WorldHeritage/the idea

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Wikipedia as a World Heritage Site! Why should Wikipedia become a World Cultural Heritage?

Written by Sebastian Sooth on Fr, 13 Mai 2011 19:08:17 CEST

In January 2011 Wikipedia turned 10. We and many others asked ourselves what we can do to celebrate Wikipedia's anniversary in a way that recognizes the community's work and helps showcase Wikipedia as more than just a website where quality information is available for free. Our main objective is the discussion about the value of Free Knowledge and the tireless dedication of hundreds of thousands of volunteers from around the world, who work together on the largest knowledge base known to man and provide this information under a Free License to humanity.

We were looking for an idea, that accomplishes great things, contributes to the completion of the Kompass 2020-Goals and the Goals of the Wikimedia Strategy-Plan and draws public attention at the same time. An idea, that uses the net to implement it world wide.

We developed an idea, which takes on Wikipedia's global approach, permits the involvement of Wikimedia Chapters and has great public effect – we want Wikipedia to receive the status of the first digital and global World Culturual Heritage

We first presented the idea during the Open Space of Wikimedia Germany in March and discussed it subsequently in the WMDE-Chat. Wikipedians who found the idea exciting created a project page on Wikipedia. At the Wikimedia Chapters Conference in Berlin we presented it to the attending representatives of Chapters. „That’s a fucking great idea!“, was the first reaction! The project was mentioned as an example of our work in the end credits of the Tagesschau- report about the conference. In April we ultimately introduced the initiative for the first time to a larger public at the re:publica after which the first journalists reported the idea in detail, critically, but in a positive light. An extensive discussion took place simultaneously on the project page in Wikipedia.

Wikimedia Germany sees itself as advocate for the idea and wants to encourage people from the international Wikipedia community and the promoters of Free Knowledge to participate in the initiative and its implementation. This would include a platform for a world wide petition, promotional logo, events, online and offline discussions and broad scale public relations work. Leo Burnett, who are also globally active and can support local Wikimedia Chapters, are endorsing us on a voluntary basis.

We know that the community does not need to be convinced of the idea of Free Knowledge and Wikipedia any more. But we want to work with the community on Wikipedia's future and be able to discuss future possibilities and dangers for Wikipedia. It is just as important to us to reach the many people who know Wikipedia and use it, but do not yet know what they can do to contribute or how the largest knowledge base is formed by volunteers from around the world.

Whoever has spent a day reading Wikipedia's e-mail inbox or heard the ongoing telephone rings at our office, will know what I mean.

Of course there is scepticism: Why do we want the World Heritage status? Why do we want to protect Wikipedia after only 10 years – it's not finished by far and not endangered. Shouldn't the internet in it's entirety be a World Cultural Heritage? And why didn't we involve the community much sooner?

The status as a UNESCO World Heritage can help us, because the World Heritage Convention “is internationally the most important tool ever used by the international community to protect their cultural and natural heritage.” 187 states have since signed the treaty.

With their signature, nations pledge to preserve and protect world heritage sites, develop strategies for their protection and to educate and support people who work to protect these sites.

When it was first negotiated in 1972, when the phrase „works of man or the combined works of nature and man” as a definition of World Heritage sites for historical monuments or architectural structures was constructed, man made digital sites were a thing of the far future. Wikipedia and it's main principles are an example for how the internet has made it possible for people to work together by the masses for the first time to make humanity's knowledge available and have therewith created something worth protecting.

It's not about putting the software, individual articles or the count of submitted articles under the protection as a World Heritage. It's the principle of collectively gathering and distributing free knowledge under free license which allows everyone the possibility to use it.

Wikipedia also fulfils the criteria of the additionally added categories of World Documentary Heritage and immaterial World Heritage.

The application process can only begin when we have found a nation that will include Wikipedia on their official nomination list – and this just once a year in February. This is also the reason why we want to begin with a petition and a broad discussion that will support the formal process.

Aside from the formal objections some people are giving, Wikipedia and particularly the German language Wikipedia are in no way endangered. One can have this impression when a modern computer with inexpensive broad band internet is readily available and one has almost unrestricted access to the net. One must take into account that this privilege is by far not available to every human being.

Free Knowledge and access to Free Knowledge is being threatened on many levels. Whether it's efforts to dissolve net neutrality, restricting access to uncensored information, or approaches that could constrict or even prohibit the free use of content through stricter copy right laws. Cultural, political and social barricades, insufficient or non existent reading and writing skills are all barriers which if left untreated can threaten access of free knowledge all over the world.

One doesn't have to go far to receive it — even in the European Union work groups are outspokenly discussing the idea of a “virtual Schengen Area”, in which providers are obligated to shut out undesired content at cross points. The development of a so called ancillary copyright is part of a coalition treaty of the governing parties in Germany, the right to internet access is still not granted to recipients of social benefits in 2011. The possibility to use the net anonymously (more or less), is constantly being questioned.

There are free tools provided by large internet companies that allow people to create maps together – as opposed to OpenStreetMap without placing the created data under free licenses. What would happen if a commercial platform with a much simpler user interface is launched tomorrow where users gather knowledge, but that doesn't belong to everyone?

Can the World Heritage status protect the access to Free Knowledge and Wikipedia? Or will authoritarian regimes continue to see a website to which they can deny access at any time?

We want to discuss all these points and at the same time show how and why Wikipedia uses the net's potential for Free Knowledge and who the people are who'll make it possible – joining the global Wikimedia community and the promoters of Free Knowledge. And by educating people about the meaning of Free Knowledge we hope to motivate newcomers to participate.

Therefore: Let us demonstrate how Wikipedia is a World Cultural Heritage Site and why World Heritage has a good place in Wikipedia. Let's turn Wikipedia into a World Cultural Heritage, together!

Tags: World Heritage

License: CC-BY-SA