Congress edits Wikipedia: Our perspective as Wikipedians in the nation’s capital

A screenshot of the CongressEdits Twitter feed from September 1, 2014.

By Peter Meyer and James Hare

This past July, programmer Ed Summers created CongressEdits, a Twitter feed that posts an update every time an edit to Wikipedia is made anonymously from an IP address belonging to the United States Congress. Wikipedians who edit through a registered account have their edits attributed to their username, while those who edit without being logged in have their edits attributed to their IP address. The range of IP addresses used by Congressional offices is public knowledge, and the Twitter bot reports only those where the person posting wasn’t logged in. In fact, Wikipedia administrators have been watching out for Congressional edits for years.

CongressEdits provided a new level of visibility to these edits. The Twitter account has around 30,000 followers as of writing; by comparison, the English-language Wikipedia has 1,400 administrators. The visibility and resulting press coverage generated a lot of interest in Wikipedia on the Hill—particularly since some of the edits are disruptive (and sometimes downright hateful). That said, they are mostly the kind of juvenile or disruptive edits that Wikipedia deals with every minute of every day without incident, notable only because of where the edits are coming from. Over the years Wikipedia has developed sophisticated technologies, including filters that prevent certain edits from even happening, that ensure that most trivial vandalism gets swiftly undone.

Most press coverage of CongressEdits has focused on acts of vandalism, and one would think we would want to chase Congressional staff away. In fact, Wikimedia DC welcomes edits by Congressional staff and the staffs of federal government agencies. Government staff are experts in areas of public interest, including very new hot topics. They play a promising role in our mission to make a better online reference work, with notable, neutrally phrased, verifiable content. We can overlook minor discretions and work with Capitol Hill and all federal employees to forge a path forward.

Recently we partnered with the Cato Institute for a panel on editing Wikipedia on Capitol Hill. You can read about it inU.S. News and World Report. Cato and Wikimedia DC both agree that Congress does have a part to play in Wikipedia—not political advocacy, but transparently improving the quality of information about legislation and other Congressional activity. This includes not just direct edits to articles, but making data about government more open and machine-readable for reuse in highly visible third-party platforms like Wikipedia. There is a great potential for Wikipedia as a platform to increase awareness of Congress’ activities, a potential we should not overlook.

Best practices for federal employees

Wikimedia DC is interested in developing best practices for employees at all levels of government. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been working with the Wikipedia community since 2011, pioneering government engagement with Wikipedia and showcasing the potential to serve the public.

If you or your agency are interested in participating as a Wikipedia editor, we recommend these basic best practices:

  • Register individual accounts. By registering an account, it helps you develop goodwill with the Wikipedia community. Fellow editors get the sense that they are working with another person, not a shadowy figure hiding behind an IP address. However, Wikipedia’s policies do not permit the registration of group or company accounts; each account must be used by one person only.
  • Acknowledge your potential conflicts of interest. The community of volunteers that maintains Wikipedia cares very strongly about potential conflict of interest. To this end, avoid editing articles on your boss or your employer. Additionally, being transparent about your affiliation can help build trust. NARA has a standard format for conflict-of-interest disclaimers, a format which can be freely copied and re-used by others in the federal government.
  • Look into other agencies’ best practices. Some agencies have published best practices on Wikipedia participation, including NARAthe Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Institutes of Health. These are best practices you may wish to incorporate, should you have the opportunity to develop best practices for your own agency. We also recommend reading Why CongressEdits Matters for Your Agency on DigitalGov.

Peter Meyer is the Treasurer of Wikimedia DC and the Chair of Wikimedia DC’s Public Policy Committee. James Hare is the President of Wikimedia DC.

We are led by volunteers—here is how you can help

Wikimedia DC volunteers at the National Archives, October 2013Wikimedia DC works on the ground in Washington, DC, and in the surrounding area to teach others about Wikipedia. We are proud of all that we’ve accomplished in our three years, from our large gatherings like Wikimania 2012 and WikiConference USA, to our regularly held edit-a-thons with cultural and educational organizations throughout DC. We are also excited about the future; we are in the midst of our expanding our program offerings so that we can do more to serve DC and to improve the Wikimedia projects.

