Task force/Recommendations/China

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Analysis

Limited take-off in China

  • What are the underlying causes of Wikimedia's limited take-off in China?

Although Wikipedia is recognized as the largest online encyclopedia and the 6th biggest website in the world, the status and influence of Chinese Wikipedia is not as good as the average level of Wikipedia usage in other major languages.

Limits on reach

A direct indicator is the Alexa rank. As of November 8, 2009, Wikipedia is the 6th biggest website in the United States, but it is only the 53rd biggest website in China.

One explanation is the blocking of access to Wikipedia by the Chinese government between October 2005 and July 2008, during which the growth of Wikipedia in China stagnated and competitor sites from Baidu and Hudong appeared and surged.

The site-specific block was lifted in July 2008 just prior to the opening of the Beijing Olympics, and since then Wikipedia has remained accessible from Mainland China, except when individual pages containing censured words are intercepted by a general, site-nonspecific feature of the Chinese Firewall.

After the unblock, however, Chinese Wikipedia did not see a dramatic increase in traffic or participation from China (Mainland). The reason may be that Wikipedia may not be as attractive as its competitors to common net users in China. Wikipedia emphasizes on free copyright and encyclopedic quality, but a majority of Internet users in China are online for entertainment and social interactions, not work or learning; Baidu and Hudong both have more entertaining/social features (such as user ranking) and allow content copied from copyrighted materials. Also, Wikipedia lacks a team in China for powerful and tactful public relations and promotional activities.

On the other hand, when we performed a survey on public recognition for top websites in China, we found that Wikipedia was ranked as the 24th most recognized site. Therefore, we strongly believe that the current traffic ranking of Wikipedia in China at 53rd by Alexa can improve in the next 5 years.

Limits on participation

A preliminary study on the development challenges of Wiki websites in China[1] points out that four factors from two levels limit participation in Wikipedia in China:

  • On the individual level:
    • Technology: the ability to learn and master the editing interface of the wiki
    • Education: the education and learned level required to write encyclopedic articles
    • Culture: the willingness to share knowledge and collaborate peacefully and productively with others
  • On the social/political level:
    • Censorship: the frustration and fears caused by connection disruptions and other censorship activities of the government

On the educational and cultural factors, this study points out the following obstacles to participation in China:

  • The overall education levels of Chinese and Chinese net users are lower than those in developed countries
  • People use Internet more for news, emails, entertainment and social interactions than for work and learning
  • Copyright laws are not strongly enforced, encouraging people or websites to simply copy content from other websites
  • People are not used to sharing and collaborating
  • Lack of tolerance to different ideas and consensus-building
  • The Open-source movement is still in the early stage

Some of the above factors are constrains that cannot be changed easily, for example, the censorship or the cultural factors.

Lack of an active volunteer community

Our survey with Chinese bloggers[2] found another reason for the low reception and participation of Wikipedia in China: there is a lack of an active volunteer community.

Oliver Ding, co-founder of TEDChina, says:

In China, promoting a community brand requires a vigorous team or group of volunteers that organize off-line activities for the expansion of the community. It is very difficult to promote the volunteer community among the general public solely by online collaborations. (在中国,要推广一个社群品牌,需要有一个具有活力的志愿者团队,通过举办线下活动来促进志愿者社区的发展。单独依靠线上的协作,很难将志愿者社群扩展到主流大众去。)

Keso, a famous IT reviewer in China, says:

Wikipedia needs to promote their brand to users proactively, not just waiting for users to come automatically. (必须主动向用户推介维基百科,而不能坐等用户上门。)

Competitions in China

  • How is Wikipedia performing in comparison to Hudong and Baidu? To what extent, does Wikimedia have unique assets or advantages that would fill needs that competitors cannot?
  • How should Wikipedia position itself in relation to Hudong and Baidu? Are there partnership opportunities either with Hudong/Baidu or with others?

