Category Archives: Wikipedia

Recent Editorial Highlights Potential Future Problems for Wikipedia

ba2abdcdcA recent article in the New York Times discusses the challenges faced by Wikipedia in a time when smartphones are becoming the dominant means through which individuals utilize the web. The author notes that this is a problem for the contributors to Wikipedia as increased mobile access to the internet slows down contributor research time that is done through a computer. As such, Wikipedia has experienced seven straight years of decline in editor participation.

As the author notes, “The nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees Wikipedia’s operations but is not directly involved in content, is investigating solutions. Some ideas include touch-screen tools that would let Wikipedia editors sift through information and share content from their phones.”

However, this is not the only problem plaguing Wikipedia, as recent shifts in the Board of Trustees have provided internal struggles for the site. Despite the site’s budget of “roughly $60 million…the foundation’s new executive director, Lila Tretikov, has been hiring developers from the world of open-source technology, and their lack of experience with Wikipedia content has concerned some veterans.”

While it is unlikely that Wikipedia will cease to exist, the company must figure out how to combat changing technology and mobility of the internet and internal struggles if it wishes to continue to bring its’ democratic sensibilities to all individuals.


Feminist encounters on Wikipedia


For anyone interested in Wikipedia’s gender gap and living or visiting in and around New York City, a panel that is open to the public this Wednesday, April 1, offers a discussion about the continued gap, feminism and intersectionality in digital labor.

FemTechNet and the The New School’s School of Media Studies, who are organizing the event, are also offering this discussion as a livestream.

Please see more details below.

Feminist Encounters with Wikipedia Panel Discussion

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 at 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang College
65 West 11th Street (Room B500), 5th Floor
New York, NY 10003


This panel will address systemic gaps in participation in editing Wikipedia, where the editor base is currently 87% male. Unsurprisingly, consistent underrepresentation is also reflected in content and coverage throughout the digital cultural archive. Recent feminist initiatives have garnered much coverage and attention in countering these proven biases. Results of these efforts have built significant entry points for engaging Wikipedia practically and critically. In addition to reporting on the quantitative aspects of these successes, this panel will explore potentially unexpected questions around digital labor, intersectionality and sustainability that emerge in designing feminist encounters with Wikipedia.


Panelists will include:
-Anne Balsamo (Dean of School of Media Studies at The New School for Public Engagement)
-Marcea Decker (Master’s Candidate in Parsons The New School for Design’s MS Design and Urban Ecologies program)
-Dorothy Howard (former Wikipedian-in-Residence at the Metropolitan New York Library Council and co-organizer of Art+Feminism campaign)
-Antoinette LaFarge (Professor of Art in Digital Media at University of California, Irvine). Veronica Paredes (Lecturer at School of Media Studies) will moderate.


Sponsored by the School of Media Studies and FemTechNet.


Howard University adds Black histories to Wikipedia

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 2.47.55 PM

Students and faculty at Howard University in Washington D.C. came together on February 19, 2015 for a Wikpedia-Edit-A-Thon to add urgently needed Black history to Wikipedia. As the New York Times wrote: “To many people, a topic does not exist if it does not have a Wikipedia page.”

That Wikipedia is being edited by a large majority of white Western men, as the New York Times also previously reported, has sparked many such editing events to correct these author and connected content biases. Most of these, however, have been geared toward adding the histories of women.

In this latest edition, scholars expanded existing histories of Black scientists, doctors and designers and added missing Black women, men and organizations to the online encyclopedia.

More such events are planned for the future. Perhaps it is time to start a Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon in Detroit? Wikid GRRLS would be game.

The first Wikipedia monument serves as a good reminder to even out the gender gap

At least one woman is among the four who are hoisting up the Wikipedia globe in the monument that it said to be the first one to honor the online encyclopedia. With all its pieces to build the sum of all knowledge it’s a heavy load to lift.

For that to happen we need more women and other people who are currently underrepresented among the many volunteer contributors to Wikipedia.

The monument stands in the city of Słubice in Poland. CNET reports that its inscription reads: “With this monument the citizens of Słubice would like to pay homage to thousands of anonymous editors all over the world, who have contributed voluntarily to the creation of Wikipedia, the greatest project co-created by people regardless of political, religious or cultural borders.”

It’s will serve as an excellent reminder that still a lot of work is ahead to even out Wikipedia’s gender gap, and its other gaps to fully represent the knowledges of all of humankind.


