As 2018 turned to 2019, people around the world celebrated the start of a brand new year with parties, family, and friends. The transition into 2019 also marked a new era for access to knowledge and culture in the United States, as new works finally entered the public domain through copyright expiration for the first time in over 20 years.

This means that when the clock struck midnight on 1 January, a flood of photographs, songs, novels, and artwork from 1923 all became freely available for everyone to use, remix, and share in the U.S. Sounds like something worth celebrating!

But let’s back up: what is the public domain, how does it work, and why should you care about its grand re-opening?

In the United States, copyright law and the public domain are enshrined in the founding documents. Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution incentivizes the creation of new works by granting them copyright protection for a limited amount of time, after which those works will enter the public domain where they can be used by anyone, for any purpose. This baked-in balancing act is a constitutional recognition both that the public benefits from the creation of new works and that the benefit to the public is not fully realized until everyone has the freedom to share, build on, and adapt those works.

Over the years, copyright expiration in the U.S. has been subject to a number of extensions. Where a work would once have be available for everyone to learn from, share, and build upon within 28 years of publication, the copyright in a work created today will last until 70 years after the author’s death. This slow creep of copyright terms has left gaps in works entering the public domain—the largest a result of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which resulted in no new works entering the public domain in the last 20 years.

It is true that works can enter the public domain in other ways. Official publications by the United States government are not protected by copyright and thus automatically enter the public domain, including everything from presidential speeches to spectacular photographs of space from NASA. Others recognize the importance of a rich public domain to learning and culture and donate their works using the CC0 public domain dedication. Still, due to the slow creep of term extensions, works from the early 20th century that are most in need of preservation and digitization have only just been released and others have been lost before their copyright expired.

It is important to note that the rules mentioned above apply only to the United States. In many countries, the public domain is slightly more robust, with works entering the public domain 50 years after the author’s death or earlier. In others, it is more restrictive, with copyright terms lasting for the life of the author plus 100 years or restrictions placed on government works.

No matter where you are, the public domain is a gift that cannot be taken for granted. The benefits of information, art, and culture are universal, and with the proliferation of the internet across the globe, public domain works are reaching broader audiences than their original authors may ever have imagined.

Wikimedia’s volunteer editors excel at honoring the public domain, and put it to good use. Every year, when new creative works around the world enter the public domain, those works and their creators receive a flurry of attention on Wikipedia and its sister projects. This month, German Wikipedians have extended Kurt Schwitters’ Wikipedia article with quite a few new illustrations. French Wikimedians have begun transcribing Antonin Artaud’s Le théâtre et son double on Wikisource. And international volunteers have uploaded hundreds of new files to Wikimedia Commons—allworks that have entered the public domain in January 2019.

This is what is so special about the public domain. The commons is not just a collection of old photographs and classical music. It’s a living record of our history, our discoveries, and our humanity. It deserves to be celebrated, and in the United States this year, we have a reason to celebrate!

So, join us in celebrating the public domain however you can. Here are some ways you can participate:

  • Upload. An entire year’s worth of works, from Charlie Chaplin’s film Safety Last! to William Carlos Williams‘ The Great American Novel are now free to upload on projects like Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource.
  • Proofread. With so many works already in the public domain, Wikisource could use your proofreading skills for works from all years, not just 1923.
  • Remix. If your skills lie in creation, then a brand new set of music, movies, photographs, stories, and artwork just opened up for you to play with. Why not try your hand at coming up with a creative way to make these classics new again?
  • Tweet. Share your love of the public domain on social media by tweeting out your favorite public domain image or media file.
  • Learn. As always, one of the best ways to show your love for something is to learn about it, so why not spend a few minutes reading articles about notable events from 1923, like the first publication of Time magazine or the completion of the Hollywood sign? Or, you could learn more about the public domain itself.
  • Party. If you are based in the San Francisco Bay Area, join us, Creative Commons, and the Internet Archive for an event celebrating the “Grand Re-opening of the Public Domain” on January 25th. The event will have demos, interactive displays, lightning talks and several addresses by public domain enthusiasts, including Lawrence Lessig, Pamela Samuelson, Cory Doctorow, and our own Ben Vershbow, who will give a talk about GLAM institutions and the public domain. Tickets are still available!

Allison Davenport, Technology, Law, and Policy Fellow
Wikimedia Foundation

Thank you to Sandra Fauconnier, who contributed content for this post.

Editor’s note: In a previous version of this post, we identified Bambi, A Life in the Woods as entering the public domain in 2019. However, a 1996 court decision officially found that the novel was not copyrighted in the United States until 1926, not 1923. We look forward to welcoming Bambi, A Life in the Woods as a member of the public domain class of 2022.

Welcome, Wes!

18:52, Tuesday, 08 2019 January UTC
Wes Reid, Wiki Education’s Software Developer.

I’m pleased to announced that Wes Reid has joined the Wiki Education team as a Software Developer. In his new role, he’ll be working with me to maintain the Wiki Education Dashboard — our open source web app built with React and Ruby on Rails that empowers thousands of instructors, librarians, and others across the globe to organize newcomer-friendly Wikipedia editing projects and track the contributions of these new Wikipedians.

Wes is passionate about education, equitable access, and technology. An educator turned software developer, he has worked in a number of positions near and dear to our values at Wiki Education. After graduating from college, Wes worked in non-profits supporting both professionals and first generation college students in finding their desired career. He then transitioned to software development five years ago, where he worked for tech non-profit Democracy Works building tools and gathering data to make it easier to vote. Most recently he worked as an instructor and developer at Galvanize, where he trained adults to enter the workforce as software developers.

As Software Developer at Wiki Education, Wes creates new features on the Dashboard that help people do more and better work on Wikipedia, Wikidata, and other free educational projects. He fixes bugs, solves user experience problems, makes accessibility improvements, and removes performance bottlenecks. His role also includes maintaining a newcomer-friendly codebase, which allows for his mentoring of interns and volunteer code contributors. Given Wes’ previous experience with Ruby on Rails; his current experience with JavaScript, React, and Redux; as well as his past and current experience of mentorship and education, he’s a great fit for this role. We’re excited to welcome him to our team and community.

Wikimedia in Google Code-in 2018

17:30, Monday, 07 2019 January UTC
Newcomer and Mentor sticker designs

Newcomer and Mentor stickers designed by GCI 2017 participant Ashley Zhang, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Google Code-in (GCI) is an annual seven week long contest for 14–17-year-old students exploring free and open source software projects. Organizations, such as the Wikimedia community, offer small tasks in the areas of code, documentation, outreach, research, and design. Students who complete tasks receive a digital certificate and a shirt from Google. The top students in every participating organization win a visit of Google’s headquarters. Students can directly experience how large online projects are organized, collaborate with humans across the planet, and the students’ accepted work is made available to millions of worldwide users.

For the sixth time, Wikimedia was one of 27 participating organizations which offered tasks mentored by community members.

In late 2018, 199 students worked on 765 Wikimedia tasks with the help of 39 mentors. To list only some students’ achievements and show the variety of projects, areas, and programming languages in the Wikimedia community:

…and many many more.

Some students have also written about their experience. Google also posted a summary with statistics.

We would like to congratulate our winners Nathan and Shreyas Minocha, our finalists arcaynia, Jan Rosa, takidelfin and Zoran Dori, and all contributors on their many contributions! We hope to see you around! We would also like to thank all our mentors for their commitment to be available also on weekends and holidays, for coming up with task ideas, working together, quickly reviewing contributions, and for providing feedback what we could improve next time.
Thanks to everybody on IRC, Gerrit, Phabricator, mailing lists, Github, Telegram for their friendliness, patience, support and help.

Wikimedia always welcomes contributions to improve free and open knowledge. Find out how you can contribute.

weeklyOSM 441

09:52, Monday, 07 2019 January UTC



Howto … OSM Promotional Leaflets 1 | © alexkemp, Andy Allan


  • OpenStreetMap Ireland suggested a mapping task for the holiday period: adding all the buildings for a single townland. A few mappers (including Ciaran, Earl and Tshedy), had a go, but this may be another multi-year project for Irish mappers as there are over 60,000 townlands.
  • Simon Poole (CH), Christian Quest (FR) and sebastic (NL) performed their customary New Year’s Day edits to update boundaries of communes following mergers.In Belgium it was a group effort, for which preparations had already started back in June, as it involved many street name and building address changes.
  • Daniele Santini suggests adding a top_up=* attribute to a feature if it sells top-ups, for example for mobile phone credit recharge vouchers, over-the-air credit top-up, public transport credit recharge vouchers or credit recharge for prepaid credit cards.
  • Markus proposed a new value for the place key, place=peninsula , for mapping named peninsulas. During the discussion it became obvious that the tagging list is more in favour of natural=peninsula, a proposal declined back in 2008. The discussion also provides some useful information for people interested in philosophical questions, e.g. what is the upper size limit for a peninsula, or what is the difference between a cape and a peninsula?
  • Hufkratzer challenged the wiki description for building=pavilion as being a building providing facilities for users of sports grounds. However, he learnt that the description is fine according to British English, the language we are using in OSM. The question as to whether the term was wisely chosen if it means different things in other countries was not asked.
  • eteb3 was looking for a tag for the planter bike rack that appeared in the UK recently and is double checking if there are any unwritten rules or things to consider before using own values. After the discussion our wiki has one more documented tag: man_made=planter.
  • Axelos suggested implementing some kind of hierarchy for route relations. Others have pointed him to the similar, already used concept of super-routes / super-relations, something that has been very controversially discussed.


  • In Kozikhode, India a team of volunteers is working hard to create a comprehensive digital map of the wards of Koorachundu Grama panchayat using OpenStreetMap.
  • Reddit user tseepra created a nice visualisation of the 70k nodes, 60k ways, and 160k polygons that were added over 2018 in Ireland. In the Reddit thread there is a discussion of how this was made using the QGIS Atlas feature.
  • Peter Elderson is currently working on sectioning very long route relations into relation parts with less than 300 ways. The basic idea is to make such relations more workable by splitting them into sections of one day’s walking. However, he is looking for someone who can help him to create sortable wikitables on a wiki page which are fed from a live query.
  • Wille Marcel, a GIS application developer from Brazil, has been elected as mapper of the month by OSM Belgium. He discovered OSM back in 2010 at an open source software conference and names the development of OSMCha as his biggest achievement.
  • Simon Poole has updated the contributor statistics for 2018.
  • CouwelierTim published a weekly chat summary of the discussions in the Belgian community from December 17th 2018 through December 23rd 2018. We hope you make yourself familiar with CouwelierTim’s weekly offering as we will not publish a regular reminder as part of our weekly digest.


  • omgitsgela requests comments for the planned statewide import of addresses in Massachusetts. The import of data from MassGIS, the public GIS database of the state, is comprehensively documented in the wiki.

OpenStreetMap Foundation


  • The website for Open Belgium 2019, a conference for Open Knowledge and Open Data, is now online. The conference will take place on March 4th, 2019 in Brussels.

Humanitarian OSM

  • HOT published a series of videos about the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team webinars in 2018 and gave an outlook on the already scheduled webinars in 2019.
  • HOT is asking for proposals to improve the Tasking Manager. The update will enable the Tasking Manager to incorporate results from machine learning, including a validation and deconflicting process before the model output is pushed to OSM.


  • Larissa Vernier, an epidemiologist from Doctors without Borders, explains the motivation behind her choice of R for Epis (R4Epis) for her work. One reason is the spatial analysis functions, which help her to look for patterns, understand how fast a disease is spreading and decide on a plan of action. It would save a lot of valuable time if all epidemiologists could standardise on a single free software solution.
  • Mapbox is, no doubt, seeing a lot of maps over the course of a year. On their website you can find 18 maps with some background information of the maps that inspired them during 2018.
  • On his user diary alexkemp reports that he ran out of the OSM Promotional Leaflets he had received from Andy Allan. Hence, he tried to get the GitHub-hosted leaflet printed at his local print shop but they did not have the necessary fonts. In his post he describes his journey to get the required fonts.
  • The maposmatic instance on is now offering an overlay style that renders allotments=plot.

Open Data


  • Florian Schäfer announced a new command line tool that can convert between the i18n file formats and the custom format used by JOSM. The new tool langconv is part of the gradle-josm-plugin.
  • The OsmAnd team reports on several nice features and improvements they added over the past year and what we can look forward to in 2019.


  • A new stable version of JOSM has been released. Version 18.12 fixes memory leaks and outdated imagery entries, provides an animated “Getting Started” page with shining stars 15 days around Christmas and contains a lot of other fixes and improvements.

Other “geo” things

  • UnoSat created a map of the inundated areas caused by the tsunamis in Lampung province, Indonesia.

Upcoming Events

Where What When Country
Lyon Rencontre mensuelle pour tous 2019-01-08 france
Munich Münchner Stammtisch 2019-01-08 germany
Dresden Stammtisch Dresden 2019-01-10 germany
Berlin 127. Berlin-Brandenburg Stammtisch 2019-01-10 germany
Nantes Réunion mensuelle 2019-01-10 france
Rennes Réunion mensuelle 2019-01-14 france
Toulouse Rencontre mensuelle 2019-01-16 france
Karlsruhe Stammtisch 2019-01-16 germany
Salzburg Maptime – Stammtisch 2019-01-16 austria
Freiberg Stammtisch Freiberg 2019-01-17 germany
Leoben Stammtisch Obersteiermark 2019-01-17 austria
Reutti Stammtisch Ulmer Alb 2019-01-22 germany
Lübeck Lübecker Mappertreffen 2019-01-24 germany
Greater Vancouver area Metrotown mappy Hour 2019-01-25 canada
Bremen Bremer Mappertreffen 2019-01-28 germany
Arlon Réunion au Pays d’Arlon 2019-02-04 belgium
Dresden FOSSGIS 2019 2019-03-13-2019-03-16 germany
Montpellier State of the Map France 2019 2019-06-14-2019-06-16 france
Heidelberg HOT Summit 2019 2019-09-19-2019-09-20 germany
Heidelberg State of the Map 2019 (international conference) 2019-09-21-2019-09-23 germany
Grand-Bassam State of the Map Africa 2019 2019-11-22-2019-11-24 ivory coast

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 Polyglot, Rogehm, SK53, SunCobalt, TheSwavu, derFred.

At the end of November, I attended the 2018 edition of WikiCite, an annual gathering of librarians, Wikimedians, and others in the open knowledge space dedicated to creating an open repository of bibliographic data. While this was the third edition of WikiCite, it was the first that anyone from Wiki Education had attended, and it was a great opportunity to see all the amazing work that’s happening globally related to citations, open knowledge, and Wikidata. Learning from others’ work is critically important to us as we begin to develop our plans around a Wikidata Student Program this year.

WikiCite is organized as a three-day event, with the first day devoted to presentations, the second day devoted to a summit with strategy and tutorials, and the third day devoted to a “doathon” — getting people in a room to actually work on projects. In the first day, I was particularly inspired by the work Mairelys Lemus-Rojas at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has done around creating scholarly profiles for academics at her institution using Wikidata and Scholia. Seeing more examples of Scholia in use is something librarians, educational technologists, and others on university campuses get very excited about. Wiki Education’s Visiting Scholar at Northeastern University, Rosie Stephenson-Goodnight, presented on her work related to gender diversity visibility, some of which is made possible through her work with us as a Visiting Scholar.

I also appreciated working with several librarians and others interested in Wikidata in creating the initial outline of modules and learning objectives therein for a training on Wikidata for librarians. Our group also met via Google Hangout a couple of weeks after the conference to keep working on the modules, and it was a really valuable learning experience for me as Wiki Education starts to craft Wikidata modules for insertion into the library and information science curriculum. Also helpful in this regard was a great tutorial from longtime Wiki Education friend Andrew Lih; watching how other experts teach something is always helpful for learning how you should be presenting it!

Of course, some of the best parts of any conference are the conversations during breaks and social events. It was great to both catch up with old friends in the Wikimedia movement as well as meet new potential collaborators for future projects. Wikicite was a great opportunity to network with others in the professional space whose work intersects with Wikidata, and I very much appreciated all the excellent conversations I had with fellow attendees.

If you weren’t able to attend WikiCite 2018, I encourage you to read the documentation on the various Etherpads and follow along with the video stream on YouTube. Many thanks to all the organizers and documenters!

Overcoming the fears: Pycon India

03:47, Friday, 04 2019 January UTC

Few months back I got the opportunity to speak at Pycon India which was held in Hyderabad from 6–7th October, 2018. There I spoke about how Django helping in making web applications scale.

What is Django?

Django is a high-level Python Web framework encouraging rapid development and pragmatic, clean design. A web application framework is a toolkit of components all web applications need. It’s goal is to allow developers to focus on the parts of their application that are new and unique to their project instead of implementing the same solutions over and over again. This open source framework takes care of a lot of the hassle of Web development through ORM, authentication mechanism, Django channels etc.

What is Pycon?

PyCon is a conference for the Python community, organized by its community members. It’s held annually in multiple countries for promoting and developing the Python programming language. It is for Python enthusiasts of all experience levels, from new users to core developers. Last year it’s India chapter was held in Hyderabad.

What was my talk about?

Through my talk I shared my experience and learning from working on Django in my Outreachy project. In that internship I developed a web application on Wikimedia’s community server (called Toolforge) using Django. At that time I was new to Django and even web development. Hence, I thought my learning might help others who are struggling to get started too.

