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Fafiation (n.)

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I’ve been forced away from it all recently, with little editing on any wiki, missing a few wikimeets and no blogging. There was no one cause, just lots of little things that started to take up more time than usual, leading up to the most random of all: my chair breaking (it seems trivial but it’s very hard to type, or even comfortably use a computer, without it). I’ll have a new chair soon, so perhaps I’ll be able to dive back into things shortly.

One thing I did find, however, was that I had time during lunch breaks at work to make small edits on Wiktionary. I’ve defined a word or two in the past, mostly after checking unusual words on Wikisource, but this ironically turned out to be my biggest effort on the project.

It can be quite quick and easy to do, although I fear it’s developing into yet another personal project (or several). Spinning out of my interest in pulp magazines, early fandom and related media, I’ve been adding fanspeak terms of the era. For example:

 

fafiation (plural fafiations)

1. (dated, fandom slang) The act of fafiating; exiting involvement in fandom due to other obligations.

 

I own a dictionary of science fiction and SF fandom words, Brave New Words by Jeff Prucher (2007, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-538706-3, FYI), which makes this both a touch easier and a touch more verifiable. Not to mention the other sources I’ve found over time on the internet, like a digital transcript of the 1944 Fancyclopedia that arguably started all of this and many transcribed fanzines of yesteryear.

I expect I’ll find more citations as I work on transcribing more pulp magazines. I think I’ll continue adding to Wiktionary even as I’m getting back on top of everything else.

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Works and Editions

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Title page from the 1911 edition of Treasure Island

Just as I’ve been getting back up to speed with Wikisource following an internet-less Christmas, Wikisource has begun to be integrated with Wikidata.  At the moment, this just means interwiki links and new Wikidata pages but, naturally, some small problems have already occurred.  The most significant I’ve seen is the question of how to handle the mainspace.

Wikisource is the third of the Wikimedia sorority to be supported by Wikidata, after big sister Wikipedia and little, adopted sister Wikivoyage (or possibly fourth if we count the seemingly partial support of Commons).  Wikisource is different from these projects because, while the others will usually just have one page for each item, Wikisource can host multiple editions of the same work, each requiring a separate but linked data item.  (Then there is the subject of subpages but we’ll leave that for now.)

The books task force on Wikidata had already come up with a system to implement this: two separate classes of item, a “work” item to cover the text in general and one or more “edition” items to cover individual instances of that text.  A “work” item will usually correspond with the article on Wikipedia (if one exists), listing general metadata that are common to all instances of the text; like the title, the author and so forth.  The “edition” item would list specific metadata that is not shared between all instances of the text; like the publisher, the date of publication, the place of publication, the illustrator, the translator, the editor, and so forth.

This is best illustrated with Treasure Island as English Wikisource has two distinct and sourced versions of that text.  (See fig. 1.)

The page “Treasure Island” is a versions page (one of three types of disambiguation page on English Wikisource).  Attached to this are two texts: “Treasure Island (1883)” for the first book publication of the story, published by Cassell & Company (note that is was originally serialised in a magazine, which we do not have yet), and “Treasure Island (1911)” for an American edition published in 1911 by Charles Scriber’s Sons (Wikisource does not strictly require notability but, if it did, this edition would be notable for its N.C. Wyeth illustrations).

The disambiguation page has the associated data item Q185118, which is also the item used by Wikipedia and Commons.  The 1883 work has the data item Q14944007 and the 1911 work has the data item Q14944010; both link to the first item with the “edition of” property.

Diagram showing two versions of Treasure Island as children of the disambiguation page

Fig 1: Treasure Island on English Wikisource.

However, other Wikisources only have one translation each of Treasure Island.  If these each have their own “edition” data item, containing its unique metadata, then the interwiki function breaks down.

If the interwiki links are kept at the edition level, then few if any interwiki links will exist between works on Wikisource.  There might be a dozen different editions of Treasure Island in as many languages but, as each is different with different metadata, they will each have separate data items.

