Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/The Klexikon: a new wiki encyclopedia for children

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PUBLISHED july 15 2015

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  • The Klexikon: a new wiki encyclopedia for children
  • Where children look it up: Klexikon, a new wiki for children
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  • Since December 2014, the Klexikon is a new wiki encyclopedia in German. The content is suited for children from the age of six to twelve. The Klexikon differs from previous attemps with its focus on readability and ease to edit. The founders, Michael Schulte and Ziko van Dijk, were supported by a Wikimedia Deutschland program.

Body[edit]

2015 Juni TU Dortmund Klexikon 07.JPG
Michael Schulte and Ziko van Dijk. Photo by Ziko van Dijk, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Wikipedia is the world's largest encyclopedia, but it can sometimes be too complex for children. To remedy this, the Wikimedia affiliate organization in Germany is supporting the Klexikon—a wiki encyclopedia with articles aimed at children aged six to twelve. With a name stemming from the German words for children (Kinder) and encyclopedia (Lexikon), the Klexikon was founded by Michael Schulte, a radio journalist, and Ziko van Dijk, a Wikipedia editor.

The Klexikon and Wikipedia have the same favorite dish. Photo by Ziko van Dijk, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

While they've talked to people who think that writing for children should be easier than writing for adults, they've found that often, the opposite is true. So while the Klexikon is based on the Wikipedia model, it differs in several ways: Klexikon articles are much shorter than comperable Wikipedia articles, and Klexikon authors must familiarize themselves with the topic and typical writing styles to properly contextualize topics for a young audience. Van Dijk told us that "these children need quality texts like anyone else," but that "writing encyclopedic texts for a special target group is nearly an art form. We have found that many people experience it as a real challenge, including us."

Several other factors come into play as well; for example, the Klexikon is much more selective about what they try to cover. "It is great that Wikipedia has articles about all of the German Members of Parliament or historical railways of Bavaria," said van Dijk. "There is no need to repeat that effort, so we are much more exclusionist."

They have also simplified editing as much as possible by stripping out the HTML-like markup language called wikitext that underpins Wikipedias, including reference footnotes. The Klexikon's civility guidelines are strictly enforced, and no unregistered editing is allowed.

At the university of Dortmund, with Michael Beißwenger (second from the right) and students of German studies, June 2015. We had a presentation and a workshop to find out how we can cooperate in future. Ziko van Dijk, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Schulte and van Dijk opened the Klexikon to editing starting in December 2014, and it now boasts about 750 articles, with about 100 new ones being written each month. While "that does not sound like much," says van Dijk, "these articles meet minimum requirements" and are not stubs of two to three sentences.

Van Dijk will be presenting about the Klexikon at Wikimania 2015 in Mexico; the original concept report's English translation is on Commons, and basic information about the Klexikon in English can be found on his personal blog.

Older draft[edit]

Wikipedia is a great place to look things up. But it is not suitable for children – this opinion you even find in educational materials produced by Wikimedia Deutschland. Therefore, this association that helps Wikipedia in Germany supported a 'Wikipedia for children'. The results are a 52 page 'concept' and – officially only as a byproduct – a new wiki.

Michael Schulte and I, Ziko van Dijk, are the proud founders of the Klexikon. The name comes from the German words for children, Kinder, and encyclopedia, Lexikon. The wiki started in December 2014 and has now ca. 750 articles.

Michael is a radio journalist who chairs a non profit that provides audio plays to children. I have a Wikipedia background and teach wiki related subjects at the university of Dortmund. Together we surveyed the existing landscape of wikis and children websites and spoke also to people from existing wikis.

"Can't be difficult, it's just for children"

Who are supposed to be the readers of the Klexikon? Children at the age of 6 to 12 years. Sometimes, we talk to someone who thinks: writing for children must be rather easy, compared to writing Wikipedia articles. The opposite is true.

Of course, Klexikon articles are much shorter. But children are a demanding audience, and they are entitled to quality texts just as anyone else. You must make yourself familiar with the topics, and learn a lot about the writing style.

Writing encyclopedic texts, for a special target group, is nearly an art form. We found that many people experience it as a real challenge.

We don't imitate Wikipedia, it's not a fork

The Klexikon is based on the same fundamental principles as Wikipedia. It is a wiki, it uses and produces 'open content', and it is an encyclopedia. About each of these three principles one could talk for hours. Let's concentrate here on some differences between Wikipedia and Klexikon:

  • A childrens' encyclopedia must be really really easier to read than Wikipedia. Talking to pupils we heard that the Klexikon articles actually are, and that they very much appreciate it. By the way, a childrens' encyclopedia must also please parents, because they decide what their children are allowed to see on the Internet.
  • Some people told us that children don't like to read, that everything must be more fun, that children want games and videos. But those websites already exist. We think that the concept of an encyclopedia is still valid: a ready reference for those who seriously search for information.
  • It is great that Wikipedia has articles about all German members of parliament, many species, historical railways of Bavaria. There is no need to repeat that in the Klexikon. It is much more exclusionist.
  • It is much easier to edit the Klexikon. We simply don't use much wiki markup: no infoboxes, no tables, no italics etc.
  • We have no footnotes. If in doubt, we follow what Wikipedia says.
  • The Klexikon people also find civility important and do not accept derogative remarks such as 'your article is crap!'
  • You can edit the wiki only with an account you can get from an administrator. We are afraid of vandalism. In general, we believe that people who seriously want to join can simply ask for an account by e-mail.

How will the future look like?

The Klexikon is moving forward slowly but steadily, with a growth of 100 articles a month. That does not sound much, but those articles meet minimum requirements and are not just 'articles' with 2-3 sentences.

As Wikimedia Deutschland does not see itself as a wiki host, the Klexikon is hosted by ZUM. It is an association of teachers creating i.a. open educational ressources.

Most founders of wikis for children, and also we from the Klexikon, are open for a migration of the wiki to the Wikimedia Foundation. They all do ask themselves how much work it would be to establish a new Wikipedia sister project. They also wonder what changes this could mean for the existing wikis – they pursuit partially different goals, with different concepts.

At Wikimania 2015 in Mexico, I will have a presentation on wikis for children. Maybe there will be more people at Wikimania who are interested in starting such a wiki themselves.

The Klexikon report (in English translation) is here. Basic information about the Klexikon in English can be found on my personal blog.

Ziko|Ziko van Dijk, Klexikon.de

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