Videos will soon be available on Wikipedia, and users will be able to compile their own mini-encyclopedias, says Florence Devouard, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Devouard visited the World Economic Forum in Davos, where she told swissinfo about the work of the foundation and plans for the development of the online encyclopedia.
The Wikimedia Foundation oversees the growth of all the wiki products, of which the best known is the Wikipedia collaborative encyclopedia. It also owns the servers which host the existing projects.
swissinfo: What made you get involved with Wikipedia in the first place?
Florence Devouard: I discovered the project by chance in 2002 when I was talking to an English-speaking Canadian about the burning issues of the day – genetically modified food, the Iraq war, French opposition to US policy. And that's when I got involved.
I thought it was a fantastic way to get together and work with people from other countries. I'd come back from the US two or three years before, and was living in a small town in France, where I really felt cooped-up. As far as I was concerned, Wikipedia was a brilliant opening onto the world.
swissinfo: And what makes you continue?
F.D.: I've moved on since then. I started by writing articles. Lots of them. But I soon became more interested in the Wikipedia community and the way it is organised, and how it mediates when conflicts arise between users.
But most of all, what I really got into was helping to make the organisation more international. At the time we had a highly developed English-language project, and small French and German projects somewhere there in the background. The idea was that there should be a more international group of people running the venture, people from all over the world.
The plan was to develop the Wikimedia Foundation, which was tiny at the time, and elect a board of directors. And I thought : why not me? So I put myself forward.
I've been on the board for four years now. My job deals with things like making sure that the site is working from day to day, and that we manage to deal with legal problems, raise money, and so on.
swissinfo: What are the next projects coming up?
F.D.: First of all, improvements to the software. This is something that's been under discussion for two and a half years: stable versions. The idea is to be able to identify which versions have been validated, and to enable users to see both the current version and the last version that was accepted as being more or less correct.
The second innovation, which I hope will become available in spring, is to give people the chance to put together a small personalised pdf file or paper version containing a selection of articles. Suppose, for example, that I want to know all about the Davos forum. I put things in a basket, just as on Amazon: the article on Davos, articles about the various personalities attending, global warming or the economic crisis. I compile my own little book which I can buy and have sent to me. That is Wiki to Print.
The third innovation, probably in autumn 2008 will be the possibility of adding videos to Wikipedia and editing them collaboratively, like a wiki text. That should be really, really good!
swissinfo: Google is launching its own online encyclopedia. Does that worry you?
F.D.: Other than a blog and two screen shots showing a hypothetical version, no-one has seen anything about it. There is so much that we don't know that it is difficult to make any sort of judgement. I would imagine the idea sprang from the fertile imagination of two or three people who got carried away after a few drinks. Maybe it will come to something, and maybe it won't. Who can tell?
If it turns out to be an encyclopedia which, like us, believes in free speech and free software at no cost, that will be a victory for us. We shall have encouraged other projects to develop along the principles that we believe in.
swissinfo, based on an article by Pierre-François Besson in Davos
Florence Devouard was born in 1968 in Versailles, France.
She holds degrees in agronomical engineering and in genetics and biotechnologies.
She started contributing to Wikipedia in 2002 under the pseudonym Anthere, and has been on the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation since 2004, and chair since 2006.
Wikimedia and Wikipedia
The Wikimedia Foundation, with its headquarters in San Francisco, is the legal organisation behind Wikipedia and a number of other online collaborative projects.
The online Wikipedia encyclopedia was established in 2001, with the aim of providing free, neutral and verifiable content.
As of December 2007, Wikipedia contained about 9,250,000 articles in over 250 languages.
Wikipedia articles are written collaboratively by volunteers worldwide.