India: Wikipedia’s new frontier

| October 15, 2011 | 0 Comments

Wikipedia – the controversial online encyclopaedia – plans to colonise India next. It’s set to open its first foreign office in New Delhi in a matter of months, although it’s already the fourth-most visited website among India’s 100 million Internet users.

Wikipedia stands to benefit significantly from the move in several ways. First, India has a vast youth population. Its 100 million Internet users will double by 2015 as smart phones become more affordable. Governments in many Indian states have failed largely to supply enough libraries to meet the needs of the youth, and schools complain that government mandated textbooks are rarely updated.

“Wikipedia is like an alternative market response to the failures of the state in India,” says Anirudh Singh Bhati, a member of the executive council for the Wikipedia India chapter. “If a student needs information which is up to date, they use mainly Wikipedia to get it.” Wikipedia will also benefit from enthusiastic Indian contributors and editors. They may still be few in number but, says Bhati, the quantity of entries that they produce can be remarkable.

To tap that potential, Wikimedia is working to promote 40 individual encyclopaedia sites in Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam, as well as mobilising volunteers for programmes like Campus Ambassadors, designed to turn users into contributors, says Bishaka Datta, a Mumbai-based documentary filmmaker who was recently appointed to parent company Wikimedia’s board of directors.

Wikipedia will have to overcome problems like persistent software issues that make it difficult to enter text in Indian languages, none of which use the English alphabet. Discussions about the accuracy and neutrality of entries must often be conducted in multiple languages. Unsurprisingly, the government of at least one state, Kerala, has embraced the online encyclopaedia as an educational tool that can save it from using vital resources from its meagre budget. “I think the potential [for India] is huge,” Datta says. “Platforms like Wikipedia can really equalise access.”

Category: e-Education, Spring 2011

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