This November, hundreds of Wikimedians will descend in Mumbai to plan their future course of action, convert the sceptics and inspire the believers. No, we’re not talking about a foreign invasion although, if you ask a local Wikimedian, the concept of enabling free access to knowledge is still alien to most Indians.
Wikimedians are contributors to any Wikimedia project, among which Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia generated wholly by user contributions, is just one component. And although the community here in India is still considerably small, the WikiConference India 2011, to be held between November 18 and November 20, is intended to become an annual national flagship event for Wikipedia/Wikimedia in the country.
Already, 260 people have registered for the conference, many among whom, says Pranav Curumsey, chairperson of the conference, have never even edited on Wikipedia or attended the monthly community meet-ups that are held in various parts of the country. While this is encouraging news given the need for more awareness, the primary focus of the conference is to encourage offline connections and collaborations within the existing Wikimedia community.
“We want to take the Wikimedian movement to the next step in India. We also want to share information on best practices that will help develop Indian language Wikipedias better,” said Pranav, adding that a special track on Marathi Wikipedia is being planned for the conference which will be headed by the Pune community.
As anyone who’s ever edited an article on Wikipedia would acknowledge, it is the healthy exchange of opinions and its emphasis on neutral, verifiable information which has contributed to the online encyclopedia’s success and its global appeal. But as more Wikimedians begin to interact offline, this utopian world-view is likely to get a reality check.
As such, the Wikimedia movement in India is now at a crucial turning point. The Indian chapter in Bangalore was formally registered in January this year and the Wikimedia Foundation office in Delhi is currently in the process of hiring staff to begin a series of localised outreach activities to increase contributions and access to Indian language Wikipedias, many of which are languishing due to lack of awareness.
In such a scenario, is a national conference premature? Most Indian Wikimedians would disagree. Arjuna Rao Chavala, president of the Wikimedia India Chapter and a contributor to Telugu Wikipedia, said, “When something is being done for the first time, challenges have to be faced. But there is a definite need for such a conference.”
Achal Prabhala, a Bangalore-based writer and member of the advisory board, Wikimedia Foundation, states, “In my involvement with Wikimedian communities in India and South Africa, I’ve found that personal connections made between people actually helps us achieve more. There are many active Wikipedians in different parts of India. This conference will be success if there are connections being made, say between someone in the northeast and somebody in Bangalore who decide to collaborate on a project.”
WikiConference India 2011 will be held at the Fort campus of Mumbai University between November 18 and November 20. To register as a participant, visit bit.ly/wci11.