Manual for small and new Wikipedias
Is this manual for you? Yes, if you are a contributor to a small Wikipedia, or want to start a new language edition. It may also have useful ideas for contributors to other Wikimedia projects, and for big Wikipedias as well.
Should I start a new project?
There has been much discussion about the relevant criteria for assessing whether a new Wikipedia edition (or Wikisource, Wikinews etc.) should be created. Read the official (yet not undisputed) rules at the language proposal policy.
In addition to the rules, think about whether you can gather enough people to make your project work. You should have at least 20 people who:
- are thoroughly fluent in the language, at least "level 3" ("advanced" or "fluent");
- can and are willing to invest a lot of time; and
- at least some of whom will be able manage the technical aspects of the new project.
Realistically, you must expect to lose the participation of some or even many of the 20 initial volunteers soon or in the first years after the project is started. Thus, you must ask yourself: is it likely that the language community is large and active enough to provide you with new Wikipedians? Are there language institutions or associations that are interested in supporting the project? How developed is the language in consideration, and are there modern dictionaries and grammar guides? Does the language have unified spelling?
There are many examples of Micro-Wikipedias that are more or less defunct, their Wikipedians hardly active, and a number of them have been closed or "frozen", such as Klingon, Moldovan and Herero.
If your language already has a Wikipedia edition, you should concentrate on it and not start a new project like Wikisource or Wikinews too early.
How do I start?
If you think that you have the people and perspectives and the rules will allow your language edition, you must start in the Incubator. The Help:Manual there tells you what to do to convince the language committee to approve a new language edition. After that, create a logo for your language edition: Logo#Localisation.
Rules are important
It would be too much to translate all help pages from English Wikipedia or write your own, but there is a starter kit for help pages should suffice for the first years: Basic Wikipedia and help pages. Alas it is still not complete.
Having rules and having thought about your mission – from the beginning on – is very important. A large and rich linguistic community like the English can afford to have edit wars, quarrels about relevance etc., English Wikipedia still works. But with your very limited number of contributors you must be careful not to waste time on useless discussions.
Cantonese Wikipedia has taken over, by default, the rules of the English Wikipedia, in order to have stability.
Language or linguistic problems
Some languages are less unified than others. For example, English is called a pluricentric language because it is spoken in many different countries, also as a native and official language. In a Wikipedia article, it may happen that an American Wikipedian wants to write center, a British centre. What to do?
English Wikipedia gives four principles to follow:
- Consistency within articles
- Strong national ties to a topic (write about the Queen of England in B.E.)
- Retaining the existing variety
- Opportunities for commonality (try to use a word common to all varieties)
Many Wikipedias have similar problems, and similar rules. This means that the person who creates an article decides the variety, unless a topic asks for a certain variety. For example, in Dutch Low Saxon Wikipedia the article about the region "Achterhoek" should be written in Achterhoek dialect.
Dutch language follows the recommendations of Taalunie, German has its Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung. Some Wikipedians, whose language knows several varieties, would like to have a linguistic norm, too. This is a very local issue, for which no fixed rules can be set. It mostly depends on the kind of acceptance you can expect for such a proposed norm, so it's pretty often a matter of marketing. When several local varieties are at stakes, you can sometimes have political strings attached. When such is the case, you can hardly expect a wikipedia to solve problems that your linguistic community at large has not been able to solve. Wikipedias are written by people, who have political ideas and are influenced by the environment they live in. If your environment is politically troubled, so will be your wikipedia project.
Some such situations will simply be beyond any chance of satisfactory solution. Whatever decision you'll make you will pay a high price for it, in terms of internal relations. But this should be no news for you, if you are unlucky enough to be born in such places. When in such a trouble you are probably better off by counting the number of potential users a given norm will give you. Anyway, you should always remember that from a purely educational point of view full anarchy is the opposite of what can help people become literate in a language (see next paragraph). We all learn by repeated example, if all examples are different in nature it becomes very hard for people to make any use of them.
