Blackletter is broken again


Example text in a blackletter, or fraktur, typeface.The Wikisource template blackletter is broken again.  All this template does is render text is a different font, in this case UnifrakturMaguntia, so this isn’t critical.  It is a little annoying, however, as this occurred without warning and it’s the second time it’s happened now.

Wikisource is different from its sister projects in that it tries to remain as faithful as possible to a specific, pre-existing source.  We don’t make a distinction between serifed and non-serifed fonts but be do like to reproduce some more significant type, like red “ink” and blackletter (aka fraktur or gothic) text, whether it is decorative or meant to confer some meaning.

This was supported by WebFonts but was initially broken by the move to the Universal Language Selector.  That was easily fixed but now the ULS has been changed to an opt-in preference, so the majority of Wikisource’s readers cannot see the font.  Also affected are the language-specific fonts, such as small pieces of Greek or Arabic within otherwise English text in the Latin script.  This will hopefully be fixed soon (it isn’t the biggest effect of the change) but it may be necessary to stop using these extensions in this way and find an alternative.

As an aside: We still don’t have an insular font.  Where needed, there is currently a template inserting an SVG image for each letter, which isn’t ideal.

The gender gap and Wikisource

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As mentioned before, last month was Female Author Month on Wikisource. Combined with recent events, such as the increased coverage of misogynistic trolling in British media, I’ve been curious about the infamous Wikimedia gender gap. However, my main interest is Wikisource and, despite article after article, all coverage is relentlessly focussed on Wikipedia.

One of the few resources that does cover Wikisource is Spanish Wikipedian emijrp’s gender-gap-related “edits by project family” tool. This allows us to see the edits of declared-male and declared-female editors on each Wikimedia project. The following was the graph as at 6th September 2013:

Wikimedia gender gap chart as at 2013-09-06

Wikisource is the purple line.

I have been checking the graphs occasionally for a while, so I actually have a copy of the same from roughly a year ago (I wasn’t intending to keep constant records, it was just something I found interesting, so I don’t have anything precisely one year old; if that is possible via a different tool then I don’t know about it). This graph was the situation as at 1st June 2012:

Wikimedia gender gap chart as at 2012-06-01

It turns out Wikisource does really well. In the modern graph, Wikisource is almost always ahead of its sisters and the older graph shows it still being mostly ahead (or at least near the top) of the pack. Assuming these two periods are representative, we might actually be getting better: from an average of about 20/80 to 30/70. (Credit should go to Wikiquote as well for being the only project to achieve a female majority, and to do so in both graphs.)

(Small caveat: This data is based on the declared gender of each editor, set individually in their own preferences. It is possible there are more women editing but they haven’t declared their sex; or vice versa, men may even be under-represented here. If so, this could be recursive, as a reaction against perceptions of the gender gap or experience of being online; gender-anonymity may be a welcome break from the harassment.)

I tried checking Wikimedia’s gender gap mailing list for more but there wasn’t much about Wikisource, although there is some acknowledgement that it is better at equality than the other projects. A lot of the recent posts actually seemed to be men trying to explain sexism to women.

However, while good by Wikimedia standards, Wikisource’s edits still aren’t a 50/50 split. All things being equal, there should be parity between male and female editors. As there is no parity, it would follow that all things are not equal. Presumably the reasons are similar to those often cited for Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, Wikisource is apparently doing something better than its sisters.

It can’t be the interface, which is one of the reasons suggested for the gender gap in the past. Wikisource has the same interface as the others and a work-flow process that causes even experienced Wikipedians to run gibbering in terror. Of course, it could be that the semi-structured proofreading work-flow is more compliant with the general mindset of female users, but the gibbering in terror seems gender-equal from my purely anecdotal, not-even-slightly-scientific perspective.

It isn’t necessarily the lack of a strong social element (another potential reason). No Wikimedia project has this, so it’s hard to judge the effect.

Lack of free time would also be somewhat neutral between all projects. Proofreading a page is a simple micro-contribution but other projects have similar, and even easier, tasks. Adding a listing on Wikivoyage is probably the simplest, followed by adding an entry on Wikiquote (in my opinion at least).

It could be the environment. Wikisource is a much friendlier place than other projects. At least, that’s my opinion and part of the reason I ended up calling it my principal wiki. This could be due to the size of the project (about 300 active editors) but it might also be its nature. Research apparently shows that women are put off by argumentative and confrontational environments. Of all the sister projects, Wikipedia is an *especially* argumentative and confrontational environment, with virtual knife-fights over edits and gruelling wars of attrition to become the alpha-editor of a particular article. Wikisource does not offer quite as much fuel for confrontation. The words have already been written and cannot be changed. Individual expression comes in the form of choosing the material to transcribe, and it’s hard to even argue against that because the ultimate aspiration of the project is the transcription of all human art, literature and knowledge. This is not to say there are never any arguments or confrontation but they are rarer.

