WMF executive director Katherine Maher (center, in black) was greeted at WikiConference India 2016 by students from the Chandigarh Group of Colleges. Many of the students volunteered for the event, edited Wikimedia projects, and attended sessions to learn about Wikimedia.
WikiConference India and its productive hackathon
The second WikiConference India, held August 5–7 in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, drew hundreds of new and experienced members from 20 language communities of various Wikimedia projects from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. This event was more thematic than the first WikiConference India (held in 2011), with numerous presentations, panel discussions and workshops on the gender gap, Wikipedia in education, Mediawiki, and state of the movement in India. The event was organized by the Community of Wikimedians in India, supported by Wikimedia India and the Centre for Internet and Society, and funded by the Wikimedia Foundation. The newly formed user group Punjabi Wikimedians hosted the event. WikiConference India's main goal was to build community and increase participation among Wikimedians in India. Interest in the event was strong: 452 Wikimedians from more than six countries applied for ~100 scholarships. Wikipedia's well known gender gap was evident: only 55 scholarship applicants were women, but a strong focus on diversity resulted in ~25% of scholarship recipients going to women, and the inclusion of speakers of ~20 languages. In all, about 250 people attended the conference. Several Foundation staff spoke at the event, including executive director Katherine Maher, Asaf Bartov, and Tighe Flanagan.
A highlight of the conference was the hackathon track, which spanned all three days of the conference. It proved highly productive, yielding seven apps that are expected to help Wikimedians in a variety of ways. I spoke with Santosh Shingare (Cherishsantosh), the Bangalore-based Wikimedian who organized the hackathon. Santosh had previously served as an organizer of the 2011 WikiConference, and has run hackathons annually since then. Santosh's primary motivation for holding such events is learning; he spoke of limited opportunities to learn about new areas of technology beyond his core skills in WebRTC and Android. He enjoys collaborating with other Wikimedians and sharing technical skills. This event was his first with an international draw, and he looks forward to opportunities to collaborate beyond India's borders in the future.
As Santosh outlined in a message to the Wikimania email list, the hackathon's 35 participants made substantial progress with the following projects:
- WikiSpeak with native language (web and Android): Speaking the text of Wikipedia articles
- Edit Tamil Wiktionary (Android)
- Audio file upload to Wikidata (Android): Assists users in uploading small files that demonstrate the pronunciation of lexical items
- A layer that shows local Wikipedia articles on a Google Map
- Optical character recognition for Hindi and Malayalam
- Communication platform [WebRTC] (Web Application): Santosh wrote this app himself; hackathon participants used it to communicate
- Notifications: browser notifications for Wikipedia functions such as recent changes
Santosh highlights that the projects grew out of advance communication. To identify problems and generate ideas, the hackathon organizing team posted a survey ahead of the event. Requests from various language communities, including Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi, and Malayalam, drove several of the projects. The software is all freely licensed, and there are no plans to generate revenue.
Santosh is not a prolific Wikipedia writer or editor, but rather sees value in his ability to communicate among Wikimedians who seek features from various language communities, including his native Marathi and other Indic languages in which he has varying degrees of fluency.
He plans to update the Wikimedia community shortly with further details on each of the seven projects. He is already planning the next of India's annual hackathons. Hackathon organizers worldwide might be interested in learning more about Indian Wikimedians' efforts, and Wikimedians around the world can expect to benefit from their projects.
The conference generated a number of media reports. P
Indian state of Tamil Nadu adopts Creative Commons license
Last week brought a rare piece of good news in the world's uncertain progress towards the widespread free licensing of information on the Internet. Ravidreams announced on the Wikimedia India mailing list that the government of one of India's largest and most populous states—Tamil Nadu—has issued an instruction to Tamil University and "all other government departments and institutions to release all their publications, archives and collections under Creative Commons by Share-Alike license".