My talk was divided into three parts:

Part I: What is Django? Where and why is it a nice fit.

Part II: How caching can help in making web apps responsive.

Part III: What can one do to save time used in database queries.

Slides from the talk can be found here. The video isn’t out yet but will update the post once it’s available.

What did I learn?

Let me start this way — it was an enlightening experience. It was the first ever conference that I was attending and I was a speaker there. Sounds overwhelming, right? Believe me it was.

I applied for the conference just like that. I didn’t really give it a thought that how will I speak in front of so many people. Maybe because I had never expected that my proposal will get accepted. But now when I sit and look back at it I’m glad I didn’t think much and just applied. Had I given it much of a thought I’d have never taken up this opportunity.

In Pycon I learnt a lot. All the talks made me learn something or the other. Few were about some new cool thing in Python and few were about what is next in Python. I didn’t only learn from the talks but also from people. Meeting so many new people and engaging in discussions in with them was exciting.

But most I learnt was from my talk itself. Speaking in front of hundred odd people taught me to never give up before trying. Had I never tried I would have not known what it takes to get on that dais and speak. But now I know the answer, it’s self-belief.

Believe in yourself because no one else is going to do it for you.

Other than this I learnt how can I improve as a public speaker, how can I better structure my talk and how can I make it more engaging.

Too much for one conference, huh? That’s why the word enlightening!

In the end I’d just suggest that if it can end well for me then it can for you too. Believe in yourself, go out and seize the opportunity you’ve been holding on. People will appreciate your effort and initiative. Best of luck!

Generalized classification of claims’ meaningworthiness

17:12, Thursday, 03 2019 January UTC

Generalizing a Foucault comment from 1970 on accepted shared knowledge, truth, and power:

The system of [assigning value to statements] is essential to the structure and functioning of our society.  There is a constant battle around this – the ensemble of rules according to which [valued and devalued statements] are separated and specific effects of power are attached to the former.  This is a battle about the status of truth and the practical and political role it plays. It is necessary to think of these political problems not in terms of science and ideology, but in terms of accepted knowledge and power.

Here are a few propositions, to be further tested and evaluated:

  1. Let τ be a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, [evaluation], and operation of statements.  A system linked in a circular way with systems of power that produce and sustain it, and with the effects of power which it induces and which extend it.  A regime of systems.  Such a regime is not merely ideological or superstructural; it’s [early stage] was a condition of the formation and development of its environment.
  2. The essential [social, political] problem for designers and maintainers of τ is not to criticize its ideology or [relation] to science, or to ensure that a particular scientific practice is [correct], but to ascertain how to constitute new politics of knowledge. The problem is not changing people’s beliefs, but the political, practical, institutional regime of producting and evaluating statements about the world.
  3. This is not a matter of emancipating τ from systems of power (which would be an illusion, for it is already power) but of detaching its power from the forms of hegemony [social, economic, cultural], within which it operated [at the time of its design].
  4. These [political, social, economic, cultural, semantic] questions are not error, illusion, ideology, or distraction: they illuminate truth itself.

(from an interview with Foucault first published in L’Arc 70.)

People visited Wikipedia over 190 billion times in 2018 alone, many motivated by the encyclopedia’s wealth of in-depth articles about topics you didn’t know enough about.

But in looking at the English Wikipedia’s most-popular articles of 2018, it’s clear that one motivation reigned supreme. People wanted to keep up with the popular culture moments happening around them—including celebrities, the newest film and television releases, and football, known as “soccer” to Americans. (Some notes on these topics follow, with the full list farther down.)

From celebrity news, we’ll get the bad news out of the way: with over 38 million views, the most-popular Wikipedia article of 2018 was the article about deaths in that year.*

Following at #8 was Stephen Hawking, who passed away in the middle of March and was one of the most influential scientists of all time. Over ten million of these views came in the week of his death. If you add up all the pageviews across all language Wikipedias, that total went above 27 million—articles about Hawking were the most popular in March on the Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Polish, and Farsi Wikipedias. At #16 is rapper XXXTentacion, who had three different singles chart in the 2018 Billboard Hot 100 lists before his death at the age of 20. Finally, #26 is reserved for beloved chef and television presenter Anthony Bourdain, who died in June. His Wikipedia article describes him as one of the most influential chefs in the world, and his traveling television shows are credited with creating unique windows into history, people, and cultures.[1]

Celebrity marriages also seemed to captivate Wikipedia’s readers in 2018. Meghan Markle, who married the British monarchy’s Prince Harry this year, came in at #5. She was followed by Ariana Grande at #25, whose brief engagement to comedian Pete Davidson was the subject of much tabloid attention, and Priyanka Chopra at #30, who married singer Nick Jonas.

The second major topic of 2018 on Wikipedia was film and television. Worthy of special mention is the Marvel superhero film universe, whose blockbuster part one capstone Avengers: Infinity War grossed over two billion dollars and was Wikipedia’s third-most-popular article of the year. It was followed by Black Panther (#7), which Rotten Tomatoes credited with “elevat[ing] superhero cinema to thrilling new heights,” and the list of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (#10). Also of note was A Quiet Place, #23 on our list, which was a surprise breakout hit and a seemingly rare success story for original film material. The film, nearly unique for using almost no dialogue, made over $340 million.

Finally, from the world of football, Wikipedia’s article about the 2018 World Cup was subjected to over 34 million pageviews in 2018—enough to make it the second-most viewed Wikipedia article of 2018. Two of the sport’s superstars, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, also placed highly.


Here’s the top thirty most-popular English Wikipedia articles of 2018.[2] Our grateful thanks go to researcher Andrew West for collating the data.

1. Deaths in 2018, 38,610,433 page views[3]

2. 2018 FIFA World Cup, 34,306,615

3. Avengers: Infinity War, 32,818,606

4. Exo (band), 27,344,440[4]

5. Meghan Markle/Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, 25,943,520[5]

6. Freddie Mercury, 22,052,837

7. Black Panther (film), 21,229,590

8. Elizabeth II, 19,889,009

9. Stephen Hawking, 18,849,484

10. List of Marvel Cinematic Universe films, 18,356,670

11. Cristiano Ronaldo, 18,012,179

12. Cardi B, 17,841,201

13. Elon Musk, 17,512,694

14. Donald Trump, 17,494,734

15. BTS (band), 15,689,780[4]

16. XXXTentacion, 15,157,204

17. United States, 14,923,252

18. List of Bollywood films of 2018, 14,651,427

19. List of highest-grossing films, 12,630,796

20. LeBron James, 12,464,017

21. Jason Momoa, 12,098,906

22. 6ix9ine, 12,027,717

23. A Quiet Place (film), 11,914,129

24. George H. W. Bush, 11,904,465

25. Ariana Grande, 11,784,406

26. Anthony Bourdain, 11,772,481

27. Lionel Messi, 11,752,001

28. Deadpool 2, 11,720,404

29. 2018 in film, 11,623,526

30. Priyanka Chopra, 11,491,748


  1. Other celebrities who died in 2018 and nearly made this list include Avicii (#33), Stan Lee (#35), and John McCain (#37).
  2. As with every year we’ve done this list, the top articles include the percentage of mobile views for screening purposes. However, we upped the percentages last year to remove articles with less than 10% or more than 90% mobile views, as it almost always indicates that a significant amount of the pageviews stemmed from spam, botnets, or other errors. You can see the full list over on Wikipedia. (Our apologies go out to Darth Vader, stand-up comedians everywhere, and the concept of tunnels.)
  3. As time marches on, volunteer Wikipedia editors divide the list into months to make reading it more manageable. That’s why if you click the current link to that page, you’ll be redirected to a “list of lists of deaths.” This year’s list has already been started at deaths in 2019.)
  4. Fans of EXO and BTS have organized to visit these articles several times per day to artificially up the pageviews of these two articles.
  5. The article about Meghan Markle was moved to “Meghan, Duchess of Sussex” after she married Prince Harry.


Ed Erhart, Senior Editorial Associate, Communications
Wikimedia Foundation

This data is complete for the entire year of 2018. The most-viewed English Wikipedia articles of each week are available through the Top 25 Report, and the top 5000 most-popular articles of 2018 are available on Wikipedia, courtesy of Andrew West.

Accurately representing trans identities on Wikipedia

19:52, Wednesday, 02 2019 January UTC

Sometimes making an improvement to a Wikipedia article isn’t about words added. Sometimes a seemingly simple addition to a biography article, like the uploading of a new photo, can make a world of difference.

That’s what Cassius Adair of the National Women’s Studies Association found since he’s learned how to edit Wikipedia in our professional development course. When he came across the article about trans author Daniel Mallory Ortberg, he noticed that the biography was missing an up-to-date photo. He soon discovered that the only photos of Ortberg available to other Wikipedia volunteers were ones from before his transition. He set off to make it right.

As Cassius learned in our course, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia built by volunteers. Volunteers collaborate according to Wikipedia’s norms and policies, utilizing article “talk” pages to reach consensus about proposed changes. Cassius found that there had been much on-wiki discussion about finding a new image for Ortberg’s biography, but volunteers hadn’t been able to obtain one that adhered to Wikipedia’s free licensing requirements.

The previous image of Ortberg was from a university talk he gave in 2015. Since coming out publicly earlier this year, the image no longer accurately reflected his identity. Volunteers proposed two options given the limitations they’d come up against: either they’d remove the photo and the biography would have no image or it would have one that was outdated.

“Which basically meant that, whereas Ortberg would have had a recognizable photo if he were cis (and did before he was trans), as a trans writer he didn’t get to be visually represented,” Cassius tells Wiki Education.

Luckily, with his personal connections in the field of trans literature, Cassius was able to connect with Ortberg and obtain a more recent and representative image.

“The world of trans literature is relatively small, and there’s a lot of overlap between working writers and the scholars who study them,” says Cassius. “I was able to shoot Daniel a text message, and he was really interested in making sure that the image on the screen represented him correctly.”

Other volunteers had made attempts to contact Ortberg directly to obtain a new photo, but had been unsuccessful. Cassius says that was understandable, as Ortberg is relatively in demand right now for his work.

“But being embedded in the community, and being able to leverage my expertise, it was easy for me to just reach out and say, ‘Hey, I’m a trans lit scholar, I’m improving pages to make them better represent trans authors, want to connect me with a good headshot?’ and he responded immediately.”

This up-to-date photo of Daniel Mallory Ortberg is now featured in his Wikipedia biography, thanks to Cassius.
ImageFile:Daniel Mallory Ortberg.jpg, Andrea Scher, CC BY-SA 4.0.

“Daniel was also able to put me in touch with his photographer, who of course owned the rights to the image, and I was able to connect with her directly by saying, look, I’ve already reached out to Danny and he’s cleared it, I’m a scholar in the field and I’m doing this in order to make sure that there’s trans-inclusive public information about Ortberg. She was more than happy to transfer the image under a Creative Commons license. That’s a big deal for a professional photographer, because transacting in images and rights to them is part of her job! So it was a gift, on her part.”

Cassius’ solution was received with warmth and enthusiasm by the Wikipedia editing community.

“I’ve been really surprised and happy by how many people in the Wikipedia community have reached out to thank me for my work on this. It feels really validating that people care about trans representation on the site, and understand the importance of updating images to reflect people’s identities.”

Cassius has since updated another article with a new, up-to-date photo that adheres to Wikipedia’s free licensing requirements. Keep up the great work!

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The #decline of #Wikipedia (as we know it)

11:22, Tuesday, 01 2019 January UTC
Regularly, we are told about misgivings about Wikipedia. It can not stay as it is, it is in decline; it is all doom and gloom.  NB the use of the phrase "doom and gloom" increased in the 1950s.

So Wikipedia will not remain as we know it? GOOD, it forces us to think how we can improve what we have. When things are to change, what will have a healthy impact? How will we get something that serves us better in "sharing the sum of all knowledge". How will we get more people use what we have to offer and how will we entice more people to contribute to the data collection that is included in all the Wikimedia Foundation projects.

First thing; our projects need to be less US-American. For me, a POV situation I was in, was "obviously"decided in favour of only considering the USA point of view; I let it slide but went to pastures green. The money we raise is for: "keeping the servers going". An objective a bit too limited to my taste but it raises the cash. Money is mainly raised in the USA but in order to be truly global, it is better to raise more equally in every country at least for the amount it cost to serve it. Gapminder is where you may be reminded that money is everywhere. As to the servers, why have all crucial eggs in one USA basket? Given its current politics, there is indeed a potential doom and gloom scenario possible. Having them more dispersed will bring our data closer to our audience, our editors as well. Benefiting them with better performance; that is the easy win. A more complicated solution is in the implementation of the Vrije Universiteit research of a peer to peer MediaWiki.

When our projects are to be less US-American, it is important for spending to be more global too.

When today's Wikipedia practices are no longer considered to be set in stone, we can finally implement features that enable, ensure and enhance its future. First, we should be less self centric; after all there is only one sum of all knowledge and we define only a part of it. Magnus showed how to maintain lists in an efficient way and Amir added recently a "task" to Phabricator to implement proper disambiguation of "red links". We are increasingly aware, not only of the references of all Wikipedias but also of publications by scientists that enable their work to be found. Complement this with the scientific papers we publish and we improve the public relevance of scientists by making them findable, by pointing to their science.

With a changed approach at Wikipedia, we may be bold and change the outlook on what Wikipedia is there for as well. Why not make Wikipedia the gateway to information held elsewhere? Why not show a Scholia page for every scientist we know, why not offer the books at OpenLibrary or inform on the availability of books at the local library?  Why not partner with other organisation we have a shared objective in. But most importantly let us be aware that an African professor teaches in Africa and that we allow for and enable the context of our partners and volunteers.

For me there is no reason for doom and gloom as there are so many opportunities to become even more effective. With a whole new year in front of us; let us do well.

One year of taking notes with Jupyter on the cloud

05:00, Tuesday, 01 2019 January UTC

Earlier this month, I visited Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, to delve into planning a collaboration with their School of Information Sciences around integrating Wikidata assignments into the curriculum. Wikidata is a Wikimedia project that is an open structured data repository; Wiki Education is eager to get started on improving the quality, quantity, and equity of information available on Wikidata.

We approached Wayne State because of a previous collaboration with Jon Cawthorne when he was with West Virginia University; now, he’s dean of libraries and the information school at Wayne State University. Jon and his staff were eager to collaborate with us when we approached them about the possibilities of creating a Wikidata curriculum for their library and information science courses. We are hoping to begin development in 2019, with the goal of having a handful of courses using Wikidata assignments in the spring 2020 term.

To kick off our collaboration, I traveled to campus to meet with various faculty, staff, students, and administrators at Wayne State. The campus community offered me a hearty welcome, and everyone was enthusiastic about the potential of our collaboration. Wayne State is seeking innovation projects like this that can teach students key 21st century interdisciplinary skills about topics like data literacy, and we believe Wikidata is a key tool for providing that education.

While on campus, I also presented three events. First, I led a workshop for faculty and librarians on how to teach with Wikipedia through our existing Wikipedia Student Program. Several faculty expressed interest in integrating Wikipedia assignments into their courses to start learning the Wikimedia world prior to the launch of our Wikidata program. Next, I presented an overview of Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, and Wikidata, and why people should contribute their knowledge to all three, to a group of graduate library and information science students. Finally, I led a Wikidata editing workshop for the campus community, where we learned a bit about what Wikidata is, why it’s important, and how to edit. I was pleased with the outcomes: My 11 workshop participants edited 26 Wikidata items and Wikipedia articles.

I look forward to collaborating with Wayne State in the future as we pursue a model for Wikidata classroom assignments that can be replicated across disciplines and at other institutions.

weeklyOSM 440

01:18, Sunday, 30 2018 December UTC



Walking time to the nearest public transport stop 1 | © City of Stuttgart © Map data OpenStreetMap contributors


  • OSM South Africa are raising funds on GoFundMe to purchase historical topographic maps of Namibia. If funding is successful, the maps will be tiled for use in OSM editors, just like the topo maps of South Africa itself which are already available.
  • Peter Elderson wants to revive the highway=trailhead proposal from 2015. According to his post on the tagging mailing list, in the Netherlands mappers have added the tag at all starting points for trails which have some infrastructure (parking, information, etc). However, there is some confusion over whether the term trailhead is appropriate for the purpose and who is already using it in OSM.
  • Apple has posted potential data problems in Korea such as building-road intersections, highway links without classification and roads with excessively sharp angles to MapRoulette where the challenges can be solved by volunteers.
  • Apple announced that they will map buildings in Buenos Aires manually using imagery sources and GPS resources.
  • On, Jon Russell reports how Grab is jamming the OSM community in Thailand by making inferior changes. The article quotes a local mapper with the words “OpenStreetMap is mostly craft, but they [Grab] attack OSM with an industrial mentality”. The article also mentions that 100 employees of Grab’s mapping subcontractor GlobalLogic of India have become members of the OSMF.
  • Grab responded to the critical TechCrunch article: Bangkok mapper Mishari Muqbil provides an extended reply to Grab’s press release.
  • The German community continued their annual ritual and mapped Christmas market features that can be seen on the Christmas market map (loads slowly). The fact that the map is quite D-A-CH-centric may be a result of the insufficient translation of the wiki site but more likely relates to the German passion for this kind of market.


