Content Translation Tool for editors

The Content Translation editor displaying a translation of the article for Aeroplane from Spanish to Catalan. The source text copied and the machine translation engine translates the section while copying it. Author:Runabhattacharjee. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Wikipedia is about content knowledge sharing, and about doing this in a specific way using commonly accepted practices, namely neutrality, verifiability and recognizing the unique challenges of writing about living people.  These are all content goals that each Wikipedia project should hold in high esteem as we try to build a source of knowledge that can be accessible to everyone in the world, no matter what language they speak.

The problem is that sometimes, knowledge is trapped behind certain linguistic barriers, and these barriers can be an impediment to sharing knowledge and communicating.  At the same time, there are other barriers, namely volunteer time and interests.  As a result, sometimes an article on one language Wikipedia may be better than the article on another.  Spanish language articles about Spanish language subjects may be more nuanced and better than their English or Italian or Japanese language counterparts because the subject specialists are writing about it in that language, people who speak that language are interested in contributing to their language version of Wikipedia, and there is more of an immediate need to write about that topic in that language.

How can Wikipedia and the movement take advantage of this, while minimizing the need for volunteer hours to go into otherwise tedious translation work? Through the use of a translation tool, and this has been worked on for some time.

That topic attracting interests of Spanish speakers using Spanish language sources may not have an immediately obvious need to exist in another language, but it can.  If you’re from Lithuania, Spanish politicians do matter because they serve in the European Parliament.  If you’re from Thailand and can read only Thai, it may be useful to know what Polish speedway looks like as it can be useful in crafting a domestic competition.  These links assist in knowledge formation, which in turn can be utilized by people in decision-making processes.  Helping decision-makers by providing them with the best available content, content not necessarily otherwise available in their native language, is a huge gift in terms of the importance of freely sharing knowledge.
Wikipedia is written by a community of learners, and there are members of the community who are involved with the project also seeking to improve their language learning skills.  By creating a tool that allows easy sharing of knowledge from language to language, close to word for word or concept for concept, Wikipedia can assist in teaching people important language skills.  Doing this from a free knowledge perspective is important.  Already, there are commercial properties doing some form of this and re-using our content for commercial use for this exact purpose.  We were not created for this purpose.  We were not created as a way to teach people languages, but it is arguably one of the many things that we have become.  I know of others who frequently use Wikipedia in this fashion.   Those interlanguage wikilinks have been great, especially when it comes to learning technical jargon in a language.  But translating is hard, long work. It could use some help. As it was very eloquently put:

Creating a new Wikipedia page based on an existing one from a different language normally requires the use of automatic translation services, dictionaries, reformatting text, tweaking links and references, and a lot of tab switching. Content translation will allow you to create an initial version of a Wikipedia page based on an existing version from a different language.

So in this context, it’s exciting to see the work of the Language Engineering team with the new content translation tool. During Wikimania 2014 at London I was able to see how the tool works, and it was very promising in its Beta status. The quality of the translation (so far, Spanish to Catalan) is high, and you can also add images (captions are also translated) and references easily. It has dictionary support. The tool can translate either specific sections or an entire article, you can add, correct or remove content while at it, and instead of putting the finished result on the Mainspace, it moves it to a User subpage, so the user has to check that everything is correct before moving it to the Mainspace (and so take responsibility for it -I like keeping people in the loop, particularily in the cases of, say, wikicontests, where I expect such a tool would be most heavily used). It also takes care of attribution quite nicely at the same time. You can see some examples of published pages here. The tool also includes a Translation Centre, which serves as a Dashboard where the user can keep track of the translations he or she has done so far, which I find very useful.

You can help test the content translation tool. Just follow these instructions, regardless of the language you usually edit in. The tool has some known issues (support of templates, that universal pain…), but if you are a regular translator, you can probably see its immense potential for all language Wikipedias (and maybe one day, for sister projects too?).

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This morning the session about the Affiliate-selected Board seats (ASBS) took place. The candidates, Frieda, Patricio and Alice made a short 4-minute presentation about their professional backgrounds, their Wikimedia movement experience and their motivations to run before responding to questions from the audience. Patricio had to do it via Skype, which proved technically tricky: the image would freeze or the volume would be too low, for example. Or bells ringing from the nearby church would drown his voice, not once, but twice… (A sign from God?)

