Making your research accessible

WikiHoles: Plugging the information gaps

By 06/12/2009

Those of us with a good internet connection and questions to ask often turn to Wikipedia. It’s a useful reference tool in a number of ways, and is pretty reliable if you want to know how many provinces there are in Panama (nine, and five indigenous Comarcas), the demonym of people from St. Kitts (Kittitians), or the official name of a country, properly spelled (Republic of The Gambia, with a capital T). But there are big gaps. ‘Food miles’ has its own page, but ‘Fair miles’  does not. The article on the English town of Lyme Regis (population 4,500) is 2,525 words long,  but the article on Paramaribo (population 250,000), the capital city of Suriname, is 607 words long . Lyme is a very special place, it’s true, but Paramaribo certainly can’t be fully or fairly described in 607 words.

Mark Graham, a Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, has just blogged about and done some great maps illustrating the huge disparity in ‘geotagged’ articles on Wikipedia. He concedes that not all articles are appropriate for geotagging, but still – the relative lack of information about many regions is astonishing.

While the United States has almost 90,000 articles, Anguilla has 4, and most small island nations and city states have less than 100. He says that ‘Almost all of Africa is poorly represented in Wikipedia. Remarkably there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the fifty-three countries in Africa (or perhaps even more amazingly, there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia).’

Mark’s map of the number of articles per country really makes you think (and on his site he also maps for area and population).

Inevitably one of the reasons behind this disparity is the poor internet connectivity and lack of computers in most of the under-represented countries. According to the Internet World Stats website , Africa has 14.6% of the world’s population, but only 3.9% of its internet users.

While the number of articles about Africa and developing countries in general will grow as access increases, do make a space in your communications strategy to make sure that your partners’ institutions, their partners, and the key facts about your research issues have all got a home on Wikipedia. When a country has only got four articles, even one new one increases its presence by 20%!