  • Phase 2 of Community Africa Francophone for Open Data (CAFDO) mini-grants (automatic translation) funded various OpenStreetMap activities organised by members of local communities in Western Africa: a mapathon in Koutiala, Mali; one week of training in Zinder, Niger; mapping of tourism-related objects in Ouidah, Bénin; a three-day training dedicated to ladies in Ivory Coast; a promotional workshop in Burkina Faso and a conference for local authorities in Senegal.

OpenStreetMap Foundation

  • There are discussions in Australia to set up a local Open Source Geospatial organisation OSGeo Oceania as an OSMF local chapter.

Humanitarian OSM

  • The minutes of the board meeting of HOT US Inc. on December 6 have been published. The topics discussed during the meeting included the setup of an advisory board and the planned registration of a European branch in order to be eligible for EU programmes.
  • HOT announced a partnership with tech hub iLab Liberia and the local OSM community to introduce the Open Cities Monrovia project. As 90 percent of the population in Monrovia is living in areas with very high flood risk, the project aims to improve understanding of unplanned settlements and make the slum communities more resilient to natural disasters.
  • The project mamapa is teaching immigrants in Germany to contribute to international humanitarian mapping initiatives. The project, which is supported by BASF (Ludwigshafen) and CartONG, helps in a number of ways, i.e. assisting the activity of humanitarian relief staff on the ground, teaching immigrants new skills in geography and modern cartography, hastening their integration into German society and providing a directly appreciated humanitarian contribution.


Open Data

  • The Open Data Institute (London) announced four successful bids for funding under their local open geospatial data initiative. Two of these, maybe more, make use of OpenStreetMap data: in Oxfordshire local mappers and cycle advocacy groups will work with the council to improve cycle infrastructure, whilst Falkirk aims to improve access by community groups and individuals to a range of facilities.


  • Stefan Keller announced (automatic translation), on the Swiss mailing list, an experimental tool for converting free text (German only) to the OSM opening hour syntax. Two different approaches are available for testing.
  • Fabian Schütt from the Statistical Office of the City of Stuttgart determined the walking time to the nearest public transport stop for every place in the city using the QGIS plugin OSM Tools from HeiGIT, which makes the functions of openrouteservice – such as routing, isochrones and matrix calculations – available to QGIS users.
  • Nils Nolde from Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology (HeiGIT) announced openelevationservice as a new endpoint within the openrouteservice API ecosystem. It queries a remote DEM for every vertex of a LineString or Point geometry and enriches those with altitude values. Ituses SRTM v4.1 as a start and you can easily test it using the interactive documentation in the API playground, even without programming.
  • Simon Poole provides some hints as to new features in forthcoming versions of Vespucci. Firstly, in a diary post, he explains how he has tiled OSM data for offline use in the editor. Secondly, he demos some work-in-progress on adding functionality to enable editing of turn restrictions.


  • Stephan Bösch-Plepelits made some changes to the Leaflet.TextPath library.
  • And here comes another little Christmas present from HeiGIT: In addition to their highly appreciated Python and R libraries HeiGIT Institute now offers an additional JavaScript API making it simple to use the openrouteservice ecosystem, covering the entire globe based on OSM, in web applications.


  • Find the changes in OSM Carto v4.18.0 here and OpenMapTiles v3.9 here.

Did you know …

  • this article from a year ago in which SeverinGeo explains why he thinks that the HOT US Inc governance should not to be replicated in the OSM Foundation.

Other “geo” things

  • Matthew Flint found an old, 1950s, town plan of Cardiff in a second-hand bookshop. It uses a very unusual radial grid for locating streets.
  • OSM contributor Mick Hicks tweets about how the extensive use of cul-de-sacs (dead-end streets) in suburban road layouts in the US over the past few decades makes the effective provision of public transport very difficult. He remarks both on his own observations from correcting TIGER data in Minnesota, and on recent press coverage of bus transport in Colorado Springs.
  • The BBC reports about account closures of Slack users who have ever visited a country imposed with US sanctions (e.g. Cuba, Iran, the Crimean Peninsula) or are citizens of such a country (via HOT mailing list).
  • The Guardian has a long article about Google’s commercial relationships with several US intelligence (spy) agencies. Google’s geospatial offerings, notably Google Earth, were a critical component in building this business.

Upcoming Events

Where What When Country
Alice PoliMappers Adventures 2018: One mapping quest each day 2018-12-01-2018-12-31 everywhere
Leipzig OpenStreetMap assembly 2018-12-27-2018-12-30 germany
Biella Incontro mensile 2018-12-29 italy
Stuttgart Stuttgarter Stammtisch 2019-01-02 germany
Lyon Rencontre mensuelle pour tous 2019-01-08 france
Dresden Stammtisch Dresden 2019-01-10 germany
Berlin 127. Berlin-Brandenburg Stammtisch 2019-01-10 germany
Nantes Réunion mensuelle 2019-01-10 france
Rennes Réunion mensuelle 2019-01-14 france
Toulouse Rencontre mensuelle 2019-01-16 france
Karlsruhe Stammtisch 2019-01-16 germany
Salzburg Maptime – Stammtisch 2019-01-16 austria
Freiberg Stammtisch Freiberg 2019-01-17 germany
Leoben Stammtisch Obersteiermark 2019-01-17 austria
Reutti Stammtisch Ulmer Alb 2019-01-22 germany
Lübeck Lübecker Mappertreffen 2019-01-24 germany
Greater Vancouver area Metrotown mappy Hour 2019-01-25 canada
Bremen Bremer Mappertreffen 2019-01-28 germany
Montpellier State of the Map France 2019 2019-06-01-2019-06-03 france
Heidelberg HOT Summit 2019 2019-09-19-2019-09-20 germany
Heidelberg State of the Map 2019 (international conference) 2019-09-21-2019-09-23 germany
Grand-Bassam State of the Map Africa 2019 2019-11-22-2019-11-24 ivory coast

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 Nakaner, PierZen, Polyglot, Rogehm, SK53, SeverinGeo, SunCobalt, TheSwavu, derFred, jcoupey.

The Top Ten Wikipedia Stories of 2018

21:17, Friday, 28 2018 December UTC

Were you exhausted by 2018? If not, then The Wikipedian doesn’t know what year you just lived in. The continued crises in Western democracies, ongoing wars in the Middle East, embrace of authoritarianism around the world, and the inexorable, seemingly unstoppable transition to a world where data comes before people—all served up for consumption on your internet device of choice as quickly as you can pull to refresh—have changed what “normal” means. Where 2016 was once half-jokingly called the “worst year ever” only for 2017 to replicate the experience, by 2018 it’s become apparent that we may never end up reverting to the previous mean. Indeed, this is just how things are now. Mean.

But is Wikipedia different? Whether because it’s a decentralized, international effort or simply not one dependent upon advertising or unstable business models, the wide world of wiki has often this year felt disconnected from the madness it ostensibly documents. Yet, if we look closely, we can see where the real world has seeped in. In this blog post, for the ninth year in a row, The Wikipedian will present a summary of ten events, trends, phenomena, and people that marked the year in Wikimedia.

Shall we?

10. Is that all she wrote for WikiTribune?

It was a questionable decision on The Wikipedian’s part to make last year’s number one story the rocky start for WikiTribune, the collaborative internet news site from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. It isn’t an official Wikimedia project, it has no financial relationship with the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), and Wales’ involvement with Wikipedia is arguably at an all-time low. But he had announced the concept in a Wikimania speech five years ago, and it certainly got a lot of attention when it launched. Well, it also got some attention when it laid off its entire staff this fall, having burned through its funding without otherwise making a dent in the broader media ecosystem. This was entirely foreseeable, as the idea always involved a leap of faith (but so did Wikipedia!) and Wales’ post-Wikipedia projects have mostly failed to thrive. Will we see WikiTribune mentioned again next year? It’s already fallen nine positions, so I wouldn’t count on it—or even that it’s still around by then.

9. Testing new models of collaboration

It is no minor understatement to say that Wikipedia has gone very far with its laissez-faire model of knowledge production: like Douglas Adams’ eponymous Hitchhiker’s Guide, the content is written by those who have happened across it, spotted something they could fix, and miraculously actually done so. Yet Wikipedia’s content gaps and systemic biases are well observed, and it should take nothing away from the prior accomplishment to believe that more concerted efforts may be necessary for Wikipedia to take another step forward. For several years now the Wiki Education Foundation has been trying out different models, and this year they may have had a breakthrough with their Wikipedia Fellows pilot program, inviting academics from associations in multiple disciplines to try improving Wikipedia. The project has had some early success, though the number of participants were few and achievements relatively limited. Bringing more subject matter expertise to neglected areas of Wikipedia is still a daunting task that may not scale, but these experiments show promise and warrant further study.

8. Getting serious about systemic biases

Wikipedia and its associated nonprofits have been tackling similar problems in other ways: this year was the first occurrence of the Decolonizing the Internet conference, held concurrently with this year’s Wikimania in Cape Town, South Africa. Spearheaded by another independent group called Whose Knowledge?, the event brought together multiple strands of discussion and voices typically underrepresented on Wikipedia. Whereas Wikipedia has historically been the province of white males from North America and Western Europe, the conference’s participation was more than two-thirds non-male, from the Global South, and more than three quarters non-white. Actual outcome? Lots of discussion, a published report outlining agreement on issues to address (not always easy in sometimes fractured, identitarian spaces) and the creation of working groups to tackle specific issues. Whether this effort will have any measurable impact on a recognizable time frame is still an unknown, as the report acknowledges, but formalizing such efforts outside the WMF is nevertheless a major development.

7. “Free” Wikipedia goes offline

OK, one more in this vein: the Wikimedia Foundation’s efforts to bring Wikipedia (and yes, the other projects as well) to the far corners of the world without always-on wifi has unsurprisingly faced many challenges. Since 2012, the leading effort has been Wikipedia Zero, a program seeking telecom firms in developing regions to “zero-rate” Wikipedia, which means accessing it using their services would be exempt from the normal fee. It’s controversial in some quarters as it is often perceived to conflict in spirit, if not in law, with the principle of net neutrality. (Similar programs are also controversial in parts of the Global South: for example, in 2016 India rejected Facebook’s similar Free Basics program.) Although the WMF estimates it has reached more than 800 million people in more than 70 countries, the criticism never subsided and there was no corner to be turned, so in 2018 the program was shuttered.

So how will would-be Wikipedians in Ghana, Sri Lanka, Kosovo and elsewhere reach Wikipedia now? One would-be contender is the independent Internet-in-a-Box initiative, which seeks to put a copy of Wikipedia (and other digital libraries) on a low-cost computer (currently a Raspberry Pi) and distribute it the old-fashioned way. While it doesn’t come with any of the scary global data questions of Wikipedia Zero, because now we are again talking about atoms as well as bits, the old problems of distribution and scalability threaten to keep it a niche project. The tradeoffs are stark, and a sign of the times.

6. Attrition of administrators

It’s been a couple of years since we last worried openly about the decline in the total number of Wikipedia editors, largely because the erosion has been arrested. (These days Wikipedians worry about different charts going not down, but going up too much.) But topline figures only tell part of the story, and when it’s the power users who have the most impact on Wikipedia’s day-to-day governance, it’s troubling to note that Wikipedia contributors approved just ten new administrators—trusted editors who step in to lock pages and block accounts when needed—on eighteen nominations, the lowest number in either category in Wikipedia’s history. Yes, there’s even a down-and-to-the-right chart to describe it, and while it’s clear this trend has been developing for awhile—The Atlantic covered it in 2012 (!)—in 2018 all of the relevant figures approached, or breached, single digits for the first time (speaking of “Wikipedia zero”…). While Wikipedia still has more than 500 active administrators, there was a net loss for the year and no sign that will turn around. As attrition advances, will Wikipedia decide to lighten up, loosen requirements, or learn to live with fewer admins?

5. Save the links!

There are two widely held and mutually exclusive ways to think about the durability of content on the internet: nothing is forgotten, and everything is ephemeral. On Wikipedia, both are true: Wikipedia exists to record knowledge for posterity and every edit to every page is saved for all time, yet once something disappears from Wikipedia’s pages it rarely resurfaces—although it can! And this year, in one sense, it did.

The concept of “link rot” is central to this dilemma: because the internet is made up of links between files (and the World Wide Web specifically between web pages) if one file should disappear, the connection is broken, and so is information. The Internet Archive was established in the mid-1990s—practically the dawn of time, as the internet goes—to combat this problem by actually crawling the web, page by page, and storing all kinds of content long after its original publishers decide they no longer care to. This year a three-year effort in collaboration with Wikipedia delivered on rescuing millions of links to references once used in Wikipedia articles that later disappeared. It’s hard to overstate how important this is: Wikipedia is only as good as its sources, and finally its external sources are as stable as they ever have been—and perhaps can be.

4. I promise we’ll only mention him this once

The Wikimedia movement may be a global one, but considering its flagship Wikipedia edition is in English and its nonprofit foundation based in the United States, in 2018 hardly a week could go by without some intersection between the metastasizing national shitstorm that is the U.S. federal government with the leading source of putatively non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-biased information the world has agreed upon, Wikipedia. Most of the time, this involved harmful edits that require, ahem, administrators to combat effectively. From early in the year when Google amplified an instance of vandalism calling Republicans “Nazis” to efforts to whitewash articles related to the Mueller investigation to seemingly constant attacks on the Donald Trump Wikipedia page (often juvenile in nature, which alas is entirely fitting) and finally multiple issues revolving around the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The eyebrow-raising edits to the Devil’s Triangle page were almost quaint; more troubling was the “doxing” of elected officials on Wikipedia, which was then transmitted by CongressEdits (a Twitter account reporting Wikipedia edits from congressional IP addresses) which was then shut down by Twitter for being an unwitting conduit. The account, much celebrated since its 2014 launch, has not returned. Like much else these days, it makes for a tidy symbol of the nice things we can no longer have.

3. Building our own Hal 9000

The Wikipedian is not a very successful computer person and therefore pretty anxious about getting this one wrong, so let’s try to keep this really high-level and see if I don’t royally screw this up: besides Wikipedia, there are related projects like Wikidata (an open source knowledge database) and Wikimedia Commons (a repository of media files, especially images) that provide content for Wikipedia articles and serve as resources for researchers. Both have come a long way in recent years, and they are growing together. This year, structured data came to Wikimedia Commons, meaning the metadata about the files will now be better organized and machine-readable, and therefore more searchable, editable, and useful in ways we haven’t yet defined. Also lexemes came to Wikidata, which you’ll just have to trust me is important, too. Meanwhile, the WMF’s ORES project, which uses machine learning to evaluate the quality of entire articles and individual edits, got more useful—but it’s still most useful to decently successful computer people who know how to do things like install javascript files, and so it’s not quite ready for prime time. Maybe in 2019 some of this will become more comprehensible.

2. Donna Strickland and Jess Wade

Speaking of very successful computer people, in October the Canadian physicist Donna Strickland was awarded a Nobel Prize for her work in chirped pulse amplification. At the time, Wikipedia had no biographical article for her, and very quickly, this became an international incident in itself. Wikipedia’s oversight was covered by The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, Business Insider, Vox, Nature, The National Interest, The Daily Beast, and many more. In fact, it turned out an article about Strickland had been proposed in the months prior, only to be declined by a reviewing editor.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which absorbs every column inch of bad press that Wikipedia gets, was put on its heels, eventually publishing multiple explanatory blog posts about the matter, first by a mere staffer, and later by its executive director, Katherine Maher. What happened is perfectly understandable to anyone familiar with Wikipedia: there was not enough published information about her from independent sources prior to the Nobel committee’s announcement to satisfy Wikipedia’s stringent requirements. This is not unusual, as academics nearly always toil in obscurity. But of course, it’s almost certainly related to institutional sexism, and that while the processes in this instance were followed correctly, the outcome was nevertheless regrettable after the fact. Understandable, yes, but defensible? Perhaps not. And so the line out of the WMF is that yes, Wikipedia has to do better, but so must we all.

Meanwhile, there is another female physicist whose Wikipedia article was successfully created in early 2018: Jess Wade, who happens to be a Wikipedia editor herself. (Hmmm.) And not just any editor, but one who is the creator of hundreds of articles about other female scientists and who has received considerable media attention because of the fact. (It’s not even the first time this has been a story: cf. Emily Temple-Wood, an American medical student and prolific Wikipedian recognized in 2016’s list). Wade’s star began to rise this summer, and while it owed nothing to the Strickland issue—her first big round of U.S. coverage arrived more than two months earlier—it does feel like it may not be remembered that way.

1. YouTube’s bewildering fact-checking announcement

Wikipedia’s relationship to the global tech giants like Google and Facebook it is sometimes compared to is uncomfortable for many reasons: all enjoy audiences and impact of truly staggering scale (not to mention Bay Area headquarters) but Wikipedia’s mission and governance are completely the opposite of its supposed peers. If Wikipedia was a for-profit corporation, it would undoubtedly be a “unicorn”, except it’s a nonprofit and it ever tried to monetize the value of its reach, its community would rebel and the project might collapse entirely. (Which could still happen to some unicorns, actually.)

