(In response to a certain remark in ‘Malayalam Wikipedia could be emulated’)
(url - http://expressbuzz.com/topnews/%E2%80%98malayalam-wikipedia-could-be-emulat…)
The Malayalam Wikimedian community definitely deserves kudos. A
diverse bunch of people volunteered their effort and skills gratis for
many years to build up what is already a major educational aid in
Malayalam. This will play an actual positive role in community
development and that is what the greatest reward to the participants.
We are confident that they will go on with their exemplary work and
prove to be sources of inspiration to us all in the years to come.
That kind of satisfaction, at being part of something bigger than
oneself and being able to make a difference in the world, motivates
Wikimedians all over the world, as it does in India also.
Human nature causes wikimedians to look to the statements of WMF
officials for encouragement, advice and guidance (though imho they
should not). In this context, Newstead's comment at the
Wikisangamotsav in Kollam last weekend - "they don’t focus on
politics or personal gains" - can be construed as mischievous in the
worst case and mistaken in the best.
Though the WMF does dole out some grants to individuals and
communities, all Wikimedians are essentially unpaid volunteers, the
vast majority of which do not have access to resources provided by the
Such a remark casts aspersions wrongly on the rest of the Indian
wikipedian community, giving the casual reader the idea that the
Malayalam Wikimedians are paragons of virtue while the remainder of
the Indian Wikimedian community “focus on politics and personal gain”.
The remark indicates a deep distrust of the WMF for the general
community for reasons best known to them. Such a remark is hardly
constructive in motivating the entire bunch of Indian Wikimedians who,
as a collective whole, are making extremely valuable contributions to
society despite being unpaid volunteers and at the cost of a large
amount of personal time and often at their own expense.
The question arises at what could be the reason for politics and what
personal gains are to be found in doing Wikipedia editing or outreach?
Satisfaction, learning, peer approval, interaction with intelligent
fellow-believers, social service and fun are the personal gains for
editors - all legitimate rewards which one can partake off with
integrity and pride.
Politics arises when scarce resources are pursued by many. It cannot
be money, since all funds in Wikipedia are in the hands of the
Foundation which directly receives donations. Nor is it power, as the
community insists on it being a society of equals. The India Chapter
with its few executive members and completely budgetted by the WMF and
with its limited role & mandate cannot be considered worthy target of
Newstead’s remark either. So what politics are we talking about and
who is it that Newstead is referring to?
Perhaps the WMF feels offended by the criticism from Wikimedians
worldwide at the failure of a flagship educational program in India
last year or perhaps at local criticism in their mode of operation in
India and the cost-benefit analysis of their country program where
hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured in with mediocre
results. Newstead may feel unhappy about these issues but public
statements like these do not add to the confidence of the community in
the WMF either.
In today's world, participants in citizen science or collaborative
projects such as Wikipedia expect the highest levels of transparency,
democracy and debate - in part, Wikipedia’s open ethos itself is
responsible for the extremely democratic aspirations of participants.
Wikipedians routinely engage in large debates on major and minute
issues. They absorb from their experience in the Project the idea that
all action is open for debate and that such criticism/dissent is not
only constructive but vital. It would be a strange quirk of fate,
should an office-bearer of WMF feel threatened by the values
encouraged by their own projects.
This distrust may also be seen as a clash of cultures - on one side, a
corporate culture where actions are expected to be accepted at face
value and not to be justified to those not in power, and on the other,
an open culture where nothing is sancrosanct and responsible action
and respectful response from all, including and especially Jimbo
Wales, is expected as a matter of moral right by volunteers.
The meaningful solution lies through engaging the community as equals
and stakeholders, not with public remarks like these. Wikimedian
volunteers understand and express their gratitude to the foundation
for creating and operating a vehicle which enables their useful
contribution to society. Reciprocally, it is time that WMF
representatives realise that it is the Wikimedian community that is
the living flesh and blood of Wikipedia, without whom the WMF cannot
exist, and who need to be engaged with mutual respect and
consideration, if the encyclopedia is to prosper in the long run.
