Did you know that Wikipedia is in trouble? I wasn’t aware; for example, there has not been an appeal for money appearing there at the top of the Wikipedia page for some time now. And it still seems to get plenty of respect from PR agencies. From today:

Still, it is not the financial front where Wikipedia is encountering problems. Just what is the matter – the “biggest crisis” since its founding – is explained well in a recent piece in Germany’s Die Welt on the occasion of the arrival of a new chief for the Wikimedia Foundation, one Lila Tretikov, a computer scientist who, as her name suggests, comes originally out of Russia. She is said to be particularly motivated to right things at Wikipedia because of the way the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl (which occurred when she was just 8) killed so many more people than it should have because of the way information was withheld from those who needed to know it.

Nonetheless, as that Welt article points out in its title, she herself represents what is troubling Wikipedia. As you probably know, the whole institution is set up as a volunteer effort – and the problem is precisely that the number of volunteers (or “authors”) has fallen by a third since 2007. What is more, that author cohort has tended to reduce to a typical, predictable group – namely white, Western, male, and usually expert in technical subjects. (But sometimes in others as well: the article makes its point by noting that the Wikipedia coverage of female pornstars seems to be particularly . . . uh . . . deep and well-organized.) Ms. Tretikov admits to never having written or even edited a Wikipedia article herself – so it is in that sense that she is part of the problem, since it is more participation, particularly on the part of knowledgeable women, that the project so desperately needs.

Unfortunately, that is not the only problem Wikipedia is currently experiencing, as we see here:

Yes: “Porno!” The linked article is from the German business newspaper Handelsblatt and in fact these troubles only involve the German Wikipedia – for now, at least. There’s a webplatform in Germany for teachers called (yes, they use the English); the people there went hunting for pornographic links from Wikipedia and, by George, they found them. Under rubrics like “Piercing”; “Penetration”; and of course much worse than that. Really, if you read the Handelsblatt piece carefully, it does seem that they mainly found this stuff, not in the German Wikipedia itself, but on a related site called Wikimedia Commons. No matter: the president of the German teachers’ professional organization, the Deutscher Lehrverband (DL), is now advising teachers and parents that Wikipedia is to be considered “unsatisfactory” for schoolwork.

Indeed, DL President Josef Kraus is demanding an immediate removal of all pornographic content from Wikipedia and all related sites – which really makes you think that, even to this point, President Kraus has formed for himself but an incomplete picture of what the Internet is all about and how it works.

With Wikipedia buffeted on multiple fronts, perhaps it is time to pass the torch, at least in part, and let others have a go? Well, there is the Russian-language site – which itself looks awfully like Wikipedia – whose name transliterates to “Rukspert” – Get it? It’s like “Russian” + “expert.” Unfortunately, the Polish edition of Newsweek doesn’t think much of it:

“Russian Wikipedia propaganda”: Now, it’s hard to get the Polish establishment to think very highly of much of anything that is Russian; the two countries have a certain history, you know. And this “Rukspert” site was founded – and the contributions he does not write himself are edited – by one man, Oleg Marenko, who when he started in 2007 publicly set himself the goal to present “The Truth about Russia, with no dirty, stinkin’ propaganda.” (That’s pretty basically the translation of his guiding motto, at least from the Polish.)

Alas, though, things are not turning out that way, especially since the recent troubles involving Ukraine and the Crimea. Suggestions have been raised publicly that has begun to be secretly financed by the Russian authorities, something Marenko is quick to deny. Nonetheless, it is at least here in the Polish press now written off as little more than “a guide to reading the thoughts of Putin.”

What’s a Wikipedist to do?

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