Who's behind Wikipedia?

Computerworld takes you on an in-depth look at the world’s largest and most celebrated open encyclopedia – Wikipedia

Wikimedia Projects

The Wikimedia Foundation facilitates numerous sister projects that have developed as a result of the proliferation of educational, non-encyclopedic content that isn't appropriate for inclusion within Wikipedia. They include, in order of launch date:

  • Wiktionary; a multi-lingual dictionary and thesaurus service available in over 150 languages.
  • Wikibooks; a collection of educational text books, manuals and other learning materials.
  • Wikiquote; a reference of quotations from historical and contemporary figures, books, films, and many other sources.
  • Wikisource; a project to provide and translate source documents including non-fiction and fiction, letters, speeches, constitutional and historical documents, laws, Shakespearean plays and many more.
  • Wikimedia Commons; a repository of images, sounds, videos and general media.
  • Wikispecies; an animal and living organism directory.
  • Wikinews; a news source from 'citizen journalists' around the world, allowing for original work.
  • Wikiversity; available in five languages for curricular, research and educational resources.

"Besides that there is also Metawiki for the Wiki organizations and foundations, and the Wikimedia Incubator where proposals for new projects start. There are also chapters in certain countries such as Argentina, Israel, Serbia, Switzerland, and we're currently trying to work on one for Australia," Laugher said.

The Wiki-Hierarchy

According to Laugher, the Wikipedia community is not a strict hierarchy, but there is an element of a chain of command that is essential to maintaining order and work-flow, resolving disputes and ensuring a relative level of peace amongst the community.

"Everybody starts down the bottom as a reader. If you want you can edit anonymously which paradoxically is less anonymous than editing as a registered user because you are identified by your IP address. Whereas if you actually register, your IP address is hidden," she explained.

There are over 6 million registered users on the English Wikipedia alone, but a large percentage of those never actually edit, and many people have more than one account. Registered users are divided into either new or auto-confirmed.

"When you first register you are a new user for about four days, and there are a couple of things you can't do, one of them is move pages. Once you become auto-confirmed you are allowed to move pages, upload files and also start a new article."

Sitting above the registered users are several hundred Wikipedians at the rollback level. "This was recently introduced as a shortcut way in the software of diverting a page back. So if someone makes a bad change you can go back to the previous version. Rollback just means you can do it in one click instead of about three."

According to Laugher, the major level of interest comes at the next step up in the Wikipedia chain; the Administrators, of which there are roughly 1,500.

"They have permission to delete pages, protect pages so only other Administrators can edit that page, and also block users from editing a page. To become an Administrator you go through a process known as RFA; a community driven process where members can comment and vote on the discussion."

Next in the pecking order are some 26 Bureaucrats who have the ability to promote people to the level of Administrator as well as several other duties. There is also an Arbitration Committee, known as ArbCom, which is a panel of roughly a dozen users charged with resolving disputes that nether communal discussion nor Administrators were able to resolve. They are the last step in the dispute resolution process.

In line with the ArbCom are the Oversight and Checkuser groups, both of which contain roughly 30 users each.

Separated somewhat from the direct hierarchy, but still privileged above users, Administrators, ArbComs and Bureaucrats, are the Wikimedia Stewards and Developers. Above them sit the WMF Board and Staff.

"And then we have Jimmy Wales, who is a founder and can do whatever he wants more or less, and is a member of the Board. Some of the Staff also have these higher level permissions, as do the Developers, but the difference there is the Board and Staff can and do on occasion intervene in a dispute and force a situation to be a certain way because of their rights, whereas the Developers cant," Laugher said.

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