Access to sources of information

Access to sources of information

Philippe suggested I repost this here, as the summary of some discussion:

The question has come up about providing access to WP editors to resources normally available at academic libraries. My understanding of the current possibilities are:

No publisher that relies on subscription income can possibly give a license to all the members of an organization that anyone can join . All licenses are based on the existence of a limited and known body of users with discernible use expectations. Sometimes the number is very large, like the population of a city, but the assumption is made that a very small percentage of them will ever use it.

Wikipedia is open to everyone, and all our resources need to be available equally; we have no pre-built class elite users that could form a delimited group, as a university would have faculty. I have however been thinking of ways in which we could form such a group, with a reasonable number--in terms of negotiating a reasonable sum, I would try to keep within the range of a small college, 2 or 3 thousand. I can certainly see how to select our 2000 most active mainspace editors, but we'd need to be accessible to people writing their first articles also. My current thought is, the first 2000 people who apply. I think actually we might not have that many who would actually use it, but we'd need to cope with the many who would only think they would

Publisher willingness to do it at all would depend on their opinion of whether it would cannibalize their existing markets. I know some who will not consent for any reasonable sum of money; I know some who might, at least as a 1-year experiment. I have mentioned it to a few & the response has been either direct rejection or a failure of theirs to follow up. However, the economic situation this year is considerably different. As an indication, one of the two large commercial publishers fired the CEO after only 9 months, while the owners of the other have been trying unsuccessfully to find a buyer for the academic part of the company.

Most publishers are not willing to give out thousands of individual passwords to people in a group; the normal arrangement would require that the foundation run an authentication server which would act essentially as a proxy. I believe such software is available open source. Some publishers would accept giving us a single password, which we would distribute internally. (control is maintained in such a situation by changing the password every few months--this will not necessarily be simpler than running an authentication server.)

Someone would have to do the work of negotiating these contracts with the publisher. As it would be an unprecedented type of license, it will not be routine; considerable legal assistance from a specialist would be necessary at first. My own experience in this dates back to the first electronic journals and databases, and I know what is involved in starting something new in this area. Someone will have to be responsible for handling the financial transactions and attending to renewals. Someone will have to be responsible for acting when publishers complain of abuse (e.g, one of our users trying to download the entire 10 years of a journal). The number of staff assigned to this activity in a major library is usually 4 or 5 staff at the library side, and 1 or 2 at the IT side. We would be running a very much smaller operation, but it is still a commitment of resources.

We can discuss it generally here, but if it turns out the WMF is seriously interested, please let me know privately. The entire possibility relies on the exact arrangements and costs being confidential. I am prepared to attempt to broker such arrangements and consult, but not engage in the routine work that would follow DGG 04:14, 7 December 2009 (UTC)

DGG04:14, 7 December 2009

DGG, I'm glad to see you here and this is a tremendous idea. Whatever the logistics are in getting these tools, it will be a huge benefit to our content.

Randomran07:19, 7 December 2009

The idea's come up (on WikiEN-l), to allow certain classes of editor access via a WMF service to online database subscriptions.

How those are selected would need to be considered; for sure "anyone who wants" would be rejected by the suppliers but a number of models would exist for this.

Indeed, for users who do not meet the agreed criteria, paid access might be viable. A lot of people might want access to academic sources and be willing to pay for it.

So there could be two classes of access -- users meeting some agreed criteria that the suppliers are happy with, and provided access for free, and anyone else meeting a much more "open" criterion, who wants access on a paid basis.

FT2 (Talk | email)14:14, 7 December 2009

I agree that this would be a huge benefit to content. And in some ways this is already happening as people who already have access to these databases/journls, myself included, utilize this information in working with/on Wikipedia.

I would however question how the perception of this will go.

If the brand of Wikipedia is, as has been suggested "the largest most comprehensive online encyclopedia built by a self governing, self correcting community," and if it is free to anyone, regardless of resources, to participate, then Wikipedia risks building or reinforcing an elite who has access to other resources that many cannot afford. This could lead to a greater perceived divide wherein the ability to be a "trusted contributor" may have more to do with the amount of money you have, hence the access you have to certain informational databases, versus the way you go about contributing. There are a lot of potential snakes in the grass of this field. I find that doing something like this could be perceived as very questionaable.

