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Peititon for Wikpedia to become first digital World Heritage Site (wikipedia.de)
152 points by Fargren on May 24, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

Selection Criteria (grabbed from Wikipedia)

(i) "represents a masterpiece of human creative genius"

(ii) "exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design"

(iii) "bears a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared"

(iv) "is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history"

(v) "is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change"

(vi) "is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance"

I'd say Wikipedia passes all of these to an extent, although maybe it is a bit too soon to say so. Who are we to say that our current period is a "significant stage in human history"?

Who are we to say that our current period is a "significant stage in human history"?

Well, we have history to compare to. Our world is quickly changing right now – faster than in the past. I’m pretty confident that the rise of the internet and its first unique widespread applications (of which Wikipedia is one) will be a long chapter in future history books.

I’m not yet ready to compare it to the other significant events of the past few centuries (first and foremost certainly the industrial revolution) but I wouldn’t be surprised if it (the internet as a whole – not just Wikipedia) comes close to the disruptive force of the industrial revolution.

Frankly, this is overly pompous.

Yes, Wikipedia is a remarkable feat, but let's take a deep breath before we elevate it to the same status as the Great Wall of China, Notre Dame, Taj Mahal and Angkor Vat.

And think the idea through: If Wikipedia can get on, is there any reason, what so ever, that Facebook can't? And hasn't the world heritage list lost all meaning by then?

World heritage status is supposed to protect something. That’s its purpose. It’s not supposed to be just a list of nice things. (I’m also not sure why you think that the Notre Dame is somehow more impressive than Wikipedia. It’s a nice cathedral alright but I do think that, all things considered, Wikipedia is a more impressive achievement of humanity.)

Do websites need such protection†? I think we all have seen content disappear from the web. Bringing the idea of conservation from architecture to the web seems like a valid idea in that light. The Internet Archive is doing great work in that area.

I can certainly understand that someone might perceive UNESCO’s planned involvement as ineffective and unnecessary. I do, however, believe that Wikipedia is one of those websites that should be kept alive.

I’m not so sure about the point you are trying to make with your reference to Facebook. If the list only includes websites with the user base of Wikipedia or Facebook it will be a very short list indeed.

You are, however, bringing up an interesting point. How should the UNESCO treat successful commercial ventures? World heritage sites are usually not part of commercially successful ventures for pretty obvious reasons. Those sites often don’t require any protection. Facebook is very successful and not in need of any protection∆.

Wikipedia, however, relies on donations. I think Wikipedia is inherently a lot less stable than, for example, Facebook.

†I’m not in the mood right now for discussing whether a world heritage list can provide such protection for websites.

∆The UNESCO also more or less only cares about the sites. Whether or not, for example, the company is still in the building or whether it’s a museum is secondary for them. Websites are fundamentally different and that’s certainly an interesting problem.

World Heritage status implies preservation. Preservation implies that the object being preserved is static or has been rendered static. Wikipedia, by its very nature, cannot be rendered as such.

Can UNESCO take a copy of Wikipedia (or, better yet, the list of "Featured Articles" on Wikipedia) and preserve that? Yes. Can UNESCO preserve Wikipedia itself? No, since, in this case, preservation is the same as destruction.

If you regard the object to be protected to be 'the history of wikipedia' instead of 'the current state of wikipedia', it makes somewhat more sense. After all, MediaWiki stores all older revisions as well.

Imagine how much people in 500 years can learn about our culture by having a copy of wikipedia as it is now, and can look at its evolution over time.

Central Edinburgh is a World Heritage Site, it doesn't mean that nothing can change or that it's 'static'.

Mostly it just means you have to get planning permission to sneeze and you can't have wheely bins or on-street dumpsters.

Right, and its that sort of bureaucracy that'll kill Wikipedia.

Heck, the organization is bureaucratic enough as it is right now (visit the Administrators' Noticeboard, if you want proof). Do we really want to be injecting UN levels of bureaucracy into that?

