[Foundation-l] The image filter: Thoughts on the German/English question

Andreas Kolbe jayen466 at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 14 03:43:37 UTC 2011

Having thought about the very divisive image filter discussions here, on de:WP, Meta, and elsewhere, including the August referendum and the more recent editor poll in the German Wikipedia, I would like to draw the Board's and other editors' attention to some fundamental differences between the German and English Wikipedias, which may explain some of the feelings and differences in attitudes we have observed.

1. The German Wikipedia mainly serves the German language area, which is a geographically contiguous and culturally fairly homogeneous area. 

2. The English Wikipedia, in contrast, serves such disparate and culturally diverse regions as North America, Western Europe, parts of South and East Asia, Australia, and parts of Africa. As the biggest and most developed Wikipedia, it also covers much of the rest of the world where English is taught as a second language.

3. Looking at de:WP and en:WP, my feeling is that the use of illustrations in the German Wikipedia is generally more restrained, and the presentation more scholarly than in the English Wikipedia, including the controversial topic areas that were the subject of the Harris study. 

4. To give an example: while the English article on the sexual practice of fisting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisting includes a real-life photo of anal fisting, the German article http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisting does not; its second image shows a glove, with a caption related to health issues. The German article contains significantly more information on health risks and potential long-term medical consequences of the practice than the English one. The English article, in contrast, contains information on notable porn performers, information which is entirely lacking in the German article. My impression, from reading several articles in this topic area in both projects, is that this is quite a representative example, illustrating fundamental differences in approach between the German and English Wikipedias, with the German Wikipedia generally aspiring to a more high-brow, rather than populist, approach. 

5. To give another example, the famous autofellatio image included in the English Wikipedia, often discussed controversially in en:WP, is nowhere to be found in the German Wikipedia; the German autofellatio article http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Autofellatio&redirect=no is a redirect to the article on fellatio, which covers the topic of autofellatio in three sentences. The dedicated English article on autofellatio http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autofellatio in contrast runs to more than 500 words, with about half of it devoted to popular culture references.

6. In general, I feel that both the textual content and choice of illustrations in the German articles are not a significant challenge to German cultural expectations. Again, it's important to note that the German community has a much easier job here, as its target audience is fairly homogeneous, and in addition probably represents one of the sexually most open-minded cultures on the planet. If we combine this fact with the observation of the generally more restrained nature of the illustrations used in the German Wikipedia, I would hazard a guess that the size of the German-language adult demographic that would want to use a personal image filter while viewing the German Wikipedia is minute. I see no major concerns with German-speaking minors either.

7. In the English Wikipedia, on the other hand, we find far more explicit illustrations, a greater focus on pornography and Western popular culture, coupled with an extremely diverse target audience that includes some of the most sexually conservative cultures on the planet. These two elements work against each other, creating a vastly larger demographic potentially interested in a personal image filter.

8. It is important that there is a mutual appreciation of these basic differences. 

9. I think editors in the German community have felt judged by people who don't properly understand their culture (probably not entirely without justification), and who don't appreciate that they are trying to do a responsible job, in line with the expectations of their target audience. In general, I would argue that they are successful in that endeavour.

10. At the same time, I feel that some editors from the German community have lacked a feel for how much more culturally diverse the target audience of the English Wikipedia (as well as Commons) is, in what respects editorial practice in the English Wikipedia differs from that applied in the German one, and why editors in the English and some other Wikipedia communities may feel more positive about the idea of a personal image filter than they do, as reflected in the referendum results. In general, the accusation most often made by German editors against editors from the US or UK is the one of personal prudishness (probably quite undeserved in many cases).

11. My suggestion to the Board would be to abandon the idea of the personal image filter for the German Wikipedia – I don't believe it is really needed, and the German community does not want it – but to pursue it vigorously for other projects, including in particular the English Wikipedia and Commons, and taking note of any regional variation in the referendum results.

12. Observations on other Wikipedias and projects are welcome.


More information about the foundation-l mailing list