Creating virtuous circles of data

July 18, 2019

Sponsorship from Dragonfly is helping volunteer Wikimedian Siobhan Leachman get to a conference in the Netherlands later this year.

She had a scholarship to cover her flights and accommodation costs for WikidataCon 2019 in Berlin, but when her biodiversity colleagues overseas heard about the trip, they insisted she came early to join them at Biodiversity Next in Leiden.

For the last 18 months Siobhan has been creating entries for New Zealand’s native moths in Wikipedia and Wikidata, along with other projects.

“When I first queried Wikidata for endemic New Zealand moths, I got just 10 results. I thought that couldn’t be right because there are about 1600 known in New Zealand. Using a lovely dataset of images from Manaaki Whenua that I downloaded and put into Wikimedia Commons, I have been adding them to Wikidata and expanding their Wikipedia articles ever since,” she says.

Siobhan “curates these pages to death” making beautiful entries that are used by experts and lay people alike. “My problem is that I’m an ordinary person – I’m not geeky – so I don’t do it in bulk but I do manually add all kinds of information like their common name, Māori name, where the moth was found and the scientist who first described it. The good thing is that once it’s done, it’s there forever and never has to be done again.”

Wikidata is a linked open data network and hub that links different databases together. It aims to be to data what Wikipedia is to encyclopedias. (Have a look at Siobhan’s entries for the critically endangered moth Xanthorhoe bulbulata in Wikipedia and Wikidata to see how it works.)

After realising the importance of having images available on iNaturalist, Siobhan added this global database to her workflow and advocates for making images publically available. “When all the data joins up it’s just a beautiful virtuous circle.”

“Wikidata is still very young and it’s already huge, but it’s going to be massive. One reason I want to go to Biodiversity Next is to evangelise a bit – many people in the biodiversity world don’t know about it yet. I’ll also get to meet the people I regularly interact with online and pick their brains about how we want to do particular things. That’s the fun part of it being a community – we can work it out together.”

Siobhan is very grateful for the sponsorship from Dragonfly as all her work is unpaid. “Don’t get me wrong – I just love it and I think it’s really important – but the reality was that the expenses were going to have to come out of my own pocket. I had a moan on Twitter and then Dragonfly offered to help – it was so generous of them.”

“The conference is huge, so it will be a great opportunity to meet and talk to data folk from all over the world. That exposure will inevitably turn into valuable projects down the track.”

Read an abstract of the presentation Siobhan is giving at Biodiversity Next 2019.