Archive for the ‘Wiktionary’ Category

Wikimedia: accessible (new) media for (almost) all

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Two weeks ago at the Aalto University, we were having a symposium focusing on accessibility of media. In there I gave a talk about Wikipedia / Wikimedia.

If we think the Wikimedia services from the accessibility point of view, there are some issues that make it pretty unique. Often one must go all the way to the Mission and Vision of the Wikimedia to understand them.

Accessibility can be seen narrowly as technical quality of a product. A television program that provides sub-titles and a signer of a sign language is more accessible than a TV program that does not have these add-ons. Similar way a web page where one can resize the font of read the text with a screen reader is more accessible than a web page that has, for instance, text in images. Doing technically accessible media products is not trivial. It is hard. Still, it is a topic you may study and pay attention to. If you do, you probably will get it right.

Accessibility can be approached also broadly, by not focusing only to the media or application as such, but to the service and infrastructure underlying it. For instance, if people do not have access to Internet at all, it doesn’t really matter if the web pages are accessible or not. If compared to architecture one may have technically accessible public library building, with wheelchair ramps etc. but if citizens moving with wheelchairs can never reach the library, the public service itself is not accessible.

In the Wikimedia / Wikipedia there is an attempt to be technically, but also broadly accessible. Wikimedia / Wikipedia naturally may not provide Internet connection for all, even if they would like to, but they may do design decisions that will increase broad accessibility. For instance, strict commitment to free content, free standards and free software is this kind of decision. With out the commitment, the long-term accessibility aims, stated in the last words of the Wikimedia’s Mission statement, could never happen:

“The Foundation will make and keep useful information from its projects available on the Internet free of charge, in perpetuity.”

To be free of charge and in perpetuity the content, standards and software must be free.

How this then effects on the Wikipedia today?

Various ways. I have examples of all the three.

Urho Kekkonen 1986 Wikimedia: accessible (new) media for (almost) all Free content: Wikipedia does not have high-quality or “official” photos of all the heads of states of all the countries, because all the governments do not provide photos under free content license. For instance, in the Wikipedia, the photo of the long time president of Finland, President Kekkonen, is a stamp from the year 1986.

This is sad and people working in different State Archives could take a note and consider providing photos under free content license.

The positive effects of the commitment to free content, however, are significant. For instance, there is a device using Wikipedia content and you may order custom books out of Wikipedia content.

One of my favorite projects “taking advatage” of the free content is the Webcionary, a multi-lingual web dictionary with easy to use web and mobile interface. A bit surprisingly all the content comes from the Wiktionary -project, the Wikimedia’s free dictionary project. All these examples are also greatly improving accessibility, as people are free to design new ways to distribute and access the Wikimedia content.

Free standards: In Wikipedia audio and video content is still limited as the free formats are not mature enough to be de facto formats. This is a bit of a chicken or an egg dilemma. Developing free formats is slow because there aren’t many users for them. If there would be easy to use free formats, more users would take them in use.

In the development of free formats and web standards Wikmedia / Wikipedia actually plays an important role. With its volume, it partly pushes other players to the right direction. Because of this I would like to see the Wikimedia / Wikipedia to work more with the World Wide Web Consortium, practically defining web standards.

Free software: Many people do not know that Wikimedia / Wikipedia is one of the largest users and developers of free software in the world. All the Wikimedia web services run on the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. Also the wiki-platform in use and developed by the community, the MediaWiki, is a free software.

Wikimedia / Wikipedia’s decision to be multilingual is another attempt to increase accessibility. Most people in the world do not speak English. Also most people in the world are more or less multilingual. They are fluent in their native language but can more or less operate with one, two or three other languages. When using the content of the Wikimedia / Wikipedia they simultaneously use several language versions, to get a rich picture of the topic.

