How Wikidata aims to catalogue everything

Wikidata is the database that underlies Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikimedia. It automatically updates to reflect changes to all those wiki entries and helps give us confidence that when we look up information about a topic, we're all talking about the same thing. It's also fantastic news to librarians, says data services librarian Katie Mika.

The library card catalogue of your dreams

Wikidata aims to create a machine-readable library "card catalogue" for online information. (Adam Killick/CBC)

Imagine the world as a library.

And every single thing in the world has to be documented, just like all the books in the library.

If you did this, you'd end up with an enormous card catalogue that would take years to make, and then just as long to search through: A bit impractical.

So it's a good thing Wikidata came along.

A companion project to Wikipedia, Wikidata aims to build a database of everything.

But wait, you say. Isn't that what Wikipedia already is?

Yes, it is. But Wikipedia is written in text. And in multiple languages. And as we increasingly turn to our phones and personal digital assistants to look things up for us, we need something that the machines can use efficiently, said Katie Mika, a data-services librarian at the University of Colorado.

Katie Mika (Twitter)

Acting like a giant card catalogue, Wikidata aims to link all the Wiki-type projects, like Wikicite, Wikibooks, and so on, in a dynamic way.

That means when a piece of information is updated in, say, Wikibooks, that same piece of information is also updated in Wikipedia, Mika told Spark host Nora Young.

Moreover, because all the information in Wikipedia has to be cited, it makes it verifiable—important in an age of fake news.

The point of Wikipedia "is not to bring the absolute truth to the world, but it is to create a central encyclopedia of verified information," she said.

Wikidata makes that information machine-readable, so smart assistants like Alexa provide accurate information when asked by users.

And its strength lies in its citations, she added. Every data point in Wikidata is verifiable.

So even if it's not the truth, someone can follow the citation links to see where the information is coming from.

"And so by… structuring the entire way of us understanding knowledge creation through linking to stuff, hopefully creates this world of verifiability, not blind trusting of authority," Mika said.



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