interview | asaf bartov Kerala

Creating new information linkages specific to regions

Asaf Bartov, senior programme officer (emerging Wikimedia communities) at the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco, is touring India to train Wikimedia volunteers on Wikidata, an ambitious venture to create a structured and linked database on an open platform, which was launched in 2013.

Bartov has a thorough understanding of the Indian Wiki communities and has a liking for Malayalam Wiki, which has maintained relatively higher standards in the region in terms of gender-neutral participation, content, and projects. In a freewheeling chat with The Hindu in Kochi, he spoke about the aspirations of Wikimedia and the challenges ahead.

How is Wikidata different from Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia with descriptive articles. Each of them contains individual bits of data but, overall, it presents you a piece of narrative information. Wikidata, on the other hand, is an attempt to centralise these bits of data, actual raw data not narrative, from within Wikipedia. To cite an instance, if the Mayor of Kochi changes after elections, it is very likely to be updated on Malayalam Wikipedia, but what are the odds that it would be updated on, say, Turkish Wikipedia? Very low or nil. Assuming Turkish Wikipedia has an article about Ernakulam, it would probably have the information as of whenever it was written and probably no one would ever update it because Turkish volunteers don’t really keep up with the goings on in Kerala and vice versa.

But if we could centralise those bits of data, then when something happens at a location and volunteers close to the source update it at a central location, it would get reflected in Wikis across languages.

Though its progress has been slow, we have been able to add 33.9 million sets of facts on Wikidata since 2013. It is powerful to answer questions of arbitrary complexity. For instance, if you want to have a list of people who were born in Kerala and died in Pakistan, it can give you that.

Or, you may want to know about female politicians born after 1950 who also have a politician for a parent, and you will have the complete list on Wikidata. Its adoption has been slow or low in India, owing to its complexity (it is quite unintuitive to grasp even for volunteers), small size of Wiki communities, connectivity issues, and the like.

At 16 years of age, what’s on the horizon of Wikimedia?

We have undertaken a strategic planning process under the title ‘Wikimedia in 2030’ to think of what the movement could and should become.

In terms of our mission, that’s creating and ensuring free knowledge, there’s so much more that we need to do. Not every child on the planet has access to textbooks. How then can you talk about universal free knowledge? That problem is in our mission and we are developing ways to make Wiki available offline, for rural communities. Right now, Wiki is read by about half a billion people. It is a lot, but the world population is 7.1 billion.

So, we are only reaching about 8% -- that is the easy 8% -- with access to the Internet and the like. How do you reach out to the remaining 92% is on our agenda.

There are other issues as well. The health of the Wiki community as such, to cite one.

Not everybody has a great experience trying to edit Wikipedia.

There’ve been instances of your contribution getting rejected because someone has read your political opinion on Facebook. We want our community to be more welcoming and inclusive, capable of putting up with differences.

There’ve been issues of sexism as well, which we need to tackle. Going forward on Wiki content, we don’t have enough multimedia (video), but the number of visual learners is growing. We intend to build a collaborative video editing platform, which will be accountable, editable, and with all Wiki characteristics, to cater to them.

How does Wikimedia plan to bridge the gender gap within its community?

There is gender gap in content as well as participation as volunteers. As for content, the gap is wider in some language Wikis. Malayalam is relatively better off, though. Deliberate, proactive action is needed to enhance gender coverage.

Some action along these lines have taken place in this region a while ago when they launched a project named Lilavati’s Daughter, as part of which biographies of women scientists in India were created. Presumably, if there were more women volunteers, there would be more gender equal content. But the participation gap is more complex. Globally, there are social, historical aspects to it, but India has fared below average than the rest of the world.

There’s more chauvinism here, fewer opportunities for women to embrace computing in general, fewer educational opportunities, and fewer occasion to take up hobbies.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 5:31:32 PM |

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