Friday, August 18, 2006

Technology: wikipedia in local languages

Various people from Kasahorow, GINKS, wikimedia and IICD/ HIVOS have started conversations around wikipedia in local languages for development. The person who is really enormously enthusiastic about this is Gerard Meijssen working on the wiktionaryZ project (an online dictonary project). We are brainstorming on a pilot in Ghana for the wikipedia in Akan, Ewe and Hausa languages.

Ethan Zuckerman wrote a blogpost called your language or mine? in which he refers to the original goal of wikipedia:

The goal of Wikipedia (and the core goal of the Wikimedia Foundation) is to create and provide a freely licensed and high quality encyclopedia to every single person on the planet in his or her own language.”

which goes beyond the aim of equaling the quality of traditional encyclopedia, often quoted in the media.

He continues to outline an important debate:

I became aware of an interesting debate within the Wikipedia community. In trying to achieve Jimmy’s dream of a free encyclopedia for everyone in their own language, is the goal to create a single, coherent encyclopedia that can be translated into many different languages? Or to help every language community around the world create their own encyclopedia which will have somewhere from a little to a lot of overlap with another encyclopedia?

Personally I think a local wikipedia can be an important boost for content on the internet in local languages (now people newly connected to the internet in Africa deal with an overload of non-African content), and can work to empower people within a language group by having a space on the web where they can create their own 'world'. Furthermore, more practically speaking, there are intermediaries in Ghana who can read and write in local languages, who can access to the internet (think of community workers, extension workers, or community radio people) and who are struggling to 'translate' information from the net to local context. I think it's very important to strive for the second option mentioned by Ethan, whereby the power of writing in your own language is leveraged by writing down the concepts and issues proper to that language, in a dynamic, continously updated wikipedia, rather than translating the english -or polish, or any other huge- wikipedia.

Yet, wikipedia in African local languages don't take off automatically like the English version, which can count on numerous volunteers. So to stimulate the start, you might:
1. Translate the user interface (called localisation of the interface), making it easier for people to contribute
2. Incubate: make sure you get a certain number of articles (eg. 100) either by starting with a small group or paying for translations, before you go public
3. Make use of local networks like GINKS to get engage the active users of internet, pioneers, journalists
4. link up with projects working on 'practical content' in local languages like ICT4D training materials in local languages, background to the news, etc.
5. link up with school projects, to stimulate use of the local wikipedia or get them working on it
6. .. ?
More creative ideas welcome!

It is a question whether too much stimulation does not go again the principles of wikipedia?

If you want to get involved in the discussions, you can join the yahoo group discussion on afrophone wikis.

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