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User:JWSchmidt/Blog/9 May 2007

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Wikiversity as a brandEdit

I'm an advocate of "thinking outside the box" and I view the Wikiversity project as having a very broad scope (exploring how to use wiki technology to support learning) that easily allows different people to see it in different ways, but describing Wikiversity as a "brand" is a shock to my way of thinking about Wikiversity. I admit that I spend less time thinking about economics than the average capitalist, and I'm sure I am hopelessly naïve in my thinking about such matters. Shouldn't we all devote some thoughts to Wikiversity as part of the service sector of the world's economy? As a non-profit organization, the Wikimedia Foundation has a legally defined role to play within the economy, so should we all spend some time thinking about Wikimedia Foundation Projects such as Wikiversity in terms of their marketing and maximizing the potential of the Wikimedia Foundation "brands"? Yes, I suppose. In any case, this little adventure outside the box leads to some creative thinking about interactions between the Wikimedia Foundation sister projects brands, as discussed below.

This particular journey outside of the box began at Rethinking brands on the Wikimedia Foundation's email discussion forum when Erik Moeller explicitly called "wikiversity" a "brand name" owned by the Wikimedia Foundation and proposed that the project's name be changed to "Wikipedia Learning". I guess this means that the English Language Wikiversity would become the "English Language Wikipedia Learning project" and Wikiversity participants would call themselves "Wikipedia Learning project participants" or maybe Wikipedian-Ls, for short. I think it is safe to say that the name "wikiversity" has been a contentious issue for the Wikiversity community. If you go back and look at the community vote/discussion for the original Wikiversity project proposal, you will see that many people have long had objections to the name. A key problem with the name "wikiversity" is that it makes people think of conventional universities, but Wikiversity aims to provide learning resources for all ages. The Wikiversity community has worked hard to make the point that people should think of "wikiversity" from the perspective of the original meaning of the term "university", a place where learners and teachers can get together and collaborate.

Wikipedia LearningEdit

Erik suggested, "The name 'Wikipedia Learning' may be a good alternative to 'Wikiversity', which identifies the project less closely with a particular institutional type of learning and research, and more closely with its core activity."

Combinations of the terms "wiki" and "learn" are rather obvious and widely used on the internet (for example, see WikiEducator Early History), so while it is true that "learn" gets to the core of the Wikiversity project's mission, it is not really a good element for the project's name because it is too obvious. "Versity" automatically suggests "learning" to people, so with "wikiversity" we automatically get the ideas of wiki and learning. The combination of "Wikipedia Learning" first suggests to people that it is something to do with Wikipedia and that is a weight that the project does not need to take on. One of the largest problems at Wikiversity is people who cannot get their thinking past using wiki technology to make Wikipedia articles. So the proposed name "Wikipedia Learning" would guide people to think about the Wikiversity project in terms of it being some appendage of Wikipedia. Now, I have argued long and hard that Wikiversity needs to actively make use of its "sister project" status with Wikipedia, so I admit that there are advantages to linking Wikiversity to Wikipedia. However, the way to forge these sisterly links and bonds is not by renaming the project "Wikipedia Learning". See: Wikiversity and Wikipedia services. In short, I'd rather take on the task of explaining to people that Wikiversity is for learners of all ages (there, that was not too hard) rather than the take on the task of explaining that "Well, 'Wikipedia Learning' is a name used for marketing purposes, but the project really has nothing to do with Wikipedia."

I suspect that there are a significant number of people who wonder, as I do. if it is an unwelcome form of cultural imperialism to try to encourage Wikimedians to put too much emphasis on viewing our project-related social interactions in terms of their marketing and branding implications. Do we call "love" a brand of emotion? Do we call humans a "brand" of primate? Is USA a "brand" of nation? Where do we draw the line in applying "branding strategy" to the elements of our lives? The names of Wikimedia projects such as "wikiversity" were not selected on a whim nor were they selected with much concern for financial gain. The names of the projects have long been thought about, talked about and integrated into our online community's culture. The name "wikiversity" correctly guides thought to wiki and learning without improperly bringing Wikipedia into one's thoughts. In any case, I'm mostly interested in the dynamics of how Wikimedia Foundation sister projects interact rather than what they are called.

