Submissions:2018/The Dangerous Allure of Supracultural Ontologies

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This submission has been withdrawn by its author.

This submission is waitlisted for WikiConference North America 2018. It was not scheduled in the first round of scheduling, but may still be scheduled after further review, as slots open up, or as a pre-conference session.

Wikidata vs. Diversity—The Dangerous Allure of Supracultural Ontologies
Inclusion & Diversity
Academic Peer Review option
Sure, go for it. (But the possible reason named in the submission guidelines does not apply.)
Type of submission
presentation or workshop
Loren Koenig
E-mail address
Wikimedia username
Affiliation(s) (optional)
Wikimedia NYC
Disentangling interlanguage links across all Wikipedias by centralizing them in what would become Wikidata may have seemed an obvious solution; and centralizing facts from infoboxes only consequential. But things became more complicated when somewhere along the way Wikidata evolved into a full-fledged, collaboratively engineered ontology.
Wikipedia pages represent subjects as viewed by the speakers of a language (and thus a certain culture, or limited set of cultures).
Ontologies represent worldviews (albeit stringently formalized like, “A is a kind of B, which necessarily consists of parts C and D”), but being engineered by humans they inherently are cultural artifacts biased by their creators’ backgrounds.
Wikidata, then, as a centralized knowledge base for all Wikipedias would have to somehow distill diversity into fixed formalisms, leave all the cultural baggage behind, and emerge as a supracultural ontology—an undoubtedly enticing prospect: explain the world once and just once. But to what extent is that realistic, with Wikidata still being human-edited? And to what extent is the part that is realistic even desirable, and to whom?
As mindful tool creators and users we should view Wikidata as a machinery wielding (intellectual) power, thus raising several questions: Who edits Wikidata? What is their (cultural) background, and how does that inform the worldview encoded in Wikidata? Who are the Wikidata users to whom that worldview is applicable or helpful? And also, what about the Wikipedia editors who have to work with—or around—Wikidata?
The specter of cultural imperialism—or how to avoid it—is among the issues thus raised; issues that become the more pressing the tighter Wikidata gets integrated into media ultimately consumed by or affecting humans, and call into question the vision of algorithmically written Wikipedia articles.
As a more practical sideshow, we will also see how two of the main goals of Wikidata, centralizing interlanguage links and establishing a queriable ontology, are at odds with one another, and what could possibly be done about that.
Workshop only: It is hoped that the attendees will represent a culturally and linguistically diverse group of Wikipedia/Wikidata editors. In a joint effort, attendees would then identify exemplary concepts and the respective
  • amenability for representation in a supracultural ontology like Wikidata,
  • difficulties with representation across different-language Wikipedias, and
  • possible redresses.
These example cases could serve as a means for
  • sensitization about diversity issues around Wikidata,
  • requirements analysis for future Wikidata-related tools,
  • and more.
Length of presentation
  • 20–30 min (presentation)
  • 60 min (workshop)
Special requests
video projector
Preferred room size
Have you presented on this topic previously? If yes, where/when?
Tangentially—See the Wikidata mini-series having been tried as a presentation format at WM NYC meetups. (The mini-series turned out to not be a good format to present and/or discuss the more far-reaching questions to be addressed in this presentation.)
If you will be incorporating a slidedeck during your presentation, do you agree to upload it to Commons before your session, with a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license, including suitable attribution in the slidedeck for any images used?
Will you attend WikiConference North America if your submission is not accepted?

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  1. Minh Nguyễn 💬 07:00, 23 August 2018 (UTC)
  2. Mozucat (talk) 16:37, 23 August 2018 (UTC)
  3. Jami (Wiki Ed) (talk) 22:05, 27 August 2018 (UTC)
  4. Add your username here.