Ideally, from a database point of view, each Wikisource will also have a separation between the “work” and the “edition(s)”.  This occurs in this case on English Wikisource because there is a disambiguation page at the “work” level.  To implement this on a large scale, however, would require a disambiguation page for every work on every Wikisource, even if most would only contain a single link to a text (the “edition”); see fig. 2 for an example.  This would work from a computing point of view but it is unlikely to be popular or intuitive for humans.

Diagram of ideal situation, with interwiki linking via disambiguation pages

Fig 2: Wikilinking between disambiguation pages.

Practically, the solution is to mix the classes, as shown in fig. 3.  In this case, English Wikisource will (correctly) have the interwikis at the disambiguation level, connecting to the general “work” data item on Wikidata.  The two versions of Treasure Island in English will link to the disambiguation page within Wikisource as normal and would each have their own, separate Wikidata item with their individual data (but would not have interwiki links to any other language).  The non-English Wikisources will have no “work” level data item, instead linking their “editions” directly to the “work”.  This is messy and may confuse future users, not to mention depriving the non-English editions of their own data items with their individual metadata on Wikidata.  It isn’t good practice for a database but it may be the best compromise.

Diagram of compromise situation, with interwiki linking via both disambiguation pages and individual instances of the text

Fig 3: Wikilinking split between both levels.

This isn’t just an English vs. Other-Languages situation.  The roles are almost certainly reversed in some cases and the majority of works on English Wikisource stand alone, raising the question of whether they should have their own “edition” data items with specific data or link directly to the general “work” item.

A peripheral issue is that some data items on Wikidata do have metadata, often derived from Wikipedia articles, which would be inconsistent with Wikisource’s texts (or just wrong in some cases).

One long term goal for Wikisource-on-Wikidata is to centralise metadata, which is currently held both on Commons (for the scan file) and on Wikisource (primarily on the scan’s Index page, with some in the mainspace).  It should also facilitate interproject links, to quickly show a Wikipedian (for example) that associated content exists on other projects like Wikisource, Wikivoyage or Commons, possibly with a brief summary.  Neither may be possible without consistent data available.

This problem has not really been solved yet and it might be a while before a stable solution develops.

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.

Notes

  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.

Common wikisource

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As a follow up to my ramblings about Multilingual Wikisource: I have heard some people ask why all Wikisources are not Multilingual Wikisource, like Commons. (I have even heard “Why isn’t Wikisource part of Commons?”)

The latter is easily answered. Aside from the fact that Wikisource needs specific technology to function, it has a different scope and mission to Commons, which would clash if both were part of the same project.

There are many reasons for the former. I think the original was something to do with right-to-left text, which has been solved by now. Others still stand, however.

Disambiguation would be a nightmare, for example. The Bible is complicated enough in English on just one project. Multiple editions in each of hundreds of languages would be ridiculous. This could be solved with, say, namespaces but there are a finite number of namespaces in the MediaWiki software. Besides, the difference between a namespace and a language subdomain is negligible from a technological point of view. The same goes for disambiguation for that matter. A language subdomain is just a bigger version of the concept.

On a different tangent, while Commons is technically multilingual—and a lot of work has gone into supporting that—it is still predominantly English. Community communication is overwhelmingly done in English, English is the default for categories and templates, and so forth. Some grasp of English is often necessary to function on Commons. Language subdomains allow the monolingual (and the multilingual but not anglophone) Wikimedians to take part too, which is more important in curating a library than a media depository.

Obviously, now that we actually have language subdomains, we also have the problems of different cultures and communities on the different projects. Italian doesn’t allow translation, German doesn’t allow non-scans, French doesn’t allow annotation; while some languages, like English and Spanish, are pretty promiscuous in their content. There are likely to many more, seemingly trivial, quirks that are at odds across different projects. If anyone ever did attempt unification, these communities would clash and conflict all over the place, probably ending in either mutually assured destruction or a very small surviving user base.

You may as well ask why Wikipedia bothers with language subdomains when it could just be Multilingual Wikipedia, like Commons.