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Wikimedia UK Members Newsletter

Message from a Trustee: Michael Maggs

Michael Maggs has been a trustee since June 2013. He is a bureaucrat and administrator on Wikimedia Commons.

Michael talks about how he became involved in Wikimedia UK...

Just as I was coming up to the deadline I’d set myself for early retirement I came across an intriguing post on the Wikimedia UK blog called "Would you like to join our Board of Trustees?". As a long-term Wikimedian with corporate governance experience as a partner in a London firm of patent attorneys, that sounded an interesting new experience and challenge, even though I had promised myself that a good chunk of my newly-free time in retirement would be spent on photography and on cycling.

I was made most welcome on my first visit to the WMUK office in London, though I rather suspect there may have been an ulterior motive as I nearly had my hand bitten off as soon as I mentioned that I would like to see the UK become involved this year in the international Wiki Love Monuments competition. Apparently all that was needed to get it going was one volunteer - and I was there at just the right time.

In May I stood for election to the board, and was happily successful, though it was a little scary doing a hustings for the first time in my life. Since then, I’ve been elected chair of the WMUK Governance Committee which is taking the lead on ensuring delivery of the various recommendations that were made in January’s external Governance Review. My work on WLM is going on in parallel, though that’s as a Wikimedia volunteer not as a WMUK trustee. All that has been keeping me pretty busy, and so far I have not managed to do any photography or cycling whatsoever.

Michael can be contacted by email to

Hello from the Office: Toni Sant

Toni Sant talks to an editor at the edit-a-thon with the Burgon Society.

Dr Toni Sant is Wikimedia UK's Education Organiser and a university lecturer

This is the first 'Hello from the Office' that's not actually coming to you directly from the WMUK office in London. Since I joined the Wikimedia UK team in March 2013 I have been at the office fairly regularly, but I do most of my work from my home in Scarborough. This works really well for my role as WMUK's Education Organiser since I also have another office at the University of Hull's Scarborough Campus, which provides me with an excellent opportunity for direct contact with the broader higher education sector, at which my job is mostly oriented.

As some newsletter readers know, I have been an active Wikimedian since well before joining the WMUK staff. Back then, I had the distinct pleasure of getting to meet in person other Wikimedians in India at the 2011 WikiConference in Mumbai, during a visit sponsored by WMUK. That experience, along with last year's Wikimania in Washington DC, propelled me to see the real need for Wikimedia's education programme, which I am now leading for the UK.

This summer will be a very busy one for me as I prepare to coordinate all the necessary work to get this year's EduWiki Conference organised in good time for the scheduled dates in November. I'm also thrilled that we'll be holding EduWiki in Cardiff this year, not only because of the growing presence that WMUK has in Wales, but also because this lines up perfectly with the charity's aims to spread across the UK and not be too London-centric or England-oriented. My work-base in North Yorkshire is also testament to this branching out to the edges of the UK.

Over the past few months since I started working for WMUK, I've had the opportunity to collaborate closely with a number of volunteers, supporting events including training opportunities, as well as starting to lead the way on some other Education-related outreach events too. Summer is a relatively quiet time for the Education sector as this is the main holiday season for most teachers/lecturers and students. However, a number of exciting things are brewing and some of these will become quite visible as we head towards EduWiki.

Naturally, there are also other opportunities in the Education bag. This summer you will very likely notice a stronger attempt to reach out to student societies, with the intention to not only support the ones that are already active but also encourage new ones to be established and flourish.

Over the coming months, my efforts will be greatly augmented by the work of Dr Martin Poulter, who many in the community will already know as a standard bearer for WMUK's Education-related activities. Martin is now the Jisc Ambassador for Wikimedia and his employment in this role into the winter months will most certainly make the Education sector efforts of WMUK more visibly proactive.

I am very much looking forward to meeting more volunteers with experience in Education, as well as others from the sector interested in getting support from WMUK to enhance their interests in Wikimedia projects across the curriculum, at all levels. General queries from Wikimedians in the North-East of England are also most welcome. Please do get in touch with me directly. My contact details can be found on my user page. Meanwhile enjoy your summer!

Have a look at our education projects to see how you can contribute.

Opinion: Where are the women in Wikipedia?

WikiWomen's lunchon group photo, Wikimania 2012 Washington DC

"Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge", so goes the Wikimedia Foundation’s vision statement, but if the present situation doesn’t change, that sum of all knowledge will mostly only consist of stuff men are interested in.

The lack of gender diversity on Wikipedia and its sister projects has been well known for a number of years. Out of the 80,000 plus active editors on Wikimedia projects, less than fifteen to as little as eight percent of them identify as female. While such a gender gap is unfortunately not unique to the Wikimedia community, the fact that its most popular project Wikipedia is the primary source of information for much of the world mean the gender gap’s effect on content is widely felt.

One of the core guiding editorial principle of Wikipedia, and for that matter Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikibooks and Wikinews are that they are written from a neutral point of view. We believe the best way to collect and develop educational content that the whole world will find useful is to give due weight to the different points of view on any subjects without personal advocacy. This cannot be achieved if the contributor base is dominated by any one demographic.

