Sofie, for how long you are Wikipedian and how all started?
I made some edits already like fifteen years ago, but without having a user account. It was mainly language correction and smaller article expansions. When I wrote my first article around 2007 it was deleted and when I tried to get an answer to why, I was met with silence. And when I waded through discussion pages in my search for answers I got the clear impression that new article creators wasn’t wanted and that the „real“ Wikipedia-work should only be done by those already included „in the club“ – so I quit editing. Some years later I had a seminar cancelled and since I was already in the city center and didn’t want to turn around and go home immediately I popped in to a Wikipedia editathon for women, to try and get some answers. Lennart Guldbrandsson was the one talking about Wikipedia, and he talked about what had been done lately in regarding Wikipedians to be better at welcoming people and he spoke with such enthusiasm that I thought I could give Wikipedia another try. And now I’ve been an active contributer since 2013.
How Wikipedia changed your life? It has given me a very rewarding hobby, with friends all around the world. (But I tend to spend too much time doing volunteer work, time that I should really spend looking for paid jobs …) Oh, and Wikipedia has actually changed my view on separatism, something I was totally against before engaging in the Wikipedia (an Wikimedia) movement, but now see as a necessary short-term tool. I think the need for separatism to be a symptom of a problem that we as a movement have.
You do many offline things to attract new wikipedians as well as many other events – please, tell us more?
Yes, I’m a co-founder (together with Lennart Guldbrandsson) of the weekly editathons we have in Gothenburg. We came up with the idea in the beginning of January 2014 and spent two months making plans and had our first editathon on 11 March 2014 and since then we’ve had editathons every Tuesday afternoon (with a small exceptions of some red days). Per A.J. Andersson attended the first, and has been a major contributor of helping to organise the events (and he probably holds the world record in number of attended editathons). By the way, we do not call our Tuesday afternoon meetings for editathons, we call them „skrivstugor“ (write-ins), something we believe to be more inviting for newcomers. We’ve had close to 300 editathons/write-ins and more than 100 people have been engaged and we’ve created or expanded about 500 articles about our main theme Women & Literature (and some out of scope). I have also been organising WikiCamps for people identifying as women for four years, a series with combined lectures and write-ins at a library, some events around the International Women’s Day, helping out at WikiGap events and some more. Since 2017 I’m a board member of Wikimedia Sverige.
As volunteer what inspires you to do all this Wiki work? That I always find something new that’s missing, there’s always a need for something more to be done… And there is also always something new to learn. Curiosity is a key to Wikipedia, I think. I also think free knowledge is important and that we have a need to share all human knowledge, not just knowledge from within one pretty homogeneous group of people – to me it is a matter of democracy.
Your favorite topics to write articles? I love to write about authors and about literature. I also like to take portrait photos of authors to illustrate the articles with.
What do you say to all people, who still don’t edit?
Come on, it’s not that hard! And you may find some new friends along the way. 🙂
How Filip and Wikipedia started to work together? Tell us your story 🙂
As with most people, I too was brought to Wikipedia through Google. I frequented the English Wikipedia main page as early as 2004, but I was not fully aware that there’s a community of people editing Wikipedia behind the scenes. Those days I was soaking up knowledge from digital encyclopedias such as Microsoft Encarta and Encyclopædia Britannica, but their content was limited in scope and especially depth. Wikipedia was beating them in terms of size and it was beating them fast. I remember losing many hours falling down the Wikipedia „rabbit hole“. At one
point, a sitenotice prompted me to think about who’s creating the content and soon I found out that there’s a vibrant community and that I can be a part of it. So, in September 2004, I tried to do some editing and I added some Latin phrases to the List of Latin proverbs and my
edits were immediately visible and they actually stuck. In the following months I did some smaller edits, but then I stopped. That is, until spring break 2005, when I started editing again out of boredom. I had just visited a car show in Belgrade and wanted to write about something
I saw there, and having noticed that there was no article about Toyota Aygo, I decided to create it. Soon I started adding photos I took on my previous travels in Europe to Wikipedia and I guess one Serbian Wikipedian noticed my edits on English Wikipedia and approached me, saying that I should „come over“ to Serbian Wikipedia, because it desperately needed editors. At first I was skeptical about it, but it quickly turned out Serbian Wikipedia was much easier to edit and improve, since it only had around 11 thousand articles back then. In a matter of days I started writing new articles, fixing existing ones and generally getting more immersed in the whole thing. Very soon I took
part in my first offline meeting of Wikipedians and I’m sure it helped that Jimmy Wales was visiting Belgrade in a week. Meeting him and many other local Wikipedians was, I believe, crucial in cementing me as a firm Wikimedia community member. Soon I became an administrator and then
bureaucrat on Serbian Wikipedia, and in December 2005 I was one of the founding members of Wikimedia Serbia, so I suppose the rest is history.
