Yesterday, July 16th, members and contributors for the Wikimedia Foundation, owners of Wikipedia, met with National Institute of Health (NIH) representatives to discuss the portrayal of health and medical information on the above mentioned online encyclopedia. The event, included in the Wikimedia Academy program for this year, was hosted on Bethesda University's campus.
On the main agenda, there were discussions about the way medical information was submitted to Wikipedia, training courses for NIH representatives, public speeches and debates on culture and online community topics. The purpose of the whole meeting was to create and maintain a collaboration channel between the Wikipedia website and health/medical specialists.
After the swine flu outbreak this spring, public interest for health articles has soared to unimaginable heights. According to a Wikimedia Foundation report, the article initially submitted regarding the swine flu went from just 200 words to 21 print pages and hundreds of related articles, tables, charts, references, citations and images.
Wikipedia intends to limit the amount of health information submitted to the website by regular inexperienced users, and to reference, check and correct any health-related topics with the help of NIH specialists. At this year's Wikimedia Academy, experienced contributors offered lectures and training sessions to medical experts in order to help them accommodate with the site's interface, policy, purpose and goals.
It is expected to a see major re-modeling of the health section in Wikipedia, and a series of specialized checks and corrections in the future. This plan seems to have been warmly received by the Wikipedia management, the NIH representatives, as well as the general public, since much of the information to be reviewed is of high importance to human life and could have significant consequences to public health.
A study by Michael Laurent and Tim Vickers, published in the Journal for the American Medical Informatics Association, states that on every search engine Wikipedia pops up in the top ten results about 71-85% of the time for every medical-related query. It is worth mentioning that Michael Laurent and Tim Vickers are among the volunteers organizing this year's event.
Frank Schulenburg, head of public outreach for the Wikimedia Foundation, noted in a statement that "Wikipedia Academies are public outreach events, usually lasting one or two days, aimed at engaging academics and other subject-matter experts who are not familiar with wiki culture or online communities. In presentations and workshops, experienced Wikipedia authors teach the participants how to contribute to Wikipedia and orient the audience to Wikipedia’s structures and community policies."
According to alexa.com, Wikipedia is ranked this month as the 7th most visited website in the world. It gets more than 300 million unique visitors per month and more than 14 million page views per hour, being already engraved into the public's conscience as the biggest online encyclopedia.
It is exactly for this reason that the National Institute of Health has agreed to participate and paid much attention to this event. "NIH works to ensure that the information it provides on science and health is of the highest quality and reaches the widest audience. We look forward to this opportunity to collaborate with the Wikimedia Foundation and participate in a resource that is used by millions of people around the world," John Burklow, NIH associate director for communications and public liaison, commented.
Press releases regarding the plans of action and results achieved at this event are expected to be issued in the following days.