In Summer 2014 started a project for a new wiki, supported by Wikimedia Deutschland: Klexikon, the Free Encyclopedia for Children. Since December 1st, we are creating articles.
After the journalist Michael Schulte proposed the wiki, and received funding, I became engaged with the project as a wiki consultant. The host for our wiki is ‘ZUM’, a German association of teachers who use wikis and open educational resources in their lessons.
The name “Klexikon” comes from the German words “Kinder” (children) and “Lexikon”, a common German expression for an encyclopedia. “Klex-” has also a funny pun because of the German word “Klecks”, a blot or splodge.
In general, the Klexikon is supposed to become a kind of Wikipedia:
- It is based on the concept of Free Knowledge.
- It’s a wiki, an instrument for collaboratively creating user-generated content.
- It’s an encyclopedia, meaning a structured collection of a certain text sort.
Not (just) imitating Wikipedia
But there are also some important differences to Wikipedia. First of all, it is directed to children to the age of ca. six to twelve years. Writing for children means to make it absolutely comprehensible for this section of the population. A child-oriented writing has also to pay attention to the ‘Lebenswelt’, to the world in which children live. We cannot ignore all the negative things on our planet, but they should be presented in a way really suitable for children.
In some aspects, we want to have the Klexikon very different from Wikipedia – not necessarily because Wikipedia is something bad. But there is simply no need to imitate all of the Wikipedia content and structure. Articles about all members of the German parliament, all subway stations in Vienna or the entire flora and fauna of Switzerland: we have that already in Wikipedia. We also don’t try to recreate the whole Wikipedia category system in the Klexikon. Possibly, in future, Wikidata will help us with certain connections between pages and content.
What about existing childrens’ wikis?
There are a number of wikis, outside the Wikimedia movement, that are occupied with a similar challenge. Many of them are ‘instructional wikis’, their primary goal is to teach something: pupils learn how to use a wiki, how to write a text, how to edit the texts of others. This is an important goal by itself. But it is not a suitable way to create quality content. After the class has used the wiki for some days or weeks, the young participants usually are not interested in improving the articles anymore.
Other wikis are content wikis indeed, they seriously work to create an encyclopedia for children. When we browse the articles of these wikis, we see a lot of extremely short articles. Many articles are hardly easier to understand than a usual Wikipedia article.
At the Klexikon, we are afraid that poor quality can make a bad impression on readers. They might not give us a second chance. A Klexikon article does not have to be perfect – but it shouldn’t be ‘unready’. It must be recognisable as a ‘real’ article. Therefore, we start articles in a name space called ‘Entwurf’ (draft). This takes speed from the article creating process and provides a space where you can make errors. When three collaborators deem a draft to be good enough, it is transferred to the article name space. Of course, the article can still be worked on later.
Also, those other wikis usually imitate Wikipedia in many ways. They are hardly easier to edit than Wikipedia, because they use more or less the same complicated wiki code. In the Klexikon, we allow only very few basic wiki code in the source code of the texts. This reduces the amount of what new collaborators have to learn.
Who is allowed to participate?
Another challenge of Wikipedia and many other wikis is the technical openness for unregistered and new collaborators. Anyone is allowed to edit, even without registration. I call this a technical openness, because socially Wikipedia is actually very closed: the edits of newcomers are very likely to be reverted.
In the Klexikon, you can edit only with an account. You can ask the project leader Michael for an account, which will be your real name. This makes vandalism rather unlikely. We believe that much of the negative work climate on Wikipedia and other wikis relates to the fact that vandalizing and mobbing is made rather easy. We also intend to be not so forbearing with trolls and others who disturb the work climate.
In general, everybody can ask for an account. We find it unlikely that many children will participate (childrens’ books are written by adults, too). Now we gave an account to the first minor, only with the Christian name, and in contact with a parent. We expect that minors will be treated with an appropriate delicacy by other collaborators.
What is the progress of the Klexikon?
During November we more or less build up the wiki as such, with the help of the ZUM people such as Karl Kirst. Since December 1st, 2014, we have collaborators and articles, by now even more than a handful. We produce ca. ten articles a week, and hope that this will increase with more collaborators. Many, but not all of them, have a Wikipedia background.
Our phase of experimenting will end in March 2014. By then, we will be able to present to Wikimedia Deutschland a concept of a childrens’ encyclopedia, based on our experiences with the Klexikon.
And after that? Of course, we hope that the Klexikon will have a flourishing community working on a ever growing pile of drafts and articles. The community will decide how to go on. Our host is aware that this might include a migration to the Wikimedia movement.
But until then, the Klexikon means to us, above all: learning, learning, learning. What content is really suitable for children, how to we attract constantly new collaborators, e.g. teachers or parents without Wikipedia background? We will go on with approaching school classes and receive more feedback from actuall pupils, and want to improve ourselves as writers in real life meetings.
Do you speak German and want to join? That’s great! Please contact Michael via firstname.lastname@example.org