Submissions/Engage or Perish

From Wikimania 2012 • Washington, D.C., USA

This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2012.

Submission no.


Title of the submission
Wikipedia Must Actively Engage or Perish
Type of submission (workshop, tutorial, panel, presentation)
presentation and panel
Author of the submission
Andrew Lih
E-mail address
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organization, company etc.)
University of Southern California
Personal homepage or blog and
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

This presentation and panel with audience participation centers on Wikipedia's future sustainability by discussing new forms of "active engagement" across the projects to drive article quality and content growth. This active engagement framework encompasses existing and new initiatives, such as tapping the social media networks of volunteers, teaming with cultural institutions in cooperative endeavors, and (controversially) supporting original reporting and research in new frontiers of human knowledge.

This new orientation attempts to help solve multiple problems by bringing in new volunteers, bridging the gender gap, and creating original, citable content for Wikipedia articles.

BACKGROUND. For the first five years of its life, Wikipedia experienced a remarkable hyper-growth mode. Its "build it and they will come" philosophy attracted valuable contributors for the major languages (English, German, French, Spanish, and other European tongues). Volunteers self-identified for encyclopedic activities, from article writing, copy editing and image uploading to policy creation and community management, resulting in exceptional success. Editing Wikipedia from 2001-2005 was like picking low-hanging fruit -- there was an abundance of satisfying tasks and rich personal interaction that created a virtuous cycle of quality and expansion. But since 2007, metrics and research studies have shown that growth has stagnated, and new volunteers are more likely to be "greeted" by bots, reverts, technical editing syntax and a tangle of policy pages, rather than by a welcoming editing community.

Multiple research projects have shown other serious problems: the gender gap is even worse than many thought, with active contributors in English Wikipedia being 91% male. The user interface for editing articles is increasingly more complex and intractable for new volunteers.

PROPOSAL. The presentation and panel will propose a framework for "active engagement" activities, and invite audience participation for more ideas and shared experiences across Wikimedia projects, languages and communities.

Proposed panelists:

  • Sarah Stierch, Wikimedia Community Fellow, GLAM Wikipedian in Residence, moderator of gender gap mailing list (CONFIRMED)
  • Brandon Harris, senior designer and programmer, WMF (CONFIRMED)
  • Achal Prabhala, principal investigator, Oral Citations, Wikimedia Foundation advisory board member, (CONFIRMED)
  • Andrew Lih, convener and moderator (CONFIRMED)

Panelists will discuss how to:

  1. Tap the social media networks of individual Wikimedians to highlight, invite and signal participation to their connected friends and peers. Examples include using Foursquare for checkins on articles, using Twitter to highlight editing activity, Quora-like referral of topics to experts in social media circles, Facebook wall posting of achievements by users. What would Wikipedia look like if it provided hooks to connect with the external social media sphere?
  2. Engage storytellers to create original reporting and journalistic research in Wikimedia projects, by cooperating with news organizations and journalism schools. Achal Prahlaba broke ground on this concept at Wikimania 2011 with Oral Citations project, to record unwritten knowledge in audio/video form. Wikinews already has a history of success with interviews, event coverage and photojournalism. For example, David Shankbone has recorded and transcribed interviews with Nadine Stroseen (American Civil Liberties Union president, Senator Tom Tancredo (US Republican presidential candidate) and Shimon Peres (president of Israel).
    The issue of reliability and credibility can be addressed by targeting a well-specified set of verified reporting activities. This has the potential to drive a National Geographic-like set of reporting and research projects within Wikimedia that could provide a whole new set of contributors.
  3. Partner with cultural institutions, such as through the GLAM initiative (galleries libraries archives and museums) to create long-lasting relationships in knowledge and education activities. Work collaboratively with professional staff and volunteers from cultural institutions that have the common goal of sharing and spreading knowledge.
  4. Invite scholars and academics, continuing the broad work of the Wikimedia Campus Ambassadors program to work with professors and students at schools around the world to be active in the community.

The discussion will center on active engagement of individuals and institutions that will help the problems of growth and gender balance and to discover new frontiers of knowledge too often restricted by first world standards of scholarship and citation.

The panel and audience discussion will address critical questions about the framework, including

  • Successes and failures so far
  • New modes of engagement in addition to those proposed, through audience feedback
  • Strategies for implementation
  • Risks, caveats and culture clashes

WikiCulture and Community; Research, Analysis, and Education
Length of presentation/talk
60 minutes, quick presentations, panel and audience participation
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Slides or further information (optional)
Special request as to time of presentations

Related sessions

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  1. Tom Morris (talk) 16:18, 18 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  2. HstryQT (talk) 17:29, 18 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  3. Tbayer (WMF) (talk) 08:05, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  4. Iopensa (talk) 10:41, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  5. 'Zackexley (talk) 15:58, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  6. --Kippelboy (talk) 16:18, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  7. Trizek (talk)
  8. CT Cooper · talk 18:02, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  9. Pete F. (talk)
  10. Fabrice Florin (talk) 16:07, 20 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  11. SarahStierch (talk) 20:45, 21 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  12. Adam Wight 08:38, 28 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  13. Graham87 (talk) 10:02, 31 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  14. Djembayz (talk) 13:38, 19 April 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  15. Deryck Chan (talk) 14:13, 20 April 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  16. David Shankbone (talk) 17:03, 18 May 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  17. NaBUru38 (talk) 17:53, 7 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  18. Boite-en-Valise (talk) 18:30, 5 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  19. Carol Bean
  20. Your name here!