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04 December 2008, 10:31

Wikipedia to simplify contribution process

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A large donation is to be used to simplify contributing to the free Wikipedia internet encyclopedia. The Stanton Foundation has donated a total of $890,000 to the Wikimedia Foundation to reduce access hurdles.

In principle, anyone can contribute to Wikipedia. But over time, an increasing number of rules and conventions have developed that complicate spontaneous contributions. It is now virtually impossible for newcomers to write a formally correct article – having become more and more complex, the wiki syntax is no longer plain to everyone. Many also fail to understand the wiki concept.

As Sue Gardner, the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco explains "Wikipedia attracts writers who have a moderate-to-high level of technical understanding, but it excludes lots of smart, knowledgeable people who are less tech-centric," – "One of our key priorities is to attract those people and persuade them to help write and edit the encyclopedia".

In the past Wikimedia has repeatedly tried to lower the initial contribution hurdles. Wikimedia Germany, for example, frequently arranges workshops at universities to attract the contributions of scientists. The foundation also tries to solve the problem via software extensions. Despite these efforts, however, the proportion of Wikipedia readers who contribute article material remains very small.

The Stanton Foundation's donation is to be used for creating a team of three programmers, a user interface specialist and a project manager. This team will work exclusively on simplifying the article authoring process. They are to focus on only presenting authors with the functionality they need. The results of the working group are to be published as open source.

The Wikimedia Foundation's annual donation drive to generate a total of $6 million is currently in progress. At present, $3.3 million in donations have been received - including several large donations. Only last year, Gardner expanded the non-profit foundation, which now employs 23 staff.

(Torsten Kleinz)


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