On Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 7:31 AM, Andreas Kolbe <jayen...@gmail.com> wrote:

> Wikidata has its own problems in that regard that have triggered ongoing
> discussions and concerns on the English Wikipedia.[1]

Tensions between different communities with overlapping but
non-identical objectives are unavoidable. Repository projects like
Wikidata and Wikimedia Commons provide huge payoff: they dramatically
reduce duplication of effort, enable small language communities to
benefit from the work done internationally, and can tackle a more
expansive scope than the immediate needs of existing projects. A few
examples include:

- Wiki Loves Monuments, recognized as the world's largest photo competition
- Partnerships with countless galleries, libraries, archives, and museums
- Wikidata initiatives like mySociety's "Everypolitician" project or Gene Wiki

This is not without its costs, however. Differing policies, levels of
maturity, and social expectations will always fuel some level of
conflict, and the repository approach creates huge usability
challenges. The latter is also true for internal wiki features like
templates, which shift information out of the article space,
disempowering users who no longer understand how the whole is
constructed from its parts.

I would call these usability and "legibility" issues the single
biggest challenge in the development of Wikidata, Structured Data for
Commons, and other repository functionality. Much related work has
already been done or is ticketed in Phabricator, such as the effective
propagation of changes into watchlists, article histories, and
notifications. Much more will need to follow.

With regard to the issue of citations, it's worth noting that it's
already possible to _conditionally_ load data from Wikidata, excluding
information that is unsourced or only sourced circularly (i.e. to
Wikipedia itself). [1] Template invocations can also override values
provided by Wikidata, for example, if there is a source, but it is not
considered reliable by the standards of a specific project.

> If a digital voice assistant propagates a Wikimedia mistake without telling
> users where it got its information from, then there is not even a feedback
> form. Editability is of no help at all if people can't find the source.

I'm in favor of always indicating at least provenance (something like
"Here's a quote from Wikipedia:"), even for short excerpts, and I
certainly think WMF and chapters can advocate for this practice.
However, where short excerpts are concerned, it's not at all clear
that there is a _legal_ issue here, and that full compliance with all
requirements of the license is a reasonable "ask".

Bing's search result page manages a decent compromise, I think: it
shows excerpts from Wikipedia clearly labeled as such, and it links to
the CC-BY-SA license if you expand the excerpt, e.g.:

I know that over the years, many efforts have been undertaken to
document best practices for re-use, ranging from local
community-created pages to chapter guides and tools like the
"Lizenzhinweisgenerator". I don't know what the best-available of
these is nowadays, but if none exists, it might be a good idea to
develop a new, comprehensive guide that takes into account voice
applications, tabular data, and so on.

Such a guide would ideally not just be written from a license
compliance perspective, but also include recommendations, e.g., on how
to best indicate provenance, distinguishing "here's what you must do"
from "here's what we recommend".

>> Wikidata will often provide a shallow first level of information about
>> a subject, while other linked sources provide deeper information. The
>> more structured the information, the easier it becomes to validate in
>> an automatic fashion that, for example, the subset of country
>> population time series data represented in Wikidata is an accurate
>> representation of the source material. Even when a large source
>> dataset is mirrored by Wikimedia (for low-latency visualization, say),
>> you can hash it, digitally sign it, and restrict modifiability of
>> copies.

> Interesting, though I'm not aware of that being done at present.

At present, Wikidata allows users to model constraints on internal
data validity. These constraints are used for regularly generated
database reports as well as on-demand lookup via
https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Special:ConstraintReport . This kicks
in, for example, if you put in an insane number in a population field,
or mark a country as female.

There is a project underway to also validate against external sources; see:


Wikidata still tends to deal with relatively small amounts of data; a
highly annotated item like Germany (Q183), for example, comes in at
under 1MB in uncompressed JSON form. Time series data like GDP is
often included only for a single point in time, or for a subset of the
available data. The relatively new "Data:" namespace on Commons exists
to store raw datasets; this is only used to a very limited extent so
far, but there are some examples of how such data can be visualized,


Giving volunteers more powerful tools to select and visualize data
while automating much of the effort of maintaining data integrity
seems like an achievable and strategic goal, and as these examples
show, some building blocks for this are already in place.

