WMF’s focus in India: English wikipedia or many Indic language Wikipedias

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16 Responses to WMF’s focus in India: English wikipedia or many Indic language Wikipedias

  1. Salmaan says:

    Nice article Shiju, I do have a couple of points. First, you are discounting the decades of history English has had in India whether by will or force it has remained the official language of the state, from laws to official decrees to even the constitution of India is written in English. When you talk about the linguistic and cultural diversity of India, you are also overlooking the role English plays in covering that divide between a thousand different languages. I believe that English speakers are not the minority when you compare it to the internet user base, which I believe is the core issue. Largest Internet users are centered around the metros, majority of them use English, there is a direct co-relation between the two.

    In terms of the nature of wikipedia, there is an issue of demand and reflexivity at play here, someone interested in looking up something on wikipedia would prefer the English version over their native language mostly because of the quality and the quantity of information available which because of much lower editorial-ship in local languages is edited by a handful of people while the English one is viewed and edited by the rest of the world. Most Indian languages wikipedias receive only around 5% edits out of the total edits from india. We can not ignore the smaller languages but we also can not make a community where there isn’t one, there are a multitude of issues to getting these community online most of which are social and economic and out of the scope of current issue.

    I do agree that Wikisource and Wiktionary might have a larger part to play here than any other language or project. it can provide a goldmine not only for the Indian languages but a source of Indian culture and history for the rest of the world.

  2. Shiju Alex says:

    @Salmaan, Thanks for the comment. I have reply for your comment. But I will handle that topic in another blog post.

    My point here is about the commitment and vision on which WMF is setup.

  3. Salmaan says:

    I look forward to it.

  4. Barry Newstead says:

    Shiju, Thanks for the thoughtful blog. I’d like to make sure that something is clear to all. WMF does not have an agenda regarding the question of English vs. native languages. We would like to see all Wikimedia projects thrive in India and we see native language project growth as critical to the realization of the movement’s vision (as you state).

    I also agree with you that there is a lot of important work to do (that many of you in the Indian community are already engaged in) to build strong native language projects. Since, as you state, there are more barriers for these languages, we all need to develop solutions to support the growth of contributors and contributions to these projects.

    Look forward to discussing this when I see you next week ;)

    Barry

  5. Shiju Alex says:

    Thanks Barry forward for the comment. Looking forward to meet you.

  6. ravi says:

    Excellent article, Shiju. Illustrating India’s language diversity and arguing from a philosophical point of view is nice.

    //most of the Indian language wikians are editing in English wikipedia also.//

    Is this so for Malayalam Wiki?

    Almost 99% of Tamil Wikians are not editing English Wikipedia. Some who came from en wiki to ta wiki continue to edit en wiki now and then.

    Even some of the ta wiktionarians don contribute in ta wikipedia. The motivation and choice for a project and language is very distinct.

    //The source text available in those languages need to be part of the respective language Wikisource. But the current focus is entirely on Wikipedia. Hope the situation will change soon.//

    I think the source text being in native language is a given requirement. Tamil Wiktionary has shaped up well and infact we get visitors and contributors to ta wikipedia through it.

    Tamil Wikisource has lot of potential as you have mentioned and it is in our agenda :)

  7. Shiju Alex says:

    //Is this so for Malayalam Wiki?
    Almost 99% of Tamil Wikians are not editing English Wikipedia. Some who came from en wiki to ta wiki continue to edit en wiki now and then.

    Even some of the ta wiktionarians don contribute in ta wikipedia. The motivation and choice for a project and language is very distinct. //

    To some extent yes, but not all.

    But I think your point is correct. I should not have generalized it. It varies from language to language. I will update that paragraph.

    In the case of Malayalam almost all Wiktionary and Wikisource users contribute to Malayalam wikipedia also. So it varies from language to language.

    //I think the source text being in native language is a given requirement. Tamil Wiktionary has shaped up well and infact we get visitors and contributors to ta wikipedia through it. //

    Yes it is a requirement. But most language communities still haven’t understood the importance of that project. Wikisource might be active for one or two languages. But it is inactive in most of the Indian languages. That was my point. Our whole attention is on wikipedia.