Even with the best of intention to be neutral, we as human beings all carry with us a perspective that is shaped by our experience, our upbringing, and our education. As a crowdsourced project, with editors only contributing what they are knowledgeable and interested in, the lack of women editors mean Wikipedia is missing a perspective that is shared by half the world’s population. The effect of this is manifested on Wikipedia in the selection of what topics are considered noteworthy enough for inclusion, the depth of coverage and hence length of an article, and how content is organised, categorised, framed and written.

Before going into why so few women compared to men become editors, it is important to point out of course that one can only generalise here. Every person is different, and no such list can ever be exhaustive. Having said that, a few general reasons are often cited as the cause. Multiple research have found women often have less free time than men; with many preferring not to spend what free time they do have in an environment that are on occasions overly argumentative and confrontational; and being put off by an environment and culture dominated by men that they find misogynist and in places overly sexual.

It would be naïve and incorrect to assume, as some may, that women are simply in general less interested in writing an encyclopedia, or that we are fighting a losing battle. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of being invited to attend Wiki Academy Kosovo as a speaker and mentor on editing Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. In a room of 150 Wikimedia editors, easily half are women. Such events show that while the road to eliminating the gender gap on Wikipedia can be difficult and may take time to achieve, it is certainly not an unobtainable goal.

A number of different initiatives and projects have been started over the years as part of the fight. The Wikimedia Foundation host a dedicated Gendergap mailing list where interested people can get together to “discuss solutions and explore opportunities to engage and encourage the participation of women and transwomen in all Wikimedia projects”. On the English Wikipedia, a number of WikiProjects, such as WikiProject Countering systemic bias and WikiProject Women scientists have been started to improve the quality and coverage of underrepresented topics.

Last year, WikiWomenCamp was organised in Buenos Aires where Wikimedia women came together to network and to share their experience of the challenges they have faced contributing to the free knowledge movement. With WikiWomen's Collaborative, a community project created by women exist to encourage more women to edit Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. Featuring edit-a-thons, wiki parties, interviews and regular stories, it serves as a central place to keep track of and get ideas from all the things that are taking place around the world.

Outside of just the Wikimedia movement, organisations such as the Ada Initiative support and seeks to increase women’s participation in the open knowledge movements. An example of a very successful event around Ada Lovelace Day last October took place at the Royal Society in London with remote participation from around the world, where new and experienced editors got together to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of women in science and technology.

Whether you’re male or female, you can help with countering some of the biases that exist. Contribute to articles on underrepresented topics, and encourage others to do the same. Maybe one day, we will really have a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge!

The above article was written by Katie Chan and originally published on Issue 1 of Post Magazine

Focus on individuals: John Cummings

John Cummings is the Wikimedian in Residence at the Natural History Museum and Science Museum.

John Cummings writes about the work he does as Wikimedian in Residence at the Natural History Museum and Science Museum.

The natural world is an amazing place but we are destroying it at an unprecedented rate. The 2006 WWF Living Planet Report shows that populations of terrestrial, freshwater and marine species fell by around 30 per cent between 1970 and 2003. Extinction rate is 10,000 higher than the natural extinction rate.

Wikipedia is the most widely used science education resource in the world, English language Wikipedia articles on species receive around 400 million page views per month (based on average page views of articles). I want people to have a good knowledge of the natural world so they have an informed opinion as to whether to take actions to help conserve it. I want to make Wikipedia's natural world articles as good as a David Attenborough documentary.

People who work for the Natural History Museum want to gain and share information about the natural world and Wikipedia is the most effective way to share their knowledge.

I help museum staff and volunteers to improve information on Wikipedia using their specialist knowledge and access to academic journals for references. I also encourage the museum to share its images and other content under an open license, contributing its specialist knowledge, skills and access to specialist equipment and specimens for public education.

The Natural History Museum has over 70 million specimens and aims to digitise 20 million of them in the next 5 years, creating a huge collection of high quality images making their collection more useful for research and education.

I share the Natural History Museum's aim "to advance our knowledge of the natural world, inspiring better care of our planet". In training others to improve Wikipedia articles and encouraging the museum to release content it will hopefully engender a greater knowledge of and empathy towards the natural world and inspire people to study the subject and to become involved in its conservation.

Find out more about John and what he does on this English Wikipedia page.

Member's micro-grant: Operation Barras and Operation Flavius

An RAF Chinook with underslung Land Rover, a procedure used to retrieve the Royal Irish patrol's vehicles from Magbeni during Operation Barras.

Harry Mitchell tells us about reaching featured article status on the English Wikipedia.

Writing a featured article is arguably the ultimate challenge for a Wikipedian. Articles reach featured status after an extensive review process which scrutinises the quality of the writing, neutrality, comprehensiveness, and most importantly for this essay, the sourcing. This status is denoted by a small bronze star in the top right-hand corner of the article. I have a mental list of articles I would like to get to featured status, so last September I submitted a microgrant application, in which I asked WMUK to buy some source material so I could tick some articles off my list. The application process was lightweight and simple, and within days, I had a growing pile of books next to me.