Whatever the regional language you are using, chances are that most of the native speakers will not be immediately able to read the script. Bear this in mind when writing. Use a very simple language with short sentences. It may help if all your pages contain a pointer to a manual for the illiterate and references to widely available printed material (grammars, dictionaries, etc). Most people being native in a regional language are literate in another, so this other language(s) can be used to teach them basic reading in specialized pages. It can also help to have a basic set of simple pages they can use for practice. In case you are using a multi-standard script you should really be careful to be consistent and to catalogue things so that users of a given script/local variant can easily navigate through material they can use.
Remember that we all write wikipedias to deliver information, not just for the sake of writing it. Whatever you choose with standards, make sure you do not get more complication that your community can reasonably manage to deliver information to final readers. If you fail to do so all you get is a small club of adepts, not an encyclopedia.
You do not have to write everything by yourself, you can translate (a lot from) good articles in other Wikipedias, maybe modifying them according to your own culture and the interests of your readers. By the way, if you have a choice, it might be easier to translate from whichever language version has shorter/less verbose articles on the topic you're interested in: this might be the Simple English Wikipedia instead of the English Wikipedia, or the French Wikipedia for a German topic and the German Wikipedia for a French topic.
Does size matter?
- For an alternative to bot-generated articles, consider enabling the mediawiki extension Article Placeholders in your Wikipedia.
It has been and still is common to give attention to number-of-articles milestones: "Wikipedia X has reached 10,000 articles, Wikipedia Y is ranked 19 out of all Wikipedias", etc. This race for articles has caused tragic dynamics: Some Wikipedians believe that creating a lot of articles is the most important thing in the world, with little regard for the quality or relevance of the articles. For example, some Wikipedias have created articles about telephone area codes; stubs about towns and villages in foreign countries; one-sentence-articles; articles with pure data base value; articles in the wrong language (simply copying the English article) and so on (of course, bot created articles about your own cities can be useful, and also pages on years and numbers can make sense.).
Those pseudo articles only serve to pad article counts over a short time period but have little inherent value. People (inside and outside Wikimedia) will find out what these "impressive numbers" are really worth. A huge number of (pseudo) articles leaves a Wikipedia edition vulnerable to vandalism, and costs too much valuable time that would be better spent creating worthy articles of which you can be proud. Since the discussion about Volapük Wikipedia, many language editions tend to be more negative about those pseudo articles, see some discussion on the topic with background.
The number of articles doesn't matter for entering the Top Ten Wikipedias.
On the other hand, each and every journalist will ask you how many articles you have, pretty much in the way people would judge you by the amount of money in your wallet. Press coverage will often compare Wikipedias only by this number. At least some of the members of your community will not care at all about anything and simply push to "grow bigger", because they will feel it as a competition.
All Wikipedias have stubs, and no matter whether you use bots or enter them one by one manually, stubs is what you will mostly get, in the beginning. If you can write a title, somebody else will add the content. True, but only up to a point.
There are two categories of contributors: the vertical and the horizontal writer. Vertical writers make very few in depth articles. Their work is delivered as finished, they prepare an essay and publish it. Others will start to map the planet, by making very short entries of all countries of the world, so that "at least we can link to them". Both are needed, even if the horizontal writers may sometimes be perceived as "human bots" who create only stupid stubs. Reality is that without them you'd never have a basic systematic informational surface on which vertical writers can place their essays, link them to other material and make a wiki not just a collection of articles, but a real hypertext. Up to this point, "size matters".
But size is something you have to manage. Let alone vandalism (which is really not that relevant for most small wikis, if they have at least 2-3 users active every day), the problem you face is called systematization. You need to
- catalogue material in terms of categories,
- place links to (and from, which is the worst) other existing articles,
- put images in it,
- create and manage standards in formatting, etc.
- check that articles titles are proper (which is sometimes far from being easy, if your language has many standards and/or misses widely used native names for many things/places/people)
- keep the articles up to date
When you do not have much human resources this work will not be done and your result is going to be a mess. Now when you publish a mess you cannot expect readers to find it interesting and come back to it.
