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Sound and Vision on the future of video on Wikipedia

Source: Beeld en Geluid Wiki

Over the course of the summer the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision uploaded another 2.000 videos to Wikimedia Commons, the media repository of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The batch upload was done using the GLAMwiki toolset developed by Europeana and consisted of videos from the Open Images platform (a joint initiative by Sound and Vision and Kennisland). With this upload, Sound and Vision reinforced its position as the biggest contributor of video on Commons, providing over 3.800 open videos. This is almost 8% of the total amount of videos available in this repository. While this is a great accomplishment (and we are very proud), it also shows that video content and Wikimedia are still in a somewhat troubled relationship.

Video on Wikipedia: still scratching the surface

In his 2010 whitepaper “Video for Wikipedia and the Open Web”, Peter B. Kaufman already noted that of the millions of files hosted on Wikimedia Commons, only a couple thousand were moving imagery. Four years later the situation is still pretty much the same: With over 22 million files on Commons, only 0.22% consists of video! More disturbing numbers: The English Wikipedia only has 5.800 articles that feature a video, 0.12% of all the English articles.

Based on these numbers we can conclude that with video on Wikimedia we are still just scratching the surface. Why are there so few video’s being used in Wikipedia articles, as illustration or historical reference for instance? How can it be that in a moving imagery-ridden world, the number one online encyclopedia is lacking behind? As mentioned above, this - in part - has to do with the availability of reusable video content, or rather lack thereof, on Wikimedia Commons.

Current challenges for providing video on Wikimedia Commons

The main potential providers of video content to Wikimedia one can images come down to two categories: (Amateur) producers of new video content (1) and GLAMs with audio-visual material in their collections (2). Each of these groups have their specific challenges.

Where previously the high cost and expertise required for video production would have prevented (amateur) producers from creating video for Wikimedia, developments in the last decade have made it a lot easier to create high quality video on a shoestring budget and with very little experience. The prevailing problem is that - so far - there is hardly an active community for the production of video content for Wikimedia Commons (Exceptions are small projects like Wiki Makes Video). This in stark contrast to the large number of active photographers contributing to Wikimedia Commons, resulting in very succesfull projects like Wiki Loves Monuments, which up till now generated more than one million photos. At Wikimania London this summer a group of people met to envisage how an active video-producing Wikimedia-community could be formed and facilitated. This could include services like a dedicated platform and a server for uncompressed and uncut video footage. Such a community could push the discussions about video on Wikipedia, leading to clearer policies and guidelines on why and how video can be used in articles.

For the second type of contributor, GLAMs holding audio-visual collections, the most obvious challenge (as one might guess) is copyright: Very few archives own all the rights to their audiovisual collections. And because multiple creators are almost intrinsic to the there production of audio-visual material, it proves very challenging to find out the legal status of a work, let alone obtain the permission required from all rights holders involved. However, with the experience Sound and Vision has acquired through making available what little material we do own rights to, we would highly recommend other GLAMs to put some time and effort into exploring their options. The advantages are numerous: We reach audiences that we would never reach through our own platforms (our content is uses in over 60 langues versions of Wikipedia). Millions of people around the world read the articles in which content of our institute is featured (over 50 million page views in 2013 alone). And not just that, contextual knowledge is added to our collections: biological, historical and scientific information. Knowledge that an audiovisual archive would never be able to collect or generate by itself.

Video as part of the sum of all knowledge

Another reason for the absence of video on Wikipedia is that it doesn’t seem to have the sort of notability for the average Wikipedian to consider adding video content to articles. Again, the availability of video might be the main problem, but it might also be a lack of awareness and knowledge about how to use video and what the value is of video on Wikipedia. What can video do that descriptions and static imagery cannot do? The Open Video Alliance states: “Motion! Videos can explain, clarify, and engage like nothing else.” Video captures behaviours and action, it conveys a lot of information in a short time-span and it makes the encyclopedia more appealing for generations growing up in a visually stimulating society. But more importantly: Video increasingly reflects the way in which we communicate today. It is both how we capture and create history, it is how we learn and teach, it is where politics takes place. It is therefore an essential part of ‘the sum of all knowledge’.

At Sound and Vision we are committed to making video openly available for others to use and reuse it. We hope that others will join us in that effort.


  • Slides from presentation “Four years of contributing and connecting to Wikipedia” at Wikimania London 2014

  • Blogpost about our first upload using the GLAMwiki Toolset

  • Collections of Sound and Vision on Wikimedia Commons

  • To keep up to date with new developments regarding a video-community on Wikipedia subscribe to this mailinglist.