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Wikipedia Gets State Funding in Germany 157

Posted by Zonk
from the we-could-use-some-state-support-too dept.
tmk writes "How can Wikipedia be improved? The German government started a project today to train experts to contribute to Wikipedia. The goal is to write or improve several hundred articles about renewable resources in the Internet encyclopedia. The project is funded by the German Ministry of Nutrition, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection. The German chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation is hiring a Wikipedian to coordinate the efforts. 'The challenge will be to motivate experts who have done good work in other projects to get involved in the community lexicon. As project director Florian Gerlach told heise online, "Such expert reports are usually written, edited, and published in the normal newspapers or even on other websites. But Wikipedia is radically different: articles there continually grow with input from numerous authors, who often remain anonymous. The end product is constantly changing, and third parties can publish their own texts or even change yours." The future authors will therefore receive some training to help them work with Wikipedia.'"
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Wikipedia Gets State Funding in Germany

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  • Uh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wellington Grey (942717) on Tuesday June 26, 2007 @12:27PM (#19651001) Homepage Journal
    For the first time, the German edition of the open Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia will be receiving state funding. Germany will be setting aside part of its budget to improve information about renewable resources in Wikipedia.

    Paying people to edit wikipedia does not count as donating money. Would we say wikipedia is 'receiving funding from Microsoft' if MS was paying employees to write about MS products?

    -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]
    • Re:Uh... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by doublefrost (1042496) on Tuesday June 26, 2007 @12:33PM (#19651125)
      There's a difference. If microsoft funded people to write about microsoft products on wikipedia, it would be to help microsoft. Germany is funding people to write about things that would benefit the people of Germany.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        There's a difference. If microsoft funded people to write about microsoft products on wikipedia, it would be to help microsoft. Germany is funding people to write about things that would benefit the government of Germany.


        There, I fixed it. Now you are correct.

        -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]
      • There's a difference. If microsoft funded people to write about microsoft products on wikipedia, it would be to help microsoft. Germany is funding people to write about things that would benefit the people of Germany.

        How is that different? Microsoft pays people to write things that Microsoft's management judges serve the interests of Microsoft's stockholders, the German government pays people to write things that the German government bureaucrats judge to serve the interest of the German government's con

      • Yes, however the German government doesn't plan to contribute through hiring people to improve Wikipedia, but to write about what they care about, renewable resources. From what I have heard, the government does not donate money to help pay the servers, they just use Wikipedia to spread their information.

        It is better than what Microsoft did, because they improve Wikipedia (at least that's what I expect, being neutral and respect WP:NPOV)
        It is not the best they could have done, because it doesn't help to pay
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Darundal (891860)
          Out of curiosity, can anyone explain to me how the German government paying people to edit and to write wikipedia pages about a certain topic (in this case, renewable resources) does not constitute propaganda?
          • Re:Uh... (Score:5, Informative)

            by Capsaicin (412918) on Tuesday June 26, 2007 @09:40PM (#19657883)

            Out of curiosity, can anyone explain to me how the German government paying people to edit and to write wikipedia pages about a certain topic (in this case, renewable resources) does not constitute propaganda?

            Unless you were working on a different definition, we'll define 'propaganda' as "The systematic dissemination of information, esp. in a biased or misleading way, in order to promote a political cause or point of view." (OED). It should be clear that the payment by the government to write stuff is not necessarily propaganda ... it very much depends on what they write. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the information they produce will be accurate (in that it reflects the best technical view of experts in the field), or where the subject matter allows for controversy, that it will be balanced. Furthermore it is possible that the contributions will not promote any particular political cause. For instance how is the statement "On Earth acceleration due to gravity is ca. 9.8m/s2" propaganda when written by a government funded writer (but apparently not when written by anyone else)?

            In other words you'll have to see what is produced before you can judge it. The mere fact of government funding doesn't make communication propganda.

          • by upside (574799)
            In the same way that training and employing teachers and scientists in state run schools and universities is not propaganda.

