#1Pic1Article II: how Latin American heritage experts added images to Wikipedia

Learnings from the events that presented the Wikimedia to heritage professionals in Argentina, Mexico, and Chile, while testing the Add an image feature on Wikipedia

This blog post is Part II. Find here the Part I, with the GLAM & Culture team and Wikimedia Argentina’s perspectives.

Wikimedia Mexico’s perspective

By Andy Cyca

The way things were

My own history as a Wikipedian goes back more than a decade ago. The idea of contributing to a collaborative project was alluring and the markup language was way easier than keeping track of HTML tags.

As a newbie editor, it felt overwhelming having to keep track of so many things at once: when should I use italics and when should I bold text? What information goes in the citation template? What was the code for displaying an image again? Slowly but surely, I made my share of mistakes and learned bit by bit the intricacies of Wikipedia so that they became sort of a second nature.

When I joined Wikimedia Mexico back in 2013–14 we hosted monthly edit workshops for beginners. Anyone could come and learn how to contribute to Wikipedia: the space loaned laptops for basic editing and we could be there to teach in real-time, new editors could express their questions and get an answer in almost no time at all from an experienced Wikipedian. I felt a special kind of pride when I was asked to step up to the plate and be the host; it meant that I was trusted as having both technical skills and social grace to help newcomers. Many of our long-time local Wikipedians learned in those workshops.

Back then we – and most other chapters – identified that Wikipedia would grow by bringing in people with knowledge to contribute (i.e. most everyone) and have them overcome the technical barriers to bring that knowledge to Wikipedia and the world at large. Our editathons often had people exhausted by trying to learn what I learned – markup language, style – in a single afternoon. To this day, I admire all those people who taught us so much about how to teach.

As time passed, it became clear that the technical challenge of newbies on Wikipedia was actually twofold:

  1. Teaching new editors – through workshops, assisted editing, and tutorials – so that they could pass over the technical barriers, and
  2. Bringing down the technical barrier as much as possible so that contributing is easier, for new and seasoned editors alike.

For the most part, we could only directly address the first of those, while the second asked us to get creative – like asking editors to write in a familiar text processor – without explicitly getting a solution.

Technical breakthroughs

Fortunately, things have changed. New tools inside Wikipedia have helped enormously to assist users in getting their knowledge and expertise into the largest collaborative effort the world has ever seen.

There’s one thing that I like to emphasize when teaching new editors: just as actors say that “there are no small roles“, so it is that there are no “small edits” on Wikipedia. Some people do contribute through writing extensive articles, but that’s not the only way to contribute. Correcting typos, rewording unclear phrases, clarifying minute details and even formatting are critical tasks to make an article the best it can be.

These “small” tasks are also ideal for a new user to try out their editing powers. I’ve witnessed first-hand just how much it means to many people to see their contribution live with only a few clicks. My intuition tells me people who see how easy it is to contribute are encouraged to contribute more.

Inviting new editors

So you’ll understand my excitement when I was asked to help try out a new feature aimed at new editors: an AI-powered image suggestion tool. Images are a critical part of most articles, but finding them in Commons is sometimes tricky, not to mention the fact that it requires navigating a whole different wiki – a concept that is not always easy to convey.

This tool, as mentioned, is meant to be used first and foremost by new editors, so we were presented with a new challenge: in Mexico, we’ve worked with several museums, universities, government dependencies, and non-profits in the past, so much that many of their workers are no longer considered “new to Wikipedia”: and an otherwise great achievement to celebrate, but not a good fit for this and only this particular situation.

The solution, then, was obvious: this was an opportunity to connect with new people and new institutions. We reached out to Mexicana – an open repository of Mexican Cultural heritage – and the Secretariat of Culture (enwiki) to help us get the word out: we’ve worked with both institutions before and we knew there’s still more to do.

The response was amazing. We received over 100 sign-ups, coming from various institutions across the country:

  • UNAM – The National Autonomous University of Mexico and the oldest university in the Americas;
  • ENCRyM – National School of Conservation, Restoration and Museography;
  • ENAH – National School of Anthropology and History;
  • Public universities (University of Guadalajara, Autonomous University of Tabasco, Autonomous University of Aguascalientes, Universidad Vizcaya de las Américas);
  • Public libraries (National Library of Mexico, Amado Nervo Community Public Library, Prof. Ma. Ignacia Martínez de Loza Community Library, Azcapotzalco Borough, Tulancingo Municipality).

Testing Add an image

We held the workshop on April 1, 2022, before a group of mixed ages and professions, but equally enthusiastic to try and see how images are important to Wikipedia and how they could contribute.

As with previous events, we started with a short introduction to the Wikimedia Foundation and the work of Wikimedia Mexico regarding cultural heritage and GLAM. Following that, Cora Garmanik gave us a brief and very interesting lecture on how images are connected – and should be connected – with its proper context; using examples from recent Mexican history (in 1994–95).

We took a small break and delved right down to add images using the tool. Yours truly gave a small introduction on what Add an image is, how it works and what it is supposed to replace. But as always, merely watching how something is done is merely the beginning; so we split into three groups to try the tool for ourselves.

As is natural, we all started having questions. We worked together on finding articles to improve, navigating the article itself, opening images on Commons to read metadata, adding the image, adding an image description, and saving the article.

As is natural, going through a few bumps here and there helped us learn. Asking questions of each other helped us cement knowledge, boldly editing in the knowledge that mistakes can be corrected.

