Close your eyes for a moment and let your imagination run wild. What if the tiny Anabaptist movement that began with a handful of baptisms in Switzerland in January, 1525, now numbered over 1,600,000 members in over 84 countries around the world? Now imagine that the highest percentage of membership growth was happening, not in Europe or North America, but in places like Africa, Latin America, and Asia. These regions now comprise over 60 percent of all Anabaptist-Mennonites around the world and the percentage is steadily increasing.
Open your eyes … look around. This precise scenario is now playing itself out before our very eyes. During the past fifty years, the vitality of the Anabaptist movement has found new expression in dozens of church plants, newly-emerging conferences and networks of like-minded Christians in countries all around the world.
The increasing diversity of the global Anabaptist-Mennonite community presents a host of exciting new opportunities for growth and spiritual enrichment. But the challenges of communication and identity-formation are enormous. Indeed, we are at a critical moment in the formation of the global Anabaptist-Mennonite community. How we choose to respond to this transformation could represent one of the greatest community-building events in the history of the Anabaptist movement.
Every Anabaptist-Mennonite congregation, conference and network has its own unique experiences, stories and theological perspective to share with the rest of the world, shaped by its local history and culture. Yet currently—despite the wonderful efforts of Mennonite World Conference—there is no easy way to bring together the experiences of all these diverse groups.
Now imagine an electronic network of Anabaptist-Mennonite groups, each joined to every other group around the world in a virtual global Anabaptist community. The Global Anabaptist Wikipedia (www.anabaptistwiki.org) is a new initiative to make our history, convictions and faith stories more easily accessible to each other. Sponsored by the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, the web site is committed to helping individual groups:
1) Tell their own stories;
2) Post and preserve electronic archives and
3) Become better informed about other groups in the global Anabaptist fellowship.
Placing the previous three goals within the framework of an online wikipedia is a complex task that requires addressing multiple cross-discipline components. First, a wikipedia must be firmly grounded and supported by an easily navigable web-layout structure. This technical side of the project facilitates user interaction with the site and generates simple-to-learn tools that will promote easy access to various content areas. These content areas designate the second component of a successful wikipedia. Once a wikipedia has been structured with the necessary organizational templates, informative content must be inserted. The organizational and content components together make up the physical website; however, what ultimately transforms a website into a wikipedia is the continual presence of a user community. This presence and cultivation of a user community comprises the third and final social component of a successful wikipedia.
Completed Primary Projects
RSS feed – Implementing an RSS feed for our news page provided up-to-date news with minimal upkeep. Additionally, the RSS feed provided the possibility for screening Anabaptist related news stories.
FCKeditor – FCKeditor is what is known as a “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) editor. This allows users who have minimal experience with wiki-code to adequately edit any page to their exact specifications.
Categorization – Articles, Sources and Stories must be catalogued with some sort of organizational structure so a process of categorization was developed. Articles, Sources and Stories are now categorized into similar groups and subgroups for easy access, such as by country, by publication, by date etc.
Redesigned Page Layouts – By redesigning the page layouts of high-level pages, such as the main page and country pages, visual elements became much more pleasant and traveling the site became simpler.
Anti-Spam Measures – Due to frequent attacks by spam-bots, a number of anti-spam measures were undertaken to block vandalism generated by these harmful bots. To date, spam has decreased to around five percent of the original after these measures were implemented.
“Example” Article – Throughout the project, an “example” article was created for new users if they want to know how an article is set up or written. Ideally, all articles will follow this format.
Uploading Sources (Mission Focus, MQR, Menno Simons) – After obtaining permission from various Anabaptist publications, the source section of the site began to grow as journals and articles were uploaded.
Established contact with other Anabaptist institutions – Helping to develop relationships with the broader Anabaptist community and looking to recruit dedicated users, contact was established with Mennonite Quarterly Review, Mennonite World Conference, On the Road, Mission Focus, Mennonite Mission Network and Agrupación Menonita Latinoamericana de Comunicaciones. These contacts have provided valuable articles, journals and news stories.
Translation – Due to the global nature of the project, two systems of translation were introduced. First, a method of organizing human-translation through a system of root pages and subpages was created for high-level pages. Second, an extension utilizing Google Translate was created to machine-translate all lower-level articles.
Banner Ads – Banner ads were designed in multiple languages for other websites willing to promote the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia. These banner ads signify the beginning of specific image and slogan branding for the site.
Community Portal – A “Community Portal” was created to let users know what is happening behind the scenes on the site. This is a place where the community can interact with one another, discuss issues about the site and promote their own ideas.
Help Pages – Due to the ever increasing breadth and complexity of the site, help pages were developed for the convenience of new users. These help pages describe aspects unique to the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia such as articles, sources and stories as well as helping users understand standard Mediawiki software.
While this project represents a significant step forward in the creation of the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia, there are still a number of things that must be addressed for the site to reach full maturity – primarily, promotion and development of community. This project has covered a small portion of the social elements required for a successful wikipedia; however, the social component must be promoted consistently and aggressively. Wikipedias are entirely reliant upon the community in every single aspect. Without community, wikipedias are simply stagnant batches of code.
In order to promote and develop strong community, the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia should use both existing contacts and the broader internet to get in contact with possible users. The Anabaptist world is a relatively small one; however, there are numerous organizations helping this small world communicate. By establishing contact with these organizations, such as Mennonite World Conference, Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church USA, etc., the amount of exposure for the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia would expand exponentially. By exposing the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia to large numbers of like-minded people, the chance of recruiting an enthusiastic, stable base of contributors increases significantly. The best way to go about working with these organizations is to work through pre-existing structures that already have an established community. This includes generating and publishing press releases or articles through newsletters, websites, conferences, leaflets or journals.
In conjunction with these pre-existing contacts, the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia should work on establishing links through online social media sources. The most vital of these sources are blogs and forums. Blogs usually contain a core group of dedicated readers enthusiastic about a specified topic. If the right blogs would be willing to help promote the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia, its recruiting base could be improved considerably. Additionally, if a staff member had enough time to become involved in various Anabaptist-related online forums, more direct contact with interested individuals could be established. These one-on-one relationships could thereby become a fertile recruiting ground for dedicated users.
While establishing a wide recruiting base is ideal, the most important rule to remember is to welcome, help and stay in contact with users as they visit the site. Finding new users is a wonderful goal to work towards but keeping them interested and engaged should always take precedence. The structure of the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia is ready to take on the challenge of nurturing a future community of dedicated individuals. It is in this future community that the Global Anabaptist Wikipedia will continue to grow and thrive.