Which projects of Wikimedia Serbia you are most proud of?
Wikimedia Serbia has had a lot of projects in almost 14 years of its existence. One of its oldest programs and now one of its most developed is probably the Education program and it has a special place in my heart because I’ve been a part of it basically since its beginnings in 2005.
The first lecture/presentation I held about Wikipedia was in a private University in my hometown of Pančevo back in December 2005, when I was still a high school student. Even though the first fruits of our Education program labor were produced more than a year later, I believe these first steps were instrumental for us to determine that we really want to cooperate with educational institutions and all we needed was some time. Nowadays, the Education program works in basically all levels
of education and we have partnered with dozens of institutions throughout the years, creating millions and millions of bytes of content. At first, and in fact throughout most of Wikimedia Serbia
history, this program has been volunteer led and we’ve had tremendous success without any sort of financial help. However, we’ve spurred our progress with the introduction of the Education Program Manager position back in early 2015.
What is the best part for you prom being active in the Wikimedia movement?
I like getting to meet a lot of interesting people around the world. Having shown interest in international affairs, I’ve been (Wikimedia) Serbia’s go to guy when it comes to that and ever since my first Wikimania back in 2006 I’ve met hundreds of great people, some of which I truly consider friends. I appreciate the collaborations that these meetings bring about: the exchange of ideas and experiences, casual banter with like-minded people and long lasting relationships are just
some of the examples of this.
On the other hand, being the president of Wikimedia Serbia has also had some side effects: I’ve met the Mayor of Belgrade, appeared in many radio and TV shows and officiated many events, which are all nice things. Of course, there have been some bad things as well, like death threats, lawsuit threats and some stressful HR issues, but I suppose life can’t always be perfect. All in all, I think Wikipedia and Wikimedia for me have been net-positive experiences.
How do you encourage new people to join and become volunteers?
To be honest, I think I used to be a much better evangelist of our movement before compared to nowadays. But generally, I like to point out the positive sides: volunteerism, altruism, sense of community and belonging, widening of horizons and general knowledge, doing something useful with one’s time etc. Some people are more interested in offline (Wikimedia) rather than online (Wikipedia) work, so then I can show them what we’re doing in Wikimedia Serbia, hoping they might want to take part in some of the activities. Of course, most people don’t become volunteers, but most people do appreciate my work and the work of all the volunteers out there, lauding us for tireless efforts to make knowledge available to everyone.
Tell us a bit more about the CEE meetings and the one in October you organize.
CEE meetings are events that have taken place in the region of Central and Eastern Europe for years now and have been steadily growing in the number of participants, but also the number of external people interested in it. The first thought about creating such a conference happened in an informal meeting of Wikimedians from the CEE region during one lunch at Wikimania 2011 in Israel. There was a clear wish to organize ourselves as a region that has had a common or similar past
(communism in the latter half of 20th century, to be precise), since many things work in similar ways. The first actual CEE Meeting was held in Belgrade in October 2012 and I’m proud to have been one of the organizers of that conference. Of course, that was a smaller conference – about 40 people visited the conference throughout its two days of program – but the attendance and interest have grown quite well in recent years. This October, the conference is getting back to Belgrade for the first time since 2012 and this will be the 8th CEE meeting, with about 100 participants expected. This time around, we have 3 staff members of Wikimedia Serbia as well as some of us from the board and about a dozen other volunteers helping out with organizing this large event. I’m confident everything will go as planned, but the main worry our region has now is whether having CEE meetings still brings value and if so, where will Wikimedia CEE Meeting happen in 2020.
