Wikimedia – the public media of the Internet-era?

I just met with the BBC journalist, Tim Sebastian. He was visiting us to see the results from our study project exploring new media concepts for World Health Organization (thank you M4ID’s Mari for organizing this). The main issue discussed related to humanitarian emergency communication.

How we could communicate fast and efficiently with the people who are affected or even injured with disasters? How we could help people to help each other? According to Tim Sebastian, often the last people to know what has happen are those people who are in the middle of humanitarian crises. Our students have designed a simple mobile solution to help this.

Tim Sebastian was seriously worried about the growing censorship and violation of free speech. I was quite surprised about this. My own – maybe naïve – view have been that with the Internet and the Web the situation is definitely better, than when the media landscape was managed mainly by public broadcasting companies. Those days, in tens of countries, the government was strictly controlling all the information channels, except private conversations. In some countries they use to have some pretty sophisticated systems to follow even private chats.

In a couple of years Wikipedia has become the largest and most popular reference media on the Internet. Besides an encyclopedic reference work, Wikipedia has become a popular news resource where articles about recent events are quickly and frequently updated. It is already fair to say that Wikipedia is no more *just* an online encyclopedic. All the processes and things around it are making it its own media or media network.

Wikipedia is a community and volunteer-driven project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. The Foundation is funded primarily through donations by tens of thousands of individuals and several grants and gifts. Probably most of the donations come from the readers of the Wikipedia. Still, also the same volunteers who are donating their time to write articles are also donating money in it. Wikipedia is not only encyclopedic or media – it is a social movement.

In addition to Wikipedia, the Wikimedia-community has started several sister projects that are aiming to fulfill its’ mission “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content“. These are, for instance: Wiktionary -project creating a multilingual free content dictionary in every language; Wikimedia Commons –project building repository for free photographs, diagrams, maps, videos, animations, music, sounds, spoken texts, and other free media; and Wikiquote –project creating a repository of quotations taken from famous people, books, speeches, films or any intellectually interesting materials. All the projects are collaboratively developed by volunteers.

Wikimedia –project have many characteristics of a public broadcasters, though formulated from the beginning to utilize the possibilities the Internet provides for media. Just like in public broadcasting Wikimedia’s aim is to be free from vested interest and governments. There is a serious concern for community and minorities. Special interest is made on cultural heritage, and all in all the investments are made to activities with are expected to have high social benefits.

Wikimedia is a people to people media. Anyone reading or watching Wikimedia may freely edit, copy and redistribute it.

Wikimedia is still young. However, by running one of the world most popular websites, it already has a huge impact to modern life. Same time Wikimedia is facing some external and internal challenges. The traditional media industry may see Wikimedia as a “market disruptor” or “competitor”. In many ways Wikimedia –projects are disruptive innovations using disruptive technology. They are changing the game. Also the need and growth of more permanent staff in the Foundation (today around 30) causes tension between the “paid staff” and volunteer community. Will the Wikimedia movement survive this?

I hope that in a couple of years we will see an establishment of the Wikimedia movement, community and the Foundation. Establishment is good – when it is done without giving-up the original vision, mission and values. To progress the establishment the Foundation has started a project to formulate a strategy for the organization.

Being Wikimedia the strategic planning process naturally takes place on a wiki. The process in an open community process designed to serve the movement. The wiki is there for you to explore and edit.

The values of the Wikimedia Foundation are “Freedom, Accessibility and quality, Independence, Commitment to openness and diversity, Transparency, and that Our community is our biggest asset.

If these values will stand the Wikimedia movement will be fine.

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