I broke only 5 times, always for minor edits.

Mr Rnddude: I’ll keep my real name to myself. I currently live in South-East Queensland, Australia. I’m not a fully qualified pilot yet, but I’m working towards that goal. I am employed currently, working on construction sites. A dull job, and not one I intend to stay in for much longer.

  1. Did I miss anything? 

Iry-Hor: I just wanted to add that Wikipedia is now a well-known resource among academics, with a pretty good reputation and the lofty purpose of collecting User:Emijrp/All_Human_Knowledge and making it freely available painfully contrasts with some scientific publishers. This is often more than enough to persuade established researchers to send you a copy of an article you can’t access or some help of some sort if you ask them.

Interview by Ed Erhart, Senior Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation

June 18, 2018

Michelle Gohr is First Year Experience Librarian at Arizona State University. As a member of the National Women’s Studies Association, she participated in our recent Wikipedia Fellows pilot and now reflects on what this experience has meant to her.

Michelle Gohr
Image: File:Michelle Gohr Headshot.jpg, Michelle Gohr, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Going into the Wikipedia Fellows pilot program I was already a supporter and user of Wikipedia, both in my personal and even professional life, so getting to learn more about it in a safe and guided environment was an amazing experience. I don’t know why I’ve always looked on Wikipedia more favorably. I can’t say whether it’s because I’m a young academic who was exposed to a unique, quickly evolving information landscape, or if it’s a part of my personal style of information gathering; but I can say that where I once found myself to be in the minority regarding my opinions of Wikipedia and its use, I am now happy to find that a lot of my colleagues and students are coming around to the idea of using Wikipedia for education. In fact, some of my colleagues recently remarked how “cool” it was that I edit Wikipedia…it is cool.

Even as a librarian, while I was still in library school and in my early career there was very staunch pushback against using or teaching with Wikipedia in any capacity, and this seemed to be mirrored or even amplified within the academy. The insistence against using Wikipedia was so intense from some sectors that I would almost feel shame consulting Wikipedia if I didn’t know or understand a subject that I was assisting a student with. I legitimately believed that information had to be found in a very specific way using specific tools that were approved by “experts” for that information to be considered “legitimate”. I also believed that because I read and consulted Wikipedia frequently I was unintelligent, lazy, and not worthy of academia. Whether this was a product of my own misunderstanding, or if that was the intended response, a message got through to me nonetheless and I have a feeling that a similar message may still be sent to undergraduates now. Feeling shame and guilt about learning or seeking out new information is the last thing we should want any person to feel.

Reflecting back on the anxiety I felt as an undergraduate when searching for information has been invaluable in shaping my teaching philosophy, my practice as a librarian, and my interest in participating in this pilot (10/10, would pilot again). As a radical librarian and academic, in my personal practice I don’t feel that it’s enough to teach students how to research in those acceptable ways established by the academy. I don’t think it’s enough to simply tell them to only ever use databases for research, and not explain what they are, where they come from, and why we use them. Being radical means teaching critical information literacy. It means helping others question authority and examine who has historically produced, consumed (or who was allowed to consume), and controlled knowledge. It means calling out and taking to task capitalist valuation of knowledge and its subsequent commodification. It also means equipping learners with tools that help them understand how to evaluate information sources, search for information creatively and safely, and produce new information, even when doing something as simple as reading a Wikipedia article or Googling a question. Wikipedia itself warns against using articles as citations in research papers, and understandably so, Wikipedia is a tertiary source. Wikipedia is a starting point, not an ending point, but it’s even more than that. It is a tool for teaching students about the information gathering process including seeking out background information, citing sources, evaluating information, synthesizing information, and producing new knowledge.

We’re academics, we understand or at least feel the ramifications of our current model for scholarly publication and knowledge production. We at least have an idea of who controls the information, where it goes, who gets access, and who benefits and gets paid for the work at the end of the day. But we still teach students to function in a system that has a problematic history while simultaneously condemning the use of tools that may have the potential to disrupt it. But make no mistake, Wikipedians are still predominantly white and male which engenders various biases and structural inequalities in rules and content of the platform and articles themselves. So a lot of the errors we see within Wikipedia are reflections of much larger, systematic issues, the same issues that are also often seen in academia. So while Wikipedia is not a perfect resource, it does have enormous potential, and we absolutely have the power to begin changing it.

By understanding the Wikipedia back end and skills needed to edit, academics and educators have the potential to make critical changes. Not only can we enrich the content within Wikipedia itself, but we can use it as a powerful tool for teaching through a learning community. Through the lens of an academic and librarian, this to me is the true power of Wikipedia and academic involvement in it. Because anyone can edit, we can disrupt knowledge gatekeeping and production which has, for a long time, privileged and primarily reflected white, wealthy, cis, hetero, male thought and histories. We can reconstruct and re-contextualize authority and decolonize knowledge systems by incorporating strong feminist and indigenous epistemologies, and we can do this by participating. While we do this, our students will be watching, reading, and maybe even participating themselves, and we’ll know that the content they’re getting is (or can be with some help and edits) well rounded, representative, and maybe even radically transforming.

I can’t even begin to relate how truly excited I am about this change in opinion surrounding Wikipedia’s use and the potential for democratization of knowledge. As a librarian, I believe deeply in free, open, and equal access to all information, including but especially the vast amount of information behind cost prohibitive paywalls that we as academics often take for granted. I believe that the inaccuracies, as hilarious as they sometimes are, within Wikipedia are a small price for providing what is in essence open access to education.

We have the power as academics to make huge contributions to knowledge available to the public through Wikipedia, and being able to participate in this pilot just cemented my already mildly anarchistic feelings about the potentiality within Wikipedia.

To learn more about how you can get involved as a Wikipedia Fellow, visit fellows.wikiedu.org. To read more testimonials from Wikipedia Fellows alumni, click here.

Image: File:Asuhayden.jpgNick Schweitzer, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

Transcript and slides from my keynote at the CELT 2018 Design for Learning Symposium, NUI Galway.

The theme of today’s conference is designing teaching and learning spaces to facilitate active learning, collaboration and student engagement however my experience lies not so much in physical spaces but in online and digital spaces and specifically open education spaces situated within the open knowledge landscape. I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service at the University of Edinburgh, I’m a Board member of both the Association for Learning Technology and Wikimedia UK, and a member of Open Knowledge International’s Open Education Working Group, and all these organisations are part of the broad Open Knowledge landscape.

What I want to look at today is what we mean when we talk about openness in relation to digital teaching and learning spaces, resources, communities and practices. I also want to highlight the boundaries that demarcate these open spaces, the hierarchies that exist within them, and look at who is included and who is excluded. And I want to explore what we can do to make our open spaces more diverse and inclusive by removing systemic barriers and structural inequalities and by engaging both staff and students in the co-creation of our own teaching and learning experience.

I don’t want to get too hung up on semantics, but I do want to start off by looking at a few definitions. What do we mean if we talk about openness in relation to digital education and open knowledge? This is a question that has been posed numerous times, in numerous contexts by independent scholar and technology journalist  Audrey Watters who, in a 2015 post titled “What Do We Mean By Open Education?” asked

“What do we mean when we use the word? Free? Open access? Open enrollment? Open data? Openly- licensed materials, as in open educational resources or open source software? Open for discussion? Open for debate? Open to competition? Open for business? Open-ended intellectual exploration? Those last two highlight how people can use the word “open” in education and mean not just utterly different things, but perhaps even completely opposite.”

Like Audrey, I don’t have a simple answer to these questions because, as Catherine Cronin reminded us in her thoughtful 2017 paper Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”. It’s critically important to appreciate that open means very different things to different people, and that our perspective of openness will be shaped by our personal experiences and the privilege of our vantage point.

These are some of the spaces that populate the Open Knowledge landscape as I see it. Your perspective of this open landscape might look very different.

● Open licenses
● Open educational resources
● Open education policy and
● Open pedagogy
● Open practice
● Open textbooks
● Open badges
● Open online courses
● MOOCs (a very contested open space.)
● Open data
● Open science
● Open Access scholarly works
● Open source software
● Open standards
● Open government
● Open GLAM

I’m not going to attempt to cover all these areas, as we’d be here until next week, but I do want to explore what open means, or rather how it is understood, in some of the spaces I am most familiar with.

Open Education and OER

So let’s start off with open education and OER…

The principles of open education are outlined in the 2007 Cape Town Declaration, which laid the foundations of the “emerging open education movement” and advocated for the development of open education policy to ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are available under open license. The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated last year on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10 and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.

There is no one hard and fast definition of open education but one I like is from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation. Open Educational Resources (OER) offer opportunities for systemic change in teaching and learning content through engaging educators in new participatory processes and effective technologies for engaging with learning.”

