Annual Report 2022/Story: Wikibase as an information management system for content partners
In this story, we focus on the development of Wikibase to be able to actively seek out partners for collaborations. Wikibase is the underlying software for Wikidata; Wikidata gives us access to knowledge and experiences that will help us offer valuable and well-developed solutions and support to the organizations that want to set up their own databases and Wikibase instances.
Wikibase is a database that evolved into Wikidata. When Wikimedia Deutschland noticed that there were large amounts of data from many organizations that was not quite suitable for Wikidata, they developed Wikibase into their own product in 2019. Wikibase is a MediaWiki extension and allows the user to structure their data and makes it easy to query. At the same time, it is easy to link to other instances and to Wikidata. Wikiba.se and Wikibase.cloud are two places where you can download set up your own Wikibase, respectively.
The software is open, so installing Wikibase does not cost anything but it does require knowledge to get started (apart from the server costs if you set up your own instance; however it's free Wikibase Cloud is free to use). It is a relatively low threshold and there are several projects to get inspired by. The development in Germany shows that there is a growing interest in Wikibase and there are also consultants who can handle the operation and maintenance if you would like to outsource this task.
We have had initial conversations with Wikimedia Deutschland to discuss the development of Wikibase and how interested partners in Sweden can be offered support and help to get started. We have focused on GLAM institutions, mainly museums. The discussions with our partners have initially revolved around the needs and the solutions available on the market in order to move towards alternative open-source solutions.
In our initial contacts, we have received a mixed response. Several actors have shown great interest, but larger institutions often have an integrated solution with a web interface that they want to continue working with, while smaller organizations do not have the resources or enough time or knowledge to manage a collection system beyond their own website. Libraries are further ahead and have more understanding of working with large datasets. Library staff also work directly with the systems. There are collections such as minor publications or local collections where Wikibase could be tested (The Royal Library of the Netherlands has experimented with Wikibase.cloud in the summer of 2022). Difficulties could emerge here, as there are already existing system solutions that in such cases must be able to work with Wikibase.
We have done some tests with Wikibase.cloud and believe that there are opportunities for both expansion and development of multiple Wikibase instances. Basic knowledge of data handling, similar to the handling and modeling on Wikidata, is necessary; so far, it is not a common skill in the museum sector. Due to relatively large projects that require resources in the form of working hours, we need to solve the financing together with one or more partners. Wikibase is completely in line with the development that is taking place in Linked Open Data in Sweden, which is why we believe there will be suitable conditions for this type of collaboration between organizations in the future.
We're continuing to collaborate closely around Wikibase and Wikibase.cloud with Wikimedia Deutschland. As it is relatively easy to get started, we believe the time is ripe for a larger Swedish project, which could become the positive example that we need for more people to choose Wikibase as a platform for different kinds of collaborations. It could be, for example, a limited group of museums, with similar collections, that can work together in a shared Wikibase. The benefits can be directly linked to the Wikimedia platforms; at the same time it fulfills all the requirements of a regular collection management system but without incurring major costs.