[Wikimediaindia-l] Summary and perspectives from Discussions with Indic language wikimedians - 2011

Shiju Alex shiju at wikimedia.org
Fri Dec 16 12:07:19 UTC 2011

Dear All,

Apologies beforehand for a rather long and winding mail - but there is so
much that I want to say. I want to share how my thoughts are being
crystallised.  I want to try and cross-pollinate ideas from some Indic
language communities across to all communities.  I want to reach out and
ask your views and suggestions.  I want to understand how best we can help
each community in a manner that is most appropriate to that community.

I have now completed sharing initial, introductory, exploratory discussions
with a host of community members from across Indic language communities.  I
have shared these for 12 languages
and Gujarati<http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_-_India_Programs/Indic_Languages/Gujarati/Discussions/2011>.)
 I haven't (yet) got any response from 7 other communities (Bhojpuri,
Kashmiri, Punjabi, Urdu, Bhisnupriya Manipuri, Pali, and Sindhi).

At the very outset, I want to thank all of you who took time out and shared
your experiences and thinking.  It has been really useful and I hope you
found it is as productive and constructive as I did.  The purpose behind
this exercise was to hear, learn, and understand the evolution of the
various communities - and to therefore suggest ideas going forward. I urge
everyone to go through all the other languages (even if they are not
personally involved in those specific communities) because there are
learnings for everyone from everywhere.

I have been reflecting on the various insights and inputs and ideas I have
got from all these folks as well as subsequent discussions on mailing lists
and talk pages.  Here are my initial thoughts.

CommunityIt sounds like a self-evident and very basic thing but the single
biggest priority for all communities (even relatively bigger ones like
Tamil and Malayalam) is community building.  What has struck me from the
various language communities is that everyone agrees that this is very much
required but very few are aware of what needs to be done or how it needs to
be done.  I wanted to share some thoughts about this.

When I consider community building, I think of 5 broad aspects:

   1. Editor retention
   2. Attracting newbies
   3. Community communication
   4. Community collaboration and
   5. Community celebration

I would like to detail what I mean by each of these.

1. Editor retention: Like most language wiki communities we also have an
editor retention issue in all Indic language communities. This is
particularly an area of concern for us considering the fact that all our
Indic language communities are really tiny and community buiding efforts in
Indic wikis are very less. A dramatic case in point is Kannada where active
editor numbers (that is, editors who do at least 5 edits a month) have
declined from 25 members to just 9 members over the past 10 months.  It is
essential that all of us reflect on why this is happening and what can be
done to avoid it in future and to resurrect lapsed editors.  Existing
editors and old editors understand our projects and community and can play
a huge role in community building and project quality improvement.  Many
times, they have become inactive because of changing personal priorities.
 However, sometimes, they leave because they are no longer excited by the
projects.  The lack of interest in a project or users not feeling proud
about a project might be due to multiple reasons. Some of the reasons that
old community members shared with me are poor quality of articles (driven
by BOTs and Google translation project), dominance of wiki by  one or two
members, the huge amount of clean up and other administrative tasks
required, and so on.  We must reach out and welcome these editors back and
we must encourage them to do what they love doing most - editing articles
and making them regain their pride and ownership over their articles and
projects. We must foster an environment that welcomes old editors back and
gives them the space to follow their passions.

2. Attracting newbies: Attracting newbies is the only way our communities
and projects can grow.  I have to be honest and say that none of our
language communities have achieved critical mass.  According to me unless a
project has 500 or more active editors, it can never be said to be in a
state where organic growth is secured and momentum is ensured.  Attracting
newbies requires impactful outreach.  By impactful, I mean outreach that is
done frequently and to as a large a group of potential newbies as possible.
However, it also means that we need to be much more systematic about how we
do outreach.  This covers everything from identification of the most
appropriate target audience as well as doing outreach in a manner where we
don't scare off newbies by information overload.  We must make sure that
our outreach sessions adequately convey the passion and love for our
projects that we feel while working on them.  Also, we need to critically
look at how we reach out to attendees of outreach sessions (after the
sessions) as well as other newcomers and see that we are providing an
adequate helping hand to them.  The Nepali community - though tiny - does
very well in terms of posting personal talk messages to welcome new folks,
having FAQs spaces and problem boxes, etc. - all with the objective of
supporting newbies.  All Indic languages are at a state where every single
newbie should be identified and reached out to and given intensive help and
warmly welcomed to the community. We must also look at both newbies to
editing as well as existing English Wikipedia editors who have inclinations
and abilities on Indic languages.  Remember that many Indic editors
initially started off in English Wikipedia and we must actively seek them
out.  I know some communities - like Marathi - who look for editors who
have Marathi sounding names or edit Marathi/Maharashtra centric topics and
quietly invite them to contribute to Marathi Wikipedia.  Another aspect,
and I am sure is this a bit of a controversial statement, but can we get
few existing Indic editors to reduce their emphasis on editing and divert
their time on outreach. (I know Tamil, Odia, and Malayalam communities are
already doing this. But this needs to be replicated in other languages
also).  It is really tough and not everyone might have the interest to do
outreach but the best outreach can be done by existing community members.
However, as we know, volunteer time is limited.  This is a challenge
because what we love doing most is editing - but the reality is that the
greatest need of the hour, and the area where we can contribute maximum, is
attracting and training and supporting newbies.  We should also look at
digital outreach - by which I mean look at the existing internet activities
in Indic languages (blog, facebook, google plus, and so on) and see if we
can get newbies from there.  For instance, many Indic languages have very
active blogging. Can we reach out to bloggers and ask them to contribute to
our projects, or at least evangelise about our projects and invite their
readers to read Indic projects and contribute to them?  Can we similarly
look at social media like facebook and twitter to promote our Indic