When you make an article you create an “administrative debt”, just as when you mortgage a house. That article will require care for many years to come, and it will be you paying the debt with your own time. If you make sensible plans on time expenditure you'll find that your community will kind of naturally start to discuss about article maintenance. Be sustainable, choose those stubs your potential readers are most likely to improve and make only as many of them as you can manage to maintain.
How to get more readers, more relevance
Statistically, for major languages, the topics that are prominent in the news are also the topics that are most widely read in Wikipedia. This means that when you read your daily newspaper and then ensure that there is background information to the news in a Wikipedia edition, that endeavor will have a bigger impact then just creating another worthwhile article. When an earthquake hits Greece, you can write about earthquakes and Greece. There will be an earthquake in another part of the world, something will happen in Greece that hits the news. You are weaving a web of relevant articles in this way.
When you write background information to the news, make sure that you use a local paper, preferably in your language, for the subject selection. A local paper has a nice mix of both local and global subjects. When you look for illustration material, commons has an abundance of material, but do consider that a picture of something that can be found locally gives added local relevance.
Small wikipedias start from a little number of users, and you have to balance between the interests of this small community (which is all the productivity you have on starting the project) and the interests of the community at large, somewhere out there. Some content is more likely to get you exposition in the news (no matter in which language they are written). And all the exposition you can get is pure gold. Even when they make fun of you, they actually help you by spreading the news that you do exist. So it does not really matter how nice is the press coverage you get, as long as you get it.
Concentrate on your strengths
Given that Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia, the ultimate aim is to include all human knowledge. There is a need for articles about astronomy, about geography, about arts, about history, etc. Of course, do also provide to your readers articles about subjects many people are interested in, for example, history: Roman Empire, Mongolian Empire, Middle Ages, First World War, Second World War, Rwandan Genocide... The List of articles every Wikipedia should have can provide some guidance; Mix'n'match has more lists, is easier to keep tidy and has real time statistics for all wikis. Another method is to write articles that were requested and were not found ("failed searches").
The easiest tool to use may be Not in the other language, which sorts missing articles by number of interwikis. Each user can select a familiar and culturally close source language and start translating interesting topics from the top of the list, although there is some noise.
In short, there are three fields for you to work on:
- A general overview of science and humanities, for example an article about astronomy, an article about the most famous astronomer, Isaac Newton (but not many astronomer articles).
- Subjects people see on the news, like International Criminal Court, China, nuclear power, Bill Gates, diabetes.
- Subjects related to your language, culture or linguistic community (you can be exhaustive here).
You may concentrate on articles about your own region, your own language and literature, your own culture, crafts typical for your region, etc. On these subjects your Wikipedia can become really great and even useful to your readers, while it probably cannot compete with the English Wikipedia about American motorcycles or chemical elements. On the other hand, a single determined good writer may make much better articles than English Wikipedia has, even on such subjects. So before pressing your community towards a standard direction just because so it's written here, take the time to analyze what your community is writing. Real work counts more than principles and guidelines, and all editions are unique.
Create or join an organization
Wikimedians can create "chapters" – national organizations that cooperate with the Wikimedia Foundation. Examples include Wikimedia Deutschland, Wikimedia Argentina and Wikimedia Russia. If you speak a minority language in a country that already has a chapter, you may want to contact it. It may support you if you have reasonable plans - especially if a lot of Wikipedians of your language have joined it.
"Chapters" operate on country-wide range. If your Wikipedia's language is minority in your country or it is spread over some countries you may think to establish an independent "user group" which, similarly to chapters, can cooperate with Wikimedia Foundation. The main advantage of user group for small language is very simple founding process.
Good organization may help. Some things can be done very good with the wiki principle of open collaboration (like writing an encyclopedia), others work better in a traditional way. Chapters and wikis are made of people, so evaluate the quality of human relations before making any step in any direction.
Ideas from other Wikipedias
There are Wikipedias since 2001. Learn about them and from them, observe what is happening on big and mature Wikipedias, but also on other small Wikipedias. Alas, there is not much interchange between them, and there has not been much research about them and their specific problems.
- Check at the Village Pumps (Cafés, Questions / Help for Newbies, Talking Place) of other Wikipedias what problems they are dealing with.