What you may not know is that Wikimedia DC is led almost entirely by volunteers. With very few exceptions, volunteers do everything: we plan the events, we follow up with organizations we work with, even our board members and officers are volunteers. And we always need more volunteers. Whether you know how Wikipedia works or not, there are many ways you can help us. Here are some ways you can help:

  • If you’re well versed in the ins and outs of Wikipedia editing, we always need Wikipedia trainers for our edit-a-thons. You will have the opportunity to share your knowledge of Wikipedia with someone eager to learn. If you are interested in this opportunity, email james.hare@wikimediadc.org or just show up to an upcoming event.
  • Have something interesting to share about the Wikimedia projects, free knowledge, open source software, open data, or open government? We are looking for guest bloggers to make occasional contributions to our blog. Your writing will be shared with the broader Wikimedia community here in DC and around the world. Feel free to email recommendations to james.hare@wikimediadc.org.
  • Our organization is aided by the advise of our committees. We have three committees focused on programs: Content Programs Committee, Technology Programs Committee, and Community Programs. We also have committees dedicated to fundraising, governance, public policy, and technical infrastructure. If you are interested in serving on any of these committees, send an email to info@wikimediadc.org.

Thank you very much for your interest. We hope to see you help out at Wikimedia DC!

The Great American Wiknic and other events in July

A Wikimedia DC sign from the Great American Wiknic

I am pleased to announce our fourth annual picnic, the Great American Wiknic, will take place at Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, July 13 from 1 to 5 PM (rain date: July 20). We will be hanging out by the statue of Dante Alighieri, a statue that was donated to the park in 1921 as a tribute to Italian Americans. Read more about the statue on Wikipedia. If you would like to sign up for the picnic, you can do so here, or you could email James Hare at james.hare at wikimediadc.org. When signing up, say what you’re going to bring!

July will also feature the third annual Great American Wiknic in Frederick, Maryland. This year’s Frederick picnic will take place on Sunday, July 6 at Baker Park. Sign up here for the Frederick picnic.

What else is going on in July? We have the American Chemical Society Edit-a-Thon on Saturday, July 12, dedicated to notable chemists, and our monthly WikiSalon on Wednesday, July 16.

We hope to see you at our upcoming events!

Introducing Wikipedia Summer of Monuments

Today’s post is by Leo Zimmermann, our newly minted Project Manager for Wikipedia Summer of Monuments. You can contact him directly at leo.zimmermann at wikimediadc.org. We are very excited to have him on board as we embark on our largest outreach campaign yet! –James Hare

Wikipedia Summer of Monuments logo

Hello friends,

As we come into the longest days of the year, we prepare for the “Summer of Monuments” campaign, focusing especially on those Southern states whose history and present are underrepresented on Wikimedia Commons. These are a contiguous block of states extending from the East Coast to the middle of the country: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, & Kansas.

At the forefront of this effort will be local historians, librarians, photographers, and anyone else working passionately to preserve and analyze our culture. We are pleased that we can offer prizes to the best photographers and to the institution that contributes the most valuable collection. But we also hope to demonstrate how Wikimedia Commons can be a valuable ally for historians—an amazing free resource for sharing and preserving their materials.

If all goes well, we can use our Monument momentum to develop Wikipedia even further in some of these less-digitized areas. We are seeking communities (be they interested in a specific location or in a theme, such as the civil rights movement) that we can support in their use of Wikipedia to catalogue and preserve the resources and information they value.

We are also calling all Wikipedians who live and work in these ten Southern states to join us in this project, and to share with us their ideas for creatively expanding our collective encyclopedic project.

Happy summer, everybody!

 

Leo Zimmermann

Wikimedia DC

We’re hiring!

Pay attention, because Wikimedia DC doesn’t get to say this every day: we are hiring.