Your greeting to all wikipedians reading this interview? 🙂
Thanks for reading this far! 🙂 And thanks for contributing to this wonderful movement, because without people like you and me, this ecosystem of knowledge wouldn’t exist.
How started this big love between Rosie and Wikipedia?
In June 2007, I was visiting my son Sean in San Francisco. While there, I was on my computer, and I googled a book publisher whose books I collect (I’m a bibliophile): Book League of America. But I couldn’t find a Wikipedia article about it. I thought I made a spelling mistake or maybe my capitalization of the name had errors, because, I thought, „Wikipedia has an article about everything!“. After a few minutes, I realized there was no problem with my spelling or capitalization of the name… there just wasn’t an article about it. At that point, I remembered that Sean had edited Wikipedia when he was in the Peace Corps, living in Ukraine, and it made me think, „Well, if Sean can figure out how to edit Wikipedia, I bet I can, too.“ So I created the article for Book League of America (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_League_of_America) and was immediately ‘hooked’. In the next 3 months, I created several additional articles being careful to structure them and my references by looking at other similar articles… that’s how I learned. In September 2017, I created the article on Kallawaya people (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kallawaya) and a few days later, I received a note on my talkpage informing me that it had appeared on the mainpage of Wikipedia in the „Did You Know“ section. I was astonished that anything I had written was even read by people, let alone that it was good enough, important enough, to appear on the mainpage of Wikipedia. This realization -that people from around the world would be reading what I write- gave me a sense of responsibility and started my „big love“.
Please, tell us more about Women in Red – your great project.
Between 2007 and 2014, I created thousands of articles about all sorts of topics. I wrote a considered amount of anthroponymy articles (the study of names); then articles about geographic places of Nunavut, Canada; and then towns in Asturias, Spain. In 2012-14, to celebrate Women’s History Month during the month of March, many editors, including me, stopped writing articles about other topics and only focused on women’s biographies. We could tell that there were fewer biographies about women than men when we looked at category pages, but there were no statistics at the time regarding percentages. In December 2014, I saw for the first time an academic article regarding women’s biographies on Wikipedia, and it said that approximately 15% of the biographies were about women. In February 2015, Roger Bamkin (user:Victuallers) left a message on my talkpage saying he wanted to write up a session proposal for Wikimania 2015 regarding the small percentage of women’s biographies, and he invited me to do this with him, which I gladly did. After our submission (https://wikimania2015.wikimedia.org/wiki/Submissions/How_to_improve_the_coverage_of_women_in_Wikipedia) was accepted, we had a few months to prepare. While creating the slidedeck (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2015_Wikimania_-_Content_Gender_Gap_-_how_to_improve_the_coverage_of_women_on_Wikipedia.pdf), I suggested that we not only talk about the issue (we referred to it as „content gender gap“), but that we also propose a way to deal with it by starting a new „WikiProject“ dedicated to creating women’s biographies every day, not just during the month of March. We thought people would be interested in helping with this work for a few days, maybe a week, and then they’d lose interest, but we were wrong (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Women_in_Red/Metrics). Since establishing Women in Red in July 2015, we are now a community of 24 different languages (not in Bulgarian Wikipedia yet… but maybe soon?). We have thousands of comments on our talkpage, which is a harassment-free zone. We have more than 400 lists of missing notable women (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Women_in_Red/Redlist_index); we call them „redlists“, e.g. lists of redlinks. We facilitate approximately five month-long online editathons per month (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Women_in_Red). We’ve uploaded thousands of photos of notable women to WikiCommons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Media_supported_by_WikiProject_Women_in_Red). We’ve made more than 20,000 tweets regarding the articles our members have created, and have more than 7,000 followers (https://twitter.com/WikiWomenInRed). We also have a presence on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
How people, reading this interview, can participate and be part of Women in Red?
