Wiki web to satisfy Kiwi curiosity

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2013
Lillian Grace

INSPIRATION: Lillian Grace's 'picnic blanket epiphany' led her to start not-for-profit data website Wiki New Zealand.

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If knowledge is power then Lillian Grace's new website - WikiNewZealand.org - will put power in the hands of ordinary Kiwis.

The concept - which is supported by crowd funding - was seeded a year ago when the former New Zealand Institute research associate and physical education teacher sat down under a Hawke's Bay tree to think out her next hobby. She came up with a Kiwi version of Wikipedia.

Grace hopes her not-for-profit hub of information - mostly data and statistics represented as graphs and infographics - will, like the globally recognised online encyclopedia, become a universal resource for students, business people, politicians and ordinary citizens alike.

The data on Wiki New Zealand won't be coloured by ideological viewpoints, or undergo endless revisions, as occurs on Wikipedia; its main aim is to be an unfettered source of information for rational debate, whether it is used to settle a bar bet or to inform a submission to a select committee.

Easy access to information is a must for a democratic society, Grace said.

‘There's a huge difference between [information] being available and it being accessible," she said, referring to the ease with which graphs, tables and infographics can be understood compared to raw data.

"With all the data that's available through so many different sites that is free and for public use, to extract that into forms that you can use and understand you need to have both skill and time; most people don't have both and a lot of people don't have either."

In the first three days after its "soft launch" last December, the site had 3000 unique visitors and although the figure dropped away over the holiday break, Grace said she did not want to be ruled by the numbers. The project is about being true to her vision.

Having formed the site as a place where those with an interest in providing data and interpreting information can do so for a good cause, Grace said users would soon have the capability to upload and graph data straight to the site.

The Wiki New Zealand trust does not yet have charitable status but she is working hard to gain a tax incentive for future donors.

So far one $5000 donation has helped her idea grow from last year's "picnic blanket epiphany" to a site with hundreds of graphs and offers of support from the likes of Statistics New Zealand, the Ministry of Justice and Land Information New Zealand.

Grace's boss Rick Boven, formerly at think-tank The New Zealand Institute and now at Stakeholder Strategies, said Wiki New Zealand was a way for Kiwis to shrug off their individualistic views.

"We need a population that's more focused on how we are all bound together, and that the success of ourselves as individuals is dependent on the success of those around us," said Boven, a trustee of the website.

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