One click to the cloud

Evelien Zandbergen, Product Manager in Software Development at Wikimedia Deutschland, introduces an innovation from the Wikidata world that was launched in 2022: Wikibase Cloud.

What is the idea behind Wikibase Cloud?

Evelien Zandbergen: Wikibase Cloud is much more than just any software solution. The basic conceptual elements relate to Linked Open Data. Wikibase Cloud is the infrastructure for open data that can be collaboratively edited and linked at the same time. The idea is basically to create a platform to grasp the complexity of different concepts that explain our world. So many different perspectives, cultures and ways of looking at things exist. So we’ve been looking for a technology that is not only able to comprehensively map this diversity, but also allows everyone to contribute to it and learn from it. Many of these aspects are also the guiding thoughts that led to the creation of the Free Knowledge database Wikidata.

The goal is to make information understandable and accessible to everyone?

Exactly. This is where Wikidata and Wikibase, the software behind Wikidata, come in. Not only do we offer people the opportunity to contribute to this software and improve it, as with Wikidata, but they can also use it to build their own instance, their own knowledge base with Wikibase – on a topic they are passionate about. These knowledge bases become part of a large ecosystem where they can share and learn from each other and where different communities have the opportunity to contribute.   

On all sorts of topics?

Wikidata is a huge collection of data on scientific topics, but just as much on household topics, on personalities, and much more. Our idea is that individuals or even groups build up a knowledge base on a topic in which they are specialists. For example, cat breeds – their names, special characteristics, whether they shed a lot. Someone else sees this and thinks: I can also contribute to this. In this way, a knowledge database is created, which in turn could be networked with another one that deals with dogs, for example. Perhaps useful insights will emerge, such as the same susceptibility to a certain disease in cats and dogs, from which pet owners can learn. We create a network of information that is enriched by all kinds of people. That’s the concept. Wikibase Cloud is the easiest way to implement it.

Even without deep technical knowledge?

So far, we only had Wikibase Suite – a tool to install and customize the software yourself and develop something with it. But that was actually not easy for people who are not software developers and who might not know what Docker or PHP are. Wikibase Cloud offers the possibility to build a knowledge base without such prior knowledge. All you have to do is sign up, enter the name for your Wikibase – and you’re ready to go. So anyone can easily become a part of this ecosystem of Free Knowledge.

What exactly are the benefits?

Wikibase Cloud is collaborative, open and free. In other words, exactly what we stand for as Wikimedia. It’s a semantic network – you could also say a spider web of data – that can illustrate complex relationships and can be asked equally complex, multi-layered questions. For example: I want information about a cat that is two years old and used to belong to this person or that person. This would not be possible with a normal database. On top of that, it is quite extraordinary that such solutions are offered as a service, where one click is enough to start.

How evolved is Wikibase Cloud? What technical hurdles still need to be overcome?

Wikibase Cloud is already a fully developed product! Currently, we are in closed beta, but anyone can already join. The first exciting Wikibases have been created, for example on Quechua, a language from the Andean region of South America, or on the role of women in archaeology in the 19th century. One of our main challenges at the moment is to scale Wikibase Cloud and make it accessible to a larger number of people. The technology is complex and we need to make sure it remains stable as we offer an open version. But we are on a very good path.

What have been the reactions?

We’ve launched several surveys. People have reacted very positively – above all, they appreciate that Wikibase Cloud will remain free, accessible and available to everyone. Of course, there are also suggestions for improvement here and there, which we are happy to take on board. The feedback is very constructive, collaborative and precise. For example, there was a comment that it would be nice to get more support on the platform and increase accessibility for new users who are not yet familiar with our ecosystem. For instance, when it comes to modeling data and mapping information in the best possible way in our own Wikibase. We are also working on this.

What is the vision for Wikibase Cloud?

We’re working hard to make sure Wikibase Cloud continues to grow, to break down the barriers for absolutely everyone in the world to share knowledge with a Wikibase and in turn make it available to everyone. The more people participate, the more perspectives find their way in – and the more we learn ourselves.