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TEDxLakeComo - Frieda Brioschi -- Wikipedia and me.

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(Applause) George Bernard Shaw once said that if one person has an apple and I have one apple if we exchange them, at the end of the exchange each of us will have one apple, but if I have got an idea and I exchange it with another person, at the end of this exchange, each of us will have two ideas. I am telling you about this quote as, in my opinion, it summarizes what Wikipedia is about. As there is a free exchange, a comparison and, all things considered, there is also openness. Wikipedia is a project born in the year 2001. Contrary to what many people believe, it is not a first work. It is not as if, one day, one person woke up and said "I'll make Wikipedia. Let's try and see the result". Actually, one year before, Nupedia had been created, an encyclopedia whose characteristics were similar to those of Wikipedia, that is, it was free of charge and freely accessible, its contents were freely reusable, but it was written by experts only,such as college professors or recognized experts in some field, or people holding at least a PhD. People, for instance, like me, could never have contributed to Nupedia. Perhaps they may have allowed us to help with maintenance operations, formatting, spell-checking, but not much else. Nupedia was somehow imitating the scientific publishing model . Therefore it adopted a very complex, 7-steps peer review method. Because of this complexity, during his first year of life Nupedia published just 25 articles, definitely not many. So the next year they considered reviewing this project and creating the so called "poor relative", an encyclopedia that would have taken the "closed" aspect of Nupedia in order to turn them into "open" ones. So they removed the "barriers to entry" for content development and removed the internal peer-review process as well. So, by having disposed of the 7 steps process, anything written in a project immediately went online. This incredible opening had a resounding success as in its first year of life, the English language edition of Wikipedia published more or less 10,000 voices which were quite many, if you consider we are talking about the year 2001, and that the number of people navigating the Internet was quite smaller than the present one. In the same year, approximately in May, more or less ten editions were created, in addition to the English language version among which was the Italian version. I have discovered Wikipedia in the month of May 2003. It happened by accident; I was reading a newsletter on rather alternative or unusual projects. One of them was OpenCola, the other was Wikipedia. But they only discussed about the English versions. I subsequently discovered that an Italian edition existed by navigating on the English edition of the site. So I gave it a look. One article aroused my curiosity, for it was written half in Italian half in English. It clearly seemed to be an half-completed, abandoned translation. While looking at this article, I noticed that there was an "edit" link on top of it. Not knowing exactly what it was meant for, as one feels compelled to do, I clicked on it. The body of the text of the article appeared, as well as a box through which I could have modified it. So I translated a phrase, just to see what could have happened. After having translated my phrase I clicked on "save" and It was immediately published. I thought for myself "Well, It probably works like forums do". When one isn't registered one can add a comment but then it will go through a moderator. So I am able to see it right now because it recognizes me, it's chaching it it's a cookie or something similar". So I waited for a short while, I refreshed and my modification was still there. It still seemed quite absurd to me. So I closed my browser, opened it again, and I went back to see. It still was there. This fact impressed me immensly as it was extraordinary, or at least different from anything I had ever experienced before. The web didn't work like that. At best, when navigating, I could have left my comments. I could have offered my toughts, but in a quite direct manner. The fact that I was allowed to modify something written by somebody else directly, while leaving it open to modifications by others, really surprised me. And so I started collaborating to this peculiar project. I discovered that, in fact, the project we were creating was also a micro-world, a cloud of contents, that we were creating for people who wanted to take advantage of it. The first times, when I started talking about Wikipedia to people, I was telling a rather simple concept. That is, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that has got only two rules. The first rule is to respect copyright, as Wikipedia is released with a copyleft licence, which makes its contents freely reusable, but that also requires some solid premises to enable the reusability of its contents. Then I also said that Wikipedia didn't have any immutable rules, except for the "neutral point of view" one. That is, the ultimate goal toward which all of the Wikipedia voices aim is being neutral. Clearly, neutrality