Search for gaps in Wiki Australian history

Researchers want to determine what might be missing from Wikipedia's coverage of Australian history.
Researchers want to determine what might be missing from Wikipedia's coverage of Australian history.

Wikipedia is Australia's fifth most visited website, with 244 million page views in the past month. The world's largest encyclopedia also features more than 227,000 Australian-related articles written in English.

That said, a new research project is set to determine what might be missing from the free online repository's coverage of the nation's history.

While Wikipedia's user-contributed model has survived 21 years and counting, its standing as a trusted source is not without question.

According to those involved in the study, there is evidence of systemic bias in its presentations of women, minorities and the Indigenous.

Led by University of Technology Sydney academic Heather Ford, the project will explore how Australian history is written about on Wikipedia, its potential limitations or biases and how to make it more representative.

"(It) will make a major contribution to understanding the ways events that shaped modern Australia are represented ... and therefore Wikipedia's impact on public knowledge," Professor Ford said.

The push to put its Australian history content under the microscope has the support of the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Australia, she says.

Both "value research on improving the platform's performance and practice".

The research team will also include UTS Centre for Public History director Tamson Pietsch and UK-based Australian scholar Nathaniel Tkacz, the author of Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness.

"Although the Wikimedia Foundation has been conscious of finding content gaps and filling them, there is more than that to making the platform more equitable," Prof Ford said.

While Wikipedia tends to rely on a largely male community of volunteer editors who are focused on the so-called Global North, there are also major barriers to participation by under-represented groups.

To an extent, this has to do with the way the platform's editing software works and the complex rules contributors have to negotiate.

"Right now the bar is just too high for minority groups to contribute," Prof Ford said.

"We hope that as a result of this project the Australian Wikipedia community will have greater understanding of what's missing in the representation of Australian history and how they might mitigate against some of the barriers."

The three-year undertaking, Wikipedia and the nation's story: Towards equity in knowledge production, has been awarded more than $400,000 by the Australian Research Council.

Australian Associated Press