And I want to come back and look at these concepts of participation and co-creation later.

Though Open Education can encompass many different things, open educational resources, or OER, are central to any understanding of this domain.

UNESCO define open educational resources as

“teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

It’s useful to note that this definition accommodates a wide range of different resource types and it’s notable that the term OER is interpreted very differently in different communities. In the US currently, OER tends to equate to open textbooks, while in the UK we have a much broader understanding of OER that encompasses a wide range of teaching, learning and cultural heritage resources.

One of the key characteristics of open educational resources is that they are either in the public domain or they are released under an open licence, and generally that means a Creative Commons licence. However not all Creative Commons licences are equal and there is considerable debate as to whether resources licensed with No Derivatives and Non Commercial licences can be regarded as OER. Some argue from a strong ethical standpoint that while education resources produced by public funding should be freely and openly available, they should be protected from commercial exploitation by Non Commercial licences. Others take the position that open education resources should be freely and openly available to all, without exception or restriction. And there are arguments that in order for open business models to be sustainable, they must enable both free and commercial reuse. For example some cultural heritage institutions will make low resolution images of their digitised collections freely available under open license, however users must pay a premium to access high resolution images. It’s not my position to make a value judgement on these different perspectives as choice of licence will always be dictated by many factors and will always be highly contextualised.

One prominent voice in the debate about defining the open in OER is David Wiley who has defined five 5 permissions or activities that characterise open educational resources. These are referred to as the 5 Rs:

1. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways.
2. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself.
3. Remix – the right to combine content with other material to create something new.
4. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the content with others.
5. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content.

Wiley also argues that the requirements and restrictions some organisations place on open content, such as the use of the Share Alike licence, harm the global goals of the broader open content community.

I have no quibble with the 5Rs per se, and indeed I think it’s useful for anyone who is engaged in open education to be familiar with this conceptual framework, however I would caution against regarding this as a standard to which open education resources must conform as they arguably obscure some of the more important aspects of the open in open education. Indeed some argue that any attempt to standardise what may or may not be regarded as OER is contrary to the very spirit of openness.

During the 2017 Open Education Conference Ryan Merkley, Executive Director of Creative Commons stressed that

“Open has to be about more than the 5Rs. It is also about our values: access, equity, innovation & creativity.”

And Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition also emphasised that

“Open is not just a set of attributes, it’s a set of values and practices that make education better.”

Personally, when it comes to definitions such as these, I think there is a careful balance to be struck between speaking a common language, encouraging diverse opinions and listening with respect.

Open Education Practice

These values and practices are often encompassed by the term open education practice.

Broadly speaking, open education practice encompases teaching techniques and academic practices that draw on open technologies, pedagogical approaches and OER to facilitate collaborative and flexible learning. This may involve both teachers and learners participating in online peer communities, engaging with, reusing and creating open educational content, and sharing experiences and professional practice.

One description I like of open education practice is from the Cape Town Declaration

“Open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues.”

And what I particularly like about this definition is that it focuses on collaboration and empowerment, which to me is what open education is all about.

Although I’m not a teaching academic, I do regard myself as an open education practitioner, and these are some of the ways that this practice manifests in terms of my work.

I own my own domain on Reclaim Hosting, an independent company that builds on the principles of the open web. I maintain a blog on this domain, Open World, which I use to reflect on my work and the open education initiatives I’m involved in. My blog also acts as an open record of my practice and it’s where I host my professional CMALT portfolio. I maintain an active twitter account which I use to communicate and collaborate with my peers. I ensure that all the resources I produce are released under open licence, and I try to reuse open licensed content whenever possible. This is what my open practice looks like, yours will likely be quite different. However to my mind, the most important aspects of open practice are reflecting openly on your experiences, sharing that reflection with your peers, and engaging in collaborative learning.


I now want to move on to look at a much more contested open space; MOOCs. MOOCs have their roots in a small number of connectivist courses run by institutions such as Athabasca University and The University of Mary Washington from 2008 onwards. These innovative courses, such as the anarchic DS-106 digital storytelling course, focused on knowledge creation and generation and encouraged learners to play a central role in shaping their learning experiences. From 2010 onwards however a number of primarily venture-capital funded commercial MOOC providers, including Udacity, EdX, Coursera and FutureLearn, entered the market with a huge amount of hype and promises to disrupt education. Although MOOCs did not disrupt Higher Education, they do fill an interesting space in the education market, and I use that term advisedly in this instance.

My problem with MOOCs is that they are not open in any real sense of the word. The word “open” in MOOC simply means that anyone can join a course free of charge, regardless of qualifications. The platforms themselves are proprietary, and even if course content is openly licensed it is often difficult to extricate from the platform. Most MOOCs are free as in beer rather than free as in speech and even this is increasingly debatable as many now charge for premium features such as certification and continued access to course materials.

Of course one solution to this is to ensure all MOOC content is also available in open spaces off these commercial platforms, and that’s the road we’ve gone down at Edinburgh.  In order to make sure the high quality MOOC content we produce for the courses we run on FutureLearn, Coursera and EdX is accessible and reusable, for both our own staff and students, and others outwith the University, we make sure is can be downloaded under open license from our multi media asset management system, Media Hopper Create.


Of course no discussion of open online spaces would be complete without Wikpedia and its associated projects.

Here in Ireland there is an active Community User Group which promotes the creation, promotion, and dissemination of free knowledge. And in the UK we have a Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia UK, which works in partnership with organisations from the cultural and education sectors to unlock content, remove barriers to knowledge, develop new ways of engaging with the public and enable learners to benefit from the educational potential of the Wikimedia projects. Wikimedia UK also supports a number of Wikimedians in Residence who work with a range of education and public heritage organisations throughout the country. A new Wikimedia Scotland Coordinator, has also just been appointed and in Wales there is a National Wikimedian, based at the National Library in Aberystwyth.

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that contributing to the global pool of Open Knowledge through Wikimedia is squarely in line with our institutional mission and we also believe that Wikipedia is a valuable learning tool to develop a wide range of digital and information literacy skills at all levels across the curriculum. Our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital literacy.

There is no question that Wikipedia is an invaluable source of open knowledge, however it is not without bias. The coverage of subject matter on Wikipedia is neither uniform nor balanced and many topics and areas are underrepresented, particularly those relating to women, people of colour and minority groups. For example, on English language Wikipedia only about 17% of biographical articles are about women, and the number of female editors is between 10 & 14%. Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you why this lack of diversity and inclusivity is a serious problem. However it is a problem that is being addressed by the Foundation itself, by projects such as  Wikiwomen in Red, and by editors and Wikimedians in Residence across the world.

At Edinburgh an important aspect of our Wikimedian in Residence’s work is to help improve the coverage and esteem of Wikipedia articles about women, and underrepresented minorities, and to redress the gender imbalance of contributors by encouraging more women to become editors. And I’m very pleased to say that over the last year 65% of participants at our editathons were women. There has also been phenomenal progress in Wales, and in 2016, Welsh Wikipedia became the biggest language Wikipedia in the world to achieve gender balance.

Inclusion, Exclusion and Structural Inequality

Wikipedia’s well known problem with gender balance is a notable example of systemic bias. Wikimedia is an open community, an open space, that anyone can contribute to in theory, however in reality there are many factors that prevent certain groups from entering this space.  In the case of women editors, former Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner identified a range of systemic factors that discourage women from contributing to the encyclopaedia, including lack of time, lack of self confidence, aversion to conflict, and the misogynistic atmosphere of the community. In addition, the very principles which underpin the encyclopaedia discriminate against marginalised groups. Wikipedia is based on citation, yet in fields where women and people of colour have been traditionally barred, or their contribution has been neglected or elided, it is much harder to find reputable citations that are critical for the creation of good quality articles. Any article that is deemed to be inadequately cited runs the risk of rapid deletion, thus replicating real world power imbalances, privileges and inequalities.

Wikimedia is not the only open space that suffers from issues of systemic bias and structural inequality.  In a paper on Open Initiatives for Decolonising the Curriculum, in the forthcoming book Decolonising the University edited by Gurminder K Bhramba, open source software developer Pat Lockley notes that universities with the highest percentages of black staff are those which spend the least, and in many cases nothing, on open access article processing charges. And he goes on to ask whether Open Access really is broadening and diversifying academia, or merely reinforcing the existing system.

When we look at MOOCs supported on commercial platforms, the situation is arguably worse. Far from democratizing higher education and reaching out to disadvantaged groups, numerous studies have shown that the majority of MOOC enrolments tend to be young, male, educated, and from the developed countries of the global north. Gayle Christensen, one of the authors of an important report on the University of Pennsylvania’s Coursera courses, noted that MOOCs are failing to reach they students they had intended to empower and instead they are giving more to those who already have a lot.

