Improving equity on Wikipedia using Wikidata

Do you ever wonder where Wikipedia articles come from? With a world of knowledge to represent, it’s a big question. At Wiki Education, we are especially concerned with Wikipedia being an equitable and representative resource. Whether it’s a museum of paintings, a library full of volumes of books, or an online encyclopedia, systematic bias is inherent in every collection and Wikipedia is not immune to it. So when we think about where Wikipedia articles come from, another question we must answer is how do we ensure Wikipedia has articles to make it a more representative resource?

With support from the Nielsen Foundation’s Data for Good grants program, we have been developing a free and open Wikipedia resource that encourages editors to create articles to improve representation of diverse groups and topics on Wikipedia. There are some amazing projects that are working to address this issue on Wikipedia that have been around for a few years — Women in RedArt + FeminismBlack Lunch Table — to name a few. It’s our hope that this tool can complement the work of these projects.

For example, Women in Red, uses Wikidata, a linked data knowledge base that connects all language versions of Wikipedia, to generate lists of articles that could exist in English Wikipedia, but don’t yet. Taking a page out of their book, we are creating a resource that allows community members to do the same thing, but with a broader set of demographic variables. In addition to individuals who identify as women, we have constructed pages that list thousands of potential articles based around sexual orientation, nationality, disability status, and ethnicity.

English Wikipedia screenshot
A screenshot of the Gender page from the Equity lists showing a list of individuals without English Wikipedia articles.

These lists query the other language versions of Wikipedia and pull only the results that don’t have English language articles. From there, community members can select individuals and generate English language versions of the articles. Since these articles exist in other language versions of Wikipedia, the idea is they already pass notability – a major requirement for articles to exist – and have references. The article writing process will still take time, but it saves some effort not starting from scratch. Check out our resource here.

I know what you’re thinking — can this get any cooler? And the answer is yes! Wiki Education has been developing and maintaining the Dashboard for the past few years. The Dashboard allows instructors and individuals to create courses that are scoped to a set of students/Wikipedians/edit-a-thon attendees, etc. – basically any set of individuals that want to participate in whatever the course is. Another feature is the ability to frame a course around a list of articles. Using the same query from our resource, anyone using a Dashboard can scope it to one of the lists we’ve developed. The idea here is to encourage Dashboard users to select articles about underrepresented groups or individuals and write them for English Wikipedia. Follow this link for an example of an article-scoped Dashboard. Heads up — clicking the PSID list will take some time to load because it is large.

screenshot of PetScan
A list of individuals generated from PetScan

And this, my friends, is one place where Wikipedia articles come from.

To review: we’re building a tool that encourages community members to write articles to increase the visibility of diverse groups and topics on Wikipedia. We’re doing this using Wikidata, queries, a list tool called Listeria, articles scoping on the Dashboard, and the hard work of anyone taking a Dashboard course or attending an event that uses the Dashboard. Although systemic bias and underrepresentation will remain a significant problem on Wikipedia and beyond, we hope this tool can push new and old users alike to edit in a way that helps to improve representation on the platform. As the community and these tools mature, we also hope others can refine and adapt it to their specific needs. An amazing thing about pulling from Wikidata is users can narrow and expand queries to generate new lists. For example, these lists are configured to improve English Wikipedia, but in a snap they can point to other language versions.

We’re still tinkering and ironing out the wrinkles, but we hope to have this up and running soon. Get ready to make some edits.


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