Frieda talked about how, after being in Wikimedia Italia for so many years as Chair, she felt this was the right time to return to the WMF Board. When the new ED is hired, a new cycle in the WMF (and the movement) will begin. She wants to help with that, and she believes she has the relevant experience to do it.

Alice tackled the November Board decisions upfront in her opening statement. She explained she expected to have been asked about that before now, and since that didn’t happen, she wanted to say here and now that her rationale for how she voted was based on the lack of clarity regarding a general movement strategy.

Patricio said he believed people know what he thinks about movement topics. He talked about the narrowing focus approach, which he agrees with. He also said that the WMF is becoming/is a grantmaking institution, and if chapters are grantees, something is wrong. A grantee is someone external. Affiliates are or should be partners. He wants a synergic relationship between all movement entities, not a bureaucratic one.

Then the questions began. Candidates were asked in the first place, “What would your role be in the Board?”

Alice replied that one Board member is only but one part of a whole. She doesn’t think consensus is necessary in every decision. She wants to raise the Board to a new level, and for it to have a trusting relationship with the new ED.

Frieda talked about the gap between the affiliates and the Board, communication-wise and regarding how decisions that affect them are taken. She would like the role of the affiliates to be recognised. She pointed out that the strategic plan is the Wikimedia movement plan, not the WMF strategic plan, yet it contains nothing about affiliates. She wants to change this.

Patricio explained how inside the Board tasks were distributed amongst members. He has been the liaison for AffCom and FDC for the last year, and he wants to keep doing this job for he says he believes in the work of these committees.

Another question came from Meta, regarding the language of the Novemeber resolution, and “could user groups could be incorporated”, since otherwise couldn’t it be “against freedom of association”?

Alice said the answer to that question was on the talkpage of Meta. She admitted the way of communicating the decision was poor, and the ensuing confusion was unintended. She said the Board had learned its lesson, was sorry about how it happened, and wouldn’t do it again.

Frieda said she didn’t know what had motivated the Board decision, but she didn’t agree with it.

Patricio explained there is no restriction regarding being an incorporated user group. User groups can be incorporated or unincorporated.

The open session ended on that note, and the closed one followed between the affiliates that will be casting a vote in the next weeks for the two open seats. While I couldn’t join this session because I’m on the Board, I really liked that participation was open to the attending user groups as well to give them an opportunity to voice their opinions.

Candidates will still be taking questions from anyone on Meta until May 31, when the elections end.

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Cindy, in memoriam


Cynthia Ashley-Nelson died yesterday. She was attending the Wikimedia Conference as an AffCom member, and on Thursday had participated on her first annual AffCom meeting. The news about her death have surprised and shocked the people at the conference. I realise there are many people who might not be familiar with her, so I wanted to write a few words about her and the impact she made on those who knew her.

In my role as Board liaison to the Affiliations Committee, I had seen Cindy, as her friends called her, apply to become a member, and how she was finally elected to the committee. She had such a solid background, so relevant to the work AffCom does, she was such strong candidate, it was a no brainer for AffCom to elect her. They were not disappointed. Cindy was participative, incredibly engaged from the first day on the work of the committee and looking beyond it, trying to improve existing processes and thinking ahead about expanding AffCom’s role. She had wonderful ideas and a refreshing perspective regarding movement roles and the role of AffCom. One that I especially liked was her desire to implement a thorough Affiliate Development Program, to help guide new affiliates and teach them relevant skills so they could not only be better equiped to survive, but to thrive, and have a bigger impact in a shorter period of time.

I got to know Cindy a bit beyond that, for she wanted to test ideas and potential directions in which to take the movement. We would send each other long emails about movement roles and how to move forward with the movement. And as it usually happens, conversations turned from the more formal to the informal, eventually including little snippets of our every day lives, the good things that happened to us and the not so good. When we met for the first time face to face two days ago, we gave each other a big hug. In the session we had during the AffCom meeting she once again showed her passion and commitment to help reimagine the role of AffCom and how to help emerging and new affiliates. And at the end of that session, she was confirmed as the new vice-chair of AffCom. That speaks to the impact she made inside the committee in such a short time. I think our last interaction was about getting together at some moment during the conference to just hang out and talk. She had a great smile.