Similarly, in its 2017 survey on open source software development practices and communities, Github, another important open online space, reported huge gaps in representation and concluded that the gender imbalance in open source remains profound. From a random sample of 5,500 respondents 95% were men; just 3% were women and 1% are non-binary.

And there are many other examples of similar structural inequalities in open spaces and communities. We all need to be aware of the fact that open does not necessarily mean accessible. Open spaces and communities are not without their hierarchies, their norms, their gatekeepers and their power structures. We need to look around our own open communities and spaces and ask ourselves who is included and who is excluded, who is present and who is absent, and we need to ask ourselves why. Because nine times out of ten, if certain groups of people are absent or excluded from spaces, communities or domains, it is not a result of preference, ability, or aptitude, it is a result of structural inequality, and in many cases it is the result of multiple intersecting inequalities. Far too often our open spaces replicate the power structures and inequalities that permeate our society.

In a recent article titled “The Dangers of Being Open” Amira Dhalla, who leads Mozilla’s Women and Web Literacy programs, wrote:

“What happens when only certain people are able to contribute to open projects and what happens when only certain people are able to access open resources? This means that the movement is not actually open to everyone and only obtainable by those who can practice and access it.

Open is great. Open can be the future. If, and only when, we prioritize structuring it as a movement where anyone can participate and protecting those who do.”

So how do we change this? Well half the battle is recognising that there is a problem in the first place, taking steps to understand that problem, and then doing the hard work to effect change. And those of us who are already inside these open spaces and communities need to take positive action to make these spaces, not just open, but accessible and inclusive. And to do that, to borrow a phrase from the Suffragettes, we need Deeds not Words.

Open Education and Co-Creation at UoE

One way we can start to ensure that our open education spaces, communities and resources really are open and participatory is to engage with our students in co-creation.  So what I want to do now is briefly look at a few initiatives from the University of Edinburgh that involve students in the co-creation of learning experiences, open knowledge and open educational resources.

At Edinburgh we believe that open education is strongly in line with our institutional mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing. Students have always played a key role in shaping the our vision of openness, indeed it was the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) that provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university. Our vision for OER builds on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission, and right from its inception this vision has encouraged both staff and students to engage with the use and creation of OER and open knowledge, to enhance the quality of the student experience while at the same time making a significant contribution to the cultural and digital commons. This vision is backed up by our OER Policy and an OER Service which provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, and which provides a one stop shop where you can access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university. Because we believe its crucially important to back up our policy and vision with support.

So let’s look at some examples of how our students are engaging in the co-creation of open learning and open knowledge

LGBT+ Healthcare 101

A number of studies have shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health is not well-covered in Medical curricula, however knowledge of LGBT health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors.

The LGBT+ Healthcare project involved a team of undergraduate medical students, who sought to address the lack of teaching on LGBT health through OER. The students remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. In order to contextualise these materials, new open resources in the form of digital stories recorded from patient interviews were also created by the students and released under open license.  These resources were then repurposed by Open Content Curation Student Interns, to create open educational resources suitable for Secondary School children of all ages. All resources are available through multiple channels including the University’s OER Service Open.Ed portal and TES.

Open Content Curation student interns play an important role in OER creation at the University, helping to repurpose and share resources created by staff and other students while at the same time developing their own digital literacy skills. We’re now in the third year of this internship and the feedback we have received from the students has been nothing short of inspiring.

Geosciences Outreach and Engagement

Another hugely successful example of co-creation is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course.  Over two semesters, students develop an outreach project that communicates an element of GeoSciences outside the university community.  Students work with schools, museums, outdoor centres and community groups to create a wide range of resources for science engagement. Students gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, teaching and learning, and knowledge transfer while working in new and challenging environments and developing a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability.

The Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course has proved to be hugely popular with both students and clients. The course has received widespread recognition and a significant number of schools and other universities are exploring how they might adopt the model.

Here’s just one quote from a student, Rebecca Astbury, who participated in the course;

“Geoscience Outreach and Engagement is one of the most interesting courses I have undertaken in my 5 years at Edinburgh. Not only do I get the opportunity to find new and exciting ways to inform people of all ages about Geosciences, I’m also learning valuable skills to enhance my future career after university. This course has taught me that everyone has a different way of learning, and instead of following one strict path, we should expand our ideas on how to effectively communicate science to the general public.”

A key element of the Course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused by other communities and organisations. Our Open Content Curation Interns repurpose these materials to create open educational resources which are then shared online through Open.Ed and TES where they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

Wikimedia in the Classroom

I’ve already mentioned the work of our Wikimedian in Residence and I’m not going to go into this  amazing project in any detail as that would be a whole other talk and I’m already running out of time. Instead I’m going to let one of our students speak for themselves. This interview with Senior Honours Biology student Aine Kavanagh was recorded by our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. Here’s Aine is talking briefly about her experience of writing a Wikipeda article as part of a classroom assignment in Reproductive Biology.

Video by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence, University of Edinburgh

And the article that Aine wrote on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common forms of ovarian cancer, has now been viewed almost 34,000 times. It’s hard to imagine another piece of undergraduate work having such an impact. This is just one of a number of courses at the University that have successfully embedded Wikipedia assignments and you can listen to more of our students’ testimonies and find out about the work of our Wikimedian in residence here.

These are all examples of open education initiatives that are not just open, but open, diverse collaborative and participatory and, to my mind, this is what is really important


To conclude, I want to go right back to the title of this talk, The Soul of Liberty, which is taken from a quote by Frances Wright, the Scottish feminist and social reformer, who was born in Dundee in 1795, but who rose to prominence in the United States as an abolitionist, a free thinker, and an advocate of women’s equality in education. Frances wrote:

“Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.”

I think the same could also be said of openness; equality is the soul of openness. Two hundred years down the line, Frances’ conviction strikes a chord that echoes with Amira Dhalla’s affirmation that open can only be the future if we design and structure open spaces and communities so that anyone can participate.

Those of us here today already have the privilege to participate in open education spaces and open knowledge communities, and we can not keep that privilege to ourselves. We need to identify the barriers that prevent some people from participating in the spaces we enjoy, and we need to do what we can to remove these systemic obstructions. We need to be aware of our own privilege, and be sensitive to whose voices are included and whose are excluded, we need to know when to speak and when to be silent. To me this is what openness is really about, the removal of systemic barriers and structural inequalities to provide opportunities to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. We need to ensure that when we design our learning spaces, whether physical or virtual, online or on campus, they really are open to all, regardless of race, gender, or ability, because openness is not just about attributes, definitions and licences, openness is also about creativity, access, equality, and inclusion, and ultimately, it’s about expanding access to education, supporting social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.

In this video I show the benefits of writing in a text editor. I link to descriptions of these things which you can find in Sublime Text and Atom.

Two things I forgot to demo but which I rely upon for navigation are bookmarks and being able to navigate forward and backward between previous cursor positions.

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June 16, 2018


OSM-RDC / Potentiel 3.0 are planning OpenCities project in Kinshasa to map areas at risk of floods and cholera 1 | © OSM RD Congo


  • Bryan Housel, developer of iD, explained on the tagging mailing list why he will not support the transit:lanes tag on ways. It may be possible to support the mapping variant based on relations instead.
  • A post about the tagging of grass provoked a huge discussion on the tagging mailing list. The title of the post, ‘The endless debate about “landcover” as a top-level tag’ seems quite apt.
  • On the Talk-GB mailing list the project MapThePaths was announced. MapThePaths is intended to improve the completeness of legal rights of way and permissive paths in England and Wales in OSM by visualizing missing entries. At the moment it is a pure viewer, but the creator plans to add an edit function.
  • The aftermath of an anonymous edit to alter the names of subway stations that also connect to surface lines in Berlin provoked some discussion on the German forum (automatic translation) about how stations should be named. This led to a discussion about tagging in complex junction stations.



  • The mapper johnparis announces a bulk edit on the import mailing list from bus stops in Paris. He would like to supplement certain characteristics (Zone, Stop-ID and Ref) of Île-de-France Mobilités, formerly STIF (Syndicat des Transports d’Île-de-France).

OpenStreetMap Foundation

  • The OSMF board accepted a circular resolution to publish the preliminary version of the new OSMF Privacy Policy which has been worked out by the License Working Group.
  • The minutes of the State of the Map Working Group meeting of May 27th is online.


  • Members of the HOT community can get a 60% discount USD 650 ticket price for HOT Summit 2018 which joins FOSS4G 2018 happening in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from August 27th to September 2nd.
  • The international State of the Map 2018 conference takes place in Milan, Italy from July 28th to the 30th. The community ticket costs EUR 120.