3. Community Communication: Community communication is an area which varies
by community. There is a direct co-relation between the health and growth
of the community and the inclusiveness, intensity, and warmth of the
communication amongst that community.  Community communication takes place
on mailing lists, village pumps, meetups, and so on. With the exception of
Malayalam and Bengali mailing lists, and to a lesser extent, Tamil, Odia,
Mumbai, and Pune mailing lists, most others are virtually non-functional.
 Having said that, many village pumps are active across language
communities.  It really doesn't make a difference whether the communication
is on mailing lists or village pumps.  However, it is of paramount
importance that it happens somewhere.  Anywhere!  To that extent, I
encourage everyone to be more active wherever they are more comfortable -
but ideally in public spaces like village pumps or mailing lists.  Reach
out and ask for help or suggestions.  Offer advice or inputs.  Simply be
friendly and accessible.  Just talk!  Community meetups are happening but
not as frequent as one would like and with very limited attendance.  Often,
it is just 3 or 4 people who meet up everytime.  Nothing wrong with that
per se. Meetups are voluntary and the majority of wikipedians are happy to
edit in the privacy of our homes and not meet up with others but even in
this situation, we can and should be encouraging more people to attend
meetups. People will attend meetups more regularly if they find them
productive and inspiring.  Too often, the feedback from community members
has been that they don't find meetups useful or they find them dominated by
1 or 2 individuals.  It is essential to have 1 or 2 individuals with the
drive and hard work to organise meetups - but it is equally important that
meetups are not centred exclusively around these 1-2 people but more about
what the larger group want.  How about meetups where all we do is spend an
hour or two just editing a few articles?  How about meetups where we plan a
newbie outreach program involving everyone in the meetup?  How about a
meetup where that meetup is run by those folks who usually never speak up
and that the entire meeting is devoted to what they are interested in?  It
is alarming when one looks at the situation in some Indic communities where
there is virtually no communication at all amongst community members. It
leads to a very cold and impersonal environment - which is not healthy to
foster growth.   Like plants and flowers, communities too need breeze and
air and water and food and activity and earthworms and manure.

4. Community Collaboration: When I consider community collaboration, I
think of 2 things.  The first is ownership and the second is editing.  On
ownership, it is really critical that every one of us as individual
community members believe and are made to believe that we own our projects.
Every project is owned by all members of that community. Equally.  We
should all become more proactive in enforcing this ownership - whether it
is in terms of coming up with initiatives or proactively participating in
community discussions - whether it is about technical matters or content
elements or community aspects.  Every single individual counts and every
single individual's voice must be encouraged.  On editing, something that
drives all of us is the thrill of collaborative editing.  Wikipedians love
it more than anything else to work together on an article and make dramatic
improvements to it.   Of course it happens even now, but this is something
that we need to encourage much more and participate more actively in. This
can be done in varied ways - but ideas like Collaboration of the Month or
Editathons or whatever other idea should be organised.  One can start with
a handful of people working on a few articles - but one must try as hard as
one can to make larger scale mini-events around this basic idea.  It will
help build personal relationships, project ownership, and drive community

5. Community Celebration: Lastly on the community aspect, let us bring some
magic back to the community.  Let us start celebrating successes - no
matter how small.  Let us start taking goals - no matter how seemingly
unambitious. Let us spread cheer all around when we meet these objectives.
Let us start publicly celebrating over the profiles of new or active
editors (Tamil wiki community is already doing this)- whether because they
are 12 years old or 80 years old or whether their article counts are 100 or
10,000! Let us celebrate when our wiki cross a major milestones, Let us
celebrate when one our community member does some marvellous things for
wiki. Let us celebrate when community able to engage in a relationship with
state government... There are many reasons to celebrate. Let us celebrate
all those and build the sense of pride about their projects among our
community members. The most powerful fuel in our engines is passion - and
we need to get more of it in our veins.

ProjectsThere is a constant debate of what should come first - article
count or article quality?  I don't think there is an answer to this that is
equally applicable across all projects and communities. I had strong
convictions on this based on my past experience with Malayalam wiki
projects - which have been reinforced after my initial discussions with
Indic Wikimedians from across the country.  In this regard, I wish to share
a provocative statement about bots. Bots can and should be used to do
repetitive tasks (like adding categories) because that reduces wasting
volunteer time - which is limited and  precious.  However, the use of bots
for article creation is something that I would strongly discourage.  The
current state of Newari wikipedia (which has nearly 70,000 articles but
zero active editors) reinforces my argument.