Comparison between Wikipedia and competitors

On content:

  1. Baidu and Hudong have their own way in developing contents, they often copy contents from other sources directly into their repository, and they now have more articles than Chinese Wikipedia. However, Hudong and Baidu are edited not for accumulating knowledge systematically, but simply by copying and pasting materials from other sources. This will affect the quality and credibility of their content. [3].
  2. Baidu and Hudong have wider coverage on topics more relevant to Chinese users, such as Chinese people, Chinese culture, Chinese geography, etc.
  3. Multimedia usage in Baidu or Hudong for geographic entries are impressive [4].

On community:

  1. Because of their editing models, contributors at Baidu and Hudong do not gain much pleasure from sharing and do not unite together for a great goal. In short, we do not think that their community is solid. <<comments needed for this point>>
  2. Baidu and Hudong do not have defined community cultures and do not have many pages on this topic on their websites.

On user interface and public relations:

  1. Baidu and Hudong's editing tools are easier to use than MediaWiki's complicated markups
  2. Baidu and Hudong have better SEO (search engine optimization) results than Chinese Wikipedia [5].
  3. Offline activities of Hudong are impressive, for example, they give public speeches, organize gatherings for different online groups, and sponsor teachers in high schools or universities to use Hudong as an educational tool.
  4. Wikipedia still appears more often in Chinese media stories than Baidu and Hudong, although reports on the latter two have increased rapidly in the past two years. If the trend continues, Baidu may possibly appear in more media reports than Wikipedia in 2010 [6].

Unique strengths of Wikipedia

Nonetheless, Wikipedia has its own unique assets:

  1. The support from a family of projects and language versions: the gigantic English Wikipedia; multimedia support from Wikimedia Commons; and different perspectives from different languages.
  2. Quality of content: unified and good style of articles; useful and verifiable references; neutral point of view, tolerance to ideas and diversity; no advertisement.
  3. Precise category system.
  4. Defined policies and guidance; Strict policies on copyright.
  5. Non-profit and free culture; Non-censorship

Censorship in China

  • How should Wikimedia deal with censorship and protection of its readers and editors in China?

Facts on censorship

Internet has introduced a new space of speech for Chinese people, and the existing system on censorship and regulations does not fully control this space. User-generated content has an important role on Internet today and has influenced the Chinese society in the past 3 years. Since 2007, lots of public events have evolved from small, spontaneous online discussions and caught nation-wide public attention by propagation among public forums online.

As pointed by Isaac Mao, user-generated content will greatly surpass government-controlled content by quantity in the next few years, and this will lead to many new phenomena in the society. The tension between the governmental regulation/censorship system and the public on Internet will continue in the next decade.

Nevertheless, for Wikimedia, one incidence of blocking would be enough. If it become blocked again, the growth of Wikimedia projects in China will be seriously affected.

Feasibility of a censored version of Wikipedia hosted by a third party inside China

It has been discussed many times in the user community of Chinese Wikipedia on whether to set up a mirror site within China that contains a censored version of Wikipedia. Such a site will not be interrupted by the Chinese Firewall (because it would already be censored and regulated by the government) and will provide more reliable service to Chinese users. However, there are at least two concerns: 1) would it mean Wikimedia supports censorship? and 2) would it split the community and the project? A few people have contacted some companies in China on the perspective of setting up such a site. However, all these attempts have failed: One case failed because the company received pressure from the government, others failed for the lack of execution by volunteers.

In a recent proposal and discussion at Chinese Wikipedia, most people opposed the idea of setting up a censored version.

Priority needs

  • What are the priority needs of editors and readers of the Chinese Wikipedia?
  • (Service) Providing a stable service and keeping it accessible in China is the first priority.
  • (People) Develop an active and sustainable volunteer community, not only online but also offline.
  • (Content) Improve Wikipedia's content
  • (Partnership) Seek partnerships

See more in the recommendation part of this report.

Roles in strategy execution

  • Who is needed to support this strategy (e.g., Wikimedia Foundation, chapters, individual volunteers, external partners), and what do they need to do?