            Ofcourse their idea is to "influence" people by raising awareness about renewable energy, but I'm having a hard time thinking how this would be a somehow insidious activity, a connotation of the word "propaganda". Sheesh, this is the most transparent possible medium, and they are being open about the sponsorship. Their work is open for the public to scrutinize and any effort at manipul
          • It would, of course, but it's not necessarily bad. For example, "smoking kills" is propaganda; and so is a detailed article on detrimental effects of smoking on health. But it is still factual and verifiable. As long as the latter two are satisfied (and the community will ensure that), there's nothing wrong with it.
        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by mi (197448)

          It is better than what Microsoft did, because they improve Wikipedia (at least that's what I expect, being neutral and respect WP:NPOV)

          NPOV is an unreachable ideal. These German-trained contributor's POV will coincide with Germany's and will, no doubt, leach into their contributions.

          • by uradu (10768)
            Yeah, they will probably totally buy into and disseminate propaganda such as "Global Warming" and other such nonsense that clearly only exists to further the German government's grip on power. Those bastards!
            • Yeah, they will probably totally buy into and disseminate propaganda such as "Global Warming" and other such nonsense that clearly only exists to further the German government's grip on power.

              In other words, in your POV, Germany's POV makes sense. True or not, that is irrelevant.

              What is discussed here, is that Germany has found a way to "pay the piper" — to further its POV. Perhaps less sloppily, but not entirely unlike the other astro-turfers. Again, whether that is a good or a bad POV is not, ac

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by uradu (10768)
                > Again, whether that is a good or a bad POV is not, actually, relevant.

                That is a nice way to muddy the waters of our very existence. Taking your approach leads down the road of questioning even the most basic and well established theories and facts about life, the universe and everything. Nothing in their funding stipulates the advancement of a certain POV, they are essentially funding scientists at large (within Germany anyway) to contribute whatever their professional views are to Wikipedia, which can
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by mdielmann (514750)
                What exactly gave you the impression that the POV of someone who is paid is less valid than the POV of someone who isn't? Note also that scientists already publish as part of their jobs, just not in such an accessible forum. They also seem to be quite concerned about their reputations in their fields of expertise, almost as if their sources of funding were tied to the quality of their work and their publishing history.
                The only problem I see with this idea is that not enough people who fund scientists are
    • No, we'd call it astro-turfing.

      I wonder what these German editors will be like...

      "Ja, und jedermann soll sofort eine Kompaktleuchtstofflampe [wikipedia.org] kaufen, oder ... jedermann wird sterben [wikipedia.org] usw."
    • Would we say wikipedia is 'receiving funding from Microsoft' if MS was paying employees to write about MS products?

      No, we'd call that "astroturfing."

    • It is not hypothetical. Here is a testimony [oreillynet.com] of one such person.

      As long as the people are paid to improve the quality per Wikipedia standards, rather than to promote a particular POV, I consider such "hired editors" for a contribution.
    • Paying people to edit wikipedia does not count as donating money.

      Only two people are paid. They coordinate the efforts of the experts and organize Wikipedia trainings.

