Heroes 2013: From global to hyper local, Wikipedia shows the way

Friday, 20 December 2013 - 12:22pm IST Updated: Friday, 20 December 2013 - 12:56pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

If information empowers, then Wikipedia must be a powerhouse. The world's largest data repository has gone from being an online encyclopaedia to becoming a cornucopia of global and local knowledge. 

If you use a computer in your day-to-day live, chances are you have used Wikipedia on more than several occasions to find countless bits of information. From history of personalities to the geography of a town, and everything in between, Wikipedia has it all.

A fine example of a crowd-sourced information bank, it has grown exponentially over the years. It has become increasingly hyper local and expanded its database to accommodate micro nuggets of information. So, whether it is the history of an old temple down your street, or the heroics of a local genius you may not have otherwise heard of, or even information made available in your mother tongue, the editors on Wikipedia work relentlessly to gather and digitise every piece of information, in several languages.

“When I started contributing to Wikipedia in 2005-06, it was predominantly in English,” recounts Tinu Cherian, a veteran Wikipedia editor, administrator and former Wikimedia India chapter board member. Cherian has started over 2,000 articles and has 50,000 edits to his credit. “But over the last few years, the trend has changed. There is a marked increase in local language enthusiasts, who regularly contribute in their native languages.” 

Wikipedia is currently available in 20 Indian languages, including in Pali; the resource is in incubation stages for another 20 languages. The Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil Wikipedias have tens of thousands of articles — respective wiki communities recently celebrated their 10th anniversaries — while pages in Hindi are close to over a lakh. “To keep language sections updated is a challenging task, and it is to the credit of our volunteers who dedicate hours ensuring accurate information is accessible,” explains Cherian.

Wikipedia volunteers also organise regular meetings and academic sessions to train new volunteers. “The very first regular wiki meet-up in India was held at my place years ago,” recalls Cherian. “Since then, we've had hundreds of meet ups around the country, with a growing network of hundreds of volunteers.” 

The volunteer base itself is extremely diverse. Editors are as young as 14-year-olds and as senior as those in their late 70s. “They represent varied backgrounds and some even work despite limited Internet access. Their dedication is awe inspiring,” says Cherian.

“Now everyone can create and incubate pages in their local languages. Apart from making information accessible, I also see this as an opportunity to preserve local languages that seem to be getting replaced by languages with commercial significance,” says Moksh Juneja, president, Wikimedia India. 

Talking about the growing popularity of local wiki pages, Juneja says, “Konkani is the most recent addition to the local language pages and the Konkani University in Goa is donating articles to Wikipedia. It is also remarkable to note that many local language articles are contributed and edited by non-residents Indians.”

But Wikipedia's inclusivity goes beyond local languages. Wiki editor Aniruddha Kumar explains this best on his page. He says: “Wikipedia is one of the most beautiful things in the world. It takes the concept that everyone has a basic right to information and makes it into something real — a tool that’s free for anyone to access.” Aniruddha Kumar is among the most active editors on Wikipedia and he is blind.

Five rare Indian languages revived on Wikipedia
Bishnupriya Manipuri 25,138 articles
Sanskrit 9,399 articles
Divehi 3,664 articles
Pali     2,807 articles
Romani 543 articles.

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