LCA2008 talk: “Who’s behind Wikipedia?”

Today I’m at 2008 in Melbourne, where Brianna Laugher gave a talk called “Who’s behind Wikipedia?”

If I find the link to the video I’ll add it here, but in the mean time my quick notes from the talk are as follows:

Firstly, selling Wikipedia to geeks is an easy sell.

Brianna’s background: free content, rather than free software.

Talk assumes familiar with Wikipedia, and is for people who believe that the Wikimedia model can work. Not for conspiracy theorists, or people who think the model does not work.

What is Wikipedia? World’s largest grass-roots bureaucracy! 253 languages (145 have > 1000 articles), > 8 million articles total. Multilingual project.

Early timeline:

  • 2001 – Wikipedia
  • 2002 – Wikitionary
  • 2003 – Wikimedia foundation formed.

Will focus on the English Wikipedia. Different cultures will have different issues. E.g. Japanese Wikipedia has 45% of edits made by anon users, nearly twice that of English, which probably creates a very different culture in that project.

Wikipedia community : Hierarchy / diagram of User access levels, roughly from largest groups to smallest groups:

  • Readers
  • Anon editors [can’t upload files or start articles, depending on config]
  • Registered users (6 million accounts, but a very large percentage never edit) [subdivided into new and auto confirmed]
  • Roll-back [hundreds of accounts]
  • Administrators / sysops [delete pages, protect pages, block users, approx 1500 on English, admission via RFA process]
  • Bureaucrats [26 people] / arbitration committee [12 people] / checkuser [30 people] / oversight [27 people] / WMF board and staff / Jimmy Wales [founder] / developers / stewards

Wikimedia Foundation – provide essential infrastructure and organisational framework (i.e. part of function is glorified web host + enforce legal constraints to keep project running). Listed some of the WMF projects (wikibooks, etc.)

Some cornerstone guidelines:

  • Assume stupidity over malice / assume good faith.
  • NPOV
  • Copyleft
  • consensus decisions
  • no ownership
  • incremental progress


  • a very long list! (e.g. 3RR, sock puppetry, verifiability, Biography of Living people, no personal attacks, WP:NOT, protection / semi-protection, ignore all rules).


  • Another very long list! (e.g. don’t bite the newbies, WP:POINT, spoilers, spelling esp. British versus American).

Showed some tags that may be added to new articles, that new users may come across:

  • Speedy deleting
  • Proposed deletion
  • Normal / Article for delete (5 days of discussion).
  • –> How to defend “your” article: Improve it!

If concerned about undeletion of content added:

  • Try to resolve with deleting admin
  • Esp. when notability has changed, or inappropriate speed, or process not followed.
  • Two useful pages related to undeletion: [[user:GRBerry/DRVGuide]] and [[WP:ATA]]

Dispute resolution:

  • Be bold, revert, discuss
  • Talk pages
  • [[WP:RFC]] (comment)
  • [[WP:RFM]] (mediation)
  • [[WP:RFAR]] (arbitration – more formal and serious; need to provide evidence and reasons, etc.).

How to get involved:

  • [[WP:AWNB]] – Australian’s Wikipedian noticeboard
  • WikiProjects (there are projects covering most hobbies).
  • Don’t leap into controversy, but do leap in. (e.g. don’t start out with Israeli Palestinian conflict, abortion, Linux Versus Microsoft).
  • for female contributors.
  • Don’t worry about reading all the rules and documentation, just do your best. (instruction creep).

The future:

  • WYSIWYG editing, maybe!
  • Stable versions.
  • Trust highlighting.
  • Splintered community (old hands versus newcomers)
  • Knol, Citizendium (expert-model versus the Wikipedia model). Also Citizendium looks like will use CC-SA license, which is good.

Audience Questions:

  • Q: Are Wikia and Wikipedia separate? A: Yes.
  • Q: If I see errors, can I fix them? A: Yes, please be bold and correct inaccuracies, or if pressed for time, then delete the wrong information and add an explanation in the edit summary.
  • Q: Would like to be able to download Wikipedia images (and especially the image dump), last image dump was from 2004, and want a new one. A: The database dump and image backup process is something that is an item of community concern, and is being worked on.
  • Q: Putting Wikipedia into book format. A: Spoke about PediaPress.
  • Q: Notability, can this be determined by number of hits on a page? A: Yes and no (e.g. some topics can be obscure, yet notable).
  • Q: Growth of the Wikipedia? Exponential growth versus Linear, which is currently being experienced. A: A lot of growth is in the non-English-Wikipedia areas, although does not have latest data.
  • Q: Is Wikipedia too focussed on current events? A: Maybe, although there has a been a shift towards a longer-term view.