The Hindustan Times : BEHIND THE SCENES AT WIKIPEDIA.IN ( 13 Feb 2010)
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*BEHIND THE SCENES AT WIKIPEDIA.IN *
MANY AVATARS Across India, hundreds of researchers, students, housewives and
professionals are editing Wikipedia articles in 20 Indian languages, setting
up new pages, holding Wiki workshops. It’s a growing community so vibrant
that, ahead of its 10th anniversary, Wiki announced its first ever overseas
office would be in India.
■ Sitting in the back of his SUV on his way home from work, Navi
Mumbai civil engineer Kundan Amitabh is working on the Angika Wikipedia
out a doha (couplet) in the ancient Bihari dialect.
■ In a blue, single-storey government school in Mangudi village, Tamil
Nadu, a class of bright-eyed 13-year-olds is huddled around a bulky desktop
reading about nuclear technology on the Tamil Wikipedia page.
■ In Bangalore, a group of Wiki editors is conducting a ‘Wikiacademy’
workshop at the office of a local NGO, instructing would-be editors in the
aspects of uploading data, and the philosophy and principles of Wikipedia.
Across the country, a 10-yearold online encyclopaedia is changing the way
Indians process, access and store
information.And the movement is being led not just by techies and academics
but by students, professionals and homemakers
across the rural-urban divide. Many are not even writing in English — there
are now Wikipedia sub-sites
in 20 Indian languages, including Bhojpuri, Sindhi and Pali, the last a
language that has no native speakers left,
but has a rich body of literature.
Wiki sub-sites in 20 more Indian languages — including Tulu, Kutchi and
Bihari dialect Angika — are also in the works.
Combine this vibrant online community of editors with the fact that India is
set to become the third largest internet
user base by 2013 — preceded only by China and the US, in that order — and
it’s not hard to see why Wikipedia
celebrated its anniversary in mid-January with the launch of an India
chapter of Wikimedia (www.wikimedia.in
non-profit organisation behind Wikipedia. That’s not all. The San Francisco
based Wikipedia is set to open its first
ever overseas office here too. Explaining the move, Wikipedia founder Jimmy
Wales told HT over the phone in October: “There is a lot
of excitement in India about the Internet. With so many languages, India
poses a lot of opportunities. We already have
a very successful community in India and we want to strengthen it.”
In an e-mail response to HT last week, Wales added: “I think the main reason
Wikipedia has caught on in India is, of course,
the strong IT sector, but also the fact that there is a very strong
tradition of discussion and dialogue.”
That discussion and dialogue is also helping preserve dying languages and
oral literature, and making large swathes
of information from the Web accessible to a range of linguistic groups.
Take Tamil Wikipedia. Set up in 2003, the site now features more than 25,000
articles on everything from musician AR Rahman to sacked
telecom minister A Raja. The articles have been written or translated by
more than 250 people from around the world and the site now gets more
than 80,000 hits every day. Some of these hits are from local
vernacular-medium government schools, where daily ‘Wikipedia classes’ get
together around a computer so they can read pages on everything from
classical music to nuclear technology.Since many of them cannot read
the site has become their only window to the worldwide web.
Then there’s Malayalam Wikipedia. InApril2010,the site released a Wikipedia
CD — the term for an official compilation of articles from a Wikipedia
subsite, sanctioned by Wikipedia. The collection of 500 articles from among
the 10,000 on the site was the first Wiki CD to be released in a non-
Latin script. Distributed as part of a government of Kerala initiative, the
CDs were then handed out to 60,000 teachers across the state
as reference material.
“A number of schools in Kerala have computers but poor internet
connections,” says Shiju Alex, 33,
a technical writer and active Malayalam Wikimedian. “This CD gives them
access to material that is
not available to them in their regional language.” This appropriation of the
is a constantly growing movement in India. Over the past four months,
physical communities of
editors have formed in Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai. These
groups meet regularly and train
other volunteers. These classes even have their own Wiki tag — they’re
Here, volunteers and editors conduct workshops on the technical aspects of
uploading data and on the philosophy
and principles of Wikipedia. Over the past year, ‘Wikiexperts’, in
association with the state education
department, have held workshops across eight districts in Kerala; there are
similar workshops in Tamil Nadu too.
