Nowadays, in the age of information technology, it is extremely hard to do without using this powerful information resource. Yurii Perohanych, director general at the Association of IT Companies of Ukraine and founder of the NGO Wikimedia Ukraine, belongs to a few thousand enthusiasts who regularly fill Ukrainian Wikipedia with articles on a variety of topics.
It has been over five years that you have edited the Internet page of the Ukrainian version of Free Encyclopedia, popular all over the world. Could you tell us about the founders of this unique Internet project which was dubbed Wikipedia?
“Wikipedia would have never appeared had it not been for the joint effort of Larry Sanger, a scholar, and Jimmy Wales, an entrepreneur. These two Americans first started a free peer-reviewed encyclopedia Nupedia, whose articles were supposed to be created only by volunteer scholars. Ten months after the project was launched, in January 2001, Wikipedia was created as a subsidiary to Nupedia. However, Wikipedia articles could be edited by anyone who wished to do so. Over the first year of Nupedia only 21 articles appeared on its website, while Wikipedia had 200 only in the first month of its existence, and 18,000 in its first year. At the start of Wikipedia, Sanger was mostly responsible for the development, while Wales was busy with financing the project. Since from the very launch of the project Sanger had the status of employee, Wales considers himself the only founder of Wikipedia. Sanger will never accept this and is fighting for the right to be referred to as the co-founder of the Free Encyclopedia.”
Today the English version of Wikipedia has some 500 million page views per month. Do you know any statistics on how many users visit the Ukrainian version of Wikipedia?
“According to my estimations, the Ukrainian language Wikipedia has approximately 11 million visitors per month. However, the popularity of Wikipedias functioning in various countries is best measured not by the number of users but by page views. For example, for Ukrainian Wikipedia in 2014 this figure equaled 919 million page views (compare with 591 million in 2012, and 895 million in 2013).
“The increase in traffic in 2013, compared with 2012, was 51 percent, whereas in 2014 the traffic only grew by 3 percent in comparison with the year before. This is a very worrying sign, which I associate not only with the war and the slowing down of Internet penetration rate in Ukraine, but also with the government’s shortsighted language policy, in particular, the effects of the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law on languages. However, even under those circumstances the popularity of Ukrainian Wikipedia is striking. In December 2014 it had 89 million page views, or an average of 33 pages per second during 24 hours.”
You personally have started and published some 2,500 articles in Ukrainian Wikipedia. How could these articles be classified?
“The Ukrainian-language version of Wikipedia has now some 548,000 articles. This amount grows by approximately 200 articles daily. Thus, in December 2014 there was a new edit every 18 seconds, and a new article was created every 8 minutes.
“Wikipedia is a universal encyclopedia, that is why it contains articles on a wide variety of themes. You can get a general idea about the classification of the articles from the home page of the site.
“When I began editing Wikipedia in 2009, it contained only some 120,000 articles, scattered ‘islets’ of knowledge. Sometime around 2013 it still had blank spots, but now, with more than half a million articles, it is getting increasingly harder to find material for a new article. However, English Wikipedia has almost nine times so many articles, and the versions in German and French approximately three times so many.”
How is the work on replenishing Ukrainian Wikipedia with new information organized? For all I know, the English version is edited by some 300,000 volunteers every month. How many editors are there in Ukraine?
“Wikimedia, a non-profit organization in the US, provides the technical platform, while the provision and control of materials is in the hands of volunteer editors, who contribute at will without any material remuneration, but they have to follow certain rules. The articles must be encyclopedic, i.e. concise, comprehensible for average users, contain links to sources, and written from a neutral standpoint, with respect for authors’ rights.
“I would like to mention that the colossal work on filling Ukrainian Wikipedia is conducted by a relatively small body. Only in the recent month 2,300 users have made at least one edit. Out of the five thousand users who browse Wikipedia, only one suggests a change. This is utterly disproportional. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”
Have you ever seen unsanctioned amendments to the articles, which would deliberately distort their content? Especially in articles concerning certain historic events and their participants?
“This happens every day, but usually such amendments are promptly corrected by other editors. The vandals get a warning, and if they do not pay attention to the advice, they are blocked quickly and effectively. However, there were funny cases. On April 1, an anonymous editor added intentionally wrong information about a once famous female politician, saying that she died on that day. The error was noticed and the woman was ‘resurrected’ only on the 9th day!”
How reliable is the information in Wikipedia?
“Any information of great importance should be verified in several sources. Check which source a certain passage in Wikipedia refers to. If this source is not listed or you cannot get hold of it, or it is unreliable in your opinion, think and make a decision on whether you can trust this information.”
And how do you settle copyright issues, because each publication in fact is an intellectual product of its creator?
“Everyone who submits information for publication in Wikipedia, agrees that they are the author of this information and allow to spread it with any purpose, including commercial, and also does not object to amendments or removals. It is allowed to include small quotes (that are usually no bigger than several sentences), but it is better to present information in someone’s own words, while providing the reference to the original source.”
Google search engine has a lot of secrets that allow finding necessary files of various formats with greater efficiency. Could you provide some practical advice for people who use Ukrainian Wikipedia?
“Start with setting up the search engine that you use, for example, Google, so that it would show results in Ukrainian first. Of course, write search requests in Ukrainian too. It is often useful to see what a certain article looked like on a specific date, let’s say, a year ago. This is what the ‘View history’ tab in the top right corner of the page is for. To have a fuller picture of the subject, you can read the same article in other languages, if you know them. Also, use categories to search materials in a specified field. Lists of categories are to be found at the bottom of each page. There are tools that allow creating complicated search queries, for example, select all MPs who come from one oblast, but this requires advanced skill.”
You participated in international conferences and symposia in Hong Kong, Poland, Israel, which are called Wikimania in the online community. What were your conclusions after learning about the work of your colleagues who implement the global encyclopedia project in various countries, just like you do?
“Of course, regular editing of Wikipedia is an occupation for either students or people who can be considered part of the middle class. Students can learn a subject better while creating new articles or editing the existing ones, and people who have free time can fulfill their intellectual and spiritual needs by working on Wikipedia, for example, by uncovering information on the blank spots in history or the heroes of our nation, information about whom was unavailable in the Soviet time.”
What prospects for Ukrainian Wikipedia’s integration into the educational process on the level of secondary and higher education do you see?
“Firstly, school and university students must be taught how to use Wikipedia correctly. This can be done starting from middle school. Secondly, high school and university students can receive tasks on improvement of existing Wikipedia articles or writing new ones, or they can be assigned translation from analogs in other languages. A person, who acquired skills of creating Wikipedia articles, can perceive various information sources critically, tell facts from assessments, and present the information in concise and well-structured way.”