Finally there is one more news from the Wikimedia / Wikipedia, related to accessibility. The mobile phone operator Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation will provide for more than 70 million people in African and the Middle East, free of charge mobile access to Wikipedia. The Orange-Wikimedia deal is non-exclusive and other operators are invited to join it.

In those parts of the world where the only affordable access to Internet for majority of people is (and will be) with mobile phone this is great news. It also demonstrates that we can provide accessible services and infrastructure if we really want to.

Wikimedia – the public media of the Internet-era?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I just met with the BBC journalist, Tim Sebastian. He was visiting us to see the results from our study project exploring new media concepts for World Health Organization (thank you M4ID’s Mari for organizing this). The main issue discussed related to humanitarian emergency communication.

How we could communicate fast and efficiently with the people who are affected or even injured with disasters? How we could help people to help each other? According to Tim Sebastian, often the last people to know what has happen are those people who are in the middle of humanitarian crises. Our students have designed a simple mobile solution to help this.

Tim Sebastian was seriously worried about the growing censorship and violation of free speech. I was quite surprised about this. My own – maybe naïve – view have been that with the Internet and the Web the situation is definitely better, than when the media landscape was managed mainly by public broadcasting companies. Those days, in tens of countries, the government was strictly controlling all the information channels, except private conversations. In some countries they use to have some pretty sophisticated systems to follow even private chats.

In a couple of years Wikipedia has become the largest and most popular reference media on the Internet. Besides an encyclopedic reference work, Wikipedia has become a popular news resource where articles about recent events are quickly and frequently updated. It is already fair to say that Wikipedia is no more *just* an online encyclopedic. All the processes and things around it are making it its own media or media network.

Wikipedia is a community and volunteer-driven project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. The Foundation is funded primarily through donations by tens of thousands of individuals and several grants and gifts. Probably most of the donations come from the readers of the Wikipedia. Still, also the same volunteers who are donating their time to write articles are also donating money in it. Wikipedia is not only encyclopedic or media – it is a social movement.

In addition to Wikipedia, the Wikimedia-community has started several sister projects that are aiming to fulfill its’ mission “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content“. These are, for instance: Wiktionary -project creating a multilingual free content dictionary in every language; Wikimedia Commons –project building repository for free photographs, diagrams, maps, videos, animations, music, sounds, spoken texts, and other free media; and Wikiquote –project creating a repository of quotations taken from famous people, books, speeches, films or any intellectually interesting materials. All the projects are collaboratively developed by volunteers.

Wikimedia –project have many characteristics of a public broadcasters, though formulated from the beginning to utilize the possibilities the Internet provides for media. Just like in public broadcasting Wikimedia’s aim is to be free from vested interest and governments. There is a serious concern for community and minorities. Special interest is made on cultural heritage, and all in all the investments are made to activities with are expected to have high social benefits.

Wikimedia is a people to people media. Anyone reading or watching Wikimedia may freely edit, copy and redistribute it.

Wikimedia is still young. However, by running one of the world most popular websites, it already has a huge impact to modern life. Same time Wikimedia is facing some external and internal challenges. The traditional media industry may see Wikimedia as a “market disruptor” or “competitor”. In many ways Wikimedia –projects are disruptive innovations using disruptive technology. They are changing the game. Also the need and growth of more permanent staff in the Foundation (today around 30) causes tension between the “paid staff” and volunteer community. Will the Wikimedia movement survive this?

I hope that in a couple of years we will see an establishment of the Wikimedia movement, community and the Foundation. Establishment is good – when it is done without giving-up the original vision, mission and values. To progress the establishment the Foundation has started a project to formulate a strategy for the organization.

Being Wikimedia the strategic planning process naturally takes place on a wiki. The process in an open community process designed to serve the movement. The wiki is there for you to explore and edit.

The values of the Wikimedia Foundation are “Freedom, Accessibility and quality, Independence, Commitment to openness and diversity, Transparency, and that Our community is our biggest asset.

If these values will stand the Wikimedia movement will be fine.