Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The state of the Wiki in India (part II)

India, great food, the British Raj, Gandhi, Indian trains, the many cultures, religions and languages. To be honest when thinking of India it is often the subcontinent I think of first.

It is not that strange when you consider the millions who left India for Africa, South America, Europe. Many of these expatriates retain a strong link with their mother country, its culture, language and traditions. Many still speak their mother tongue exclusively at home. In Great Britain alone there are 2.6 million people from what used to be India.

With the diaspora of Indian people, the cultural heritage of India is very much a global one. It is a great reason why the subject of India needs to be covered well in the many languages of the countries where you find people of Indian descent. When you add the fact that many people in India prefer English, it is obvious that subjects related to India and Indians are particularly important in the English language Wikipedia.

There has not only been a diaspora of people from India, there has been trade in all kinds of commodities for centuries. Many Indian objects were treasured and some ended up in museums all over the world.  These treasures that you can find in many GLAM's are the cultural heritage that is not only part of the local cultural heritage but also part of the Indian cultural heritage. Sharing these in Commons is a great way of giving historically important objects a new lease of live. Not only that, they are an invitation to the general public to come and visit the originals wherever they are.

Aiyanar-horses at the Tropenmuseum
The development of India as a powerhouse of free knowledge is one of the strategic goals for the Wikimedia Foundation. They are advertising the job of Chapter Development Director. Reading the job description clearly shows ambition for a country where Internet traffic doubled since 2009. There are so many opportunities for a country like India, it boggles the mind. We could sponsor a Geograph type of project, the pictures we get in this way can illustrate articles of Indian places. Plenty of great pictures will be created in this way; they can be celebrated as "India/Selected pictures" and even as "Featured picture".

Of the 452 languages, India has many languages with an official status. Hindi and English are the official languages of the Indian Union. The Hindi Wikipedia is currently the 41th Wikipedia in traffic size, it is the biggest Wikipedia in an Indian language but it is still smaller then for instance the Wikipedia in Esperanto. There are two reasons why the Indian languages are not doing that well: English is one and support for the many scripts used for Indian languages is the other.

Given the many languages and cultures, it is a quite an achievement that India is one country. While Hindi is the biggest language of India in traffic, it is native to northern India. As there is considerable opposition to making this the primary official language, it is effectively English that is the language that binds all the people of India. The preference for English is strengthened because many Indians consider it the language that will bring their children prosperity.

When the Indian language Wikipedias are to do better, it is within the power of the Wikimedia Foundation to make a difference. They can fund the creation of freely licensed fonts that conform to the latest Unicode definitions. The benefits go beyond serving our communities; it will have an impact on all freely licensed software that is localised in the languages of India. The advertisement value of such an investment are much more then the cost of such a development.

Indian movies are a great export product

As there are many existing "Indian" Wikipedias, it will likely create resentment when only one or two Wikipedias are selected for extra attention. The nice thing of scripts is that they are often used by many languages. The key thing is to do a great job for each script. Once a level playing field is created for a language, it is for the Indian communities anyway to make the most of their Wikimedia projects.
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