What do historians think of Wikipedia

Who feeds Wikipedia with new knowledge?

Status: 06.03.2019 00:00 | archive
by Marc Hoffmann, NDR Info

When was the main station in Kiel opened? You can google the answer. As well as information about how the Kashmir conflict actually started. Quite often we end up looking for answers on Wikipedia. The free online encyclopedia is one of the most visited pages on the Internet. But fewer and fewer people seem to have the time and inclination to volunteer to fill Wikipedia with new knowledge. The number of authors has been falling for years. Is that a problem for the quality? NDR Info met Wikipedia makers in Hamburg.

According to his own statements, Uwe Rohwedder wrote around 200 to 300 Wikipedia articles.

Uwe Rohwedder has been with us for almost 15 years and is one of the old hands in the German Wikipedia community. The doctor of history writes, among other things, on industrial history. Several Wikipedia entries on Hamburg's city history are also from him. According to his own statements, he wrote about 200 to 300 articles from scratch: "That sounds like a lot at first, but measured against two million, it's not that great."

The Wikipedia article inventory has grown steadily over the past few years. With over 2.2 million entries, the German-language Wikipedia is one of the largest in the world - it is more extensive than the French or Spanish edition.

Volunteers wanted for "caretaker jobs"

It is less and less about creating completely new keywords, says Wikipedian Uwe Rohwedder. Instead, the online encyclopedia needs people for so-called janitorial activities, says the 47-year-old. Volunteers who are willing to maintain and update the existing inventory in their free time: "For most Wikipedians it is of course much more exciting to write new articles on ever more remote topics than to read through existing articles, correct them for errors and It's less sexy. There's definitely a problem. But the problem isn't new. "

"We are happy about everyone who has a good idea"

In the past ten years, the number of honorary lexicon writers has halved, to an average of almost 6,000 more or less active authors. However, one can only guess how much the dwindling author is now having an impact on the quality of Wikipedia. 14,300 articles are currently marked as "incomplete" on Wikipedia, more than 10,000 are officially in need of revision. The number of unreported cases is likely to be higher.

In the long run, quality defects could scratch the credibility of the online encyclopedia, which has after all successfully displaced the legendary Brockhaus on the Internet. What to do? Lukas Mezger is chairman of Wikimedia Germany, the support association behind the online reference work: "At Wikimedia Germany we are still fine-tuning the recipe for finding, motivating and training the best Wikipedians. The solution has not yet been found. We are pleased us about anyone who has a good idea. "

Criticism also of the "antiquated" user interface

It does not seem impossible that in the future people who work for Wikipedia will also be paid.

But smarter software alone cannot replace real lexicon authors, says 32-year-old Mezger, who works as a lawyer in Hamburg. With special mentoring programs, for example, they try to make it easier for interested parties to get started. One allegation is often that the user interface is too complex and not up to date. The rough tone in the male-dominated Wikipedia community has also been criticized again and again.

"If we don't have enough freelance authors, then there won't be any Wikipedia any more," says Wikimedia chairman Mezger. This sentence sounds more like a threat than analysis. He doesn't want to shake the main idea: Wikipedia should remain a community-driven voluntary project.

In the future, paid jobs at Wikipedia?

This is exactly what makes Wikipedia so charming, says Uwe Rohwedder, the historian from Hamburg. But voluntariness also has its limits: "Then maybe in certain areas you have to think about it, where no volunteer wants to take care of it, whether you also hire people for money. They can also be paid scientists."

To many in the Wikipedia community, this may sound like breaking a taboo. It wouldn't fail because of the money. Tech giants from Silicon Valley have made generous donations, among others. Because Google, Amazon and Co. are also dependent on a well-stocked Wikipedia with their offers, for example for their new, intelligent loudspeaker systems, which are also supposed to answer questions of knowledge.

AUDIO: NDR Info Zeitzeichen: The founding of Wikipedia (14 min)

"What comes after doesn't have to be worse"

Uwe Rohwedder seems to have found a healthy distance to the encyclopedia project after many years as an active and enthusiastic Wikipedian, with all the debates: "There was a time without Wikipedia and there will be a time without Wikipedia again . Or Wikipedia will at least change a lot compared to how we know it now. That doesn't necessarily have to be worse for what comes next. "

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NDR Info | Current | 03/06/2019 | 06:50 am