All of which is backdrop for probably the most jaw-dropping, perplexing, and as-yet-unsettled Wikipedia-related news of the year: an announcement from YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, speaking on stage at SXSW in March, that they would combat “fake news” by including links to Wikipedia articles on certain user-generated videos that ventured into conspiracy theory territory. How would this be done? What videos would be flagged? What articles would be linked? Among those asking: the Wikimedia Foundation, which quickly put out a statement saying that Wojcicki had not shared this information with them. And yet, some publications went so far as to call it a “partnership” even though no such relationship existed. But it’s not hard to imagine why they leapt to this conclusion. Following the announcement, you could be forgiven for thinking they just dropped the whole thing. In fact, YouTube did start including Wikipedia-sourced advisories with some videos, at least in some instances. It’s not clear how it has worked in practice because neither YouTube nor Wikipedia ever mentioned it again. Has the internet already forgotten?

Clearly, this was an unforced error on YouTube’s part. But was it also one by the Wikimedia Foundation as well? After all, it was little more than two years ago that the WMF published a blog post declaring Wikipedia a bulwark against the “post-fact world”. While the real shame lies with YouTube and its tendency, however unintended, to radicalize its audience by algorithmic recommendation, it’s another reminder that there remains a significant gap between what Wikipedia says it is, what people believe Wikipedia is, and what Wikipedia really is.

Will that gap narrow in the coming year? We’ll see, but I doubt this trend will fall all the way to number 10 in next year’s list. See you in 2019!

Image credits, in order: WikiTribune via Neiman Lab, Tinaral, Doc James, Hazmat2, RandomUserGuy1738, Gaia Octavia Agrippa, Sikander, Andrew Lih.

Nice meeting you here again, hope you are enjoying the story. Let me divert a little before getting to the Parsoid code, lets throw an eye on this article: Parsoid: How Wikipedia catches up with the web. This article in a brief manner gives an overview of how Parsoid works, I highly encourage you to check it out.

Parsoid has a linter module that examines the DOM and detects wikitext and HTML patterns that needs to be fixed by editors. The linter() function in this module takes the body element of the DOM and calls findLints() function that loops through the body node after node and in turn calls logWikitextFixups(). logWikitextFixups() is called in the findLlints() and its role is to call the different functions for the different linter issues we want to detect.

The task is to add one more function to called in the logWikitextFixups() for links in links.

I think we are done examining this module found in lib/wt2html/pp/processors/linter.js directory, hope I’ve not missed out something. One more thing, these functions for these linter issues all have their mocha test in the tests/mocha/linter.js. Now I think I’ve touched everything, if you check out the code and wonder how hundred of lines of code can have such a short summary, remember that one important tip for new contributors is not to try to understand the whole thing (source code in this case). For more tips like this one see Maria Codes‘post on Reflections On My OPW (Outreach Program for Women now called Outreachy) Internship.

Before adding the function for links in links we need to be able to figure out when the DOM has information that comes from links-in-links.

I think I missed out something very important, what do we mean by links in links? why is it an issue? what are some the examples to illustrate its occurrence? See the task on phabricator Outreach-17 Project: Add a new Linter Category: Links-in-Links, it has an example. Hope to see you next when I’ll be answering these questions above.

The post 2nd Week Report: Studying Parsoid code for the existing Linter categories. appeared first on Farida.

Professor @steve_hanke and reading what is #FAIR

07:59, Wednesday, 26 2018 December UTC
Professor Hanke is on Twitter. He has his five Wikipedia articles and his info on Wikidata is well developed. With a scholar of his eminence, you would expect a lot of known publications as well. However, never mind the 153 English Wikipedia references, never mind the links to 13 external authorities, finding his work is not easy nor obvious.

The problem with Wikipedia references, it is a hodgepodge of links about him and links to his works. His VIAF registration may bring you some of his works but it will not tell you where his books are cited. Mr Hanke does not have an ORCID identifier and consequently it is not easy to include his data on Wikidata.

This is not about Mr Hanke; in certain fields of science people do not have an ORCID identifier or are not open about their publications. When you are interested in a specific subject or a specific scientist, it helps when the information is FAIR.

So what is missing; there is this database with all Wikipedia references, it needs to be included in Wikidata as soon as possible. It may require a fair deal of social manoeuvring to include all Wikipedia references to Wikidata. But the benefits; the benefits will be huge. Given that Wikipedia references are backed up by the Internet Archive, this will extend for these links in Wikidata as well. It makes them FINDABLE and ACCESSIBLE. At Wikidata, this data becomes INTEROPERABLE and REUSABLE (FAIR).

So my 2019 wish for the Wikimedia Foundation is to become FAIR in what it says and what it does.

#Science; I can read

07:31, Wednesday, 26 2018 December UTC
The basis for what Wikipedia articles offers are its sources. Those sources can be anything and when we want to know the veracity of what we read, the sources have to be available. Not only that, we rely on those sources to be consistent and we rely on those sources to be readable.

When sources are on the web, the Internet Archive will have iterations of a source available in its Wayback machine. It ensures that sources remain available and thereby much of the integrity of Wikipedia is maintained.

For scientific sources we are unlucky. Reading a scientific paper can set you back $45,- and it only allows you to read that paper for a day.. In effect all such papers cannot be read; we "have to" trust them and there are plenty of papers that are extremely problematic and also expensive to read.

Many papers are increasingly FAIR. They are Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. The best first line partners we have are again the Internet Archive and ORCiD. Organisations like the Biodiversity Heritage Library store scientific papers at the IA thereby making them available for as long as the IA exists. ORCiD is where living scientists identify themselves and if they so choose, the publications they (co-)authored. It makes them and/or their papers findable. The papers typically include a DOI making them accessible. After that it is anyone's guess if you can actually read them.

Scientists that are open about their work may find that they and their work found its way into Wikidata. For Karsten Suhre this was done; his scientific work is represented in his Scholia and many of his co-authors have been automatically added from ORCiD and have been processed as well. His co-authors that are not as open are largely missing but that is only Fair; I do not volunteer to promote them.

What Wikidata has is not representative of all of science but it increasingly represents the science that is open access, the science that I can read, that you can read that is for all of us there to read. The science that deserves to be used as sources in Wikipedia. We can read.

The holiday season is a great time to talk to loved ones about how we can all improve the ways we use technology and the Internet.

There are many areas of concern around protecting your interests and information online. It gets worse every year; but there are also ever-expanding ways to control what digital fingerprints we leave in various places as we live our lives. (I don’t get into all those details here. For background, I suggest the December 20, 2018 episode of Preet Bharara’s podcast, “Stay Tuned,” in which he interviewed tech journalist Kara Swisher.)

Here are a few things you can share with family and friends to help them increase their online privacy, agency, and safety in an increasingly complex and dangerous information landscape.

Ditch the Chrome browser

Google has been collecting data for a long time. One of the main tools they use is the Chrome browser. Chrome currently accounts for well over half of browser use worldwide. So an easy way to reduce the data that’s collected about you is to switch your browser. I use Firefox and Brave; either one is a good choice. Both have good desktop and mobile versions. Brave, in particular, is built around the idea of blocking unwanted stuff; it more or less takes care of ad blocking (see below).

Block the ads…and the malware

Online advertising, these days, involves complex technology and lots of data. An ad does more than just demand your attention: it’ll collect data from the way you interact with it, or data stored on your computer; and the fact that you’re seeing that specific ad might result from a complex profile of your personality some company is secretly keeping. Much of that same technology also enables nasty stuff like computer viruses and identity theft (as well as useful interactive web pages). Often, it’s hard to draw a clear line between legitimate advertising, nefarious activity, and useful features. So it’s generally best to just block it all, and turn features on only when you specifically trust, and need, a particular site.

If you’re using Brave (see above), and if you’ve taken a few minutes to adjust its blocking features to your liking, you’re probably good on this one. Otherwise, you should make sure you’ve got a decent ad blocker. These are typically browser extensions; you install them within your web browser to extend its capabilities. In Firefox, I use NoScript and Ghostery. These give you a lot of control, but might require more of your attention than you want to give; a more straightforward choice might be Adblock Plus, which I haven’t used in a few years. But be sure you’re doing something to block the ads, and all that other nastiness.

Ditch corporate web search

The price you pay for convenient Google or Bing search is the data you share with the company. One headline that stands out in my memory: “How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did.” Based on things like lotion purchases. That was in 2012…and tech companies have only gotten more sophisticated since then.

What’s an easy alternative to corporate web search? I recommend setting your desktop browser to use DuckDuckGo as its default search engine. The steps will vary a bit depending what browser you’re using, but there are plenty of easy-to-find guides for how to do this online. Set up DuckDuckGo as your default search engine on your mobile device, too.

Also, consider how you could change your habits. If you know it’s a Wikipedia article you’re looking for, instead of doing a general web search for it, just go to and use its internal search. Same thing with IMDB, the New York Times, or most other websites. That way, you’re sharing fewer of your interests with a search engine.

Sometimes it really is a Google search you want; no biggie. You can always pull Google up if you’re not satisfied with the results from an alternative. Just changing your “go-to” search engine can vastly reduce the amount of data you’re sharing.

Browse in privacy

Keep in mind that “privacy” can mean many different things. A “snooper” could be somebody literally looking over your shoulder, any of various Internet entities tracking your usage, or somebody sharing your computer or your WiFi network. No single technique will keep them all at bay. So whenever you use a product or service for the sake of “privacy,” be sure you’re clear on just what it does, and does not, protect you from.

The Tor browser is a good place to start, though. It will hide your tracks in many scenarios by making you highly anonymous. If you’re using the Brave browser, you can use Tor on occasion without installing anything new; just open a Tor private browsing window.

Use a Linux, or another free/open source operating system

This is a more in-depth change than most of those I’m recommending; but it’s probably not as hard as you think. Even as corporate operating systems like Windows, MacOS, and the Chromebook OS have improved, GNU/Linux and other free and open source operating systems have been quietly getting better, and easier to install and use. These operating systems will generally be much friendlier in how they deal with your data. Personally, I use Ubuntu Mate the most heavily; but there are lots of good “flavors” of Linux out there. You might think about switching your main operating system — or, if you’re not ready to take the plunge, just install a free/open source operating system on an old “backup” computer you might have lying around, to get a feel for it.

If you’re really feeling bold, you might even try installing a free operating system on your Android phone or tablet. Check out LineageOS if you want to give that a try.

Switch up your map app

Google Maps has become pretty ubiquitous. But do you know about OpenStreetMap? It’s sort of like the “Wikipedia of maps.” Volunteers around the world, as well as publicly available data sets, have built a comprehensive map of the world. It’s pretty good! In some cases, its features are less complete than Google Maps; but in some parts of the world, it actually has more complete information. On a mobile device, you can use the official OSMand app; but there are independent apps that rely on the same underlying data, too. Lately, I’ve been using the MAPS.ME app. And yes, once in a while I find myself going back to Google Maps; I keep it around as a backup, for when I don’t find the results I need. While you’re at it, be sure to look through the various location-related settings on your mobile device.

Use a password manager

Have you ever forgotten a password? Or taken risky shortcuts like a yellow sticky note, or storing a password in your browser, to avoid that possibility? It’s time to get past problems like that once and for all. Password managers exist for exactly that reason. I suggest LastPass. Its free version probably does everything you need; but if you like, here’s a recent evaluation of six different password managers. Whichever you pick, take a little time to learn its features, and save all your passwords there. Change any insecure passwords you have (pet’s name, or passwords you’ve used for multiple services.)


I love video games. But they’re something I’ve almost entirely given up. Why? Games contain all kinds of different ways to collect your information and influence your thinking and behavior. So if you or your family members are into online games, take a moment to look into how the games, or the platforms they live on (like Facebook), are collecting your info. You might want to ditch certain games, or start using them on a backup device that you don’t use for more serious activities like online banking.

Think about “fake news” and how you can avoid it

Propaganda and misinformation are a big deal these days. One thing we can all do is make sure we’re not part of the problem. Before you share a surprising news story, take a moment. Are you confident it’s true? Are you confident the headline isn’t misleading? In an era where many of us follow the news, in part, by following our friends, everybody has a part to play.

Get to know the wiki world

Wikipedia is one of the world’s most popular websites. You probably read it on a regular basis. But how well do you understand its inner workings? It’s worth knowing how to investigate the quality of a Wikipedia article. Check out this simple guide, which will help you understand how to browse the history of a Wikipedia article, and things its editors have discussed: Read between the lines: Wikipedia’s inner workings revealed.

Tone down your Facebook usage

You’ve probably read that lots of people are “deleting Facebook.” That’s great if you can do it, but if you’re not ready to take the plunge, there are other steps you can take. I only use Facebook only in the private, or “incognito”, mode in my browser. I never install the Facebook app, or Messenger, on my phone. Perhaps most importantly, I almost never use games or apps built on the Facebook platform. Those steps go a long way to limit the amount of information Facebook or its app partners can collect about me.

Upgrade your text message app

Signal is a mobile app that allows you to send “text messages” securely to other people who use the app. But you can also use it to replace your SMS app. As an open source product, you can be confident it isn’t sneakily sending your data to a corporate database; and texts to and from any friends who are already using it will be extra safe from prying eyes.

Be judicious with online shopping and credit card use

It’s tough to avoid the convenience of online shopping altogether. But are there things you could just as easily buy offline, with cash? Massive retailers like Amazon are in the data business too. Be mindful about how much information you share with them through your shopping activity. Challenge yourself to reduce it.

Home automation

Is standing up to dim the lights really more than you can handle? Do you really need to order toilet paper while you’re sitting on the john? I don’t know about you, but these “problems” aren’t really problems for me. But devices that use my words to feed giant corporate databases…that’s a problem I want to avoid. My advice on this one: just say no. Think about returning that device you got for Christmas for some kind of store credit.

Disease of Familiarity, the Flaw of Wikipedia

13:40, Tuesday, 25 2018 December UTC

Originally written as an answer to the question What are some major flaws in Wikipedia? on Quora. Republished here with some changes.

Wikipedia has a whole lot of flaws, and its basic meta-flaw is the disease of familiarity.

It does not mean what you think it means. The disease of familiarity is knowing so much about something that you don’t understand what it is like to not understand it.

I recognized this phenomenon in 2011 or so, and called it The Software Localization Paradox. I later realized that it has a lot of other aspects beyond software localization, so I thought a lot about it and struggled for years with giving it a name. I learned about the term “disease of familiarity” from Richard Saul Wurman, best known as the creator of the TED conference (see a note about it at the end of this post). Some other names for this phenomenon are “curse of knowledge” and “mind blindness”. See also Is there a name for “knowing so much about something that you don’t understand what is it like not to know it”?

Unfortunately, none of these terms is very famous, and their meaning is not obvious without some explanation. What’s even worse, the phenomenon is in general hard to explain because of its very nature. But I’ll try to give a few examples.

Wikipedia doesn’t make it easy for people to understand its jargon.

Wikipedia calls itself “The Free encyclopedia”; what does it mean that it’s “free”? I wrote Wikipedia:The Free Encyclopedia, one of the essays on this topic (there are others), but it’s not official or authoritative, and more importantly, the fact that this essay exists doesn’t mean that everybody who starts writing for Wikipedia reads it and understands the ideology behind it, and its implications. An important implication of this ideology is that according to the ideology of the Free Culture movement, of which Wikipedia is a part, is that some images and pieces of text can be copied from other sites into Wikipedia, and some cannot. The main reason for this is copyright law. People often copy text or images that are not compatible with the policies, and since this is heavily enforced by experienced Wikipedia editors, this causes misunderstandings. Wikipedia’s interface could communicate these policies better, but experienced Wikipedians, who already know them, rarely think about this problem. Disease of familiarity.

Wikipedia calls itself “a wiki”. A lot of people think that it’s just a meaningless catchy brand name, like “Kodak”. Some others think that it refers to the markup language in which the site is written. Yet others think that it’s an acronym that means “what I know is”. None of these interpretations is correct. The actual meaning of “wiki” is “a website that anyone can edit”. The people who are experienced with editing Wikipedia know this, and assume that everybody else does, but the truth is that a lot of new people don’t understand it and are afraid of editing pages that others had written, or freak out when somebody edits what they had written. Disease of familiarity.

The most common, built-in way for communication between the different Wikipedians is the talk page. Only Wikipedia and other sites that use the MediaWiki software use the term “talk page”. Other sites call such a thing “forum”, “comments”, or “discussion”. (To make things more confusing, Wikipedia itself occasionally calls it “discussion”.) Furthermore, talk pages, which started on Wikipedia in 2001, before commenting systems like Disqus, phpBB, Facebook, or Reddit were common, work in a very weird way: you need to manually indent each of your posts, you need to manually sign your name, and you need to use a lot of obscure markup and templates (“what are templates?!”, every new user must wonder). Experienced editors are so accustomed to doing this that they assume that everybody knows this. Disease of familiarity.

A lot of pages in Wikipedia in English and in many other languages have infoboxes. For example, in articles about cities and towns there’s an infobox that shows a photo, the name of the mayor, the population, etc. When you’re writing an article about your town, you’ll want to insert an infobox. Which button do you use to do this? There’s no “Infobox” button, and even if there were, you wouldn’t know that you need to look for it because “Infobox” is a word in Wikipedia’s internal jargon. What you actually have to do is Insert → Template → type “Infobox settlement”, and fill a form. Every step here is non-intuitive, especially the part where you have to type the template’s name. Where are you supposed to know it from? Also, these steps are how it works on the English Wikipedia, and in other languages it works differently. Disease of familiarity.

