On our path to a knowledge society, understanding the world around us is ever more important

Manager, Wikimedia Austria

We might use them every day, but few of us stop to consider who is behind the biggest online platforms. As the standard go-to source for information, Wikipedia has become an institution that is often taken for granted. Although it is an international entity, each country has its own division. We went to its humble Austrian headquarters in the 7th district, where Claudia Garád, 36, is the manager.

Only three people work full-time in the office, but the Wikipedia community spreads far and wide. Editors who adjust and approve each entry on the site – known as Wikipedians – do their work on a voluntary basis. Each country’s division works pretty much in the same way with only minor differences. One difference between the German and English versions is that edits in the German one do not go live immediately, whereas the English ones do. “The revolution behind Wikipedia is that it’s a collaborative way to produce knowledge and moves away from Deutungshoheit (conclusive interpretive authority), opening it up to a lot of people instead of a few selected experts.”

Garád acknowledges that Wikipedia best serves as an introduction to a topic; a complement to deeper investigation. But she touts the fact that Wikipedia has really opened a whole log of how certain subjects have come into existence and developed.

This is not always a harmonious process. Wikipedia Austria’s most controversial entry came in 2010 when an edit described the Donauturm – the tower in Vienna that supports various antennas, a restaurant and a viewing platform – as a “TV tower.” That led to the longest, most heated debate in Wikipedia Austria’s history. German magazine Der Spiegel likened it to a soap opera.

Garád finds this passion for detail an endearing trait of the Wikipedia community. She affectionately refers to a little tradition that has emerged for the sometimes secluded Wikipedians of bringing along stuffed animals that function as avatars to international conferences as a way to “counter the harsh tone of these edit wars.” She adds proudly: “Wikipedians love details and arguing about details.”

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Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.