Turkish Wikipedia: First Contact with the Netizens of "Vikipedi"


(This is the third installment in a series of updates from the WikiHistories summer research fellows, who will be studying the virtual community history of different Wikipedia editing communities)
I started working with the Turkish language Wikipedia community (tr.wikipedia.org) as part of the Wikimedia digital community history fellowship in June 2011. During the second week of my research I had a chance to attend a meeting organized by Wikipedians in Istanbul. The meeting was highly helpful in identifying the major issues that Turkish Wikipedia (Vikipedi) has been dealing with. Although the meeting had a significant lack in terms of female participation, the opposite is the case for the actual contributions to the online encyclopedia. This point was also confirmed by one of the female editors of Vikipedi as she mentioned several other female editors who have been significant contributors.
One of the major issues that the community faces is the low retention rate of the new users. In several occasions this is explained by uncompromised application of community policies against vandalism.  However some users have suggested that this attitude needs to change in order to provide a more flexible environment for the new users who are more likely to make policy mistakes in editing articles.
Turkish language community seems to have close ties with the Azeri language community (az.wikipedia.org) both in terms of collaboration and competition. The close similarity of these two languages must be a big factor for this close interaction, however the application of policies in certain issues seems to have a wide gap. Turkish Wikipedia is the 20th language community in the number of articles below Hungarian and above Indonesian. There has been projects to increase the number of articles in Vikipedi. Utilizing bots for starting new articles has been the subject of a long debate which recently been resolved by the acceptance of a new set of criteria. This change has had a significant boost in the number of articles.
Vikipedi community has been recently energized with the introduction of a new project that focuses on the description of small cities, villages and provinces. This project attracted new group of people who are primarily interested in promoting their hometowns by contributing to the related Vikipedi articles.
During the meeting there were also interesting discussions about the way the new users are welcomed. Particularly, welcoming new users with impersonal greeting templates were criticized and alternatives were discussed. While, novel Vikipedians emphasized the need for more visual tools such as videos and interactive applications for introductions, editors have pointed out the immense workload required for preparation of these materials.
Vikipedi currently ranks 17th among the most visited Turkish websites. It is frequently cited as a reliable source in Turkish media and praised for its contribution to the digital content production in Turkish language. However the alternative sites have also emerged mostly created by people who left Wikipedia due to various conflicts such as Ansiklopedika.org, that announces its motto as “protect the knowledge”. Another site Eksisozluk, has been a cultural phenomenon since 1999 as it enables the users to voice opinions in the form of a dictionary entry but with a satirical manner on a wide range of topics including current events, celebrities, politicians or mundane details of daily life in Turkey. This stark contrast between the factual information and subjective perspective might be the key to understanding the kinds of people (or virtual personas) Wikipedia and Eksisozluk might attract.
I have continued my interaction with the individual users of Wikipedia, mostly focusing on their personal histories and how their view has evolved about the collaborative culture of Wikipedia. These accounts often mention large scale changes in the community after crises typically involving a controversial topic, person or an event, as reference points. I will continue to work with the Turkish community combining these individual accounts with the large scale changes on the background that have been shaping their journey with Vikipedi.
 
Ayhan Aytes
PhD Candidate
Communication and Cognitive Science
University of California San Diego

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