Our project Klexikon, the wiki encyclopedia for children has now more than 350 articles. This is not much, but the growth is sustainable and the articles are real articles worth reading (even if they are not always long).
The project ‘A report on a free encyclopedia for children’ is approaching its end. Wikimedia Deutschland asked us to write such a report, based also on our experiences with the actual wiki. It should appear at the end of March or a little later. Nevertheless, the Klexikon wiki will go on.
Since January 6th, 2015, the Klexikon has more than 100 articles. This is a nice start for a children’s encyclopedia that exists only for one month. Also, the articles are really nice, due to a peticular article creation process.
On Wikipedia, if a new article is created, what follows? If it is a decent article, you will possibly receive no or little response. As someone said: ‘Be happy, if at least nobody complains.’ Or, more likely if you are a newcomer: your article will be deleted immediately, or nominated for deletion, or anyway you will meet a lot of negative feedback.
The Klexikon is different. Articles, from a given expandable list, are first created as drafts in a draft name space. It is public, but not immediately a part of the encyclopedia. People can work on it collaboratively, it may take a day, a couple of days or a week. Taking away tempo out of the process means taking away a lot of stress.
If three collaborators find the draft okay, it can be moved to the article name space. This is a positive experience for the creator, right at the start of the article’s existence. Also, the creator has a motive to deliver a good draft and improve it, because he/she wishes it to become an article.
The result is that our more than 100 articles are looking good and meet a basic standard. Klexikon articles should be easy to understand and suitable for children.
If you are impressed or totally unimpressed, or would like to join, please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
I made some clicks on the “Random article” button of Wikipedia in German, and then made a PDF of the articles. Then I estimated that one PDF page is the equivalent of two-thirds of a page of Brockhaus Enzyklopädie (the 30 volume edition of 2005/2006).
So I calculated that the 1,250,000 articles of Wikipedia in German could fill 675 Brockhaus volumes. This picture here tries to give an impression. Of course it were better if a skilled graphic artist took over the task and show a library with Wikipedias in different languages, as well other encyclopedias.
The first and most profound misunderstandig people can have about Wikipedia comes from its subtitle: the free encyclopedia.
‘Free’ can mean practically everything. Joachim Gauck, the 2010 presidential candidate in Germany, speaks about the ‘freedom concept of the pubescent’ when someone believes that freedom means ‘I can do anything I want’. In fact, we frequently meet people who complain that ‘their’ article has been deleted, and they wonder how that can happen in a ‘free’ encyclopedia.
In Wikipedia, ‘free’ relates to the concept of ‘free content‘, coming from the movement for ‘free and open source software’. Sometimes it is presented as an alternative to copyright; seen from the more European concept of Urheberrecht (rights of the author), it is more of an option. The author can allow that his work can be copied, spread and altered, and as it is the wish of the author, the courts take ‘free content’ serious.
In ancient times and the middle ages, immaterial rights where largely unknown. Someone could possess a book, and it was a crime to steal that book, but usually nobody cared if another one copied the book. Especially in the case of an encyclopedia, the writers saw themselves as sedulous bees, as craftsmen and compilers, passing old and proven book knowledge to the next generations. 
Some essential things changed during the late middle ages and beyond. Knowledge could become dated because of experiments; the quantity of knowledge exploded and needed reduction to comprehensive summaries; authors claimed originality and were no longer too modest to publish under their own name. And, even it took a long time, the production of books became cheaper. In the middle ages, an encyclopedia existed usually in some hundred (hand written) copies, in the 18th century it were some thousand copies, and after that ten thousands or even more.
In the 19th century, it was no longer possible to write an encyclopedia by pure plagiarism, also thanks to modern copyright. Texts and pictures became ‘unfree’, as some of the activists for ‘free content’ might say. Information itself remained much more difficult to ‘protect’, everyone is free to say that Mount Everest is 8848 meters high and that Buenos Aires has 2.7 million inhabitants.
Also for Wikipedians it is difficult to tell exactly what they are allowed and what not, or what is suitable to do. There are texts and pictures that became free because of old age, for example previous editions of Britannica and Meyer. The English and German language Wikipedians were not always enthusiast about e.g. Britannica articles of 1911 – it took a lot of time to make them a little bit up to date.
In summer 2009, the case of the London National Portrait Gallery (NPG) was hotly discussed. An American Wikipedian, Derrick Coetzee, took for about 3,300 pictures from the NPG’s website and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons. The pictures were free because their age, but NPG complained at Wikimedia Foundation. NPG had paid more than a million pound to scan the pictures and wanted to make money with high-resolution versions (the pictures on the website were presented originally in a way that made downloading and copying difficult). In Britain it is possible that a database is protected by copyright, NPG said, but WMF answered that the comparison to a database does not work.
One year later, Wikipedian Liam Wyattasked on his blog: ‘ Who would you least expect to attend GLAMWIKI-UK?’ Indeed: the head of rights & reproductions at the National Portrait Gallery, Mr. Tom Morgan. After Mr. Morgans presentation ‘Wikipedia and the National Portrait Gallery – A bad first date?’, Liam Wyatt had a nice conversation with him. Their disagreement on some legal principles remained, but Liam Wyatt described the atmosphere with a quote from a tv show: ‘You can happily question our methods, we do that all the time, but don’t question our motives’.
We are frequently told that Encyclopedia Britannica was a conservative work because of a dedication to the king of England. In monarchies, though, it is quite common that things are dedicated to the monarch without making them conservative in peticular.
By the way, when I looked at the EB of 1998, I read the following:
Dedicated by permission to
William J. Clinton
President of the United States of America
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
(EB, 15th ed., Propaedia)
A profane citizen of a former colony is mentioned first, and Majesty comes second? How conservative is that?
This is a map (pdf-version) based on the numbers published by Erik Zachte, statistics manager of Wikimedia Foundation. It answers to the question which language versions of Wikipedia are mostly visited in a specific country.
Similar to the map of Europe, we see that only a small number of languages is relevant. In all of these countries, where Arabic Wikipedia is visited according to the statistics, English has an important role. In none of these countries Arabic Wikipedia is dominant, while in some European languages the national language version is. It should be noted that a part of the success of English is caused by the fact that in some Arabic countries internet is used especially by foreign residents of North American or European origin.
Very clearly we become aware of French colonial past, mostly in North Western Africa. In countries such as Morocco French Wikipedia even has more significance than English. One of the most important languages in the region is Hebrew (or Ivrit) due to the economic and democratic status of Israel. In general, people in the countries on this map visit Wikipedia much less than in Europe. While Germany has a share of the global total of 7.3%, Israel’s is 0.4% and Djibouti’s only 0.002%.