Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An interview with Hisham Mundol

As the #Wikimedia Foundation prepares its presence in #India, they hired Hisham to do much of the preparatory work. The task he has in front of him is massive; a country as big as a continent, many Wikipedia communities and even more Indian cultures. I asked him 10 questions about the challenges he faces. It shows to some extend his understanding of the issues. Enjoy...

The WMF did not hire you for your looks, why did they hire you?
I disagree with the premise of this question. My mother swears that I am the 2nd best looking man on the planet (after my younger brother) - so there!

On a more serious note, I think my experience in program design, insight generation, communications and community mobilization would have been regarded as relevant by WMF. I also happen to be a really nice guy! :-)

Is a comparison between the cultural diversity of India and the cultural diversity of Europe a good one ?
Personally, I don't know if it is good or not. India has enormous diversity - in language and religion and arts and just about any other parameter. I'm sure one could argue the same about Europe.

What is it that you hope to achieve for India in the first two years? 
I'd like to see 3 big things:
  1. A step jump in the editor base in India. I think we can and should look at exponential growth.
  2. If we can get 2-3 Indic language Wikipedias to reach the 100,000 article count - of a reasonable quality - that would be great.
  3. We must remain with the curve as Internet access continues to expand rapidly in India. Wikipedia must sustain it's position as the pre-eminent port of call for knowledge and information with the millions who gain Internet access every year.
English is an important language for India, what plans are there to raise the coverage of India in the English language Wikipedia
I think the first step is to support the expansion of the community. It's reasonable to assume that many new editors will start off in English.

I think we should - progressively - address 3 critical barriers as I see them: awareness (don't know who edits Wikipedia; don't know I can edit Wikipedia), apathy (yes, I know I can edit but not really bothered to do so) and diffidence (do I know enough to edit an encyclopaedia?)

I also feel that after we systematically address all 3, there will still be the need to provide some further encouragement and indeed pointers on what to edit.  A typical thing I hear is that "everything is covered in Wikipedia - so there isn't really anything I can add." Inspiring messages on what can be edited should be considered. For example, there are some awesome articles on military history in Wikipedia - but can we improve articles on Indian military history? Also, if one looks at the articles on major localities or indeed entire Indian towns, there is so much more richness and colour that could be added.

"Malayalam loves Wikipedia" brought many great pictures to Commons, is this a project that you want to see repeated as "India loves Wikipedia"
I would love to see that. I think Commons is a really accessible route into Wikimedia and there is so much more of India that can be covered. Just as a point of reference, if you search Delhi in Commons, there are just 6 images. Surely Delhi itself could have 10,000!

When mobile phones properly support Indic languages, will people be interested ?
I would strongly suspect so. The fact is that the majority of people in India are more comfortable in their native languages than in English. The is borne out by local language media audiences and anecdotes like the fact that the overwhelming language outside the work and education place is inevitably the local one.

Why do you think the traffic to the Malayalam Wikipedia and others is doing so poorly?
Low traffic is part of the chicken and egg problem. Not enough people are visiting local language Wikipedias because there aren't enough quality articles and not enough editors are contributing articles because there isn't a large enough audience. Having said that, may Indic language Wikipedias continue to show encouraging, sustained growth.

Do you know of possible solutions for this and if so, what can you do / what can we do ?
There is no silver bullet for this but for us to address readership and contribution in parallel. Over time, both will increase and then local languages will gain critical mass and momentum to propel them to discontinuous growth in both. To achieve this, I think specific initiatives needs to be designed to drive both readership and contribution. 

What impact would aspects of social media in the Wikipedia experience have on the Indian public ?
The 2 most powerful points I think would be the experience of collaborating on articles as well as the fact that it creates a massive platform for voluntary contribution are both unique Wikipedia characteristics that could have a profound impact on the Indian public.

What languages do you speak and, have you localised at translatewiki.net, would you recommend it
I speak English, Hindi and Malayalam. I haven't localised at translatewiki.net. I have just created an account - and shall try it out. It's therefore too early for me to comment or recommend.
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