Feed the Gnomes - Wikidata Outreach

Feed the Gnomes: Wikidata Outreach for New Users

Public URL
Bugzilla report

Name and contact information

Helen Halbert
IRC or IM networks/handle(s)
thepwnco on IRC
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Typical working hours
9 or 10 am to 5 pm (PST)



Wikidata aka “Wikipedia’s game-changer” is an exciting project that presents new opportunities for using, interpreting, and improving Wikipedia (and other Wikimedia projects’) content through the creation, management, and integration of structured data. An important and complex undertaking, the project has leveraged the efforts and expertise of tens of thousands of contributors (as well as coordinating with others embedded within various Wikimedia project communities such as Wikisource, Wikiquote, etc.). However, Wikidata still has a relatively low profile and is not known widely or understood enough. Additionally, despite Wikidata being championed by contributors and celebrated for having a low barrier to participation, the demands of designing and developing such an ambitious project have, perhaps not surprisingly, made the focus of the project on first getting Wikidata off the ground and then maintaining its momentum - and not the recruitment and retention of new users.

I think that it is now the time for the promotion of Wikidata’s mission, as well as outreach to and support for new contributors, to be made a priority of the project. For my application for Round 8 of the FOSS OPW, I would like to work on outreach strategy, planning, and implementation for Wikidata. Outreach will primarily focus on the development and promotion of content for a sequence of modules built using the GuidedTours extension (a la Wikipedia Adventure) in order to engage newcomers to Wikidata, help them orient themselves to the project, and provide them with resources, strategies, and confidence to start contributing.

Possible mentors

Lydia Pintscher; possible additional mentorship or technical assistance from Bene* who is now working on a GuidedTours extenstion for Wikidata



A GuidedTours (GT) extension for Wikidata has already (and very recently) been proposed and approved by the community (albeit, with some caveats and concern over the content—it is a contentious issue and there is no clear consensus of what a new user ought to know first before contributing). As of this writing of the project proposal (March 14), Wikidata admin, bureaucrat, and botworker Bene* is at work on the extension yet consultation with the community (and outside the community) has yet to occur and considerations of exactly what content is essential to include and in what format is still to be decided.

I believe the Wikipedia Adventure approach to planning and developing engaging and meaningful content is the best way to not only promote the profile of Wikidata and increase awareness about the project, but also provide support and pathways for participation to new users.

I endeavour to conduct extensive background research in order to determine how to strike a balance between arming newcomers with the right knowledge and know-how and empowering them to contribute without intimidating them and overwhelming them with unnecessary information. My research will include a brief review of best practices from previous GT and similar orientation/introductory module instances, discussion and analysis of what will work well for the Wikidata context, heuristic evaluation of the Wikidata site and its existing documentation, surveying of and consultation with the current Wikidata community to uncover perspectives, workflows, and recommendations for participation, drafting of new GT content, and usability testing with current and new users.

Scope of Project

While this OPW internship project will focus on the creation and deployment of a GT instance for Wikidata, related initiatives, such as the development and improvement of existing documentation within Wikidata, as well as exploratory study of the community to gauge interest and capacity in developing mentorships (between seasoned contributors and new users), are considered in scope though planning for these initiatives may be modified in light of findings or progress made during initial stages of the internship). Evaluation of the GT module(s) will be ongoing and iterative throughout the implementation timeline, with many structured opportunities for user feedback and assessment such as during usability testing. Development, modification, or expansion of content will endeavour to be as responsive to community input as possible with respect to the time limitations and promised deliverables of the internship.

Discussion of the particulars of Wikidata integration with other Wikimedia projects (especially Wikipedia) and of new strategies, tools, scripts, or changes in workflows for improving Wikipedia editors’ use and application of Wikidata, for example, within new or existing articles, is considered outside of the scope of the project. However, GT content may be tailored in light of such discussions or new developments and will strive to be representative of community consensus on these matters in order to provide relevant orientation to new users and adequately prepare them for participation in an ever evolving project.


Key Contributions
  • Content development, implementation, and usability testing of a GuidedTours extension, similar in some ways to the Wikipedia Adventure and specifically for introducing and onboarding new users to Wikidata.
  • Development of promotional materials and direction of tie-in activities in conjunction with the launch of the extension and to increase the profile of Wikidata and general awareness of the project and its future directions. Such activities will include expansion and restructuring of existing Wikidata documentation, design of a portal and resource & support centre for new users, development of Wikidata edit-a-thon toolkits and identification of other pathways for participation, creation of educational and data literacy materials from a Wikidata perspective, and outreach efforts to communities and groups who could stand to benefit from more direct engagement with Wikidata.
Implementation Timeline

Week beginning May 19
I am on vacation for the first time ever since starting my master’s degree in Jan 2012! I will return May 31 and will begin work then. I am happy to either work past the official internship end date (Aug 18) or else make up the hours throughout other weeks over the course of the program.

