How to encourage academics to contribute to Wikipedia?
How to increase the amount of good quality articles in Wikipedia?
In order to demonstrate the work they have undertaken (to funding organisations, to their university, for promotion, for their professional reputation) academics require:
a) to be named as authors of their work,
b) that their work be their own rather than a mass collaboration,
c) that their work be in an academically reputable publication.
[Note! All of these issues were raised at GLAM-WIKI (i.e. I’m not just making them up) and all of them can be solved and still remain compliant with the requirements of a free-culture license (e.g. CC-by-SA). Also, I must mention that the original concept for this proposal grew out of working on The Sydney Journal, a side-project of the Dictionary of Sydney.]
Wikipedia currently has no way of addressing any of these issues due to the very nature of it being an “anyone can edit” wiki. This alienates a large number of academics who are already very interested in learning about and contributing to Wikipedia but have difficulty justifying it as legitimate work. Quite simply, academics in many countries/institutions must earn “points” each year to prove they’ve been working and thereby justify to government why their institution should continue to receive funding. The points system is an an effort to provide a fair comparison between qualitatively different fields of academic inquiry but in practice can turn academia into a numbers game. Some things that earn points are publishing a book, teaching courses and writing scholarly journal articles. One thing that certainly doesn’t earn points is helping to maintain the quality of the content on Wikipedia in the academic’s area of expertise – this is despite the fact that that is precisely where 90% of their students will turn to first to get some background information.
“The Wikipedia Journal”
The creation of peer-reviewed scholarly e-journal. Academics would be encouraged to write encyclopedic articles on their area of expertise in accordance with our editorial principles (including Neutral POV, Verifiability and No Original Research) and the Wikipedia manual of style. Their article would be submitted to blind peer-review, as per the best-practices of any academically-rigorous journal, by both relevant academics and also a Wikipedian who had been a major contributor to a Featured Article on a similar topic. The final articles would be published in an edition of the “Wikipedia Journal” ready and available to merge into the existing Wikipedia article on that topic.
[Note: this proposal is not the same as “WikiJournal” on Meta (the purpose of which is to encourage Original Research scholarship) or “Wiki Journal” on WikiVersity/Wikia (the purpose of which is to publish articles about Wiki-related scholarship).]
The subjects particularly sought would be intentionally diverse and come in two main forms:
1) in part from Wikipedians’ demand for expert input on a topic (e.g. articles high on the importance scale but currently low on the quality scale) and,
2) in part from academics’ interest in participating (e.g. to be able to legitimately integrate their previously-published research into Wikipedia).
If there were enough content to warrant it the Journal could have themed editions (e.g. January edition = Psychology, March edition = Astronomy) or each edition could be broken up into sections based roughly along the academic faculty structure (Commerce, Law, Medicine, Humanities, Engineering…).
The Journal itself would, of course, be Gold Access, under the CC-by-SA license and be registered with an ISSN. Furthermore, it is probable that the Journal would gain academic prestige (or at least notoriety!) due to three factors:
a) the number of reputable scholars who have indicated their support for Wikipedia (and might conceivably be willing to write for the Journal) giving it credibility by association;
b) the likely very high citation impact of the Journal (a corollary of the popularity of Wikipedia itself) and our ability to give precise statistics on hits, clickthroughs and utility (via the currently-being-tested “reader feedback” extension);
c) the virtually unlimited scope of Wikipedia would mean that any academic in any discipline could potentially write an article for the Journal.
Articles, once published, could then be merged into the existing Wikipedia article (or a new article created if one did not exist before) and appropriate attribution placed in the external links section of the Wikipedia article to the Author and journal edition. Also, it might be nice to have a talkpage template indicating that an academic had made substantial contributions to the article. *Hopefully* the newly refurbished Wikipedia article could then be taken to Featured Article candidacy relatively quickly. But, the Journal articles would not get any special rights to overwrite the existing article. It would be up to the Wikipedians who look after the relevant article to decide whether to incorporate the text. The academic would be encouraged to use make use of the information and references in the existing article (and read the talkpage debates) so as not to lose the good work that has already gone before.
Other benefits “The Wikipedia Journal” would provide:
– a different media format for people to be able to access the free-culture content of the Wikimedia movement;
– increased credibility to the Wikimedia movement;
– an increased awareness in academia about free-culture generally and about Wikipedia’s editorial standards/requirements specifically;
– an entry-point for recruiting academics to improve Wikipedia. After all, authors would have an incentive to monitor the progress of their article once it was merged into Wikipedia and might continue editing more broadly;
– a product scalable to multiple languages/areas of expertise/countries at minimal cost to Wikimedia funds.
