*The Economic Times : "Oral citations to be part of wikipedia entries"*

*When you set out to make the entire global knowledge base freely accessible
, can you leave out subjects that find very little mention in print? The
question posed by Bangalore based researcher Achal Prabhala, has kicked off
a debate among Wikipedia editors, the volunteers behind world's largest
encyclopedia . The collaborative online encyclopedia , supported by the
non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, has over 19 million articles written by
about 90,000 editors across the world. Achal began working on the problem in
January 2011 and carried out a project called the Oral Citations to find
ways to increase local language entries into Wikipedia . At the crux of the
problem is the lack of printed material in local languages and for topics
related to indigenous culture. Editors find it difficult to add articles
because of the lack of citable material. *
*Right now, the online encyclopedia relies heavily on published material
like newspapers , journals and magazines for citations . However, when it
comes to vernaculars , there is very little published material available and
editors often find a huge amount of knowledge being left out defeating the
entire objective of Wikipedia. Take for instance, Dabba Kali, a traditional
game played in North Kerala is finds very little or almost no reference in
citable sources. "But that's also an important part of culture," says Achal.
"The sum of human knowledge is far greater than the sum of printed knowledge
," he argues. Of late, the Wikimedia foundation has been trying to make its
projects more global. While this is relatively easy in developed countries
with better infrastructure which generate a lot of citable material, the
problem in developing and underdeveloped countries are acute. *
*" Germany, whose entire population is a fraction of India's online
population has a massive footprint on Wikipedia. While a country like India
is behind. Why is that?" asks Achal. "Because there is a lot more published
material which can be used for citations out there... maybe, because the
people who made the project largely were from the Anglo European or Japanese
world, there has been a conflation of the sum of human knowledge and sum of
printed knowledge," says Achal who mainly works on intellectual property
issues related to medicine. With Shiju Alex, a Malayalam Wikipedian ,
Mayur,one of the top 20 global contributors to the encyclopedia and
Monaledi, a software developer from South Africa, Achal set out to find how
easy it is to create original articles that discuss things that have not
been discussed before and are particular to a linguistic culture. "We found
that the citation rules are a huge problem. What do you do when the largest
university library in South Africa has only 80 books in Sepedi, a South
African language spoken by five million people ? Of that, most are bibles
and dictionaries and fiction and poetry which is not good for citations," he
says. The situation is no different for Malayalam or Hindi. *
*In Kannur, the number of Malayalam books in the varsity library is not more
than 3,000. "A lot of that is also translation which don't contain original
Malayalam knowledge which don't deal with topics intrinsic to Kerala," he
said. He also points out a relatively newer problem: the rules for citations
were made a few years ago when social media was not big and the Internet was
different. While the Internet culture has changed, to become a significant
part of people's lives, the idea is to broaden the base of citation "to
reflect peoples lives more realistically ." So will this change the way
Wikipedia works? "This is a discussion within a community and the desire is
to take it to its logical conclusion. Now we want to know what we can do
around citations as a whole and depending on the inputs make it more
concrete," he said. The project, however, has not been without its share of
critics within the volunteer community. One of the longest running thread,
in the recent history of the foundations public mailing list, debates the
project with scathing criticism, supporting arguments and balanced
suggestions . *
*For instance, Ziko van Dijk, a Wikimedian from Netherlands, writes: "So,
when someone believes that those "accessible printed sources" are "biased" ,
he comes up with the video of his grand uncle telling the truth? I don't
think that it fits into the scope of Wikimedia. It certainly does not fit
into the scope of Wikipedia." Achal counters: "First, this is an experiment
- an experiment which those of us working on it, and others around us,
thought might lead to interesting result ... the project is not on "oral
history" - it's on using oral sources as citations." Indian Wikipedians have
not been sparing either. For the new generation which is growing up on the
internet, the whole world of referencing and authority is online instead of
through print and very little of that is allowed on Wikipedia, they counter.
Criticsim of the project comes from local Wikipedians too. A Wikipedia
editor told ET: "I'm a bit sceptical about the project. One of our core
principles is we don't do original research. But with oral citations, we
will begin to do original citations. Wikipedia is a tertiary source and not
a primary source. This will be a breach. Also, oral citations are more
unreliable than printed sources." He, however, concedes that the area of
oral citations is relatively unexplored and has potential for study.
"Perhaps it is time to have a conversation around how you can include these
sources ?" says Achal. The debate still goes on.*

Tinu Cherian
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