And this brings us to the next big topic: Language.

You see, when I talk about Wikipedia, I talk about Wikipedia in all languages at once. Otherwise, I talk about the English Wikipedia, the Japanese Wikipedia, the Arabic Wikipedia, and so on. Most people are not like me: when they talk about Wikipedia, they talk about the one in the language in which they read most often. Quite often it’s not their first language; for example, a whole lot of people read the Wikipedia in English even though English is their second language and they don’t even know that there is a Wikipedia in their own language. When these people say “Wikipedia” they actually mean “the English Wikipedia”.

There’s nothing bad in it by itself. It’s usually natural to read in a language that you know best and not to care very much about other languages.

But here’s where it gets complicated: Technically, there are editions of Wikipedia in about 300 languages. This number is pretty meaningless, however: There are about 7,000 languages in the world, so not the whole world is covered, and only in 100 languages or so there is a Wikipedia in which there is actually some continuous writing activity. In the other 200 the activity is only sporadic, or there is no activity at all—somebody just started writing something in that language, and a domain was created, but then the first people who started it lost interest and nobody else came to continue their work.

This is pretty sad because it’s frequently forgotten that a whole lot of people cannot read what they want in Wikipedia because they don’t know a language in which there is an article about what they want to learn. If you are reading this post, you have the privilege of knowing English, and it’s hard for you to imagine how does a person who doesn’t know English feel. Disease of familiarity: You think you can tell everybody “if you want to know something, read about it in Wikipedia”, but you cannot actually tell this to most people because most people don’t know English.

The missed opportunity becomes even more horrific when you realize that the people who would have the most appropriate skills for breaking out of this paradox are the people who are least likely to notice it, and the people who are hurt by it the most are the least capable of fixing it themselves. Think about it:

  • If you know, for example, Russian and English, and you need to read about a topic on which there is an article in the English Wikipedia, but not in Russian, you can read the English Wikipedia, and it’s possible that you won’t even notice that an article in Russian doesn’t exist. Unless you exercise mindfulness about the issue, you won’t empathize with people who don’t know English. To break out of this cycle, one can practice the following:
    • Always look for articles in Russian first.
    • Dedicate some time every week to translating articles. (See How does Wikipedia handle page translation?)
    • When you talk to people in your language, don’t assume that they know English.
  • A person who doesn’t know English is just stuck without an article, and there’s not much to do. It’s possible that you don’t even know that the article you need exists in another language. And maybe you cannot even read the user manual that teaches you how to edit. What can you do?
    • Try to be bold and ask your friends who do know English to translate it for you and publish the translation for the benefit of all the people who speak your language.
    • (Of course, there’s the solution of learning English, but we can’t assume that it works. Evidently, there are billions of people who don’t know English, and they won’t all learn English any time soon.)

(In case it isn’t clear, you can replace “English” and “Russian” in the example above with any other pair of languages.)

It’s particularly painful in countries where English, French, or Portuguese is the dominant language of government and education, even though a lot of the people, often the majority, don’t actually know it. This is true for many countries in Africa, as well as for Philippines, and to a certain extent also in India and Pakistan.

People who know English have a very useful aid for their school studies in the form of Wikipedia. People who don’t know English are left behind: the teachers don’t have Wikipedia to get help with planning the lessons and the students don’t have Wikipedia to get help with homework. The people who know English and study in English-medium schools have these things and don’t even notice how the other people—often their friends!—are left behind. Disease of familiarity.

Finally, most of the people who write in the 70 or so most successful Wikipedias don’t quite realize that the reason the Wikipedia in their language is successful is that before they had a Wikipedia, they had had another printed or digital encyclopedia, possibly more than one; and they had public libraries, and schools, and universities, and all those other things, which allowed them to imagine quite easily how would a free encyclopedia look like. A lot of languages have never had these things, and a Wikipedia would be the first major collection of educational materials in them. This would be pretty awesome, but this develops very slowly. People who write in the successful Wikipedia projects don’t realize that they just had to take the same concepts they already knew well and rebuild them in cyberspace, without having to jump through any conceptual epistemological hoops.

Disease of familiarity.

It’s hard to explain this.

I unfortunately suspect that very few, if any, people will understand this boring, long, and conceptually difficult post. If you disagree, please comment. If you think that you understand what I’m trying to say, but you have a simpler or shorter way to say it, please comment or suggest an edit (and tell your friends). If you have more examples of the disease of familiarity in Wikipedia and elsewhere, please speak up.

Thank you.

(As promised above, a note about Richard Saul Wurman. I heard him introduce the “disease of familiarity” concept in an interview with Debbie Millman on her podcast Design Matters, at about 23 minutes in. That interview was one of this podcast’s weirdest episodes: you can clearly hear that he’s making Millman uncomfortable, and she also mentioned it on Twitter. This, in turn, makes me uncomfortable to discuss something I learned from that interview, but I am just unable to find any better terminology for the phenomenon in question. If you have suggestions, please send them my way.)

Disclaimer: I’m a contractor working with the Wikimedia Foundation, but this post, as well as all my other posts on the topic of Wikimedia, Wikipedia, and related projects, are my own opinions and do not represent the Wikimedia Foundation.

In the contract of Wikimedia employees it says that they are not allowed to blow their own horn in any of the Wikimedia projects. It is according to a very senior Wikimedia official why they cannot add/contribute to information to scientific papers like Socialization Tactics in Wikipedia and Their Effects in Wikidata.

Dear Katherine, you will agree with me that this is a perverse effect of a well intentioned item in personnel contracts. So let me tell you more about the effects and how we can overcome this issue.

As you know, there is a thriving research community and its recorded presentations showcase the  research on Wikimedia projects. These presentations are recorded and may be found on YouTube. Typically these showcases are based on scientific papers. They should be recorded in Wikidata with all the details like it is done for any and all subjects. When a paper is properly covered, we know all its authors, the papers it cites and in time the papers who in turn cite the paper. When an author is well covered, we know every paper published, co-authors, subjects, subjects, citing authors. We know this because of Scholia. Scholia is what prevents Wikidata from being a stamp collection, Scholia is what makes a subject come alive, it is what brings data together, makes it digestible and gives it relevance.

Not so for subjects relating to Wikimedia apparently for contractual reasons. There are several strategies to overcome this. But first let us decide what we are, what we do and why this matters.

Wikimedia is a publisher of scientific papers; currently there are three and in order to raise the impact of the papers it publishes, they have to gain visibility. To do this we can associate with ORCID, and publish and certify all the details of papers to its authors. One of the things we do on a big scale, is re-publish data from ORCID. They have a program whereby they can sync their information with ours.. They collaborate with Crossref and so could we. When we do, we make Open Science much more visible.

Dear Katherine, what we have shown is that we can and do care about publications, about citations. We care about science. The least we want is our own research to be presented the best we can. In order to achieve this we have to consider the unintended impact of a provision in a labour contract and overcome this self inflicted barricade.

Shocking tales from ornithology

07:53, Monday, 24 2018 December UTC
Manipulative people have always made use of the dynamics of ingroups and outgroups to create diversions from bigger issues. The situation is made worse when misguided philosophies are peddled by governments that put economics ahead of ecology. The pursuit of easily gamed targets such as GDP is preferrable to ecological amelioration since money is a man-made and controllable entity. Nationalism, pride, other forms of chauvinism, the creation of enemies and the magnification of war threats are all effective tools in the arsenal of Machiavelli for use in misdirecting the masses when things go wrong. One might imagine that the educated, especially scientists, would be smart enough not to fall into these traps, but cases from history dampen hopes for such optimism.

There is a very interesting book in German by Eugeniusz Nowak called "Wissenschaftler in turbulenten Zeiten" (or scientists in turbulent times) that deals with the lives of ornithologists, conservationists and other naturalists during the Second World War. Preceded by a series of recollections published in various journals, the book was published in 2010 but I became aware of it only recently while translating some biographies into the English Wikipedia. I have not yet actually seen the book (it has about five pages on Salim Ali as well) and have had to go by secondary quotations in other content. Nowak was a student of Erwin Stresemann (with whom the first chapter deals with) and he writes about several European (but mostly German, Polish and Russian) ornithologists and their lives during the turbulent 1930s and 40s. Although Europe is pretty far from India, there are ripples that reached afar. Incidentally, Nowak's ornithological research includes studies on the expansion in range of the collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) which the Germans called the Türkentaube, literally the "Turkish dove", a name with a baggage of cultural prejudices.

Nowak's first paper of "recollections" notes that: [he] presents the facts not as accusations or indictments, but rather as a stimulus to the younger generation of scientists to consider the issues, in particular to think “What would I have done if I had lived there or at that time?” - a thought to keep as you read on.

A shocker from this period is a paper by Dr Günther Niethammer on the birds of Auschwitz (Birkenau). This paper (read it online here) was published when Niethammer was posted to the security at the main gate of the concentration camp. You might be forgiven if you thought he was just a victim of the war. Niethammer was a proud nationalist and volunteered to join the Nazi forces in 1937 leaving his position as a curator at the Museum Koenig at Bonn.
The contrast provided by Niethammer who looked at the birds on one side
while ignoring inhumanity on the other provided
novelist Arno Surminski with a title for his 2008 novel -
Die Vogelwelt von Auschwitz
- ie. the birdlife of Auschwitz.

G. Niethammer
Niethammer studied birds around Auschwitz and also shot ducks in numbers for himself and to supply the commandant of the camp Rudolf Höss (if the name does not mean anything please do go to the linked article / or search for the name online).  Upon the death of Niethammer, an obituary (open access PDF here) was published in the Ibis of 1975 - a tribute with little mention of the war years or the fact that he rose to the rank of Obersturmführer. The Bonn museum journal had a special tribute issue noting the works and influence of Niethammer. Among the many tributes is one by Hans Kumerloeve (starts here online). A subspecies of the common jay was named as Garrulus glandarius hansguentheri by Hungarian ornithologist Andreas Keve in 1967 after the first names of Kumerloeve and Niethammer. Fortunately for the poor jay, this name is a junior synonym of  G. g. anatoliae described by Seebohm in 1883.

Meanwhile inside Auschwitz, the Polish artist Wladyslaw Siwek was making sketches of everyday life  in the camp. After the war he became a zoological artist of repute. Unfortunately there is very little that is readily accessible to English readers on the internet (beyond the Wikipedia entry).
Siwek, artist who documented life at Auschwitz
before working as a wildlife artist.
Hans Kumerloeve
Now for Niethammer's friend Dr Kumerloeve who also worked in the Museum Koenig at Bonn. His name was originally spelt Kummerlöwe and was, like Niethammer, a doctoral student of Johannes Meisenheimer. Kummerloeve and Niethammer made journeys on a small motorcyle to study the birds of Turkey. Kummerlöwe's political activities started earlier than Niethammer, joining the NSDAP (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei = The National Socialist German Workers' Party)  in 1925 and starting the first student union of the party in 1933. Kummerlöwe soon became a member of the Ahnenerbe, a think tank meant to provide "scientific" support to the party-ideas on race and history. In 1939 he wrote an anthropological study on "Polish prisoners of war". At the museum in Dresden that he headed, he thought up ideas to promote politics and he published them in 1939 and 1940. After the war, it is thought that he went to all the European libraries that held copies of this journal (Anyone interested in hunting it should look for copies of Abhandlungen und Berichte aus den Staatlichen Museen für Tierkunde und Völkerkunde in Dresden 20:1-15.) and purged them of his article. According to Nowak, he even managed to get his hands (and scissors) on copies held in Moscow and Leningrad!  

The Dresden museum was also home to the German ornithologist Adolf Bernhard Meyer (1840–1911). In 1858, he translated the works of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace into German and introduced evolutionary theory to a whole generation of German scientists. Among Meyer's amazing works is a series of avian osteological works which uses photography and depicts birds in nearly-life-like positions (wonder how it was done!) - a less artistic precursor to Katrina van Grouw's 2012 book The Unfeathered Bird. Meyer's skeleton images can be found here. In 1904 Meyer was eased out of the Dresden museum because of rising anti-semitism. Meyer does not find a place in Nowak's book.

Nowak's book includes entries on the following scientists: (I keep this here partly for my reference as I intend to improve Wikipedia entries on several of them as and when time and resources permit. Would be amazing if others could pitch in!).
In the first of his "recollection papers" (his 1998 article) he writes about the reason for writing them  - the obituary for Prof. Ernst Schäfer  was a whitewash that carefully avoided any mention of his wartime activities. And this brings us to India. In a recent article in Indian Birds, Sylke Frahnert and others have written about the bird collections from Sikkim in the Berlin natural history museum. In their article there is a brief statement that "The  collection  in  Berlin  has  remained  almost  unknown due  to  the  political  circumstances  of  the  expedition". This might be a bit cryptic for many but the best read on the topic is Himmler's Crusade: The true story of the 1939 Nazi expedition into Tibet (2009) by Christopher Hale. Hale writes about Himmler: 
He revered the ancient cultures of India and the East, or at least his own weird vision of them.
These were not private enthusiasms, and they were certainly not harmless. Cranky pseudoscience nourished Himmler’s own murderous convictions about race and inspired ways of convincing others...
Himmler regarded himself not as the fantasist he was but as a patron of science. He believed that most conventional wisdom was bogus and that his power gave him a unique opportunity to promulgate new thinking. He founded the Ahnenerbe specifically to advance the study of the Aryan (or Nordic or Indo-German) race and its origins
From there Hale goes on to examine the motivations of Schäfer and his team. He looks at how much of the science was politically driven. Swastika signs dominate some of the photos from the expedition - as if it provided for a natural tie with Buddhism in Tibet. It seems that Himmler gave Schäfer the opportunity to rise within the political hierarchy. The team that went to Sikkim included Bruno Beger. Beger was a physical anthropologist but with less than innocent motivations although that would be much harder to ascribe to the team's other pursuits like botany and ornithology. One of the results from the expedition was a film made by the entomologist of the group, Ernst Krause - Geheimnis Tibet - or secret Tibet - a copy of this 1 hour and 40 minute film is on YouTube. At around 26 minutes, you can see Bruno Beger creating face casts - first as a negative in Plaster of Paris from which a positive copy was made using resin. Hale talks about how one of the Tibetans put into a cast with just straws to breathe from went into an epileptic seizure from the claustrophobia and fear induced. The real horror however is revealed when Hale quotes a May 1943 letter from an SS officer to Beger - ‘What exactly is happening with the Jewish heads? They are lying around and taking up valuable space . . . In my opinion, the most reasonable course of action is to send them to Strasbourg . . .’ Apparently Beger had to select some prisoners from Auschwitz who appeared to have Asiatic features. Hale shows that Beger knew the fate of his selection - they were gassed for research conducted by Beger and August Hirt.
SS-Sturmbannführer Schäfer at the head of the table in Lhasa

In all, Hale makes a clear case that the Schäfer mission had quite a bit of political activity underneath. We find that Sven Hedin (Schäfer was a big fan of him in his youth. Hedin was a Nazi sympathizer who funded and supported the mission) was in contact with fellow Nazi supporter Erica Schneider-Filchner and her father Wilhelm Filchner in India, both of whom were interned later at Satara, while Bruno Beger made contact with Subhash Chandra Bose more than once. [Two of the pictures from the Bundesarchiv show a certain Bhattacharya - who appears to be a chemist working on snake venom at the Calcutta snake park - one wonders if he is Abhinash Bhattacharya.]

My review of Nowak's book must be uniquely flawed as  I have never managed to access it beyond some online snippets and English reviews.  The war had impacts on the entire region and Nowak's coverage is limited and there were many other interesting characters including the Russian ornithologist Malchevsky  who survived German bullets thanks to a fat bird observation notebook in his pocket! In the 1950's Trofim Lysenko, the crank scientist who controlled science in the USSR sought Malchevsky's help in proving his own pet theories - one of which was the ideas that cuckoos were the result of feeding hairy caterpillars to young warblers!

Issues arising from race and perceptions are of course not restricted to this period or region, one of the less glorious stories of the Smithsonian Institution concerns the honorary curator Robert Wilson Shufeldt (1850 – 1934) who in the infamous Audubon affair made his personal troubles with his second wife, a grand-daughter of Audubon, into one of race. He also wrote such books as America's Greatest Problem: The Negro (1915) in which we learn of the ideas of other scientists of the period like Edward Drinker Cope! Like many other obituaries, Shufeldt's is a classic whitewash.  

Even as recently as 2015, the University of Salzburg withdrew an honorary doctorate that they had given to the Nobel prize winning Konrad Lorenz for his support of the political setup and racial beliefs. It should not be that hard for scientists to figure out whether they are on the wrong side of history even if they are funded by the state. Perhaps salaried scientists in India would do well to look at the legal contracts they sign with their employers, especially the state, more carefully. The current rules make government employees less free than ordinary citizens but will the educated speak out or do they prefer shackling themselves. 