    • by kavau (554682)
      The German government is actually not as corrupt as some other western nations' governments. So I have a good feeling about this.
  • by Timesprout (579035) on Tuesday June 26, 2007 @12:27PM (#19651007)
    mention the war!
  • Backlash (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by kerohazel (913211)
    While this project does have good intentions, I can't help but wonder if it might do more harm than good for the green movement. I don't know how things are in Germany, but here in the States, global warming is considered by many to be disputable. As is Wikipedia. Right now one of the strongest things the global warming awareness campaign has going for it is the huge number of scientific articles which support the findings. That's pretty hard to argue against. But if they start pushing information onto anyo
    • by Anonymous Coward
      want the answer to why you have bad karma? Read your post. Moron.
    • by pretygrrl (465212)
      someone went waaaay trigger happy w. the Flamebait button today. i agree w. parent - wikipedia is not an authoritative source, by definition. Its the "quantum state" of knowledge, i.e. subject to change depending on time of day.
      there is only one problem w. that - its not how knowledge actually works.
      looks like german government at least is taking a stand on the issue - unlike many other governments. to see it get lost in the noise of wiki seems like a huge waste.
      they would be better off w. some sort of .gov
    • In Canada (where i tend to live), the Conservative government struggles to fight the popularity and outspokenness of the Green lobby (partly because it consists of all 3 opposition parties), and I'd say they're the most global warming skeptical 1st-world country besides the US. I'm in Germany and you might as well speak sanskrit here as deny global warming. Remember this is the Christian Democratic party leader Angela Merkel that's trying to coax Bush into accepting emissions reductions; the Europeans are
    • Remember that Wikipedia is an encylopedia, it can contain no original research and therefore any good articles (ie. the kind that you would expect from a government-trained team of experts) will be full of citations, meaning that anyone questioning the accuracy or authenticity of any points in those articles need only look at the referenced material.

      With that in mind, and given that Wikipedia is often being the first place people look online for information these days it seems like a very good way of tying
    • by vertinox (846076)
      But if they start pushing information onto anyone-can-edit-Wikipedia, some of the authority is lost.

      Huh? If a UFO/JFK conspiracy mag publishes Einsteins papers on theory of relativity, then Einstein's papers and theories haven't lost their authority. Now, I might question the fact that someone said that Einstein's paper in this magazine said that E equals magic fairy dust and that Einstein hung out with little green men from mars, but that wouldn't degrade the authority of his original work

      Authority works i
    • by uradu (10768)
      That's EXACTLY what this funding is about, to get scientists that are reputable in their field (in this case environmental sciences) to edit Wikipedia articles in order to inject some level of authority that so many claim is lacking. There is a fundamental philosophical difference between most western governments and the US (at least as exemplified by the current administration): while most governments prefer to spend public funds on public projects that benefit the greater good, and also prefer to cooperat
  • The German government started a project today to train experts to contribute to Wikipedia

    Are there Wiki professionals out there that go around and train people on how to use a wiki? Outstanding! I knew my resume had a blank space that needed filling.

    As for the US-based wiki, we may not be professionals but dammit we're a union. Now where did I put that union card anyway...

  • Accountability (Score:5, Insightful)

    by athloi (1075845) on Tuesday June 26, 2007 @12:32PM (#19651107) Homepage Journal
    This will fundamentally change the wiki model, which grew rapidly because it did not require its writers to be accountable to existing standards. That made it popular, but also error-prone. Academia and government are going to take over wikipedia from within, by this model, and while this violates the fundamental ideal of wikipedia, it will improve the content vastly. Maybe there's something to learn here about the wisdom of accountability and peer-review standards that, while imperfect, evolved over time for a reason. It's a very generous move by the Germans, and one I hope others follow.
    • Re:Accountability (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kebes (861706) on Tuesday June 26, 2007 @12:50PM (#19651415) Journal
      You paint a stark picture of "anonymous random contributors" versus "academia and government"--but I think that is a false dichotomy. Wikipedia has always benefiting from the contributions of random individuals, as well as from expert academics. Whether or not those academics were told by their host institutes to contribute is actually immaterial (unless you think the academic holds different expertise/opinions in the two cases...).

      To have governments actively allocate funding for people to contribute to Wikipedia in no way prevents or invalidates the tireless work of the rest of the community. Both groups should be contributing, and both groups should be checking each other's facts. There is no need (nor any ability) for governments to "take over wikipedia from within".

      What we are seeing is a consolidation of efforts, and I hope other governments follow this lead. Government workers (who are inherently being paid from public funds) should not waste effort generating duplicate material. Rather than creating their own factoid-websites, they can do more good by extending and improving the vast material on Wikipedia (which, of course, is freely available to all).
    • by Titoxd (1116095)

      Academia and government are going to take over wikipedia from within, by this model, and while this violates the fundamental ideal of wikipedia, it will improve the content vastly.