Strategies for Wikipedia to attract more women

WikipediaGlobeGuest post by Laura Hale

One of the things that I have been discussing with several women about Wikipedia recently involves the question: “If another woman came to you and said they were interested in getting very involved with Wikipedia, would you recommend it to them?” Privately, I have found that several women who are highly active are actually beginning to say no. I said this on a Facebook post, and a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board asked me what the solution to this problem of women not encouraging women to participate is. My response to them was:

I am not sure what the solution is. I’m growing increasingly disillusioned, and amongst my friends, I sense similar attitudes. In reflecting on my own interactions with the community and conversations I have had with my friends and acquaintances, there are three things that I see as potential solutions.

1. Demonstrate why women should contribute to Wikipedia in a way that is personally meaningful. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, other small social networks, conferences and in-person groups do this. They provide women with contacts and networking opportunities to further professional, academic and personal goals. Wikipedia and its movement appear to be a dead-end street. The skill set for contributing doesn’t assist you. (And even some parts that do, you can get those skills elsewhere without the drama.) The networking only serves you in a limited Wikipedia movement way, which limits your options instead of expanding them. Why myself and women should be involved in terms of selfishly helping us meet our own personal, academic and professional goals needs to be made implicitly clear.

2. Demonstrate to women that they are not at risk for contributing. This is two-fold to a degree. There are too many stories of women specifically being harassed personally, academically and professionally for contributing. (Many women need to edit under their real names to get benefits or credits for their work. We are thus at an increased risk.) The community does not talk about these problems, even as it appears everyone else is now willing to engage in these discussions. Journalists, gamers, programmers, politicians, academics, scientists and social media sites are all having these conversations about the experiences of women and how awful they are. Wikipedia and the movement are not. Women are strongly being encouraged to be silent, to not feed the trolls. In being silent, we cannot share our experiences and what happens is that the harassers become the loudest voice and they are empowered. Because engaging with our harassers and discussing problems is taboo, the voices that the movement hears are the harassers and the trolls who are then perceived as legitimate voices of the community. And then because they are the only voices the movement hears, it feels like the people with institutional power then go out of their way to empower them and in effect, assist the people who are harassing women and driving them away from the project. The Wikipedia movement needs to demonstrate that this paradigm is not acceptable. The Wikipedia movement needs to demonstrate to women that they will not be put personally, professionally and academically at risk for participating. Who wants to knowingly contribute to a project where they are consciously anxious and fearful, always looking over their shoulder, when they get very little out of it?

3. Demonstrate support for content about women and of interest to women. “Category gate” [about articles concerning women and men U.S. novelists –– read our post] is going to happen again. The Chelsea Manning thing is going to happen again. There is condemnation community wise of popular culture topics, and of topics about women. We are headed towards these content issues again and again. The community appears re-active and defensive when these things come up. And there appear to be no perceived institutionally powerful people willing to pro-actively address these issues, go into the community and address these. When we do push back on women content issues, we end up with problems with point number 2. Continual community leadership and addressing the worst of the problems need to be addressed so women can feel the content about them and of interest to them matters and is not inherently inferior.

All three of these strategies feed into each other and are linked. At the end of the day, women need to feel safe to edit, that there is a reason to edit and that content about them is important and equal to the content about men. Action needs to be taken to address these points, and the action needs to come from the several parts of the movement that are perceived as having real power. The last major initiative that appears to have been addressed to encourage women to participate was a visual editor [that makes it easier to edit texts than the regular non-standard HTML used by Wikipedia], but it addressed none of these issues. People talk a good game with blog posts and speeches about how women matter, but no actions take place that confirm these. Give women solutions to deal with harassment and biased content issues and lack of opportunities in the Wikipedia movement. And then provide a press release. If you can give a press release on sock puppeting [when people use different accounts and personas on Wikipedia to edit] and actions institutional powers took against sock puppeters, why can’t institutional powers find ways to empower women and then issue press releases on that?

And I find it hard to offer examples and more concrete examples, to offer better solutions drawing on my personal experiences and that of my friends, because in doing so, I fear I will run into problems described in points 2 and points 3.

Laura Hale is a Ph.D. student at the University of Canberra, who is studying sport and social media. As a Wikipedian, she has created over 1,200 articles with over 40 percent of them about women.  She has served as a Wikipedian in Residence for the Australian Paralympic Committee and the Spanish Paralympic Committee.  She is also active in a leadership role in the Wikimedia movement, having served as the vice president of Wikimedia Australia, and the provisional chairperson of The Wikinewsie Group.


Wikipedia, sports and the gender gap

Guest post by Laura Hale

I write about women’s sport on English Wikipedia.  Unlike scientists, artists, and other professional women, the media have paid little attention to how Wikipedia treats female athletes.  The problem is particularly acute in terms of article naming and categorization because English Wikipedia has this tendency to treat sportspeople as men by default, with women being treated as inherently inferior.  The best example of this is the national team naming structure, which almost always has the genderless national team article about men, and the gendered article name about women.  This occurs despite the fact that by rule almost all of these sports are segregated by gender.  If you’re a female sportsperson, that sends a horrifying message.