What is the most inspiring thing for you related with Wikimedia?
Wikipedia is transforming. Not only can you affect other people’s lives with what you write, but your life can be changed, too. When I was a young woman, I wanted to be a cultural anthropologist, but my father, who was paying for my university education, said ‘no’ to my majoring in anthropology. He said it wasn’t ‘practical’. So I earned degrees in business, and have had a lovely career in business, but the cultural anthropologist side of me just had to sit and be dormant… that is, until I found I could edit Wikipedia, and write articles about topics which inspire me. In September 2013, an article I created on Goaribari Island (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goaribari_Island) appeared in the „Did You Know“ section of Wikipedia’s mainpage. It was significant to me as I was the third person (and first woman) to have 1,000 contributions appear at „Did You Know“. This is what I said about it:
Some of you know that I am a cultural anthropologist at heart. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Margaret Mead and study cultural anthropology at Barnard (my mom’s alma mater), like Margaret did. I wanted to travel to Papua New Guinea and do research on its people, like Margaret did. But my dad said ‘no’ to majoring in anthropology – he wanted something more practical for my university studies. So now, years later, I get to live the life of an armchair cultural anthropologist, writing articles about Goaribari Island and its cannibals. To all the girls out there with impractical dreams, this article is dedicated to you.
I was knighted by Serbia in 2018 partly because of my involvement with Wikipedia (e.g. Wikipedian of the Year 2016). So you see, Wikipedia does transform lives.
How Wikipedia makes our societies better and stronger?
The world has always been complicated, but we are more aware of this now because the internet connects us. Wikipedia gives us access to verifiable knowledge, not just in one language, but in more than 300 languages. Society thrives on knowledge. It is the building block to incremental improvements in people’s lives. This makes the Wikimedia movement in general (including Wikidata, WikiCommons, and so forth), and Wikipedia in particular, a fundamental part of a better society. Its strength lies in the fact that „anyone can edit Wikipedia“. While some might see that as an oxymoron, it is, indeed, quite the opposite. So what are you waiting for? Become a Wikipedian today and you will be contributing to a better, stronger society.
How you did discover Wikipedia and became wikipedian?
I have discovered Wikipedia as most of humans: By Googling subjects that I did not know much about and started to get the same page “Wikipedia” in most of my results. This was the situation for many years, where I was approaching Wikipedia as any classical encyclopedia: You read the information and go back to your life. In fact, I have always been interested in encyclopedias and used to read many of them when I was young (back to when we did not have internet and TV was not broadcasting at night). But all these books or CDs presented the characteristic that they were not editable and were written by experts and professors: They are here to be read and used in our research and studies. This was the main reason why I approached Wikipedia the same way, until the day I found a mistake in article and found out that I could actually edit and correct. I did it, it worked, and I was hooked!
In 2013, I created my account and became more and more active as I discovered the importance of writing about subjects from my region, that other people want to know about but cannot find information on the Internet. Working alone (and online) is a part of the Wikimedian life, so I sought to meet other people participating in this effort, and went to my first conference, which was WikiArabia 2015 in Monastir, Tunisia. By attending, I learned about the existence of WMF, the different projects and communities. In October 2015, motivated by what we learned, we founded Wikimedia Morocco User group (that will organize WikiArabia 2019 in Marrakesh). Since then I am balancing between online and offline work. It is a difficult and challenging exercise, but I believe in the importance of both in our work for a world where knowledge is free.
In which languages do you contribute most and on which topics / areas, if such?
I contribute mostly in the Arabic language because of the lack of information available in this language, even if it is one of the biggest in the world. There is in fact a challenging situation in our countries related to the fact that many contributors write in foreign languages such as French or English as most of the sources and references are available in them. I believe that as Africans, our duty is to empower our languages and to give it the importance it deserves. If you are not going to write in your language and your local context, nobody will write about it, especially if your region is not in a power position on the global level.
I write occasionally in foreign languages such as English, French, Spanish and Swedish when I feel that it can be relevant, especially on our local content or people. I do not have a specific area of contribution as I can prioritize my work depending on the situation, but I do always try to identify areas lacking articles and enrich them as much as I can. Examples of areas I worked on are traditional Moroccan singers or historical events that might not been present on Internet.