When the tragic news came in last night during dinner, so out of the blue, I was shocked. Literally shocked. She had missed the meeting between AffCom and the Board, which was very surprising, and it hadn’t been possible to contact her, but it didn’t necessarily make one think something bad had happened. When the Board was notified of what had happened, we wanted to be very respectful about the fact that the priority had to be to contact the next of kin before any kind of public announcement or tweet or anything was released. But AffCom had to be told. I had been an AffCom member before joining the Board. Breaking the news to them was one of the hardest things I’ve done in this movement. We went to a room to deal with the shock and the reactions. Nobody wanted to be alone.

This morning after the next of kin had been located and notified, we all got together for breakfast and went together to the venue where a grief counsellor was available. There was a brief but touching tribute at the beginning of the conference, and then AffCom prepared a public statement to inform about Cindy’s death. I felt my place was with them, helping them word it. As the schedule was reorganised, I missed the Meet the Board session which was moved to the morning, which I deeply regret, but I did want to be with AffCom in these moments. I want people to know I will be available for anyone who wants to ask me anything about the Board or the movement at the venue. I just couldn’t make it this morning. Before ending this post, I would like to take a moment to thank the people of WMDE, who were incredible in such difficult circumstances and who set up a special room to grieve for her and write in a book of condolences, particularly Pavel, and WMF staff, especially Anasuya, Garfield and Asaf. The support of Board members was deeply appreciated as well, not only by me but by AffCom as well.

This post is perhaps a bit cathartic for me. Cindy, you made an impact in those who knew you and you will be remembered. My thoughts are with the family and friends. Rest in peace.


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Chapters’ Dialogue


Today the 2014 Wikimedia Conference was inaugurated in Berlin. There are people from 38 chapters, one thematic organization and six user groups attending, as well as several WMF staff and 6 Board members. The Affiliations Committee is also colocating its annual meeting here as well, and there are a couple of FDC members around. Many first timers, which is good.

One of the sessions I’ve been looking forward to today is the Chapters’ Dialogue one. It’s been a huge effort by Wikimedia Deutschland (WMDE), where for the last 8-9 months Kira Kraemer traveled and interviewed a lot of people in the movement about relevant issues. The picture that was presented today, which is still evolving and not complete, was called the State of Wikimedia. The idea of the session was to share understandings, not solutions. To be able to walk away from it with inspiring insights. With these caveats, the session began with Kira taking us step by step through the results and common comments from the interviewees.

100 stories from 100 individuals. All unique to their specific backgrounds and contexts. For example, regarding chapters, Kira said that these have provided people the sense of “being part of something big, that has impact in society, and helps forward the Wikimedia mission.” They talked about the need to connect, to get together, to form groups. There was no structure at the beginning, so things happened the wiki way, that is to say by organic growth. This caused insecurity: how can small affiliates prove they are valuable? Apparently, one hides, and then sees others are hiding, and a gap is created. It’s difficult to prove you are valuable if people cannot understand your context. In some countries it’s very easy to create a non-profit, in others it is not. Some countries cannot receive WMF grants. Some countries are very big, some have more than one language. All of these issues come into play when we talk about interpretation of the mission. And if the interpretation varies, it becomes harder to prove relevance and even impact. How to measure success, especially when people are aiming for long-term impact, can be very hard.

WMF is apparently seen as big and powerful, and far away. Well meaning, but communicating poorly. With decisions coming out of the blue. So this makes the WMF seem unpredictable and unapproachable, and reinforces the gap. Chapters don’t like to beg for money, and have not forgotten the trauma of Haifa. There is this dream: everyone wants to change the world, to make it a better place. Being a great editor doesn’t mean you can be a good manager, but still, they try to do all the bureaucratic stuff, write grant proposals, etc. Which can lead to frustration and even burnout. So a feeling that was voiced was, if there are skills they don’t have, they need to hire them. But to hire, you need money, and to get money, you need to do the paperwork. Some chapter people feel this is a very chicken-and-egg situation. They feel you need a certain level of professionalism to approach the WMF. Some voices claim the WMF is responsible for chapter development, others claim chapters are responsible for themselves. And WMF people say they don’t want to be anybodys’ mom. They want partners. The message being, if you know what you want to achieve, approach the WMF and the WMF will help you. So apparently a situation is created where the WMF is waiting for the chapters to approach them, and the chapters are waiting for the WMF.