Humanitarian OSM

  • Pierre Béland published stats of the OSM-RDC response to the Ebola outbreak with more than 800 remote contributors and 1.4 million objects edited since May 8th. NGOs and local organizations have also added POIs to the map and organized a mapathon for the local actors to revise and complete the map.
  • On the HOT mailing list, Remígio Chilaule has presented a short video that shows the mapping activities in Mafala, Mozambique.
  • HOT US Inc. advertises a job for a paid part-time PR manager.
  • OpenStreetMap-RDC starts the #OpenCitiesKinshasa new mapping project and requests help from the global OSM Community to map dense neighbourhoods of Kinshasa prone to floods and cholera outbreak. This will support the local OSM contributors which are trained actually for field data collection and Drone missions. These actions are part of a partnership with the World Bank GFDRR, OSFAC and Potentiel3.0 to map vulnerable neighbourhoods of Kinshasa in the context of the “Open Cities Africa” project.
  • John Whelan reports on the HOT list about duplicate tasks created in the HOT Tasking Manager and creation of duplicate buildings. For some, mapathon organizers should assure training and validation of their participants and inform the coordinators of the humanitarian response of their actions. This OSM response to the Ebola outbreak is coordinated by OSM-RDC with the DRC Government, the UN Agencies and NGOs in the north of DRC.


  • CPSolver presented his web page www.newsherenow.com on Reddit. It offers news particular to a neighbourhood.
  • Google Maps currently disallows access without an API key, as announced. This caused an inrush of requests on the OpenStreetMap Foundation Nominatim server.


  • 70 key figures of the Internet warn about the new EU Copyright Directive in an open letter (PDF), which will be voted by the EU Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs on June 20th. The policy forces Internet platforms to automatically check uploaded content for copyright infringements. Julia Reda, MP of the German Pirate Party, wrote in her blog that there is a narrow majority in favour of the directive and asks to call MPs on the phone.
  • More than 100 Members of the European Parliament fear that the Europe wide introduction of an ancillary copyright law based on the existing German model could lead to a “link tax” and reject it in a public statement. Spiegel Online, as one of the largest German news website, already has experience with the law. In a comment, it wrote “Rarely was a law so dysfunctional…”


  • Simon Poole reports on the Talk mailing list that the upcoming version 11 of the Android editor Vespucci will allow the integration of GeoJSON as a layer. The beta of the version can be installed via Google Play and from GitHub.
  • Wikimedia announced its new geocoding extension for CiviCRM, that uses OSM as default geodata provider.
  • Cosmogony is a new open source tool designed for easy extraction of boundary data. A dashboard provides a plausibility check of the boundary data in OSM and a hierarchical exploration is possible directly from the map. The data download feature has not been implemented yet. Similar services are mentioned on GitHub.


  • OSM Buildings published their privacy policy and a few updates on how to use their services.

Did you know …

OSM in the media

  • Glyn Moody wrote on linuxjournal.com that OpenStreetMap should be “a priority for the open source community”. He addresses Serge Wroclawski’s articles from 2014 and 2018 and concludes that OSM “has the potential to provide ambitious coders with the scope to make their mark in a new field of interest to billions of users.” In his opinion, it is necessary to create more software tools (e.g. Waze) to counter the overpowering market companion. He suggests a collaboration with financially strong open source organisations, such as Mozilla Foundation and Canonical.

Other “geo” things

  • MachinePix tweeted a video by Dom Ricciobene, featuring a CNC machine sculpting a mountain landscape on a layered wood block.
  • For the friends of Riesling, there is now a historical map available. It belongs to a whole series of historical maps, which is operated by the “Database of Cultural Heritage in the Trier Region”. As the person in charge confirmed on Twitter, the wine map can be used as WMS for OSM.
  • Grough magazine reports that Nigel Clifford has not renewed his contract as CEO of the British Ordnance Survey. This increases speculation regarding the lack of an announcement from the Geospatial Commission in May.
  • Since the 1930s, some 35 local volunteers have measured the spread and retreat of Icelandic glaciers at 64 measuring points using measuring tapes. The Atlantic reports on the project and why satellite based remote sensing techniques like the NASA satellite Terra cannot completely replace it.
  • Heise reported (de) on two new JavaScript frameworks: MusicKit and MapKit JS from Apple. With MapKit JS, you can integrate interactive maps with overlays and controls, including routing services, on your own website. An API key is required for use. 250,000 instances with 25,000 service calls per day are free. A sample implementation has been published by Apple on GitHub.
  • Annette M. Kim warns about the potential inaccuracy of automatic feature detection from satellite images: informal settlements at the fringes of large cities may not be classified as urban areas, and would then be overlooked by city management. Only a combination of remote processing and ground checks can make sure that data available to city planners reflect reality.
  • Christoph Hormann writes about news on open satellite images in his blog. Topics include the increased image recording volume of the Sentinel satellites, which is achieved by an optical data link, the new report on data access to the Copernicus programme, to which the Sentinel satellites belong, and current developments in the US Landsat programme, which has been running since 1972.
  • There’s one spot in the world right now, where the sun is exactly overhead, and it’s this one. Unfortunately, we are not aware of the website that shows the place where the sun is at its nadir.

Upcoming Events

Where What When Country
Munich Münchner Stammtisch 2018-06-14 germany
San José Civic Hack Night & Map Night 2018-06-14 united states
Lüneburg Lüneburger Mappertreffen 2018-06-19 germany
Cologne Bonn Airport Bonner Stammtisch 2018-06-19 germany
Sheffield Pub Meetup 2018-06-19 united kingdom
Viersen OSM Stammtisch Viersen 2018-06-19 germany
Karlsruhe Stammtisch 2018-06-20 germany
Leoben Stammtisch Obersteiermark 2018-06-21 austria
Essen Mappertreffen 2018-06-22 germany
Kyoto 幕末京都マッピングパーティ#05:会津藩と京都守護職 2018-06-23 japan
Essen 4. OSM-Sommercamp und 10. FOSSGIS-Hackingevent im Linuxhotel 2018-06-22-2018-06-24 germany
Rome Incontro mensile 2018-06-25 italy
Bremen Bremer Mappertreffen 2018-06-25 germany
Lübeck Lübecker Mappertreffen 2018-06-28 germany
Dusseldorf Stammtisch 2018-06-29 germany
Stuttgart Stuttgarter Stammtisch 2018-07-04 germany
Bochum Mappertreffen 2018-07-05 germany
Urspring Stammtisch Ulmer Alb 2018-07-05 germany
Milan State of the Map 2018 (international conference) 2018-07-28-2018-07-30 italy
Dar es Salaam FOSS4G & HOT Summit 2018 2018-08-29-2018-08-31 tanzania
Buenos Aires State of the Map Latam 2018 2018-09-24-2018-09-25 argentina
Detroit State of the Map US 2018 2018-10-05-2018-10-07 united states
Bengaluru State of the Map Asia 2018 (effective date to confirm) 2018-11-17-2018-11-18 india

Note: If you like to see your event here, please put it into the calendar. Only data which is there, will appear in weeklyOSM. Please check your event in our public calendar preview and correct it, where appropriate.

This weeklyOSM was produced by Anne Ghisla, Nakaner, PierZen, Polyglot, SK53, Softgrow, Spanholz, Spec80, YoViajo, derFred, sev_osm.

When you visit the OkayAfrica website, you are kindly invited to learn about the 100 women celebrated in 2018. Having a list of 100 fine ladies is nice but what makes them really inspirational are their stories. All of them have been added as references for your pleasure in Wikidata.

We do not have the same pleasure for the fine women celebrated in 2017. Most likely those stories existed once upon a time but as the Internet Archive only knows 100women.okayafrica.com in 2018 the 2017 stories are lost at this time. We only know about them through a secondary source.

Kelly Foster added most of the 2017 ladies and we are now adding the remaining ladies to Wikidata. We would be very much obliged when the back stories as they were published in the past are added a reference.. Fine journalism deserves a place as a reference.

June 15, 2018

Sam Oyeyele. Photo by Zack McCune/Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Over the last few years, the annual Wikimedia Conference has seen many more individuals in emerging communities. This year, Wikimedians from 79 countries, representing nearly one hundred movement affiliates, contributed to the event’s cultural, regional, and language diversity.

Community member Rupika Sharma interviewed several of these attendees to get their thoughts on the Wikimedia movement, their own communities, the Wikimedia 2030 strategy process, and how their involvement with it all will change over the next five years. They include:

  • Felix Nartey, Open Foundation West Africa
  • Sam Oyeyele, Wikimedia User Group Nigeria
  • Liang-Chih Shang Kuan, Taiwan chapter/user group
  • Coenraad Loubser, Wikimedia South Africa
  • Rodrigo Barbano Tejera, Wikimedia Uruguay and Wikimedia Digitization User Group
  • Nahid Sultan, Wikimedia Bangladesh

Here’s more about Sam, a Nigerian volunteer who we profiled in February. Tune back over the next few weeks to read the rest of the interviews as they are published.


