Submissions/Systemic bias beyond demography

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After careful consideration, the Programme Committee has decided not to accept the below submission at this time. Thank you to the author(s) for participating in the Wikimania 2015 programme submission, we hope to still see you at Wikimania this July.

Submission no.
Title of the submission
Systemic bias beyond demography
Type of submission
Author of the submission
Peter Gallert
E-mail address
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
Polytechnic of Namibia and Namibia Knowledge Portal
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

Systemic bias is the tendency of a system to favour certain outcomes. For Wikipedia those outcomes are the prevalence of recent and popular topics researchable via online sources, the overrepresentation of topics from the Northern Hemisphere, and many other aspects of its current display of 'the sum of all human knowledge'.

Wikipedia is well aware of these shortcomings. It explains its systemic bias with the location of its editors and the composition of its editor base. External research confirms the unequal distribution of active editors, as well as the skewed representation of its content. This is important because the Wikimedia projects are a mass medium, and known effects of mass media apply to it. English Wikipedia in particular has an agenda setting effect on its massive readership, and topics that occur prominently are, according to this theory, perceived to be most important. This is of course not the intention of its editors but a necessary effect of how the encyclopaedia is written, largely without a master plan to develop important articles first, and with almost complete freedom for every contributor to expand their topic of choice.

Yet geography and demography might not be the sole aspect of Wikipedia's systemic bias. Recent research results comparing the ethnology of the Wikimedia editor community with that of the OvaHerero, an indigenous community in South-Western Africa, hint at many other incompatibilities that prevent members of this community from participating. Even the educated elite of that tribe, professors, CEOs, activists and politicians, do not join Wikimedia projects. It turns out that systemic bias on Wikipedia encompasses a lot more than just editor demography. The editing interface, some prominent community principles, and the predominantly textual representation of knowledge, they all fly into the face of the OvaHerero people of Namibia. Some of English Wikipedia's core principles like 'Anyone can edit' or 'Be bold' seem to be so alien to their cultural self that they see the entire Wikimedia movement as unsuitable to preserve and codify knowledge in the manner they are used to.

My talk showcases a long-term experiment to create a local language Wikipedia that mirrors values and principles of an indigenous community. I start from the assumption that a different way to organise the creation of an encyclopaedia is okay as long as speakers form a consensus how 'their' Wikipedia should look like. I then show how we compared the values of both communities, and wherein the incompatibilities lie. Finally, I demonstrate how a by now still hypothetical Wikipedia in Otjiherero, the language of the OvaHerero, might look like.

I submit this proposal under the Production of knowledge track of the Digital Humanities Network (RedHD). Considering the standard Wikimania tracks it best fits into WikiCulture & Community
Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
30 minutes (20 minutes presentation + 10 minutes discussion)
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Yes, I got a scholarship again. Thanks a lot!
Slides or further information (optional)
An essay on the background of this talk was pre-released in 2013: Commons copy
I will develop slides should the proposal be accepted.
Special requests

Interested attendees

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  1. Adamw (talk) 21:51, 2 March 2015 (UTC)
  2. I'm sceptical of whether this is the right way forward but I'm still interested. CT Cooper · talk 22:16, 10 March 2015 (UTC)
  3. Man77 (talk) 21:08, 16 March 2015 (UTC)
  4. Add your username here.