The first annual WikiConference India, held this past weekend at the University of Mumbai, attracted widespread coverage in the national press and beyond. BBC Newsreported that the event commenced with an opening address by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, in which he speculated that the 700-strong gathering "could be the largest wiki-conference that's ever been held" and outlined the Wikimedia movement's expansion plans in India. The Hindupicked up on Wales' belief that the rules and procedures in operation on the English Wikipedia would need to be simplified for smaller language projects if organic growth was to be encouraged – "There are over three million entries in English. A large community needs a lot of rules. But we don't need to copy these for a small group." According to BBC News, the Hindi Wikipedia has only 50 editors, and is thus dwarfed by the more than 35,000 editors of the English Wikipedia.
Hundreds of millions of people are more comfortable thinking and dreaming and talking and counting in their mother tongue ... The different kinds of sweets, saris, history, culture – at about every parameter there's so much magic you could write about.
— Hisham Mundol, addressing the conference, as reported by BBC News, November 20
The expansion plans were elaborated upon by the Wikimedia Foundation's head of India programmes Hisham Mundol, who put particular emphasis on the development of Indic language projects, revealed efforts at getting DVD versions of Wikipedia into schools (motivated by the still slow rate of Internet penetration), and described the recent university outreach efforts of the India Education Program. Colleague Nitika Tandon also discussed the pilot program, which saw Indian students encouraged to submit their essays as Wikipedia articles, and noted problems the pilot had revealed concerning students' understanding of copyright and plagiarism norms (see Signpost special report). A special Hackathon was held simultaneous to the conference, focusing mainly on the challenges of non-Latin scripts used by the Indic language projects (see "Technology report").
A group of about a dozen protestors from the youth wing of the nationalist BJP political party demonstrated against one map on Wikipedia, whose depiction of the contested border regions surrounding Jammu and Kashmir they objected to. The Times of Indiarevealed that several protestors were detained by police, and planned to file a criminal case against "Jimmy Whales and Wikipedia's India chairman [sic]". An unruffled Wales responded "It's very important all people become educated on the issues. I want Wikipedia to be neutral on the issues; it's not up to us to decide what's the correct map of India of course, but it is up to us to explain there is this controversy." The fracas threatened to overshadow the conference, inspiring the creation of a Wikipedia entry (now deleted) as well as articles in a host of media outlets and websites, not limited to The Hindu, The Times of India, OneIndia News, Silicon India, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, GulfNews, Khaleej Times, the Daily Pioneer, and Wikinews splinter outfit OpenGlobe.
Fundraiser scores half a million from Silicon Valley royalty
The New York Times Bits blog greeted the news with the impudent remark "Keep an eye on Sergey Brin’s Wikipedia page. It might just get a more positive spin soon", and noted previous tensions with Google over Google Knol, a now-stagnant crowdsourced knowledge repository project once mooted as a Wikipedia-killer. The dedicated Wikipedia-watchers at The Registersaluted the entrepreneurs' generosity with the caveat "even if the Wikimedia Foundation can be a bit of an odd duck at times". PC Magazinewondered whether Brin had simply gotten tired of seeing Jimmy Wales' face.
The Jimmy Wales banner appeals have already attracted the by-now-traditional mockery taking advantage of the impression that the omnipresent banner image relates to the topic of the Wikipedia article, notably highlighted this year in The Oatmeal, which illustrated several images of Wales' face adorning the Douche, Sex offender, Nazi, Crossdressing and Anal wart entries. Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch was less forgiving, excoriating the fundraiser for inviting ridicule on this front, and advising Wales to "take some of the donation money, especially the 20 bucks I’m about to throw at you out of guilt for writing this post, and hire a professional graphic designer so you’re not creeping people out or (worse) making them laugh unintentionally." This cost assessment may be at odds with those of the Foundation's accountants, who have budgeted fundraising expenses at $1.8 million for 2010-2011.
Why is Twitter or Facebook such a priority, while Wikipedia goes unnoticed? Are you over-investing in shiny objects? Why have we invested in large, fragmented, unmanageable social sites that can take years to build a following and grow SEO, when a hand-full of rule-bound, manageable, community built pages already top the search tools we know all our constituents use every day?
— David King of Socialfresh on marketers' outreach efforts
Tech classic of the decade or just more important than Twitter? In response to a Slate attempt at chronicling the New Classics of contemporary culture, The Guardiandisputed its selection of the iPod as the archetypal technology artefact of the first decade of the millennium, instead nominating Wikipedia with the remark (following the usual caveats) "[I]t has gradually been relegating paper-based encyclopedias to the dustbin of history or the shelves of antiquarian book dealers. Future generations will wonder how we ever did without it." Meanwhile at Socialfresh, David King set out to explain Why Wikipedia is More Important than Twitter in an effort (that may perhaps render aghast patrollers and admins) to convince companies that their much vaunted engagement of time and effort into social media would be better spent focusing on their portrayal in the free encyclopaedia. It cited as obstacles the technical barriers to entry, onerous policies to comply with, a prickly editing community, and the established maturity of the site as reasons why Wikipedia had been overlooked by public relations professionals.
Vicious circle of careless citations: Randall Munroe's webcomic xkcd this week devoted an entry to the phenomenon of "Citogenesis", whereby a baseless claim in Wikipedia is taken at face value by writers whose subsequent articles are then used as supporting sources for the aforementioned claim in Wikipedia, which then becomes referenced as fact ever after. The process was interrupted in the case of Yahoo reporter Eric Shirey, Airlock Alpharevealed this week; Shirey had allegedly derived his report about a reconciliation of the copyright dispute between writers Harlan Ellison and Andrew Niccol from an unsourced account in Wikipedia. The reporter lamented that this was the first time a claim he had taken from Wikipedia had turned out false, and that he "had worse luck with things being inaccurate on IMDb". Alas, it took the repetition of his erroneous story by the very same Airlock Alpha for Niccol's attorneys to contest the story, which may give Mr. Munroe cheer that "Citogenesis" is not an inevitable consequence of irresponsible Wikipedia editing and lazy reporting.
Gardner talks gender and growth: As part of the London leg of her European tour (see "News and notes"), Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner was interviewed by BBC Radio 4's The World at One program. The discussion, which centred on the demographics and health of Wikipedia's contributor community drew the attention of The Wall blog's Sue Keogh, which summarised recent thinking on the "gender gap" and related issues and suggested that the Foundation "get a usability expert in" and offer training to potential contributors. No doubt Keogh will be enthused to learn that this is precisely the course of action Gardner has propounded.
Sanger speaks: The Next Webinterviewed Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger following the recent launch of Reading Bear, the latest project of his WatchKnowLearn online educational initiative. The nascent site seeks to teach children through simple, phonetically-oriented online videos. As well as an account of the new project, Sanger recounted some details of his family life, gave an insight into how his background as a philosophy professor has affected his career in online startups, and his brief status as a worldwide authority on the Y2K problem. He also remarked on the state of play on Citizendium, the expert-oriented free encyclopaedia he founded as an alternative to Wikipedia, saying it was still being maintained and developed, and had sufficient funding for the time being. The rest of the interview was largely given over to Sanger's early experiences as Community Organizer of Wikipedia, a story he said "has been told as much as people want to hear it" and which he expressed little regret over. He revealed a "burning desire" to work on his underfunded wiki Textop, specifically its Collation Project, an imagined collaborative knowledge tool that "has the potential to change education and research…especially in the humanities".