This pattern is often repeated when it comes to categories.  Men are not categorized by gender, while women are systematically categorized by gender.  Or when a male and female category exists, the men stay in the main category and the women are moved out.  The worst I’ve ever seen was when all the women were systematically moved out of “softball players” and into “female softball players”, leaving only articles about men.  This happened despite the fact that softball has historically been a women’s game.  Again, the message is that women are supposedly inferior and not equal to their male counterparts. This default language part is particularly troubling because it creates barriers.  Despite the verifiability of the fact that sport is segregated by gender and what seems to be an inherently neutral position of gender specifying the teams, the argument on Wikipedia amounts to the fact that men’s teams are inherently more notable, and are thus primary topics.  Neutrality, being specific, following verifiability should be secondary to serving the reader’s interest in finding the most notable team without gender in play.

I’ve seen a fair amount of work discussing the differences between male and female artists and scientists, but none on national teams.  The Wikipedia content for the most popular sports is better for men, has more sources, has more pictures, on average is longer in length, and is created sooner than for articles about female members of national teams.

This situation is particularly appalling given the important role of exercise and participation in sport when it comes to women’s health.  At the same time, women’s participation in sports and sports governance are often reflective of broader societal treatment of women that may not be as publicly visible elsewhere.  Think about the story of the Saudi Arabian women being excluded from the Olympic team and the fatwas issued to prevent women from playing soccer in several countries in Africa.  The portrayal on Wikipedia of women’s participation in sports is systematically marginalized in a way that it violates the “neutral point of view”, one of the five pillars for editing on Wikipedia. This is not good for Wikipedia, and broadly speaking, it is not good for women’s health issues globally.

It also discourages women from editing in sports topics because the sexism is so built into the system. Women get actively discouraged from participating and are being attacked for questioning the assumption that the default is male and should remain male because of the false premise that men’s sport is inherently superior. That’s not the sort of positive messaging that will get women contributing to articles about elite women in sports.

Further, issues on Wikipedia regarding women in sports appear to mirror problems faced by media and sports in general. This includes participation levels both at the athlete and administrator level.  There has recently been a large discussion about media coverage of women in sports and the treatment of female sports journalists.

This is really, really problematic for sports and a situation not necessarily true in other domains. Scientists are not by rule segregated by gender in doing their work and in who they compete against.  The same is true for popular culture topics, academia, art and other domains that have historically been the focus of gender gap work.  Hence, on some level this feels worse than other forms of discrimination at the heart of categorygate (during which women novelists were moved out of the American novelists category} and few people seem to talk about it.  My supposition would be that this is because of the people attracted to writing about the gender gap focus on areas of interest, which can play along feminist lines, and sports does not fit into that mold.

This is an area where I feel particularly passionate about because I feel it has largely been neglected in the gender gap narrative.  That’s sad because I think sports public profile for bringing attention to women’s issue is huge.  The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are starting on February 7 and we’re going to hear all these stories about strong, capable women who are the best at what they do in the world.  Rarely does that happen on a global level where you hear so many stories about so many women.  And the cultural implications for women’s involvement or lack of involvement in sport should be there.  I’ve talked to a number of sportswomen and having a Wikipedia article is seen as a clear sign that they’ve made it. Validating our best is good, because it encourages more of them.

Laura Hale is a Ph.D. student at the University of Canberra, who is studying sport and social media. As a Wikipedian, she has created over 1,200 articles with over 40 percent of them about women.  She has served as a Wikipedian in Residence for the Australian Paralympic Committee and the Spanish Paralympic Committee.  She is also active in a leadership role in the Wikimedia movement, having served as the vice president of Wikimedia Australia, and the provisional chairperson of The Wikinewsie Group.

Internet Skills and Wikipedia’s Gender Inequality

with Eszter Hargittai and Aaron Shaw
January 21, 2014 at 12:30PM
Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard
Link to event page

The luncheon at the Berkman Center.

The luncheon at the Berkman Center.

