On 22nd November 2023, Code for Africa’s Wikipedian-in-Residence (WiR), hosted its 9th session of the WiR bi-weekly webinar series, titled “Introduction to Wikipedia and its Misconceptions,” the webinar was facilitated by Barakat Adegboye, an experienced Wikimedian from Nigeria, and moderated by Bukola James, the Community Coordinator CFA-WIR. This session had project leads and volunteer Wikipedians from various African countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda. It comprehensively explored Wikipedia, its principles, and its anatomy, and addressed common misconceptions.
Overview of Wikipedia
Barakat Adegboye commenced the session with a detailed overview of the evolution of Wikipedia since its inception in 2001. She highlighted the platform’s remarkable expansion, now featuring more than 56 million articles in over 329 languages across various Wiki pages with the English Wikipedia having the most articles of any edition, at 6,726,016 as of October 2023 and 6,752,890 as of December 2023. The discussion emphasised Wikipedia’s nature as a continuously evolving, collaborative project.
Wikipedia Core Content Policies and Best Practices
The core policies fundamental to Wikipedia’s integrity and reliability were discussed. Barakat Adegboye emphasised the critical importance for all contributors to adhere to these guidelines. These guidelines include:
- Neutral Point of View (WP: NPOV): Central to Wikipedia’s ethos is the policy of neutrality. This policy mandates that all articles and encyclopaedic content be written from a neutral point of view. Significant views must be represented fairly, proportionately, and without bias. This ensures that the articles remain objective and factual, free from the influence of personal opinions or slanted perspectives.
- Verifiability (WP: V): The verifiability policy is another cornerstone of Wikipedia. This policy requires that any material that is challenged or likely to be challenged, including all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source. In Wikipedia, verifiability is not just about ensuring accuracy, but also about making sure that readers and editors can verify the information through reliable sources. This principle underpins the trustworthiness of the content on Wikipedia.
- No Original Research (WP: NOR): Wikipedia’s commitment to being an encyclopaedia means it does not publish original thoughts or research. All content in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source. This policy prohibits the inclusion of contributors’ theories, interpretations, syntheses, or analyses, ensuring that Wikipedia remains a repository of existing, verifiable knowledge rather than a platform for individual research or opinion.
These policies collectively ensure that Wikipedia remains a trusted and authoritative resource for information. Barakat highlighted that understanding and applying these principles is not just best practice, but is essential for maintaining the quality and credibility of the encyclopaedia.
Five pillars and Facts of Wikipedia
According to Barakat, the Five (5) Pillars of Wikipedia are fundamental guidelines that shape the platform. They include:
1) Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia,
2) it maintains a neutral point of view,
3) its content is free and editable by anyone,
4) editors should interact with respect and civility, and
5) There are no strict rules.
She further stated the key facts to remember as a Wikipedia user. These include understanding these pillars and adopting best practices such as being bold but not reckless, understanding your audience, avoiding copyright infringement, citing sources rigorously, steering clear of self-promotion, sharing expertise without authoritative bias, writing neutrally, and seeking help when needed.
Common Misconceptions about Wikipedia
The facilitator clarified that while the Wikipedia platform is open to contributions from anyone, it doesn’t accept personal opinions, and all content must be based on facts from notable sources. and the nature of Wikipedia articles as summaries of reliable information, rather than primary sources, was also emphasised.
Anatomy of a Wikipedia Article
The anatomy of a Wikipedia article is complex and informative. Participants were guided through its structure with a focus on elements such as Search Box, links, Badges and Banners, Lead Section, Talk pages, view history, References, and citations. This segment was instrumental in providing a practical understanding of how an article is composed and maintained for accuracy and readability. The webinar explored this through an example article, highlighting several key elements:
- Search Box: This tool allows users to find more information without leaving Wikipedia, making research efficient and comprehensive.
- Links: Blue links in an article connect to other Wikipedia pages on related topics, encouraging exploration. Red links suggest that an article on that topic doesn’t exist yet but is potentially needed, indicating opportunities for new content creation.
- Badges and Banners: Certain badges, like a bronze star, are placed in the top right corner of an article to signify its status as a Featured Article, indicating high-quality, peer-reviewed content. Warning banners may also be present, signalling areas needing improvement, additional citations, or potential conflicts.
- Lead Section: This provides a succinct summary of the article’s key points, offering a quick overview and understanding of the topic, particularly helpful for students.
- Talk Pages: The ‘Talk’ section reveals the collaborative process behind an article. It includes discussions on content disputes, source verification, and suggestions for improvements, exemplifying the construction of knowledge through informed exchanges and collaboration.
- View History: By clicking on the “View History” tab, users can track the development of an article. This feature displays a chronological list of contributions by various volunteer editors, illustrating how the article has evolved and its currentness.
- Citations and References: Numbered citations within the text link to the References section. Hovering over these numbers provides a quick view of the source, and clicking on them leads to detailed source information. The assessment of an article often considers the number and quality of these sources.
Understanding these elements is vital for new contributors, as it equips them with the knowledge to effectively navigate Wikipedia’s collaborative environment and contribute meaningfully.
Interactive Discussions and Queries
Throughout the webinar, attendees engaged in interactive discussions, raising questions on various aspects of Wikipedia, including policies, editing best practices, and article improvement techniques. These discussions enriched the learning experience as well as providing practical insights and solutions.
Barakat concluded the session by encouraging participants to explore and contribute creatively to Wikipedia. She highlighted that learning about Wikipedia’s policies and processes is important to understand discussions on talk pages and to create high-quality, policy-compliant articles that can stay on the mainspace of Wikipedia.
For those interested in revisiting the session or those who might have missed it, the recorded version is available on the community programmes page and do well to test your knowledge on our academy Africa. Ensure you are registered for the upcoming CfA WiR Bi-weekly webinar and immerse in our vibrant community. To stay abreast of our initiatives, complete this form, and let’s shape the future together!
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