We have now a Klexikon page on Meta Wiki which collects information in English. Many people at Wikimania had questions about this ‘Wikipedia for children’, and some even want to start one in their own language.
Next week starts Wikimania, the annual main conference on Wikipedia, in Ciudad de Mexico. I have the privilege to represent Wikimedia Nederland again. This time, my focus will be on education and the question how does a wiki work – what can we improve in Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Movement.
The Wikimedia Movement has seen quite some friction on last year’s Wikimania, in London. On the one hand, the movement does well, with a uberpopular website and lots of donations. On the other, the number of contributors to Wikipedia is still declining, in spite of all efforts. Also the number of readers is not a fixed given or only growing.
The Klexikon is progressing: in July, it saw its 750th article. Given that each and every one of them consists of several paragraphs and meets our general requirements, that is quite an achievement. Many printed children encyclopedias have only some hundred or maybe 1000 or 1500 articles.
Temporarily, the readership did not grow much. We saw that most readers the Klexikon has on school days, and much less in the weekend. Also, the recent very sunny days seem to make playing outdoors more attractive than browsing the Internet. That’s great! So it is surprising that this Monday the wiki attracted more readers again.
(Picture: With Michael Schulte at the university of Dortmund, June 2015 (second from the right: Michael Beißwenger). We had a Klexikon presentation and workshop to find out how to cooperate in future.)
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