Related to this, another point that came up was that the process of money-distribution is not well-understood, it’s “a blackbox”. At the beginning, it would seem it is pretty difficult for chapters to have the capacity to seek external funding. And if chapters want to look good for the WMF when requesting funds, they will not talk about their failures. Apparently some chapter people are of the mind that, if the WMF doesn’t share its failures, why should they? Mistakes happen, but what happens when there are rumours, myths, that through interpretations become facts? Kira said it’s all about perspective. For the people in the WMF, the chapters don’t appreciate their work. For the people in the chapters, the WMF is not proud of them, and if they do something amazing, they will take it away from them. The WMF insists that chapters need to report and communicate, the chapters believe nobody reads their reports. Chapters believe they are the link to the community, the WMF replies they already have a link to the community. Some chapter people believe sometimes WMF is very arrogant. Some WMF people believe sometimes chapters are very arrogant. Some chapter people believe the WMF doesn’t want chapters to exist. People in the WMF say the WMF does support chapters. And so on and so forth, the picture grows and shows what seems a pretty big divide on perceptions.

How did this happen? Volunteer-driven organizations grew very organically. WMDE became a chapter with a very specific structure, and the others followed. But it’s complicated to set up structure. Some chapters also said that WMF steered them towards professionalism. WMF and WMDE have staff and are successful. The message being sent now that not all chapters need to be like WMDE feels strange to some. A challenge that also came up is the relationship between boards and staff, which seems quite universal.

The FDC also got their share. Interpretations from FDC and chapter people varied at times wildly. FDC people interviewed think they are transparent in an unprecedented way, the chapter people involved in the FDC process think that everything with the FDC happens behind closed doors. Chapter people believe the FDC wants to cut growth, FDC people believe chapters want to leapfrog evolution! Chapter people also believe there is no proper feedback process, and that no matter what they ask for, the FDC will cut them. There is a gap there as well.

It is interesting to put all these existing thoughts and feelings from the interviewees together because they do help to provide quite the picture about a relevant part of the movement, and may help to detect threats and take advantage of opportunities. Specifically, there seems to be a huge communication problem, even a lack of trust. Perceptions vary wildly, and not necessarily in a good-faith way. Tomorrow there will be a second session, once these findings have sinked in so that people can think about what they want to discuss. But I believe Kira did a pretty impressive job presenting it all in a clear, calm and articulate manner, and the challenge tomorrow will be to try to get people to accept that these perceptions exist, and how to tackle them.


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On being a new trustee

In several wikimeets I’ve attended in the last two months, I get asked the following question a lot during the “Ask a Board member” sessions: how is it to be a new trustee? Save for Ana Toni, I am told I’m pretty much the new face on the Board. I hope most people will get a chance to meet Ana at one of the international conferences, for she is a delightful woman. In the meantime, I can put down some thoughts of my own.

My onboarding took a little while, and some parts I had to play by ear, and for others I had the help of other trustees, particularly Patricio whom I cannot thank enough. I find the trustees to be very likeable and willing to help the newbies. Fortunately, I’m familiar with basic stuff like editing a wiki or IRC. So I did not begin from zero in my learning experience, and was able to contribute to discussions from the start.

There is this view that the Board should not lead community discussions, and members should exercise caution when participating in “hot” movement topics. One reason for this is that they will not be seen as editors providing their personal views, but as The Board (with capitals). Every time that happens (and it does happen, I’ve seen it enough times since I became a trustee), it has perforce a chilling effect on other trustees. Intentional or not, that kind of misrepresentation of a personal opinion serves little purpose but to get people out of discussions, and that’s a shame. That’s one difference I’ve noticed since becoming a Board member. I suppose I will have to find a balance on that one. I have not suddenly become something external to the community, and I do not intend to encourage that line of thought in some editors.

