User:Iopensa/Wikipedia and Cultural Tourism

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Wikipedia and Cultural Tourism

by Iolanda Pensa. Published with a contribution of Marta Pucciarelli in a book.


In the field of cultural tourism, Wikipedia is a powerful tool that can contribute to the visibility and a shared knowledge of cultural heritage. Wikipedia and its ecosystem – made up of its numerous linguistic editions, Wikimedia projects and OpenStreetMap – document and give visibility to the cultural richness of territories, they provide reusable content and they are open to everyone's active participation and to the contribution and collaboration of institutions.


Wikipedia is not a website like any other: it is something unique and exceptional. It is the most used reference in the world, an online encyclopedia with 500 million readers and over 40 million articles in more than 300 language versions: a complex sociotechnological ecosystem (Niederer and van Dijck, 2010), consisting of a set of databases focused on different types of content, each with its own linguistic community and its policies. It is an open, collaborative and free encyclopedia that is unprecedented in history and it is not similar to any other existing Internet website. The main uniqueness of Wikipedia is its dimension that is simply extraordinary, both for the extension of its content (Voss, 2005, Rahman, 2006 and 2007, Zlatic et all, 2006) and for the number of its contributors and readers (Hill 2013 ). This exceptionality makes Wikipedia an existing extremely powerful technological tool for the promotion of cultural heritage.

Using Wikipedia to Promote Cultural Tourism[edit]

There are three main reasons why Wikipedia can be an effective technological tool for the promotion of cultural tourism: 1. Wikipedia and its ecosystem of projects and databases make documentation on cultural heritage already accessible; 2. all texts, images and data are reusable and editable; 3. online collaborative projects truly activate the contribution of people and institutions.

Wikipedia and its ecosystem of projects and databases make documentation on heritage accessible[edit]

Wikipedia is a tool extremely used. It is one of the top five Internet sites to appear in search engines and its documentation is accessible from computers and mobile phones and it is also distributed offline through the kiwix project. As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia presents articles on material and immaterial, cultural and environmental heritage. World heritage sites are documented in numerous languages ​​and Wikipedia has many articles about heritage of international, national, regional and local importance. It is also expected that all the articles on the municipalities have a paragraph dedicated to monuments, museums and architectural heritage. Wikimedia Commons – Wikipedia's multimedia image database – currently holds over 50 million images and – also thanks to the Wiki Loves Monuments photo contest launched in 2010 – has many images that portray cultural heritage. Wikidata – the structured database of Wikipedia – is a project that is receiving ever more attention due to the vastness of open and reusable data it offers; on Wikidata cultural heritage repositories of many countries of the world have been uploaded with detailed information and linked data. In addition, OpenStreetMap – the open collaborative map that is part of the Wikimedia ecosystem without being one of the projects – provides open maps to Wikipedia and it integrates Wikipedia articles in its maps. Wikipedia and its ecosystem already offer extensive documentation on cultural heritage and are a growing resource thanks to the contribution of their editors and their open license that allows them to be further improved and enriched.

Texts, Images and Data Open to Reuse and Edit[edit]

All the documentation published on Wikipedia has an open license that allows the modification and reuse of its content also for commercial purposes. The Wikipedia texts are licensed under a Creative Commons attribution share-alike license; the images on Wikimedia Commons are essentially released in the public domain or under the Creative Commons attribution share-alike license, the OpenStreetMap maps have the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL), similar to the Creative Commons attribution share-alike and the data on Wikidata are completely open, released in Creative Commons 0. These licenses allow all documentation to be available for endless new uses, with the only requests to cite the source and to redistribute content with the same license, to keep it open. The open licenses allow to create documentation that can always be used for other projects, such as Internet websites, services, apps, publications, brochures, communication campaigns...

Online collaborative projects Activate People and Institutions[edit]

The open licenses allow Wikipedia and all online collaborative sites to be truly collaborative tools. Anyone can review content, correct a mistake, edit an article, update information, add a bibliographic reference, make a translation and upload images to the Wikimedia Commons database, metadata in the Wikidata database and georeferenced data on OpenStreetMap. Every single change is recorded and it is always possible to undo, and to go back to previous versions; robots (bot - software programmed and managed by users) help in the work, signaling vandalisms, sending notifications and carrying out the most repetitive tasks. Anyone can help improve the knowledge made accessible by these websites and for this reason everyone is responsible for their content. These online collaborative projects – open to the modification of over half a billion people and managed by over 70,000 active volunteer users – provide a new meaning to the concept of "public": the users are not a passive audience, but they are protagonists, involved in the production and enhancement of knowledge.

How to use Wikipedia to promote cultural heritage[edit]

Wikipedia, the Wikimedia projects and OpenStreetMap can be effective technological tools in the promotion of cultural tourism, but contributing to these websites and collaborating with their communities can be challenging.

Adopt a collaborative approach.[edit]

Wikipedia, the Wikimedia projects and OpenStreetMap are online collaborative projects: they have been established to allow and facilitate active collaboration. Although the term collaboration is widely used and it is commonly associated with a positive value, the reality is that collaborating is complicated and challenging. To be an active contributor to online collaborative projects follow some basic steps 1. share the mission, 2. start from the assumption that the community is made of valuable people and 3. have the humility to approach the projects with kindness, explaining what you are doing and why.

