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A German Wikipedia meetup, December 2013.

A German Wikipedia meetup, December 2013. The candle was created for a tenth anniversary celebration two years earlier. Photo by Sven Teschke, CC BY-SA 3.0.

On this day fifteen years ago, the German Wikipedia was announced to the world by Jimmy Wales, becoming the second Wikipedia ever created.

Looking back, Wikipedia editor Dirk Franke told us that “Wikipedia really has revolutionized the way German-speaking people inform themselves about the world. It is almost impossible not to use it.”

A second German Wikipedian, Christoph Braun, gave a concrete example of its impact: “In the last 15 years, German Wikipedia has become the de facto replacement for the Brockhaus—the German equivalent of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Brockhaus has not been in circulation since 2014 seemingly because of Wikipedia’s success. Everyone from school children to university professors relies on Wikipedia and expects Wikipedia to provide information on the latest news as well as on timeless topics.”

These results have come only at the hands of dedicated community members. The German Wikipedia is known for its number of highly engaged editors, as more than 20,000 active editors—second-most in the world—edit and maintain the site as part of the wider Wikimedia world.

Many of these users live in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, which are all located in Central Europe, and this geographic proximity has played a large role in the development of the German-language Wikipedia’s community.

These countries’ “shared time zone determines German Wikipedia’s daily routine,” according to Braun, and the closeness has fostered a culture of regular in-person meetings, or meetups. As editor Ziko van Dijk put it, the distances involved “make it relatively easy to meet each other and to organize.” The first meetup happened in Munich on October 28, 2003, and they have continued to present day; nineteen events are scheduled for this month, only two of which are anniversary-related.

Braun and van Dijk pointed to the influence of these so-called “round table” (Wikipedia-Stammtisch) meet-ups on the German Wikipedia’s culture. Franke noted these meetings have taken on different flavors over time as community members have fit themselves into different categories: “alongside the regional meetings, there are quite a lot of national meetings of different scopes. For instance, sometimes just administrators meet, while sometimes just people writing about chemistry.”

And these meetings are not just for socializing. Franke adamantly stated that “meeting in person plays a huge role in the German Wikipedia, and a lot of its social dynamics can’t be understood without knowing this,” and Braun wrote that the meetups “help to settle online disputes, share ideas, and are useful for networking amongst Wikipedians.” In the wider Wikimedia movement, these social relationships fostered leaders for the whole world; German Wikipedians organized the first Wikimedia chapter, formed in 2004, and the first global conference (Wikimania), held in Frankfurt in 2005.

This post is, however, doomed to be only a disappointingly short summary of a fascinatingly complex culture. Braun told us that to try to explain the German Wikipedia’s history would be an impossible task, and while Franke made an attempt, he was sure to add that we would be missing out on “so much”:

Great articles, great projects, great discussions, great fights, great people. From the beginning, when basically five people were all the active editors, to the surge in 2004/2005. Discussions about notability, several featured articles written to prove that single streets or pizza boxes can be notable. People have met and married, have argued, have gotten kids, have taken amazing photographs. We had a story in Der Spiegel (kind of German Newsweek or Time) about a single edit war. We had times when everybody talked about the writing contest and now people care about the WikiCup. You missed many brilliant inspiring people from all ways of life, often eccentric, sometimes a bit obnoxious but always entertaining and thought provoking. You missed people travelling across Germany to take pictures and others who edited hundreds of thousands of articles. You missed the one-man project on East Timor that has been going on for several years and one’s obsession about telecommunications towers. There were arguments about the notability of streets [and] brands … plus a three-year conflict (still ongoing) about the right and wrong symbols to use when somebody is deceased.

Last, as the site’s two-millionth article is drawing ever closer—they’re at 1.92 million as of publishing time—we took a look at the top 15 edited articles on the German Wikipedia (as of 11 March) to see what they could tell us about the site.

There are only three common names between this list and a similar list for the English Wikipedia (scroll to the bottom): Adolf Hitler, Jesus, and World War II. Articles on Germany itself swept the first, second, and seventh places, in addition to the German national football team (#6) and a controversial political party (#13), but several surprises crop up. In particular, articles on fictional media took three places: Kingdom Hearts II, a video game from 2005 (#3), a list of characters from Harry Potter book and film series (#12), and a list of characters from the US television show The Simpsons (#15)

And, strangely, there’s a list of unusual deaths at #5.

  1.   Deutschland‏‎ (Germany, 14,073 edits)
  2.   Kultur Deutschlands‏‎ (Culture of Germany, 13,760 edits)
  3.   Kingdom Hearts II‏‎ (10,509 edits)
  4.   Adolf Hitler‏‎ (9,905 edits)
  5.   Liste ungewöhnlicher Todesfälle‏‎ (List of unusual deaths, 9,595 edits)
  6.   Deutsche Fußballnationalmannschaft‏‎ (German national football team, 8,789 edits)
  7.   Berlin‏‎ (7,637 edits)
  8.   Schwarze‏‎ (Black people, 7,283 edits)
  9.   Jesus von Nazaret‏‎ (Jesus of Nazareth, 7,262 edits)
  10. Zeugen Jehovas‏‎ (Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7,212 edits)
  11. Zweiter Weltkrieg‏‎ (World War II, 7,138 edits)
  12. Figuren der Harry-Potter-Romane‏‎ (Figures in the Harry Potter universe, 7,091 edits)
  13. Alternative für Deutschland‏‎ (Alternative for Germany, 7,025 edits)
  14. Jesus-Mythos‏‎ (Jesus myth theory, 6,983 edits)
  15. Figuren aus Die Simpsons‏‎ (Characters from the Simpsons, 6,868 edits)

Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation

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