The Ukrainian version of Wikipedia has grown significantly since it started 11 years ago: it now features over 548,000 articles. Ukraine Wikipedia Logo 2.0 by Wikimedia Foundation, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. See below for Wikipedia logo credits.
This interview was conducted by Taras Holovko and was originally published on January 30, 2015, in The Day newspaper, Issue: №5, (2015).
Nowadays, it is hard to get by without using Wikipedia, which has become a powerful information resource for nearly half a billion users around the world. For the 11th anniversary of the Ukrainian Wikipedia on January 30, 2015, we interviewed Yuri Perohanych, Yuri Perohanych, founder of the Wikimedia Ukraine nonprofit organization, to get his thoughts about this project. Yuri is now the managing director of the Association of IT Companies of Ukraine — and is one of a few thousand enthusiasts who regularly fill the Ukrainian Wikipedia with articles on a wide range of topics.
Taras: It has been over five years since you first edited the Internet page of the Ukrainian version of Free Encyclopedia, which is now popular all over the world. Could you tell us about the founders of this unique Internet project, which was later renamed Wikipedia?
“Wikipedia would not have happened without the joint efforts of Larry Sanger, a scholar, and Jimmy Wales, an entrepreneur. These two Americans first started Nupedia, a free peer-reviewed encyclopedia, whose articles were supposed to be created only by volunteer scholars. Ten months after the project was launched, in January 2001, Wikipedia was created as a subsidiary to Nupedia. However, Wikipedia articles could be edited by anyone who wished to do so. Over the first year of Nupedia, only 21 articles appeared on its website — while Wikipedia had 200 only in the first month of its existence, and 18,000 in its first year. At the start of Wikipedia, Sanger was mostly responsible for its development, while Wales was busy financing the project. Since Sanger had the status of employee from the very launch of the project, Wales considers himself the only founder of Wikipedia. Sanger does not accept this and is fighting for the right to be referred to as the co-founder of the Free Encyclopedia.”
Today the English version of Wikipedia has some 500 million page views per month. Do you have any statistics on how many users visit the Ukrainian version of Wikipedia?
“According to my estimates, the Ukrainian language Wikipedia has approximately 11 million visitors per month. However, Wikipedia is best measured by page views, not by number of users. For example, the Ukrainian Wikipedia received 919 million page views in 2014 (compared with 591 million in 2012, and 895 million in 2013).
The increase in traffic in 2013, compared with 2012, was 51 percent, whereas in 2014 the traffic only grew by 3 percent, compared to the previous year. This is a very worrying sign, which I associate not only with the war and the slowdown of Internet penetration rate in Ukraine, but also with the government’s shortsighted language policy — in particular, the effects of the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law on languages. However, even under those circumstances, the popularity of Ukrainian Wikipedia is striking. In December 2014, it had 89 million page views, or an average of 33 pages per second in a 24 hour period.”
You personally started and published some 2,500 articles in Ukrainian Wikipedia. How would you describe these articles?
“The Ukrainian-language version of Wikipedia has now some 548,000 articles. This amount grows by approximately 200 articles daily. Thus, in December 2014 there was a new edit every 18 seconds, and a new article was created every 8 minutes. Wikipedia is a universal encyclopedia, which is why it contains articles on a wide variety of themes. You can get a general idea about the classification of the articles from the home page of the site.
When I began editing Wikipedia in 2009, it contained only some 120,000 articles, scattered ‘islets’ of knowledge. Sometime around 2013, it still had blank spots. But now, with more than half a million articles, it is getting increasingly harder to find material for a new article. However, English Wikipedia has almost nine times as many articles, and the versions in German and French approximately three times as many.”
How are you organizing the work to keep the Ukrainian Wikipedia updated with new information? We hear that the English version is edited by some 130,000 volunteers every month. How many editors are there in Ukraine?
“The Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit organization in the US, provides the technical platform, while the provision and control of editorial content is in the hands of volunteer editors. These volunteers contribute as they wish, without any financial remuneration, but they have to follow certain rules. The articles must be encyclopedic, concise and comprehensible by average users, they must contain links to sources, and must be written from a neutral perspective, while respecting the rights of authors.
I would like to mention that the colossal work of filling Ukrainian Wikipedia is conducted by a relatively small body. Last month, only about 2,300 users made at least one edit. Out of every five thousand users who browse Wikipedia, only one suggests a change. This is utterly disproportional. Too many chiefs and not enough indians.”
Have you ever seen unsanctioned edits to the articles, which would deliberately distort their content? Especially in articles about certain historic events and their participants?
“This happens every day, but usually such edits are promptly corrected by other editors. The vandals get a warning, and if they do not pay attention to the advice, they are blocked quickly and effectively. However, there were some funny cases. On April 1, 2014, an anonymous editor intentionally added wrong information about a once famous female politician, stating that she died on that day. The error was noticed and the woman was ‘resurrected’ only on 9 days later!”
How reliable is the information in Wikipedia?
“Any information of great importance should be verified with several different sources. Check which source a certain passage in Wikipedia refers to. If this source is not listed or you cannot get hold of it, or if it is unreliable in your opinion, think and make a decision about whether you can trust this information.”
And how do you settle copyright issues, since each publication in fact is an intellectual product of its creators?
“Everyone who submits information for publication on Wikipedia agrees that they are the author of this information, that they authorize its distribution for any purpose, including commercial — and that they do not object to edits or removals. Short quotes are allowed (that are usually no bigger than several sentences), but it is better to present information in someone’s own words, while providing a reference to the original source.”
Google’s search engine has a lot of tricks to let you find necessary files efficiently. Could you provide some practical advice for people who use Ukrainian Wikipedia?
“Start by setting up the search engine that you use, for example, Google, so that it would show results in Ukrainian first. Of course, write search requests in Ukrainian too. It is often useful to see what a certain article looked like on a specific date, let’s say, a year ago. This is what the ‘View history’ tab is for (you can find it in the top right corner of article pages). For more information on the subject, you can read the same article in other languages, if you understand them. Also, use categories to search for content on a specific topic. Lists of categories can be found at the bottom of each article page. Other tools support more complex search queries: for example, select all Parliament Members (MPs) who come from one oblast, but this requires advanced skill.”
You participated in international conferences and symposia in Hong Kong, Poland, Israel, called Wikimania by the online community. What were your conclusions after learning about the work of other colleagues who implement the global encyclopedia project in various countries, just like you do?
“Regular editing of Wikipedia is usually done by either students — or people who can be considered part of the middle class. Students can learn a subject better while creating new articles or editing existing ones; people who have free time can fulfill their intellectual and spiritual needs by working on Wikipedia: for example, they can uncover information about the blank spots in history or the heroes of our nation — information that was unavailable during the Soviet era.”
What are the prospects for integrating the Ukrainian Wikipedia into the educational process, particularly for secondary and higher education?
“First, school and university students must be taught how to use Wikipedia correctly. This can start in middle school. Second, high school and university students can be assigned to improve existing Wikipedia articles or write new ones; or they can be assigned to translate articles to or from other languages. The skills that they acquire by editing Wikipedia articles can help them evaluate various sources more critically, tell facts apart from opinions, and present the information in a more concise and well-structured way.”
By Taras Holovko, The Day newspaper, Kiev, Ukraine
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