Girl Geeks V. Wikimeet – An exercise in real-time collaboration

Wikipedia cake

By Fiona Apps (Wikipedia User:Panyd)

How do you get members of the public involved in Wikipedia? Moreover, how do you get women,

a relative minority in the Wikipedia world, interested in editing when the thought had not crossed their minds before? Well, the Bristol Girl Geeks Vs. Wikimedia Event was a great example in how to meet this challenge – and the feedback we gained from the event suggests that this isn’t as difficult as it seems.

The collaboration started from the off. Wikimedia UK approach Bristol Girl Geek Dinners to ask them whether they would be interested in hosting an event with a Wikipedia theme. The enthusiasm with which this suggestion was met resulted in a fantastic collaborative effort to arrange the evening. Both members of Wikimedia UK and Bristol Girl Geeks worked hard to ensure that the rooms were booked, the public were attending and a Wikipedia Logo cake was present.

The audience was seemingly disparate. Although most of the attendees were women, they varied significantly in age, race and geography – some came from as far away as London – some were even men! Addressing such a disparate crowd appeared to be quite a challenge, as how could we bring together people so diverse?

I split my talk into two. The first half of the talk focused on what Wikipedia is. Asking the audience to define Wikipedia – the answer I was given was that it was a ‘free encyclopedia that anyone can edit’ – and yes, of course it is. That is the very core of Wikipedia and that is how the general public interact with it on a daily basis. However, what I tried to impress on the audience was that Wikipedia is more than that. Wikipedia is also a community, one which welcomes new members and is always looking for input and collaboration – right up to its highest levels. Wikipedia is a movement – one which aims to spread free knowledge to everyone in the world in their own language. Not only that, but Wikimedia encompasses more than just Wikipedia, including Commons, Wikiversity, Wikinews

The talk then turned to how people can start editing – for this I focused on the online ambassadors program and Wikiprojects. Both of these programs are not widely known by the public but both can be fantastic resources for new editors who don’t know where to start and need a helping hand to guide them on their journey to becoming Wikipedians. And from there – we were off! Editing began shortly afterwards, with Wikipedians on hand to help where questions were asked.

After they had tried to edit, the discussion became a collaborative effort. Rather than me speaking, I opened up the floor to the women there and – using the nine points discussed by Sue Gardner in her blog post from February as a starting point – we talked and discussed why we thought women remained a minority on Wikipedia.

To say a lively discussion ensued would be to understate the point. These women, and men, were very keen to edit, but they felt that there were three key issues holding them back, and these were brought up again and again. The issues were:

  • The Interface – This point was brought up by women ranging from professors of computer science to those with no knowledge of markup. It was suggested that we more heavily advertise the fact that markup is available at the bottom of the editing page, but also that an edit button was placed by the lead section of an article so that that could be edited by itself. People were impressed by Twinkle and the WikiLove button, but had no idea how to add Twinkle to their own user accounts, and indeed, no idea that it had existed until the talk.
  • Community Interaction – Those present agreed that the interactions they had with the community as new users were offputting. They were not particularly put off by the tone of the interactions, but instead by the seeming unwillingness of users to work with them when their edits were reverted or deleted. Everyone was in agreement that an online ambassador to help with their first few edits would be a major incentive to continue editing, and would make them feel as though they were more of a part of the community.
  • Attitudes of the Community – There were two points that those in attendance agreed upon and those were that the community can be patronising towards women, and that they didn’t want things targeted specifically at them. An example given was the WikiChix meeting at Wikimania. Those present felt that the title of that meeting was patronising and that they would have preferred something more along the lines of ‘Women of Wikipedia’. Cis-gendered, female-oriented merchandise was also considered a bad thing. In spite of these issues, and with a willingness to be a part of the solution, 43% of those who attended the event said they would be interested in editing Wikipedia. A further 20% said they would be interested in working with ‘Real Life’ editing groups and attending social functions to meet more Wikipedians. This is an excellent set of statistics and we hope to welcome these attendees into the Wikipedia fold soon.

My sincerest thanks goes out, not only to Wikimedia UK for allowing me to attend this event and supporting my talk, but to the Bristol Girl Geeks for a wonderful and welcoming evening. We hope to collaborate with the Girl Geeks again soon, and hopefully welcome more feedback and editors into the fold!

Photos by Jessica Cauchard, used with permission.