The Blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine – we DISSENT

Why Wikipedia

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By Amol Ranjan

Last month in my home town at Patna, few of my friends and I were discussing something that was posted on Facebook by one of our common friends. As it happens more often, the topic moved and settled around the relationship between India and Pakistan. At one point in the discussion one of them asked, ‘Simla Samjhuta kya hai? (What is Simla Agreement?) Since I didn’t know the exact details on the matter, I took his phone and searched ‘Simla Agreement’. The search results were in Hindi because of its Google search settings in his android phone. Then I clicked the Hindi version (on 12 Sept, 2018) of Wikipedia page of Simla Agreement to find out that the information on the topic was very small and there was not a single reference or citation in that small article. I realized that with the lack of any support material and reference, one shouldn’t necessarily trust what is said in the article. So I looked for the English version (on 12 Sept 2018) of the topic. Although still short, the English version was more satisfactory since there were 10 references in total and it also had an external link of the official document whose full text was already pasted in the article.

Later, I browsed many Hindi Wikipedia articles because I was so taken aback to see the health of Hindi Wikipedia pages. To illustrate a point on the state of citations of Hindi Wikipedia pages, which is one of the indicators of the verifiability and reliability of any information, I looked at Hindi and English Wiki pages of Emperor Ashoka. I found that the English version (on 12 Sept, 2018) had listed 99 citations with more than 30 sources of information as Books and Journals, but its Hindi version (on 12 Sept, 2018) had only 4 citations. Some facts given in the Hindi version also contradicted itself. Reading from above at one place it says, Ashoka died in 232 BCE but later in the page it says he died in 236 BCE and further down it became 236-237 BCE. None of these information were supported by any citations.

I also found that many of the Wikipedia Hindi pages are not updated to the latest development, even in the case of world-renowned figures. According to Hindi Wikipedia of Tennis player Rafael Nadal (on 12 Sept 2018), he has only won 8 grand slam titles but he currently (on 12 Sept 2018) holds 17 grand slam titles. But more surprising was to find out that there is no Hindi Wikipedia page or article for Men’s Champions Trophy Hockey, a game which is a national sport in India and a tournament where they have been finalists (on 12 Sept 2018) in 2016 and 2018. This prompted me to look at the overall picture of the Wikipedia Universe.

As of August 2018, Hindi Wikipedia (started in 2003) had a total of 129, 400 articles compared to English Wikipedia (started in 2001) which had 5,708,696 articles, the highest in any language. Among other regional languages, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi came after (in that order) Hindi in terms of number articles on Wikipedia. In fact, Urdu Wikipedia had more articles (142,294) than Hindi Wikipedia by September 2018 and Tamil (124,791) was only other Indian language to have more than 100,000 articles in the same period.

Wikipedia, the world’s fifth most visited site, has been a great effort in trying to create a system of public knowledge production in the form of an online encyclopedia with the help of contributors worldwide. According to Wikimedia statistics, there have been a total of 2,609,944 contributors who have worked on 48.6 million articles in close to 300 languages till August 2018. For English Wikipedia, so far there has been a total of 1,237,448 contributors while for Hindi Wikipedia, the number has been 2,882 in the same period.

In terms of consumption of Wikipedia in August 2018, Wikipedia got a total of 15.48 billion page views. The United State of America was the top consumer with 3.5 billion page views and India was in the fifth place with 775.47 million page views in the same month. Out of the 775.47 million views from all Wikipedia pages in India, English-Wikipedia got a whopping 662.6 million views but the regional language Wikipedia pages were dismal in numbers. Hindi Wikipedia got 49.78 million views; Tamil Wikipedia got 5.73 million views; Telugu Wikipedia got 3.96 million views with the contribution from rest of the others.

It’s very clear that just as it does in academia in India, English language dominates the production and the consumption of knowledge on Wikipedia as well. But unlike academia, Wikipedia is meant to be an open and crowd-sourced platform where anybody can make a contribution to the public knowledge of this ever-growing online encyclopedia. For India, page views and the numbers of contributors in Indian languages will increase since India’s internet penetration is still only 38%[i]. Digital industry in India is already geared up for the regional growth in the medium. The publications too have been trying to make them available to most of the population in India. People in India have already taken to writing things online in their native languages. But the question is: will people, who can write in Indian languages (other than English), revive these figures and make Wikipedia more inclusive? And more importantly why would they need to do that? (It’s a question posed to me as well.)

One has to remember that Wikipedia already faces a lot of problems besides the fact that it is geographically and linguistically challenged. They are gender and racially biased in the makeup of its contributors and content. They also have been accused of being over-complicating in their editorial rules and policies which many times drive the contributors away. Since the nature of its production is voluntary, crowd-sourced, often anonymous and many of the articles can lack citations of reliable sources, people can always develop their trust and bias issues with it. Does that mean we need to ignore this and not engage with it? And can we even afford not to engage with it?

When social media giants like Facebook and Youtube faced huge backlash for not doing enough to fight the problem of ‘fake news’, in one of their prompt actions they released statements to say that they would start linking their doubtful content to related Wikipedia articles. One wondered why they did that.

Although not perfect and the most reliable, Wikipedia is the biggest collection of open and free online information available to everybody online. One can’t deny that. It’s for non-profit, anyone can contribute and it’s based on the philosophy of open source. In a world of scattered and overflowing information, it can be a source where people go to make sense of any topic and find related readings. But it can only be as good as we can make it. Knowledge creation is a collective responsibility, so is the problem of misinformation or ‘fake news’.

In India, it is reported that most of the ‘fake news’ reside in the regional languages. Platforms and publishers like Google, Facebook, AltNews, Boom, etc. are doing their bit to debunk many of the misinformation that passes online but among torrents of information their efforts might not be enough. One has to think of other ways of strengthening our knowledge system collectively which could be readily available to common people to find, check, verify, correct or add certain information. Fortunately, the system is already available in the form of Wikipedia.

P.S: 33.5 % of the total articles on Wikipedia have been created by bots; out of these 9.5 million articles was created by just one bot called Lsjbot, who is responsible for putting Cebuano language second in the list of highest articles just after English.

[i] According to Telecom Regulation Authority of India ( TRAI) https://trai.gov.in/release-publication/reports/performance-indicators-reports

Bio:
Amol Ranjan is a freelance researcher/writer. Email: amolranjan1@gmail.com

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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Travel: Cities, Places, People’, edited by Nishi Pulugurtha, academic, Kolkata, India.

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