- Tell on Meta Wiki what is (roughly) going on in your Wikipedia (Tell us about your Wikipedia).
- Contribute to the articles about Wikipedia language editions at English Wikipedia (see below that page).
Sometimes it is difficult to communicate with other Wikipedias. Make sure that
- there is an "embassy" easy to find, maybe via a link "English" at your main page.
- you have a redirect that brings people who type "village pump" to your village pump (whatever it is called in your language version).
- create interlanguage links for these kinds of pages, especially to other small wikipedias that your relates to.
Language institutions and associations
You are not the only one who is interested in your language. Is there an Academy that observes the usage of the language, publishes a dictionary etc.? Are there associations of people interested in your region, culture, language? Maybe teachers would like to see a working Wikipedia in your language?
Be realistic about what to expect from a language institution. They will not do the work you are supposed to do. They will not massively become new Wikipedians. Ask them to:
- have a look at your language edition and tell you what they think about it;
- let you tell on their meetings and in their periodicals about Wikipedia and especially about your language edition.
Look for arguments about the manner in which other Wikipedias supports their cause: Wikipedia, for example, is an instrument to popularize the results of scientific research. This is something those institutions are really interested in. If they find Wikipedia interesting, you may ask more:
- Money to produce flyers and teaching aids.
- Maybe they let you use their rooms for Wikipedia meetings and trainings.
Besides, they know a lot about your language and can help you to become more proficient: speaking a language and being able to write an encyclopaedia in it is not the same. They probably have a library and offer language courses.
Do not be disappointed if your first contacts do not have the results you wished. Carry on and try again, maybe when your project has grown a little; of course, it will be difficult to make a good impression if your language edition is full of pseudo articles.
Talk to different people: often one person of an institution is anti-Wikipedia, another is pro-Wikipedia.
It's not the task of journalists to inform about your Wikipedia, they will only report about you if there is something interesting for their readers. Ask yourself what could be interesting: the creation of a Wikipedia in your language, maybe also reaching 10,000 articles, the election of a new administrator certainly not. Make comparisons people understand.
Before talking to the media, be sure that you know well about Wikipedia and your language edition, that you would be able to answer to some common questions (how many people contribute, are there any readers you know about, what are your main aims for the future etc.). Be proud about your Wikipedia language edition, but not arrogant.
Get your vocabulary straight
For people who do not know much about Wikipedia (new editors, journalists and their readers, politicians etc.) it is very confusing to hear different expressions for the same thing. Make sure that you have worked on your "Wikimedia vocabulary". Two examples:
- Wikimedia Deutschland once translated "local chapter" with "lokaler Verein", although lokal in German relates only to towns and villages. By the way, it is questionable whether "local chapter" itself has been a good choice for describing the independent national Wikimedia organisations.
- How do you call a person who edits in Wikipedia but is not logged in, so that instead of an user name his computer's IP shows? Anonymous user, anon, IP user, IP, unregistered user, unregistered editor? Maybe the last one is the most clear. Then use it, and only it, when talking or writing about this kind of persons.
Show your content
When you meet other people who are busy with your language, a printout of a (good) article can show immediately the use of your Wikipedia. Maybe there is a blackboard to put it. Or you have friends who are interested in certain subjects, and you can send them articles by e-mail. Sometimes the periodical of a language association would publish a Wikipedia article.
Choose the article carefully. It must be of high quality, and the subject must be suitable for the readers. A teachers' association will be more delighted with an article like "History of writing" than "Robert Horne (wrestler)". By the way, teachers always think: Can I use this at school, is this something for my pupils? This means that it is important that also young people can easily understand the article.
Technically, it is most easy to provide and print the article as a PDF. A PDF based on a website can be made very simply with Mozilla Firefox 3 (and higher). It looks better than the "printable version".
Sometimes it is possible and makes sense to present a whole article, sometimes you can present only one sheet. Then you may present the beginning of the article and write at the end of the page: "The rest of this article you can read at Wikipedia, search for [name of the article]." And then you give some information about your chapter, how people can contact you, how to donate etc., whatever seems to be suitable given the context where you use the sheet.