In order to be given up-front academic legitimacy the Journal would need to be sponsored by an academic research funding body (e.g. the Australian Research Council) and perhaps also a reputable research-based University. The research funding would be used to employ an editor (see below) and the university required in order to provide a workspace and employment administration (insurance, superannuation, etc. – assuming a Chapter or the Foundation couldn’t/wouldn’t/doesn’t supply these things). The Journal could be set up as a project of a Wikimedia Chapter, of the Wikimedia Foundation or independently of any existing structure – after all, anyone can write Wikipedia articles! It would nevertheless, require trademark approval from the Wikimedia Foundation. The academic legitimacy is much more important here than the funds themselves but the funds would be useful if for no other reason than it avoids having to use money donated by individuals to the Wikimedia movement to pay for it.
It is possible that the research funding organisation would require that the journal be of specific benefit to the research community of that nation, in which case it would be a matter of publishing subjects that were demonstrably of national relevance and/or only accepting authors of that nation’s universities. For example, if the Australian Research Council funded/sponsored the Journal then it may require that the articles be in some way related to the Wikipedia [[category:Australia]] (or one of its many many sub-categories) and or be written by an academic employed at one of the Universities in Australia. If this restriction was placed upon the Journal then would simply give greater impetus for many of the Wikimedia Chapters to organise for funding in their own countries resulting in a whole series of Journals!
The Journal could be administered using the Open Journal System (which is, of course, F/LOSS) and published on an instance of Media-Wiki (perhaps at journal.wikimedia.org or at a sub-domain of the sponsoring Wikimedia Chapter or of the sponsoring university). Articles, editions and volumes could be downloaded in PDF/ODF etc. Articles would have a named author and author biography and they would have flagged revisions enabled in such a way that people would always see a version approved by the author (of course, the article would be available for editing at the equivalent Wikipedia article to which it would be linked). The official editions would be archived in journal databases such as google.scholar, and the Directory of Open Access Journals.
The Role of the Editor:
I suspect that this project would require one person whose responsibilities would be to:
– work with potential authors and find peer-reviewers;
– manage the editorial workflow;
– copyedit and wikify the text;
– manage copyright permissions;
– publish and distribute the editions through various forms (blog, email, notification at relevant wiki-projects/academic newsletters);
– ‘hand-hold’ academics/reviewers to explain Wikipedia’s editorial style, especially WP:NOR (although referencing their own previously published original research would be encouraged);
– encourage the conversion of Journal articles to Wikipedia articles and (hopefully) have them listed for Featured Article status;
– report to the Wikimedian and academic communities about the project’s progress at conferences, media etc.
– answer the phone… Having a contactable person you can talk to might be a more comfortable way for some to approach wikipedia rather than through OTRS, mailing lists or talkpages.
Future Potential/Alternative Models:
If demand/funding warranted it the journal could be a series of separate journals for specific topics (e.g. Molecular Biology, Paleontology, Constitutional Law…) and/or in different languages. The former could be achieved through partnership with specific research institutes that would be willing to provide the academic credibility/sponsorship to the publication whilst the latter could be achieved through the support of the Wikimedia Chapters and various nations’ research funding organisations. Indeed, it is quite possible that a whole network of peer-reviewed Wikipedia Journals might be established to cater for different languages and different areas of expertise all categorised at journal.wikimedia.org. It could even become a project that each Wikimedia Chapter sponsors in its own country/language.
[Edit 1: Since publishing, I’ve been made aware of the fact that by and large you can have a “commissioned journal” or a “peer reviewed journal” but not both at the same time. This is on the basis that if someone’s been commissioned to write then they can’t be rejected later on by a reviewer. Perhaps this is a fundamental flaw in my proposal or perhaps this is something that doesn’t apply in this case because the subject matter is encyclopedic articles rather than Original Research. I’ve since decided to remove the word “commissioned” from the proposal completely. Of course, in practice you can always encourage people to write, it just means they won’t necessarily pass the peer-review.]
[Edit 2: After talking with a lot of people it looks like the idea is coming clearer. The Journal would be peer-reviewed not commissioned. The Journal would be broad ranging in subject areas. However, the Journal would be restricted in scope to one country in order to make it managable – therefore it would be called “the [insert country name] Wikipedia Journal”. It would not necessarily need research funding, merely the funding and academic legitimacy provided by a university. It would need a strong and well respected editorial board – this will be the trickiest thing to put in place.]