There have been numerous outreach sessions organized all across India, so
we decided to organize a WikiWorkshop of our own in Ahmedabad. :)
We decided on the Electronics and Communication Engineering department at
LD Engineering College as the venue a couple of weeks earlier. This was
mainly because Harsh was confident that we would be able to obtain all the
permissions to use a classroom in time. The date was pretty convenient
since it was a state-wide holiday due to Parshuram Jayanti.
We had also invited Hisham to be a part of the event during Office hours on
19 April 2012. Hisham accepted our invitation to fly in and help us
conduct the workshop. Nitika followed up with the presentations and offered
to help us with event planning. Arnav Sonara, a Gujarati and English
Wikipedia volunteer translated parts of Nitika’s presentation into the
We received confirmation of participation from 42 students through a Google
Docs based sign up page created by me. This was very heartening and we
expected at least half of the students to actually turn up for the event.
Hisham landed in Ahmedabad at 8.40am and was available at the venue around
9.30am. Anirudh and I joined in later. Hisham guided Harsh and I through
the presentation he was carrying so that Harsh could use them later for
future workshops in the city.
The time period before the scheduled time for the session was spent
discussing ideas with regard to the purpose and objectives of outreach.
Hisham opined that it is important to keep pursuing the newbies after they
attend outreach sessions and workshops, while Anirudh said that was
probably not the best use of scarce volunteer time, which could be better
spent contributing to the projects themselves, and helping those editors
who approach the veteran contributors on their own accord. We are
interested in learning from the follow-up work that the WMF India team has
done with regard to the programs it has run in the past and its direct
success with the recruitment of new editors. We hope this will start a
Seventeen people turned up for the workshop. This included Vyom Majmudar,
a veteran Gujarati Wikipedia and a frequent Wikisource editor and Karthik
Mistry, a Debian geek and FOSS advocate.
I commenced the session by introducing Hisham to the participants. Hisham
then began with his presentation. The agenda of this workshop was to
acquaint the participants basics of Wikipedia editing - five pillars,
notability guidelines, followed by a short editing session.
Hisham guided the participants through the first four pillars of Wikipedia
but did not speak about the fifth pillar ([[WP:IAR|There are no firm rules
on Wikipedia]]). He told me that it would be a bit too advanced for new
editors to understand, and then asked to explain it to the participants.
Anirudh also elaborated on the third pillar of Wikipedia
([[Wikipedia:Wikipedia is free content]]) that Wikipedia not only provides
content free of charge, but that the users of the website are free to edit,
use, modify and distribute the content. Free as in free beer, and free as
in free speech and free markets. :)
After the presentation was concluded, eleven people stayed back in the
workshop out of which five were completely new to editing. We edited both
the English and Gujarati Wikipedia projects. [[w:gu:User:Shaildve]]
created three stubs while being guided by Vyom. [[User:Chirayu.Chiripal]],
who, by the way, does not speak Gujarati, has started contributing to
Gujarati Wikipedia by making templates. \m/
The City Bhaskar covered the story on the workshop. Many thanks to
Noopur Raval for connecting us with the journalist.
Overall, we think there is scope for improvement in the way we present
Wikimedia projects to new users. Some of the topics we touched and
discussed such as notability guidelines, referencing and the five pillars
could have been presented in a more coherent manner. These are some of the
things we will be working on in the near future and would really like to
take help from more veteran Wikipedia editors to promote our projects in
the state of Gujarat. (Ashwin, are you listening? :P)
TL;DR: The Ahmedabad workshop was organized by Konarak Ratnakar and Harsh
Kothari on 24 April 2012. Seventeen participants attended the event.
Anirudh Bhati (Wikimedia India) and Hisham Mundol (WMF India Programs)
were also present. Hisham addressed the new users initially with a
presentation, and later the experienced contributors trained and answered
the newbies. It was great to have two veteran contributors like Vyom and
Anirudh around, who helped out greatly during the sessions. There is a lot
of scope for improvement in the quality of our outreach sessions and each
and every one of these events contributes to their constant improvement.
Konarak Ratnakar (with inputs from Anirudh Bhati)