That’s right: Wikimedia DC is hiring for a five-month contract position to manage the Wikipedia Summer of Monuments program. Summer of Monuments is an outreach campaign modeled off of Wiki Loves Monuments, a photography contest successfully carried out in the United States in 2012 and 2013. The goal of Wiki Loves Monuments was to get pictures of historic sites, recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Two years of contests resulted in 30,000 pictures uploaded, enhancing Wikipedia’s coverage of these historic places. We got the idea for Summer of Monuments after seeing that despite two years of these contests, the contest benefits some parts of the country more than others. That is to say, 30,000 uploads later, there are still states where fewer than 50% of the registered historic sites have pictures on Wikipedia.

Most of these states are in the South, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Carolina, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, and Louisiana. To get the pictures of the sites we need, we will carry out a campaign that involves reaching out to county historical societies, individual photographers, and contributors on Wikipedia. The campaign will extend nationwide in September, comparable to the Wiki Loves Monuments contest held over the past two years. Your job will be to help develop and execute this campaign, supplementing the efforts of an enthusiastic online community.

Job description:

Wikimedia DC is looking for a project manager to run its Wikipedia Summer of Monuments campaign in 2014. This will be a paid contract position that will begin in May and end in mid-October. This position is based in Washington, DC, but some travel (with expenses paid) will be required as part of the job.

Duties:

  • Outreach to county historical societies and individual volunteers to contribute photographers
  • Coordination with WikiProject NRHP

Requirements:

  • 1–2 years project management or field organizing experience
  • Excellent interpersonal and collaboration skills, a demonstrated aptitude for building professional relationships, including through online communications
  • Strong organizing skills, capable of operating with little direct supervision
  • Must provide own laptop computer

Preferred, but not required:

  • Strong preference for candidates with experience on Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia
  • Regardless of Wikimedia experience, an ability to categorize photographs according to a set of standard criteria
  • Photography experience, owning a professional-grade camera
  • A strong sense of logistics and the ability to interpret visual data (namely maps) would be helpful
  • Demonstrated interest in history and historic places
  • Existing relationships with historical societies, particularly in the Southern United States

To apply:

To apply for the position, please e-mail a cover letter and résumé to James Hare at james.hare@wikimediadc.org. We will contact you if we are interested in further consideration of your application. No phone calls, please.

More information:

Wikipedia Goes to the Library… of Congress

Reference books at the Africa Reading Room in the Library of Congress

Reference books in the Library of Congress

We are very pleased to announce our upcoming edit-a-thon at the Library of Congress on Friday, April 11, the first event we have had with the Library since the Google Opening Reception of Wikimania 2012 nearly two years ago. We think it is only fitting that the world’s largest encyclopedia would partner up with the world’s largest library.

Our event will focus on the Africa Reading Room, which includes books on African and Middle Eastern history. We have selected this—out of all of our options—because we are in a position to address a long-standing issue on Wikipedia. There has been much press coverage of Wikipedia’s gender gap, resulting in an encyclopedia that reflects the prerogatives of its overwhelmingly male authorship. This means there are more articles about men than women, to such an extent that some incredibly accomplished women go years without having articles on Wikipedia.

That is only part of the systemic bias equation. Wikipedia also has a Western bias with regards to what is written about. Statistics collected by WikiProjects, which are informal groups of Wikipedia editors, provide evidence of this problem. WikiProject Africa reports that there are 57,753 articles regarding Africa on Wikipedia, while WikiProject United States reports that there are 227,878 articles on topics relating to the United States. To give some perspective on this, the United States is just one country, hosting 4% of the world’s population, while Africa is a large, diverse continent with 54 countries and over one billion people.

This is obviously lopsided, so we need your help. To help, meet us at 9 AM on Friday, April 11 in the lobby of the Madison Building. Use the entrance on C Street, by the Capitol South Metro station. You will need to check your coat in the cloakroom; personal items you wish to bring with you must be transported in a clear plastic bag. If you do not already have a Library of Congress researcher card you will need to get one before proceeding to the Africa Reading Room. We will be editing from 10 AM to 1 PM. If you are new to Wikipedia we will be more than happy to help you get started—everyone’s a newcomer at first! After 1 PM, you will be able to get lunch at the Library’s cafeteria and stay for as long as you would like.