Sister projectsEdit

This was one of Erik's original reasons for proposing that Wikimedia Foundation projects like Wikiversity be re-branded with name like "Wikipedia Learning": "Acknowledges that the 'Wikipedia' brand stands for more than any traditional encyclopedia". When I first saw that I thought sure, Wikipedia is not a paper, Wikipedia can go where no encyclopedia has gone before. However, later comments indicate that Erik was thinking along other lines.

At some ill-defined point, attempts to think outside the box can go so far that they begin to deny historical reality. I think the discussion of Wikimedia brands reached that point with, "We happen to have called Wikipedia an 'encyclopedia', and this semantic classification can be useful". It was this and other similar comments that prompted this blog entry.

Erik also wrote, "You might want to ask yourself, then, why people ever started writing dictionary entries, collections of quotations, source materials, or instructional texts on Wikipedia in the first place. This was, after all, a primary motivation for spinning off these projects!" There have always been Wikipedia participants who wanted to use wiki technology for more than just making encyclopedia articles. However, from the earlies days of the Wikipedia project, there has always been a powerful force at work keeping the mission of the Wikipedia project narrowly defined.

I have previously commented on this social phenomenon by which many wikis purify themselves by driving away participants who seek to broaden the range of allowed content. So, as Erik pointed out, we have gone through several years of "spinning off" Wikipedia sister projects. The alternative was always there; Wikipedia could have easily expanded to encompass books, dictionary entries, etc, etc. Just as Wikibooks could have been part of Wikipedia, Wikibooks could have allowed Wikiversity to remain as part of that project. Why was Wikipedia not an inclusive project? Why did Wikipedia spawn sister projects rather than incorporate them? Is it true, as Erik has now claimed, that Wikipedia just happens to be called "Wikipedia" while, in reality, there is nothing that limits the scope of Wikipedia, that by restructuring Wikipedia we can come to recognize that Wikipedia is "universal"?

I think this argument is historical revisionism invented on the spot in an attempt by Erik to advance his "branding" scheme. Wikipedia did not "just happen" to be called "Wikipedia". Wikipedia grew out of the NuPedia project for an online encyclopedia. The name "wikipedia" was selected as a sensible name for an online encyclopedia that would be powered by a wiki. While Wikipedia was growing up (think pre-top 100 website), every important decision ever made by the Wikipedia community with respect to non-encyclopedic content was met with the same solution: put that content at another wiki. So what has changed now? Why does Erik now tell us that Wikipedia is really a place for everything? Because the world is now familiar with "Wikipedia as a brand" and we (the Wikimedians) should wake up and take advantage of the name recognition.

Alternate realitiesEdit

I agree that in an alternate reality the term "wikipedia" could have seamlessly morphed its meaning so as to encompass books and dictionary entries and EVERYTHING. But in this reality, our reality, Wikipedia went in a different direction. Rather than create an all-inclusive Wikipedia Foundation, Jimbo made the Wikimedia Foundation. Along the way, Wikimedians discovered the power of the MediaWiki software that can be unleashed by making unique features in the wiki website for each Wikimedia sister project. Wikimedians have come to recognize the power of specialization coupled to cooperation within the Wikimedia family of projects. So is Wikipedia as an encyclopedia just a once useful "semantic classification" that has now been over-taken by events? Is it now time to "cash in" on name recognition and re-brand Wikiversity as "Wikipedia Learning"? Do we, as Wikimedians, just need to expand our conceptualization and think of "Wikipedia" as being the name to use when we think "Wikimedia"? Do we, as Wikimedians, need to get our thoughts in line with an ignorant pubic that already thinks in this way? Given the marketing advantages, shouldn't we all be eager to jump at this dumbing-down of our thinking? Maybe it is just my silly misguided belief in the power of learning, but I think we can get the world to understand the difference between "Wikipedia" and "Wikimedia". Maybe it is unreasonable for me to pass up this marketing opportunity, but economics do not rule my life.