doesn't exist, but what we are trying to do is to present multiple points of view, all the ones that have an encyclopedic relevance while obviously allowing to collect them. Clearly, completeness isn't synonymous with neutrality, but is one of the characteristics that best approximates it. But this was a rather simplistic explanation that didn't leave much room to doubts, but rather to many interpretations. So, at some point in the history of Wikipedia, it became necessary to better formalize what Wikipedia is, in order to present it better. So those which would have later been baptized as the "5 pillars" were formalized, as they are the foundations of Wikipedia. Apart from the two I already have told you about the main one stipulates that "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia" and that may seem to be a rather simple statement in itself of which probably everyone is aware, but in fact it is an accurate definition that describes the purpose of this project. It is not a wholesale collection of all the pieces of information available on the Internet.I can't add anything crossing my mind to it but I am collaborating to a project that aims at becoming the world greatest encyclopedia. So somehow this tells me that there will be some information that will be inserted and discarded in accordance with some rather simple principles that don't exist "a priori", but that were established through experience. At first many nonsensical voices were added to Wikipedia, but we were rather limited by the software we adopted at that time which didn't even allow us to delete articles. So we endured some extraordinary efforts to make these voices interesting. I remember that one of the first articles I have written, not in a really mindful way, was about the Berber language. I don't know, or rather, I didn't know anything about the Berber language, I never studied it but somebody had written Berber and two lines that didn't make sense. So I took that piece of nonsense and I turned it into a micro piece of information that was useful to the world. How did I do that? By gathering information, the way I was taught at school to conduct a research. Wikipedia is also free, but the word "free" is a rather ambiguous one, because of its many meanings, both in the English language and in the Italian one. The first freedom of Wikipedia concerns its contents. First, I can examine Wikipedia's contents without being charged money as Wikipedia is free, it doesn't use advertising and it operates entirely thanks to donations. Secondly I can write freely on Wikipedia, but I can also freely modify the content inserted by somebody else and I can freely reuse Wikipedia's contents and do whatever I please with it, as I am respecting the licencing rules. But Wikipedia is also free because Wikipedia doesn't have a boss. Wikipedia has a completely horizontal hierarchical structure. It's a work done by peers. In order to make this work by peers useful and constructive and to avoid repeating the same discussions over and over again there are some microrules that follow the evolution of Wikipedia and that are like a "code of conduit". When this code of conduit becomes too strict and too relevant to whatever may be happening at that point in time, but that can't become a larger and more applicabile information, a nice rule that reads "Ignore all the rules" is applied. For rules are necessary as long as they are useful instruments but they must not stop your work. The fundamental thing is that Wikipedia makes these rules with the one and only instrument available, that is by discussing them. A discussion that needs, at some point in time, to produce some conclusions. How do we do that? We try to avoid any kind of voting as voting, all things considered, is an instrument that doesn't enhance us much whereas discussing and exchanging points of view is an instrument that can greatly enhance us. We use consensus. We carry on discussing on up to a point. At times they go on forever -- I remember some discussions that started more or less at the time I first came to Wikipedia and that are still going on -- probably they will not be concluded shortly. But this probably is a strenght, rather than a defect of the project. When a largely shared opinion emerges, we declare the discussion closed. Voting is conducted only on technical discussion, such as keeping or dropping an article, but we always try to favour discussion, for its the only real enhancing method. Wikipedia as a whole is an enormous project with many interpretation levels. It can be considered as a generalist encyclopedia, but from its inside it can be seen, vertically, as a set of specialist encyclopedias for some areas of Wikipedia are considerably large and full of very detailed contents for they have found some enthusiasts who has written them and that painstakingly take care of all these pieces of information. Wikipedia has also been considered as a democratic experiment, or as a large social experiment. Indeed Wikipedia is all of these things, but,above all, it is and shall remain an encyclopedia. So our purpose is writing something that will last and that is useful to readers who are to able to freely consult and reuse it. At first the goal of the project