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World Heritage

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Wikipedia for World Heritage
Not yet a World Heritage site: Wikipedia

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia in over 270 languages, has been brought to public attention as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site by Wikimedia Germany in 2011. It states that Wikipedia as a pioneering project of the digital age has carried the ancient idea of common and free knowledge over into the third millennium. Thus it would seem to be predestined to become the first ever digital World Heritage Site.[1][2]

It started with a simple idea: “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

In the beginning this idea was considered utopian and being smiled upon for its idealism. In just ten years we all have made big steps towards reaching this goal. Ten years in which this simple idea evolved into nothing less than the greatest collection of human knowledge. Ten years in which the vision of free knowledge has evolved into a system of sharing knowledge beyond national and cultural borders.

Wikipedia for World Heritage[edit]

Millions of people use Wikipedia in their everyday lives, most of them even take it for granted. This is a magnificent development, but we should be careful not to forget the idea and philosophy behind Wikipedia. The idea that “every human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge” is vital for the continuance of Wikipedia. The 10th anniversary is a wonderful event to mark this idea. Wikipedia is so much more than just the greatest of collection of human knowledge. We want to discuss and to pinpoint that there are tens of thousands of activists who spend their free time collecting mankind's knowledge and sharing it with everyone else. This does not only change the way how people think, but it changes society. “Wikipedia for World Heritage“ is a petition directed towards the UNESCO, asking them to make Wikipedia the first digital World Heritage. We want to communicate Wikipedia as a worldwide object of cultural value. Additionally we want to uncover the cultural accomplishment which makes Wikipedia possible. From our point of view UNESCO is the perfect contact when it comes to worldwide objects of cultural value. Therefore we would like to involve the official UNESCO committees in the discussion about Wikipedia for World Heritage. For that purpose we will start a petition accompanied by many different activities and events. At the Wikimedia Conference in 2011 Wikimedia Chapters from different countries announced their willingness to join in.


You can sign the petition in German and English now. If you want to translate the petition text and the petition form into other languages, please contact us. We will use the translate wiki for translations.

Activities and Events[edit]

While the petition is up and running, we try to give Wikipedia editors and users insight into the importance of free knowledge. We want to bring people together to discuss free knowledge. It does not matter which background these people and organizations have, we are striving towards a lively discussion with followers and critics of all sorts. In the near future you are going to find announcements and appointments here.


Here you can find a collection of frequently asked questions for the “Wikipedia for World Heritage” project.

Why UNESCO World Heritage?[edit]

Wikipedia is an international project and therefore to apply for the UNESCO World Heritage status seems appropriate.

The UNESCO World Heritage agreement is the most successful agreement on the protection of culture and nature that the international community has ever reached. Over 180 countries have signed the UNESCO agreement from 1972 for the protection of world heritage. No other UNESCO project gets as much attention from the German public as the UNESCO World Heritage.

Wikipedia is located in the USA and the operator of Wikipedia is the Wikimedia Foundation. Is WMF ok with the project?[edit]

The idea was developed in Germany, but we always intended it to be an international project. We presented the idea at the Wikimedia Chapters Conference and received positive feedback only. Today we know that there are many chapters from all over the world who are going to take part in the "Wikipedia for World Heritage" project.

Is there a benefit for Wikipedia?[edit]

  1. appreciation for Wikipedians
  2. higher attention for Wikipedia in the public
  3. inform about and elucidate free knowledge
  4. increasing awareness of free knowledge
  5. to protect free knowledge and access to it

Which UNESCO World Heritage criteria does Wikipedia meet?[edit]

Wikipedia meets many of the UNESCO criteria, e.g. "the site represents a masterpiece of human creative genius". However, it is not our main objective to meet single UNESCO criteria but to emphasize the project as the greatest ever collection of human knowledge, collected and supplemented by many people from all over the world. It is not only a success story in the history of the internet, but a success story for a paradigm change in the treatment of free knowledge. Therefore we deem Wikipedia ready to join the ranks of other UNESCO World Heritage sites.

What exactly are you trying to protect?[edit]

We are trying to protect the biggest constantly evolving collection of human knowledge that is open to everyone. It is important for us to secure free access to this project in the future and to keep it free from ads.

Why does Wikipedia not use the formal way of application?[edit]

The formal way is rather time consuming and only possible via national states. We are taking this way as well, but we think that a petition signed by many people all over the world is a wonderful representive for the idea behind Wikipedia.

Which goals you are trying to achieve?[edit]

We want to create awareness and acceptance. Additonally we want to use the chance and educate people regarding the idea of free knowledge.

UNESCO guidelines[edit]

  1. The site represents a masterpiece of human creative genius.
  2. The site exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design.
  3. The site bears a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.
  4. The site is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history"
  5. The site is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
  6. The site is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.(The committee agreed on the conviction that this criterion should only be referred to in conjunction with other criteria)
  7. The site contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
  8. The site is an outstanding example representing major stages of Earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
  9. The site is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems, and communities of plants and animals.
  10. The site contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.[3]

Only critera 1-6 need to be considered in the case of Wikipedia, 7-10 are to be met by natural heritage candidates. (Note: The above are general World Heritage criteria as given in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. The scope of the initiative is meant to be wider than discussing single criteria.)

Even though the UNESCO has incorporated criteria for global World Heritage sites no such world-wide cultural good has been recognised as World Heritage so far.

The key: going global![edit]

Bangalore Wikimeetup May 2011 - Group Photo - All
Bangalore Wikimeetup May 2011 - Group Photo - All

As hinted above, feedback from the international Wikimedia chapters has been overwhelming. This is good news, since the initiative needs to be supported by a global community in order to succeed. Chapters all over the world can offer diverse perspectives on Wikipedia and they can reach out to their local Wikipedians. If we all bring the cultural importance of free knowledge into the public spotlight together, this initiative will gain momentum. We can make people see in a different light what they have mostly taken for granted so far.

Please feel free to translate this page into your native language! You are most welcome, to spread information about this initiative globally. We will link your translations here.

More Information[edit]

further reading
German media coverage (selected)
English media coverage (selected)

Wikipedia for World Heritage on Facebook[edit]

The Petition[edit]

To UNESCO and the signatory states of the World Heritage Convention: I support the proposal of recognizing WIKIPEDIA as World Cultural Heritage Site because I am convinced that Wikipedia is a masterpiece of human creative genius and is also of universal human value. Please take a stand for WIKIPEDIA to become the world’s first digital and global World Cultural Heritage Site!
(The petition in more languages.)