This page attempts to answer various questions that arose during the formation of the Wikispecies project, including details specific to that project, as well as wider issues of the decision making process of the Wikimedia Board of Trustees. Questions and responses are based in large part on the discussions that took place on the Wikipedia-l mailing list in September 2004.
What is Wikispecies?
Wikispecies is an open, wiki-based species directory and central database of taxonomy. It is aimed at the needs of scientific users rather than general users.
Is Wikispecies a fork of Wikipedia?
Wikispecies is not a fork of Wikipedia. It is quite the opposite. Wikispecies aims to feed into the Wikipedias. Features such as cross-wiki transclusion are being worked on to make this easier. Integrating Wikispecies into Wikimedia, rather than it being a separate project, prevents a fork.
Why is Wikispecies not part of Wikipedia?
The primary reason that Wikispecies is not part of Wikipedia is that the two reference works serve different purposes and audiences. The needs of a general-purpose, general-audience encyclopedia differ from those of a professional reference work. Furthermore, much of Wikispecies is language-independent, so placing it in the English Wikipedia (for example) would be inappropriate. Wikispecies also has different software requirements from those of Wikipedia.
The project is not intended to reduce the scope of Wikipedia, or take the place of the in-depth biology articles therein.
Why is Wikispecies not part of the Wikimedia Commons?
Wikispecies is not currently part of the Wikimedia Commons, partly because the roles of the two are very different, and the two projects attract different audiences. The database structure needed for taxonomy data might not be the same as one used for a repository of images. However, there are ways to separate data in such a way that different types of data could be extracted separately (one such method we already use are namespaces - support for extra namespaces exists and it would have been possible to create a "Species:" namespace within the Commons for the Wikispecies project). The Wikidata project may provide a means for combining all database-related projects, such as Wikispecies and the Commons, although it is arguable whether it would be better to have a very narrow project like Wikispecies, or to have a more generalised Wikidata (either as a separate project, or as part of the Wikimedia Commons) within a single project, for easy use among all other Wikimedia projects, with different types of data marked in such a way as to be separately extractable.
Discussion of the Wikidata project will hopefully shed more light on whether having a shared project for similar repositories of abstract data would be beneficial. This will consider which features are needed for data view and entry. Until Wikidata is available, there are benefits to keeping the discussion of Wikispecies separate from the Commons since the two communities will have little overlap, and it is not possible yet to allow users to easily view only the section (ie - species data) they are interested in.
Having Wikispecies separate from the Commons also allows people interested in this data to be able to download it in a suitable format, rather than having to sort out which parts of the database are species-related, and which are large amounts of images that are not relevant to them. Wikidata may nullify this objection, in which case the decision could be reconsidered. Until then, it should be noted that one aim of the project is to create a searchable database of every known species, with data that is mainly interesting for biologists and that combining it with the Commons with no means to separate the species data would reduce this possibility.
What happens if people start writing encyclopedia articles on Wikispecies?
Copying Wikipedia articles directly into Wikispecies should be discouraged from the beginning. Wikispecies will need to have strict anti-forking policies that prevent this. The Wikispecies Charter makes it clear this should not be allowed to happen.
What makes a good Wikispecies article?
A good Wikispecies article should contain classification from kingdom to the rank of the taxon addressed in the article, the proper name of the taxon, and the authority for that name (its author or authors). Additionally, a reference should be provided.
What if people want Wikiwar, Wikichemistry etc
There is a slippery slope argument that people will want other projects because this one has started. There are currently no such proposals though and those could be dealt with as they arise.
Why do you use (for example) "regnum" not "kingdom"?
The Latinate name is used instead of the English one to allow Wikispecies to be more international and not dependent on a single language.
Was there consensus on starting this project?
