Interesting press with direct link to ten.wikipedia.org
. :-) Nice work Wikimedia Deutschland!
Worthy Online Resource, but Global Cultural Treasure?
By Kevin J. O'Brien
BERLIN — In its 10 years of existence, Wikipedia, the global online encyclopedia, has amassed an archive of 18 million entries in 279 languages. It is one of the 10 most popular Web sites on the Internet.
But is the volunteer-driven data depository an endangered world cultural treasure worthy of protection, like French cuisine, the Argentine tango or the Grand Canyon?
That is the long-shot bet being made by Wikipedia, which plans to begin a global petition drive Tuesday to earn a spot on one of the world heritage lists of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The bid, the first by a digital entity for a place on a Unesco list, will no doubt be controversial among heritage professionals advising Unesco, who tend to view online innovation as lacking the necessary effect or maturity for listing.
“Heritage professionals tend to be rather conservative types, or they wouldn’t choose this kind of occupation,” said Britta Rudolff, a heritage consultant who teaches on the subject at the Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus, Germany. “They like to play with the past, and something only a decade old is going to face challenges.”
The idea of landing Wikipedia on a Unesco world heritage list came out of Germany, where volunteers have produced 1.2 million entries, second only to the number in English. Wikipedia’s German overseer, a Berlin nonprofit called Wikimedia, proposed the idea in March to Wikipedia chapters at a global conference in the German capital.
The reception was enthusiastic, said a Wikipedia co-founder, Jimmy Wales.
“The basic idea is to recognize that Wikipedia is this amazing global cultural phenomena that has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” Mr. Wales said in an interview. He said the online encyclopedia had helped educate people around the world, providing a wealth of basic facts, background information and key context.
Mr. Wales also said that one aim of the petition drive — supporters can register at a special Web page, Wikipedia 10 — is to raise awareness of Wikipedia.
“Of course, part of what we are trying to do is promote the idea of Wikipedia as a cultural phenomenon,” Mr. Wales said. “Too often, people think about us purely in terms of technology, when this is about culture, high tech and learning.”
Wikipedia is hoping to earn a place on Unesco’s most prestigious list, the World Heritage List, which so far includes only historic monuments and natural sites like the Great Barrier Reef and the Great Wall of China. Failing that, Wikipedia could aim for Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, a lesser-known directory that includes endangered traditions and practices, like flamenco.
Getting Wikipedia on either list will be an uphill battle. It will have to negotiate a complicated approval process and overcome the skeptical regard of Unesco and heritage consultants to be considered for recognition. Susan Williams, the head of external media relations at Unesco in Paris, said a bid by a digital entity like Wikipedia would be unprecedented.
“Anyone can apply,” said Ms. Williams, who added that she was not aware of Wikipedia’s plans. “But it may have difficulty fulfilling the criteria.”
One of the criteria for inclusion, she said, is that the culture or practice be endangered.
She said that Wikipedia might consider applying for a third, even less known honor, the Unesco Memory of the World Register list, which recognizes valuable archive holdings and library collections. That list, however, lacks the prestige of the others, which are funded more generously and promoted more assiduously by Unesco and its member countries.
Mr. Wales said Wikipedia was hoping to set off a debate over the role of digital innovation in world culture. While Wikipedia, which allows anyone to write or edit entries, has had problems with accuracy and plagiarism, the organization has worked to improve its editorial controls and to help people in repressive or less affluent societies.
In Iran, where the government has periodically shut down or censored portions of Wikipedia’s service, the online Web site is helping young Iranians obtain information on health issues like HIV and has given some a rare forum to post information and share views about recent anti-government demonstrations.
“I think Wikipedia is playing a significant role in spreading information in Iranian society at the moment,” said one Iranian college student in Germany, who is a regular contributor to Wikipedia’s Farsi content, which includes 128,000 entries. The student, who did not want to be identified for fear of government reprisal against his family, said that about 100 students accounted for the bulk of Wikipedia Farsi entries.
Volunteers use pseudonyms when making or editing entries, he said, adding that the site was well read in Iran, inviting censorship and periodic government shutdowns during civil unrest. In the past three months, the Iranian government has allowed access to the site.
“This gives us a window on the world that we would not normally have,” he said.
Similarly, in South Africa, Wikipedia is playing a role in providing free information and learning materials in schools, many of which lack the money to buy books and maintain libraries, said Charlene Foster, an organizer of Wikipedia South Africa. The group in March began generating entries in Afrikaans and Northern Sotho and will do so eventually in the country’s nine other official languages.
Aside from providing local-language access to basic information, Wikipedia is giving South Africans a chance to write their own history, Ms. Foster said.
“South Africa and the African continent has been marginalized in terms of information and cultural value,” Ms. Foster said. “But Wikipedia is helping us with access to information for education not found in libraries.”
On a practical level, Wikipedia will have to do more than just gather signatures on a petition. Under Unesco rules, Wikipedia must find a country to sponsor its nomination to either the World Heritage or Intangible Cultural Heritage List. In the interview, Mr. Wales said he hoped that Germany would sponsor Wikipedia’s bid for the World Heritage list.
Getting nominated for the Intangible Cultural Heritage list will be more difficult. The United States and Germany are not signatories to the 2003 convention that created this list and cannot act as sponsors.
But South Africa did sign on, and Ms. Foster, who lives in Johannesburg, said she was in the early stages of asking officials in the government to discuss the country’s making a bid on behalf of Wikipedia for one of the lists.
Even if Wikipedia’s South African supporters can persuade their government to nominate Wikipedia, getting selected is by no means guaranteed. Winners are selected by an intergovernmental committee of 24 countries. For the intangible heritage list, those members include Iran and Cuba.
But Ms. Foster, an organizational development consultant, said it was worth a try.
“We are realistic about it,” Ms. Foster said. “This has never been done before. But we believe that the contribution Wikipedia has made is a good argument in itself.”