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Bangla-language survey suggests the challenges for small Wikipedias
Bangla Wikipedia survey
Bangla belongs to the eastern group of the Indo-Aryan languages, here marked in yellow.
The Bangla language, also known as Bengali, is spoken by some 200 million people in Bangladesh and India. The Bangla Wikipedia has a very small community of just 10–15 very active editors, with another 35–40 as less active editors. The project faces particular challenges in being a small Wikipedia, and Dhaka-based WMF community fellow Tanvir Rahman is working to understand these challenges and develop strategies to improve small wikis that have strong potential to expand their editing communities (Signpost coverage).
During July 2012, Tanvir conducted an online survey of more than 1800 Bangla Wikipedia readers, a response over just two weeks that was beyond expectations; of these participants, 1107 answered all 29 questions. Like all online surveys, the advantage is the relatively large sample size, which increases statistical strength, although there is the likelihood of some self-selection bias. Of the 1107 completed surveys, 25% of the participants count themselves as editors of the project, and 75% as readers who had never edited the site; 81.2% were from Bangladesh, with 16.3% from India and 2.5% from other countries, including the US and the UK. The issues surveyed concerned readability, editing, help, and community support of the Bangla Wikipedia. The survey also provided the first-ever demographic information of volunteers editing this language project.
62.2% of participants are students, and this matches the largest age-range in the survey, of 16–26 years. The results have established that college and school students make up the largest group of readers and editors of Bangla Wikipedia, and that this group feels the project has been very useful for their studies. In Bangladesh, students usually have better internet access than the overall population, which may be a factor in this result. Ironically, it seems that the English Wikipedia plays an important role in promoting the Bangla Wikipedia, since most participants learned of the existence of the Bangla Wikipedia from the English Wikipedia's other languages links. Other sources include search engines, social networks, and newspaper reports on the project and outreach events (Signpost coverage).
In a finding that will have a familiar ring to English Wikipedians, new users feel inhibited by the current lack of proper help pages and other technical issues. However, there the similarities end: while two-thirds of participants find Bangla Wikipedia useful, readers pointed out several limitations that need to be tackled. Like other small Wikipedias, a lack of information in articles is the most commonly raised issue for the Bangla Wikipedia. More than 700 responses included open suggestions for how to improve the project's readability.
- Most know they can edit, but ...
The majority of participants say they know they can edit the Bangla Wikipedia, but only a quarter actually do edit. Most readers feel the need for a guideline on where to start editing; it appears that the current help-page system – where known at all to a reader – fails to provide convenient and useful help to newbies.
Bangla help and policy pages are mostly translated versions of English Wikipedia guidelines, although the actual editing environment in Bangla is much simpler than on the more developed English-language project. On the other hand, the English Wikipedia community and the WMF have recognised that the help pages on the English Wikipedia are deficient, and the system is currently subject to review and redesign (Signpost coverage).
The editing interface is the second major factor that Bangla participants feel holds them back. Many are unfamiliar with wikicode, and those who have learned how to use it are on their own thanks to the lack of useful documentation. Several participants expressed the hope that a Bangla version of Visual Editor might eventually solve this problem.
An example of Bengali script: the word Wikipedia
As Bangla is written in its own script, 17.5% of the participants mentioned that they don't know how to type Bangla in computers. Bangla script has 49 characters (not including hundreds of consonant conjuncts), which makes it more difficult to work in than in English. It's now possible to write Bangla using English with the phonetic keyboard layout, and this typing tool in turn is embedded in Wikipedia.
Bangladesh has more than 92 million mobile phone users, with an unknown number in the Indian state of West Bengal; 90% of the total internet users in Bangladesh gain access to the internet through mobile services. However, few people said they browse Wikipedia from mobile phones (typing Bangla into a mobile phone is a complicated affair).
- New way to help newbies
63.4% of participants stated they don't know where to find help on Wikipedia.
56% of all participants said they would like to get help in editing, but don't know where they can ask for support from Bangla Wikipedia. A majority would prefer a step-by-step help environment, rather than traditional help pages. Newbies, the survey finds, shouldn't be expected to know much before starting to edit. People would also like help from Wikipedians online, so a mentorship program like the English Wikipedia's adopt-a-user could be of value.
Aside from basic help issues, 57% of the survey participants would like to help translate content from the English Wikipedia to Bangla, and 60% would like help for new content creation. The English Wikipedia is the biggest information source for other Wikipedias' translation activities, and it is often easier and less time-consuming to develop a Wikipedia by translating articles from English.
- Demographic findings
Almost all participants completed their university and college bachelor graduation; 11.8% were high-school graduates alone. (In Bangladesh, the home-country of most participants, high school is from grades 6–10, and college is grades 11 and 12.)
The gender gap is an issue on the Bangla Wikipedia: only 5.6% of participants are female, and just 21% of female respondents have edited the site. Of those who did not, after learning from the survey instructions that they can edit, most expressed interest in contributing. Women were particularly keen to have a step-by-step help system.
- The way forward
The survey findings will be a starting point for developing incremental help pages in Bangla, which will be intended to tackle the problems revealed by this survey. The starting point will be the translation of the help space from the English Wikipedia, with an eye to developments on that project towards simplification and greater effectiveness. It will aim to provide newbies and interested editors with an adequate help structure in line with the expressed preferences of the respondents. Discussion on the new help system is underway with the local community, and the help experiment is expected to go live next month.
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