Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 12, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.
Update: Having written this at 1 am in the morning, I missed out on some facts related to the discussion towards the end of the meeting. I have now added this along with a processed pictures from the meeting.
Today was the 5th meetup of Mumbai Wikipedians. The main idea behind the meetup was to enable Erik Möller, Danese Cooper and Alolita Sharma of the Wikimedia Foundation to meet with Mumbai Wikipedians and discuss some of the technical issues faced by Indian Wikipedians. The meetup was held at the Homi Bhaba Centre for Science Education Campus in Anushakti Nagar, Mumbai. The meeting began with a basic introduction of Wikipedia, an attempt to understand the Indic text input issues, local caches, a few Wikipedia-based projects to try and explain similar possible Indian collaborations and technical issues. The meeting was attended by 10-20 people but was very engaging and exciting!
The meeting started at 6:30 pm and went all the way upto 9 pm at night. It began with a round of tea, coffee and biscuits. After tea, we moved in to a lecture hall on the ground floor of the campus. Erik began the talk by a brief introduction of Wikipedia and the work of the Wikimedia Foundation. We then got some insights into how the Foundation ran Wikipedia on top of just 450 servers with a low budget compared to that of giants like Google and Facebook. The trend seemed pretty counter-intuitive. Erik reiterated the points made by both Barry Newstead and Jimmy Wales on their previous visits on why they have considered India an important destination. He added that much of the traffic from India was going to the English Wikipedia.
Erik then went on to question the Mumbai Wikipedians on the various input options available to them on the Hindi Wikipedia. Kundan Amitabh being the expert in such matters was urged to demonstrate the inscript keyboard technique that he had shared in the last meetup. Erik asked about the in-built transliteration tool as well as the one provided by Google for purposes of editing. Moksh Juneja was of the opinion that while the phonetic (transliteration) tools were useful for small edits, the larger edits required the inscript keyboard method. Nagarjuna G suggested that during his workshops, he suggested the use of inscript keyboard to those who were going to learn from the beginning and the phonetic tool to those who were used to English keyboards. He too agreed, though, that in the long run, the inscript keyboards being the standard was more preferable.
Moving on, Erik suggested the Wikipedia Bookshelf as the go-to place for various resources on Wikipedia. He showed the various resources available on the page for beginners and hoped it could be printed and localized. Towards the end of the meetup, Nagarjuna G selected Moksh Juneja and Vivek Cherian to begin the localizing effort. Erik also pointed to examples such as the US Public Policy Initiative and a reference for school and college education projects based on Wikipedia that he started. The reference grew to act as a set of resources that school and college educators could use.
Danese Cooper (I incidentally tweeted her name as Denise, apologies for that) then took on the technical side of Wikipedia. I could not really catch onto some of the technical details she mentioned and hope that Vivek Cherian will catch on to this on his blog. I will link to his post here. The interesting things that I could make out from the talk was that a sum total of 4 people of her 60-member group worked on keeping Wikipedia up and running. She also mentioned a need for a sysops from Asia who could take the timeframe between her people in Europe and Australia. She said that their current data center dated back to the ones used by Jimmy Wales and that they hope to soon move datacenter to Ashburn, Virginia being a datacenter hub. She suggested that those interested in the technical aspects join up on the wikitech mailing list. A list of all Wikipedia related mailing lists is available here.
We then moved on to watching some of the videos created by Wikipedians at Wikimania 2010. These were created with the basic idea of getting people interested in Wikipedia and encouraging them to edit Wikipedia. They also pointed us to some of the screencast tutorials that would help Indian wikipedians create local content that would enable us to use this as an education tool. Again, Wikipedia Bookshelf has resources to help Wikipedians create video content.
Erik then showed us the “Create a book” tool which can be found under “Print/Export” on the sidebar. The tool allows us to select pages from around Wikipedia and add them as pages into a book. These can then be routed through PediaPress, which prints out the copy of a book from near your locality or exported to an offline open source reader such as Kiwix.
Erik then showed how the Encyclopedia of Life project worked. He also talked about some of the work that the Foundation was doing to enable some of the expert comments to be made available to the wikipedia article as a way of giving back. He suggested ideas like a tab on top of a page for pointing to reviews about the content of a page by an expert on EoL.
Moving on to the question and answer session, Shambulingayya asked the question of institutional collaboration with IIT-B and Wikimedia Foundation, India. The idea was welcomed. Kundan also suggested that this can be used to the advantage of improving articles on science and technology on Wikipedia. I also welcomed it. Danese provided a similar example of such a collaboration started by Wikipedian Liam Wyatt who used his passion for Wikipedia and Museums to bring about an interesting project with the British Museum. Erik added that a session called Backstage Pass enabled Wikipedians to visit the Museum for one day, then meet in a room and work on adding content to Wikipedia and sufficiently improved the article to best article status. The British Museum went along with the project seemingly because it received more traffic from sites like Wikipedia. This was leveraged by Wyatt to improve Wikipedia itself allowing the Museum website to get more attention.
Erik then showed off the openmoko WikiReader. This little gadget has an offline, low power utilisation, microSD card content of Wikipedia running on AAA batteries. The latest copy of wikipedia can be downloaded by removing the SD card and connecting it with internet. Erik asked for suggestions on how this could device could be useful in the Indian context. He also suggested that these could be locally produced at a lower cost since this had an open hardware architecture. In connection to small readers, Moksh asked about mobile accessibility. Danese pointed to the mobile version of wikipedia and confessed they did not know where to concentrate their efforts on for developing on mobile devices. She speculated on the growth of smart phones in India and said they were not sure whether to put in the effort to make Wikipedia readable on currently simple GPRS phones if the smart phones market would have cheaper alternatives available.
The end of the meetup quiz was won by Shambulingayya who got the copy of the book, Good Faith Collaboration. We then had a photo-op and moved out as night descended.
We had planned on the 10th anniversary celebration of Wikipedia. I, Moksh and Kundan have been requested to meet and discuss things once again and post the idea on the mailing list to take forward the idea of the Wikipedia X Celebrations in Mumbai. Vivek also jumped in with better ideas on the way back home for which Moksh gave us a ride. We hope to get some ideas and put it on the Wikipedia in Mumbai mailing list.
My photos from the event can be found at Wikimedia Commons. I will soon upload them onto Picasa and share them here.
I just missed out on sharing this as I was writing this very early this morning at 1:30 am. Nagarjuna G shared that they were currently working in HBCSE to digitize copies of Marathi Vishwakosh. He had already written to the Secretary of the digitization project to make the copies available under the Creative Commons License and in unicode text. This would enable Wikipedians to use this as a base for several articles on Wikipedia in Marathi. As an answer, Bishaka Datta shared that in speaking with the Observer Research Foundation had made some headway and a suggestion to do the same could be made with the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.