The rich and poor of Wikipedia in India

Submitted by hpn on November 24, 2013 - 16:03

An anonymous parcel arrived the other day by courier and the security downstairs had kept it aside.
I opened it late in the evening to find a parcel with no note whatsoever in it. A T-Shirt and a memento was thrust into a box. Turns out that it was the stuff distributed at the “Kannada Wikipedia 10th anniversary” event to which I was not invited officially.  It was as though someone knew I wouldn’t accept it and kept it anonymous.

I had earlier heard about the event from friends who got to know about it from individuals that were part of the organising team. Old friends who had got invited earlier had called several days prior to the event checking whether I was invited to this. I was told that the schedule was frozen long back and had been vigorously promoted in the local media. There was no mention of any old time contributors in the agenda, forget mine. I realised that if the organising team were to invite me, having known my contribution to Kannada Wikipedia, they would have done so by now as I’m quite reachable over twitter, Facebook and since much of the organising team has known me. No message whatsoever till now meant quite unwelcome - so I went ahead with my schedule and booked tickets to get to Pune a day earlier to the language summit.

A fellow Wikipedian called me up later requesting me to be part of the event. He felt that I should have been part of this having been the initiator of Kannada Wikipedia. However, the inordinately late invite came after many knew that I wasn’t invited for this and had expressed dismay at this.

I initiated major work on Kannada Wikipedia in 2004 and tried to build a community around it for several years, also editing on it - and on many occasions dedicating my full time to the project for years together. I’m a sysop on the project, have introduced several people to the community and the mailing list and did plenty to improve the project. And it was never easy during those days with less or absolutely no money to do what we needed to. We met at public parks to discuss and spent our own money for outreach events until there was some support from other non-profits and the WMF. I still remember how Ramki and I had spent money from our own pocket when we fell short of funds for the first ever outreach event in India that we organised with the help of volunteers. It was quite a team work, that one. The day prior to that first ever outreach program in India, me and Murali had spent all evening till late night running around printing shops in Chamarajpet to get the printing done in a most cost-effective way possible. I had returned home after mid-night on my always-low-on-fuel two wheeler that had so miraculously lasted till I got home. Ramki had rushed to a book shop the following morning to get books to be presented to the panelists. Ironic as it may seem, Prof. Venkatasubbaiah was one of the chief guests on that day as well!

In general, we would gather during the meet-ups and order even the food on our own and share. Those were the days when we were spending money from our own pocket to organise meet-ups until much later when there was actually some support for these.

Things have changed now. Wikimedia now functions in India with a huge volume of funds, running into several Crores.  The activities aren’t driven by volunteers like earlier, but by direct recruits from Wikimedia or the non-profits who have been privileged to receive Crores worth of Wikimedia’s grants.

Critical decisions for Wikimedia in India are being made by bureaucrats with plump salaries who never made extensive contributions to the movement until they signed up for these high-paid jobs. Many people who signed up for such jobs had never contributed to the projects earlier, and vanished completely off the radar once their jobs were terminated. Volunteers, Wikimedians who have actually contributed to the projects are being left out of these big time. Micro funding of activities driven by volunteers who are actually involved in the projects contributing in some way or the other should have been the norm, but the exact opposite is happening now.

The reason why I wasn’t surprised even a bit when I wasn’t invited for the “Kannada Wikipedia 10th Anniversary”. As things go with bureaucrats who are directing all this, things are smooth and easy when long time contributors (who tend to point out things when they’re going wrong) aren’t around.

(Apart from my contributions to Kannada Wikipedia as a sysop, editor and in outreach, I've been a sysop, contributor on almost all Kannada projects. I have contributed to English Wikipedia and the Commons. I have been part of the Chapters committee of Wikimedia Foundation. I’m a sysop on Sanskrit Wikipedia. I am one of the founding members of Wikimedia India Chapter apart from having organised several outreach events. I have been mentoring an ongoing project by name ‘Wikitrack’ - a mobile app on iOS and Android that lets users track their preferred Indian language Wikipedia and similar projects. The Android version of the project has been released under GPL.)

It's a pity Hari. In view of being busy (in real life), I have not been taking too much interest in the developments of the Wikimedia Foundation over the last 3 years. I have been following the email discussion though. I also find it very unnerving, this recent shift towards a very corporate approach to Wikipedia. I see the need to strategise, evangelise and spread the interest in wiki-editing, but I see a dangerous trend in over-corporatising it, such that the contributors feel sidelined.

November 24, 2013 - 17:26 Permalink

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