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The tragedy of Wikipedia’s commons

By Gigs

This article appeared originally in the Wikipedia Signpost, June 12, 2013.

I’ve long thought that we should get rid of the Commons as we know it. Commons has evolved, through the actions of a tiny group of people, into a project with interests that compete with the needs of the various encyclopedias that are the primary users of Commons, and the reason it was created. It’s also understaffed, which results in poor curation, large administrative backlogs, and poor policy development.

First, some background information. Commons was primarily created so we could share media between various wikis, with a secondary goal of being a free media repository. When Erik Möller proposed the idea of Commons, he also proposed an inclusion criteria, “Material would be eligible for inclusion in the Commons if it is useful to at least ONE Wikimedia project [including potential future use].”

At no point during initial discussions was it proposed that the inclusion criteria basically be the mere fact that an image was free. There was an implicit assumption throughout that the files would be free, and also encyclopedic in some way.

From inception until 2008, the main inclusion criteria at commons was the media be “useful or potentially useful” to a Wikimedia project, reflecting Möller’s initial proposal comments. In 2008, a replacement policy was proposed and implemented by User:MichaelMaggs, with half a page of feedback from about six other editors. These six editors (some seemingly unwittingly) redefined the scope of Commons from a repository of files useful to Wikimedia project, to files “useful for an educational purpose”.

This unchallenged action by a tiny group of people changed the scope of the project such that any media file with a free license can be included, since it is extremely easy to argue that any media is

…continue reading The tragedy of Wikipedia’s commons

Wikipedia – Men and children first

By Nathalie Collida and friends

It’s no secret that Wikipedia has a shortage of female editors. According to a survey commissioned by the Wikimedia Foundation in 2011, a mere 8.5 per cent of the people contributing to the online encyclopaedia identify as women. In a recent op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, Sue Gardner – who became the figurehead of Wikipedia when she signed up as Executive Director with the Wikimedia Foundation 5 years ago – tried to explain this by focusing on what she perceives as the “geeky, tech-centric, intellectually confident, thick-skinned and argumentative” nature of the average Wikipedian. Outside observers, among them Web2.0 expert Joseph Reagle, add another component to the mix: good old-fashioned sexism. His latest study, “’Free as in sexist’ Free culture and the gender gap” examines how the combative locker-room culture of Wikipedia’s male contributors – a good portion of whom are teens and pre-teens – makes women less likely to participate. While Reagle’s journal article relies heavily on previously published analyses and interviews with Wikipedians, we’ve decided to take a look under the bonnet of Ms Gardner’s million-dollar on-line empire, with examples taken not just from articles but also from areas of the encyclopaedia and its sister projects often overlooked by its readers: the talk pages of articles and editors as well as various discussion boards.

Wikimedia Commons and the art of masturbating in public

Natka Brown is a Russian-born language teacher who not only contributes to Wikipedia but also uses the site and its picture library Wikimedia Commons with her 8-year-old granddaughter by her side. During an unrelated search on Commons, she came across one of the thousands of pictures of male masturbation hosted on the project. Surprised and offended, she started a conversation on the Mediawiki IRC channel and was

…continue reading Wikipedia – Men and children first