The Board per se is like any other Board. And when I say like any other Board, I mean it. If you’ve ever been in a Board, you know what I mean. The November Q2 meeting has been my first Board meeting, if you do not count the Wikimania Q1 meeting, where for the most part I was an observer (like Phoebe). Some things surprised me, others I did expect, and I can honestly say now I have a better sense of the dynamics of the Board, and its continual interaction with the Staff. Of course, we will have a new Executive Director soon, and that should change the dynamics as well. Next year there will be two open seats for the Board too. It’s funny because when you think about it (every year there are elections and appointments), one should feel the Board is renewed very often. But what I gather is that the Board is perceived as very static. In any case, the challenge for the next year is going to be onboarding the new ED as smoothly as possible.

So how is it being a new trustee? If anyone thinks it’s fun and games, let me gently disabuse you of that notion. It’s a board. You talk, you discuss, you debate, you try to see other peoples’ point of views, you present yours (in a board with half the people not being native English speakers, there’s an added hurdle. It’s extra tiring to take 45 minutes to write a long email in another language than your own, you know). Everyone wants the best for the movement, sometimes how to get there involves a big discussion. You do have after all a group of highly dedicated people with strong personalities and different backgrounds. You meet, and with people living in different continents, time differences are an issue, someone is always going to be inconvenienced. And when you meet in person, you have a good portion of the Board who is jetlagged (except if you meet in Hong Kong: then basically everyone is jetlagged). So it’s by no means ideal. But we can aspire for good enough under the present circumstances. If this sounds appealing to you, I do encourage you to run for the Board in the next elections.

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Manning and the T word

It seems adequate to inaugurate this blog with some thoughts on the Manning article title issue. This is not a situation unique to English Wikipedia, since similar debates are replicating on other language Wikipedias. For some background info, you should check this account of events, this one and this one. There are probably more available if you search for them, but those should give you a good overview on the topic from different points of view.

There are a lot of Wikipedians participating in this debate. Yet I wonder, how many of them cringe, when attending a conference or responding to a poll, when they see the following options: Male, Female, Transgender. Well-intentioned as the askers no doubt are, it fails to understand a core issue: transgender relates to gender identification. So odds are they will get very few responses in the Transgender box: because you will have members of the Transgender community identifying as female or identifying as male. You see, being trans doesn’t make you not want to identify as a woman or a man.

Now, I do not claim to be an expert on “all things Transgender”. But I have contributed my fair share to LGBT articles on several Wikipedias and I’ve known people who have transitioned (and odds are, so have you, even if you don’t realize it). If what I said above about the conference question was a “zomg! yet it makes sense” moment for you, you probably aren’t a huge expert either. But you probably do have an opinion on whether the Manning article on Wikipedia should be called Bradley or Chelsea. Don’t worry, many Wikipedians think the same. After all, you don’t need to be an expert to contribute to Wikipedia, right? Use reliable sources, fact-check, discuss. People know a little bit of everything, as the saying goes. But what happens when a lot of people know very little about a certain topic? And when that topic cannons into the limelight?

What happened with the Manning article on English Wikipedia showed, in my humble opinion, ignorance regarding the topic at hand, the T word. Reading comments portraying gender identity as “a choice” or a caprice, and how Wikipedia shouldn’t cater to the flimsy wishes of the living people who are the objects of such articles, can be very hard. I cannot begin to imagine what editors and readers pre or post transition must feel about it. I have to say the English-speaking media have reacted amazingly well, from The New York Times to Fox News using Chelsea and the ‘she’ pronoun. Other language Wikipedias are going to have a harder time, since the whole Manning saga is not a main story in many countries, and local language media may decide not to bother searching their Manuals of Style on how to handle this situation.

The last I heard was that the Manning case might be taken up by the English Arbitration Committee. Possibly, among other things, on the grounds of the BLP policy. I do think there is a BLP issue at stake here. I also think there are a lot of LGBT editors wanting to see how this ends. It has to be exhausting reading in any conflict minimally pertaining to an LGBT topic the same comments again and again: You are promoting an agenda. Wikipedia is not the place for social activism. Let’s wait and see before doing anything. Etc etc. And such comments, which imply that those editors are not neutral and are not working for The Good Of The Encyclopedia, will many times go unchallenged despite existing civility policies.

So yes, we all want to see what happens with the Manning article. And we want to see the arguments behind the final decision, because those matter a lot too.

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