Centre for Internet & Society

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:

  1. WikiSpeak with native language (web and Android): Speaking the text of Wikipedia articles
  2. Edit Tamil Wiktionary (Android)
  3. Audio file upload to Wikidata (Android): Assists users in uploading small files that demonstrate the pronunciation of lexical items
  4. A layer that shows local Wikipedia articles on a Google Map
  5. Optical character recognition for Hindi and Malayalam
  6. Communication platform [WebRTC] (Web Application): Santosh wrote this app himself; hackathon participants used it to communicate
  7. 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

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