In the long term, we would like to see Wikipedia editors continue to use the Library of Congress as a resource for improving Wikipedia, whether independently or during future Wikimedia DC events. We would also like to build a brain trust of people who are interested in Africa and are eager to do their part to improve Wikipedia. To sign up for this upcoming event, check out our event page on Wikipedia. If you cannot come Friday the 11th but wish to still help, send an email to kristin.anderson [at] wikimediadc [dot] org.

We hope to see you at the Library!

What If Wikipedia Could Update Itself?

This post was originally featured on the Sunlight Foundation’s blog.

Wikipedia is known throughout the world as a valuable source of information on almost any subject imaginable. Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has amassed over 30 million articles in 287 languages—over 4.4 million in English alone. This is made possible by the countless hours and efforts of volunteers, each contributing bits and pieces of his or her expertise. Unfortunately, despite the continued advance of technology, the act of writing paragraphs of prose has yet to be automated and still requires the efforts of humans.

But that does not mean that every part of Wikipedia is curated by hand. As we speak, automated software processes called “bots” are responsible for all manner of routine maintenance. These include removing vandalism from articles, sorting pages in and out of categories and checking for instances of copyright infringement on newly created articles. One of the earliest bots, Rambot, was created in 2002 to create articles on places throughout the United States, creating almost 37,000 Wikipedia articles in the process. This was made possible with data gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau and other agencies—more details are available here.

The idea behind the open data movement is that the massive amounts of data collected and generated by our government should be available for the people to use—not just published in reports, but in computer-readable formats so that they can be used in research and analysis. There are many uses of open data—journalists rely on open data to break news and businesses use open data as a component of their business plans.

Since open data is a valuable source of public knowledge, why not use it to improve Wikipedia and keep it up to date? Granted, Wikipedia is not intended to be an indiscriminate dumping ground of data and it would be inconsistent with its editorial policies to use data to come to novel conclusions not already published somewhere else. However, there are still applications of data that would suit Wikipedia’s mission. Many articles have boxes alongside the introductory section, containing quick facts about the subject of the article. In wiki-parlance these are called “infoboxes,” and the new project Wikidata allows people to upload infobox data to one place and then use it on every language edition of Wikipedia.

Wikimedia DC, as an affiliate of the organization that runs Wikipedia, is pleased to partner with the Sunlight Foundation to host the Open Government WikiHack, a hackathon dedicated to finding ways to use structured government data to improve Wikipedia. The event will be held all-day April 5–6 at the Sunlight Foundation’s offices in Washington, DC and will feature a mix of coders and non-coders, Wikipedians and non-Wikipedians. We want you to bring your ideas on how government data can improve Wikipedia, whether it involves the Sunlight APIs or another public source of information and we will give you the opportunity to make it happen.

What: OpenGovernment WikiHack

Where: Sunlight Foundation 1818 N St. NW Suite 300

When: April 5-6, 2014

Register: HERE.

There will be a happy hour At Sunlight Foundation on Friday April 4 and the hack will begin the next day. 

Feel free to share with your networks with #wikihacks on Twitter and if you have any questions, please email us at: info@wikimediadc.org.

Local history—now on Wikipedia

Attendees at the Laurel History Edit-a-thon

Attendees at the Laurel History Edit-a-thon

 

 

Did you know what the Laurel Sanitarium was?

The Laurel Sanitarium was a prominent mental health facility and women’s nursing home, built in 1905 to treat mental illness and addiction. The sanitarium treated as many as 50,000 patients from its opening until 1963, when its founder Jesse C. Coggins died. The building was subsequently demolished in 1964 to make way for the Laurel Shopping Center. Part of the building grounds were sold to the county government of Prince George’s County, Maryland, which eventually led to the construction of Laurel High School.

