Unexpected reencounter

Wikipedia class in Antwerp, 2007. From the scene in question only my left ear is visible. (Picture: Yves Nevelsteen, CC-BY-SA)

In early summer 2007 I travelled to Flanders. The Esperanto club of Antwerp had its 100 years anniversary, and I was invited for a lecture on the history of that language. The weekend included a morning with Wikipedia class.  Interested persons were mentored, except by me, also by Yves Nevelsteen and Chuck Smith, the founder of Wikipedia in Esperanto (Vikipedio).

It was not so much a class like a lesson, we also lacked the teaching aids for that, but we guided the people personally. I was occupied among others with an elderly Flemish lady, who attended with her new laptop and told me about her father.

The father I had met in the early 1990s, a couple of years before his dead. A true citizen of the world, founder of a school in Belgian Congo, a very respected and friendly member of the Esperanto community. With his pursuit of knowledge he would have been enthusiast about Wikipedia, she said. Friends wanted her to write an article on him, but she was in doubt that it was really a good idea to write about relatives.

The morning opened my eyes for the difficulties most people have with contributing to Wikipedia. So the focus of my guidance was less editing but actively using Wikipedia. At the end I wanted the mentees to recapitulate what they have learned. I asked the Flemish lady to search in Vikipedio the name of her father. Even if there is no article on him, maybe one of his works is mentioned elsewhere.

She did, and via a redirect we came to an article on her father, indeed. (I shouldn’t have been wondering, but I may have intuitively thought that she already had searched.) It was an even rather extensive article, with photograph and web link.

Telling this story I love to ask my listeners what the lady did in this moment spontaneously. Men suppose that she immediately edited the article. Or saved it on the hard disk. Or made a bookmark in the browser. Only women conject, as unanimously as aptly, that she burst into tears.

This reaction of a Wikipedia reader may be not representative. But it always reminds me of the fact that we have responsibility for our texts and never know, who is reading them with what eyes.

[Appeared in: Wikimedia Deutschland e.V.: Alles über Wikipedia und die Menschen hinter der größten Enzyklopädie der Welt. Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg 2011, pp. 125-127. The original title of the text above is referring to ‘Unverhofftes Wiedersehen‘, a calendar story by Johann Peter Hebel.]


A text-book for Wikipedia – how came?

Some people say that Wikipedia or the internet in general make printed books dispensable. Maybe it is true, unless you write a text-book about Wikipedia writing. Recently appeared my ‘Wikipedia. Wie Sie zur freien Enzyklopädie beitragen’ at Open Source Press, Munich.

In 1887 Ludwik Zamenhof published the first work on his new language, Esperanto. It was a basic grammar and vocabulary in 40 pages. The first Esperanto speakers deemed this and short introductions in newspapers enough to learn the language because… Esperanto is so simple and easy to learn. It took ten years until someone came up with the first decent text-book about the language, which already had evolved within these years.

The same you have with Wikipedia. In 2003, a teacher wrote that his students wrote “great articles” without any preparations because Wikipedia editing is so easy and self explaining. Nowadays it takes a very optimistic (or naive) attitude to maintain such an opinion, look how complicated editing became since then.

Follow the flag

When I talk to Wikipedians a lot of them (a large minority) laughs about the idea of using a text-book to learn editing. If you are such an idiot that you need that, you should not be allowed to edit at all. But in 2009 Frank Schulenburg came to the Mentor pages of Wikipedia in German and asked about teaching aids. Then I said, in front of my fellow Mentors: If five men (or was it more?) will follow me, I’ll take up the flag. They followed, and the result was a text-book at Wikibooks. Some called it simply ‘the Wikipedia text-book’, but I insisted on a title of its own, ‘Eigene Beiträge’ because there can and should be many different text-books about Wikipedia editing.

In late 2009 I attended the OpenRheinRuhr conference in Bottrop/Germany, and met a representative of Open Source Press. We talked about the desirability of a Wikipedia text-book, and suddenly she told me to write a mail to the publisher. And so it came.