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[Outreachy] · · 4 min read

Understanding my role at Wikimedia

As I mentioned in my last post — My journey to Outreachy, or How I learned to stop worrying and start contributing —, I am one of the 42 people selected to work with FOSS projects as an Outreachy intern between December 2017 and March 2018. Since I already talked about my story and my application process, it’s time to write further about the foundation of my project (Translation outreach: User guides on MediaWiki.org).

According to the task T158296, translation of technical documentation is commonly neglected, leaving a lot of users without the option of reading it comfortably in their native language. Among the relevant tasks, it emphasizes the importance of finding places and communities where we can find potential volunteers, building strategies to recruit and test them, in addition to actions to ensure their permanence in the movement (and continuity of their work).

Investigating and understanding what motivates people to be volunteers on FOSS projects doesn’t only mean to check the available literature produced about the subject. Actually, this should be made with the objective of coming upon results that support your ideas and hypotheses. What is essential is the analysis of your own motivations — after all, you are part of this world as anyone else is. Ask yourself: what keeps you going?

My answers are the basis of my argumentation in my project proposal.

  • Common ground. FOSS projects frequently promote themselves as more ethical alternatives to proprietary solutions, besides values as open access, open knowledge, freedom and privacy. While we can find good contributors outside the user group, most of excellent contributions come from those who are already familiar with how the project works and believe in the project objectives, what leads us to the next motivator:
  • The urge to thank the welcoming community somehow, driven by a profound feeling of identification. In the article “Working for Free? Motivations for Participating in Open-Source Projects”, Alexander Hars and Shaosong Ou call this motivator community identification. The sensation of making part of something bigger encourage a “variant of altruism” which instigates those who contribute to execute positive tasks to the project (and its community) even if the outcome doesn’t benefit them directly. This encouragement, according to them, is equivalent to the need of to be loved and to belong described by Abraham Maslow. Stem from that, the objectives of those who contribute and their community become the same, nurturing the desire to see the project thrive.
  • Putting my abilities to proof and improving them, aside from the opportunity to learn new things. Oded Nov classifies this motivators under the categories Enhancement and Understanding in his article “What motivated wikipedians?”. FOSS projects are transparent about their operations and provide opportunities to learn and acquire countless abilities and forms of knowledge in a practical way (in contrast to classes at universities where there is a tendency to isolate learning to a single form of situation and expertise). It’s a multidisciplinary activity by nature, involving much more tasks than simply writing code and testing it such as project management, team work and documentation maintenance, steps as important as programming — or maybe even more fundamental, I’d dare to say. This systematic point of view promotes professional and personal flourishing, at the same time that allows a public promotion of your skills.

However, my work doesn’t involve just aspects related to volunteering — it’s a project targeting especially introductory, user documentation. Not only recruitment of new volunteers to make a localization effort is needed but also the analysis of the current state of documentation at Wikimedia, pointing strengths, weaknesses and devising plans to improve it. Tasks as unification of documentation are extremely relevant, especially because they affect the qualification of newcomers (hence the quality of contributions).

To observe the way other projects work, even if they are not similar to the ones Wikimedia Foundation promotes, it’s a great manner of evaluating Wikimedia and the FOSS scene as a whole. The retrieval of resembling initiatives through the history of the organization makes itself necessary, mainly to examine what are our limitations and what changed after all these years, making it possible or not to execute past ideas.

I am aware my internship has a short duration, making it difficult to make a deep impact on projects or change the prevalent culture on Wikimedia. Yet, I believe it’s achievable to make a wide study about multiple aspects involved by the scope of my project proposal and that my conclusions and reports can make a difference in long term, besides helping to come up with the solution to immediate problems.