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When the virtual world gets a room

by Prasad — last modified Apr 02, 2011 02:09 PM
Wikipedians have found a permanent abode, and the comfort of increasing numbers, at the office of the Centre for Internet and Society, a research and advocacy organisation.
When the virtual world gets a room

PUTTING THEIR HEADS TOGETHER: Wikipedians attending a wiki-meet at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore

Those of us familiar with the Wikipedia way of life know by now that the internet-based encyclopaedia is an online community effort powered by scores of volunteering wiki editors. However, few would have heard about the offline extension of this bonhomie — a cult of wikipedians who congregate, share a laugh or two and put their heads together every now and then.

This growing community, and its passion, is perhaps what has driven the growth of Indian content — in English and at least 15 other Indian languages — on the web in recent years. What started off as a high-profile meeting when Jimmy Wales visited the country in 2006, faded into oblivion soon after the Wikipedia co-founder packed his bags.

Offline meet

However, a few months ago Wikipedia editor Tinu Cherian, a software engineer by profession, convened an offline wiki meet in his home. Today, six meetings later, these meets have found a permanent abode, and the comfort of increasing numbers, at the office of the Centre for Internet and Society, a research and advocacy organisation.

So students, busy software engineers, entrepreneurs and random wiki enthusiasts turn lazy Sunday afternoons into an intense session of brainstorming, discussing everything from technical wiki editing solutions to quality control mechanisms. Mr. Cherian who has been involved in English, Malayalam and Hindi wiki editing, says it is unfortunate that most wiki users do not even notice the ‘Edit’ function. “In India unfortunately, wiki editing is confined to the techie population, unlike in the West where doctors, researchers and random non-experts are contributing.” He hopes that these meet-ups will help bridge that barrier and get more people to realise that wiki editing is no rocket science.

So far, it appears that putting a face to virtual names has worked in tangible ways and helped get more people onboard. Take pre-university student Srikanth Ramakrishnan, for instance, who says that meet-ups have helped turn online acquaintances into fast friends in just a couple of months. Barely 18, wiki editing is a “sheer obsession” for young Srikanth, whose current interest is enriching the ‘transport in India’ wiki page, which he helped build from 25 to 145 references.

Transliteration tools

The wiki meet on Sunday afternoon, which started with technical discussions on tools that help wiki edit, went on to include a short presentation by an expert from Google on transliteration tools. Wiki meets, though located in Bangalore, draw a motley crowd comprising people who edit wiki pages in Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada, among others.

While presentations by corporates are not customary, this one proposed to help drive growth of vernacular content; a noble intention that even snowballed into a healthy debate on why “quality control” of content is sacrosanct to wikipedians.

Getting the Indian Wikipedia rolling is not just about creating new inventories. It is also about increasing Indian content on the web, particularly in local languages. Given that about half the existing Indic language content on the web can be traced to the wiki community, vernacular wikis are attracting a lot of attention.

Balasunder Raman, a wiki editor of five years, says initiatives such as these have a tangible effect on the community. “It provides us a forum to group together, share our experiences and even work on other outreach programmes that can help spread the word.”

Check out /wiki/WP:MBL

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ASPI-CIS Partnership


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