Lessons learned and questions for the future

Our last activity before closing the event was to gather everyone’s thoughts and feelings, as well as a first round of feedback.

The participants were generally happy, not only to learn how the proverbial sausage is made, but also to learn just how much work happens behind Wikipedia. Seeing their own work helped us all reflect on just how much effort goes into the pages that we all read every day to check a quick fact.

Of course, this was a group of intelligent people, and they shared their observations about Add an image as a feature. Summarizing their comments:

  1. Some of them felt “frustration” at having only one image suggestion per article. Of course, for many of these articles, there’s most likely another candidate image on Commons, but the tool allowed only one suggestion, and if it’s deemed not appropriate for the article the only other option is to move to a new article. Several users wished to stay on the same article to try and see if they could improve this article instead of having to return to “square one” (i.e. finding and selecting an article to improve).
  2. On occasions, the suggested image was only very tangentially related to the article. For instance, it would suggest a picture of a place on an article about a person – sometimes their place of birth or final resting place.
  3. When selecting a category for article suggestions, the list of articles is always in the same order. In most cases, this is not a concern, but during a collective editing event, it meant that most users selected articles near the beginning of the list and, thus, we experienced several edit conflicts, when two users tried adding to the same article at almost the same time.

Despite these concerns, participants were eager to learn more and keep editing. In general, their hopes and wishes for the future were:

  1. Learning how to contribute to Commons: both as individuals and as institutions. This activity led many to re-think the importance of preserving cultural heritage through images, and many were eager to learn how to improve articles through the donation of images.
  2. Learning how to improve an article’s text: the bread-and-butter of all Wikipedians. Many of the participants saw the adding of images as only the first step in improving articles. Having a positive first experience led them further down the Wikipedian pipeline
  3. Staying in touch with the local chapter: Most participants didn’t know the work made in concert between Wikimedia Mexico and local institutions. They were amazed at the potential to work on improving content related to culture…
  4. Potential for education: Several of the participants, we found out, are also teachers and lecturers and so they wondered if there was some way to incorporate what they had just learned into their syllabus and schools. We were glad to say that Wikimedia Mexico does have an Education program and the only reason why it wasn’t mentioned was a lack of time for this event. These users wondered if Wikipedia could somehow be integrated into their educational practice (the answer to which is obviously yes)

Wikimedia Chile’s context

By Nicole González

Poster for the Chilean event

The geographical coordinates of Chile tend to wall its history under the limits of the desert, the mountain range, and the ocean. However, the media boom that the country has reached in this digital age and the effervescence of the active social movements that have emerged since 2019, played – also – a key role in the Chilean session of #1Pic1Article.

Thus, contrary to expectations, editors from different provinces in Chile (Santiago, Iquique, Curacaví, and Quillota) attended the session, as well as collaborators from Argentina (Buenos Aires), Colombia (Bogotá), Mexico (Mexico City and Tuxtla Gutiérrez), and Peru (Lima and San Juan de Lurigancho) also participated in this activity. This total participation, enriched by Latin American identities, covered a distance of more than 6,500 km and allowed for 60 editions on the day of the event, which continued to grow until reaching 151 editions in a total of 110 articles.

The opportunity to bring together professionals from the cultural and heritage sectors from five different countries contributed to highlighting the regional interest present for Wikipedia and registering that, those from vastly different fields of knowledge (Art, Education, Library Science, Anthropology, Museology, Cultural management, Teaching, etc.), see in the Wikimedia community an opportunity to expand their networks and to enhance their public and professional outreach. Within the universe of attendees, we are happy to say that 70% had not participated in any previous activity, and therefore, the experiences shared by Patricia Díaz Rubio (Executive Director of Wikimedia Chile) and Giovanna Fontenelle (Program Officer, GLAM and Culture, Wikimedia Foundation) were a stimulus that broadened the gaze on all the hidden and intertwined possibilities within the largest encyclopedia in the world.

The occasion led to a proposal of analyzing images as a form of a situational exercise, with a corporality and a territoriality fostered in and with the images. Thus, Cora Gamarnik (Social communicator and specialist in photojournalism) hit the nail on the head when using an image of the social protests carried out in the context of the Chilean dictatorship since 1973, contrasting their evolution in popular, editorial, and even musical culture. This allowed us to perceive how images carry a message of time, politics, use, and potential that radiates according to the context and the references that we want to give them – and also deny them.

The session continued to test the Add an image feature, where the group was able to realize how agile and simple it was to cross and see the compatibility between the textual resources (which were already available) and their connected access to Wikimedia Commons. Here, as in any learning process, with hits and misses, we saw that – sometimes – the proposed topics were not limited or delimited as we would have liked, but that some links were so expansive, that they made us doubt the true connections and notice how important the source metadata were, to specify the categories and encourage inclusion. 

Also, language emerged as a difficulty, because, although we were working with Spanish, proposals from other languages appeared, such as German and Arabic, which made our choices difficult. Finally, already recognizing the desire to make available more new images and imaginaries for the entire population, we would have liked to have a range of possibilities, as well as a carousel of images where we could compare, cut, highlight, or indicate the explicit reference of why such image was necessary for such an article.

Without a doubt, having had the opportunity to hold the last workshop, in the last country of the southern cone, favored the accumulation of experiences and the desire to continue building visual culture. The subsequent contacts and connections that were generated with different people and institutions that wished to maintain a close relationship between the Wikimedia community, Education, and Digital Culture are proof of this.

Find here the Part I, with the GLAM & Culture team and Wikimedia Argentina’s perspectives.