Charlottesville as a Global Hub of COVID-19 Information through Wikipedia

April 10, 2020

Lane Rasberry is bringing University of Virginia research to the forefront of COVID-19 global health communication through Wikipedia.

Rasberry is the Wikimedian-in-Residence at the School of Data Science. 

What does this mean? 

Rasberry broke it down.

“I edit Wikipedia and the Linked Open Data interface which complements it, Wikidata,” Rasberry said. “When faculty, researchers, and students at this University have information to share, I assist them in integrating it into Wikipedia so that it can be findable online and available for others to use.”

Currently, Rasberry is writing, editing, and translating COVID-19 articles on Wikipedia. 

"Wikipedia is among the most requested, published, accessed, and consulted source of information on many topics, including COVID-19," Rasberry said. "When we, at the University of Virginia and the School of Data Science, share information on Wikipedia, we improve access to information for everyone. Here in our town of Charlottesville, we do our part along with many collaborators around the world."

Rasberry’s most recent article explains what Wikipedia publishes on COVID-19, what data on the pandemic is available on Wikipedia, and why this matters. 

From January 1 - March 31 2020, the English Wikipedia articles on COVID-19 have gotten 123 million pageviews. This amount of traffic makes Wikipedia one of the world's most requested, published, accessed, and consulted sources of information on this topic.

Rasberry also looks into the metrics of an article on Wikipedia to answer questions about specific engagement with content. He described that he looks into how many people edit content after someone from the University of Virginia puts it on Wikipedia. 

“Wikimedia professionals, like me, also serve in the role of modern communication professionals by tracking audience engagement metrics to report how many people read the content we share, and what we should publish to maximize our communication impact and public benefit,” Rasberry said. “Lots of web analytics people do this for websites and social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Wikimedians at organizations do similar monitoring for Wikipedia.” 

Rasberry most often edits health and medical information. Specifically, he collaborates with other University of Virginia researchers to promote the translation of health information in Wikipedia articles. 

“I'm working on a project to bring health information and data to speakers and readers in India,” Rasberry said. “Since COVID-19 happened, I pivoted and started translating and organizing the translation of COVID-19 into languages of India.”

Rasberry continued to explain Wikipedia’s work in promoting information throughout the world through translation. 

“Wikipedia exists in many languages. We've got a COVID-19 pandemic article in 110 languages,” Rasberry noted. “Here at University of Virginia we stage the medical terms as structured data for quality control and translation into other languages.” 

Rasberry does this work facilitating translation through a volunteer project known as Wikipedia SWASTHA. This is an informal Wikipedia collaboration in India, which organizes discussion for native language speakers who volunteer to crowdsource the translations. 

"At the University of Virginia, there is a group of us starting to document these projects to give local volunteers credit,” Rasberry noted. “When researchers give as much credit as possible to volunteer editors and local communities, then the individual volunteers become motivated to do their best and submit their projects for expert review."

Several faculty members and students from across UVA are working together on this project.

Professor Mehr Farooqi and student Elliott Carter, in the Department of Middle Eastern & South Asian Language & Cultures, are examining the translation process. Felipe Murillo and Aidan Seale-Feldman are both anthropologists who study bioethics and disaster response. They are analyzing and commenting on how Wikipedia responds in the wake of this pandemic. Within the School of Data Science, Rafael Alvarado and Daniel Mietchen curate structured data on Wikipedia usually in the context of other projects, but currently, they have turned to examine COVID-19. One of their projects includes the WikiProject Humanitarian Metadata.

On April 3, Indian media outlet NDTV covered the efforts of Rasberry at the University of Virginia to make health information, especially COVID-19, more open and available in different translations in India. These efforts have been well received in India. 

As COVID-19 has spread throughout the world, Rasberry believes it is even more paramount that data and information surrounding this pandemic is available to all.