Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Day two of Wikimania,

The second day of Wikimania found me working at the Wikimedia UK stall in the Community Village. This was a selection of stalls where the various Wikipedia “chapters” from around the world, the different projects of Wikipedia and allied open source organisations had a chance to sit, give away food, such as stroopwaffles, and talk to people about what they do. This Community Village was situated at one of the main entrances to the Barbican Centre and was in an area open to the public. This meant that there were many people looking at the stalls who knew little about Wikipedia and then could find out a great deal more. I spoke to a number of people who wanted to know more about Wikipedia, about editing and about the activities of the Wikimedia UK, such as the woman who had just come to drop off her library book who entered a lively debate between me and a young man form America who couldn't understand the difference between England and Britain or the librarian from the Feminist library wanting a woman to teach a group to edit Wikipedia; an interesting opportunity to improve the representation of notable women in Wikipedia. As well as giving out information, leaflets and free beer mats, I was able to listen to some of the talks. These are two that caught my attention.

 Andy Mabbett outlined his work of recording the voices of living people who have articles in Wikipedia and adding the recorded voice as a small roughly 10 second sound clip. The purpose is to have a historic record of their voice and a canonical pronunciation of their name. He advised that it is important to keep the message neutral, eg not let them say “hello Wikipedia” so that the recording can be used in other places. Andy needs some help in doing it because locating the people is difficult. So if you know a person with a Wikipedia article could you record their voice for Wikipedia? There is a page of instructions on how to do it Techies amongst you will understand this, but I don’t, apparently you must use an ogg or flack file, not Mp3. Some people in the hackathon are working on a website to record and add things to the relevant article in order to make it easier.

Zillah Watson of the BBC, found out what Andy was doing, because she was working with the research section of the world service radio archive. Amongst other things they have worked out how to identify individual speakers from their voice, automatically. They wanted a library of voices, sample and clips, so they have added them to Wikipedia. This is the first time the BBC has released files from their programs with an open licence. In consequence the project has added new articles of people to Wikipedia that had the voices, but not the articles, as well as adding voices to existing articles. The BBC project is still running.

The idea of keeping someone's voice for posterity appears to be a means to give an emotional depth and reality to the life a person. The human hearing seems to pick up so many nuances, and just from a few voice snippets people in the future may think things like, "Jimmy Wales sounds like a good guy" or "Stephen Fry sounds really friendly".

Peter Murray-Rust is a Doctor of Chemistry working in Cambridge University who has been a Wikipedia editor for many years and is a passionate advocate for Open Access, Open Data and open science in general. He believes that Wikipedia is the future of science and is currently entering into a collaboration with WikiData. He has been running a project to find a means of machine reading PDF files, and that is because he wants to extract facts from scientific papers, which unfortunately are published as PDFs. His project has managed to do this, and Peter has chosen to add the data generated this way to WikiData. I think that it is a significant breakthrough to be able to machine read PDFs, that would make searching the content of things on the internet so much easier. More can be read on the project website  

In the evening I met up with the other half, sorry, I haven't mentioned that he was also there, in fact he is the real Wikipedia editor in out household, I only dabble, and as he had arranged to go out for a drink with some other editors that he either knew, or that he had stumbled upon during the day, and I wanted to see the ceramic poppies outside the Tower of London commemorating the start of WW1,(  we led off an expedition of various nationalities, including Dutch and Australian, to the Tower, stopping at a Pizza Express for food and drink on the way back.


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