I grew up in a house that was ~250 years old. It and many others in the area were designated as historic sites. As you say, the effect of such a designation is to protect it from being updated.

More often than not, the regulations would "protect" the house from home owners who wanted to perform renovations. There were many kinds of improvements that the owner of the house might like to make, but wouldn't be allowed.

I think this parallels the Wikipedia thing pretty well. Becoming preserved in this way cedes much authority to a third party, who can then dictate the kinds of changes that you may (or even must) make.

In the hands of an entity like the UN, I might even worry that steps might be taken to ensure that the resource that is Wikipedia be usable by all people -- and therefore needs to be sanitized of offensive content.

This will never happen, but if it did, the answer is simple. Abandon Wikipedia and make a new one.

Unlike real estate, we will never run out of empty websites to build encyclopedias on. And, unlike a house, once you own a "free encyclopedia", you've invested nothing and can abandon it at any time.

If the world governments want to make a sanitized uneditable copy of Wikipedia, great. Nobody will use it, but it will make them happy. And that's what's great about the Internet.

I completely disagree. Wikipedia is, to my mind at least, much "grander" than any of the other things you mentioned. It is literally the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled. And it was done by combining the work of millions of contributors. In impact it is more important than any of the things you mentioned, and in construction, it involved far more work.

We have no idea what Wikipedias impact is or will be over any kind of significant time frame. PG writes that there is still room to do to Wikipedia what Wikipedia did to Encyclopedia Britannica without stirring controversy. I'm also not so sure about the amount of work involved. The monuments I listed consumed staggering amounts of work, and then we haven't even compared casualties yet.

> PG wrote

Oh, well, the messiah has spoken </sarcasm>

/* await downvotes */

You'll be downvoted for a bad attitude, not what you're saying. Also, the "I'll be downvoted" meme is rather obnoxious, and I make a point to downvote it every single time I see it. Leave it on reddit. Let your words stand alone, don't rely on manipulating the voters.

However, you do have a good point. It should not matter that it was pg saying it. It should only matter what the actual possibility of Wikipedia being overtaken is. Personally, I don't think that's likely to happen. There's just been too much put into Wikipedia for it to be disrupted, for better or worse.

We're both long time members, with almost exactly the same karma. We know the ground rules about as well as each other. sometimes making the point is worth the attitude.

I lost 8 points for that comment. That comment cost me 4, so that means pg fanboys have gone looking for other comments and submissions of mine to downvote. Which adds some quantitative evidence to support your assertion that my point was good.

Last I checked, fanboyism is also discouraged. Which was my point.

[Edit since I can't reply to comment below]: last I dug through the arc code, there was no points multiplier for downvotes. Sure, it could have been done better. Meh.

Fanboyism is discouraged, but so is being a dick. Frankly, I'd say being a dick is a much worse blight on the community than "fanboyism". You're acting like there's no possible way you could have made that point and not get downvoted for it, which is obviously incorrect. I agreed with the main point of "it doesn't matter if pg said it", and I'm at 11 for that comment right now.

You don't need the attitude to get your message across. In fact, I'd say attitude generally harms whatever point you were trying to make, because people will react with similar hostility/rudeness. Being blunt is acceptable. Saying "Why does it matter that pg said it? I think people put too much weight to his words. We're hackers, shouldn't we be against 'fanboyism'?" would have probably got you upvoted, and started a decent discussion. Being rude about it generally just starts flame wars.

As for the point value, I wouldn't be surprised if downvotes take off more karma than upvotes, especially after a certain point. The paranoid "fanboys are downvoting me!" mentality is ridiculous.

It just visually caps at -4 even though the subsequent downvotes are still applied to your total score. This was an effort to limit d/vs a long time ago I believe. It's obviously not been lifted even now comment scores are hidden. It's been like that for as long as I've been a user.

No-one is hunting down your other comments and d/ving them. It really is just that your comment is at -8, even though it says -4.

