The State Library of Queensland was last night the venue of a discussion between the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Sue Gardner and ABC journalist Richard Fidler.
A full house looked on as the pair discussed the functions and goals of Wikipedia from conception to the present day in an informal but in-depth interview aptly named Deepen the Conversation.
Ms Gardner has been with the Wikimedia Foundation since 2005 in a director role after many years with Canadian broadcaster, CBC.
One of the first topics discussed was the possibility that factions within the internet industry and outside might wish to harm Wikipedia and attempt to deface or destroy its online presence.
“Wikipedia consists of some 24 million articles at present and it proliferates in many mirror sites,” said Ms Gardner. “It is backed up in many areas of the world and it cannot be destroyed.”
Discussion moved then to the difficulties of maintaining an unbiased network of contributors and editors to Wikipedia and Ms Gardner was not hesitant to acknowledge that Wikipedia encountered difficulties.
“The Wikimedia Foundation’s goal is to bring the sum total of all knowledge to the entire world in every person’s own language,” she said.
“One of the difficulties we have is attracting women editors to give a woman’s viewpoint on topics and also to contribute information on predominantly women’s subjects,” she said.
“At present our female editors represent only ten per cent of our contributors.
Ms Gardner attributed the reticence of female contributors to the recognised differences in culture between men and women pointing out that to be a contributor to Wikipedia was a voluntary effort which needed internet connectivity, some education and time at the bare minimum.
She went on to explain that men were happy to spend their leisure time in solitary pastimes including contributing on the internet whereas women tended to be more social and spend their leisure time in company.
Another difficulty experienced by Wikipedia is the continual balancing of timely, non biased information and information that is sometimes wrong.
“Journalism is not a profession it is the function of curious people asking questions,” said Ms Gardner.
In 2012, Wikipedia editors staged a 24 hour shutdown of the Wikipedia site in protest to potential government censorship of “objectionable material”.
While recognising that there were cultural debates over some of the content within the Wikimedia movement Ms Gardner said “Wikimedia does nothing to censor content that is contributed because it is not our mandate to”.
Ms Gardner pointed out that while self editing and ‘point of view’ editing within Wikipedia was frowned upon the foundation relied upon all editors and contributors to provide differing mindsets and cultural input to every topic.
The decline since 2007 of contributing editors to Wikimedia was the final topic and this was attributed to the differing personalities of editors.
“Some editors like to be at the forefront of a publication and like to be the original contributors while others are happy in a curating role,” said Ms Gardner.
She acknowledged that potential editors and contributors had in the past been put off by the need to have a small amount of programming knowledge to enable access to editing in the Wikipedia platform.
Wikipedia is about to release a new visual type of editing to make the platform accessible and attractive to more contributors.
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