Tell us more about Wikipedian projects / communities in the Arab world and how Wikipedia is accepted and developed in your region?
The Arabic speaking world is not a homogenous entity as it counts 22 countries spread from Mauritania to Iraq and Comoros. This heterogeneity means that different regions have reached different levels of maturity. While some areas have User Groups (6 currently: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Levant, Morocco, Tunisia) and have a number of regular activities, we will barely find active members in other countries. In general, Arabic Wikipedia is rich and has a big depth in comparison with the number of articles, but the fact that it is a language spoken brings several challenges, especially when opinions are different about a given subject.
However, it is also a big advantage to speak the same language. Whenever a successful project happens in one of these countries, all the others can quickly learn from it. An example is the Wiki MOOC project from our colleagues in Algeria that was followed by more than 10.000 people in the world. Community members are in general helpful and guide each other towards answers or solutions (the Wiki Spirit), so being a member of a big community is very enriching. My hope is that this community grows even bigger especially in countries where there are few contributors due to several reasons.
You are volunteer and how do you attract / invite more people to follow you?
This is a challenging question!
To be honest with you, one of the difficulties we have in our region is to attract volunteers for obvious reasons. Volunteering is not a priority when people have other important issues going on in their lives and need to secure some necessities. Sometimes, being a volunteer is seen as a luxury: Luxury of having time, of having mood, and of having knowledge, because it is not obvious for all!
In our volunteering work, advocacy is a central part first to raise awareness about Wikimedia, and second to enlarge the community with new members. Despite the challenges that I mentioned earlier, there are different strategies to attract new volunteers. One of them is to target subjects that they love: Encouraging people to write about their neighborhood, city, region, language, preferred football club or singer are all very good hooks to tempt young and less young people to participate in the Wikimedia projects. In short, try to find out what a person loves and tell them that they can write about it with one condition: That the information is correct and has sources!
Your favourite Wiki project?
I do not really rank Wikimedia projects because each of them has a specific role and way of use, and they do all complete each other. However, I must admit that I am more active in some more than others. I find it for example simple to upload important pictures on commons, during different travels or visits, especially when articles do already exist. The same applies to Wikidata, where I can very quickly add information or translate different titles. Both as fast and efficient!
I am most active in Wikipedia, as I feel that it is at the heart of the movement, and that the other projects roam around it, but it takes sometimes a considerable amount of time to write a well-sourced article. The reward comes later when you see the number of people reading these articles, and that you feel that you have contributed with your small drop in the infinite ocean of knowledge!
That’s a really nice story, actually. 🙂 It was 2011 and Wikimania was hosted that year in Haifa, Israel. I was already part of the Open Knowledge Movement, heavily involved in Project Ben-Yehuda, a digital library of Hebrew writings (very similar to Project Gutenberg, only in Hebrew). A good friend of mine, who was already a Wikimedian (without me knowing about it!), said to me: „Listen, there’s this conference happening. I think you should come.“ Being very busy back then as well, I said, „I don’t know… I’m really busy… I’m not sure I can find the time“. But I then decided to make the time and go. On the week of the conference, I suddenly got a strong gut feeling, and said to my best friend: „I have a feeling about this conference, that it’s gonna be life-changing; it’ll be life before that conference and life after it“. And this is exactly what happened – I came, and on the first day attended a few sessions on GLAMWiki and Wiki in Education, and that was it. I was completely hooked. That day I joined Wikimedia Israel, had my first private lesson editing Wikipedia, and a week later I attended our first GLAM meeting with the Israel Museum. This led to leading the GLAM collaboration with them, then becoming the National GLAM Projects Coordinator for Wikimedia Israel, running lots of Educational Wiki outreach, lecturing about Wikipedia and running workshops for beginners, and also joining the board of Wikimedia Israel, all within a few months. I immediately got involved in the international aspects of our movement, and here we are, 8 happy years later, Wikimedia completely transformed my life and I never looked back.