Back in Navi Mumbai, Kundan Amitabh, 43, is using the page he set up six
months ago to preserve the rich oral
history of the Angika dialect. For about two hours every day, he transcribes
poetry and folk tales from this
Bihari dialect in Devnagari script, to be saved on en.
“We live in a digital generation. Stories passed through the oral tradition
will soon become obsolete,” says
Amitabh. “If Angika is to survive, it must have a Web presence. And what
better place to start than on Wikipedia?”
Amitabh’s project now has three other active editors — a student from Delhi,
an Indian-origin businessman
from Australia and another from Nepal.
“Our page has brought Angika speakers from around the world together on one
platform,” he says.
His next step: A tour of schools in Jharkhand where students still study in
Angika. He plans to teach the youngsters
to access the information he has uploaded, thus helping them take their
first baby steps onto the information
*I N T E R V I E W*
*JIMMY WALES,CO-FOUNDER, WIKIPEDIA*
Why do you think the Wikipedia has caught on in India? One reason is that
the IT sector in India is very strong, but
I also think there is a verystrong tradition in India of discussion and
dialogue, deep in the roots of Indian democracy.
What has the response been like at the Wiki meets you attended in India?
What were the common problems people raised?
The main response is an excitement about the future. The main problems have
to do with keyboard entry — many
people have learned to type only in English and don’t know how to type in
their own language.
How does it help users to have a Wikipedia in their regional language?
Statistics show that only 5% to 10% of India’s literate are able to use
So there is a huge body of people for whom their mother tongue is the only
way for them to learn and expand
their horizons. The same thing is happening all around the world. In the UK,
Welsh is endangered because everyone there
speaks English. So the Welsh Wikipedia is a place where people write
joyfully in their mother tongue. I think this is wonderful.
■ A Wikipedia birthday cake at one of the many celebrations held in West
Bengal; 97 ‘parties’
were organised in India to mark the occasion, more than in any other country
in the world.
In the state-run Jadavpur University in Kolkata, post-graduate English
literature students are now made to write
an article for Wikipedia as a part of the curriculum.The articles are graded
on editorial content,
research and material. “Too many students base their papers on information
available on Wikipedia. Now, they can no longer do
this,” says professor Abhijit Gupta, smiling.
■ Would-be Wikipedia editors attend a Wikiacademy training session in
Editors of Malayalam Wikipedia are documenting the unique games endemic to
various villages across the state. While one volunteer
writes down the rules, another travels to the respective village for
pictures. Fifty games have been documented on the site so
far. “Some of these games are already dying, replaced by the national craze
for cricket and football,” says Malayalam Wikipedia editor
and technical writer Shiju Alex, 33. “We have to depend on oral descriptions
from village seniors in these cases.”
■ At a civic school with no internet access, students use a Wikipedia CD to
browse through articles.
Pune Wikimedians are compiling CDs of select English Wikipedia articles for
free distribution to schools across the state that
have no internet access. Last month, an early copy of the CD was handed over
to a municipal school in Pune as an experiment.
“The students had never seen an encyclopedia before,” says electrical
engineer Nikhil Sheth, 25, the man behind the project.
“Some logged on to read about the history of the Taj Mahal, others started
exploring pages related to animals.”
■ Last June, the Tamil Nadu government organised an essay-writing contest
where college students were asked to write articles
for the Tamil Wikipedia sub-site. More than 2,000 students participated and
1,200 entries are currently being uploaded. At
the same conference, the government donated a CD its own online glossary of
1.5 lakh Tamil words to
the Tamil Wikimedians. The Tamil Wiktionary is now among the world’s top
ten, in terms of number of words.