In addition, the very act of Wikipedia pulling together to offer "negotiated cost" for a service such as this may be perceived, either by public opinion or legally, as a "club." By its very definition, a club is that which includes but also excludes. I think that is a very dangerous slope for Wikipedia to stand in or to stand near.

Bhneihouse15:23, 7 December 2009

I forgot to address the "class" issue. Basically Wikipedia is saying "if you meet this X criteria, you will get a financial benefit (free access to X)." As soon as there are "classes" of users in a "free" encyclopedia where "everyone can participate" you are destroying what you are saying is Wikipedia's brand.

Bhneihouse15:25, 7 December 2009

Disagree. "Everyone can edit" does not mean "everyone has equal access to all facilities". A new user can't access admin functions, an admin can't necessarily access the OTRS (volunteer email) system, and so on.

I don't see a problem with saying "we have made arrangements with these suppliers to provide access to sourcing material as a paid service to anyone meeting criteria X. We also make it freely available to Wikimedia editors who meet criteria Y".

At a last point, one might even have a select team of users with appropriate skills, who are granted such access, purely for the purposes of checking and locating claimed citations.

FT2 (Talk | email)15:40, 7 December 2009

Anyone who wants, means anyone who want up to a preset limit. The key factor for the publisher is the preset limit. At this time, I think that would a publisher would reasonably permit might well have some near relationship to the number of people here who would be interested. For the publisher, the question is 1/ the overall use--the number of places available times the probability that any one of them will be used. 2/ whether it will draw away the basis of other subscriptions--for example, if everyone at a particular college decided to get access by becoming active Wikipedia editors. I think this unlikely, and I hope the publishers will realise this. To the extent people sign up who do have access elsewhere, that would be a problem for us if it shut other people out, but he publishers would love it. They'd get paid twice over.

There would be no caste formation if the arranged limit is not used., which is what I expect. Removing people from the list who do not use the resource is an entirely reasonable way of keeping the list open to newcomers. It might of course happen that 10,000 people would want to use these resources to write Wikipedia articles. This cannot be accommodated by my proposal, but If they actually did so, WP would be so much better off in multiple ways that we would well be able to find the money to renegotiate the contract; the publisher would be delighted to do so. All such contracts are renegotiated from year to year (or 2 or 3 -year periods) based on actual use. If the use goes up, more money is necessary. If it remains very low, the question is whether the resource is worth paying for at all. As for the legality or advisability of confidential negotiations about the cost, the entire industry works in this manner. Most librarians are unhappy with this, but almost all publishers insist.

If people attempt to cover all problems, people never agrees on a contract. I imagine every publisher would see this as an experiment, and so would we.

DGG01:17, 10 December 2009

That sounds good. It seems to help the community, and it seems to satisfy the publisher... is it elitist? Does it form a caste? If we weed out the people who aren't using the tools, I think that would be satisfactory. But if that wasn't enough, we could always make a quota:

  • 66% of subscriptions reserved for "trusted editors".
  • 33% of subscriptions reserved for our most active editors who have only been there less than 100 days.
  • And if there are left overs after people have claimed them, we open the rest to everyone.

Not sure the details of the contract, but something like that could help ensure there's some "upward mobility" for new users.

Randomran03:34, 10 December 2009

I haven't reacted to this thread, because I have nothing to add that hasn't been said. I think it is a marvellous idea and am curious to find out if publishers are interested.

Woodwalker08:19, 10 December 2009

I am not sure. I am afraid that some of these 2000 people may just sign up because they want to have a subscription for free. On the other hand, we have many users who already have the access (for instance, I have the electronic subscription to most of the scientific journals). I generally presume that the situations when somebody from outside academia needs a paper from a scientific journal to write a Wikipedia article are rare, and may be they can be resolved through existing subscriptions?--Yaroslav Blanter 15:44, 7 December 2009 (UTC)

Yaroslav Blanter15:44, 7 December 2009

The number in most pure sciences might not be very high, and I was not planning to do anything in this direction--for one thing, the costs will be prohibitive. The number of people who need papers from the sort of resources I have been thinking about, the general purpose ones in the humanities and social sciences and newspapers and the like, is significant. Look at any AfD, where people say I found this paper, and it should be relevant, but I have not read it. My estimate is that at least half the references to general articles from these sources are made by people who have not been able to read the article.