It might also be the nature of the project. Yet another reason suggested for the gender gap on Wikipedia is a lack of self-confidence among women, possibly as a result of socialisation. This may seem an odd tangent but I’ve heard it said that women do gardening while men do landscaping. It’s a joke about gendered language and thought: she nurtures plants and helps them grow; he assert himself upon nature and bends the plants to his will. In this sense, Wikipedia is very much about asserting knowledge. Wikisource is more about nurturing, or curating, knowledge. The text already exists and Wikisource makes it better, allowing it to be easily read, communicated to and re-used by many more people. Some of the other projects with a high proportion of female-editors, such as Wikiquote, are similar in nature (ie. identifying a quotation and adding it the list requires a little more assertion, but not much more).

Some combination of the above may be in effect. For example, increased complexity off-setting the friendlier environment. On the other hand, I may have missed something important.

Despite writing all of this, I admit that none of these thoughts really help Wikisource or its sister projects very much. The visual editor will eventually be deployed on Wikisource and even smaller micro-contributions (nano-contributions?) are planned for the future, so that covers some of the parts that may not even be part of the problem. We might be able to make more of the environment. I’m not sure if any other project could easily apply it, as it’s fundamental to the nature of the project itself.

Nevertheless, it was interesting to look at this.

Author demographics

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August 2013 was Female Author Month on Wikisource, with two works by women transcribed from scratch via the community Proofread of the Month and a third work partly validated.[1] This is a result of a request for more works by female authors made on Scriptorium.

However, we don’t actually know if we have a significant dearth of female-authored works. We don’t have any demographic information about our authors beyond era, nationality (usually) and religion (sometimes).

Wikidata may help with that, whenever it is rolled out to the Wikisources. Amending each and every author page on English Wikisource would be hard work at the moment because the process would have to be mostly manual. However, with Wikidata, we wouldn’t even need a bot. The author header template (and maybe a Lua module) could just read the Wikidata “sex” property (P21) and apply a hidden tracking category.

This could be extended to other metadata. We could have tracking categories for the entire QUILTBAG[2] range with the addition of the “sexual orientation” property (P91) and whatever is used to cover transsexuality. Ethnicity might be possible with the “ethnic group” property (P172). There may be even more demographics worth tracking too, and these could be easily added over time.

This might bring to mind the recent controversy over Wikipedia consigning female authors to be categorised into a female author ghetto, while leaving male authors categorised as just authors. However, Wikisource wouldn’t be discriminating as this approach would be fully automated and applied equally to all authors in the Authorspace. Hidden categories would avoid labelling authors too much; not to mention avoiding redundant information many readers could deduce from the name and/or portrait.

Then we would actually know where we stand.


  1. These were: Marriage as a Trade by Cicely HamiltonDiaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan edited by Annie Shepley Omori; and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
  2. QUILTBAG: Queer Intersexual Lesbian Transsexual Bisexual Asexual Gay
    EDIT: Actually, I got this wrong.  The acronym stands for Queer/Questioning Undecided Intersex Lesbian Trans(-gender/-exual) Bisexual Asexual Gay.  See Wiktionary for a full definition and history.  Personally I would have merged the first two into Quantumsexual, but that’s just me.

Multilingual ramblings

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Old Wikisource” (oldwikisource:) is the incubator of the Wikisources. Languages that do not yet have enough works in their library are all held here, from Akkadian to Zulu, before later potentially budding off into their own projects. They are not part of the actual Incubator because Wikisource relies on specific technology that is not installed there (and probably would need to be heavily adapted to fit it).

One problem this creates is that “oldwikisource” is not a recognised ISO 639 language code. Interwiki links do not work. Wikidata will have a hard time indexing it. No one really knows it’s there.

Fortunately, the International Organization for Standardization predicted situations such as this and included a few extra codes in their set. One of these is “mul” for multiple languages, for situations where databases need to categorise things by language but where some of those things have many. This could mean, for example, mul.wikisource, or even mul.wikipedia, mul.wikibooks, etc (although those are just possibilities, not suggestions).

In other words, exactly what Wikimedia requires for Old Wikisource. Mul could be used for interwiki links from other Wikisources, bringing some attention and potential traffic to an otherwise excluded and ostracised project. Mul could be used on Wikidata to collect and connect pages. Mul is already used in some parts of Wikisource to refer to the not-sub-domain.