The move comes one year after the collaboration between the Global Tamil Wikimedia Community and the Tamil Virtual Academy, an independent institution set up by the state government in 2001 to provide online resources for Tamil-language communities around the world. TVA and the Tamil-language Wikimedia community collaborated to persuade the government to make the order. Wikimedia India (one of three Creative Commons affiliates in the country) served as an institutional partner, signing the initial agreement on behalf of the Indian Wikimedia community, and funding a Wikimedian in Residence at TVA.
Ravi, who also serves on the TVA committee for outreach, told the Signpost that the TVA is very keen to share its collection of encyclopedic resources with Tamil Wikimedia projects. The community contributed strategic knowledge of free-content licensing, providing precedents for free content release by other governments in India and other countries, and helped in the drafting of the actual order. "But it takes a lot of time, effort, high-profile connections to change how government institutions work", he said.
||Almost 99% of the time it's about the right officer/minister who cares for our mission being in charge of the right department at the right time. It's very hard to bring change through a bottom-up approach. These precedents help when someone at the top gets interested in changing things. So, any community that expects to influence public policy should be prepared to do a lot of groundwork.
Tamil-language Wikipedian Thamizhpparithi Maari serves as Assistant Director, TVA and state coordinator of its computing outreach unit, which the government is funding to encourage students in the state to use open-source media and software; this program includes the development of mobile apps and the running of contests to enhance students' computing skills. He described to the Signpost the elaborate process of finally gaining legal and administrative approval for the CC-by-SA release order. Thamizhpparithi has already started a process of digitising books from the universities to share with the Tamil wiki community, involving between 400,000 and 500,000 pages in some 200 books, using Google optical character recognition (OCR).
"This is just the beginning; we expect millions of pages to be uploaded to Tamil Wikisource", Ravi said. Most of the content that will become available for uploading is in Tamil, although some will be in English and other Indian languages; this will present significant opportunities for the Tamil Wikimedia community.
There are about 70 million native speakers of Tamil, and another eight million second-language speakers. It is an official language in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka (with which the state shares a maritime border), and Singapore, and is also used in Malaysia and the African island of Mauritius. The language, written in a distinctive curvilinear script, has a rich literature of poetry reaching back thousands of years, and of novels over the past few centuries; this is attested by a related category on the English Wikipedia that is already of impressive size.
The Open Policy Network, a project of Creative Commons, published an overview of the value of this kind of work in 2014; the Network advocates for governments around the world to adopt free content licenses. T
- Mobile app provides offline access to 8,000 medical articles in Arabic, Chinese, Persian, and Spanish: The apps, which supplement a popular English language app, were announced by the WikiProject Med Foundation and Wikimedia Switzerland. More language editions are planned.
- Wikimedia Foundation appoints five volunteers to its Board Governance Committee: Newly appointed trustee Nataliia Tymkiv announced the selection of the advisory group. Board governance issues have been the subject of much discussion since the tumultuous events at the WMF over the last year. The four members of the BGC are Tymkiv (chair), Kelly Battles, Christophe Henner, and Dariusz Jemielniak.
- WikiConference North America will take place October 7–10, 2016 in San Diego. Scholarship applications are open until August 23; conference submissions until August 31.
- WikiConvention Francophone will take place in Paris August 19–21.
- New help page takes aim at common newbie obstacle: Many articles carry banners, to flag problems with the articles. New contributors often lack an understanding of how to go about removing the banners, if they address the underlying issues. In recent months, Fuhghettaboutit created a help page to explain the process, and advocated for linking to the page from the templates. The help page now gets several thousand views per day, suggesting that it is filling a significant gap.
- Machine-assisted translation of Wikipedia articles, which has increased with the introduction of the Wikimedia Foundation's Content Translation Tool (covered by the Signpost in a June 2015 op-ed, in June 2016, and in various other pieces), has sparked a controversy in recent weeks. See here: Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/CXT.
- Wikidata RfC on defining data quality underway: Alessandro Piscopo, a guest of Wikimedia Germany, asserts that: "to achieve high quality, it is important to define first what data quality is on this knowledge base." Join the discussion: Wikidata:Requests for comment/Data quality framework for Wikidata. P