I understand the sentiment you're expressing, but you went too far. Yes PG is not always right and shouldn't be quoted as if anything he says is fact. On the other hand there are ways of pointing out unbridled fanboyism politely.

It doesn't matter that PG was saying it, it matters that the statement has been widely cited and linked, yet didn't and hasn't caused controversy.

If Wikipedia was really world-heritage material, it's strange that a public figure like PG could get away with such a statement with no controversy.

Well PG is not really an important figure or even a public figure outside of the 'tech startup' scene. To argue that something isn't world heritage material simply based on the fact that he could 'get away' with criticizing it would be wrong.

The writing in question is often referred to here - which is why I mentioned it.

Your response belies your adherence to the cult of pg.

It is literally the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled.

I think that's called Google. And one of the big weaknesses of Wikipedia, at least in English[0], is that few Wikipedia editors go beyond Google or their own personal experience in sourcing articles. There is a huge amount of well curated information that still exists only in research libraries. Even though Google has made efforts to digitize that information, various technical and legal barriers make it hard to make that information generally available, and anyway most Wikipedia editors don't look up most of that information.

[0]The problem that Wikipedia has in many other languages (but less so in German than in most languages) is that the articles are mostly cribbed from the English articles, and the English articles are not very well sourced. I read several other languages, and two others besides English well enough to use those languages for professional research, and I often trace Wikipedia interwiki links to see what articles in other languages say about the subject I have researched most thoroughly over the last two decades. The English version of Wikipedia tends to set the tone and provide most of the references for many other language versions of Wikipedia.

Another problem that Wikipedia has, as Wikipedia reports, is an "unsustainable" decline in the number of administrators willing to help the project actively.


The Wikimedia Foundation points out that if the number of articles grows while the number of administrators shrinks, it will be very hard for Wikipedia to meet the foundation's stated goal of improving article quality.

All of the above being said, I am a Wikipedian because I thought the original vision of Wikipedia made sense, and I have liked using Wikipedia as a reference resource from time to time. But in my efforts to volunteer to the project and give back to the editing community, I have discovered the problems I just mentioned above. Those problems need to be fixed for Wikipedia truly to rise to world heritage status.

After edit: I might as well edit here, after taking a look at the other comments. Maybe my point of view is old-fashioned, having been educated for two postsecondary degrees at a large research university, but to date, for sure, any large university library has much more total information inside than ALL of Wikipedia, in all languages combined. (One quick way to verify this would be to do something that German Wikipedia has attempted to do, namely to make its complete content available to a print publisher.) Wikipedia as a whole still contains a lot less information, and rather more poorly curated information, than any research university's library. So if there is a claim just on the basis of aggregate information collection size for regarding Wikipedia as a world heritage site, there is a much stronger claim for that for any well administered university library.

One thing each of you can do to get a reality check on Wikipedia is to look up several articles on some subject that you know very well, a subject that you have taken care to research thoroughly in other sources, and see how long it takes to find something to fix in the Wikipedia articles. That Wikipedia is an online resource "anyone can edit" was a bold social experiment, and it has proven to be a largely successful experiment, but when I want do serious research on any subject related to my occupation or to my family's health or well-being, I still turn to sources beyond Wikipedia, because Wikipedia today is nowhere near inclusive enough of the best information in the world to be relied on without double-checking other sources.

P.P.S. Last edit to this post (I think): Wikipedia is user-editable over long time spans, as several commenters here have mentioned. HN threads are not as long-lasting, and each post has a short edit window. Does anyone have any reliable sources


that suggest that any of the factual statements I have made in this post are untrue? What sources do you have about the information content of

a) Google,

b) a typical research library,


c) Wikipedia as a whole as of today?

And one of the big weaknesses of Wikipedia, at least in English[0], is that few Wikipedia editors go beyond Google or their own personal experience in sourcing articles.

I guess you can count me as one of the few. I was in my university's library for a week researching and sourcing this one:


Google doesn't have any content. That's not how it works. Google indexes pages and provides links to them, but that's not the same as saying that Google collects all that information.