      Wikipedia admin speaking here: No, it doesn't violate the fundamental ideas of Wikipedia, and that is a very common misconception. Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit: Your congressman or the guy who is tapping your phone at the NSA are included in "anyone" as well. Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, but it is also the encyclopedia in which anyone can challenge your edits, per the Verifiability policy [wikipedia.org]. It is also the encyclopedia in which anyone can revert your edits if you

  • They will likely research what they write, write well and have it sh*t on by the general wikipedia trolls, or worse, people who think they know what they are writing about.
    • It's not that bad. I am an academic, and I have found a few things regarding my field in Wikipedia that I think are incorrect. But then again, I have found inaccuracies that are just as bad in Britannica, so I guess it is just what happens in non specialist encyclopaedias.

      Apart from the tendency of articles to get messy, Wikipedia only suffers from organized or semi-organized groups gaming the open system. The glaring examples of this are most of the Wikipedia articles to do with Israel and Palestine. The h
  • I. G. Metall has organized the new submitters and called a strike. Access to Wikipedia comes to a crashing halt.
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday June 26, 2007 @12:52PM (#19651455)
    If you tried selling me on the concept before it launched, I would have said it was a nice idea but impossible, like the 19th century utopian societies that collapsed on themselves. While Wiki does have flaws, what it gets right far outstrips what it gets wrong. Color me thoroughly impressed. Before someone goes and says "but it doesn't stack up compared to professionally edited encyclopedias and newspapers and books," let me point out that those sources have just as many flaws. New York Times and Iraqi WMD's anyone? I believe Chariots of the Gods was also a published book, same as Mein Kampf. And didn't I remember hearing about the Million Little Pieces guy totally fooling Oprah with his fictional autobiography? Readers are encouraged to use their own intelligence when assessing the validity of claims made in printed material. Official sources can get it just as wrong as Wiki but they lack the discussion pages for people to hash out the truth.

    The best suggestion I've seen is that Wikipedia can go the way of Linux distributions. For those who are willing to do their own fact-checking, they can get the straight dope from Wiki, warts and edit wars and all. For academic distributions, editing boards can decide what to accept from the live articles. It naturally won't be all of Wikipedia, just what pertains to the topics that the editing team think are appropriate for the distro. MIT may pull in a ton of science articles and leave out the articles about countries, TV shows, music, etc. Harvard Business School may concentrate on business history, applicable case law, and other subjects encompassed in the curriculum but find the material MIT covers to be factually correct but outside the interest of the course. These distros can then filter edits through a peer review process to make sure they agree with what's entered. The reputation of the editing board is on the line in these distributions and factual inaccuracies here would incur as much shame as if the error occurred in a peer-reviewed journal.

    To extend the comparison to open source, one could consider the academic distros to be the stable fork, straight wiki would be the beta version. The respect and prestige accorded to the various editing boards will be a matter of public opinion. Because the board members are not just anonymous yahoos on the net but people with careers and reputations, the overall quality of work should be higher. And, seeing as all of this knowledge is "open source," original research appearing in an academic distro can always be ported into the real wiki.

    I do not think any of this is starry-eyed optimism or unrealistic hippie idealism, I think it is quite realistic and the hard parts have already been demonstrated for the skeptics.
    • While Wiki does have flaws, what it gets right far outstrips what it gets wrong.

      Which is arguably the most dangerous aspect of it. If it was blatantly false, it would not be used by so many as an authoritative source. Not everyone takes everything they read their as true, but too many do.

      Imagine the call to war in Iraq 10years after wikipedia, with a consistent set of 'facts' about Iraq added. Colin Powell would never have needed to give his little UN speech.
      • Which is arguably the most dangerous aspect of it. If it was blatantly false, it would not be used by so many as an authoritative source. Not everyone takes everything they read their as true, but too many do.

        Imagine the call to war in Iraq 10years after wikipedia, with a consistent set of 'facts' about Iraq added. Colin Powell would never have needed to give his little UN speech.