The argument for using bots for article creation is that it provides
placeholders for editors to start working on these articles.  While there
is some merit in this argument, the problem is that this kind of artificial
intervention means that the volume of work required to improve quality far
outpaces the community strength.  It is like a sportsman using steroids.
 It is not natural or healthy.  It results in large numbers of very poor
quality articles - which are of such a basic nature that it might be better
not to have them in the project.  (For example, if the only information
about a town is that "Abc town is in Abc district which is in Abc state and
the population is 12345 according to the 2001 census", this article is so
weak that it cannot honestly be said to exist.)  If a project has thousands
of these kind of articles, the whole project will be regarded as being of
poor quality and will put off readers.)  More fatally, if a project has
thousands of such bot entries, it doesn't inspire editors to contribute -
but instead makes them disillusioned because they feel that so many
articles of such bad quality that they just give up on where to start!  There
are many who feel that, for example, Hindi wikipedia has been adversely
impacted by the overusage of bots.

Another very important aspect I want to address is the kind of policies we
adopt for Indic projects.  Too often, tiny projects and communities are
adopting too many of the policies of English Wikipedia.  The policies of
English wikipedia have evolved over years as English Wikipedia grew in
community and article size.  These policies are suitable for English
Wikipedia given the size and breadth of its community.  My view is that
many of these are not appropriate for the current state of most Indic
projects and communities given that the community sizes are 60,000 for
English and ~25 for the average Indic community.  If English Wikipedia
policies are indiscriminately adopted, results in the feedback that I am
seeing from many Indic editors that they are spending too much time doing
"administrative" tasks like categorisation and not getting enough time for
basic core editing.  Let me elaborate.  Something like NPOV is central to
our overall philosophy.  This cannot and must not be diluted. However, even
if I take the larger Indic Wikipedias, it really is not such a major issue
if the categorisation is currently weak.  The focus has to be to build
articles quality and content, and not necessarily having all the content
neatly slotted into categories.  Of course, something like categorisation
is good, but not at the cost of article quality.  I want to make an even
more provocative suggestion.  Verifiability is really really really
important to all our projects.  However, if one looks at how English
Wikipedia evolved in the early days, it started with editors just adding
content. Over a period of time, other editors came in and added and
improved citations.  Even today, as a recent Signpost article mentioned,
there are 2.5 lakh articles in English
don't have references.   We should encourage editors to write, write
and write!  References will follow.  Let us not chase away editors because
we want every article to be perfect in a 20,000 article project.  Of course
we want quality but let us take it in stages - and let us prioritise what
is most important to begin with.  I think many editors would find it
incredibly satisfying and inspiring and motivating to start and edit new
articles, and they might get it 80% right.  This will attract a much bigger
community within which there will emerge a new generation of editors who
love to add detail and citations.

ReadershipOne of my big discoveries I had was to see the total size of
readership.  I have often contemplated the Catch 22 situation of Indic
language Wikimedians - where there is no awareness of the projects so there
is no readership and even where there is readership, readers are not
satisfied because of a low number articles or poor quality of articles.
Conversely, editors don't find adequate motivation and satisfaction because
they believe there are too few readers for their contributions.  I often
wondered how we would approach this problem - and which we should address
first.  I used to think that we should first focus on community building
and article quality - and that readers will automatically follow.  To that
extent, I used to think that we shouldn't worry about readers because they
will inevitably follow content.  The fact that last month, we had more than
4 crore readers for our Indic language
that the dilemma of what we need to do is no longer valid.  We have
readers. Lakhs and lakhs and lakhs of them for each Indic language wiki!
 We now need to focus singlemindedly on community building and project
quality.  As internet penetration and mobile data access increase, we will
get even more Indic readers.  We don't need to do anything to attract
readers.  However, we need to do *everything* to keep them coming back by
increasing article count while religiously maintaining and increasing
article quality and size of community.

I would love to hear your thoughts and views on these suggestions.

The next stage of my work is going to be to speak directly with various
communities in village pumps itself.  I will try and make these as relevant
and specific to individual communities - and also to share some ideas which
have relevance across similar communities.  For instance, some ideas will
be similar to all communities with less than 25 active editors.  I also
want to try and identify potential areas of support that India Programs
could work closely with communities on.  The idea is to support community
across languages.  We would like to identify a very limited (1 or 2) pilots
of a very controlled nature (in terms of scale) that we would like to
collaboratively design with respective communities.  Given the efforts that
will be required in any pilot (even if it is of a relatively small scale),
we believe that there needs to be a certain basic level of community size
and collaboration to be able handle such pilots.

I will be sharing this mail on the various local language / local town
mailing lists as well as the respective language village pumps.  I look
forward to hearing your views.

I placed the content of this mail in metawiki also. It is here:


Shiju Alex
India Programs Team
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