The roots of how the Cebuano Wikipedia got so many articles today date back a decade, to a time well before Sverker Johansson and Lsjbot.
In late 2006, we noticed that there was a really big jump in the number of articles on the Cebuano Wikipedia. This was a time when the Tagalog Wikipedia only had a few thousand articles, the other Philippine-language Wikipedias only had a few hundred or a couple thousand, and the vast majority of Filipino Wikipedians at the time were contributing only in English.
When we tried to pinpoint the cause, we discovered that the leading Wikipedian on the project, User:Bentong Isles, wrote a bot to dump articles on all the communes of France (over 50,000) on a Cebuano Wikipedia that back then only had a couple of thousand articles. There is a (kind of) precedent for this: Rambot, written by Derek Ramsey (User:Ram-Man), did this for U.S. towns on the English Wikipedia back in 2002 and 2003. But French communes on a Philippine-language Wikipedia?
The effect was immediate: the Cebuano Wikipedia went from having that couple thousand to becoming the largest Philippine-language Wikipedia in terms of article count. I’m sure Bentong’s motives were and are noble, and although he’s no longer active on Wikipedia we continue to keep in touch, keeping him in the loop on goings-on in the community. However, there were a couple of problems with the massive dump that worried me and a lot of other Wikipedians. These were:
- Local content was drowned out. Basically, every time you clicked “Random article”, you got an article about a French commune most of the time (if not all the time), and not about a topic relevant to a Cebuano speaker. In Wikipedia circles, the Cebuano Wikipedia was called “the Wikipedia of French communes”, to the local community’s embarrassment (particularly when meeting other Wikipedians abroad), and the Indonesian Wikipedia at one point had a monitoring mechanism for random articles to ensure that there was a variety of articles showing instead of several articles about a singular topic in one sitting.
- It sparked a numbers war among local Wikipedias. Philippine-language Wikipedias started outdoing one another in terms of chasing number counts, with Waray (something that I explain in more detail here) and Tagalog being the most egregious culprits. Thus there was a focus away from quality towards quantity, with massive numbers of one-line stub articles flooding these three Wikipedias. Luckily for us, the problem was less acute on the Kapampangan, Chavacano and Pangasinan Wikipedias, and Bikol and Ilokano managed to escape it entirely.
Lsjbot’s arrival on the scene didn’t change things much, but it did change the calculus of how articles were added. Before Lsjbot arrived, on the three Wikipedias I mentioned one-line stubs were added by hand, tens or hundreds at a time. Now you had a bot capable of dumping thousands of articles in one sitting, like toys coming off of a fully-automated assembly line, and the community (by then no longer led by Bentong) said yes to it.
A couple of years ago, I and a number of other Filipino Wikipedians asked Sverker Johansson off-wiki (well, on Facebook) as to why he made Lsjbot in the first place. His argument basically boiled down to a pretty simple premise: to entice people to edit with content that is already there.
I think that Lsjbot’s premise is noble, and I really think that Sverker really wants to help the Cebuano and Waray Wikipedias in any way he can. That said, as someone who has been trying to figure out why so few Filipinos contribute to Wikipedia — and even more so why so few Filipinos contribute in languages other than English — I have major issues with how it relates to the reality on the ground, and even more so this obsession with quantity over quality.
The biggest problem I have with the “build it and they will come” approach is that it can be very taxing for small communities to maintain all that content. The Tagalog Wikipedia has the largest community of all the Philippine-language Wikipedias, but we have nowhere near the numbers the English Wikipedia has in terms of manpower.
Thanks to a number of dumps over the years, we today have around 65,000 articles, but many of the articles dumped onto the project haven’t been updated and probably won’t be touched until we grow the community beyond its current size. We are looking at ways of addressing this problem, including expanding stubs when we see one, but one upside to avoiding the dumping on the Cebuano and Waray Wikipedias is that we have a higher depth count: a feat only outmatched by the Ilokano Wikipedia (which has one super-prolific editor who takes his time writing articles).
Imagine what would happen if we had over three million articles, as is the case with Cebuano today, and only ten editors to maintain it all. It would be a gargantuan task, with us being overwhelmed with all the new articles that we’d have to maintain. This would take away our capacity to expand on topics relevant to local speakers (ergo, topics related to the Philippines), and it’s a very big reason why we refused to sign on to Sverker’s project or the dumps by other Wikipedians that have preceded it. (At one point, we nearly held a vote on whether or not all the stubs should be deleted to “normalize” the situation.)
This may sound selfish, but who ultimately has to deal with the mass of articles being left behind? The core community does. Anecdotal observation over the years has led me to conclude that the Cebuano Wikipedia never really got the mass of editors Lsjbot promised would come once it did its work. Now Sverker to his credit has also led editing workshops in Cebu (with and without support from Wikimedia Philippines), but one thing that I and others have come to grapple with over the years is how we can make Wikipedia editors stay and actually become Wikipedians. Is it a cultural thing that Filipinos don’t want to contribute? Do they think the learning curve is too steep or that Wikipedia’s rigor is too much for them to handle? Must we resort to giving them incentives (short of paying them, as paid editing is anathema for the Wikimedia movement) so they can stick around? We’re still trying to find answers to these questions.
- That said, I’m sure of one thing: dumping millions of articles to attract editors hasn’t worked and isn’t working. There has to be a better way, and we have to work together to find that way forward, come hell or high water.