How are you involved with Wikimedia, and what kind of projects are you working on?

I joined Wikipedia in 2011 and have been contributing to several sectors. I am particularly interested in cinema, real estate, biographies of women, and other sectors.

In 2015, I decided to get involved in the off-wiki movement. I co-founded the Nigerian User Group, an affiliate, with three other people. Since then, we have been involved with outreach projects such as edit-a-thons, workshops, writing contests, and we have been doing awareness projects to teach people how to contribute to Wikipedia. There is low awareness of Wikipedia in Nigeria. People don’t really know that they can edit, so we are trying to get that out. Recently, we have partnered with the Foundation and an advertising agency in Nigeria to create an ad for awareness of Wikipedia in Nigeria. We invited a popular comedian for one video and a popular actor for another one and the video went viral. We have 17 million views to show for our video and that’s exciting. We also had partnerships with Radio and media houses, such as a radio show for Wiki Love Women. It is about African women contributing to Wikimedia projects. So, far we have partnered with about 15 organizations and institutes.

Through Wiki Loves Women, we organized events for them. We were able to secure partnerships with radio stations. The first partnership was with Blackface Radio. We also have a partnership with WFM, a women oriented radio station, in Lagos, we have lot of weekly programs. Due to Wiki Loves Women, we were also able to secure a partnership with GoGe Africa, which is a cultural organization and they decided to release some of their content on free license. One of the other things we are doing for outreach is that we are trying to get hubs and clubs in other parts of Nigeria. We have institutes in Abuja, Ibadan, Ilorin. And of course the user group we had is based in Lagos. These are some of the things our user group has been doing.

How do you see your individual role in the Wikimedia movement over the next five years?

In the next five years, I’ll just continue my outreach works. My aim has always been to fix content gaps on Wikimedia projects. I’ll continue to run several projects in the bid to fix that problem.

How was your experience of the conference ?

The conference was really great. I have been meeting a lot of people and learning a lot, especially in the Partnerships and Strategy Tracks. I have been meeting people, we have been getting people on board with the projects, and we have been getting a lot of people that are interested in listening to what I am doing and want to be part of it. It has been a lot to take in because there are sessions everywhere, and I want to attend so many of them; it has been difficult to choose which sessions to attend and it has been exhausting. We have been up from 8 o’clock in the morning to 7 o’clock in the evening and after 7, you stay chatting with people late in the night, so it’s been bit tiring. Overall, it [was] exciting to be in Berlin. It is a beautiful city and it is nice.

How will this conference shape what you want to achieve for your user group?

The most useful sessions for me are the partnerships sessions like for the projects that I am going to run next like African Cinema project. So it is going to help me partners, to release content, to help grow awareness about Wikipedia in Nigeria across Africa. So, that is going to help me about it. I made some connections during conference, so it is going to be great.

Interview by Rupika Sharma (User:Wikilover90), Wikimedia community member

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The Visiting Scholars Program at Wiki Education creates a bridge between academic institutions and experienced Wikipedia editors. This bridge allows Wikipedians to disseminate Universities’ scholarly sources and collections to the millions of reader accessing Wikipedia every month. The Wikipedian is thus supported in their efforts to continually improve the world’s largest repository of free knowledge; the institution can help improve Wikipedia’s coverage of topics of interest to them; and the public benefits from more accurate, comprehensive articles.

Wiki Education currently partners with 12 institutions in the program, many of whom are drawn to participate for similar reasons. Institutions have a commitment to disseminating their knowledge, much of which the general public cannot access due to paywalls. And they recognize that Wikipedia is one of the leading sources of information for the public. The Visiting Scholars program is an opportunity to expand the impact of their collections.

Gary Greenbaum, User:Wehwalt

George Mason University, for example, recognizes the impact of Wikipedia on public knowledge and the site’s place in our cultural landscape. “George Mason University is committed to doing what it can to advance knowledge and understanding of our world,” says Mills Kelly, a Professor of History and GMU’s coordinator with our Visiting Scholars program. Wiki Education connected the institution with Gary Greenbaum (User:Wehwalt) back in 2014. And since then, Gary has brought many articles related to American political history up to Featured Article status (the highest quality standard on Wikipedia). Gary works on highly trafficked articles, meaning his work reaches millions. The biography article on William Howard Taft, which Gary worked on in detail to bring up to Featured Article status, has been viewed more than 3 million times since. (The Dashboard’s Authorship Highlighting tool shows all that Gary has added to that article here).

Another priority of sponsoring institutions is improving the equity of knowledge represented on Wikipedia. We’ve made a commitment to this mission through all of our programs, and are excited to see institutions passionate about it too.

Eryk Salvaggio, User:Owlsmcgee

Brown University was drawn to the Visiting Scholars program because of their faith in Wikipedia as “one of the world’s largest public humanities projects.” Hoping to expand Wikipedia’s representation of ethnic studies, they’ve given Eryk Salvaggio (User:Owlsmcgee), access to their databases. Eryk has since improved a number of articles related to ethnic studies, including articles about a chapter in the history of racism in America. The articles that he has improved have received more than 1 million page views in total. “With Eryk’s help, we can think more about how the research we do on Brown’s campus can make a bigger impact on an invaluable digital resource that millions of us rely on every day,” says Jim McGrath, Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Public Humanities at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage at Brown. “The Visiting Scholars Program seems like a great way for a campus like Brown to get its students, faculty, and community partners thinking more about Wikipedia and its relationship to our ongoing work in Ethnic Studies, American Studies, and Public Humanities initiatives.”

Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, User:Rosiestep

Northeastern University has granted database access to Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight (User:Rosiestep), a prolific editor who is committed to closing Wikipedia’s gender gap. “We have a strong commitment to open access and public scholarship projects, and the work of people like Rosie helps bring information that may be hard to find (only in print, expensive scholarly journals, or odd pockets of the internet) to a broad, global audience,” says Amanda Rust, the Digital Humanities Librarian and Assistant Director of the Digital Scholarship Group at Northeastern. “Rosie’s subject focus, women and writing before 1900, is part of our larger commitment to preserving the history of underrepresented groups.” Only about 17% of all biography articles on Wikipedia are about women, a percentage that is slowly increasing thanks to editors like Rosie and her involvement in WikiProjects like Women in Red. Since her Visiting Scholar position began in March 2017, Rosie has created 214 new Wikipedia articles, most of which are biography articles about women. She has also uploaded more than 600 images to Wikimedia Commons, many of which illustrate the biography articles she has created. Read more about Rosie’s editing process and the impact of her work here.

Jackie Koerner, User:jackiekoerner

Jackie Koerner (User:Jackiekoerner) is also making an impact in improving Wikipedia’s equity, thanks to source access provided by the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. “When it comes to disability, what little information there is out there is largely rooted in misunderstandings and even unrecognized prejudice,” says Catherine Kudlick, the Director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute and a Professor of History at SFSU. “Thus this is a perfect opportunity to build bridges between a growing body of terrific scholarly information and a public that automatically turns to Wikipedia for answers.” Since beginning her Visiting Scholars position, Jackie has contributed about 30,000 words to articles related to disability rights, activism, and culture. She has also created an article about the 504 Sit-in, a topic which was featured on Comedy Central after that. Read Jackie’s reflections of why the Visiting Scholars program matters to her here.

Andrew Newell, User:RockMagnetist

The Deep Carbon Observatory, another of our sponsoring institutions, recognizes that the public turns to Wikipedia for scientific information. DCO Engagement Team Leader Rob Pockalny views their collaboration with Andrew Newell (User:RockMagnetist) as having “incredible synergistic potential to contribute significant, long-lasting content to numerous Wikipedia topics, while helping to ensure accurate, rich content in science topics spanning earth science, chemistry, physics, and biology.” Wiki Education and DCO agree that ensuring that scientific information on Wikipedia is well-represented and factual is important. Read more about Andrew’s progress here.

Read more about our other sponsoring institutions and the Visiting Scholars they support here. For more information about the program, visit wikiedu.org/visitingscholars or reach out to contact@wikiedu.org.

