Imagine a world/Introduction

Wikipedia is not Wikimedia
Introduction – Imagine a world

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Early in Wikipedia's history, many knowledge-sharing projects and support groups formed, evolving into what is now known as the Wikimedia movement. Although the free encyclopedia was a pioneer and remains the flagship project of this movement, the term Wikipedia, which refers to one of many educational projects (see Fig. 2.1), should not be confused with Wikimedia, which refers to a separate, broader social movement in its own right. As important as it may be, a single language of the Wikipedia project should not become the tree that obscures the Wikimedia forest, though that is often the case.

It is true, however, that one can easily get lost in this vast and complex forest. While five months of observation allowed me to produce an ethnography of the French Wikipedia project, it took me more than ten years to understand and synthesize what is happening within the much larger Wikimedia movement to which it belongs. In terms of just its digital footprint, observing the Wikimedia movement in 2020 effectively means studying nearly 64 million individual page edits per month,[S 1], made across more than 400 million web pages. It also means potentially browsing more than 900 websites, of which only 300 represent the various language editions of Wikipedia.[S 2] It bears mentioning, as well, that this colossal amount of information is almost completely archived at the level of individual page edits and statistically analyzed by a hundred or so websites that are as free to access as the archives are.

Beyond this realm of digital activity, there is also the offline organization of the movement to consider. In 2020, Wikimedia already included more than 130 user groups[S 3] and nearly 40 state-[S 4] or topic-based[S 5] associations spread around the world. To oversee all this effort, the Wikimedia Foundation will have, by the end of 2021, nearly 600 paid staff members across a diverse range of specialties.[S 6] In addition to these people that are responsible for the movement's technical, legal, administrative and commercial management at the international level, we must also consider all those employed by the national organizations affiliated with it. There are already more than 150 in the largest national association in Germany, and more than a dozen in many others, such as those in France and Switzerland.

Faced with such numbers, it is easy to see why distinguishing the Wikipedia project from the Wikimedia movement is so important. To fail to do so would be similar to limiting ourselves to only mentioning Paris when attempting to describe the entire country of France. Of course, Paris is a world famous city with more than two million inhabitants and an impressive cultural heritage, it would certainly feature prominently in any such discussion. But does this mean that we should forget the hundreds of other French villages, towns and cities? Nor make mention of the fact that France is also home to many overseas departments and territories and that it maintains international relations and partnerships that go far beyond what happens between Paris and the rest of the world?

Seeking to avoid confusing the Wikipedia project with the Wikimedia movement is simply a matter of common sense. Even so, in 2019, the Wikimedia Foundation intended to use the term "Wikipedia" as its primary brand name in place of the term "Wikimedia." The goal was to bring "higher visibility" to the movement and "attract billions of people" by identifying themselves as "Wikipedia, one of the world's best known websites."[M 1] However, this rebranding was not well-received by many of the people most active in the movement. Following the creation of a Request for Comment page in January 2020, which became the site of a lengthy debate,[S 7] an open letter was sent to the Foundation in June of that year. It was signed by 73 representatives of affiliated organizations and 984 individual contributors. It included the following paragraph:

By opposing the Foundation, the Wikimedia community showed a great deal of wisdom that would not be apparent to people who only know one or two language versions of the Wikipedia encyclopedia project. It is also interesting to note that the lack of awareness of the Wikimedia movement can also be observed in the Wikipedia projects. For example, the French-language article dedicated to the movement did not see much development until 2019,[S 9] while its English-language version was still in the draft stage in 2016.[S 10] As for the more than 300 language versions of the encyclopedia, it is equally surprising to note that as of November 17, 2020, only 22 of them had an article dedicated to the Wikimedia movement.[S 11]

All of these shortcomings indicate that Wikimedia is still a social movement that is not well-known to the general public, or even to the editors of the Wikipedia projects. It is not surprising, then, that confusion is frequent in the use of the terms "Wikipedia" and "Wikimedia," as was expressed on many occasions during the debates that preceded the collective opposition to the rebranding proposed by the Foundation, of which here are some excerpts:[S 7]

All these comments justify the need to make better-known the Wikimedia movement and the numerous projects for the sharing of human knowledge that are gathered there. Doing this research was therefore, for me, a way to contribute to this strategic challenge while proposing a more acceptable alternative than a simple rebranding. My hope is that it can serve as a first step that will influence others, since—following the freezing of the rebranding until July 2022—new proposals are expected from the Foundation's Board of Directors,[S 12] which should take into account the opinions of some community members.[M 2]

Introducing this research with this first example is a way of addressing many other points of friction which exist between the communities of volunteers that actively sustain the movement at the project level and the people situated outside them or within the Foundation itself. As we shall see, Wikimedia is one part of the continuation of a non-commercial counter-culture that greatly influenced the development of the online landscape, by triggering a series of events without which the first free encyclopedia and the ensuing free knowledge sharing movement would never have materialized.

Notes and referencesEdit


  1. McCune, Zack (February 26, 2019). "Leading with Wikipedia: A brand proposal for 2030". Wikimedia Foundation News. Archived from the original on January 17, 2021.
  2. Evenstein, Shani (October 19, 2021). "Nouvelle résolution du conseil d'administration de la Fondation Wikimédia sur la stratégie de marque". Wikimedia Diff (in French). Archived from the original on October 25, 2021.

Online sourcesEdit

  1. "All wikis". Wikimedia Statistics. Archived from the original on October 7, 2020.
  2. "Wikiscan statistics". Wikiscan. Archived from the original on August 20, 2020.
  3. "Wikimedia user groups". Meta-Wiki. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020.
  4. "Wikimedia chapters". Meta-Wiki. Archived from the original on March 5, 2022.
  5. "Wikimedia thematic organisations". Meta-Wiki. Archived from the original on November 6, 2020.
  6. "Staff and Contractors". Wikimedia Foundation. Archived from the original on October 6, 2020.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Requests for comment: Should the Foundation call itself Wikipedia?". Meta-Wiki. Archived from the original on September 5, 2021.
  8. "Community open letter on renaming". Meta-Wiki. Archived from the original on January 24, 2021.
  9. "Mouvement Wikimédia - Page History". XTools. Archived from the original on November 2, 2020.
  10. "Wikimedia movement - Page History". XTools. Archived from the original on March 25, 2021.
  11. "Wikimedia Movement". Wikidata. Archived from the original on August 15, 2022.
  12. "Resolution: Next Steps for Brand Work, 2021". Wikimedia Foundation Wiki. Archived from the original on October 20, 2021.
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