  • Mixing natural history with war sometimes led to tragedy for the participants as well. In the case of Dr Manfred Oberdörffer who used his cover as an expert on leprosy to visit the borders of Afghanistan with entomologist Fred Hermann Brandt (1908–1994), an exchange of gunfire with British forces killed him although Brandt lived on to tell the tale.
  • Apparently Himmler's entanglement with ornithology also led him to dream up "Storchbein Propaganda" - a plan to send pamphlets to the Boers in South Africa via migrating storks! The German ornithologist Ernst Schüz quietly (and safely) pointed out the inefficiency of it purely on the statistics of recoveries!
  • July 2018 - an English translation of Nowak's book is now available.

Event Notes – Project Tiger Training 2018 – Wikipedia

03:02, Monday, 24 2018 December UTC

Recently, Wikimedia Foundation, Google and Center for Internet Security – Access to Knowledge jointly executed a competition on Indian Wikipedia Communities to bring more new articles.

It was a tight competition. Punjabi and Tamil wikipedia communities were leading. Finally Punjabi won. 🙂

We, Tamil people felt that it is our success. Though the language is different, both communities think like brothers and sisters only.

Wikimedia Foundation wanted to conduct an advanced training on wikimedia projects and activities. It asked the project tiger competition winner, Punjabi wikipedians to attend the training. But the Punjabi team invited the Tamil Community, to attend the event.

This wont happen anywhere, in general. The winners treating the runners equally. But this magic happened.

The training happened in Amritsar, Punjab on December 7,8,9 2018.

21 friends from Tamil wikipedia attended the event.

Asaf Bartov from the wikimedia foundation was the trainer.

Day 1 Project Tiger Training 2018 11

Asaf Bartov

He is one of the great trainers I admire always. We dont feel like anything tough on his sessions. Tech or non tech, his words go inside our heads and hearts easily, directly.

He discussed about

  • wikimedia projects,
  • how to write articles in Neutral Point of View
  • Outreach models
  • how to approach media, press people
  • how to promote activities on social media
  • copyrights and free license
  • OTRS – what, why, how
  • Issues in community organizing
  • Tabernacle and few more interesting tools

I gave a small talk on how to use Google OCR for Wikisource projects.

Project Tiger Training 2018 - Group photo (04)

All Participants of the Project Tiger training 2018

On the second day late night, Ravi asked me for a night out, to the golden temple there. Though, I got some high temperature, I didn’t want to miss the fun.

we reached the Amritsar golden temple at 11 pm. The temple was so active even on that odd time. Wondered to see that many people volunteer to clean the temple, happily.  The cold temperature (-7 degree) and the night made the temple to glitter like diamond.

Amritsar golden temple night view

Golden Temple of Amritsar


If you goto Amritsar, dont miss the night view. It will be a memorable event for the lifetime.

I had good discussions with Ravi on our future activities. with Asaf on various queries on wikidata and few new tools. With Tamil wikipedia team on Kaniyam Foundation and its activities on wikisource, With Gurlal Maan on various tools Punjabi wiki needs, With Rupika on their scanning works, With Mahim on Digitizing Arabic-Tamil literature, With Nandini on Photography, to list a few.

I felt like going to relative’s home. The care and kindness from the Punjabi friends is enormous. Thanks for Wikimedia Foundation, Google and CIS-A2k for connecting people in two corners of India.

Felt like a gathering of relatives at a marriage. We see all in a same place, roam with them, having great times, leaving with longing for more time and similar events.

Hoping to see all friends again soon.


Tech News issue #52, 2018 (December 24, 2018)

00:00, Monday, 24 2018 December UTC
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Deutsch • ‎English • ‎Tiếng Việt • ‎dansk • ‎polski • ‎suomi • ‎čeština • ‎русский • ‎মেইতেই লোন্ • ‎中文

Kiwix is connecting the unconnected

18:52, Friday, 21 2018 December UTC

In Eritrea or Cuba, people routinely buy Wikipedia for one dollar.[1]

Wait, what? Isn’t Wikipedia free? Of course it is—Wikipedia, in fact, is entirely free and very easy to reach if you are not one of four billion people who still do not have internet connectivity.

If you are, however, having problems to access your favourite encyclopedia, then chances are that you may have to turn to Kiwix, which allows you to access educational content in over 100 languages (like Wikipedia) on any computer or smartphone, without the need for a live internet connection.

Think of it as an offline browser: you download the content of your choice, store it on your phone or computer (or even install it on a private wiki hotspot), and voilà: the look and feel of it is exactly like being on the internet, except that you are not.

Kiwix currently has three to four million users around the world. 80% of these live in emerging countries, such as Mexico, South Africa, India, and even North Korea. Five years from now, we’re planning to reach a hundred million, all of them enjoying the power of free.

While most people in developed countries tend to complain about information overload, half the planet still suffers from a lack of access to the sum of all knowledge. Thanks to Wikimedia editors and donors, we’re reaching out. If you think that Wikipedia has value for you but also for others at the other end of the world, then visit or and help us with our mission.

Stéphane Coillet-Matillon, Kiwix

Video by Grigas, CC BY-SA 4.0; other attributions available on Wikimedia Commons.


[1] That’s not an insignificant amount of money. In Eritrea, one dollar is more than the minimum wage for an entire day. In Cuba, one dollar is above the average daily salary. In Western parlance, that would mean paying between 60 dollars (US daily minimum wage) to 130 dollars (median US individual income).

2018 – It All Adds Up

15:47, Friday, 21 2018 December UTC

A recap of 2018 in numbers…..

3 Keynotes

I was honoured to be invited to present 3 open education keynotes this at the beginning of this year at OER18, the FLOSS UK Spring Conference and CELT18 at NUI Galway.  Each keynote presented different challenges and learning opportunities, particularly FLOSS UK where I had to get up on stage and talk to an all male conference (there were only 3 women in the room including me) about structural discrimination in the open domain. It was pretty terrifying and I couldn’t have done it without the support of the #femedtech community.  Indeed the #femedtech network has been one of of my main influences and inspirations this year and it’s been a real joy to see if go from strength to strength.  My OER18 keynote also resulted in my most impactful tweet ever with 16,592 impressions to date.  Predictably it wasn’t about open eduction, it was about shoes :}

Bessie Watson

To coincide with the centenary of women’s suffrage on the 6th February, I wrote a Wikipedia article about Bessie Watson the 9 year old suffragette from Edinburgh.  Bessie’s story really seemed to capture the imagination and it was great to be able to bring her amazing life to wider notice.

11 Days of Industrial Action

The USS Pension strike had a huge impact on the whole Higher Education sector early in the year.  I was grateful that I was in a position to be able to support the strike, which I know was much more difficult for many, many colleagues across the sector employed on part time and precarious contracts.  Although the strike was nominally about a single issue it really did galvanise action around a whole host of deeply problematic issues including workloads, pay, conditions, equality, precarity and the commercialisation of higher education.  It was a real inspiration to see so many staff and students getting behind the strike and to be able to join the strike rally in George Square in Glasgow.

USS Strike Rally, George Square, Glasgow, CC BY, Lorna M.Campbell

Repeal the 8th Campaign

Once again I was hugely inspired by the people of Ireland and the way they came together to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution, to recognise womens’ right to bodily autonomy and to amend abortion legislation.

AO3 an Inspiration in Open Source

In June I was delighted to listen online to Casey Fiesler’s amazing Open Repositories keynote Growing Their Own: Building an Archive and a Community for Fanfiction.  I’ve long been a fan of AO3 and have been endlessly frustrated, though not surprised, that this phenomenally successful open source initiative run on feminist principles isn’t more widely recognised and celebrated in the domain of open knowledge.  Casey’s brilliant keynote showed us how much we can potentially learn from AO3.

Wikimedia UK Partnership of the Year

In July the University of Edinburgh won Wikimedia UK’s Partnership of the Year Award for the 2nd time, for embedding Wikipedia in teaching and learning and for advocating for the role of Wikimedians in Residence in Higher Education.  None of this would be possible of course without the support of our own tireless Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew.

Left to right: Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, Open Education Resources; Lorna Campbell, OER Service; Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence; Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Director of Learnng, Teaching & Web Services. CC BY, University of Edinburgh.


The other significant event in July was my 50th birthday :}  The day itself was lovely, lazy and lowkey and I spent most of the month catching up with friends from all over the world online and in person.  It was wonderful.  My partner bought me glider lessons as a gift but sadly I haven’t taken them yet as I haven’t been able to get to the air field since….

RIP Magic Bus

After 13 fabulous, and admittedly often frustrating, years our VW T25 camper van died a death, though not before taking us on one last holiday to Galloway and then home to the Hebrides where I finally got to visit Traigh Mheilein beach in North Harris.  Traigh Mheilein is often described as the most beautiful beach in the Hebrides and boy does it live up to that reputation.

Traigh Mheilein, Isle of Harris, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

ALTC 25th Anniversary

In September I was back in Manchester for the 25th ALT Annual Conference.  As an organisation that truly embodies its core principles of collaboration, participation, independence and openness, ALT continues to be an inspiration right across the sector and I’m honoured to be able to play a small role in supporting the organisation through the ALT Board and the ALTC social media team.  The 25th conference was one of the best yet and my own personal highlights included thought provoking keynotes by Maren Deepwell and Amber Thomas, Melissa Highton‘s unflinchingly honest talk about developing and implementing a lecture recording policy at the height of the USS strikes, and Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell’s personal feminist retrospective of learning technology.  Catherine and Frances’ session also inspired me to take a step back and reflect on my own career as a learning technologist.

Wiki Loves Monuments

September means Wiki Loves Monuments and this year the competition was even more fun than last year, which I wouldn’t have thought possible!  Huge thanks to everyone who participated and who made the competition so much fun, particularly our Wikimedians in Scotland – Ewan, Sara and Delphine.  I uploaded 383 pictures and came 15th overall in the UK.  Most of these pictures were taken during our summer holiday so I really have to thank my parter and daughter for their patience :}

Naval History

I haven’t been writing much Naval History recently and indeed I’ll be stepping down from the Society of Nautical Research‘s Publications & Membership next year after 5 years in the chair.  However my colleague Heather and I did publish one short paper in The Trafalgar Chronicle, the journal of The 1805 Club, which this year focused on the lives of women and families at sea and on shore.  Our paper “I shall be anxious to know…”: Lives of the Indefatigable women, shone a spotlight on the personal lives of some of the women we encountered while researching our book Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates.

Blogging to Build Your Professional Profile

In October I built my 1st ever SPLOT!  As part of the roll out of the University of Edinburgh’s new academic blogging service I was tasked with developing a digital skills training workshop on professional blogging and what better way to do that than by practicing what we preach and building a blog!  Anne-Marie Scott set up the SPLOT template for me and it was all plain sailing from there.  The Blogging to Build Your Professional Profile workshop has already proved to be very popular and all the resources have been shared under Creative Commons licence so they can be reused and adapted. It was great working with LTW colleagues on this project, particularly Karen Howie, who a good friend from early CETIS days and an awesome person to work with.


In late November Gary Needham, senior lecturer in film and media at the University of Liverpool tagged me in the #QueerArt20 twitter challenge; one image a day, any medium, no credits or titles.  I’ve loved seeing the images other people have been posting and it really was a challenge to choose just 20 of my own to post. It was also a timely opportunity to reconnect with queer culture.  And talking of which…

120 Beats Per Minute

I didn’t see many memorable films this year but one that I did see, and which will stay with me for a long time was 120 Beats Per Minute a deeply moving and viscerally powerful film about queer activism set against the background of the AIDS crisis in Paris in the late 1980’s /  early 1990’s.  It’s a beautiful, painful and necessary film and I would urge you all to see it.

CETIS – The End of an Era

At the beginning of December I stepped down as a partner of CETIS LLP ending a 17 year association with the organisation in all its various incarnations.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without CETIS and I wish all the partners the very best for the future

….and the lows

Brexit has cast a noxious cloud of reckless xenophobia, bigotry and intolerance over us all, with the only glimmers of hope being a 2nd referendum and the more distant promise of Indy Ref 2.

It’s been equally been horrifying to watch the rise of right wing populist movements across the world.  Fascism might have a new acceptable ALT-Right face but it’s still fucking fascism.

I was heart broken by the death of Scott Hutchison in May.  He was a phenomenally talented writer and his songs uniquely captured the struggles so many face with alienation, depression, isolation and addiction.  Scott faced all these demons in true Scottish style; with scathing wit, self-effacing humour and heartbreaking poetry.  Just a few months before his death, I was packed into the Academy with hundreds of others for 10th anniversary tour of The Midnight Organ Fight.  It’s a night I won’t forget.

Frightened Rabbit, Barrowlands Ballroom, December 2016. CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

On an open education note, one of my frustrations this year is that, due to lack of time and focussing efforts elsewhere,  I had to neglect Open Scotland.  I really hope I’ll have an opportunity to revitalise the initiative next year as we still have a lot of work to do to persuade the Scottish Government of the benefits of open education.  This might seem like a trivial exercise when Scot Gov is facing the catastrophic challenge of Brexit, but surely we need open and equitable access to education and educational resources now more than ever.

I think I’ve exhausted my numbers now and they all add up to quite a year (sorry, that’s terrible) it just remains for me to wish you all the very best for 2019.

weeklyOSM 439

13:49, Friday, 21 2018 December UTC



Create a poster of your settlement. Thanks to Hans Hack. 1 | ©, map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

 OSMF Board Elections

  • Tobias Knerr, from Germany, and Joost Schouppe, from Belgium, are the two newly elected board members of the OpenStreetMap Foundation. They take over from Peter Barth and Martijn van Exel. and 681 of 1041 eligible voters cast their votes (61.5%).The final result was determined by Single Transferable Vote.
  • Rory McCann sought the opinions of OSMF board election candidates on the reversal of the DWG decision on the status of the Crimea.
  • Frederik Ramm, OSMF Treasurer, has published his financial report for the AGM. This was discussed on the OSMF-Talk mailing list. There was specific criticism for not exchanging the entirety of the Bitcoin donation into currencies in which the OSMF incurs liabilities.
  • SunCobalt has published his report as auditor of the OSMF for the period 1st January 2017 to 31st December 2017.
  • Kate Chapman has published her report as Chairperson of the OSMF board.


  • OSMyBiz (OpenStreetMap My Business), a website where business owners can add, correct, or update their business details in OSM as easily as possible, has been launched by the Geometa Lab of the University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil, Switzerland.
  • As announced on the tagging mailing list, Warin61 has reworked his proposal for ephemeral water. Ephemeral in this context means a very short duration of water flood that occurs infrequently.
  • François Lacombe has started the voting on his proposal for additional attributes on pipeline and water valves.
  • Leif Rasmussen is proposing to add intervals of public transport schedules. On the tagging mailing list he announced the start of the voting.
  • The French OSM community has mapped police stations in November as “Project of the Month”. Noémie Lehuby and Donat Robaux present the results on (fr) (automatic translation)
  • Quartz reports that Grab collect geodata themselves in order to optimise the distance of passengers to their pickup point. The article does not mention that Grab’s subcontractor GlobalLogic was and still is making controversial OSM edits in Thailand and Indonesia.
  • The International Date Line at +/- 180° longitude is causing many oddities. Unselectable nodes in JOSM, neighbouring elements that are thousands of miles apart in editors and maps, unroutable roads that cross this line and many more. A user opened a thread in the forum as he wasn’t sure if it is right to span a way over this invisible border as the way is considered as crossing the globe. However, he solved the issue on his own by splitting the way, half of the way is now in the Eastern and half in the Western hemisphere.


  • The Zürich OpenStreetMap meetup is celebrating its 100th occurrence with a special cake.
  • Three members from the OSM Mali community went to the eastern city of Koutiala to organize, alongside with Saliou Abdou (International Volunteer from Francophonie deployed since January as OSM activist), a three-days training camp called KoriMapCamp in NGO AMEDD’s headquarters, for the benefit of a dozen of people previously trained in August. The program included: field mapping with Field Papers and StreetComplete, JOSM teaching and a one day mapathon. This camp got some financial support from Cafdo (Francophone Africa community for open data).
  • CouwelierTim has started to publish a weekly summary on and the forum on what has been discussed by the Belgian community on IRC or Riot, an instant messenger service coupled to it.

OpenStreetMap Foundation

  • The passionate debates for HOT US Board elections have moved in the last two years to OSMF Board elections. Three previous HOT Board members/Executive director who lead the re-orientation of HOT are currently on the OSMF Board.The controversy from last year’s OSMF election surged again this year with two HOT members standing for election. For some OSMF members, the relation between HOT US, OSM and the OSMF, the role HOT plays in the OSM universe and if the influence of leading HOT members to the OSM project should be limited. Nicolas Chavent, co-founder and former Board Officer and Programs Director of HOT, pointed to the growing number of OSMF board members with a HOT background.This started a long and sometimes emotional discussion on the list, in which many discussion threads with new side aspects were started. Frederik Ramm, for example, suggested a Humanitarian Working Group within the OSMF, to break the current synonymous usage of HOT and Humanitarian OSM. Rory McCann criticised how HOT’s Code of Conduct is enforced – or not enforced – as the last HOT summit was in a country where same-sex sexual activity is illegal. One repeating topic is the manifesto of Tobias Knerr, who suggested to limit the number of OSMF board members to one per organisation.
  • DWG has published its report for the third quarter of 2018.
  • The minutes of the SotM Working Group meetings of the 8th and of the 29th of November 2018 have been published.


  • Until January 3rd, 2019, scientists and other academics can apply as reviewers for the program committee of the academic part of the State of the Map 2019 in Heidelberg.
  • The event website for the SotM 2019 in Heidelberg just launched.