> that's not the same as saying that Google collects all that information.

Except they do collect all that information.

I think it's called World Wide Web. We should memorialize Tim Berners Lee's computer instead.

>"Great Wall of China, Notre Dame, Taj Mahal and Angkor Vat."

You are cherry picking.

In terms of significance, Wikipedia is far more significant than Stoclet House. [http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1298]. More interestingly Wikipedia would be one of few sites created by volunteers for non-commercial nongovernmental purposes.

Complete list of World Heritage sites here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list

Most of the things you mentioned were a vast, designed effort by a society to build something grand and longlasting. Yet one isn't; instead, it's a commercially-minded platform for ephemeral individuals to waste time and stay very loosely in touch with a very large number of people. It's not a project being built. And, to throw my personal opinion into the mix, it's not even close to edifying civilisation like any of the others.

Well, a vast section of the items on the world heritage list was build for - let's just say, less that noble - purposes, using methods that would cause military intervention today. Yet, that's no cause for dismissing their grandness, and neither is the fact that Facebook is commercial.

If it were still around, the Library of Alexandria might be on that list... and in a way, isn't Wikipedia the modern day equivalent? Even so, I can't wrap my head around software and data that's a handful of years old being considered "world heritage".

The Alexandria Library came to my mind as well. Currently, the preservation of digital cultural artifacts is haphazard and has unreliable funding. Yet items like the wayback machine are irreplaceable.

[not arguing that it was worthy of World Heritage protection] but the closure of GeoCities removed access to some 30 million web pages. [http://geocities.yahoo.com/index.php]

Thankfully, Reocities exists. http://www.reocities.com/

Digital preservation does indeed more funding/attention though. One example I've always found fascinating is the inadvertent digital preservation through piracy. There's plenty of garage bands, old games whose studios have closed, and more obscure movies that are now widely available thanks to people sharing and downloading. A lot of this stuff wouldn't really even be commercially or legally viable to sell, but piracy has made it widely available. </tangent>

I'd go so far as to put the wayback machine ahead of wikipedia on the list of digital assets that should be preserved.

I think Wikipedia surpasses all the thing you mention in both man-hours spent building and usefulness provided.

The fact that all content is donated to the public is a big divide between Wikipedia and Facebook, as is its fundamental mission. Or is Notre Dame just an old building?

You are correct that Wikipedia isn't like the others, which are giant constructions that took enormous effort. However, Wikipedia is more significant and important today than all of them put together. If we were to lose the other Heritage sites, tourists would miss out and there would be a large monetary impact. Losing Wikipedia would be far more disastrous.

However, there's no point in becoming a world heritage site. It's simply recognition.

> You are correct that Wikipedia isn't like the others, which are giant constructions that took enormous effort.

I'd say Wikipedia is a giant construction that took enormous effort.

I wonder how long it will be before the combined man-power to build Wikipedia exceeds some of these other massive projects. Has it already?

I don't know. How many pedantic teenagers having a revert war over how to format articles about Pokemon does it take to move one giant stone block?

Speaking of pompous, have a look at the list of the thousand-odd World Heritage sites: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list

I'd wager no-one on HN has heard of even 25% of them, let alone visited anywhere near that number.

a lot of such heritage objects were built for fighting wars, praising gods, or simply vain. I don't see why they are more remarkable in the context you applied here.

Internet Archive / Wayback Machine (http://archive.org) also merits considering for digital World Heritage inclusion.

Will UNESCO stop the rampant deletionism if Wikipedia becomes a World Heritage Site?

It's a good question. Suppose somebody went to a physical WHS and started removing parts of the structure they didn't think were necessary.

this is about protecting the culture, not the content, of wikipedia. and the ongoing deletionism vs. inclusionism-debate is part of that culture (and so are edit wars, i'm afraid...)

[snark]Yes, Pokemon scholarship will continue to flourish. [/snark]

> This is why as a cross-border cultural achievement, WIKIPEDIA deserves recognition and protection as UNESCO’s first digital World Cultural Heritage Site.

