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National Differences in Wikipedia's Coverage

The next speakers at AoIR 2009 are Susan Herring and Ewa Callahan. Susan starts by highlighting Wikipedia's well-known Neutral Point of View (NPOV) policy, but there has been little research into whether its content is truly fair and balanced - even less so across the many different languages across which Wikipedia operates. There is a sense that different versions emphasise 'local heroes', but this too has not been tested.

So, this paper examines the English and Polish Wikipedias. The Polish version is different from the English in that it is specific to one country only, and that there is a very specific cultural background of the language community (and it is also the fourth largest Wikipedia); the English version is the oldest and largest, and is authored by English speakers around the world (but with focus especially on US and UK users, persumably). The paper examined the entries for 15 famous Poles and 15 famous Americans across a variety of different fields of achievement from a structural as well as thematic point of view.

English-language entries were generally much longer, had more notes and references, and more external links; they had more outlines and more main categories, as well as larger photos and more close-up photos. English entries had more personal information (including spouses and romances), and more controversy; Polish entries had more information about education. For American subjects, content was more positive, Polish subjects were more balanced, and their relations to the US were often highlighted. Entries for subjects in their own country's language were longer and had more photos (supporting the local hero thesis); the tone of all entries was positive overall (perhaps because subjects were famous people); for deceased people there was more detailed information than for living people.

Ewa now runs through an examination of the entry for director Krzysztof Kieslowski, which in Polish omits much of his early hardship and some potentially negative details; similarly, the English entry for Muhammad Ali is longer and more detailed than the Polish one, and the Polish one omits negative details around Ali's later career.

So, there are clearly different levels of information here, linked to different cultural biases. This is linked also to the different history and age of both Wikipedia versions, as well as the history and attitudes of their contributors. Monolingual readers would get some very different information from one or the other version, then; this has implications for the translatability of Wikipedia material as well as for the status of Wikipedia as a global information repository governed by NPOV policy.

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