Jimmy Wales, who co-founded Wikipedia in 2001 as a free, open-content online encyclopedia, hates computers. The revelation came from the man himself when the slideshow for his inauguration speech on Friday morning met with a technical glitch and refused to start.
Wales, who arrived in Mumbai on Thursday evening to inaugurate the three-day WikiConference India, has had his share of adventure the past few days. He was stuck in Brussels, waiting for his visa to India after officials lost his papers. Wales finally managed to reach India after a diamond merchant in Antwerp was able to arrange a visa.
Speaking to the large audience of delegates who filled every corner of the grand convocation hall of the University of Mumbai, Wales said this was probably the largest WikiConference ever held. He added, “Of course, there are a lot of people in India.”
Wales said he was ‘incredibly lucky’ to be in India, not just because he almost could not make it, but also because Wikipedia is looking at great opportunities in Indian languages. However, while what are called ‘active’ languages like English have nearly 3 million entries on the Wikipedia managed by around 35,000 editors, Hindi has only around 50 editors, Wales said.
One of the reasons why the conference was held in India this year was the prospect of enormous growth that Indian languages offered. Wikipedia’s popularity has grown in places like, for instance, Central Asia where the number of editors in Wikipedia in the Kazakh language has grown from 15 to 231 in a few years.
“We did this through outreach; the same thing can be replicated here (India),” said Wales. He added that Indian language Wikipedia are at least 10 years behind English Wikipedia but have great potential to grow. When told that available software and keyboards were obstacles in the way of developing Wikipedias in Indian languages, Wales said that the Wikimedia Foundation, the Trust that oversees the encyclopedia’s activities, could address these issues.
Talking about the editing procedure for articles, Wales said that cumbersome rules are stopping people from making contributions. He said he realised this when, even as an experienced Wikipedia editor, he could not figure out the right way to rename a Wikipedia page. “We should get rid of this stuff, especially in large languages like English,” he said.