Featured articles have to be impeccably researched, so I had a lot of reading to do! I started my project with Operation Barras, a rescue mission in September 2000 which freed a group of British soldiers who had been held hostage in Sierra Leone. After a few weeks of reading and drafting, I moved my offline draft onto Wikipedia. I put it up for review – a process which took around two months and generated lots of helpful edits and comments – before the article finally got its star in December 2012. In the meantime, I began work on the second of my planned articles. British military intervention in the Sierra Leone Civil War is a much broader article which details how a small British force helped bring a civil war to an end. This was a more challenging article to write, but after another round of drafting and reviewing, it was eventually promoted in March.

Given the amount of material needed to write these articles and given that some of the sources were relatively obscure, I doubt I would have been able to write the articles without the microgrant. So if you have an article you'd like to write but the cost of sources is putting you off, I'd strongly encourage you to apply for a microgrant.

Apply for a microgrant to support your activity here today!

Review: Sphingonet Wikipedia workshop

Attendees learning to edit during the Sphingonet workshop.

Luc Henry tells us how the Sphingonet workshop came about

I recently joined a network of scientists working on sphingolipids, a small but increasingly important family of molecules that were recently found to participate in various aspects of human health and disease.

The European Commission funding agency requires that scientist funded by its Marie Curie grants carry out outreach activities to increase public awareness about scientific topics.

However, we could not come up with any obvious way to make this highly specialized research topic accessible to the general public. Also, since their role is still very obscure, there was no point in trying to draw public attention to potential applications of our research. That is what we call “basic research”.

At the same time, I was increasingly sensitive to, and annoyed by, the lack of recognition that Wikipedia has in the scientific community. Scientists often use the online encyclopedia as their first source when searching for a term unknown to them, but rarely acknowledge it.

The main limitation to the Wikimedia model is the lack of incentive for highly specialized people to contribute their valuable time to improving the quality of its content. Having a team of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers at hand, we decided to use their knowledge and use Wikipedia as an outreach platform.

I decided to organize a Wikipedia workshop for the participant of a Sphingonet ITN meeting we were planning to have at the University of Oxford. Having a limited set of computer skills myself, I had to find a team of people to give us an introduction to Wikipedia and its language.

After spending some time contacting various friends across the UK who were unfortunately not available for the workshop, I was redirected to the London-based Wikimedia UK. My request for a team of instructors for a half-day tutorial was warmly welcomed and we quickly agreed on content. Our objective perfectly overlapped with their mission.

The workshop was exactly what we expected. We found a team of extremely motivated and talented editors willing to freely share their time and knowledge to improve Wikipedia. As most of the participants were beginners, the basics of the language and inner workings were covered first, but the aim was that each participant would create or significantly improve one article. In order to be more productive, a draft article was prepared in advance so that we could focus on the technicalities during the afternoon. The five hours of the workshop were just sufficient to cover some background and technical information and learn enough to achieve the task.

The feedback from the participants was unanimously positive and the comment that was heard the most was that people found it very useful to get started, overcoming their apprehension to modify anything found in the encyclopedia. A majority of people also found it very likely that they would continue editing Wikipedia articles now that they had a basic training, something they would not have done on their own.

Quick updates

Community Chat

Wikimedia Community Logo

The Wikimedia Foundation has released its annual plan for 2013-14. In it, the Foundation highlighted what it considers as its past achievements and failures, as well as future goals and risks.

The Visual Editor has been enabled for all users on the English Wikipedia. While the classic wikitext source editor remains available by clicking "Edit source", the "Edit" button now takes users to the Visual Editor. An FAQ is available for those who want to know more.

If you just can't get enough of editing Wikipedia, you can now do it on the go from your mobile phone! The first version of mobile editing requires that you to have an account. Once you've logged in, just select the pencil icon and edit away.

All new Newsletter

Palette of watercolours and a brush

Welcome to our newly redesigned newsletter. As you will no doubt have noticed, not only was the email version you received given a face-lift, we have also added a number of new sections. A new op-ed piece have been added where members of the community (that's you!) are invited to express their opinions topics of interest. In "focus on individuals", we take the opportunity to feature someone from the community, giving exposure to the many excellent things that are done by Wikimedia editors, volunteers and members.

Please email if you have any feedback, suggestions for improvement or if you would like to contribute to future newsletters.

Merchandise review

Wikimedia UK merchandise at the 2nd Coventry meetup.

Wikimedia UK is currently conducting a review of its merchandise. As part of this we have sent out a questionnaire to some people. If you would like to fill in the survey email and we'll send you a link. It's a short survey so shouldn't take too long to complete. Alternatively, feel free to leave your opinions on the water cooler.

Moving time

Close up of some Wikimedia Foundation servers

In the last issue, we told you about the impending migration of Wikimedia UK's wiki. This has been delayed for a short period, and will now happens sometimes in the next few weeks. In the mean time, don't forget to prepare for the migration if you have an account on the wiki.