Wikipedia: #1 destination for independent learners.

An incomplete sphere made of large, white jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each puzzle piece contains one glyph from a different writing system, with each glyph written in black.

In Expanding Public Value (published in AAM’s “Digital Universe” issue of Museum magazine) author Deborah Howes promotes Wikipedia— the world’s most comprehensive encyclopedia serving millions of users speaking 333 different languages—as a productive way for museums to connect to independent learners online. Who are independent learners? You know the type: they happily visit your galleries looking for answers and inspiration. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Smithsonian Institution among many others use Wikipedia as their widest and most accessible virtual door through which the world can easily find them. How does that work?

Andrew Lih, a longtime Wikimedian strategist who works tirelessly with cultural institutions to better integrate into the digital universe, explains it this way:

(2:33) Think about it, where would you go to get the most accurate and expansive information and knowledge on the internet today? Would it be from a site that you have to pay for it? Well, you have to pay for it, right? Or would it be a site that has lots of advertising? Because you’d be worried about the advertising influencing what you find there….Wikipedia is in fact the best resource on the internet in multiple languages that has been established over the last 20 years as the go-to place for answers…

(7:40)…And you’ll often see on Wikipedia, because it’s such an international community and having thousands and thousands of volunteer contributors, that you can actually get better coverage of things related to East Asian art or Aboriginal art than even well-resourced institutions because you actually have a greater scope of contributors than those institutions.

(16:17)…And the nice thing about today is impact is you upload to Wikipedia or Wikimedia Commons and boom, it’s ingested into Google within 10 minutes. You say, hey, Google, who painted this painting? Oh, well, that data you contributed as a museum, it’s now being announced on voice assistance. It’s being available on Siri. It’s made available on mobile phones. So there is that direct line between putting the effort in here from a cultural heritage institution to it being immediately useful, not like days or weeks later, but minutes. 

Andrew Lih, May 2023

This analysis of popular content categories below shows how well Wikipedia articles mirror the range and depth of topics museums generally create content about:

Here are 5 easy steps to strengthen your institution’s relationship with Wikipedia:

  1. Secure Wikimedia-approved institutional editor status. 
  2. Enhance your institution’s Wikipedia entry and Wikidata information (in as many languages as possible). Doing so will increase your find-ability. 
  3. Pick a topic that relates to your institution’s mission, connects to a community of interest, and also appears in Wikipedia. 
  4. Add content (text, images, etc…) to broaden the Wikipedia entry and deepen the connection with your institution (& don’t forget to add a hyperlink to your institution’s website). 
  5. Use your social media channels to spark conversations around the topic and promote relevant content on your website.

As you may know, artificial intelligence systems use Wikipedia, and its constellation of “wiki” information products, as their training ground. As the wired world moves to use tools like ChatGPT to navigate their online learning, your museum’s presence in these online learning resources becomes increasingly important.