was, in fact, writing an encyclopedia and we gave ourselves many numerical targets, therefore in the very first editions if you visit the Wayback Machine, you will see written on Wikipedia's homepage that "We want to reach 100,000 articles. Help us to reach this goal". After 100,000, 250,000, 500,000 articles, a forever growing number. Presently the English language edition of Wikipedia consist of a few million articles. Little by litte the Italian language edition is reaching its first million articles. But we realized that numbers are important, but then at some point in time we said "well, numbers are relevant, but only up to a point". We were also interested into turning it into something bigger. The first idea of turning it into something bigger was proposed by Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder who launched the project "Wikipedia 1.0". And he said "I wish to print Wikipedia and bring it in Africa, as if it was a student book, so that it may be used freely by everyone.". That presented us with some challenges. Wikipedia containts a vast amount of content, and filtering it by picking what is to be printed is a rather long and complex work. It's also quite expensive, so this project was eventually abandoned nonetheless one version of Wikipedia was installed on the computers brought to Africa by Negroponte. The vision of our work has further broadened. The present vision, driving all the volounteers that take care of Wikipedia and its sibling projects as Wikipedia is just one among nine projects, is that of a world in which every human being has free access to the entire knowledge of the mankind and is also able to share it and enrich it. So it's an incredibly wide-reaching goal and we are trying to achieve it by adopting some growth strategies while paying considerable attention to quality. We adopt growth strategies because a project that is too small gets lost in the total chaos of the Internet; furthermore, when a project isn't able to obtain enough visibility it has an hard time finding volounteers willing to collaborate and to further its growth, but we also adopt strategies aimed at quality. Having one million articles is useless, if these articles are absolutely incosistent and full of mistakes. So, at some point in the history of Wikipedia, next to growth, and anyhow next to quality that has always been controlled somehow, or that least is a concern that has always been present in our minds, we started paying an almost manic attention to the so called "sources". It's is quite important for a Wikipedia article to always cite the source of a piece of information. By doing so the reader becomes able to study a topic in depth and to verify,as well, the accuracy of what has been written. Presently Wikepedia is approximately the 5th most visited web site in the world. Every month we receive roughly 400 million unique visitors. and the Italian edition receives approximately 1% of the world visitors. In some instances, some articles receive a great number of visitors, usually because of facts that are quite pertaining to some event reported by the news. But the world of Wikipedia is huge. Wikipedia is just one project. There are nine additional projects covering other areas of knowledge. They all share common characteristics with Wikipedia. But there is a foundation as well, the WikiMedia Foundation, that was born two years after Wikipedia, when Wikipedia already was an huge project. The WikiMedia Foundation was born In the year 2003, for the purposes of sustaining Wikipedia and furthering its growth. Yet it doesn't directly control it, as the control of Wikipedia rests exclusively in the hands of its community, which conducts discussion and takes decisions. Then we also have a supranational community, as some aspects are shared by all the editions of Wikipedia, and at times are shared by all the editions of the projects, so we don't speak just with our local colleagues but we also try to talk with colleagues living elsewhere. Anyway, Wikipedia is a project by the people for the people. It is a mirror of our world. Our founder Jimmy Wales, during an interview some years ago, was asked: "How will the world be in 10 years? How will Wikipedia be in 10 years?" He answered "The way the world will be in 10 years". (Applause) Translation: Gianluca Finocchiaro ([email protected]) Creative Commons CC-BY-NC 2012

Video Details

Duration: 16 minutes and 52 seconds
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Genre: None
Producer: TEDxLakeComo
Views: 64
Posted by: gifino on Feb 7, 2012

One of the founders, currently president, of the Wikimedia Italy(, the Italian "branch" of the Wikimedia Foundation ( a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide free content and design of which Wikipedia ( is one of the top 10 websites in the world. She was the first Italian member of the Foundation Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2008 and is a consultant in information technology and new media, web strategy, creation and management of web-communities and social networks. In this talk Frieda speaks about her experience as Chairman of Wikimedia Italia and the Wikipedia Internet phenomenon.

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