    Thanks for your valuable comment Ravi

  8. ravi says:

    Thanks for the understanding Shiju.

    @salman,

    //I believe that English speakers are not the minority when you compare it to the internet user base, which I believe is the core issue. //

    Currently, yes. Arjun and Shiju have explained why. We need to think long term while strategizing. When internet penetration deepens and technology goes mobile in a matter of few years, English aware population won’t be a majority. Native language content will be a real need.

    //We can not ignore the smaller languages but we also can not make a community where there isn’t one, there are a multitude of issues to getting these community online most of which are social and economic and out of the scope of current issue.//

    If we follow the real spirit of WMF mission, then this should be our priority too.

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  10. Salmaan says:

    I think you are going beyond the scope of Wikimedia foundation here, at the end of the day its a non-profit foundation in charge of an encyclopedia. Social outreach, economic issues and technological divide is way beyond the scope of the Foundation. Our government, Private-companies, many large non-profits have been trying to bridge those issues for years, I dont think Wikimedia Foundation can succeed where our government and large MNC’s have failed.

    Also, you are overlooking the correlation between education and English usage in India, I dont think Native languages will beat out English as more people are educated and technology becomes widely available. For years Windows didn’t have even have support for Indic languages as is the current state for many mobile application where English is still the focus, if the tech penetration increases in the next year it would directly increase with the English base.

  11. Shiju Alex says:

    Salmman, initially I thought of writing a separte blog post as a reply for your comment. But since most of your arguments are out of scope/deviation from the original topic, I am not doing that. So let me reply here itself.

    //First, you are discounting the decades of history …… I believe that English speakers are not the minority when you compare it to the internet user base, which I believe is the core issue. Largest Internet users are centered around the metros, majority of them use English, there is a direct co-relation between the two.//
    :) I haven’t said anything against English language or English wikipedia. And I am not in the English hate group. :)

    I haven’t overlooked or denied the role of English. In fact in my blog post, I emphasized the role of English in India. This blog itself is written in English. :)

    English is an important langauge in India and it is the language that bonds different language communities. It will continue to be so. I think you are trying in bring in some topics that are out of scope. I clearly mentioned in the blog post that apart from Indian languages, English should also part of WMF’s focus in India. (It should not be ONLY English). And English community from India is one of the active wiki community from India. And it will continue to be so.

    My blog post emphasized 2 points

    1. Apart from English, foundation should focus on Indian language wiki projects also. (i have listed some of the reasons for this in my post)

    2. Apart from wikipedia, sister wiki projects are also important for all the Indian languages. So if a community is not developed around it, those projects will not flourish. So building community is very very important.

    //In terms of the nature of Wikipedia, there is an issue of demand and reflexivity at play here, someone interested in looking up something on wikipedia would prefer the English version over their native language …….. of issues to getting these community online most of which are social and economic and out of the scope of current issue.//

    :) you cannot compare English wikipedia with Indian language wikipedias Salmaan. :)

    Your assumption about the language Wikipedias are not correct. You might not know about the European language wikipedias. They excel English wikipedia in many aspects. You might have compared an Indian language wikipedia (most probably only Hindi) and English wikipedia. There is no meaning in that comparison now since there are some basic issues that we need to sort out. That is what foundation is doing now.

    The real issue here is we are seeing only us and the people surrounding us :) If we are fine with the current system then we assume that rest of the world must follow that. Any way that is not the vision of foundation. If that was the case only English wikipedia would have been in existence now.

    There are billions of people out there who would like to read information (let it be any kind of information) only in their mother tongue (Whether it is online or offline). But none of them are denying the importance of English. I also haven’t said anything against English in my post.

  12. Shiju Alex says:

    //Our government, Private-companies, many large non-profits have been trying to bridge those issues for years, I dont think Wikimedia Foundation can succeed where our government and large MNC’s have failed.//

    We are already doing that. Foundation already succeeded in some areas where Government had failed. Not only in India in many other developing countries.