Maybe Erik is ignoring the historical realities that got the Wikimedia community where it is and maybe he is taking a short-sighted view of the cost/benefit of re-branding. Sure, maybe the Wikimedia community could adapted itself to the current public consciousness that cannot distinguish between Wikipedia and Wikimedia. But in doing so, would we be living a convenient lie? Wouldn't we be forcing ourselves to split our own consciousness into two parts; the part that would try to continue existing in reality and a new part that would have to juggle a fantasy "just so" story invented by the marketing department? Call me naïve for not grabbing an economic prize dangled before my eyes, but I think of myself as being driven by long-term vision and principles, not short-term gains.

Helping projects grow: is it all in the name?Edit

I think this comment from Erik gets us close to the core of the sister project relationship: "Perhaps Wikinews and Wikiversity would have similar universal appeal if they could grow in the same way, though we have clearly seen so far that these dynamics of growth do not apply." First, a serious problem at Wikipedia is that it has become the real Wikinews. This is a never ending source of trouble for Wikipedians who are trying to make an encyclopedia. Wikinews would grow much faster if Wikipedia adopted the reasonable requirement that no source younger than a month old can be used at Wikipedia. Given such a policy, all of the reporting of current events that is now done at Wikipedia would shift to Wikinews, where it should be. It is hard for me to imagine why ANY member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees would not know this and work towards such a shift as a way of helping both Wikipedia and Wikinews as Wikimedia sister projects. Yes, the "current events" content in Wikipedia has helped drive the dramatic growth of Wikipedia traffic, but it has not at all helped with the goal of improving the quality of the encyclopedia. Rather, it has diluted the Wikipedia community with editing that daily leads to more trivial crap in Wikipedia that will be forgotten in a year and not what we need - more truly important and lasting knowledge on Wikipedia pages. So far, Wikipedia has survived this dumbing-down process, but it is time for the Board to take a leadership role in promoting quality over quantity.

Erik seems to suggest that in his way of thinking, project names like Wikibooks and Wikiversity might be worth keeping, "if they could grow in the same way," as Wikipedia. Why was an online encyclopedia the first successful (as measured by a top ten rank in page visits) wiki? Is any other wiki unworthy of a unique name if it does not show the same growth curve as did Wikipedia? An online encyclopedia is an incredibly obvious idea. People had the idea from the earliest days of the was the coupling of that idea with wiki technology that caused the "Wikipedia explosion". Why has Wikinews grown slowly? Clearly, Wikinews needs protection from Wikiversity. Wikibooks is a much more ambitious project than Wikipedia. Wikipedia articles started out by aiming for a general educated audience and many of the most active ones (in terms of traffic) are pop culture fluff that, indeed, anyone can write. Not anyone can write a good textbook, and if there are Board members who are not guided in their actions by this reality, then the Foundation is in trouble. What has worked to grow traffic to Wikipedia is not at all what Wikibooks needs. The same applies to Wikiversity. I do not care if Wikipedia means Pokemon, Anna Nicole Smith and Archimedes Plutonium to most people, and in the end, I think the popularity of Wikipedia can be a good thing, but I do not want Wikiversity to have the same pattern of growth as Wikipedia nor would any sane person expect Wikiversity to grow in the same way as did Wikipedia. To try to use the slower growth of sister projects in this way in a discussion over what to call them is not constructive and it suggests to me that brain power is being wasted on marketing ideas that are out of touch with the true needs of the Foundation's projects. There are many things within the power of Board members to help the Wikipedia sister projects grow in the right way....we do not need growth for growth's sake. We need growth powered by editors who can create high quality wiki content. I do not see high quality wiki content coming from a re-branding of Wikiversity to "Wikipedia Learning". For me that is my bottom line calculation....even if it is not a home run for the Wikiversity marketing department.

