Outreach Program for Women at Wikidata

German summary: Im Mai beteiligte sich Wikidata am Outreach Program for Women. Helen Halbert und Anjali Sharma kümmerten sich um die …

  • Jens Ohlig
  • 8. September 2014

German summary: Im Mai beteiligte sich Wikidata am Outreach Program for Women. Helen Halbert und Anjali Sharma kümmerten sich um die Dokumentation von Wikidata für die Öffentlichkeit und Community, von Guided Tours, die an Wikidata heranführen bis zum Befüllen der Social-Media-Kanäle. Der folgende Gastbeitrag auf Englisch wurde von Helen (zusammen mit Anjali) nach ihrer Teilnahme an dem Programm bei uns verfasst.

This May, Wikidata was part of the Outreach Program for Women. Helen Halbert and Anjali Sharma took care of documenting Wikidata for the general public and the community, with tasks ranging from guided tours for those new to Wikidata to handling the various social media channels. The following guest post is a summary by Helen (written together with  Anjali) about her time with Wikidata.

The journey to contributor

This past May, Anjali and myself were thrilled to learn we both would be working for Wikidata for the summer as part of GNOME Foundation’s Outreach Program for Women (OPW), which provides paid internships with participating organizations to encourage more women to get involved with free and open source software. Both of us were assigned the task of working on outreach efforts.

Apart from dipping our toes briefly into the project while applying to the program, we were newcomers to Wikidata—although not technical projects.

Anjali, a student in Information Technology at the Indian Institute of Information Technology with an interest in software architecture, and I, a recent graduate of UBC’s library and information studies program, were both familiar with linked, structured data and concepts like authority control. But despite this technical and theoretical understanding, when we both reflected back to our first encounters with Wikidata, we recalled how it had taken a few re-reads of the Glossary (and the Wikipediapages, and some of the Help pages…. ) before fully coming to terms with what the project was all about.

This challenge of communicating what Wikidata is and does was essentially the motivation behind our two internships. While Wikidata is an impressive and important undertaking—made all the more so because it’s a product of volunteer contributors—the project presented a barrier to participation, even to those from a technical background, let alone someone who didn’t already know what structured data is or why they should care about it.

In some keys ways, this is where being a newcomer to the Wikidata community had its advantages.

Because neither Anjali nor I had expertise with the project, or a long-standing familiarity with the way the software worked, it meant that we weren’t blind to our own intimate knowledge of Wikidata and wouldn’t take for granted or assume that what we knew was a level of understanding common to everyone. This was definitely an asset while writing documentation! I tended to approach a lot of my work from a starting point of first addressing my own sources of confusion, and second, finding reason behind how and why the different parts of Wikidata fit together to make structured data a powerful tool for human knowledge.

Being a newcomer also has its own set of challenges. Updates to documentation sometimes required a lot of reading and research on my own part, and I often found myself not only consulting other pages on Wikidata and Wikimedia projects, but archived mailinglist messages and Project chat discussions, as well as my mentor and other contributors on the IRC channel.  Anjali too had a similar experience while creating content for slideshow tutorials and resources primarily intended as an orientation to the basics of Wikidata. Her undertaking also involved a lot of reading, research, and consultation to suss out the major obstacles and common difficulties faced by newcomers, as well as effective solutions and available strategies as suggested by other contributors. Yet another challenge was encountered by Anjali while she worked on new headers for Wikidata’s social media profiles—previous to the OPW internship, she had little idea of the complexity of copyright, but quickly came to terms with the various issues involved when navigating the murky waters of image rights.

Newcomers anywhere always run the risk of feeling like they are outsiders. Luckily, Anjali and myself both felt welcome by the Wikidata community, and while we were amazed and appreciative of everyone’s patience and generosity who worked with us, we both still found it difficult at first to follow the flow of community conversations—from the Project Chat and mailinglists, to the talk pages, and RFCs—and to be bold; this was especially true at the beginning, when I found myself updating Help pages, crossing my fingers and hoping that they would be seen as improvements by the community.

While we endeavoured to work as openly as possible by keeping a public work plan, first announcing intentions at Project Chat and then proposed changes on talk pages, and requesting and responding to feedback from the community—it was never clear how to weigh feedback when there were either comments with conflicting opinions or too few to go by to form the basis of a decision.

In my experience, I found the best way to mediate this discomfort was gradually by getting to know other contributors through their interests, passions, and strengths, and by collaborating with them on specific initiatives. It goes without saying that Anjali, through her analysis, and then promotion, of candidate items for Showcase status, and research into past Wikidata content that generated the most page views and interest on social media platforms, also developed a very good idea of what excites and engages the Wikidata community.

We both enjoyed seeing the community grow in the short few months of our internship. From the buzz that built up just prior to Wikimania, to the new properties, WikiProjects, and initiatives like the Wikidata Lounge that were proposed by one or two people and then quickly took on a life of their own—it was clear that feeling part of the community was important motivation for contributors who kept coming back to Wikidata.

These experiences and reflections influenced the way we approached outreach efforts as well as thought about how to create meaningful, sustainable pathways for newcomers to get involved with Wikidata.



  1. […] Click here to check out a post co-written by me and another awesome OPW intern, Anjali Sharma, about our experiences being (remote) journeywomen in Germany and working for Wikidata over the summer. […]

    Pingback by Wanderjahre | Helen Halbert on 9. September 2014 at 02:33

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