The Hindu : "The struggles of keeping Kannada Wikipedia afloat"

In the world of online Kannada content, blogs may be thriving but Wikipedia is struggling. The reasons vary from technology barriers to lack of contributors, say Wikipedians.

While there has been a surge in Kannada content in the last two years, contributors to the language have been grappling with technology barriers.

After floundering for years, the Kannada Wikipedia picked up with font availability, said Hari Prasad Nadig, a Kannada Wikipedian. The software to add to Kannada Wikipedia is not so user-friendly, and only geeks can edit it properly.

Unlike English, which has a large community, technology issues are glaring in smaller communities. “Growth is slow with respect to technology in smaller communities,” he said. The lack of a good Unicode font has been a persisting problem so the reader ends up seeing boxes instead of Kannada text. After trying to write using the ‘Thunga' font, which had problems with vowels, besides other bugs, today, ‘Kedage' is the most complete font, though issues remain with this one too, Mr. Nadig said.

Besides, various operating systems provide different levels of support for the script. “All these small factors together discouraged people from contributing. It's not that people don't want to use Kannada on the Net. Traffic on the Net is very high; there is Kannada on Facebook and Twitter too,” he said.

Another challenge is writing and adding quality content. “The community has to grow if Kannada Wikipedia is to grow,” he said. The quality of content also matters. One person adding thousands of ‘stubs' on, say, Kannada films, does not help the reader, and in fact, drives them away from the site. Also, Kannada Wikipedia needs “starter” articles, to get people reading before they can start adding content, he said.

In order to grow, Kannada Wikipedia requires an active, organic community, which is not imposed through a catalyst of paid content creators. Once, Google started a tool that had machine-translated content improved by manual translations. Yet the Kannada content was “looking like spam. They (manual translators) didn't understand markup, templates; (it was) all malformed”, he said.

An observation about contributors is that people in metros prefer writing to the English Wikipedia though they know Kannada and are tech-savvy. “Bangalore has less than 10 people writing to Kannada Wikipedia,” he said.

Omshivaprakash, Chair for Kannada Special Interest Group for Wikipedia, said people are not aware that Kannada Wikipedia now has simple tools to add content. He said “Wiki academies” would be set up to train people on adding Kannada content. “Everyone complains that the quality of Kannada Wikipedia is low, but they do not know that they can edit it themselves,” he said.

Tinu Cherian

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