Interview with GreenReaper by Valerie Wollinger
Laurence “GreenReaper” Parry (he/him) is a long-standing Wikibase community member who leads the Wikibase user group. I spoke with him recently; he’s a great person to ask questions about the history of Wikibase, about his own experiences entering the community and becoming a sustainable part of it.
To begin, GreenReaper told me about when he belonged to a fandom group for a computer game called Creatures. “The community was trying to keep information all in one place [after] the company itself crashed during the financial crisis in 2001. One of my friends said, ‘Hey, there’s this thing called Wikicities [which later became WIkia, then Fandom].’” Eventually, he and his friend tried it out. They weren’t quite sure how it would work, but they liked the idea of having their own version of Wikipedia.
While finishing his computer science studies and waiting for his US work visa, he became more involved in a subculture: the furry fandom. After starting his job in the US, he created a new Wikicity for the furry fandom, which quickly flourished.
‘’We started gathering a lot of information. It was a bigger community, the furry fandom. We had 850 pages within a month. We had all of this data about how many people arrived in costume, how many people attended, how much money reached the charity, that sort of thing.”
GreenReaper noticed that fandom communities had similar needs and goals to those of Wikipedia communities. When Wikia became more corporate, GreenReaper and a friend installed MediaWiki on a standalone server and started to migrate users.
“I ended up making a MediaWiki authorization plugin. That’s how I got more involved with the Wikipedia side of things. […] And that plugin ended up being used by other people who moved off Wikia, which started to be called Fandom—of course, now they are this big media behemoth, but at that time, 2005, they were just getting started.
“The number of events grew quickly, and it became quite fun to update all of them and manage all the data coming in.”
GreenReaper and friends needed a new method for tracking and moving new data every year and wanted an automated way to present that data, rather than updating five or six different lists and charts to show charity-donation timelines and how many event attendees there were.
GreenReaper told me that he had been considering getting more involved in the community, which was composed of representatives from many different organizations. Some of its members remained longer than others, and that depended largely on their support needs.
In contrast, GreenReaper knew he would be involved for longer; unlike some others, he was not part of an institution with temporary grant-funded research projects. He saw his own wiki as a long-term commitment. When he joined the Wikibase Community User Group, he saw how knowledge might be gathered and exchanged. Over time, his involvement grew, while the demands of the product and the community reached a state that needed more organization and structure. Then COVID interrupted the flow of development; for a time, community meetings were suspended.
Ever since then, “The community has been moving on from what it was. It’s still not perfect, there’s still various stakeholders. The Wikibase Stakeholder Group is there as well, more akin to a research foundation. I think that’s progress, that there was a separation; there are different groups with different interests.”
In 2021, GreenReaper and one of the leaders of the stakeholder group, Lozana Rossenova, were invited to solicit and curate proposals for the Wikibase track at WikiDataCon. They ended up scheduling 18 different talks and panels during its seven hours—about 1/6th of the whole event. He found it aspiring to see how people used the tool differently and came up with various solutions.
“Some have merged it with Semantic MediaWiki, for example; I don’t want to say [it’s a] competitor to Wikibase, but a different way of approaching the theme that’s more suitable for some people. And then there’s Cargo, which is another way of storing and querying information. That’s one of the strengths of external development. You can have different people working on different things and saying, ‘This is how we’re doing it.’. And how you’re doing it works for you and for Wikipedia, but maybe not for us.”
Lastly, I asked GreenReaper how he’d like to see the future of Wikibase.
He elaborated on the history of Wikibase:
“All this has been in response to some gentle prodding from the community, I think… Some of the [stakeholders] were like, ‘We need these things.’ And [Wikimedia Germany responded], ‘We don’t have the bandwidth.’ So some of them have gone off to develop their own thing. Some of the extensions used by them have been adopted by Wikibase. I hope to be able to take all [the] bits and use [them] on my wiki…I’d hope to be able to see more integration of stuff into the Mediawiki interface itself.”
Doing so would make it easier to display and embed data and enable client editing of Wikibases, including those on Wikibase.cloud, so that they can be easily integrated into existing MediaWiki projects. He’d also like to see Wikibase reaching out to more fan communities similar to his own, perhaps using LinkedWiki; many of those communities, such as the ones on Fandom, store lots of data and are available in multiple languages.
I’d like to thank Laurence “GreenReaper” Parry for this great interview. We look forward to having him with us in the coming years, continuing to help determine what Wikibase means to those who use it and those following and assisting in its development. We don’t know where we’d be without his great community-oriented energy.
Have a look at WikiFur!