Discussion continuesEdit

Thanks, John.

First Impressions
1. why people ever started writing dictionary entries, collections of quotations, source materials, or instructional texts on Wikipedia in the first place. <--- I don't know about others, but I would bet it ultimately boils down to curiosity. Sometimes I use various wikia as a kind of public notepad, to keep track of what I have been learning.

2. Wikiversity has many advantageous, and sometimes serendipitous, connotations. And in this sense it is superior to wiki-learning.

3. Wikipedia-Learning is simply a wrong name. It only refers to a part of what wikiversity is. In Chinese one says:"名不正言不順" (If the name/naming is not proper/straight, one cannot talk smoothly/comfortably/straight.) Creating a misnomer-treadmill is not a good idea.

4.though we have clearly seen so far that these dynamics of growth do not apply <--- It asks much more of a participant to commit to learn one subject deeply. There is no way the wikiversity community can grow like wikipedia's.

5. Really, I can see two concrete points in Eric's mail (2007-May/030064): 1. A potential partner did not know about wikimedia. 2. The board got hostile response towards the new licensing policy. However, how can renaming help?

6. Eric's mail(2007-May/029991.html) considers marketing as the highest priority. It is unfortunate that, to me, his letter reads, I propose the change because it makes the job much easier for the board.. It reminds me of the old suggestion to turn the wikiversity logo red, simply because other wikimedia projects are also blue, and it makes marketing difficult (I still cannot see how).

Hillgentleman|Talk 07:59, 10 May 2007 (UTC)

P.S. Continuing from point 6: Wouldn't similar sounding names for all projects actually make marketing more difficult?

)Hillgentleman|Talk 08:24, 10 May 2007 (UTC)

More on foundation-lEdit

From above (Hillgentleman)Edit

"use various wikia as a kind of public notepad, to keep track of what I have been learning" <-- With time, more and more people will realize that they can use Wikiversity in this way. "Learning by editing wikis" is a new idea that explodes old ways of thinking about learning. Until people experience that explosion, it is hard for them to imagine the is to new, too different from what most people think of as the landscape of learning. I'm developing various ways to try to open people's minds to the possibilities (for example: School:Free Learning).

"marketing as the highest priority" <-- Yes, clearly Erik's proposal is a marketing proposal. The more I think about the situation, the more I feel that a large part of my "gut reaction" against the proposal is that it might actually "work" in the short-term and cause increased traffic to Wikiversity. However, I think most people in the world are not ready for Wikiversity and Wikiversity is not in a position to defend itself from the many people who cannot think about Wikiversity as more than a way to produce free online courses (conventional courses). Wikiversity needs time to grow slowly and be built up as a functioning system by people who see the project as something revolutionary, not just another course management system that can be used to make conventional online courses. --JWSchmidt 17:53, 15 May 2007 (UTC)


  • Wikimedia brand survey by Erik Möller.
    • "Should the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia chapters license the project brands to makers of games, gadgets, toys, etc.?"
    • "Should the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia chapters license the project brands to ad-supported mirrors, mobile phone portals, etc.?"

There was previous discussion on the Foundation-l email forum about the idea of possibly having a mirror of Wikipedia that would have ads. I think it would make sense to set up such a mirror which would hold stable versions of Wikipedia articles and not be open to any editing. There might be tax reasons for setting up such a mirror as a new corporate entity that would donate profits to the Wikimedia Foundation. I'm not sure if there are legal reasons why it might make sense to license use of the "Wikipedia" name to such a mirror. I have not heard of any other possible reasons to license use of "Wikipedia". I'm not sure why this one reasonable idea is hidden away inside the rest of the questions in this survey. See: commercial Wikipedia fork.

