The Wikimedia Foundation has launched Wikipedia Zero in Bangladesh, India Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand over the last two years. Wikipedia Zero is a “zero-rate” program that allows users to browse Wikipedia entries on their mobile phones for free thanks to a partnership between Wikimedia and the mobile carrier.
Wikimedia’s goal is to enable access to free knowledge for every single person on the planet, leveraging the ubiquity of the mobile phone. However, that information currently exists mainly in English. There are just 109,404 posts in Hindi for the 295 million native Hindi speakers, while the 365 million English speakers get 4,413,036 Wikipedia articles (and counting) to learn from.
And while I enjoy the benefits of English language domination on the public Internet, I feel we should pause a moment and think a bit about the pros and cons of yet another bastion of English being offered as a gift to the world.
Might it be better if Wikipedia Zero came with social cues and gamification that inspired more Hindi posts? Its not like the Indian government’s Vikaspedia will succeed by itself.
We need to recognize and empower all languages equally, so that the Internet can truly reflect the diversity that is our reality. We need a Wikipedia Plus that adds local knowledge, not just disseminates others’ distant information.
Wikipedia is arguably the world’s largest, and most complete encyclopedia, all the more impressive as its fully crowd-sourced by volunteers with a passion to detail the world’s knowledge. However, Wikipedia has a serious flaw. Because it is crowd-sourced, its really only complete where there is a crowd interested in adding information.
Let’s look at the number of articles per language, juxtaposed against the world’s population that speaks that language:
Do you notice anything amiss? Like how few articles are in languages other than English, regardless of population? Or how amazingly few are in four languages of India? That latter point has inspired the government of India to ask the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing to build Vikaspedia, a knowledge portal to reach the ‘un-reached’ communities of India, especially the poor, to make a difference in their social development.
Vikaspedia is starting in five local languages – Hindi, Assamese, Marathi, Telugu and English – and it will will eventually expand to 22 Indian languages. Though unlike the actual Wikipedia, it only has information on health, agriculture, education, social welfare, energy and e-governance, and curiously, isn’t running on actual wiki software, but on Plone, though you can register to contribute.