ImageFile:SFSU Campus Overview Nov2012.JPGWebbi1987, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


  • January was a great month for Wiki Education’s fundraising. We applied for and received a $500,000 USD unrestricted donation from the Pineapple Fund, a philanthropic association run by an anonymous donor with one of the 250 largest Bitcoin wallets in the world. The fund is drawn to organizations that are dedicated to universal knowledge and a free and open Internet. The donation will support our core operations all year.
  • Community Engagement Manager Ryan McGrady announced the kick-off of our Wikipedia Fellows pilot this month. This pilot is the first time Wiki Education is specifically engaging academics to learn how to improve Wikipedia. We’re excited to see how these subject-matter experts contribute to the most socially and politically relevant articles on Wikipedia!
  • Our Board met in person in San Francisco this month to discuss Wiki Education’s new strategic direction for the next three years. Keeping in mind the new direction, Executive Director Frank Schulenburg outlined the main components of the new annual plan for fiscal year 2018/19. Director of Programs and Deputy Director LiAnna Davis reviewed feedback provided by the Wikimedia Foundation’s Funds Dissemination Committee during the last grant application cycle. And Director of Development and Strategy TJ Bliss detailed plans for additional revenue streams, including topic sponsorships and paid services.
  • Product Manager Sage Ross is continuing our research collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh to develop further Dashboard training modules using Intertwine. This online video discussion platform will let students from different universities connect with each other to discuss and do Wikipedia-related activities, and we hope will provide a beneficial learning experience for students who participate.


Educational Partnerships

To kick off 2018, we attended two conferences, joining university faculty and inviting them to participate in our programs to improve Wikipedia. At the Linguistic Society of America (LSA) conference, which we attended for the third year in a row, dozens of instructors were excited to sign up and join LSA’s initiative to document and preserve language on Wikipedia through our partnership. It was great to see how word-of-mouth can spread within a discipline—thanks in part to LSA members like Gretchen McCullough and Lauren Collister. They coordinated a Wikipedia-editing session for attendees, and we found a buzz in the air about the dire need to make Wikipedia as comprehensive and accurate as possible.

Samantha speaks to an instructor about teaching with Wikipedia at LSA 2018.

Next, we joined astronomers at the American Astronomical Society’s annual meeting. We spoke with astronomers who love Wikipedia, more students who have participated in our Classroom Program, and university instructors who hope to learn how they can join our efforts to make science more accessible to the world. We look forward to the great work to come from the newly inspired linguists, astronomers, and their students.

Classroom Program

Status of the Classroom Program for Spring 2018 in numbers, as of January 31:

  • 279 Wiki Education-supported courses were in progress (159, or 56%, were led by returning instructors).
  • 3,450 student editors were enrolled.
  • 66% of students were up-to-date with the student training.
  • Students edited 464 articles, created 4 new entries, and added 49,300 words.

January is off to a busy start! Program Manager Will Kent spent the majority of the month on-boarding new and returning instructors, orienting them to the Dashboard. Will fielded questions and worked on troubleshooting issues around enrollment, timelines, and how to best structure the term. Wikipedia Content Experts Ian Ramjohn and Shalor Toncray were busy introducing themselves to students and making the beginning of the term run smoothly.

Office hours started up again the final week of January. As always, they provide an opportunity for us to answer questions from instructors, hear how things are going, and create a space for instructors to share best practices with each other. We will be offering more throughout the spring. Will’s looking forward to approving some more courses, tweaking some timelines, and making sure we can do everything we can to ensure the classroom assignments are going well for everyone.

We’re excited to see what kind of work this term’s courses produce. Everything from Pennsylvania Politics to Analyzing Cinema, Gender, and Sexuality sounds fascinating. With almost half of the courses taught by new instructors, we’re especially excited to see how the assignment evolves in their courses. Will’s keeping an eye on the Dashboard, looking forward to all of the new contributions and articles rolling in every day.

Student work:

All over the world there are underprivileged and orphaned children. No matter where they live, one universal truth is that these children will often benefit greatly from organizations and charities that provide them with a healthy, safe place to live, grow, and learn. This is why Queen Zein Al Sharaf of Jordan created Mabarrat Um Al Hussein in northern Amman, which provides a home and learning environment for boys between the ages of six and eighteen. A student from University of Chicago professor Anjali Adukia’s Violence in the Early Years class created this article with the belief that the organization was one that merited discussion on Wikipedia. While small, like the children Mabarrat Um Al Hussein shelters, the article is sure to grow and expand quickly!

Unless you’re looking for Shakespeare or a well known monarch, it can be difficult to find information on a person who died long ago. Finding information on someone who is neither European or American can be even more difficult, as source materials for these individuals may not be widely available outside of the person’s native country in print, audio, or electronic format. This is why efforts by students such as the one from University of California Santa Cruz educator Minghui Hu’s History of Qing China class are so important. This student created an article on Zhu Yun, a preeminent Qing scholar and official who greatly influenced both academia of the time period as well as the Siku Quanshu — the largest collection of books in Chinese history. It was Zhu that approached the Qianlong Emperor with the idea of compiling all of the works from the Ming Dynasty into one collection. This appealed to the Emperor, who sought to create something even greater than the Ming Dynasty’s Yongle Encyclopedia, and Zhu Yun’s academic circle was given editorial control of the project. While Zhu’s influence allowed for the inclusion of his Han ideals into the project, it also resulted in the project’s editors arguing against the inclusion of any Neo-Confucian texts — something that went against the Qing’s desire to include traditional Confucian texts that were accepted by the people, as the Qing hoped to strengthen their rule. This division would prove to be a portend of the dissolving bureaucratic morale that plagued the end of the Qing Dynasty.

Students in David Lebowitz’s WikiProject Medicine course this Winter have been working to improve medical content on Wikipedia. They have made major improvements to the chest pain, cystectomy, and cholecystectomy articles.

And a student in Benjamin Karney’s Psychology course in the fall worked on the article about ovulatory shift hypothesis, which was promoted to Good Article status in January.

In Yale University professor Barbara Mundy’s HSAR 412 Material and Meaning in the Ancient Americas class, students uploaded images of beautiful jade pieces held in the university’s art gallery. One of the images uploaded is a jadeite pendant from Maya, dated to circa A.D. 200–600. Imagine the stories this piece could tell — the things it must have seen!

Image: File:Pendant in the Shape of a Standing Ruler or Lord.jpg, Yale University Art Gallery, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

A UC Berkeley student in David Harris’s Civic Technology class also added images to Wikipedia, taking the time out of her studies to upload an image of herself hard at work! (Note the computer in the background open to the Wikipedia main page!) It’s images like this that help us picture the students we’re helping!

Image: File:MaryMijares.jpg, Mary Mijares, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Community Engagement

This month Ryan announced the kick-off of our Wikipedia Fellows pilot! Wikipedia Fellows is an interdisciplinary pilot to support subject-matter experts as they learn to contribute to Wikipedia articles relevant to the Future of Facts. A cohort of nine scholars from three of our partner associations—the American Sociological Association, Midwest Political Science Association, and National Women’s Studies Association—joined Wiki Education staff for the first three weekly meetings this month, and have already begun making contributions to articles in their areas of expertise.

Also this month we were happy to announce a new Visiting Scholars opportunity at the University of Windsor for a Wikipedian interested in the history of southwestern Ontario.

Existing Visiting Scholars made a number of high-quality contributions this month. University of Pennsylvania Visiting Scholar User:Gen. Quon, has been hard at work improving Wikipedia’s coverage of historically significant Latin works. This month, he brought the article on Orientius’s 5th-century poem, the Commonitorium, to Good Article status. User:Wehwalt, Visiting Scholar at George Mason University, added another numismatics-related Featured Article to his collection with Connecticut Tercentenary half dollar, which was struck in 1935 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Connecticut.

User:Bfpage at the University of Pittsburgh has been among the most active editors of women’s health topics for some time now. Among other contributions this month, she built the article on vaginal anomalies, which did not previously exist on Wikipedia.

Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), poet and writer.
Image: File:Celia Thaxter.jpg, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

User:Rosiestep, Visiting Scholar at Northeastern University, is prolific in her work to create articles on notable women writers. This month alone, examples include Anne Steele, Phoebe Hinsdale Brown, Augusta Jane Evans, Celia Thaxter, Emma Lazarus, Sara Jane Lippincott, Harriet Mann Miller, Elizabeth Williams Champney, and Rose Terry Cooke.

Former Visiting Scholar at McMaster University Danielle Robichaud shared a blog post about how she drew on her experience and expertise as a librarian and archivist to contribute to articles like the Canadian Residential School System, which went on to be promoted to Featured Article.

This month, Ryan also joined Ian on the jury for the Wiki Science Competition in the United States. The jury selected winners from among more than 1,200 submitted science-related images. The top five in each category will be sent to the international competition, and Jury’s Choice prizes given to the five overall favorites. See the spectacular honorees in our blog post.