DGG01:23, 10 December 2009

I am not sure. In dealing with a reference the first five steps are:

  1. Knowing about it
  2. Getting access
  3. Actually accessing it
  4. Understanding it
  5. Processing its content

Most of those that are able to understand and process its content will already have access. It is very likely that there wll be many among those not-having-access-now-and-wanting-access that they will use access the same way as references are now often used (by those who did not read them): as ammunition. Unless there is an effective way to select deserving editors (and not by popularity) this is likely to be counterproductive. - Brya 05:58, 10 December 2009 (UTC)

Brya05:58, 10 December 2009

In comment to Brya, two points:

  1. I don't think your assumption that most experts have access is right. Many specialist contributors of Wikipedia are retired researchers who have lost access to the literature. Non-retired researchers have little time for Wikipedia.
  2. As I have written in another thread for this task force, mal-citation is a plague to Wikipedia, especially wp-en. The right measure to stop this would imho be to implement a guideline that one should only use a (primary) scientific source when one understands it (see this summary). One of the problems is that access to online abstracts is free. References are probably often wrongly inserted because only an abstract was read. DGG's idea would limit this problem.
Woodwalker08:27, 10 December 2009

A good suggestion #2 by Woodwalker, but is probably impossible to implement.

Yaroslav Blanter11:53, 10 December 2009

It might not be necessary either. If you have access to the source and you can read it, then the idea is that the Wiki process will be able to properly interpret it.

Something else to keep in mind: people share. (Probably something we shouldn't tell the publishers.) I remember we had just one person with access to a huge research database working at one WikiProject. He would often look stuff up for other editors to help them work on articles. Send them stuff in email. A huge amount of work got done just because of one subscription. (Not saying we should buy one subscription and share it around. Just that people without subscriptions won't be as "in the dark" as you might guess.)

Randomran16:02, 10 December 2009

@Randomran: I've seen a few cases at en-wp where it works as you say. Bad refs are being replaced with good ones. But it is rare, and it probably doesn't match the amount of new bad refs added. It seems to be restricted to a small group of articles as well. My fear is that we will never be able to become more trustworthy and useful for academic usage, if we don't address this problem.

Woodwalker16:16, 11 December 2009

I know the Wikiproject I was a part of had a list of reliable sources, and it was a go-to list to help settle issues with less reputable sources. I think we can make this even more powerful with the right tools. Using some sort of scholarly service would definitely help elevate the quality of sources, and settle disputes with less reputable sources. I always thought that Wikipedia should have its own internal search engine, which weeds out personal websites and other BS, and only searches peer reviewed sites with a reputation for fact checking. That would settle these issues quickly and effectively.

Randomran22:03, 11 December 2009

I think that (the creation of internal bibliographies) is an excellent idea. We should add it to our list of solutions/ways to overcome barriers for quality.

Woodwalker23:17, 11 December 2009

If Meta projects are created as proposed previously (by you?) then creation of internal bibliographies should be their core business.

Yaroslav Blanter23:37, 11 December 2009

Yes, a good idea. This, together with the creation of 1000-article lists to assist the growth of coverage, could be the main task of a meta-project. Another function would be to have a central discussion point where any user can ask questions about the project's field of interest.

Woodwalker14:04, 12 December 2009

That's right. This is probably less of an issue for en.wp, but on smaller Wikipedias some of the projects are not active: for instance, we have relatively active projects on biology and pharmacology, but virtually a dead project on chemistry and physics. If I get a strange atricle on physics/chemistry, I would like to have a chance to ask at a meta level, may be assisting with the translation.

Since we have to fill in the weekly report, can we may be start formulating this wiki project proposal? It looks like a real good idea for a broader discussion. Can it be that these projects have been created previously and failed?

Yaroslav Blanter15:07, 12 December 2009