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Wikipedia needs inputs in local languages

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The paradox bothers Jimmy Wales. The co-founder notes that the world’s largest free online encyclopedia has currently over 3 million contributors when it comes to its English language, while Hindi, which has approximately 280 million speakers, has “very few” hands to give inputs.

At the first WikiConference in this country that saw the participation of over 500 people who included editors and students besides contributors to the web-based and multi-lingual project that soon going to be eleven years old, the 45-year-old American internet entrepreneur emphasised here today that the focus this year was on India.

So, what is the total number of editors for wikipedia? It’s “approximately 50”, revealed Wales.

Even so, the collaborative mission, launched on January 15, 2001, was “quite mature” today in terms of content in the largest languages. As for Indic languages, they offer “exciting opportunities”. Thus, “we would appreciate more contributions, especially in the Indian languages and minor languages of your country,” he said.

Citing the instance of Kazakhstan, where the number of editors of content have risen from the initial 15 to 231 now, Wales expressed his desire to see Hindi and other Indian languages witnessing a similar trend. (Besides Hindi-Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi figure among the world’s 10 most spoken languages. Mandarin, Spanish and English line up as the top three, above Hindi-Urdu.)

Achieving this, Wales noted, would require simpler technology.

At this, Bishakha Datta, who is among Wikipedia Foundation’s board of trustees, informed that they are also working on improving the software that would make keyboard typing in Indian languages as easy as with English. Earlier this year, wikipedia introduced Narayam, a typing tool, to add different language inputs. In India, wikipedia is available in over 20 Indian languages, including Hindi and Marathi. What’s more, it is the fifth most visited site in the country.

In its bid to grow its presence and continue its work, Wikipedia is all set to launch its fund-raiser programme this year.

For this, it would look at small donations from organisations and individuals. “Last year,” recalled Wales, “the process was a huge success.” He said the foundation was open to large donations, but “I would prefer smaller donations so that we do not become dependent”.

Datta chipped in, saying Wikipedia was looking for collaborations with Indian firms to expanding the online encyclopedia to the mobile-phone segment.

Friday’s event wasn’t without its share of issues. Even as Wales termed the conference as the foundation’s biggest-ever, Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the Opposition BJP’s youth wing, staged a demonstration outside the venue of the event -- at Mumbai University’s Fort campus.

The protestors shouted slogans against Wikipedia for its “anti-national” portrayal of the maps of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh on their website. It required police intervention to take the youths away.

Commenting on the issue, Wales said people should be educated. “We are very neutral in our approach,” he added.

Wikipedia websites host 3,200 maps of India. A multitude of users from across the world, numbering in hundreds of thousands, use, upload, generate and create material on Wikimedia websites every single day. “Similarly, maps of India are uploaded and generated by such a multitude,” he added.

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