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29 AUG 15 Fascinating - Russian Wikipedia has admitted that its articles on the giants of Russian music are much inferior to those on English Wikipedia. A Russian Wiki editor revealed this week that names such as Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sviatoslav Richter, David Oistrakh - the world stars of Soviet music - have much longer and more detailed entries as well as far more searches for them in England, than in their home country.
The figures he gives for Wikipedia searches, and his information about the poor supply of encyclopaedias to the public, demonstrate a sizeable handicap faced by Russian readers wanting to know about their country’s luminaries - and the vastly greater knowledge and interest shown by English-language readers.
The interview is a sidelight on a censorship row this week over Russian Wikipedia’s right to publish an article on charas, a cannabis drug, which government authorities banned on Tuesday. When Russian Wikipedia refused to accept censorship the site was blocked entirely in several regions of the country for most of Tuesday while lawyers argued with the government about censorship and the Wiki community ‘improved’ the article until it was agreed by the government to be acceptable.
Russian Wikipedia put up a press release on Wednesday defending both its resistance to censorship and a justification for the article, which it said gave the public access to trustworthy information to counter the lies they would hear on the street from drugdealers. It added that the public did not believe official information sources either, hence the public interest in Wikipedia’s retaining its independence.
It’s not the first time Wikipedia’s been challenged by Russian authorities under censorship laws brought in in 2012 which filter and blacklist websites and internet pages, in line with declared new protections for children from ‘harmful’ influences.
Prokofiev’s English Wiki entry three times longer than Russian
Against the background of scandals surrounding the Russian Wikipedia, and not at all wanting to pour oil on the fire (since Wiki today is the most important of information and educational outlets), we have discovered an interesting situation. Go to the articles about Richter, Rostropovich, Shostakovich, Bashmet or Shchedrin, and lo and behold!, the English versions will be longer and more detailed - even though, it would seem, these are our own great musicians. And the biographical section on Sergei Prokofiev in English is three times longer than that in Russian. Do these names really have more relevance in the West than in Russia?
We tried to find out from the administrator of the Russian branch of Wikipedia Stanislav Kozlovsky what the facts are.
MK: So, Stanislav, how do you explain this phenomenon is that “our” heroes appear to be much better written up in English?
STANISLAV KOZLOVSKY: The basic reason is that the number of people writing for the English segment is many times more than the number of Russian authors. And once that happens, it means you have to appeal to experts in the musical field to write the articles for us. All the same, Wikipedia is intended for the whole world…
Maybe Shostakovich and Prokofiev are just more relevant to searches there than here?
It’s easy to check up on visitor numbers. Which we do. And so, take the searches for Prokofiev in Russian for the past 30 days: 6,480; and for the English article 16,092. Shostakovich - 7,016 in Russian, 20,640 in English. Sviatoslav Richter, 3,900 and 5,014. Oistrakh 1,158 and 2,586.
So there’s something surprising there? Both that there are more searches, and that the articles are written with more detail?
The first things is that the English Wikipedia began to develop earlier than the Russian one. Even if it was only a few years, it makes a substantial difference. Secondly, the amount of editing in the English section is 15-20 percent higher than in Russian. Of those who read our Wikipedia, less than 1 percent of them even corrected so much as a comma; those who do a lot of editing form an even smaller percentage.
And in this case you have virtually no rivals. Print ones are pretty much extinct.
No, the Great Russian Encyclopaedia (the paper encyclopaedia) is being written, they have reached the letter P, but there are certain factors to consider. Firstly, the size of the articles there are shorter - where we have a page, they will have a paragraph.
That’s bare bones.
Something like that. Yes, and the articles themselves are very much smaller than ours.
But all the same in the case there of even a conservative print encyclopedia and the articles that their scientists are writing, we can see at least some sort of fixed standard. Wikipedia - and this is more a plus than a minus - is more attuned to current affairs, so for instance, if there’s a Pussy Riot trial there’ll be a huge article there 20 pages long. While for any academic or mathematical subject there’ll be three lines, as its relevance is negligible - this is more Wikipedia’s kind of problem.
Well, it goes without saying that the more people are interested in something, the more they write for us and edit. That is a norm that’s well understood. As for the scientists, we have special projects that we gather writers together for, they tell us what subjects we don’t have articles on (by the way, that’s 1,250,000), and these academics and experts quite quietly are writing them… and the majority of them, by the way, have already been written now. I say again - we don’t have many people. Sometimes one person leaves, and an entire block is left with a gap. Furthermore, we have a different principle to that of the Great Russian Encyclopedia, in that we don’t have writer authority, they’re not named. But they are obliged to use sources.
So tell me, is it possible, in principle, to make a rival to Wikipedia?
It's complicated. For the Russian Wiki to reach this level took 15 years. In general, we aren’t against haveing other sources - if you have someone to compare yourself with, you will try to overtake them. What’s the problem there? In Russia a huge number of encyclopedias are published, but only on paper and only in small print runs. And they don’t emerge online at all. And to find out what’s written in them, to use them in some way, is in practice almost impossible. The second problem is copyright. On photographs which we simply can’t just take; the whole 20th century is protected by copyright law. All of this greatly constricts development.
There is again the problem that the Great Russian Encyclopedia, for understandable reasons, is coming out so slowly…
Of course, by the time they reach they reach Я [the last letter], the relevance and accuracy of A will already have changed. But as I’ve said, the more encyclopedias there are, the more use it will be for all of them, as knowledge will become refined from the range of sources. If the Academy of Sciences were to set a free licence on its content, it would be simpler for us to extract some of its materials. Like on the Putin site, on the Kremlin site - have a free licence, creative commons. The print encyclopaedias are of course necessary, but the problem’s about the fact that no one reads them. Will many people actually get a copy of the GRE in their hands? And who will go to a library to read things he doesn’t know about? It would be great if they duplicated them in electronic form - but once again there’s this question of copyright. Let’s see how the situation unfolds.
English Wiki serves Russia’s music heroes better
"Take the searches for Prokofiev in Russian for the past 30 days - 6,480, and for the English article 16,092. Shostakovich - 7,016 in Russian, 20,640 in English"