  1. Sharing the vision of Wikipedia, the Wikimedia projects and OpenStreetMap means participating with the aim of improving these websites. It means that you do not start from your goal (i.e. triggering tourism, increasing visits to cultural heritage, promoting your institution or yourself ...), but you start from their goal: creating an international and complete encyclopedia, providing relevant images, sharing rich and structured data, completing maps with updated and accurate information... When online communities realize that new users are not there to participate in improving the websites but "to do something else", they tend to cancel and block the contributions. A healthy approach is to participate by improving the projects with your knowledge (i.e. by contributing with texts, images and data related to cultural heritage or specific territories, improving the key encyclopedic articles on heritage, cultural tourism and other related concepts...). Writing an article about yourself or your institution is never a winning approach when dealing with Wikipedia, and the fact that your colleagues or another institutions have an article is not an argument in favor of this kind of contributions.
  2. Assuming that there are people of value within the community means looking at what others are doing, learning from other pages, trying to understand what users have already prepared. Wikipedia has the motto "be bold": looking at what others do does not mean that you can not bring changes, but to have the community accepting them it is necessary to show that you did your homework before.
  3. Having the humility to approach people with kindness and explaining what you are doing and why means to use the discussion pages to anticipate the changes you are going to make, it means to prepare drafts of new articles before publishing them, to ask for advice to other users who work on similar topics, to include affiliations and any conflicts of interest in your user page and to read the project pages and announcing what you are doing in a clear and transparent way.
Respect the vision, the rules and the Wikipedia community.[edit]

Having a collaborative approach (see above) is probably enough to survive the myriad of rules of online communities. But some rules deserve to be repeated: Wikipedia only hosts encyclopedic articles ("a project" is never an encyclopedic article unless it becomes something more than "a project"); it is in conflict with Wikipedia to write articles with a promotional style (a press communicate has always a promotional tone) or to publish links to sites with the aim of promoting their visibility (the links have the sole purpose of providing readers with additional relevant documentation); writing biographies of living people is always very complicated.

Respect licenses and attribution[edit]

You can always use all content from Wikipedia, the Wikimedia projects and OpenStreetMap, but the license must be respected and it is always good to credit the source (attribution), even when it is not required by the license: citing sources is always the correct attitude which recognises the work of others and in research it is an ethical obligation. Collaborative projects – just to allow collaboration – always have open licenses. The license is often a Creative Commons license: each license is accompanied by a synthetic text that clearly lists what you can do and what you can not do with those content. For example, the license Creative Commons attribution share-alike (the license of Wikipedia and many images of Wikimedia Commons) allows everyone to use and modify content for commercial and non-commercial purposes, with the obligation to credit the source (attribution) and use the same license in turn. It is also important to consider that when using content from Wikipedia, the Wikimedia projects and OpenStreetMap it is fair to give something back in return (photographs, texts, scanned materials, work...); users who only use without giving anything back are often defined "free riders", and it is never a compliment.

Institutions collaborate with Wikipedia, the Wikimedia projects and OpenStreetMap[edit]

Over the years some Wikipedia volunteers have started to involve cultural institutions in contributing to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects, by asking them to upload their images, videos and audio files on Wikimedia Commons, to share their books on Wikisource and their databases on Wikidata (and also georeferenced databases on OpenStreetMap). Over time the collaboration with cultural institutions has been growing exponentially, in particular because the institutions have realized that Wikipedia offers them the opportunity to significantly enhance the visibility of their content. The online communities use the term GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) to indicate precisely the variety of institutions that in recent decades have found themselves confronted with the similar situation of having digital content, regardless of the type of institution. Projects have been launched to enhance the digital heritage and many institutions have found in online collaborative projects a relevant space to share content and to benefit from the presence and involvement of online communities and of a very large quantity of linked data. A particularly interesting aspect of these collaborations – which is still little acknowledged – is the possibility for institutions to rediscover the true meaning of their existence: their mission, their cultural role and their role in the production of research and content (Pensa, 2017). Since the eighties, cultural institutions have been encouraged to boost their economic sustainability, by selling rights to use their content, by opening or outsourcing boutiques and restaurants and by launching and developing their brand. This approach has oriented the discussion on the value of cultural institutions from institutions that must preserve, produce and make accessible culture and knowledge, to organizations that must produce direct and indirect economic impact. The sale of rights has proved to be a bankruptcy economic strategy (with higher expenses for the personnel managing the sale compared to the revenues produced by these sales), the main indicator of the success of the institutions has become the number of visitors, and a deep rift has opened up between the institutions which are able to produce income (thanks to visitors and sponsors) and those which will probably never be able to produce income (which are the vast majority of museums, archives and cultural sites existing on earth). In Italy we often hear in political discourses that we are sitting on a gold mine that is our cultural heritage, ignoring the fact that in this country most of the heritage is maintained by volunteers who are committed to preserving it. Wikipedia is a tool which can allow cultural institutions to remember their role in the preservation, production and distribution of culture and knowledge. On Wikipedia, institutions become sources and enrich the encyclopedia of content related to their mission (i.e. naturalistic, artistic, historical knowledge of specific territories, eras or themes); it is not the institution's brand that is important, but the quality of research and content that the institution produces and preserves.

