+ Girls/Women Are Missing From Wikipedia’s Contributor List

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Wikipedia:  more than 3.5 million articles in English, in ten short years.  More than 250 languages.

Many goals met.  But a year ago, according to Noam Cohen’s NY Times article, the Wikimedia Foundation embarked on a study of its contributor base and found that it was barely 13 percent women. 

They collaborated in a joint effort with   United Nations University and Maastricht University.

The traditions of the computer world may be getting in the way of participation by women, as well as the fact that obsessive love of facts is a seems to be a male attribute.

Sue Gardner is executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.  She has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015.  But not just for diversity’s sake.

This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be.  The difference between Wikipedia and other editorially created products is that Wikipedians are not professionals, they are only asked to bring what they know.

Everyone brings their crumb of information to the table. 

If they are not at the table, we don’t benefit from their crumb.

The gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis.  For example, a topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs.  Boys interests are burgeoning in lengthy articles on toy soldiers and the voluminous baseball card entry.  The baseball card entry even includes a detailed chronological history.

There are only a handful of paragraphs on fashion designers like Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo.  And there is only a brief summary — perhaps one or two sentence — of “Sex in the City” episodes, whereas there are lengthy, detailed articles on every episode of the “Sopranos.” 

Cohen offers five entries on Mexican feminist writers, and contrasts that with 45 articles on characters in “The Simpsons.”

It is a fact that there is no male-dominated executive team favoring men over women at Wikipedia, as there can be in corporate culture.  And since Wikipedia is not a software project, but instead a writing project, it is surprising that women are not more in evidence.

Joseph Reagle is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and author of “Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia.”

He says the disparity may be because Wikipedia’s early contributors shared a mindset with the hard-driving hacker crowd.  This includes an ideology that resists efforts to impose rules, or even goals like diversity.  And he feels there is a culture at Wikipedia that may discourage women.

It is ironic, because I like these things — freedom, openness, egalitarian ideas — but I think to some extent they are compounding and hiding problems you might find in the real world.

[Openness means being] open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists, so you have to have a huge argument about whether there is the problem.

Gardner points to the entry for one of her favorite authors, Pat Barker.  It was a mere three paragraphs long when she came across it.  Barker is a highly acclaimed 67-year-old British writer, many of whose novels are set during World War I.

But Niko Bellic, a character in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV, had an article five times as long.

The percentage of the public going to Wikipedia for information is increasing.  A recent Pew Study found that 53 percent of American adults who regularly use the Internet visit the site.

According to Jane Margolis, co-author of a book on sexism in computer science, “Unlocking the Clubhouse,” Wikipedia is experiencing the same problems of the offline world: women are less willing to assert their opinions in public.

The founder and director of the OpEd Project, which monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to “public thought-leadership forums,” is Catherine Orenstein.  She says many women lack the confidence to put forth their views.  When you are a minority voice, she has observed, you begin to doubt your own competencies.

She and her group are persuading women to express themselves by urging them to shift the focus “away from oneself — ‘do I know enough, am I bragging?’  — and turn the focus outward, thinking about the value of your knowledge.”

Margolis is an advocate of recruiting women as a group to fields or forums where they are under-represented.  In that way, they are not a solitary voice, facing the burden alone.

Margolis did her part and fleshed out the entry on Pat Barker.  Let’s all consider adding our own crumbs.

sole source: Noam Cohen’s article in the NY Times on January 30, 2011.  http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/wikipedia/index.html?scp=3&sq=Noam%20Cohen&st=cse

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

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