The newest Tree of Life WikiProject is about a taxon that is dominating the headlines, Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, and its many effects. We interviewed Another Believer, the founder of WikiProject COVID-19.
This interview has been edited for length. Find the full interview here.
Number of participants of WikiProject Covid-19|
- Please describe how you went about creating WikiProject COVID-19. What made you think a project was needed?
- I've been following the outbreak and editing related Wikipedia articles since January. I'm not particularly interested in infectious diseases or viruses, but I've been to China a few times and wanted to monitor the outbreak's impact on society as well as the government's response. For a while, I was casually tracking updates to the first couple pages about the outbreak. Then a pattern began to emerge as February saw the creation of separate articles about outbreaks in Iran, Italy, and South Korea. New Wikipedia articles continued being created in early March, and the outbreak was recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. Knowing there would many more articles, lists, templates, illustrations, and other pages on Wikipedia, I created WikiProject COVID-19 on March 15. My goal was simply to create a temporary or permanent space for editors to collaborate, communicate, and focus specifically on content related to this ongoing pandemic. I'm a member of many WikiProjects and have created several before, but this one definitely felt more necessary and urgent. Most WikiProjects unite editors with similar interests, which is fine and serves a purpose, but I felt this project could have a much bigger real life impact. I don't think I was alone in my thinking; the project had 80 members by March 20 and 100 members by March 26.
- Who or what was invaluable to getting off the ground?
- If I'm being honest, getting this project off the ground required little work on my part. All I did was create the space and post invitations to existing talk pages related to the outbreak. Editors joined the project very quickly; 30 members joined on the same day I started the project, and there were more than 50 participants one day later. I've been a daily Wikipedia editor for more than 12 years, and I've never seen so much interest in a project or content added to Wikipedia about a specific topic in such a short period of time. WikiProject members worked expeditiously to build a framework and hang a barnstar, tagging related pages, assessing content, and starting talk page discussions about the project's goals and scope. I'm thankful to the many editors who pitched in to get the project established, and I look forward to seeing how editors collaborate in this space as we move forward.
- What are the short-term goals of the project?
- No specific goals have been posted to the project page yet, but I'd like to think members share a collective desire to ensure Wikipedia has accurate and reliable information about the disease and pandemic. Disinformation and misinformation seem rampant these days, so we're working to give readers around the globe access to accurate, objective, and possibly even life-saving information. Unlike some WikiProjects which may take a more historical approach to documenting certain topics, WikiProject COVID-19 members have the ability to mitigate the disease's spread in real time by arming communities with facts about outbreaks in their region as well as information about prevention, testing, vaccine research, societal impact, etc.
- What are the long-term goals? English Wikipedia has many of 'lumpers' who think there are too many projects already. The project has also inspired the creation of two portals, which I imagine caused some raised eyebrows in this trend of portal deletionism. What will come of the WP after the current outbreak subsides?
- After creating WikiProject COVID-19, a couple editors said I should have created a task force instead of a standalone WikiProject. I wasn't bothered. The number of 'thank you' notifications I received for creating the page vastly outweighed these critical comments. I knew the page I created was much needed, and I would be fine if editors decide to call the page by another name. I understand some editors think there are too many WikiProjects. No one's required to join WikiProject COVID-19, but the 100+ of us who have already joined invite you to help with our efforts, if you're interested. As for the project's future, I would be fine if editors decided to convert the WikiProject into a task force, or even put the project into retirement if the time comes. Given the level of interest and impact the pandemic has already had on a global scale, I have a feeling the WikiProject will be active for a long time.
- Another criticism of the project is its narrow focus. It is focused on only one strain of virus, and the disease it causes. Even WikiProject AIDS is about two species of virus. Is the scope of the project too small? What would an expanded scope look like? Why would including another virus strain in the same species, Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus which causes SARS, not be wanted? or is it wanted?
- Narrow focus? I disagree. The project may focus on a single virus and disease, but the pandemic has resulted in the creation of hundreds of Wikipedia articles documenting outbreaks in most countries and territories. There are pages covering the pandemic's impact on aviation, cinema, education, politics, religion, sports, and television, not to mention others related to the resulting economic turmoil. Additionally, there are hundreds of templates, charts, and other graphics. Who knows how many thousands of images and other media will be uploaded at Wikimedia Commons by the time this pandemic subsides? There's also COVID-19 WikiProject COVID-19 at Wikidata, and I wouldn't be surprised if similar spaces are created for other Wikimedia projects soon. Even if the focus is narrow, there's plenty of content for Wikimedians to improve and protect.
- In your opinion, what should be the guidelines for creating a new project, as opposed to creating a task force or working under an existing WikiProject?
- I don't feel strongly about new project creation guidelines, or the differences between WikiProjects and task forces. Project members should decide what structure works for them and call themselves whatever name they prefer. I understand project construction requires maintenance and can come at an administrative cost, but we should be careful about discouraging editors from proposing new projects.
- Ideally, editors would only create a new WikiProject if at least a few others were committed to joining. I created WikiProject COVID-19 without conferring with others because I assumed the interest would be there. I encourage people to be bold and create project pages, but maybe ask a few other editors for feedback first. I'll let other editors worry about the guidelines.
- What tools (templates, bots, etc.) are essential, or even just really helpful, for organizing and maintaining a successful project? What is something every WP should do, that maybe isn't doing now?
- I appreciate the standard WikiProject assessment framework. AlexNewArtBot and Article alerts have also been very helpful.
- What have you learned about Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or COVID-19 during this process that surprised you?
- I don't have any sort of medical background, and I'm more interested in the pandemic's impact than details about the disease or virus. Most surprising to me has been the lack of preparedness for combating outbreaks by governments around the world, including here in the United States. I don't know how COVID-19's spread compares to other infectious diseases, but as I've watched the outbreak develop I've continually wondered why governments did not start preparing earlier. What was happening in China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea should have prompted action sooner.
- What important things about 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic do you think folks should know and maybe have missed in the deluge of information coming at people?
- 1. Know the most common symptoms: cough, fever, and difficulty breathing.
- 2. Learn what behavioral adjustments you should make to protect yourself and reduce transmission, and remember to wash your hands.
- 3. Get your information from reputable sources. I'd like to think Wikipedia editors are pretty good at this last bit of advice.
Thank you to Another Believer for your time, both in this interview and in this project. Interested readers can join WikiProject COVID-19. And please stay safe and healthy out there. --Awkwafaba