*Time Out Mumbai : "Home videos, audio recordings and Twitter feeds may
soon be cited in Wikipedia articles"*

*For much of the year, as they have been doing for centuries, many women in
South Africa’s Limpopo province sit around piles of ripe marula fruit,
peeling and preparing them to be turned into a variety of local liquor. But
if internet users search for information about amarula, the first mention
they will find is for a cream liqueur going by the same name that has been
aggressively marketed by a South African liquor company for the last two
decades. The age-old product made by the women of Limpopo can’t even have
its own Wikipedia page, because the free online encyclopaedia insists that
if articles are to be considered credible, written material must be cited.
Since the women use a recipe that has been handed down orally from
generation to generation, they have no texts to show as references.*
*The insistence on textual references deters Indian contributors from
helping to expand the online encyclopaedia, says Wikipedia advisory board
member Achal Prabhala. Wikipedia’s standards – which are designed to
maximise accuracy and veracity – make it difficult to create a page on
children’s games, temple rituals or marriage customs. But Prabhala has a
solution: he believes that the online encyclopaedia should allow oral
citations. He’ll make his case for this at the Wiki Conference to be held
this fortnight.*
*To demonstrate how this can be done, Prabhala made a film called People
Are Knowledge iin August. He and a team of Wikipedia editors travelled to
Limpopo, Bangalore and Kannur and made audio and video recordings of
interviews with people they met. They then created Wikipedia articles about
amarula, gilli-danda and a Kerala temple ritual, using these recorded
interviews as citations.*
*Prabhala’s work has resonated with Wikipedia editors like Andrew Lih, who
teaches journalism at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and
Journalism and has written a book titled The Wikipedia Revolution. He first
got a sense that the standards of English Wikipedia could be an impediment
for Wikipedia users in other languages when he attended a Wikimedia
conference in Alexandria, Egypt, in 2008. He visited the city’s New Library
to see their efforts to scan Arabic language texts. “They said there was
not enough Arabic language source material on the Internet, so their
scanning effort was very important,” said Lih in an email interview. “We,
in English, German, French, have the first-world luxury of tons of source
materials from libraries, universities and cultural institutions that have
had decades to put content online,” said Lih.*
*When Lih learned of Prabhala’s project, he realised there was an
alternative to digitisation of reference material. “It meant that we could
depend a lot more on non-textual knowledge sources, and perhaps Wikipedians
should be front and centre in creating these, with story gathering efforts,
such as oral citations,” said Lih.*
*Since they are open to being edited by any user regardless of academic or
editorial background, Wikipedia’s articles have always faced derision. In
fact, maintaining a high standard is the reason Wikipedia only allows
published work to be used as citations. Prabhala said that the English
language Wikipedia started out with lax rules which made it easy for people
to contribute. “But as the English Wikipedias and the European language
Wikipedias grew bigger, people started focusing on quality instead of
growth,” he said. “The problem with that is when one extends Wikipedia into
parts of the world like India and South Africa, there simply isn’t as much
that is published.” In 2005, according to Prabhala’s Wiki research page,
one book was published in the UK per 372 people, while in India that ratio
was 1 book for 11,371 people.*
*Some people point out that the published texts aren’t necessarily
error-free. “Why is it always assumed that oral narratives or what people
have to say does not have as much importance or as much weight as the
written stuff?” asked Urvashi Butalia, who has collected oral histories
about the Partition for a book titled The Other Side of Silence. “Actually
both are rich and both are faulty.” Butalia gave the example of the book
Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War by Sarmila Bose. If
excerpts from that book were used as citations, she said, the Wikipedia
article on the Bangladesh war would be skewed in favour of the sources the
author has accessed. “An intelligent researcher looking at that might
think, is there another point of view and is there a way to track it down,”
she added.*
*Being able to accommodate varying perspectives is one of the best aspects
of Wikipedia, said Prabhala. “A Wikipedia article allows for multiple
perspectivesand we don’t want to forego that,” he said. However, to
maintain maximum accuracy and keep disputes to a minimum, Prabhala said
that he’s more interested in “oral presents” rather than “oral histories”.
“These are things that are seen and done by millions and millions of people
on a daily basis but do not have as much of a place in print,” said
Prabhala. The Limpopo women Prabhala interviewed are “probably the world
experts on the making of this liquor; as a housewife in Chennai would be on
a recipe for a chutney”, he said.*
*Though many users have supported the idea of oral citations idea, it has
also faced criticism. Said one Indian Wikipedia user on a mailing list:
“Now we can finally have those thousands of articles about cure-alls and
diet-pills, and penis-enlargement exercises, since the manufacturer’s own
research would satisfy those standards.” To maximise the credibility of
non-published citations, Lih suggests using video recordings. “It’s much
harder to ‘fake’ a video piece than an audio piece,” he said.*
*According to Prabhala, however, a credible oral citation could be “an
audio recording of an individual, a Twitter stream, a Facebook feed, a
television interview, a YouTube home video, a pamphlet, a folk archive, or
anything that is conversational in nature and not printed on paper by the
formal publishing industry”. Wikipedia users are now discussing how to
provide information on the interviewee and the interviewer so that the
reader can decide how much he or she wants to trust that oral citation.*
*Wikipedia will also have to start recognising more virtual sources like
social media for the online encyclopaedia to grow, said Lih. “I’ve made the
argument to the Wikimedia folks that they should look at social media sites
like Quora and LinkedIn, where you can flag content and recommend others to
participate,” said Lih. “Say you’re looking at a Wikipedia article that
needs work, and even if you don’t know how to fix it, you know the perfect
person who can. Right now there’s no easy way to tap folks to do this.” Lih
imagines a button or hook into Facebook where one could prod or invite
others to fix a Wikipedia article. “It seems only natural to take advantage
of this capability. It sure would be a much more useful thing than to
simply ‘poke’ someone,” he said.*
*Prabhala believes that adopting oral citations would be a more accurate
reflection of the state of knowledge in developing societies. “In general,
to think of the universe of knowledge not as a hierarchy but as a swirling
universe of surprising sources is, in my opinion, a more honest and more
useful way to approach the idea of knowledge on Wikipedia,” he said.*
*Achal Prabhala will make a presentation on oral citations at the Wiki
Conference to be held between Fri Nov 18 and Sun Nov 20. *
*Edit meeting*
*The three-day Wiki Conference is meant to give Wikipedia editors a chance
to meet in the real world – many of them are already well-connected in
cyberspace – to share their views, exchange tips and discuss the challenges
they face. Each day will start at about 8am; the first will begin with a
speech by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Three simultaneous streams of
events have been scheduled in three areas of the Mumbai University’s Fort
campus: the Convocation Hall and two Seminar Rooms. Some of the
presentations are about using Wikipedia as an educational tool in schools,
colleges and at the post-graduate level. Another presentation is about how
galleries, libraries, archives and museums can work with and benefit from
Wikipedia, while yet another will discuss the possibilities of the online
encyclopaedia helping visually-impaired people. *
*For an updated and detailed schedule of the conference, visit
meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/WikiConference_India_2011/Programs. *
*To attend, register by visiting in.eregnow. com/ticketing/register/wci11
before Tue Nov 15 and paying Rs.1,550 per person. Only online payments will
be accepted. For more information, write to conference@ wikimedia.in.*

Tinu Cherian

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