>> But the proprietary knowledge graphs are valuable to users in ways
>> that the previous generation of search engines was not. Interacting
>> with a device like you would with a human being ("Alexa/Google/Siri,
>> is yarrow edible?") makes knowledge more accessible and usable,
>> including to people who have difficulty reading long texts, or who are
>> not literate at all. In this sense I don't think WMF should ever find
>> itself in the position to argue _against_ inclusion of information
>> from Wikimedia projects in these applications.

> There is a distinct likelihood that they will make reading Wikipedia
> articles progressively obsolete, just like the availability of Googling has
> dissuaded many people from sitting down and reading a book.

There is an important distinction between "lookup" and "learning"; the
former is a transactional activity ("Is this country part of the Euro
zone?") and the latter an immersive one ("How did the EU come
about?"). Where we now get instant answers from home assistants or
search engines, we may have previously skimmed, or performed our own
highly optimized search in the local knowledge repository called a

In other words, even if some instant answers lead to a drop in
Wikipedia views, it would be unreasonable to assume that those views
were "reads" rather than "skims". When you're on a purely
transactional journey, you appreciate almost anything that shortens

I don't think Wikimedia should fight the gravity of a user's
intentions out of its own pedagogical motives. Rather, it should make
both lookup and learning as appealing as possible. Doing well in the
"lookup" category is important to avoid handing too much control off
to gatekeepers, and being good in the "learning" category holds the
greatest promise for lasting positive impact.

As for the larger social issue, at least in the US, the youngest (most
googley) generation is the one that reads the most books, and
income/education are very strong predictors of whether people do or

>> The applications themselves are not the problem; the centralized
>> gatekeeper control is. Knowledge as an open service (and network) is
>> actually the solution to that root problem. It's how we weaken and
>> perhaps even break the control of the gatekeepers. Your critique seems
>> to boil down to "Let's ask Google for more crumbs". In spite of all
>> your anti-corporate social justice rhetoric, that seems to be the path
>> to developing a one-sided dependency relationship.

> I considered that, but in the end felt that given the extent to which
> Google profited from volunteers' work, it wasn't an unfair ask.

While I think your proposal to ask Google to share access to resources
it already has digitized or licensed is worth considering, I would
suggest being very careful about the long term implications of any
such agreements. Having a single corporation control volunteers'
access to proprietary resources means that such access can also be
used as leverage down the road, or abruptly be taken away for other

I think it would be more interesting to spin off the existing
"Wikipedia Library" into its own international organization (or home
it with an existing one), tasked with giving free knowledge
contributors (including potentially to other free knowledge projects
like OSM) access to proprietary resources, and pursuing public and
private funding of its own. The development of many relationships may
take longer, but it is more sustainable in the long run. Moreover, it
has the potential to lead to powerful collaborations with existing
public/nonprofit digitization and preservation efforts.

> Publicise the fact that Google and others profit from volunteer work, and
> give very little back. The world could do with more articles like this:
> https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/07/22/you-dont-know-it-but-youre-working-for-facebook-for-free/

I have plenty of criticisms of Facebook, but the fact that users don't
get paid for posting selfies isn't one of them. My thoughts on how the
free culture movement (not limited to Wikipedia) should interface with
the for-profit sector are as follows, FWIW:

1) Demand appropriate levels of taxation on private profits, [2]
sufficient investments in public education and cultural institutions,
and "open licensing" requirements on government contracts with private

2) Require compliance with free licenses, first gently, then more
firmly. This is a game of diminishing returns, and it's most useful to
go after the most blatant and problematic cases. As noted above, "fair
use" limits should be understood and taken into consideration.

3) Encourage corporations to be "good citizens" of the free culture
world, whether it's through indicating provenance beyond what's
legally required, or by contributing directly (open source
development, knowledge/data donations, in-kind goods/services,
financial contributions). The payoff for them is goodwill and a
thriving (i.e. also profitable) open Internet that more people in more
places use for more things.

4) Build community-driven, open, nonprofit alternatives to
out-of-control corporate quasi-monopolies. As far as proprietary
knowledge graphs are concerned, I will reiterate: open data is the
solution, not the problem.


[1] See the getValue function in
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Module:WikidataIB , specifically its
"onlysourced" parameter. The module also adds a convenient "Edit this
on Wikidata" link to each claim included from there.

[2] As far as Wikimedia organizations are concerned, specific tax
policy will likely always be out of scope of political advocacy, but
the other points need not be.

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