When the Board authorized the project, they believed that since objections such as the possibility of a fork were addressed, there were no outstanding concerns and that consensus had been reached. The Board believed that through the conditions laid down in the Wikispecies charter, a mutually acceptable solution had been found and made the decision to allow the project in good faith. A vote was not held on this as it was felt that most people had not followed what Wikispecies was about, so it was not certain whether they would make an informed vote. An informal poll of opinions on this had already occurred on the mailing list, and these opinions were taken into account when the decision was made. The views of Wikispecies opponents were accommodated to the maximal extent possible. The arguments against the existence of Wikispecies were taken into account when the ground rules for the project were laid down. For example, it was made very clear that this was not to be a fork of Wikipedia, and that those on the project should consider how the data would be integrated into Wikipedia. However, in hindsight, these solutions could have been advertised more widely beforehand.
Was Wikispecies a board decision?
Although the final decision to start Wikispecies was made by the Board, the decision was very much based on the perceived community support for the idea. The Wikimedia-wide issue of deciding to create a new project involves the Foundation for various reasons. The increase in costs through additional bandwidth and rackspace, and additional domain names to purchase and manage, and also the registration of additional trademarks, is a matter for the Foundation. A new project does have legal, monetary and logistical implications, which the Board considered alongside the community feelings about the project. The Board believed that the criticisms of Wikispecies had been addressed, and that if these points were taken into consideration when starting the project, there was a perceived consensus on the matter. This was not only a board decision; community consultation had occurred on the mailing list. The Board completely aimed to go with community consensus on this decision, rather than make the decision themselves. However, they may have misjudged that there was a consensus, and that there was an easy middle way to satisfy all parties. Means of improving communication in order to ensure all interested parties are involved in the final decision making loop will be made in future in order to make sure that everyone is happy with such compromise proposals before moving forward. In future, efforts should be made to ensure this takes place on the wiki as well as the lists to maximize contribution to such discussion, and to ensure everyone is aware that a compromise has been reached which addresses the objections. Other suggestions for increasing the community input into the decision making process are welcome.
Where was this announced?
The announcement of the launch of Wikispecies was made on the Wikitech-l and Wikipedia-l mailing lists. The notes from the meeting the Board had about Wikispecies were put on Meta and the Foundation wiki. See Wikimedia Board meetings/5 September 2004. The discussion preceding this was on the Wikipedia-l mailing list. Ideas for improving this dissemination of information would be greatly appreciated by the board. Note that a Wikimedia Newsletter is planned which will provide detailed information on the board's activities. Other means of communicating such information that has been suggested in the past include an option where every user can be messaged automatically, with some sort of "new announcements" message like the talk page notification message. Combining Wikimedia news with Goings-on has also been suggested, as has having a separate announcements mailing list. There has been little feedback from the community at this stage as to whether any of these would provide adequate solutions. The Board aims for complete transparency in their decision making processes, and constructive ideas for improving this and reducing miscommunication can be made on Meta, or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Why was the full log of the meeting not published?
This was an informal meeting, not an official "Board meeting". There is no legal requirement that such meetings are held publicly. The Board feels that it would not be a good idea for them to be required to discuss publicly only. Good decision making involves being able to ask for opinions freely and confidentially, without a concern that random thoughts which may be speculative or potentially controversial will be quoted all over the web as facts. Publishing this log could set a precedent which potentially has a "chilling effect" on free debate since the Board would be worried that anything they might say in a private meeting is made public. However, of course, the Board has had public meetings too, and will have many more. For this reason, the Board does not publish IRC logs unless it was agreed before the meeting that the full text would be made public. The meeting was, however, summarized to ensure transparency, and copies of the summary were placed on Meta and the Foundation wiki. If there are specific points users feel ought to have been expanded upon in these notes, they are encouraged to contact the Board at email@example.com to request clarification.
What is the next step for Wikispecies?
Wikispecies is currently very much in the discussion stage. The community is encouraged to use the Wikispecies site to discuss the proposal, and to formulate policies that will ensure the perceived problems, such as becoming a fork, will not occur. Those involved with Wikispecies hope to move forward in exploring solutions that will empower people to work on a different kind of reference work, in a way that will meet the needs of both types of user, while minimizing duplication of efforts. The key tasks for Wikispecies at this time include deciding how the contents of the database need to be presented (by asking experts, potential non-professional users and comparing that with existing data bases) and discussing how the software should be adapted for the project.