Two 29-year-olds create ‘WikifyIndia', a website that hopes to make government procedural information simpler.
What documents do we submit to apply for a PAN card? How does one get an educational loan? How does one apply for a passport? Log on to www.wikifyindia.com. and help is at hand. This website, a non-profit initiative, is an aspiring encyclopaedia of government procedures in India. Says Anish Chandy, one of its co-founders, “Agents and middlemen distort information. Officials are rarely friendly. One usually has to ask someone who has been through the grind.” So, in May 2011, he, along with Sohel Bohra, founded this project, which is “a call to the government to make governance more participative and transparent.”
Classmates Sohel and Anish felt that one of the major problems that people face while interacting with the government is the lack of correct procedural information. “If there is one place where all of this information is freely accessible, it would make life a lot simpler,” says Anish. “Due to the sheer volume of information, we realised it would be impossible for a few people to collect all of it and put it up on a website, which is why we opted for the Wikipedia model.”
WikifyIndia works on the same lines as Wikipedia. Anyone can contribute content to the website, making information available to all. Says Sohel, “This way everyone gains from a contributor's experience. We are merely trying to aggregate the wisdom of the crowds.”
An interactive portal
For instance Brian Fernandes, a tech entrepreneur, shares his technological expertise on the website. Sohel explains that they have created a user-friendly platform that enables contributors to add or edit content, without having to secure login IDs.
However, the website clearly spells out that it is not related to Wikipedia. This site is managed by KWID Foundation, a non-profit organisation that uses technology to create social impact at the grassroots level.
“In addition to running WikifyIndia, the KWID Foundation also brings fresh thinking to socially relevant communication,” says Sohel. He adds that the name KWID is inspired by the DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom) hierarchy.
But how authentic is the content? “A Wiki website works on the principle that given enough eyeballs, errors will be shallow,” says Anish.
“Wherever possible, the volunteers refer the authenticity of the content to official websites. Highly motivated volunteers also verify information by placing a phone call or visiting the concerned department. External links on the website point you to the other best sources on the web for that piece of information,” he explains.
Anish adds, “We have initiated interaction with the government at various levels and the response has been heartening.” A government official helps them with information. “A.K Shivakumar of the National Advisory Council is also a supporter of the project.”
The chatter on social media about WikifyIndia is very positive and the awareness levels are climbing. “There is an ‘Aha effect' for internet users, when they stumble upon this ‘Wikipedia of government procedures'. The wave of activism in the anti-corruption and governance space also helps,” says Sohel. “Eventually we would like to take this offline. We could put up procedural information at government offices using multi-lingual posters,” suggests Anish.
About their future plans, Anish says, there is always scope for improvement. “As of now we are focused on acquiring content. Gradually we will add features to improve the user experience.” Sohel adds, “We would like the site translated into a number of local languages by volunteers. Maybe even add voice capabilities to leverage on the huge mobile penetration.”
They are certain that at some stage they would want to influence the process itself and make it simpler. “WikifyIndia cannot merely be an online initiative. We would like our future projects to take this information offline or directly engage with the government thus simplifying forms and procedures,” concludes Anish.