I learned about this demolished sanitarium from the humble, two-paragraph Wikipedia article on the subject, linked above. This piece of Maryland local history was not documented on Wikipedia until November 16, 2013, when it was one of the new articles contributed as part of the Laurel History Edit-a-thon. The Laurel Historical Society hosted this gathering, with the assistance of Wikimedia DC, to help improve Wikipedia’s coverage on notable pieces of local history.

To support this effort, we had access to a treasure trove that you can’t find on the Internet: archival copies of the Laurel Leader newspaper, dating back decades. If you look at the references section of the Laurel Sanitarium article, you will see three citations made to an article published in the Laurel Leader, in addition to two online sources. The article in question, “Laurel Landmark Passes As New Community Is Planned On Site,” was published in the Leader on August 27, 1964, and now serves as the source for most of the article.

Wikipedia requires that its millions of articles be based on information already published in reliable sources. To an eager Wikipedian at his or her computer, the easiest reliable source to find is an online source. Yet by partnering with a local historical society—very much in the business of collecting historical sources—we have enabled access to a harder-to-find source of information. We can use this information to help bring Wikipedia closer to completion.

Wikipedia’s mission is to make the world’s information available to all for free, and the help of the Laurel Historical Society and other local historical societies helps make this possible. I would like to thank Lindsey Baker and Abram Fox for organizing the edit-a-thon this past November. Wikimedia DC is very much interested in more of these kinds of events, so if you have any ideas, do let us know at info@wikimediadc.org!

The Annual Meeting is upon us!

Annual Meeting 2013 logoHello, everyone!

Each year, as the bylaws require, Wikimedia DC hosts its annual membership meeting. The members of Wikimedia DC have the power to propose and vote on binding resolutions at these meetings, and indeed, will get the opportunity to approve our annual budget.

Mundane stuff aside, we are hard at work putting together the best annual meeting Wikimedia DC can provide. I can’t give away too many details yet, since the program is not yet finalized, but here is what we know for sure:

  • The annual meeting is on Saturday, November 9 from 12 – 4 PM. Lunch will be served!
  • This year it will take place at the U.S. National Archives, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. We’re excited about this particular venue for a number of reasons. For one, we’ve held a number of events with the National Archives over the years, and with their new full-time Wikipedian we anticipate an even stronger relationship.
  • We are hosting a discussion panel featuring GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) professionals, providing their perspectives on Wikipedia and the cultural sector. More details will come as the panelists are finalized.
  • We will also be announcing our annual plan for 2013–14, including plans for a collaboration space in DC where we will be holding events!

Can you think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon in November than hanging out with fellow Wikipedia enthusiasts over lunch provided by Wikimedia DC?

Be sure to RSVP here!

Congratulations, Dominic! (Plus: Wiki Loves Monuments update)

Dominic McDevitt-Parks. Photo by Benoit Rochon

Dominic McDevitt-Parks. Photo by Benoit Rochon

As announced today on the blog of the Archivist of the United States, our cultural partnerships coordinator Dominic McDevitt-Parks will be re-joining the National Archives and Records Administration as a full-time employee in their Office of Innovation. He originally served as their part-time Wikipedian in Residence back in 2011, and as the first-ever permanent Wikipedia liaison for a cultural institution, he will be continuing the work he started for them.

Wikimedia DC and the National Archives go back years. We hosted Wikipedia’s tenth birthday celebration at the Archives back in 2011, and our community has worked closely with them to make their content available to the Wikimedia projects. Dominic’s efforts at the Archives led to  over 100,000 digital scans from the Archives to be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, as well as multiple scan-a-thon events, and Wikimedia DC looks forward to continue working with them.

Congratulations, Dominic, on your new job!

Wiki Loves Monuments Update

So far, over 5,300 images have been uploaded as part of Wiki Loves Monuments! If you have a picture of a site on the National Register of Historic Places to upload, follow the instructions here to upload. You can also use our handy map tool to find a place that still needs a picture. Check it out—there may be a site just steps from where you live or work! Remember, you have until September 30 to upload your picture in order to qualify for our contest.

Don’t forget that this Saturday we have twin photo walks in Baltimore and Richmond. We hope to see you then!