    Rest of your comment is out of scope I think, since none of us are denying the importance of English. See, this comment itself is in English. :)

    //For years Windows didn’t have even have support for Indic languages//

    This statement is not correct. Windows was supporting at least all major Indian language scripts right from Win98 itself. Even Malayalam (which has complex script) was rendered without much issues in that.

  13. GerardM says:

    Hoi,
    When you approach Internet from the position of one of the “haves” you may think English is adequate. When you approach as one of the “have nots” you may find the majority of the Indian population..

    Now consider what Wikipedia aims to achieve..
    Thanks,
    GerardM

  14. Salmaan says:

    Hi Shiju, I just wanted to point you to : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Multilingual_support_(Indic)#Windows_95.2C_98.2C_ME_and_NT As far as I know Windows XP was the first windows operating system to have built-in support for 6 Indic languages, with more support added with service pack 2. I think that the Malayalam script might have required a patch or a separate local distribution which might not have been available widely.

    And even that doesn’t take into account the adoption rate for Indic Scripts, I have spent quiet a bit of time working with computers and servers and have yet to see a single PC with Hindi as the language of choice in Windows( at least for Delhi and NCR). I understand that my opinion might be biased for not venturing outside Delhi a lot but I understand your point and only hope that you don’t discount mine either.:)

  15. Salmaan says:

    Hi Shiju, thanks for your reply, I understand your point.

    I actually do frequent a couple of European language Wikipedias, the thing is they are specialized in certain areas that might be Euro-centric, I was looking up information on a couple of famous Museums. I found the English article to be at the stub level while the Italian counterpart was rated at FA level, not to mention it accompanied a dozen pictures and 20 times the length of the English counterpart. But this is not true for general topics, or more straight forward articles, English Wikipedia trumps in most of those areas.

    I also wanted to cite research done by IBM a while ago which found the highest edited articles are also the highest rated articles, there was even edit stats where certain articles jumps in quality. When you talk about smaller language Wikipedia it is the shortest of that exactly, edits. Fewer people making lots of edits. At the end of the day Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, that part outweighs any social factor by a large margin, and as a user of encyclopedias I would want access to the best and most reviewed information available. I am for supporting Indian languages please don’t misunderstand my intention, its the strategy to get a foothold before we are in a position to reach out that I am trying to suggest.

    With that said I agree a hybrid model might be needed to pursue a greater representation of India. That was why I suggested some way of highlighting indian Culture or indian centric topics on other projects and the english Wikipedia, I only think it would be the shortest route to where we want to go, thats all.

  16. Shiju Alex says:

    Yes, there were work around and patches to fix issues in Indic scripts right from early 2000.

    That is how Indian language bloggers (even Malayalam which has lot of rendering issues) started blogging from early 2000. I know that many of them were using win98. I myself used it.

    Also we could start almost all language wikipedias when these problems exists itself. Oriya, Punjabi, and Malayalam wikipedias started in 2002 itself.

    So there were solutions and patches to overcome most of the issues. That is how language computing is moving forward. We are not waiting for a perfect solution to start something.

    But that doesn’t mean that all issues are fixed now. Still there are issues. Enhancement and problem fixing is an ongoing process.

    Many language wikipedians prefer GNU/Linux over windows. That helped them to overcome many issues.

    //and have yet to see a single PC with Hindi as the language of choice in Windows ( at least for Delhi and NCR)//

    The OS interface doesn’t need to be in Hindi or some other Indian language to contribute in respective languages.

    In Delhi, people (people with Hindi as mother tongue) might be preferring English over Hindi. That might be the case with Mumbai and some other metros also. People staying in cities have a general preference on English over their mother tongue. That is one of the main reason why wiki need to reach villages. But for that lot of ground work need to be done.

    PS: In Malayalam wikipedia itself, we have at least 4 highly active wikipedians staying in Delhi. Other languages also has similar contributions from cities. So language preference depends on lot of factors.

    Thanks for all the reply.

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