Week beginning June 2
Development and distribution of survey/questionnaire to a sampling of current Wikidata users (ideally with a breadth of contribution activity and frequency) to better understand experiences with project, typical use and practices, overall knowledge, understanding of, and satisfaction with project, receptiveness to mentoring new users, etc.; recruitment of current Wikidata users for virtual focus group and/or chat session; heuristic evaluation of Wikidata and reflections on own difficulties and challenges navigating the site and completing tasks; background research on other modules and tutorials for websites/systems (including but not limited to GT instances); expanding/editing of existing site documentation

Week beginning June 9
Collection/aggregation of Wikidata (and other relevant Wikimedia projects) documentation; identification of most important tasks and actions for new users and knowledge they may need in order to navigate Wikidata and begin contributing; development of tasks users should be able to complete during and by the end of Wikidata GT; affinity mapping to determine ‘chunking’ of content for series of module(s); initial storyboarding; recruitment of Vancouver-based non-Wikidata users focus group (ideally some with previous wiki experience and some with none at all and some with more expert understanding of metadata/structured data and some with only basic understanding of concepts); expanding/editing of existing site documentation

Week beginning June 16
Focus group(s) and conversations with Wikidata users; updating of identified tasks and content deemed necessary for module(s); collection of survey/questionnaires and analysis and summary of answers; identification and first contact with groups/communities that may be interested in Wikidata or might have certain synergies with project and/or joining certain task forces; expanding/editing of existing site documentation

Week beginning June 23
Facilitation of Vancouver-based focus group to assess non-users first impressions of Wikidata, their motivation and interest in contributing, and their perceptions of barriers to participation; sharing and review of new materials developed since beginning of internship (script outline/storyboard and documentation); summary of session and updating of module(s) as needed; reporting on any additional ideas for outreach or promotion arising from conversation; expanding/editing of existing site documentation

Week beginning June 30
Soft launch of GT module(s); solicitation of feedback from Wikidata community and recruitment of online beta testers; in person usability testing of specific contained micro tasks; analysis of in person usability testing; expanding/editing of existing site documentation

Week beginning July 7
Review of Wikidata community feedback; updates and revisions to GT for finalized (at least before public launch) product; development of initial toolkit/packages for Wikidata edit-a-thons/hackathons; contact and coordination with translators; preparation, planning, and background writing of blog posts, press releases, pieces on cool things being done with Wikidata and interesting developments for project, expanded FAQs, and promotional campaign across social media platforms

Week beginning July 14
Hosting local Wikidata edit-a-thon including integration of GT module(s); restructuring and reorganizing of site documentation for development of new user portal and programming for welcoming/onboarding to community; coordination of mentors if interest and development of possible guidelines/policies/expectations related to this role

Week beginning July 21
Continued efforts on portal; consultation with groups/communities with interest in/synergies with Wikidata; research, identification, and development of supportive tools and materials for coordinating interest groups or themed Wikidata edit-a-thons

Week beginning July 28
Official launch of GuidedTours and new user portal; marketing and media efforts coordination

Week beginning August 4
Research, brainstorming, and strategic planning for new and next-step outreach efforts for Wikidata including issuing of badges and development of Wikidata-centric data literacy educational materials (including a more user-friendly glossary), discussion with mentors from proposed FOSS OPW “multilingual, usable, and effective captchas” project for possible collaboration, and other ideas identified in the development plan

Week beginning August 11
Research and report on assessment strategy (specifically for GT but with applications for other initiatives); transition documentation and wrap-up of internship



I love doing research, especially at the intersection of technology, learning, and social dynamics. Throughout my master's degree I have worked as a research assistant (often on my own schedule and remotely) for several faculty members within my department. I have strong project management skills and enjoy the combination of responsibility and freedom that comes with being trusted to take ownership of assignments. I also have learned a lot from collaborating and coordinating with research teams and value the feedback my supervising faculty members have provided and how they have pushed me to think in new ways and constantly refine my ideas.

I currently also work at my university library in the systems & IT department where I am responsible for web services support and sit on a number of working groups and committees composed of representatives from across library units and branches. I also get to do occasional usability testing of new library applications and interfaces which is always exciting and enlightening. Nothing is quite as humbling, or makes you appreciate assessment and consultation, as realizing your grand designs are anything but...

I am always available by e-mail and am gradually getting into the habit of being on IRC. I prefer lots of communication, even to the point of redundancy, over little to none but am quite happy to chip away at a project once I feel confident of expectations and the direction of where it's going. Because I will not be working with source code much, discussion of the best and most effective way to communicate progress with my mentor, as well as the wider Wikidata community, will be an important first step once I am selected for an internship.