I was excited to find out in a tweet from Stine yesterday that this event would be taking place in Cambridge, just as I happen to be here a few more days. I registered hastily, emailed Eszter Hargittai to let her know I’d be there and what our project is about, and today I made my way shyly to 23 Everett St, a cute typical Cambridge yellow house with carpet-covered stairs leading up to the Berkman Center, home to quirky door signs and funky looking internet researchers. The room where the luncheon was to take place filled up very quickly with people who all seemed to know each other if not from current then past co-operation, and I wondered, clutching my dozen sheets of WikidGrrls propaganda in one hand and my Twitter-ready phone in the other, what will I say if I have the chance to speak for 20 seconds about WikidGRRLs? Here’s what I came up with:

Last January a few colleagues and I were awarded a 15k seed grant from the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland. We were given the opportunity to put the scholarship about Wikipedia’s gender gap to practical use in the real world: i.e., a chance to see where this gap is formed and if this gap could be fixed by an intervention in middle school education. We were dispatched to four local schools (mostly in Prince George’s County, Maryland) were each one of us taught a group of about ten girls for ten weeks. We introduced them to the Internet as a tool for creating and sharing knowledge, specifically using a wiki site. We found that although teens are quite comfortable with the Internet as a place for seeking out information and connecting with friends, they barely knew how to “use” it to produce, transform, edit and share information, knowledge and/or experience for the benefit of others. One thing that especially struck me when I asked the girls why they think girls contribute so disproportionately little to Wikipedia compared to boys, one of them answered: because we have better things to do, like taking care of our families.

Well, I never got to say precisely that, but I did speak up twice to ask questions and to introduce our work, and I did circulate our propaganda around the table. But enough of this subjective banter – what was the talk about? I would direct you first and foremost to Nate Mathias‘ fantastic summary of the whole thing, which includes a very neat Prezi made by Willow Brugh, and all the links you need to find out more. Here are a few notes of my own to top it off:

Wikipedia is obviously important as an everyday source of information to millions of people: it is one of the five most visited websites on the whole web. More interestingly, it is an amazing mine of “volunteer labor” it is estimated that 41 million hours of free work have been put into its creation. However, the disheartening aspect of this creation is that women make up only 16% of global editors, and 23% of US adult editors, a statistic that the Wikimedia foundation has been struggling with and trying to counter for a number of years.

Eszter Hargittai from Northwestern University explained that her longitudinal data of hundreds of college students is beneficial because it lets her show that internet skills do not improve vastly over time but stay relatively the same. In each of the three waves of data collection, she and her students used pencil and paper surveys, which I found very interesting: it was to avoid biasing the responses towards those who are internet savvy and active. The data were collected between 2009 and 2012 and the population was diverse, with around 40% Whites, 20% Hispanics and 20% Asian Americans. 61% of the respondents were female. Eszter noted that the sample was pretty much representative of this age group in the US, as 48% of her respondents graduated from college, which is close to the national average.

The survey measured basic variables pertaining to internet use, such as number of use years, number of access locations (a.k.a. autonomy of use), weekly hours spent online, and evaluated respondents using an internet skill index (scale developed by Eszter). It also contained Wikipedia specific measures: confidence in editing WP, school assignment to edit WP, etc. The results were rather disappointing in terms of the prevalence of contribution to Wikipedia: of all the respondents,

Read an entry: 99%
Edited a mistake: 25%
Edited by adding: 18%
Started a new entry: 9%
Added an image: 10%
Contributed in any way: 27.6%

When it came to the talk’s topic, ie. the gender gap, it turned out that men are much more likely (about 2-3 times) to report having contributed. However, the researchers noted that having the assignment in school does level the playing field both between races and between levels of parents’ education. Hopeful in terms of possible interventions…such as WikidGRRLs! This is confirmed by the following graphic:


The gender difference in contributions is slightly reduced when assignments are given in school to edit Wikipedia.

Aaron Shaw, who also works at Northwestern and like Hargittai was a fellow at the Berkman Center, said that the only things that are statistically significant in explaining the differences between those who edit and those who don’t are gender, internet skills, and whether or not you were assigned in school to edit Wikipedia.

The most discouraging conclusion drawn from their model was that as skills were higher, the disparity between men and women in terms of probability to edit was ever greater. Indeed, look at this graphic:


The “Male” curve is the top one.

As you move out along the skills variable, the women in the sample remain relatively unlikely to edit. Men on the contrary become increasingly more likely to be editors than women (50% vs 30%). In conclusion, women are less likely to have high skills and even at high skills they are less likely to edit Wikipedia than men. Interestingly, even controlling for socio-economic status does not reduce the effect of gender on disparity of internet skills: men’s internet skills are more spread out than women’s, but their mean is higher.

Takeaways from this talk:

  • The gender gap really matters among the higher skilled users.
  • Skills really matter. People with low skills just don’t contribute.
  • Skills have long term effects in terms of the behavior that people engage in.
  • It seems that “confidence in editing” doesn’t predict who edits.

Questions for future research:

  • Why aren’t skilled women more likely to contribute?
  • How can Wikipedia (the world’s largest free knowledge resource) address these barriers to entry for low skills internet users in general?

YouTube video from this talk (yours truly tries to sell WikidGRRLs at 54:51):