2014-04-20 6:46 GMT+03:00 Milos Rancic <mill...@gmail.com>:
> There is the question: Why should we do that? The answer is clear to
> me: Because we can.

You'll be hard-pressed to find a lot of people who support the general idea
more than I do, but precisely because of that I believe that we must be
optimistic-but-realistic.

Not realistic in the sense of "all is lost, and at best we can save a few
dozens of languages".

Realistic in the sense of "we can actually save quite a lot of them, but we
cannot do it by ourselves".

What can we do?

We have software that is very friendly to Unicode, internationalization and
localization.
We have rather good translation tools.
We have pretty stable and accessible servers.
We have a good brand.
The Foundation has some money and will to spend it on focused and
data-driven projects.

Obviously, the only remaining problem is the motivation of the people who
would write in these small languages. Small not in the number of speakers,
but in the online presence.

The successful projects are not successful by themselves. For the most part
they are successful because these languages are successful online outside
of Wikipedia. I'll be the devil's advocate and I'll argue that the Hebrew
Wikipedia is successful in number of articles per speaker not so much
because of the outstanding motivation of the Hebrew Wikipedia editing
community, but because Hebrew was pretty successful online before Wikipedia
appeared. Millions of people were writing emails and Word documents and
browsing forums and news sites in Hebrew before the Wikipedia in this
language started in 2003. There were Linux clubs all over Israel at that
time. It was possible to read printed encyclopedias in Hebrew (these days
you can easily find these multi-volume sets in the trash around here), and
to get complete school and university education in it. The Hebrew Wikipedia
was just a natural outgrowth of that.

A successful Wikipedia in a language that doesn't have these starting
condition would be an extremely rare exception.

Sure, we could say that Wikipedia already succeeded at reversing things. We
had astounding success at reversing the process of publishing, which was
established for centuries: for us "publish first, revise later" is a usual
thing. But can we succeed at "write Wikipedia first, establish Internet
culture and public education later"? I'm doubtful. "Publish first, revise
later" worked because reasonably educated people in first-world countries
realized that writing is not such a big deal. They had plenty of books to
read in their languages to learn how it's done. Can it work for languages
in which there are hardly any modern books, or any books at all? Languages
that completely rely on textbooks in foreign languages - English, French,
Spanish, Russian, Indonesian? Again, I doubt.

Well there even be any motivation to want to *have* an encyclopedia in a
language you *speak*, when the language in which you learn in school is
different? Israeli, Russian and Dutch children google for homework
solutions in their languages. Indian children google for homework solutions
in English. I repeatedly hear Indians complaining that learning in high
school in your own language rather than in English is one of the worst
things to have on your CV.

A lot of chicken-and-egg here.

Back to the original question: Can Wikipedia save these languages? Not by
itself. Wikipedia is only a part of a language's online presence; an
important part, but I'm not sure that it's natural for it to be its first
part. I'd say - get these people to write emails and Facebook statuses in
their languages first. It will be much easier for a Wikipedia to come after
that.

And please don't let this email be Stop Energy - I'd love to be proven
wrong.

--
Amir Elisha Aharoni · אָמִיר אֱלִישָׁע אַהֲרוֹנִי
http://aharoni.wordpress.com
‪“We're living in pieces,
I want to live in peace.” – T. Moore‬
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