Having a Conference with WikiProject India
WikiProject India is a ginormous project, started in July 2006 by Ganeshk. It has 55 FAs and 162 GAs under its scope. The project was featured in one of the WikiProject Report's earliest issues, so be sure to take a look at our 2007 article for a brief overview of the project's structure. With the recent surge in activity regarding India, from the creation of a Wikimedia Chapter in India earlier this year to the 2011 WikiConference India being held this weekend (see "In the news"), we felt this would be a nice time to revisit the project. We interviewed RegentsPark and AshLin.
First, tell us a bit about yourself and your role in WikiProject India.
- RegentsPark: WikiProject India doesn't have a formal structure and there are no well defined roles within the project. There is a great deal of diversity amongst members of this project, cultural and ethnic diversity, of course, because India itself is diverse, but also diversity in terms of editing styles, points of view, etc. The role of any individual in this project is by definition limited, so I see mine as being one of restoring sanity and helping steer a course that conforms to the mission and policies of Wikipedia.
- AshLin: Like RegentsPark said, there are no defined roles here. I'm just an ordinary editor who contributes mostly on natural history, military history and whatever catches my fancy such as philately.
When did you first join WikiProject India? What are some of the challenges that the project has met since you joined, and how were they dealt with?
- RegentsPark: Around the third week of my active Wikipedia editing experience. I'm sure this is the experience of most editors, but I ended up on Wikipedia by accident. Saw something that I felt needed changing and the darn thing took over my life! The challenge for this project has always been the diversity of opinion that different editors bring to the table and the lack of adequate reliable sources to back up those opinions. In the past, this was dealt with in a straightforward way, editors with outre ideas would be quickly banned and a couple of strong admins kept the project under control. In particular, Nichalp was particularly good at managing the progress of the project in those earlier times. In recent years though the number of editors with an interest in India related topics has multiplied, the strong admins have left the project, and Wikipedia itself has changed making this a harder task. However, we do have a strong core group of editors, many who live in India and who understand India well but also a few who live outside India, who do a great job building quality articles by looking for sources and by politely engaging with other editors. In my opinion, the key to building a successful encyclopedia lies in understanding that even editors with strong pov missions bring something to the table and that polite engagement with these editors can be productive.
- AshLin: I have been informally part of the WikiProject for many years being on the South Asian task force of WikiProject Military History but I added the WikiProject India userbox formally on my page as late as April 2011, so that may also be considered as an entry point. In reality, I have been editing articles about India right from the time I became a Wikipedian in 2006. Our challenges, aside from the ones highlighted by RegentsPark above, include large size of subject area, with literally tens of thousands of articles, and these are only the ones tagged as such. There may be as many or even more without the relevant talk page tag. The large number of states, languages, terrains, cultures, communities, tribes, biodiversity etc all add to the quantity and complexity of issues that fall within scope of the Project and that means the talk pages of the Project have tremendous variety. The number of editors? I dont have the figures, but I'm sure they would number in the hundreds, if not thousands. Now, these editors come with widely varying levels of skills, knowledge and attitudes. So, dealing with any issue is usually harder. The educational experience of the majority is not up to Western standards and in my humble opinion there is tremendous need for evangelism on citation, verifiability, copyright violations, paraphrasing, referencing and related topics. Another problem is the paucity of reliable sources. All these are basically challenges of scale - India is a big country with many issues and problems, and it reflects on Wikipedia.
What aspects of the project do you consider to be particularly successful? Has the project developed any unusual innovations, or uniquely adopted any common approaches?
- RegentsPark: I would say that the two parts of the project that work well are the Assessment department and the India noticeboard. In particular, the noticeboard is an active place where editors bring issues that need a centralized discussion. It can also be an acrimonious place, but isn't that the nature of productive discussion?
- AshLin:To be honest, I have not really surveyed this aspect well, though I have asked people from time to time. Islands of excellence abide amidst a wide expanse of run-of-the-mill articles. Indian biodiversity articles are doing fairly well, especially birds (a lot of credit to WikiProject Birds also), but with such a tremendous fauna and flora, even there we are just at the tip of the iceberg. One can see editors fighting lone epic battles to improve articles, or to even retain the highest quality of featured articles, such as India.
Have any major initiatives by the project ended unsuccessfully? What lessons have you learned from them?