There are several ways in which institutions can collaborate with Wikipedia, the Wikimedia projects and OpenstreetMap.

Uploading content: texts, images, audio, videos, data, books, documents...[edit]

In order to be uploaded, content owned or preserved by institutions must be in public domain or released under an open license (the open licences commonly used are Creative Commons license attribution share alike and Creative Commons 0 for Wikidata). Larger uploads (usually digitized images) are managed as batch uploads. One of the first examples of batch upload is the one involving the German Federal Archive, which has a collection of over 1 million images about the history of Germany, with an extended selection of images already digitized; between autumn 2007 and December 2009 the association Wikimedia Deutschland has uploaded almost 100.000 images on Wikimedia Commons and to make this upload it has developed a specific software: today 29.92% of the images of the German Federal Archive uploaded on Wikimedia Commons have been used on Wikipedia (a total of 25'035 images have been added to Wikipedia in German) and have been included in 247 linguistic editions of Wikipedia. Furthermore, this collaboration allowed to update, correct and integrate all the metadata of images on different Wikimedia projects and to implement a tool that allows cross-referencing between Wikipedia and the German Federal Archives. Today the images of the federal archive are integrated into other Wikimedia projects such as WikiSources, WikiBooks, Wikiquotes, Wikitionary, Wikivoyage, Wikinews and Wikiversity.

"Wikipedian in residence"[edit]

The Wikipedian (or Wikimedian) in residence is an expert of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects who is involved by an institution to coordinate its collaboration with Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects. The Wikipedian in residence uploads content of the institution on the Wikimedia projects, facilitates the release of content with open licenses, trains the institution's staff and organizes events open to the public. The first Wikipedian in residence was Liam Wyatt at the British Museum in 2010 and in 2018 there are around 150 institutions hosting a Wikipedian in residence, in some cases it is staff structured as for NARA, the US national archives.

Staff training of cultural institutions[edit]

In collaboration with the Wikimedia associations – which are non profit organisation supporting the Wikimedia projects in many nations of the world – the institutions host training sessions dedicated to their staff and/or open to the public. These trainings aim at activating new users on projects, making them able in particular to correct and improve Wikipedia articles and structured data on Wikidata.

Clearing of licenses and improvement of internal procedures[edit]

Given the extremely strict compliance of licenses by online collaborative projects, the collaboration requires institutions to check their licenses before any upload (license clearing) and often imposes the creation of new internal procedures and the improvement of their institutional transparency. In fact there are not many institutions that have rights on the images of artists of whom they own the works; few institutions write clear contracts with their occasional collaborators including copyright management or who accept donations from volunteers by clarifying licenses and attributions. Collaboration with online collaborative projects creates the need to clarify the rights of institutions, helps to understand the usefulness of managing rights correctly and often encourages the creation of new procedures: it is not always possible to settle the rights of the assets already owned, but contracts for new acquisitions can be improved.

Wikimedia photo contests[edit]

There are several photo contests created to enrich the photos of Wikipedia on a specific theme; they invite audience in uploading images on Wikimedia Commons with a free license to compete. There are several photographic contests focussed on heritage, to which both individuals and institutions can participate.

  1. Wiki Loves Monuments is dedicated to photos about material cultural heritage and it has facilitated the production of 1.7 images related to 76 countries by 2018. Wiki Loves Monuments is organized in over 40 countries in September each year since 2010 and it is managed by each nation independently.
  2. Wiki Loves Earth is dedicated to natural heritage and has facilitated the production of 420,000 images in over 50 countries by 2018. The competition was started in 2012 and is managed by the Wikimedia associations.
  3. Wiki Loves Africa is dedicated to the immaterial heritage of Africa. It was launched in 2014, facilitating the production of approximately 40,000 multimedia files by 2018. Every year the competition is dedicated to a different theme, such as cooking, fashion, music and people at work.

Events: edit-a-thon for experts and contests for the production of Wikipedia articles[edit]

Edit-a-thon are events during which users physically meet to write and correct articles on Wikipedia and to upload documentation on specific topics. One of the pioneering institutions that used this strategy is the British Museum; in 2010 it hosted an edit-a-thon for experts who in just one day produced 18 new articles on Wikipedia and shared 195 images on Wikimedia Commons related to the museum's collection.

There are also international challenges that encourage the creation, improvement and translation of articles are another way of encouraging users to focus on a specific thematic area. They usually have a minimum duration of 15 days and are often organized concurrently with edit-a-thon and photo contests. An example is the Wiki Loves Women challenge, organized in 2016 with the aim of creating 15 new biographies of African women with an encyclopedic profile in English and French and which produced 71 new articles in English, 122 in French and 41 in Armenian.