Magic words in Wikipedia

Posted by Tanveer Hasan at Jun 25, 2015 07:00 PM |
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The struggle of finding solutions for replacing and retrieving content /words/facts and figures, in this day and age of machines that seem to know everything should ideally be a non-issue. Yet, for many of us who write reports based on the data available at that moment, it is nothing less than a nightmare to come to know that there has been a significant change in the data with which our reports have been written.

How does one mediate between the ever changing nature of data in general and more specifically understand the way a publicly curated knowledge ecology operates (Wikipedia can be taken as an example). It is made clear to us by the various earlier reports1 that the amount of data exchange and content generation can be astonishingly high when one takes into acount Open Knowledge repositiries such as Wikipedia in the major languages of the world, commons.wikimedia project and other Wikimedia projects.

Our understanding of the available data can often lead us to erroneous conclusions, if one does not account for the constant updating nature of such data. The bigger risk is for a reader/researcher/user to assume that the data quoted in news reports/research or reports as static data (as against the dynamic data discussed here) and form conclusions based on the same. Another catastrophic possibility is to use the data procured in such fashion for planning and evaluation purposes. If one does not acknowledge the possibilty of change of data and plans only with the available data and does not account for the changes under contingency measures the entire planning might be off the mark and might not be successful when executed. Even for the purpose of evaluation, the constant change in data has to be tracked and monitored to appreciate the work/critical evaluation of the nature of the work.

How do we bell the Cat (read as the changing data) if not on the traditional print and digital platforms atleast in the Wikimedia universe? To do this manually is a task that is supremely tasking and prone to high error possibilities. If there is one thing researchers accross subject domains agree it is that no data is always better than wrong data. One must also think of the precious resources that would be spent on this data mining activity, the human hours, the time resources, the physical and infrastructural resources that are consumed in this process of keeping the data feed accurate and updated. I do notdeny the efficacy of systems where data mining is done manually. It is the digital researcher in me who would like to introduce to the readers a tool called 'Magic Words' used in the Wikimedia universe to plug this problem and offer researchers fewer nightmares regarding the validity of the data.

Magic words offer a one stop solution towards resolving the issues of sourcing, securing and updating our data fields. With this one can be sure that the data fields do not become obsolete and might yield to erronoeus and in worse case contradictory interpretations. If there is a research report which seeks to compare page numbers of Kannada Wikipedia with another Wikimedia project. The traditional way to do this would be to aggregate the number of articles/redirects and publish the same. The reader ends up with a number that is static in nature. Does this mean that this number is permanent, the answer is an easy no because Kannada Wikipedia is by nature and definition a live project that will be changed and added to constantly.

An ordinary reader who does not have the bandwidth to follow the researcher's footsteps in finding out the total number of articles on Kannada Wikipedia will have to be content with the same static number provided even when he knows that the number is no longer accurate. By using the magic word {{NUMBEROFARTICLES}} in a report that is written on Meta, the researcher allows the data to update automatically and changes the nature of data from static to dynamic. A classic example for the static data and the dynamic nature of the data using Magic words can be seen at (dynamic data represented) (static data that needs to be updated manually). The change in the nature of presentation of data also implies that the facts and figures available are not just numbers but indicate factors that have driven the nature of data and influenced the formation of number of pages. Dynamic data allows us to ask interesting questions such as 'what factors contributed to the spike/decline in the number of articles' and learn from these numbers.

It becomes an essential responsibility for the researchers working with digital resources and in digital domains to broaden the scope of their research and also extend its validity to a longer course that would be difficult for quantitative research done with traditional resources and hosted on traditional platforms. Given below is a table of key magic words and its function.

Si. No

Magic Word

Used for

Used in Wikimedia Projects and Local Wiki Projects



Number of uploaded files.

Metrics and Government Databases



Number of wiki edits.

Metrics and Student Evaluation



Day edit was made

Metrics and Student Evaluation



The size (bytes of wikitext) of the current revision of this page

Metrics and Data inflow



Number of page views.

Metrics and Website Traffic



The username of the user who made the most recent edit to the page, or the current user when previewing an edit.

Metrics and Collaboratively written documents



Number of users in the sysop group.

Metrics and Focus group



Full page title (including all subpage levels) without the namespace.

Metrics and Info websites

Magic words facility can be employed in many and diverse ways (as of now these are fully operational in the Wikimedia universe) if the Mediawiki software is used to build applications. For eg: Websites, evaluation programmes, databases and other applications.



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