Humanitarian OSM

  • Kathmandu Living Labs has partnered with HOT US and mapped buildings in 7 homogeneous zones in Kathmandu based on new satellite imagery provided by USAID’s GeoCenter. The aim of the effort is to understand the exposure and minimize the risks from natural hazards. New imagery was used to add new buildings and to fix the quality problems created by the crowd-mapping response to the 2015 earthquake and poor quality imagery at the time. Pierre Béland compares the situation there to the current response for Butembo and deplores the similar ‘Tsunami of Mapathons Hit+Run Newbies’.
  • HOT will launch a fundraising campaign during December to raise $40,000 for 10 new micro-grants in 2019.
  • The 5th HOT Summit will take place in Heidelberg University, Germany September 19th and 20th of 2019. This is just before the State of the Map at the same location, so you have the chance to enjoy 5 days of interesting OSM related talks.
  • Chris Eshun, a third-year Geomatic Engineering student, provides his experience on working with the community mapping team in Ghana as part of HOT’s Open Cities Accra project.


  • The Wikimedia servers and, that are providing OSM based tiles and a mini atlas, are still running on Ubuntu Trusty and will be shut down by the end of this year if no one volunteers for maintaining the servers. A Phabricator ticket lists some more details.
  • [1] The web art developer Hans Hacker has created a remarkable new online service. With just a few clicks, anyone can create a poster of the buildings available in OSM and download it for free. The poster shows a geographical fingerprint of the settlement of a region. You may want to browse through his other projects too.

Open Data

  • On Twitter Richard Fairhurst points to, a website aiming to provide data and visualization of estimated traffic volumes for the whole EU. The road network of OSM is used as the primary source.


  • Fabian Kowatsch from Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology explains how to visualize the historical evolution of OSM buildings of your city using the ohsome platform for OSM History Analytics and QGIS.


  • Jochen Topf released the Osmium library 2.15.0, the Python bindings for Osmium PyOsmium, 2.15.0, the Osmium command line tool 1.10.0, and the OSMCoastline 2.2.1 program recently. The new Osmium library uses a lot less memory, with savings up to 50 percent. PyOsmium now uses PyBind11 internally to connect the C++ Osmium library instead of building on Boost as before. Jochen explains further enhancements on his blog.


  • JOSM is now available as Flatpak on Flathub, a software deployment utility with a sandbox environment and permission management in which you can run applications in isolation.

Other “geo” things

  • Twitter user Ash shows his greatest invention: the Mercator Globe.
  • Le Point stresses out the increasing importance of digital tools in Africa, as they help citizens to get involved and weigh in on political matters. An OSM based electoral map from Senegal is used as an example of citizen engagement.
  • Andrew Douglas-Clifford created with OpenStreetMap , LINZ and NIWA data a Far From Any Road map, showing New Zealand’s hardest-to-reach places. Some more information can be found at Reddit and NewsHub.

Upcoming Events

Where What When Country
Alice PoliMappers Adventures 2018: One mapping quest each day 2018-12-01-2018-12-31 everywhere
Pristina Kosovo Meetup / Takim në Kosovë 2018-12-20 kosovo
Rennes Recensement des panneaux publicitaires 2018-12-23 france
Leipzig OpenStreetMap assembly 2018-12-27-2018-12-30 germany
Düsseldorf Stammtisch 2018-12-28 germany
Greater Vancouver area Metrotown mappy Hour 2018-12-28 canada
Biella Incontro mensile 2018-12-29 italy
Lyon Rencontre mensuelle pour tous 2019-01-08 france
Dresden Stammtisch Dresden 2019-01-10 germany
Berlin 127. Berlin-Brandenburg Stammtisch 2019-01-10 germany
Rennes Réunion mensuelle 2019-01-14 france
Toulouse Rencontre mensuelle 2019-01-16 france
Karlsruhe Stammtisch 2019-01-16 germany
Salzburg Maptime – Stammtisch 2019-01-16 austria
Freiberg Stammtisch Freiberg 2019-01-17 germany
Montpellier State of the Map France 2019 2019-06-01-2019-06-03 france
Heidelberg HOT Summit 2019 2019-09-19-2019-09-20 germany
Heidelberg State of the Map 2019 (international conference) 2019-09-21-2019-09-23 germany
Grand-Bassam State of the Map Africa 2019 2019-11-22-2019-11-24 ivory coast

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 Laura Mugeha, Nakaner, PierZen, Polyglot, Rogehm, SK53, SeverinGeo, SomeoneElse, Guillaume Rischard, SunCobalt, derFred, jinalfoflia.

Three Things I Learned as a Wiki Scholar

19:52, Thursday, 20 2018 December UTC

Dr. Rachel Boyle is a public historian who recently completed our professional development course and contributed to Wikipedia articles relating to women’s suffrage in the United States. This is a republishing of her reflection about the experience. 

Screenshot of the Sheppard-Towner Act article on Wikipedia.

Over the course of the last eleven weeks, I had the honor of joining a cohort of historians, librarians, and other scholars in a course from Wiki Education and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). We received technical training on the ins and outs of Wikipedia and contributed to articles relating to women’s suffrage in anticipation of the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment and an associated exhibit on the topic planned by NARA. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be a student again, and benefited greatly from the excellent facilitation by Wiki Education staff and thoughtful conversations with fellow Wiki Scholars. By the end of the course I contributed to Wikipedia articles on the Sheppard-Towner Act and Catherine Waugh McCulloch. Here are three things I learned from the experience:

1. Contributing to Wikipedia requires a different mindset than academic writing, or even collaborative curation where stakeholders often fulfill distinct roles. As an academically-trained historian, I push myself to cultivate a distinct voice, craft original arguments, and rely heavily on my analysis of primary sources. All of that went out the window as I became one of a sea of strangers editing a single article. I did not have sole authorial control or a defined responsibility beyond improving the article with a neutral tone and secondary sources to back up the facts. The process was uncomfortable but ultimately liberating. I could enter and leave the article at will and restricted myself to adding what is already known about a subject. And whenever imposter syndrome crept up, I fell back on Wikipedia’s exhortation to “be bold.” Valuable inspiration for any kind of writing!

2. For better or worse, Wikipedia is fundamentally an Enlightenment project as a compendium of facts and knowledge rooted in evidence and striving for neutrality. This is a completely valid exercise, made all the more powerful on a platform that anyone with the Internet can access and edit. Yet I think it’s worthwhile to note that, even as organizations like Wiki Education or on-Wikipedia groups like Women in Red work to increase the presence of women and other marginalized groups in articles and behind the scenes, an encyclopedia is still just one way of knowing. Wikipedia still relies on a tradition of sources that elevate some voices over others and values neutrality over justice.

3. Meet the public where they are. This is simple, profound, and my biggest takeaway from the Wiki Scholar experience. Contributing to Wikipedia directly responds to the public’s existing digital habits and browsing patterns. I am encouraged that NARA embraced the likelihood of their exhibit audience turning to Wikipedia and responded by supporting a program to bring more scholars to Wikipedia. No need to reinvent the wheel or see Wikipedia as a competition for a proprietary digital resource. Instead, they saw an opportunity for scholars to lend their expertise and skills for the benefit of the public. As I continue to reflect on the potential of digital exhibits and rethink what a digital history experience can look like, Wiki Education offers a compelling model for how historians can engage with the public.​

ImageFile:Women delegates to 1912 Republican National Convention.jpg, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia, controversy, and an acclaimed documentary

19:38, Thursday, 20 2018 December UTC

The Hunting Ground, a 2015 documentary about sexual assault on college campuses exposed conflicts of interest, malfeasance and cover-ups.

Drawing by Nicholas Boudreau, licensed CC BY 4.0.

Drawing by Nicholas Boudreau, licensed CC BY 4.0.

To learn about a complex topic—especially if powerful institutions have a major stake in it—we rely on experts. People who devote substantial effort toward understanding all facets of a topic can offer the public a great deal of value. We routinely refer to their perspectives and analysis when forming opinions on important social and political issues.

But of course, our reliance on experts makes their interests and motivations highly significant. To what extent do an expert’s motivations inappropriately drive their opinions and judgments? Do those opinions and judgments color how they present the facts? As critical readers, we should always pay attention to conflicts of interest (COIs). And if they’re insufficiently disclosed, we’re at a significant disadvantage. If you learn that a product review you relied on was secretly written by the company that made it, you might feel some indignation—and rightly so.

Publishers that care about accurate information face the same issue, but have a greater degree of responsibility; and if a publisher inadvertently amplifies biased information on to its readers, its reputation may suffer. So publishers establish standards and processes to eliminate COIs, or—since it’s often impossible to gather information that is 100% free of COI—to manage them responsibly. Wikipedia is no exception.

But as a publication that invites participation from any anonymous person in the world, Wikipedia has unique challenges around COI. Despite Wikipedia’s efforts to require disclosure, COIs often go undeclared and unnoticed, which leaves everybody (understandably) a little skittish about the whole topic. Blogging pioneer Dave Winer’s words in 2005 illustrate this point: “Every fact in [Wikipedia] must be considered partisan, written by someone with a conflict of interest,” he said. But significantly, every change to the site is rigorously preserved and open to public review. Wikipedia editors routinely investigate and deliberate additions and edits to the site. Every change can be reverted. Every user can be chastised or blocked for bad behavior. The process can be messy, but since 2005, researchers have repeatedly found that Wikipedia’s process generates good content. A properly disclosed and diligently managed COI on Wikipedia is rarely a big deal; it’s part of what makes Wikipedia work. Disclosure is a key component that supports informed deliberation. Disclosing a COI doesn’t give a Wikipedia user carte blanche to do as they see fit; but it does express respect for Wikipedia’s values and for fellow editors, and it gives Wikipedia editors more information to use in resolving disagreements.

One of the principle methods Wikipedia employs to minimize the impact of COI is an insistence on high quality sourcing. But on occasion, Wikipedia editors are overly swayed by sources that match up poorly against the site’s standards.

See our previous blog post, Conflict of interest and expertise, for a deeper look at the subject.

A Wikipedia case study

The Hunting Ground  (2015), a documentary film which investigated the issue of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses, received widespread acclaim, but it also ignited controversy. The production company, Chain Camera Pictures, retained Wiki Strategies beginning early that year to assist with developing and improving the Wikipedia articles related to the film’s focus, as well as the article about the film itself. (See “Disclaimer” below.)

Conflict of interest is a central focus of The Hunting Ground. Universities are required to investigate any report of a sexual assault involving their students; but they also have a strong financial and reputational interest in avoiding scandal. By vigorously investigating sexual assault cases, universities might associate their campuses with violent crime, which could impact recruitment and alumni donations.

In one of the incidents explored in The Hunting Ground, Florida State University (FSU) football star Jameis Winston was accused of rape. A state attorney, when announcing months later that he had insufficient evidence to prosecute, noted substantial problems in the initial rape investigation carried out by both FSU officials and Tallahassee police. Independent investigative pieces from Fox Sports and the New York Times both suggested that COI might have been a factor.

While the influence of a COI in any specific case is difficult to prove, it’s clear that the financial interests of entities like FSU―whose athletics programs bring in more than $100 million a year―sharply conflict with the interests of the women portrayed in The Hunting Ground. FSU is one of the many institutions that had reason to feel threatened by the film, alongside numerous universities, law enforcement agencies, and athletic programs.

The Hunting Ground earned substantial accolades and validation. It received two Emmy nominations, including Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking, and was one of 15 documentaries shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. CNN vetted and broadcast the film, along with a series of panel discussions, putting its own journalism reputation on the line. And student groups, faculty, and university administrators screened the film on hundreds of  college campuses.

But unsurprisingly, given the threat it posed to powerful institutions, the film drew pushback as well as praise.

Among the film’s more persistent critics has been the Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow, who has written columns about it or mentioning it more than 20 times since March 2015. In November 2015, during the runup to the Academy Awards, Schow announced Chain Camera’s Wikipedia efforts, under a headline proclaiming that they had been “caught” editing Wikipedia. But of course, you can’t be “caught” doing something you were open about from the start; and Chain Camera had been diligent about disclosure. Wikipedia editors working on the various articles had known of the efforts of Chain Camera’s employee Edward Alva for many months. As Chain Camera stated in their rebuttal, Schow’s charges were inaccurate and ill-informed.

The complaints about Alva's editing, made initially by Schow and amplified by Wales, were considered in detail. The graphic highlights the formal decision by administrator Drmies. Click the image to see the full discussion.

The complaints about Alva’s editing, made initially by Schow and amplified by Wales, were considered in detail. The graphic highlights the formal decision by administrator Drmies. Click the image to see the full discussion.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales took Schow’s words at face value, praising her piece for “embarrassing” Alva. As Wikipedia editors took up the issue in a public discussion, several included Wales’ statement as part of the evidence of Alva’s wrongdoing. Much of the early discussion was characterized by a lack of diligence in considering Alva’s efforts. One comment stands out: “I don’t have enough time to do a thorough investigation,” said a Wikipedia editor. “But as I now see it, this situation could be dealt with very quickly and justly with a permanent ban of [Alva].” A lack of thorough information was apparently not enough to stop this editor from recommending strong sanctions.

But as many Wikipedians recognize, diligent investigation is important. In the following week, several Wikipedians did indeed take a close look at the edit history. They ultimately rejected the accusations leveled by Schow and Wales. Drmies, the administrator who made the formal determination to close the discussion, stated that “the [Chain Camera] editor declared their COI early enough,” and that “the editor’s defenders present very strong evidence that [Wikipedia’s] system worked.

Drmies’ closing statement carries weight in the Wikipedia world, and it is archived publicly. But from an outside perspective, it might as well be invisible. The media world is used to covering traditional decision-making processes, like court decisions and the acts of public officials, but it’s rare that a media outlet will understand Wikipedia well enough to track a contentious discussion effectively. Schow is ahead of the curve: she knows enough about Wikipedia to find some tantalizing tidbits, to generate copy, to generate clicks, and to influence those readers who lack deep familiarity with Wikipedia.

Specific problems with Schow’s account

But this story, despite its ramifications for an Academy Award shortlisted film and the National Football League’s #1 draft pick, was never picked up in any depth by a journalist who understands Wikipedia’s inner workings. Commentator Mary Wald did briefly note that Alva had observed Wikipedia standards, in a Huffington Post piece that highlighted the strength and stature of the interests taken on by the film. But this brief mention in a single story did not turn the tide. Anyone who follows the media coverage would likely be left with the incorrect impression that Chain Camera had done something wrong—to this day.

If a journalist had covered the story in depth, paying close attention to Wikipedia’s policies, norms, and best practices, they would have noted several flaws in Schow’s analysis. For instance:

  1. Schow began with a common—and erroneous—premise: she assumed Wikipedia’s COI guideline, which recommends against editing an article while in a COI, is a policy. Wikipedia makes a distinction between the two, and explicitly notes that guidelines “are best treated with common sense, and occasional exceptions may apply.” Guidelines are not to be treated as rigid requirements. The COI guideline, in particular, has been scrutinized and deliberated extensively over the last decade. Wikipedia’s need for experts and its philosophical commitment to open editing have both prevented it from ever adopting a formal policy prohibiting editing while under a COI. Wikipedia’s relevant policy does not prohibit someone like Alva from making edits, but it does require disclosure in one of three places. Alva made that disclosure from the start, and in fact exceeded the policy’s requirement by disclosing in multiple places.
  2. In her second column on the topic, Schow attaches significance to Jimmy Wales’ important-sounding words about changing Wikipedia policy in light of Schow’s report. This, again, is an understandable mistake; with most organizations, it’s safe to assume that a founder and board member’s ambitions have a close connection with reality. But with this particular board member and this particular issue, that assumption couldn’t be much further from the truth. Jimmy Wales has a long history of strongly advocating the “bright line rule,” which—had Wales’ efforts to have it codified a policy not been rejected—would have forbidden certain COI edits. Wales has even unequivocally stated that it doesn’t matter if the public thinks it’s policy; in his view, such details are unimportant. To put it simply, Wales is an entirely unreliable source on the topic of conflict of interest on Wikipedia. And despite Wales’ “renewed interest,” as Schow called it, his commentary on the topic ended as soon as it became clear the facts did not support his initial reaction to Schow’s column.
  3. Schow doubled down on some of her strongest words about Alva’s approach, in her third column (November 30): she claimed that Alva had failed to sufficiently disclose his editing of topics related to The Hunting Ground until September 2015. But he had in fact exceeded Wikipedia’s disclosure requirements, as mentioned above. As she did acknowledge, Alva disclosed his connection to The Hunting Ground as early as March 2015, prior to any edits to related Wikipedia articles. He made further, more specific disclosures on April 23, July 27, August 10, and again on August 10, all before the September edit noted by Schow. A columnist, of course, might not be expected to fully grasp the intricacies of Wikipedia editing; but to vet such strong opinions before doubling down, she might have interviewed an uninvolved Wikipedia editor or two.

Schow’s errors may well have resulted from a good faith effort; but that doesn’t make them any less important. Her influence on the public perception of the connection between Chain Camera and Wikipedia has been substantial (see coverage at the Independent Journal Review and the Hill). So it’s significant that she got major parts of the story wrong.