VS Jackie Koerner presents on implicit bias at Wikipedia Day New York, January 2018.  
Image: File:Wikipedia Day New York January 2018 006.jpg, King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


For Wikipedia Day, Ryan attended the annual celebration in New York City, where he moderated a panel on Wikipedia in education with instructors Rachel Bogan (New Jersey Institute of Technology), Shelly Eversley (Baruch College), and Jeffrey Keefer (New York University). Visiting Scholar Jackie Koerner was also an invited guest speaker at the event. Read Ryan’s report from the conference on our blog.

Program Support


Frank participated in an interview with a Times Higher Education reporter, which was published mid-month. The reporter also spoke with Massachusetts Institute of Technology instructor Amy Carleton for the piece, which highlighted the importance of Wiki Education’s Classroom Program and our Future of Facts initiative.

This month, we published a number of blog posts written by instructors in our Classroom Program. In these posts, instructors reflect on the successes of their Fall 2017 courses. Dr. Nora Haenn discusses how a Wikipedia assignment gives students an outlet to participate thoughtfully in important political conversations. Dr. Elizabeth Manley shares how learning to edit Wikipedia “allow[s] students to become knowledge producers rather than mere consumers.” And Dr. Kathleen Sheppard writes about how a Wikipedia assignment presents a unique opportunity to engage engineering students in the humanities. We consistently update our resources and support in response to instructor feedback, and value their perspectives. The willingness of instructors to reflect on their experiences on our blog is useful and rewarding, as well as a testament to instructor satisfaction in our programs.

Blog posts:

External media:

Digital Infrastructure

In January, we fixed numerous Dashboard bugs and performance issues — including one that considerably improves the reliability of the automatic userpage and sandbox edits when students join courses. Outreachy intern Candela Jiménez Girón continued her work on improving the Dashboard’s support for edit-a-thon campaigns ahead of Art + Feminism 2018, completing several key features and improvements to help organizers run smooth events and get new users registered. Volunteer developer Ben Blanchard fixed several problems with the training module translation system, with more improvements in progress. And other contributors made a slew of bug fixes and code quality improvements. In total, January saw 144 commits comprised by 37 pull requests from external contributors to the Dashboard codebase.

Continuing our research collaboration from Fall 2017, Sage added Dashboard support for the updated Spring 2018 version of the Carnegie Mellon University / University of Pittsburgh Intertwine project. Sage also completed some important deferred maintenance and performance work on Programs & Events Dashboard, which continues to see increased usage — especially of the open-ended training module system. Code quality work to follow JavaScript best practices continues apace.

Finance & Administration / Fundraising

Finance & Administration

For the month of January, expenses were $179,070 compared to the approved budget amount of $234.802. As has been consistent with the prior months, the monthly spend is significantly under budget. The $55,731 variance is largely seen in the Programs labor and associated costs ($35K) and discontinued Research and Engagement program ($10K). Other expenses budgeted for January and not actually expensed were Marketing ($5K), Printing ($3K), Outside Services ($3K). The gap in the Programs budget is also due to project hiring for Guided Editing, which was budgeted for the beginning of January, but has not yet been spent. We will not begin that spending until we receive the grant for the project, as indicated in our plan.

Our year-to-date expenses of $1,078,000 are under the budget of $1,306,000 by $228,000. The three major components to the continued underspending are Labor, Professional Services and Travel. The difference in labor expenses are ($57K) in General and Administration and ($33K) in Programs, respectively. With the change in focus in Programs, the Professional Services were under budget by ($97K). Travel expenses were reduced by ($20K) mostly seen Fundraising ($12,000) and spread across the other departments. The remaining ($21K) difference can be seen as supplemental costs associated with the above mentioned expenses: Marketing, Printing, Mailing, Software.


Board and senior staff celebrating the donation through Pineapple Fund


In January, we received a $400,000 grant from Wikimedia Foundation’s Fund Dissemination Committee. This grant was also matched by a $400,000 grant from the Stanton Foundation. Wiki Education’s Director of Development and Strategy, TJ Bliss, continued to cultivate relationships with funders who we think might be interested in Wiki Education because of our Future of Facts, Guided Editing, and Sustaining Science initiatives. As part of this approach, we applied for and received a $500,000 USD unrestricted donation from the Pineapple Fund. This funding, along with the funding from the Wikimedia Foundation and the Stanton Foundation, will support our core operations in 2018. We have also begun reaching out to funders who we think may be interested in sponsoring specific topic areas that we support in our Classroom Program. We also had initial conversations with potential organizational partners who may be interested in a co-fundraising approach related to areas of common interest.

Office of the ED

Current priorities:

  • Preparing the all-staff meeting next month
  • Supporting the development work
Frank presenting at the board meeting in San Francisco

The highlight of January was the in-person board meeting in San Francisco. The Board discussed key elements of the newly drafted strategic plan, including: (1) key assumptions and their implications for the future of Wiki Education, (2) strategic goals and supporting objectives, and (3) a proposal to provide critical infrastructure such as the Program & Events Dashboard to global partners. At the end of the discussion, the board officially confirmed the direction for the next three years. LiAnna reviewed feedback provided by the Wikimedia Foundation’s Funds Dissemination Committee during the last grant application cycle. She led a discussion with the board about how the feedback related to our new strategic plan. Based on the broad strategic direction, Frank outlined the main components of the new annual plan for fiscal year 2018/19. TJ provided an update on recent grants received and on the pipeline of grants currently being pursued. He also provided an update on plans for additional revenue streams, including topic sponsorships and paid services.

Also in January, Wiki Education welcomed Ben Vershbow, Wikimedia’s Lead Programs Manager, for an extended meeting. Programs staff explained the inner workings of the Classroom Program and Frank, LiAnna, and Sage started a conversation about the future of the Program & Events Dashboard with Ben.

Visitors and guests

  • Ben Vershbow, Wikimedia Foundation


* * *

Alex Monk (bottom right) working At the 2018 Wikimedia Hackathon, May 18-20, 2018, Autonomous University of Barcelona – image by Mhollo


This report assumes that you know basically what HTTPS is, among other things. ‘We’ is used liberally in this post, and refers to the Wikimedia technical community in general – I am a volunteer and I don’t work for the foundation or any national chapters.

Wikimedia has several canonical domain names, the ones everyone knows about – wikipedia.org, wiktionary.org, wikibooks.org, wikiquote.org, and so on. These are fine, and HTTPS has been used to secure connections on them for a few years now.

Unfortunately, over the years we’ve also accumulated many non-canonical domains that simply redirect to the others. In that mess there’s a mix of domains that are owned by the foundation but not set up in the foundation’s name servers, domains owned by entities other than the foundation and pointed at wikipedia using external hosting, and – here’s the bit that we’re interested in today – some domains that are owned by the foundation and are set up in the name servers, and the foundation’s web servers serve redirects on.

Historically, you had to spend a lot of money to get certificates for your domain, and Wikimedia had enough of these redirect-only domains sitting around that the cost of buying HTTPS certificates to cover them all would be prohibitive. So these domains are accessed over plain HTTP only.

Fortunately, a HTTPS certificate provider named Let’s Encrypt launched in April 2016 which provides free certificates via an API named ACME – that is fully automated. Wikimedia has since begun to use the service in some obscure ‘simple’ production services such as gerrit (the code review system for developers), some private systems, and in August 2016 I used it to finally implement trusted HTTPS on the beta.wmflabs.org sites. To make this process simple, we use a script named acme_tiny.py, written by Daniel Roesler.

The problem

The thing about all the cases we’ve implemented it in is that the decryption only needs to happen on one single server. This is good enough for certain obscure services that only have one server handling encryption, but is no good for services that need to be handled by multiple such servers – e.g. anything that needs to be spread out across the data centres that Wikimedia rents space in. This is because of two things:

  1. When you go to the ACME API and ask for a certificate, you need to prove that you control the domain(s) which your certificate will match (Domain Validation or DV). The common way of doing this (and the only one that we use right now) is to write a file that the ACME server names into a /.well-known/acme-challenge/ directory on the web server running your domain. Unfortunately this means that, if one server requests a certificate for the domain, all the other servers will need to be able to serve the challenge that only one server received – so the file would need to be distributed between them, and this can be non-trivial without opening up various security cans of worms.
  2. The ACME server we’re using (Let’s Encrypt) applies rate limiting, so multiple servers requesting certificates for a domain would likely trigger the limits. (and we’d probably set off alarms with the sheer number of different domains we need to cover).

So, if we want to start protecting our redirect domains with free certificates, and serve them in a way that can handle our traffic volume, we have to come up with a way of centralising the generation of our certificates while securely distributing the private parts of the certificates to the authorised internal servers.