        Good point. Three things that should prevent this sort of thing from happening:

        1. Edits are logged by user or IP so you can see who is making them.
        2. If the community corrects the information and it keeps getting changed, the topic is locked.
        3. All factual assertions are supposed to be backed up with links to other sites with hard evidence.

        People can be some devious investigative bastards. Republican astroturfing attempts have been sniffed out thanks to smart people finding the holes in the efforts and doc

    • If you tried selling me on the concept before it launched, I would have said it was a nice idea but impossible

      Therein lies the source of wikipedia naysayers unshakeable conviction - logically, it can't work, and to see it working is an insult to their intelligence. So they vandalise a page to prove a point, and for 3 seconds the article on "butterscotch" or whatever it was that I answered their question with says "PatrickThomson is a faggot". Ok, I'll confess this was a specific incident, and I haven't bump
  • Citizendium (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LionKimbro (200000) on Tuesday June 26, 2007 @12:56PM (#19651525) Homepage
    I'm excited to hear this, but -- wouldn't the Citizendium [citizendium.org] be more appropriate, given that the experts could actually be recognized as experts, and the work could go towards a recognized polished page?
    • It would, but Larry Sanger is kind of a joke, and nobody cares about his sour grapes over leaving Wikipedia with a "you'll be sorry!" and seeing it flourish without him.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Alphager (957739)
      nope. This is about publicity; the aim is to educate as much citizens as possible. As long as Users_of_wikipedia > users_of_citizendum use wikipedia.
  • wikipedia is of course full of smears, propaganda, lies, errors, partisanship, etc. but at least it's a democratic model of such, so you can expect it from all sides: a random cacophony of background noise. your average person's healthy critically minded bullshit meter can weed the useful from the unuseful

    but by linking the government, any government, to wikipedia, now your cacophony has a louder strain of establishment rhetoric and bureaucratic agenda. instead of your bullshit meter going off here and there, now your bullshit meter is on orange alert all the time: those with an agenda aren't random riff raff, now they have dug themselves deeper into the lifeblood of the entire site

    there is no such thing as a neutral unbiased source of information. but a site unhinged from corporate ownership or governmental oversight or funding accountability is pretty much as close as you are going to get. involving any outside entity with an agenda, no matter how innocuous the agenda nor how limited the scope of the involvement nor what the model of involvement is, it taints everything about how you must perceive the site if you have a healthy bullshit meter

    a shame, just a bloody awful development because i love wikipedia, but now i love it a little less ;-(
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Those pages edited by these paid experts will be subject to general review just like any other page. Besides, governments already have write access to Wikipedia, only with this, it's public, and therefore makes us more aware of it anyway.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by quantaman (517394)
      There is a risk but I think this is something that can be done very well, and from the article it looks like they intend to do that.

      there is no such thing as a neutral unbiased source of information.

      This saying always bugs me. Can you be completely 100% neutral and unbiased? Of course not. But if you're trying it's not that hard to get pretty damn close. The fact is we see so little of it because we don't want to, people want their opinions reinforced, they want some "flavour" with their information so the media gives us what we want. But I've always considered that quote

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Vintermann (400722)
      Well, we know government already has tried to manipulate wikipedia (the white house edits controversy), and you can bet that large corporations have as well. I think they are even more distorting, because they pursue one goal (profit) while government pursues dozens of conflicting goals. Simply put, governments in general probably have more to gain from accuracy.
      But as long as the German government is completely transparent with this, it shouldn't worry you anyway. You can just find out who those editors ar
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Clovert Agent (87154)
      Why? If a paid contributor posts something you feel is overly biased, just change it, or flag it for deletion, or flag the poster for suspension. Wikipedia is self-correcting, and while that doesn't always work as fast or as effectively as some would like, it _does_ work.

      If you don't like it, fix it. Don't bitch about it.
  • You'd think in Germany they might be especially wary of 'consensus' history projects, especially within a political context. And about privacy laws too, for that matter (cf. the Google/Gmail story from Saturday).