- RegentsPark: It is important to understand that while there is a WP:Wikiproject India, there really is no formal project. There have been a few, very limited, initiatives in the past, I can't recall any directed push to improve one part of our India wikispace or another. The most recent effort that I can recall is the assessment drive organized by Ncmvocalist and that was in 2008. One look at the collaboration department history makes it clear that editors here go there own way. That is not a bad thing and is reflective, to some extent, to the nature of the country. Indians have a peculiar mix of a simultaneous respect and disdain of authority and both tend to do their own thing as well as respect the rights of others to do their own thing. So, everyone picks their area of interest and chugs away at filling the gaps.
- AshLin: As such, small groups of editors team up for a while and deal with a few articles of common interest. Besides that, I'm not aware of any online initiative.
What experiences have you had with the WikiProjects whose scopes overlap with yours? Has your project developed particularly close relationships with any other projects?
- AshLin:Not really. In a sense, WikiProject India is a behemoth which overlaps most projects in some way or another. Editors working on articles in many other WikiProjects inadvertently help develop the articles of that WikiProject concerning India. I'd like to thank all these editors and WikiProjects.
- RegentsPark: Can't think of any active projects that I'm involved with whose scope overlaps with WikiProject India. I'm involved with WikiProject Burma and WikiProject Novels, but, sadly, both projects are best described as moribund.
What is your vision for the project? How do you see the project itself, as well as the articles within its scope, developing over the next years and future India-related findings, creations and news?
- RegentsPark: I'd really like to see more articles of popular interest. On TV serials, local celebrities, that sort of thing. One of the things that distinguishes Wikipedia from other encyclopedias is the breadth of what we can cover and I think that the current focus (of the project members) on history, caste and the main India article is unnecessary. To use the term satisficing coined by Herbert Simon, these areas are more than adequately covered. Dotting every i and crossing every t, searching for the perfect sentence structure, or seeking perfect balance is a chimerical objective that is never going to be achieved but that's what we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on. Our coverage of Bollywood topics is phenomenal, and I'd like to see that kind of coverage on other cultural issues as well.
- AshLin: A small beginning has been made to develop an Indian offline version of Wikipedia. It is a large and difficult task to select the articles and also to improve them to any identified level of quality. I hope that in the next few years, this initiative will help us develop all the major topics in India reach upto near GA level. The Wikipedian communities in India's cities and towns are slowly growing. Many members of WikiProject:India play constructive roles in Indic language Wikimedia projects, usually of their native language or mother-tongue. I'd really like to see a synergy develop between these Indic language communities and WikiProject India articles where content creation in English Wikipedia on Indian topics spurs on creation in the Indic language Wikipedias and vice versa.
Are you planning to attend WikiConference India? Do you plan to discuss the WikiProject at the conference? How well do members of WikiProject India stay connected on and off the wiki?
- RegentsPark: No. I find that I enjoy the anonymity of Wikipedia too much to show my face at a conference!
- AshLin Yes. I am looking forward to the WikiConference and along with other volunteer Indian Wikipedians, I am helping the Mumbai Community to organise the Conference. We hope to have a great time next week. I will be presenting a three minute update on state of WikiProject India. Besides this many issues will be discussed which will impact the WikiProject articles. It would be appropriate to say that most Indian editors of English Wikipedia consider themselves members of WikiProject India even if they have not overtly joined up or participated - so we all like to meet and interact with others. Now with the Wikimedia India Chapter coming into existence, city communities of Wikimedians slowly forming and Wikimedia's office opened up in New Delhi, we are hoping to see more events, meetings, visits and other chances to interact in 2012 than we had in 2011. AshLin (talk) 17:47, 9 November 2011 (UTC)
Anything else you'd like to add?
- RegentsPark: One of the most difficult issues for the India project is access to sources. Unlike most Western countries, Indian newspapers haven't migrated their archives online. Historical documents are in text form and often scattered across multiple physical libraries. In the unlikely event that a reader of this article finds an interesting source for historical documents and images, please let us know at WT:IN. Other than that, feel free to stop by, copy edit random pages, or just help out.
- AshLin: I would like to thank the many editors of WikiProject India articles for their hard work and contributions. They are doing great work. I do know that many of them feel stressed out, frustrated and impatient at times. I earnestly request them to hang on in there - the best is yet to come.
We thank this week's interviewees for taking the time out of their day to answer our questions. Next week, we'll work on our literature review. Until then, browse for articles in the archive.