Survey goes liveEdit

The Wikimedia brand survey is now open for responses (end of May). So......some members of the Wikipedia community specialize in driving other members of the community off of the Wikipedia website, resulting in a group of sister projects. The Wikimedia Foundation was formed as a way to organize/govern the entire family of projects. The community members of each sister project have made a large investment in establishing the names and unique identities of the sister projects. Why do we now have this centralized second-guessing of what has happened during the past five years? The reason for this centralized discussion about project names seems to be the proposal for changing "Wikimedia Foundation" to "Wikipedia Foundation". This proposal was previously discussed on the Foundation email discussion forum where it received little support and much opposition. I hope we are not witnessing just enough "forum shopping" to accumulate examples to support a future claim that "many people object to the current project names", a claim that will be used as an excuse for implementing new names as a short-sighted marketing ploy to take advantage of Wikipedia's name recognition. Then five years from now we will all do this again so we can re-name Wikipedia to "Wikibooks' encyclopedia". The fact that this discussion forum was not announced at sister project websites like the Wikiversity website suggests an attempt to do an end-run around the communities.

Erik sees the current array of Wikimedia sister projects as a "jungle of brands". As a biologist, I view jungles as rich laboratories where the diversity of life is explored and new ways of living are invented. That is what the name "Wikimedia" means to me, a vision of diversity that goes back right to the start of the Foundation, "I think we should go further still and shoot for the ultimate goal of creating 'Wikimedia.' That's media with an 'm.' It would use Wiki-style rules to enable public participation in the creation and editing of all kinds of media: encyclopedias and other reference works, current news, books, fiction, music, video etc. Like current broadcast media, it would have differentiated 'channels' and 'programs,' each with self-selecting audiences. Unlike current media, however, the audience would also be actively involved in creating its own programming, instead of merely passively watching it." (source, see original email). In response to the fact that most people who commented on the Foundation mailing list did not like the "rebranding proposal" (re-name all Wikimedia projects as Wikipedia projects), Erik is now saying that the "Board could make such a decision even if it was going to be unpopular"[1]. This is a serious case of "the tail wagging the dog" when Board members are guided by the misconceptions of people who do not know (or likely care) about the difference between Wikipedia and Wikimedia rather than be guided by the Wikimedia community. What should the community do when Board members believe that the community is "its own worst enemy"[2] and cannot be trusted with making decisions? At one time, not that many years ago, we were guided by "thoughtful, diplomatic honesty" and the idea that success is [w:User:Jimbo Wales/Statement of principles|due to the community]], not achieved by doing an end-run around the community.

Erik wants to "clear cut" the jungle of Wikimedia project names, but what if our strength comes from our diversity and what if our diversity would be threatened by this needless name change marketing ploy? The discussion begun by Erik is going very far outside the bounds of reality with destructive rebranding proposals being offered willy-nilly by people who are ignoring (or ignorant of) the natures of the sister projects (example). Jimmy Wales said this in another context [3], but I think it applies here, too, "I think we should run small experiments, tests, see what works, what doesn't, and be prepared to be flexible and change, and not be too locked into stone about how things should work." Changing "Wikimedia" to "Wikipedia" is not a small experiment. It is a marketing ploy being pushed as a way to cash in on Wikipedia's name recognition while disrupting and damaging the projects against the better judgment of the community members who actually know and build the projects. I accept the basic idea that a community can fail to move in the "right direction". At those times, leaders have to fall back and remind the community of basic principles. "Let's change the project names because some people outside of the projects get confused" is not a basic principle: basic principles tell us that our community has wisdom about our projects, not ignorant outsiders. "Let's change the project names because that might make them grow faster" is not a basic principle. I agree with Jimbo: after the amazing growth of Wikimedia it is time to focus on quality, not growth for the sake of growth.

Wikimedia Foundation business developerEdit

Vishal Pattel as WMF business developer. "follow up on brand marketing proposal" <-- Does this mean Erik's "proposal"?

July 1 Brand Survey SummaryEdit

See Wikimedia Brand Survey Analysis by Erik Moeller.

"it would be useful to collect answers from the general public who peruse our projects but do not contribute" <-- Maybe we need a link in the side bar for "suggestions" or "complaints" or "feedback", something that would give us a chance to let people provide input on Wikiversity with having to edit pages.