Let the Wikipedia process work – don’t try to shut it down

In covering any story that challenges powerful institutions, Wikipedia editors have to sort through strong messages from various parties. Ultimately, Wikipedia relies on the sources it cites as references. High-quality source materials, not the interests or organizational affiliations of Wikipedia editors, should be the main factor in crafting its content. Wikipedians should not ignore those affiliations, and should always be mindful of the COI of various parties―not only of the editors, but of the people and institutions who generate and influence the stories they cite.

Any COI can be either disclosed or obscured, and even a fully disclosed COI can be managed well or poorly. Of course, it’s impossible to know whether other, anonymous editors have undisclosed COIs; but it would be foolish to conclude with any certainty that those who disclose are the only Wikipedians with a COI, when more than a decade of experience tells us that secretive paid editing – despite being a policy violation – is commonplace. Wikipedians should applaud Alva and Chain Camera Pictures for disclosing from the start. Even if they disagree with his specific suggestions or edits, they result from a good faith effort to improve the encyclopedia. When Wikipedians disagree with a good faith editor, they should talk it through—not discuss whether to block them from editing.

Wikipedia needs more, not fewer, expert contributors

When experts engage openly with Wikipedia, seeking to improve the encyclopedia, we should celebrate and support that effort. Chain Camera Pictures brought something to the table that few Wiki Strategies clients do: they sought to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of a broad topic they knew well through their work. Does this mean that they alone should determine the content of relevant Wikipedia articles? Of course not—Wikipedia’s model demands that any Wikipedian present convincing arguments, with reference to independent reliable sources. That is exactly what Alva did.

The approach Alva took, overall, is the right one. It should be readily apparent to any Wikipedian who looks at the edit history that Alva’s overall intent was to be transparent about his affiliation. Alva made several disclosures, and engaged other Wikipedians in discussion on points of contention multiple times. He added independent, reliable sources, sorting out disambiguation pages, reverting vandalism, and expanding content, and removed poorly-sourced, inaccurate information.

For a topic as important as sexual assault allegations on university campuses, Wikipedia benefits when experts engage with its content. Every day, non-expert writers do their best to to place snippets of information into a narrative, to build Wikipedia articles; but it often takes some expertise to evaluate and refine that narrative. Wikipedians recognize this need; there is even a banner placed on articles deemed to lack an expert’s perspective.

This banner is placed on a Wikipedia article when somebody thinks an expert opinion could help.

This banner is placed on a Wikipedia article when somebody thinks an expert opinion could help.

The creators of The Hunting Ground are not, of course, the only experts on this topic. Investigative reporters like Walt Bogdanich of the New York Times and Kevin Vaughan of Fox Sports reported extensively on the subject. They reviewed thousands of pages of documents and interviewed many and various parties. In so doing, they surely developed significant expertise. If Wikipedia seeks to excel at summarizing all human knowledge, it should engage people like investigative filmmakers and journalists, who often have the strongest understanding of a given topic. As readers and as Wikipedia editors, we rely on these people to report on difficult stories that institutions often try to keep secret.  We should applaud and welcome experts of all stripes when they bring their skills and knowledge to Wikipedia, as long as they are upfront about relevant affiliations. If it keeps the focus on including experts and sorting through disagreements, Wikipedia will be a more robust and comprehensive platform. Its editors, and more importantly its readers, will benefit.


Chain Camera Pictures is a Wiki Strategies client. Our statement of ethics addresses cases like this; specifically, see item #4 under “Broad commitments & principles,” and the second paragraph of “Article composition and publishing.” It is unusual for us to blog about a client’s project, as we do here; in this case, the client made the decision (in consultation with us) to disclose our work together. In this blog post, we focus on the process Chain Camera Pictures followed in editing Wikipedia; in light of the issues addressed in our statement of ethics, we do not comment on the specific content of the Wikipedia articles in question.

“According to Wikipedia…”

19:36, Thursday, 20 2018 December UTC


Folksinger Odetta holding a guitar and singing

Folksinger Odetta performed “This Little Light…” on David Letterman’s first show after 9/11. Photographed by Jac. de Nijs / Anefo in 1961; public domain.

This week, I heard a wonderful news story about the song “This Little Light of Mine.” It was a thoughtful, in-depth exploration of a beloved piece of Americana—and exactly the kind of news story any Wikipedia contributor (myself, for instance) would be tempted to include as a citation in the relevant Wikipedia article.

Unfortunately, one small detail shakes my confidence in the reporting, and raises a general concern about the way even the most reputable news sources, like NPR’s “All Things Considered,” treat the sources they use.

About halfway through the story, the reporter delves into the origin of the song, stating:

“Wikipedia and some books credit Harry Dixon Loes.”

The problem: Wikipedia, whose production model differs significantly from traditional publishers, is not a distinct entity, and as such cannot itself issue “credit” or make claims.

Diagram showing arrows pointing in both directions between "Wikipedia" and "Press"

Graphic by Niabot/Wikimedia Foundation, licensed CC BY-SA.

While the content on Wikipedia may offer great value on the whole, the site can’t be relied on to verify any specific point. You may have heard, for instance, of the John Seigenthaler hoax, in which a Wikipedia contributor falsely linked a former U.S. attorney general to the deaths of JFK and RFK. Wikipedia contributors strive to correct false or questionable information, and in many cases do an admirable job; but as the Seigenthaler case clearly shows, the process can fail spectacularly. But as a core principle, Wikipedia’s designers have always insisted that “anyone can edit”—without first establishing credentials, or even proving their worthy intentions. Many of the contributions that come in are worthwhile. Over time, problematic additions are caught and corrected by other Wikipedia contributors; but by design, the site lacks any mechanism to fully guarantee the accuracy of any specific claim.

It is essential to regard Wikipedia as a platform, enabling individuals to make claims and back them up with authoritative citations, rather than as a publisher using robust editorial processes and offering its claims as reliable facts. Crediting an individual with adding a claim to Wikipedia is fine (though digging up the proper attribution may take some effort); using Wikipedia as a guide to find more reliable sources, and then citing those sources directly, is even better. But crediting Wikipedia itself is problematic, and is something any journalist should avoid, unless mentioning it as one link in a chain leading to a more authoritative source. At best, crediting Wikipedia imparts information with little value to the listener; at worst, it gives the listener undue confidence in a piece of original research that may or may not be true, and suggests to the listener that NPR erroneously regards Wikipedia as an authoritative source for such information.

Wikipedia’s editors offer guidance about citing Wikipedia. The first words of this essay:

“We advise special caution when using Wikipedia as a source for research projects.”

(Even this page carries a banner warning the reader not to take its contents too seriously as an expression of Wikipedia policy; but the point it makes should resonate at first glance with anyone who has carefully considered Wikipedia’s production model.)

Shining a Light on “This Little Light of Mine”

As it turns out, the question of who wrote the spiritual anthem “This Little Light of Mine” provides an excellent example to expose how Wikipedia works, and why it should not be treated as an authority on individual facts.

Cartoon depicting a Wikipedia writer and a news writer citing each other's work

“Citogenesis” by Randall Munroe/xkcd. Licensed CC BY-NC.

Harry Dixon Loes’ name was first added to the Wikipedia article about the song a decade ago. The person who made the addition used the name “SingingSongsOfSunshine”—and that’s about all that anyone could tell you about their identity. (The most trusted Wikipedia administrators could determine the user’s IP address; but that wouldn’t tell you much, and it’s considered highly privileged information, to be used only in combating extreme cases of vandalism or harassment.) This Wikipedia username was only ever used to make three edits to Wikipedia, all on the same day in 2008. All three were minor changes to articles about gospel songs; none included any suggestion about the source for the information added. The person did not voluntarily disclose anything about their identity, nor did they engage in any kind of discussion under that account.

Two years later, somebody else asked on the article’s talk page, “Where is the proof of the original author?” This person didn’t even bother to use a Wikipedia account. Nobody ever responded. In 2012, another Wikipedia contributor placed a banner at the top of the article, indicating that the article had insufficient citations. That banner remains to this day. This person, known as “VernoWhitney,” unlike the others mentioned in this piece, is a dedicated Wikipedia contributor, having made several hundred edits to the site since first registering in 2010.

In February 2018, another user added a citation to justify Mr. Loes’ authorship. The citation added is to an article on; the article was apparently written in 2017, but lists no sources. Did the ThoughtCo article used the Wikipedia article as its source? I’ve never heard of ThoughtCo before, but at first glance, I’d say it looks like a “content farm“—the kind of site a Wikipedia contributor is expected to view with great skepticism. It seems entirely plausible that the ThoughtCo author would have used Wikipedia as a source, introducing a problem referred to by xkcd author Randall Munroe as “citogenesis.” Like the earlier Wikipedia user, this individual—going by “Ddallender”—only ever made three tiny edits to Wikipedia, and never disclosed any information about themselves. As with the initial addition in 2008, neither the public nor any Wikipedia administrator has any way to know who this was.

While Wikipedia’s reliability is worthy of healthy skepticism, the site does excel in other areas, many of which set it apart from traditional publishers. Journalists, and critical readers in general, appreciate many of Wikipedia’s features. The research required for this piece, for instance, is enabled by Wikipedia’s radically transparent processes. I did not need any special access to the site, or to its authors, to identify which accounts made what changes, or when. Merely knowing which buttons to click will yield a wealth of information about any Wikipedia article.

On the whole, “All Things Considered” is the kind of journalistic source Wikipedia contributors love to use in composing Wikipedia content. But Wikipedia should be citing “All Things Considered,” not the other way around. I hope that “All Things Considered” will continue to use Wikipedia in its research; but in so doing, it must apply considerable judgment before reporting any of Wikipedia’s contents. Academic studies have found that Wikipedia’s content is often excellent; but part of that excellence derives from the transparency we offer in terms of our sources. We hope to guide our readers to authoritative sources, and enable them to make their own judgment about contentious points, like the authorship of a classic entry in the American songbook. If Wikipedia’s word is reported as final, the public may be misinformed, and “All Things Considered” may engender doubts about its reporting practices among those listeners who are familiar with Wikipedia’s methods.

For more on the connections between Wikipedia and journalism, see “The Future of Journalism in a Wikipedia World.” For a current initiative to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of news outlets, see Newspapers on Wikipedia.

The top fifteen images from Wiki Loves Monuments contain a treasure trove of the cultural heritage we all share.

1st prize. Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Iran. Photo by Alireza Akhlaghi, CC BY-SA 4.0

Alireza Akhlaghi had plenty of time inside the famed Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque to capture the photo that leads this blog post. Why? He walked in at exactly noon, just as the building was about to close down for two hours. He was able to convince the mosque’s guards to let him inside anyway, even though they told him that they’d have to lock him inside until the building re-opened. “I was all by myself and taking photos,” he wrote.

One of the fruits of his labor was this, unusual in that the mosque’s closure meant that a red spotlight—”which ruins the beautiful colors of the ceiling and the altar,” he wrote—was shut off. Akhlaghi’s effort paid off, as he won first overall in this year’s Wiki Loves Monuments.

2nd prize. Petra, Jordan. Photo by Mustafa Waad Saeed, CC BY-SA 4.0

Mustafa Waad Saeed went to ancient Petra, Jordan, to celebrate his birthday early this year. An amateur photographer, he nonetheless won second place for what one jury member called a “magical picture” which “revolves around light and spirituality” and connects the place’s humanity with “its timeless cultural heritage.”

3rd Prize. Cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral, United Kingdom. Photo by Christopher Cherrington, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Christopher Cherrington has been taking photos for over five decades, but only got into digital photography late last year. He spent 75 minutes capturing the 26 individual photos that make up this panoramic view, blending them together to account for stray tourists wandering in and out of shot.

“Capturing this image wasn’t just a ‘moment’ of opportunity,” he said. “I planned it carefully before even setting out from home, with strategies to overcome the expected challenges: tourists, dynamic range of light and wide angle of shot.” The time investment was rewarded with a third-place showing.

These are the top three of fifteen winning photos from this year’s Wiki Loves Monuments, an annual photo competition recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest photo competition. The contest, now in its seventh year, focuses on “monuments,” which the organizers broadly define as structures recognized by a local authority as being of particular value to cultural heritage.

This year’s rendition lived up to the billing: over 258,000 photos were submitted by just over 14,000 photographers. A plurality of the photos were of Russian subjects, followed by Italian, German, and Ukrainian.

The top images were winnowed down by the federated nature of the contest, as Wiki Loves Monuments is primarily organized on a national level by people just like you. Up to ten winners from each national competition, fifty in all, were advanced to an international jury, whose results are listed here.For more information on the winning photos and the 2018 competition, go to For the equipment and settings used to capture these shots, click on the images and scroll to the bottom of the page. The remaining winners follow below:

4th place: First-time Wiki Loves Monuments participant Abdul Momin told us that “I want to show the world how beautiful my country is,” and he’s certainly done just that with this photograph of Pancha Ratna Govinda Temple in Puthia, Bangladesh. Photo by Abdul Momin, CC BY-SA 4.0.

5th place: Shahriar Amin Fahim is an engineering student, which gets in the way of his photography hobby, so he asked us to tell everyone that you need to “live your life, live your dreams.” What’s special about this image is how it captured both the beautiful architecture of the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque and one of the people who keep it that way. Fahim traveled over thirty kilometers and waited about two hours for the perfect shot, which shows a khadem—someone who has dedicated their life to serve the mosque—cleaning a courtyard. “What I like about this image is its grittiness,” one judge said, showing “the reality of the life of those who care for the building on a daily basis.” A different view of the mosque came in eleventh place, and Fahim also won fifteenth place.

6th place: The five-story pagoda-style Nyatapola, a Hindu temple dedicated to Siddhi Lakshmi and part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bhaktapur city, has survived two earthquakes in the last century. That allowed Nrik Kiran to take this photo, which one judge commended for “connecting human spirituality with a building designed to elevate us.” Another wrote that it “is beautiful representation of the interaction of the tangible and intangible heritage. The photo is beautiful as a documentary as well as the architectural photograph.” Photo by Nrik Kiran, CC BY-SA 4.0.

7th place: Despite the ornate stained glass windows, this building is a former factory in the city of Łódź, Poland. One judge wrote of this photo that it “captures the interconnectedness of Europe’s industrial heritage with an AEG engine in a beautifully designed Polish building. It is the light and the subtle colours that make this photograph work.” Photo by Marian Naworski, CC BY 3.0.

8th place: This dreary, haunting, and depressing photograph comes to us from Mikhail Prokhorov, who hopes that it serves as a warning of the threats faced by much of the cultural monuments in Russia’s isolated northern regions. Taken in Kenozersky National Park, over 1,000 kilometers from home, Prokhorov writes that this photo made a “deep impression on me, such a mixed feeling—it was beautiful and tragic simultaneously. Many monuments such as this one are almost unknown.” Photo by Mikhail Prokhorov, CC BY-SA 4.0.

9th place: Mark Toso wanted to “juxtapose the timeless and eternal quality of the art carved in stone,” and waited all night to do so. He submitted this photograph of the Procession Panel in Cedar Mesa, Utah, United States, in the hope of raising awareness of its current endangered status, being outside the recently shrunk Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by Mark Toso/Ancient Skys Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0.

10th place: This may be Dragos Pirvulescu’s fourth year of participating in Wiki Loves Monuments, but he’s been taking photographs for about thirty years. The photograph here, of Romania’s Fortress of Deva, was an entirely unplanned shot—he was driving to his hometown early one morning when he spotted this viewpoint. He quickly pulled to the side of the road and came away with this, which one judge commended for “a spectacular sunset/sunrise [that] gives this image a very warm, visually appealing look, and the perspective looking down on shows just how dominating the monument is above the city.” Photo by Dragos Pirvulescu, CC BY-SA 4.0.

11th place: Another view of the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, which also featured in fifth place, this photo was praised by one judge for its “excellent composition, combined with a masterful control of lights and colors. I particularly like the artist’s decision to show the current use of the monument which adds additional educational value to the image.” Photo by Md. Nazmul Hasan Khan, CC BY-SA 4.0.

12th place: This panorama of the Abbey Church of Saint Foy shows “more than just a church,” one judge wrote. “It gives us the strong feeling of the typical atmosphere of a European village in the early hours, represented by a lone passerby.” Photographer Krzysztof Golik told us that the church is only seven kilometers from where he lives, and the foggy Sunday morning presented an ideal opportunity to go out and take photographs with a friend. Photo by Krzysztof Golik, CC BY-SA 4.0.

13th place: Maksym Prysiazhniuk planned this beautiful symmetric photo in advance of a vacation to Copenhagen, Denmark, with his wife. (They wanted to discover what he called a “fairy-tale city”—and what hygge is like!) Photo by Maksym Prysiazhniuk, CC BY-SA 4.0.

14th place: The UK’s West Pier makes for a ghostly subject when viewed in the light of a pale sunrise. One judge wrote that the pier rises up “like the skeleton of a forgotten sea creature.” Photo by Chris Terajet, CC BY-SA 4.0.

15th place: Shahriar Amin Fahim thought about capturing this timeless photo of the Hardinge Bridge in Bangladesh over the course of nearly a year—and he coupled the winter fog with the composition he dreamed about to place in the competition for a second time (#5). Photo by Shahriar Amin Fahim, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The text of this post has been contributed by Ed Erhart, Senior Editorial Associate, Communications at the Wikimedia Foundation.

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