Centre for Internet & Society

Bangaloreans are beginning to debate if Wikipedia is a reliable source of info, reports Shweta Taneja. TimeOut Bangalore, published an article on the upcoming WikiWars event that the Centre for Internet and Society is organising in January 2010. Nishant Shah, Director Research, was interviewed for his views and ideas about the event and the rise of Wikipedia as a global knowledge production system.

Link to the original article on the Time Out site.

“When we use the term Wikipedia, most of us mean the English version of it,” said Hari Prasad Nadig, a 26-year-old software professional. “It’s only in the last couple of years that even editors [of the popular online encyclopaedia] have started working on regional languages.” Nadig is one of several wiki editors who, much like the encyclopaedists in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, are dedicated to putting together unbiased and objective information about India in English and other languages. Authenticity and accuracy of information being a subject of serious contention, Wikipedia flags dubious-sounding articles and invites editors from across the world to ‘cleanup the article to meet its quality standards’.

 Nadig started as an editor for English Wiki on topics related to Kannada and Karnataka five years ago, but soon saw the need for articles and pages in regional languages. While the new Kannada and Sanskrit Wikipedias have been online for a few months now, Nadig also found himself making note of several problems that they had begun to face – the biggest being an affair commonly referred to as “WikiWars”, fought over the need to keep information accurate. To discuss such issues, and to present problems being faced by regional language Wiki groups like Nadig’s, the city’s Centre for Internet and Society, which has become a centre for Wikipedians to meet every month, has announced plans to host a conference called WikiWars in January 2010 (in association with the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam), for which the registrations open this fortnight.

 “The open structure of Wikipedia has led to warring factions when it comes to the content on important issues,” explained Nishant Shah, Director-Research at CIS. For example, when Bangalore was renamed Bengaluru, there was a quick succession of edit-wars, he said, where the proponents and critiques of the move constantly kept editing and changing the information provided by other parties. “In the absence of an editorial board, these wars create the neutral point of view that assures objectivity in content,” he said.

 The event WikiWars will aim to bring together perspectives, approaches, experiences and stories on such concerns, he added. “The platform is not only for active Wikipedians, but also for people who have the ability to critically examine Wikipedia.”

 Nadig explained that several writers and administrators work to protect the Wiki pages, so that no unauthorised changes can be made. But many of these writers are yet closed to the ideas of online communities and concepts of user-generated content. “The subject should be open to changes by others – that is the democratic way,” he said. Like in any open system, there is a pressing need to look at Wikipedia holistically, and what it means for different groups of people. Shah agreed, “On one hand, people swear by this peer-to-peer system of knowledge production and sharing, looking at it as a symbol of the information revolution. On the other hand, people question the validity and authority of the Wikipedia to serve as a global system of referencing, questioning the lack of structure in the system.”

Nadig further explained that the concerns are most relevant to new initiatives like the regional language Wikis. “The numbers of articles on the Kannada Wiki have now crossed 6,000 pages,” he observed. But most of the problems that Nadig’s facing are because most regional language editors tend to treat the Wikipedia as a print medium rather than a dynamic online one. “People still do not understand how the Wikipedia works, and tend to treat a page like traditional media – where once printed, it cannot be changed, edited or questioned,” he explained. He added that there is a shortage of good editors as well, who can actively question and participate in projects: “Many people need the technological ability to edit, and understand how Kannada functions online.” To improve the technical skills of editors, Nadig also works offline, conducting hands-on training sessions. He now holds sessions for newbie Wikipedians, and trains them to use programs for editing and writing in regional languages.

 But the main impediment for regional Wikis is that the community is broken into sub-groups, said Nadig. “If you want to work with the government and other organisations, you need a formal setup for Wikipedia, which can approach and actively engage them,” he said. Shah is hoping that the WikiWars conference will address this concern, including other issues like economic practices based around Wikipedia, the nature of freedom in usage, for instance in oral histories and unconfirmed information sources, and the space for dissent in the medium. He added that the event will aim to build a “knowledge network” that will start larger discussions, and also work to create public awareness.

Registrations for WikiWars are now open.

Highest Wiki Taker

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