It also helps that Old Wikisource, while accurate as the original project, is not as easily explained to Wikimedians on our sister projects as is “English Wikisource”, “French Wikisource” or, as it happens, “Multilingual Wikisource”.

So, for preference, I would see Old Wikisource become Multilingual Wikisource. I think it would make lots of things easier, while making the project more visible, more functional, and slightly more obvious to outsiders. It must be said that I am not a regular on Old Wikisource and those that are may not agree.

Fully enabling ISO 639 in Wikimedia would also technically affect user language options too. A user could conceivably select “Multiple” as their preferred language, regardless of where they were in Wikimedia. In practice, this would probably just default to English, so I don’t think it would be a big problem.

More serious would be the amount of trouble this would be to implement. Just creating an alias for Old Wikisource would be easiest, so the code could be used as described without really changing much.

In my view, moving the project entirely is still better: with most existing pages going to mul.wikisource.org and just a portal remaining at wikisource.org (in line with its sister projects like Wikipedia). If changes are going to be made, we might as well go all the way rather than patch the system with aliases. That’s a lot of work for relatively little gain though, and I don’t know how keen the current Old Wikisourcers would be with this option (nor the technical people who would have to do all the heavy lifting).

I haven’t actually made any proposal based on this (a some related bug reports have been open for years, however). I’m still not sure what would be best nor what the wider community would prefer and I’m just thinking, or typing, out loud. This is just a blog after all.

As it stands, though, my opinion is that Multilingual Wikisource would probably work better than Old Wikisource.

A Margaret Thatcher Library and Museum?

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It seems I may have spoken too soon in my last post.

In that post I mentioned the international copyright discrepancy which meant that the only public domain work on Margaret Thatcher’s author page was one released by the Federal Government of the United States.  Modern US Presidents each have a federally operated library making such historical materials available.  It seems like there may be hope of a British equivalent after all. (NB: Technically, there is one already, the Gladstone Library in Wales, but they are rare and I don’t believe that one is quite the same thing.)

A Margaret Thatcher Library and Museum Project has recently been announced.  It was inspired by and will be modelled on the Ronald Reagan Library in California and, if it goes ahead, it will set up a similar institution in central London.  It was the idea of Donal Blaney, chief executive of Conservative Way Forward, in 2009 and is supported by members of the Conservative Party (including some secretaries of state, so this might actually happen).

The Thatcher Library is currently only proposed, although it appears to have significant backing and funding already.  I have not seen any confirmation about the library’s contents yet.  The US libraries are run as part of the National Archives & Records Administration, while the UK equivalent will be a private foundation, separate from the UK’s National Archives (although pre-Hoover US libraries are in a similar state).  How that affects the material from Margaret Thatcher’s premiership held by the Archives is unknown; The Times suggests that the Library may hold facsimiles.  There is also the Thatcher Archive at Cambridge University and The Margaret Thatcher Foundation, which cover similar ground.

It also remains to be seen just how much like a US presidential library this institution will be.  That all federal government documents are in the public domain in that country is a result of SCOTUS case law and eventual formal codification in US law.  There is nothing similar in the UK and there is no guarantee that the Thatcher Library will emulate this aspect of the US system.

Nevertheless, this could be an important step forward for the open culture movement in the United Kingdom.  Maybe one day Wikimedia UK will even be arranging a Wikimedian in Residence there and Wikisource will finally have a fuller bibliography on Margaret Thatcher’s author page.

Help wanted

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Help pages, that is.  Wikisource is a little short of documentation and some of the pages it does have need to be updated.  Often the information is around, usually buried in the archives of community discussion or somewhere equally as arcane.  This is no use, of course, to novice wikisourcers or casual passers-by, who do not possess the “secret knowledge” necessary to answer their questions.  I know that even some experienced Wikimedians have problems grasping the general processes of Wikisource.

Lack of helpful help pages is not a problem unique to Wikisource but as our standard workflow is a little more complicated than most of our sister projects we should try to make things as easy as possible for anyone looking for some guidance.

There is a push this month to redevelop the Help: namespace and attempt to get all the necessary help pages up and running.  In my view, they don’t even need to be complete (although that would be ideal).  Even basic information can point a user in the right direction, giving them something to start with and maybe some terminology and keywords for searches or further questions.  At its most extreme, help page stubs with little or no content allow us to track known gaps in our help.   This is a step up from a complete lack of documentation combined with an equal lack of knowledge about that gap.

Anyone with experience of Wikisource can lend a hand, writing (from a paragraph to a whole page), updating or reviewing new help pages.  Novices and those that do not wish to write help pages themselves can help by pointing out areas that need more explanation and documentation.  We can only provide help if we know what help is needed.