What, pray tell, is the point of any of this?

I get 'UNESCO' for, say, nice places that deserve recognition and protection, but... a web site? Are they going to cough up cash? Whose cash?

For heritage site, it generally means more money for the site. I think part of it comes from the UN and part of it from the country of the site (so the US in this case?).

Wikipedia could gain by becoming somewhat independant for its many expenses in keeping the site running.

technically, Wikipedia is seeking protection as intangible cultural heritage (examples include french cuisine and agentinian tango), not as a heritage site. But that is such a mouthful. Let's go for "World Heritage Website" :)

Main issue against this: Wikipedia is not in danger of any kind.

Although "need for protection" is not listed in the criteria for selection according to UNESCO's website (http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria), the "Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage" which established the concept of World Heritage Sites specifically states that World Heritage Sites are to be used for protection of threatened sites. Page 1 of http://whc.unesco.org/archive/convention-en.pdf states it all quite clearly.

> Main issue against this: Wikipedia is not in danger of any kind.

Many of the places on the list - Notre Dame, for example - are in no such danger, either.

My 2 cents on this is that the decision for something to be considered a worldwide heritage cannot be taken in such haste. Time averages and moderates the opinion. Sure Wikipedia is a nice achievement. But its merits, benefits and importance would have to stand the test of time. Perhaps our future generations can take such a decision, but for Wikipedia to propose that right now, is 'overly pompous' as someone commented.

EDIT: Downvoted for this! It stands to reason that a true measure of greatness comes with time. This is the reason that the 'pontification' process has these checks of time. To let reason and proper debate hold sway over other considerations.

What would be different if Wikipedia was a digital World Heritage Site?

And Wikipedia's been going ten years: that's not a lot of heritage.

Can't wikipedia's heritage 'metric' also be a factor of hours humans have, in general, enjoyed it (in the broader sense, as in use, derive benefit from)?

There's millions of man-hours of heritage. I don't have data to back me up, but I'd wager more time and effort has been spent in building Wikipedia than in any World Heritage, maybe more than all of them combined. But I don't really know what difference would it make if it became a World Heritage.

Umm according this link http://eandt.theiet.org/magazine/2011/01/pyramid-at-giza.cfm the figure for the Great Pyramid at Giza is 3.5 billion man hours. Wikipedia has aroun 18 million articles. Assuming 2 hours per article, fair enough since most of these are 1-2 para stubs, that's not much.

That information seems pretty suspect to me. They are assuming an average force of 100,000 men working at any one time to reach that figure.

Funny enough, this Wikipedia article gives significantly smaller average work forces:


Yes but even if we assume a figure of 30000 men and a 10 year timeline, that amounts to half a billion man hours. To reach that level Wikipedia should have a total spend of 27 manhours per article which seems improbable. Let alone other projects.

World Heritage Sites are meant to be preserved aren't they?

Wouldn't that mean that it couldn't be changed.... ;-)

Maybe I should have, but I didn't know what UNESCO was. In case you're like me here's a link to the World Heritage Convention which isn't on the wikipedia site: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list

I wonder if anybody's taken a shake at estimating the number of man hours spent in creating wikipedia?

when wikipedia becomes heritage, wouldn't it mean that it has to be left untouched from that point?

No. To do so would clearly harm the heritage site, just as removing some of the statues in a protected cathedral would.

wikipedia World Heritage? i believe not. 1. it is heavily biased. 2. censored. 3. not always as acurate as it could be. (down vote me, it will still not change the fact that for example what is deleted is someones priority, not necessary in accordance with academia.)

(down vote me, it will still not change the fact that for example what is deleted is someones priority, not necessary in accordance with academia.)

I downvoted you for making a vague statement which could have been interesting if properly backed up, and then I downvoted you again for inviting me to downvote you.

thanks. next time it will be more interesting.

And while we are at it, why don't we put the http protocol on the list as well?

This is insane.

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