Produce flyers and distribute them
See examples: Leaflets
In the beginning, a flyer in your language will be enough. Look what flyers already exist in other languages and learn from them. Often you cannot simply translate a flyer into your language, you must modify it. Try to 'localize' your flyer, tell about your language edition and why it is so important for your language.
Writing a flyer (or other PR materials) you should always keep in mind what do you want to achieve. First, you want people to learn about Wikipedia, to have a look of their own, to become (regular) readers. Second, you would like them to contribute, to write; do not underestimate how difficult it is for many people to actually contribute. Third, they also can support you simply by donating to your chapter.
Stick to these three aims, write something that makes people read, write, donate. Do not try to put as much information as possible into your flyer, concentrate on the important things.
Use Wikipedia and Wikimedia logos; to get permission contact your chapter or Wikimedia Foundation. In the beginning, it is OK if your flyer is only black and white; this makes it easier to print and copy it. This will also keep the costs down. Ask your chapter, ask people who sympathize with you for money, collect money among your Wikipedians.
Producing a flyer is one thing, also consider how to distribute. Are there meetings in or about your language? It is too expensive to send copies by mail to the popular masses in your region, but you should send a copy to important language institutions and associations. Do not produce flyers if you have no idea how to distribute them.
Many people find it difficult to contribute, partially because they need to learn an encyclopedic style to write, partially (and especially) due to the technical aspects of contributing. Help pages are important, but consider also providing an extra manual people can buy or download and print. An experienced computer user works easily with several windows open, for example a help page on the left side of the screen and an editor window on the right side. But inexperienced users prefer a printed manual they can put aside the computer, or read on the couch before turning the computer on.
A Wikipedia manual must be more than a bundle of the ordinary Wikipedia pages and help pages. It must be a well structured new kind of text, divided into chapters in a way that makes sense. Do not jump from one subject to another, try to make one chapter follow naturally the other.
There is one major error seen in many manuals: They give the reader too much information. Be modest, your aim is to make the reader a driver who securely finds his or her way home, not a Formula One driver. For example, your reader should know about the four or five most important Wikipedia codes (like
[[ ]] for creating a link), but constructing tables is something for later. The more stuff you put into your manual, the less your reader will learn (or even notice) the important basic things.
Another frequent error in Wikipedia manuals is starting too early with editing. A new Wikipedian must first know about the essence of the project, about general rules (what is Wikipedia – and what is it not), about how to fit in. Letting people make edits immediately is confusing for them and frustrating, when they see that their edits are reverted quickly.
You may use pictures, but not too much. Whenever you can describe something by words, do not use a screenshot. For example, simply tell that the link "Log in / create account" can be found at the right side of the top of every Wikipedia page (unless the user has already logged in). But you should show some beautiful pictures from Wikimedia Commons to make your manual look nicer and inviting.
A suggestion for your table of content:
- Introduction [what this manual is about, to whom it helps with what]
- The Wikipedia phenomenon
- Encyclopedias, Internet and Free Knowledge
- History of Wikipedia
- Wikimedia Foundation
- Wikimedia projects
- Wikipedia in our language
- How to use Wikipedia
- General rules of Wikipedia
- Main Page
- What is an article
- Content of an article
- Good and Featured Articles
- How to search
- How to contribute to Wikipedia
- Why people contribute
- Kinds of users [readers, unregistered users, registered users, administrators etc.]
- How to register, and why
- How to discuss and contact people
- Edit an article [at the example of correcting a simple typing error ]
- Edit conflicts and edit wars
- Wikipedia code
- How to create a new article
- How to use pictures
- Pictures in Wikipedia articles and code
- Search for pictures in Wikimedia Commons
- Upload pictures to Wikimedia Commons
- What to do now [register, contact the local chapter, donate etc.]
- Wikimedia Chapters Association/Research
- Multilingual Wikipedia, an overview
- Help:How to start a new Wikipedia
- Basic Wikipedia and help pages
- Cross-wiki taskforce to help communities getting up to speed with work needed locally to optimize editing with the visual editor
- Small wiki toolkits, learn and share technical skills to support, maintain, and grow your community