    Then again, maybe not...
  • "Such expert reports are usually written, edited, and published in the normal newspapers or even on other websites. But Wikipedia is radically different: articles there continually grow with input from numerous authors, who often remain anonymous. The end product is constantly changing, and third parties can publish their own texts or even change yours." The future authors will therefore receive some training to help them work with Wikipedia.'"

    The last person to try recruiting people to edit Wikipedia for m
  • As a contributor to Wikipedia, the idea that a foreign government is targeting Wikipedia to "improve" articles to reflect its point of view and policies (make no mistake, despite whatever they're calling it, that's what this is) makes me deeply uncomfortable, and I'm not even certain this is legal under current Wikipedia rules and practices.
    • They're German. They're going to be editing the German Wikipedia, which is, unless you speak German, not the one you've been editing.
      • I'm not speaking of any language specific version of Wikipedia. I'm talking about the entire project. The fact that only the German language section would be inappropriately modified only limits the scope of the problem, not the underlying concerns.
        • by cpghost (719344)

          Does it really limit the scope of the problem? Many bi- or multilingual editors translate stuff to or from "the other Wikipedia".

          But is all this really a problem? What's the difference between a government-founded expert, and any other random editor? Both are on exactly the same footing here. Whenever an article is edited by an expert, it will sooner than later be reedited by an expert with opposing views (and by hordes of non-experts as well). This is already happening all over the Wikipedia, and it does

  • Rumor has it George W. is going to fund a rewrite of the entry on evolution.
  • So what? Wikipedia is already run by the dark side on every issue which actually matters that I've ever looked up on it.

    Wikipedia seems to be run entirely by science geeks who never figured out that highschool and TV are brainwashing tactics. How sad for a bunch who supposedly take pride in using their brains that they should have been so easily tricked.

    Thus, in Wikipedia, if it doesn't fit with conventional wisdom, it isn't in there.

    This is fine if I need to look up how jet engines work or what the capit
    • by Baumi (148744)

      Wikipedia seems to be run entirely by science geeks who never figured out that highschool and TV are brainwashing tactics. [...] Thus, in Wikipedia, if it doesn't fit with conventional wisdom, it isn't in there.

      The same goes for any kind of encyclopedia. They're not supposed to be springboards for new ideas, instead they collect those ideas deemed to be the current consensus.

      Besides, as long as you don't name any specific articles and they deficiencies, it's hard to decide whether your argument has any merit or whether you're just a conspiracy theorist who's ticked off that his personal view of the world is not represented on Wikipedia.

      (Please don't take that personally, I have no opinion on you one way or the ot

  • One of the nice things is that nobody gets paid to do Wikipedia, no matter how highly respected they are, or how much work they've put in. How does someone who has the official imprimatur of the Foundation compare with them in terms of prestige or authority? With a retired person who spends eight hours a day fixing typos and essentially being one of the little gnomes that makes everything run smoothly?

    The Essjay incident should have put the kibosh on credentialism; users should be evaluated by the work that
    • by Teancum (67324)
      As pointed out in other posts with this story, there are indeed many individuals already getting paid to write Wikipedia content....just not paid by the Wikimedia Foundation. They may be paid as P.R. reps to update the articles about their own companies or the products of their company, or perhaps looking over the biographies of their corporate officers. It may be government workers who look over how their country/city/state is written about (while they are "on the clock" in their office). It could be an
  • Paying people to edit articles on Wikipedia raises questions of bias and propaganda. What's next? Is the German government going to pay people to have its view on taxes, education, religion, etc. edited into Wikipedia?

    If the German government wants to support Wikipedia, they should donate hardware and bandwidth.

    • by Titoxd (1116095)
      Not really. They don't get to pick which version of an article sticks, and are usually reverted. We've had government agencies [wikipedia.org] edit before, but usually role accounts don't fare so well.
  • I assume the articles in German will be written. But to the invention of web language digester Babelfish [altavista.com] giving thanks, entire Worldsurface from this gift benefit can. Among others I wish our new machine translated feudal barons to welcome!

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