About you


I am currently in my last term of my Master of Library & Information Studies (MLIS) program. As an aspiring librarian, I am passionate about access to information and, as we increasingly create, access, and store our information in the digital realm, I believe it's equally as important to also advocate for free technologies and transparent systems of production and use. In a nutshell, open source is more and more becoming the new open access.

Throughout my study, two areas in particular have captured my imagination and interest:

1) emerging technologies and interaction design for online and/or self-directed learning (specifically in the context of post-secondary education). Only recently have I considered the ways in which this research applies to contributors of open source software and other collaborative projects

2) the complex social systems and structures that prevent change - whether that be change in thought, change in practice, or change of an institutional or organizational culture. (I have been particularly interested in how this relates to the politics of knowledge production and privileging of certain discourses over others...which is why Wikidata's approach to ranking statements and allowing for a plurality of data 'perspectives' is really exciting to me)

Working in Wikidata outreach just so happens to offer the chance to be involved with both of these areas of interest; the project is such a crazily ambitious undertaking that can and only will be successful if it's able to inspire people to participate and contribute and provoke them to rethink the web, their approaches to content creation, and what they think they know about data.

Also, attempting to change the way Wikipedia is used and understood AND wrestling back the idea of data as something free and for the public good rather than something sold and signed away by nefarious terms & conditions agreements or collected by government agencies)? Yeah, I want to be involved with that.

Education completed or in progress

MLIS at the University of British Columbia, Canada; sub-specialization in Human-Computer Interaction and enrolled in the First Nations Curriculum Concentration.

How did you hear about this program?

I first heard about this program during application time for Round 7 through the devchix listserv (I did not apply because of school and work commitments). I also learned a lot more about the program and found support, encouragement, and helpful resources through the Geek Feminism and Systers communities.

Will you have any other time commitments, such as school work, another job, planned vacation, etc., during the duration of the program?

I have planned vacation for the last 10 days of May - it will be first vacation since I started my degree in January 2012 - but then I will be available to work for the full duration of the program (and 2 or so weeks after to make up for lost time).

We advise all candidates eligible to Google Summer of Code and FOSS Outreach Program for Women to apply for both programs. Are you planning to apply to both programs and, if so, with what organization(s)?

Nope. I wanted a non-coding assignment and will also be graduating in April.

Past experience

Please describe your experience with any other FOSS projects as a user and as a contributor

I have lots of experience with MediaWiki (I work on a wiki instance as part of my work which mostly includes some templating, some documentation, and a lot of maintenance of content).

I'm involved (both as a student and mentor for HTML/CSS) with the local chapter of Ladies Learning Code, a non-profit organization that puts on computing and coding workshops and classes (the organization also has very close ties with the local Mozilla community).

I contributed to my university's first open and online course - built in WordPress instead of on a proprietary MOOC platform. The modules of the course are intended to help self-enrolled and self-paced students acquire digital learning skills. I created an introductory module on the digital humanities.

I also participated in a OPW Round 7 participant's outreach project with Mozilla that explored opportunities for librarians and information professionals to get involved in FOSS (apparently it worked?).

Of course, I've been playing and poking around in Wikidata too, and have contributed new labels, descriptions, and statements to items.

Please describe any relevant projects that you have worked on previously and what knowledge you gained from working on them (include links)

hmm, how about some research?

Halbert, H., & Nathan, L. (2014). Designing for Negative Affect and Critical Reflection. In Proceedings of CHI '14 the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Toronto, Ontario [forthcoming]

This research seeks to explore how technologies and their affordances support transformative learning, a process through which individuals engage with feelings of discomfort and other negative emotions, with the intention of making recommendations for technologies and systems that support critical reflection and constructive dialogue and consensus-making

Seifi, H., Halbert, H., & McGrenere, J. (2014). Supervisor-Student Research Meetings: A Case Study on Choice of Tools and Practices in Computer Science. In Proceedings of GI ’14 the Graphics Interface 2014 Conference, Montreal, Quebec [forthcoming]

Exploratory study of the tools and practices used by supervisors and students in computer science for meetings and research collaboration and analysis of some of the contextual factors and individual differences influencing the selection of supportive tools

Halbert, H. (2013). The state of clinical librarianship in Canada: A review of the literature, 1970–2013. Journal of the Canadian Health Libraries Association, 34(02), 69-74. Access at: http://pubs.chla-absc.ca/doi/full/10.5596/c13-027

This paper traces the history of clinical librarianship in Canada from 1970 to 2013 as seen through the lens of practitioner narratives and published literature

See also