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Educational materials are being developed by volunteers in hundreds of languages and in various Wikimedia projects. Although this parallel development is a strength, volunteers do not in general coordinate with each other across languages and projects. This leads to inconsistencies and "re-inventing the wheel". Better integration would allow the volunteers to build on each other's work and be more productive.
To achieve this integration, I recommend extending interwiki links, categories and WikiProjects, adding machine translation tools, and improving search tools across languages and Wikimedia projects.
We should develop mechanisms to foster the integration of contributors and materials across the various languages and WikiProjects.
For illustration, consider the field of geometry, which is studied every year by millions of students and which lies at the heart of many fields, such as engineering, surveying and physics. The ideas and methods of geometry do not depend on the language in which they're taught, and do not change with time. Therefore, all languages and all Wikimedia projects should be able to benefit from the best available wiki-material on a given subject. As an example, suppose that the best Wikipedia articles on "circle" and "triangle" and "cube" are found in the Spanish, Polish and Japanese Wikipedias, respectively. Ideally, the Spanish geometry contributors should be able to easily draw upon the Polish and Japanese materials to improve the Spanish "triangle" and "cube" articles, and vice versa for the Polish and Japanese geometry contributors. More generally, the Spanish geometry contributors should be able to coordinate with the geometry contributors of other languages to share best practices and develop consistent approaches to explaining the material. By pooling their strengths, small communities of editors could reach critical mass and cover fields much more efficiently by dividing the labor and working in parallel. Also, it's simply more fun to edit as part of a larger, thriving community.
Unfortunately, if we examine geometry resources across the Wikipedias and across projects (e.g., the English Wikipedia, Wikibooks, and Wikiversity), we find no such coordination. Contributors are often "re-inventing the wheel", categorization is inconsistent, excellent articles don't get translated, etc. Editors often work in isolation, and don't benefit from informed reviews of their peers. An editor who decides to improve a specific article on their own Wikipedia, has trouble finding what's been done already on that topic in other languages and projects.
To amend this, I propose that we develop places where editors from different languages and projects can assemble to talk to one another (improved user coordination), and where an editor can easily find out what has been done already on their subject (improved search) and translate and incorporate that material into their own work (improved import).
How might we address these problems?
- To improve search
- One approach would be to extrapolate from the current system of interwiki links. We need a better method for editors to quickly survey the state of the corresponding articles, rather than systematically clicking on dozens of links. However, I note that there is not always a 1-to-1 relationship between articles on different language Wikipedias. We might use a common system of categories that are cross-linked and searchable from a particular language version of a particular project.
- To improve import
- Although I appreciate why we should scrupulously give our contributors credit for their work, the present system of import between projects seems cumbersome. It would be great if a system would be worked out to port material freely from one project or one language to another.
- Machine translation might be a useful tool for our contributors to adapt other contributors' work to their project or language. Google's translation tools for Wikipedia might be applied to give contributors raw material from which to craft their own article.
- To improve user coordination
- On the English Wikipedia (and I presume others), editors working within a field coordinate their efforts in WikiProjects. We might be able to extend WikiProjects so that they automatically cross-list messages from their counterparts on other languages and projects. Here again, machine translation might be a helpful tool to facilitate conversations between, e.g., French and Chinese contributors.
- More generally, I believe that strengthening and supporting WikiProjects is a good strategic goal for the Foundation. Chapters are good for representing localities, but I believe that a "guild" of contributors in a given area (say, geometry, or electrical engineering) have much more in common with one another than do the contributors from a single locality. A strong, successful WikiProject is the ideal point-of-contact for connections between a professional society of subject-matter experts and the Wikimedia community, as has been seen already in several instances, e.g., the Wikipedia workshops given by the Molecular and Cellular Biology WikiProject on the English Wikipedia.
For a technical proposal along these lines, see Désilets et al., Translation the Wiki Way.
Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal Talk:Integration across languages and WMF projects.
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