TimeOut interview and visit to India

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TimeOut interview and visit to India

Barry Newstead
Last week I had the opportunity to share some thoughts on the Wikimedia Foundation's upcoming work in India with a reporter from TimeOut, who had interviewed Bishakha Datta on the WMF Board.

While the activities of the WMF in India have yet to be fully defined, I thought the responses to the reporter would be interesting to share with you all. They are appended below.  Happy to discuss any aspect of the responses that might not be clear.

In addition, I am in the process of planning my visit to INdia from 20-24 Sept.  I will be in Mumbai on 20-21, Delhi on 22 and Bangalore on 23-24.  My objective for the visit is to spend time with community members and the chapter representatives to discuss ways WMF can work with and along side the chapter and community to advance our shared mission in India.  I will also be meeting with friends and advisors of Wikimedia and I may be conducting interviews for possible staff roles with Wikimedia in India. More on this soon. 

I hope to have the opportunity to spend time with as many of you as are available during this visit.

Warm regards,

Responses to questions from Time Out India, Aditya Kundalkar

Prepared by Barry Newstead, Chief Global Development Officer, Wikimedia Foundation

August 19, 2010

Why was India chosen for Wikimedia Foundation’s office?

We selected India as a priority country for investment during our five-year strategic planning process that we completed in collaboration with the Wikimedia community. India is a great fit for a number of reasons, including the large and growing population of Internet users, the existence of a committed and growing community of Wikimedia editors and volunteers in India, and the potential to better-understand important issues that would advance the Wikimedia movement globally. These areas for learning include the challenge of growing language projects that are currently small, the question of how to enable a richer mobile experience, and how to provide access to Wikipedia for people without Internet access. We see India as a great place to both advance our mission and learn.

It is the first office outside of the US, isn’t it?

Yes, it will be our first office outside of the US and we are excited that India will be at the forefront of our global development activities. We are also looking forward to the official formation of Wikimedia India, an independent, local chapter, which was recently approved by our Board of Trustees and is awaiting regulatory approval. The local Wikimedia India chapter will be a close partner of ours.

Do you feel that there are too few Indian editors as compared to Indian users of Wikipedia?

It is very clear that there are too few Indian editors today, even though we do not have the data on the exact number. Wikipedia is one of the leading websites in India and while there is great knowledge available to our Indian readers, our projects are nowhere near their full potential. For example, there are 230 million speakers of Bengali worldwide, yet there are only 21,500 articles in the Bengali Wikipedia. Hindi is spoken by 550 million, yet there are only 59,300. The same is true for most of the languages of India with the exception of English. For comparison, the English Wikipedia has over 3 million articles. I would also imagine that there are many important topics of interest to Indians that are not yet well covered in the English Wikipedia, despite its size. We're interested in increasing participation from Indian editors --not matter what language they speak--English included. Our main focus in increasing the diversity of voices to the encyclopedias.

Why is that so?

We believe that the reason why we don't have enough editors is multi-faceted, but resolvable through the concerted action of our community with the support of the Wikimedia India chapter and the Wikimedia Foundation team. The number one opportunity is to make people aware that they can edit Wikipedia and help them learn how. We also have some technical challenges with Indic languages, like many websites, that we want to solve with the community to make it easier to work with.

Internet connectivity and the will to contribute seem to be the two most important things for Wikipedia’s success and growth. What are the challenges you face here in India to ensure that these two factors stay strong?

We are optimistic that the Indian community will continue to grow and thrive, though we think the recipe for success will probably differ somewhat from the US or Western Europe, where Wikimedia is very mature. Our core approach of volunteer-driven editing is working in India and our focus will be on expanding that through outreach efforts to build awareness and partnerships with educational institutions, ICT programs and others.

Internet connectivity is very important, of course and in India (and much of the world), we are going to have to figure out how to make editing possible via mobile devices. This will be a development priority for our technology development community and staff. Mobile editing will open us up to many new editors and a wide range of innovations.

Do you see greater potential for donations coming in through the India office?

We hope that Indians will make donations to support Wikimedia's work. We already have donors from India and we hope that more Indians will learn about our work and be inspired to donate as we grow our projects. Wikimedia is largely funded by thousands of small donations from a broad, global community, over 250,000 people last year. This helps keep our projects safe, sustainable and growing.

Is there a perception among Indians (especially potential users of Wikipedia, not editors) that something that they’re getting for free is not as valuable or trustworthy as something they pay for?

We think of Wikipedia as a living, evolving public service-- a free resource providing readers the information they need to better-understand the world around them. And although I can't speak for the people of India in terms of trustworthiness and value, but it seems that their actions speak for themselves – we are a top ten website in India according to comScore - and over 375 million people all over the world access Wikipedia monthly.

What's really exciting for us is that we know the integrity of our encyclopedias only increase when more, diverse people participate and contribute. That's a principal driver in seeking to invite more people to edit the projects. And the great thing is that if there are mistakes, anyone can fix them and as more people edit, this process helps create a valuable and highly trustworthy encyclopedia. Our movement aspires to make highly valuable and trustworthy Wikipedias available to everyone - in India and around the world.

Barry Newstead
Chief Global Development Officer
Wikimedia Foundation
Tel: +1-415-839-6885 x. 634
Skype: barry.wikimedia
Twitter: @bazanews

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