The solution

Myself, Brandon Black and Faidon Liambotis finally had the opportunity to sit down at the Hackathon and discuss how we were going to do this exactly. What we plan in basic terms (and I’ve begun to implement) is to have a central server that is responsible for requesting certificates, running an internal-facing service that serves certificate private/public parts to the authorised hosts, and forwarding of HTTP challenge requests through to the central service that made the request. Some of the details are far more complicated and technical but that’s the basic idea.

I’ve already got a basic setup running at https://krenair.hopto.org/ (this actually points to a server running in Cloud VPS, I didn’t use wmflabs.org as the domain name editing for that is broken right now). You can track the work on this system in Phabricator at https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T194962

What next?

Right now my solution relies on some bad code that I need to clean up – the ‘client’ end (external-facing web server) also needs a bit of work to make the puppet configuration easy and remove some hard-coded assumptions. At some point we will need to determine exactly what the configuration should be for using it with the redirect domains, and Wikimedia Foundation Operations, should they decide it’s good, will need to determine how best to deploy this in production.

Another thing that we plan to do is move to using our configuration management’s system built-in support for pulling files securely from a central machine. Then of course there’s the recently-added support for wildcard certificates. To solve that we’ll need a customised acme_tiny script, and for production we’re going to need to build support for dynamic record creation into our name server, named gdnsd. (in labs this is handled by OpenStack Designate where there is already an API to achieve this, when permissions etc. have been sorted). In the distant future, after the above is done, it may actually be possible to add this as one of the canonical domains’ (wikipedia.org and friends) certificate options (Wikimedia keeps certificates from multiple authorities just in case there are problems with one of them) – that would mean we could serve those domains using certificates provided through an ACME API.

June 14, 2018

Photo by Stefan Krause, Free Art License.

More than a year after we first raised the issue, a problematic proposal for a new copyright directive is coming to a vote in the European Parliament next week.

Even in its amended version, this proposed directive would require that websites with large amounts of user uploaded content add mandatory upload filters. What this means is that websites would be required to have algorithms check all user uploads against a database of content and block those that are detected as infringing copyrights from appearing online.

We are very concerned about potential impacts that the proposal would have on Wikipedia, which largely addresses infringing content through community mechanisms. Such proposals put too much weight in the power of technologies for automatic content detection—be it artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, or hash-based file identification—without considering the impact on human-driven models of content moderation.

In addition to mandating content filtering in Article 13 of the proposed copyright directive, the European Commission is also proposing a new Initiative Against Illegal Content. In the corresponding announcement, “automatic detection and filtering technologies” are presented as an important factor in fighting extremist and other illegal content online. Both proposals demonstrate an increasing reliance on technology to make decisions about the legality of online content. As AI becomes more ubiquitous and machine learning improves, we expect these calls for automatic content detection will only continue to grow in volume.

One important aspect where this belief in AI and mandatory automatic content detection falls short is the reliance on technology as the only solution to the issues facing platforms today. However, this is neither the best nor the only way to deal with illegal content, let alone with content that is in other ways controversial or problematic.

The Wikimedia Foundation believes that technology, including AI, will be a useful tool in the future of content evaluation, but it should not be confused with a catch-all solution that would fix all problems. The volunteer editors on Wikipedia and its sister projects currently use a machine learning tool called Objective Revision Evaluation Service (ORES) to flag vandalism on the projects and to predict article quality.  Importantly, ORES itself does not make final decisions, but instead it provides a service which can help humans and bots improve Wikipedia and its sister projects. Once flagged by ORES, review and removal of content is handled entirely though community processes. This relationship acknowledges the limitations of machine learning while harnessing its strengths.

In general, volunteer contributors monitor new contributions for compliance with the community’s rules as well as copyright and other laws, and collaboratively resolve disputes over content. This system is effective and issues with content on the Wikimedia projects are rarely elevated to the Wikimedia Foundation. Of the small number of copyright complaints that are directed at the Foundation, an even smaller number are valid. The large, crowdsourced community processes allow the Wikimedia projects to be dynamic and flexible in handling a consistent flow of edits, about 10 per second. Importantly, the community governance system provides crucial safeguards for participation, freedom of expression, and collaboration. Obviously, not every platform that hosts content uploaded by its users is like Wikimedia. However, human-centered moderation allows for less arbitrary decision-making.

In contrast, any sort of law which mandates the deployment of automatic filters to screen all uploaded content using AI or related technologies does not leave room for the types of community processes which have been so effective on the Wikimedia projects. As previously mentioned, upload filters as they exist today view content through a broad lens, that can miss a lot of the nuances which are crucial for the review of content and assessments of legality or veracity. Even where improvements have been made, such as YouTube’s Content ID system for identifying copyrighted works and Google’s Cloud Vision API which detects “inappropriate” content, these improvements have cost a significant amount of money and often result in false positives by failing to take into account context or nuances in the law like fair use or copyright exceptions. While improvements can be made to fix these issues, they highlight the need for caution when attempting to apply automatic detection technologies as a blanket solution for even more complicated types of content like terrorism or misinformation.

As we continue to explore new ways to use machine learning technology to improve Wikimedia projects, the Wikimedia Foundation recognizes that this growth must leave room for the participation of all internet users and respect human rights. Therefore we signed onto the Toronto Declaration on Machine Learning, which uses the framework of international human rights law as a guide for the development of future machine learning technology. As the Wikimedia movement looks toward 2030, we do so with the knowledge that progress must be measured, inclusive, and protect freedom of expression. We urge policymakers in the EU to uphold these values and human rights as they consider the proposal for a copyright directive for the digital single market.

Allison Davenport, Technology Law and Policy Fellow, Wikimedia Foundation
Anna Mazgal, EU Policy Adviser, Wikimedia Germany (Deutschland)

Photo by David Strine, CC0.

You may have missed Towel Day in late May, but you know that sooner or later someone is going to build an interstellar highway right where you live.

This, or you really liked The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and think it is pretty much a description of Wikipedia that was well ahead of its time. H2G2, as it is often shorthanded, was originally broadcast on the BBC in 1978: in case you missed it, the series (and subsequent books) tell the (mis)adventures of Arthur Dent, last human survivor after our planet was destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, and Ford Prefect, a human-like alien writer for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And they start their journey, in fact, by hitching a ride onto a passing Vogon spacecraft.

Believe it or not, it does all makes sense.

Forty years later, there are now almost as many versions of the H2G2 article as there were language editions of the book (about 30). Add a few dozen articles related to the author, the 1984 video game, the radio and movie’s theme tune, and of course all major characters, and you will know more than you ever cared to a few minutes ago. And because we like to do things thoroughly, there are also tributes in Wikidata and even its recent, very beta, lexicographic extension.

The good news (well, at least for the Wiki part) is that there is also a way to make your dream of owning your very own Hitchhiker’s Guide come true: the sum of all knowledge with you, everywhere, without the need for an internet connection (towel not included)!

Enter Kiwix, the offline Wikipedia reader supported by the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Switzerland, and David Strine, an enthusiastic H2G2 fan, a product manager at the Foundation and enterprising Kiwix user in his spare time.

Kiwix works like a browser, allowing more than 3 million people around the world to store and access on their devices an entire copy of Wikipedia, as well as free-licensed works from the Gutenberg library, TED videos, and much more. Once the content of your choice has been downloaded (or copied from a friend’s), no internet connection is required and you are free to go the the most remote parts of the Galaxy if you so wish (or closer, but just as poorly connected: we know of a couple of Kiwix users in Antarctica, for instance).

Kiwix runs on both Android and iOS and it is, of course, free—as in free speech (ie open-source) and free drinks.

For his own purpose, David used his Nook tablet, but any would presumably do. The whole how-to can be found on instructables and is fairly straightforward: buy a tablet, fit it in a cover, install Kiwix and contents, and you will be set.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • The English Wikipedia is big, as in five million articles and 80 gigabytes big—and that’s only if you’re using Kiwix’s .zim compressed file format. That said, microSD cards able to hold 80 gb are usually built to hold 128 gb, so you might as well include Wikivoyage (an actual travel guide) and Wikisource (public domain books), and still have some room to spare. This is a good thing, since there are nearly 800 more files in 100 languages to choose from.
  • The larger the storage size, the higher the cost. You can actually save some space (and therefore money) by using the “nopic” version of each zim file. With no illustrations, files are usually three to four times lighter.

The closest the Kiwix team ever had to a real-life galactical hitchhiker was a German seaman who would come and download a “fresh” version of Wikipedia every two years or so (and send us a thank you note for the updates). We also have the odd round-the-world traveler who sends a little hello.

But even if you use Kiwix from home or at school, we love stories: we forward them to our volunteer coders so they know their work matters. So if you are a Kiwix user and would like to share some love, do send an email to stories@kiwix.org. We’re looking forward to reading them!

Stéphane Coillet-Matillon, Kiwix

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