Emergence of a Wikidata Community

The image shows the Wikidata logo - a series of vertical stripes of varying thickness in red, green and blue

This post was written by Fabian Tompsett, Volunteer Support Organiser

“Emergence (…) refers to the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns, and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems.”
(Emergence as a Construct: History and Issues, Goldstein 1999)

Technological innovation can appear as the determining factor of how are habits are reshaped as new facilities come online, each with their new bundles of characteristics, which in turn release new capabilities and create new potentialities in the hands of their early adopters. However where the constraints of the commodity form – as in the free software movement – are in abeyance, the ability of how these early adopters form themselves into a community can play a more determining role.

The 21st century saw the emergence of Wikipedia as a beautiful example of this: Wikipedia could only take off thanks to a self-organising community which incorporated user-feedback not only in its own self-regulation, but also in the regulation of how the wiki software underlying the encyclopedia would be improved. By adopting the encyclopedic form, the appeal was always to everyman, i.e. any “person having ordinary skill in the art” of accessing the internet. The combination of the personal computer and the internet means that there is a continual flux in the capacities innovation unlocks in such a distributed environment.

Wikidata was launched in October 2012 as an application of the “Wiki Way” in a new environment: that of an on-line knowledge base. Wikidata was originally conceived as a way of providing a data spine through which related articles on various wikipedias could be linked. This was achieved in early 2013. However Wikidata soon moved forward from simply reconciling internal issues, to dealing with external sources. Wikidata is one of several projects to reconcile identifiers and authority files from different sources, but with the integration of data from Google’s Freebase, it is becoming an increasingly important resource outside of the Wikipedia context. Alongside the development of the database as such various tools are continually being developed to access the knowledge base and make increasingly complex searches.

As Wikipedia enters its fifteenth year, Wikidata sees Already this collaborative approach is having an impact, one which will go much further if the Wikidata for Research funding application is successful. has highlighted its potential to attract more Citizen-Scientists – Wikidata can change the way citizen scientists contribute. Lydia Pintscher, Product Manager for Wikidata, Wikimedia Deutschland, has discussed the social scaling needed if Wikidata is to realise its potential. Currently many organisations are looking to provide Wikidata with more and more data. But this leaves the question – how will the community develop to match these new opportunities?

Ways to get involved:
In the UK we have set up an e-mail list to supplement the other lists. The object of this list is to focus on activities in the UK and Ireland (Go here for the more general Wikidata list). We have also started have specific Wikidata Meetups, two in London so far. We are also discussing having an event in Manchester. We have also started a project page: Wikidata:WikiProject UK and Ireland.

Up coming activity:
Open Data Day (Saturday 21st Feb/Sunday 22nd Feb). Local open data activists have already gained the support of Hampshire County Council for a two day unconference in Winchester.

Contact fabian.tompsett{{@}}wikimedia.org.uk for more information.