Current players

There are currently two players that are involved in the promotion of Wikimedia in China:

  1. Wikimedia Foundation: it has some contact with the Chinese government.
  2. Community of volunteers: there are dozens of trusted and long-term active volunteers in China, and they are spread in the big country instead of being concentrated in a few major cities. We still need more bottom-up activities from volunteers.

Perspective on the chapter of Mainland China

So far, there are no local chapters in Mainland China, and current regulations require all NGOs and NPOs to have some governmental unit as the sponsor and regulator. No governmental unit is willing to sponsor a Wikimedia chapter in China (Mainland). Many Wikimedians also object the idea of a government-dependent/controlled chapter in China.

However, looking five years into the future, we believe that local chapters are possible, and this may take place in several steps: 1) warming up of local communities, 2) setting up of sub-chapters for cities and/or provinces, 3) formation of a national chapter.

Role of volunteers without a chapter

Without a chapter, it is difficult for Wikimedia Foundation to support the execution of a strategy in China, and execution solely by volunteers is problematic:

  • Execution of a plan based on loosely-associated volunteers is often ineffective.
  • How does a group of volunteers make contracts with partners for Wikimedia?
  • How to finance the activities without an organization?

One option that has been discussed to solve this problem is:

  • Wikimedia Foundation employ a few members to do the promotion work locally in China.

Conclusion

In summary, the responsibilities of different parties are:

  • Wikimedia Foundation: provide the strategy planing framework, support the execution.
  • Individual volunteers: execute some plans locally; try to setup a chapter gradually.
  • External partners: Please see Build online and offline partnerships for details.

Recommendations

Promote the Wikimedia movement and involve the public at large

  • Re-invigorate the community
    • Before 2006, Wikimedians in many cities of China often held meet-ups. But after the government blocked Wikipedia, these meetings were not organized any more. We need to re-invigorate the community both online and offline.
  • Increase public relations activities
    • Hold annual conferences for Chinese Wikimedia in Mainland China
    • Increase media coverage on Wikipedia via news, interviews, reviews, etc
    • Wikipedians reach out and give talks in universities and IT/education-related conferences/gatherings
    • Form partnership with popular websites in China
  • Improve the SEO result in Google.cn and Baidu.com

Lift the obstacles for participation

  • Help students and teachers in universities to access Wikipedia
    • Chinese universities and academic institutions use the CERNET (wikipedia:China Education and Research Network) to connect to Internet and have limited data allowance for international traffic. Setting up a mirror inside China for Wikipedia would be a solution but it must deal with the censorship problem.
  • Improve usability of the user interface, especially on the editing interface
  • Improve the mobile version of Wikimedia
  • Be more friendly to newcomers; encourage and help them participating
  • Maintain and expand the link with the Chinese government for better communication and mutual understanding

Improve content quality and expand coverage on local topics

  • Using the high-quality content from English Wikipedia and other languages is an opportunity.
  • Expand coverage on topics more relevant to Chinese users, such as Chinese people, Chinese culture, Chinese geographic, etc
    • Lots of works in public domain may be used to expand the coverage in a systematic way
    • Project to enhance geographic entries with semantic format support

Build online and offline partnerships

Supporting facts:

  • Hudong partners with teachers from primary and secondary schools
  • Hudong partners with websites of various museums

References

  1. Suo, Huijun: A preliminary study on the development challenges of Wiki websites in China (中国维基网站发展原因之初探)
  2. Oliver Ding, Bo Hong, Yan Xia: Task force/China/Interview (surveys) with Chinese bloggers/Underlying Causes
  3. Oliver Ding, Bo Hong, Yan Xia Task force/China/Interview (surveys) with Chinese bloggers/Comparative Advantages
  4. Mingli Yuan, Zhao Shi, Tangos Chen Baidu_and_Hudong#Comparison_on_articles
  5. Zhao Shi Baidu_and_Hudong/Google_SEO
  6. Jeromy-Yu Chan Task force/China/Media