Wikipedia Asian Month: Voice for the under-represented

Whether we admit it or not, Wikipedia is an instinctive go-to for millions of netizens when Googling something — be it Ranveer Singh’s first movie or the ever-changing GST slabs. We like to think of the Internet as not having borders or bias, a globally accessible and totally factual Utopia. To get to this point, realistically, requires global efforts. The team at Wikipedia Asia have the same thought here; just as there’s Wikipedia in French or German, why not prioritise articles about Asia to be in regional dialects to suit the reader; after all, English readers always have a page translation option. Enter Wikipedia Asian Month.

Having started out editing Odia Wikipedia when he was just 15, 22-year-old Sailesh Patnaik hopped on board with Wikipedia Asian Month (WAM) in 2016 as a communications coordinator, and as of last year has been leading WAM as a chief coordinator, with other members in the team. He explains, “At Wikimania 2015 in Mexico, Addis Wang from China pitched the idea of Wikipedia Asian Month. He and some other Wikipedians started the WAM in November 2015, and since then it’s really grown, making November the month for Asia to represent the under-represented content of Asia in different languages.”

For Asia Sailesh Patnaik

For Asia Sailesh Patnaik  

How does it work?

Essentially, WAM is all about supporting smaller international communities on the site; and in the last three years, more than 20 small communities were involved in this event, creating just under 10,000 articles, which is pretty substantial. It doesn’t just encourage wider participation, but also helps in the capacity building of said small Wikipedias. According to Sailesh, WAM has now become the largest edit-a-thon in the Wikimedia movement, with over 64 language communities participating in a single edit-a-thon. In the last three years, about 20,000-plus articles related to Asia have been created as a part of this campaign.

With nearly 10,000 articles underway, one can only imagine how much there is to edit, and the quality of said editing. For a multilingual edit-a-thon like WAM, Sailesh says it is very difficult for the international coordinators to look at every single article. “By the end of the edit-a-thon, about 7,000 articles are created in multiple languages, so each language has its own organisers and jury to look over the article submitted during this edit-a-thon. There are certain mandatory guidelines online the organisers have set up, to submit articles for WAM.”

And what of visuals? Sailesh describes how WAM, from the beginning, has received support from many Wikimedia affiliates from around the world, and also from different cultural and knowledge partners, adding, “These affiliates and partners help organise offline edit-a-thons and share their resources to improve articles related to Asia. Last year, the Museu de la Música de Barcelona shared 31 images of its Korean music exhibits, which later became part of different Wikipedia articles. Such cultural institutions play a very important role in bridging the knowledge gap among the Wikimedia projects, by providing information and freely licensed images or other media.”

2018’s logo

  • WAM’s logo, designed by 燃灯, comprises many common elements of Asia: a desert camel trader, Silk (Road), (Star and) Crescent, a form of typical eastern Asian architecture, an elephant, a white tiger, a tea set, and two lanterns.

Tech and check

So once articles have been submitted, we expect some technology to help comb out the good stuff. We can thank Fountain, a judging tool developed by Le Loi, to identify the criteria, which automatically seeks whether the article has been created in November or not, and also identifies the word and byte counts.

Very much a part of the Wiki-Asia-sphere after having been invited by a fellow Wikipedian to be one of the juries in this event, Le Loi explains that Fountain automatically shows the jury the text of the oldest article without evaluation, adding, “You can read the article and then mark it as approved by clicking ‘accepted’, or decline it by clicking ‘not accepted’ and add a comment such as ‘not accepted due to insufficient citations, please fix.’ Then Fountain shows you the next article, and so on. The contestants might ask the jury to re-evaluate their articles as many times as they want. Till now, more than 100 contests have used Fountain and as far as I can tell, jury members like using it. I personally find it 10 times easier to be a jury member in a contest with Fountain than without it; I don’t have to waste any time opening the articles in my browser’s tabs and looking for the right cells in the results table. You read the article — you decide if it’s okay — you move to the next one.”

After submission, the jury does a manual check to identify whether the article matches all WAM criteria; if it does, it gets accepted. Sailesh adds a little perk, “The other interesting fact of WAM is that, if four of your articles are accepted, you receive a postcard from an Asian affiliate.”

The team is proud of the growth so far. Sailesh explains, “We started with 40 languages in 2015, and this year around 64 languages are participating in WAM, and for many of them, it is their first international edit-a-thon. One among them is Santali Wikipedia, which is the newest and youngest Indic language Wikipedia on the site, and is also the first tribal language Wikipedia from India. As the community is small and growing now, such events encourage them to become a part of the global movement.”

Le Loi points out, “Wikipedia will still be a place where any reader can find an independent summary of all the sources regardless of the subject. It is especially important in cases if the topic is subjected to censorship in some countries and/or sources themselves are hard to find or read due to the language barrier.”

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