Wikimania is about to hit Cape Town

By LUKE FOLB Time of article published Jul 1, 2018

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Free knowledge activism and putting Africa on the forefront of the internet is top of the agenda for the upcoming Wikimania conference at which indigenous languages, female participation and quirky edits will be up for discussion.

President of Wikipedia ZA Douglas Scott, also the author of the entire Hertzoggie Wikipedia page, said the focus for this year’s conference was on getting more Africans to sign up for Wikipedia and become editors of content.

“What we’re finding is that most of our editors who are writing about Africa are based in Europe or North America. Interestingly a large proportion are from Germany. We need more Africans to write and make edits because they know the landscape better,” said Scott.

“A European’s perspective on something is very different from an African’s and we cannot comprehensively tell the story of Africa when the people who live here aren’t writing,” he said.

The annual conference will be hosted in Cape Town from July 18 to 22, with about 500 volunteers from around the world expected to come together to discuss and share ideas around the future of Wikipedia and free knowledge globally. The event is open for anyone to attend, provided they have registered and paid the registration fee of $75 (R1032.55) a day.

The Wikimania conference will take place at the Cape Sun Hotel with speakers including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. The conference is estimated to cost about $600000 (R8.26million), with all funding coming from the Wikimedia Foundation.

Wikipedia is entirely funded by donors and according to the foundation’s 2016-17 funding report it raised $91m from 6.1million donations. This will be the first time the conference will be held in sub-Saharan Africa and the second time in Africa, with Alexandria in Egypt having hosted it in 2008.

Wikipedia is a collaborative creation that has been added to and edited by millions of people worldwide since it was created in 2001: anyone can edit it, at any time. It is offered in 300 languages containing more than 46 million articles, and boasts more than 15 billion viewings every month. It is the largest collaborative collection of free knowledge in human history and today its content is contributed and edited by a community of more than 200000 volunteer editors each month.

“Another objective is to get more indigenous languages on to Wikipedia. There are many first language speakers that can help to increase the number of articles we have for each language,” said Scott.

Afrikaans has over 50000 articles, Zulu just over 900 and Xhosa over 700. In terms of articles per speaker in the world, Zulu represents the smallest amount.

“If you are passionate about a specific topic or piece of local history, or if you would like to see more articles in your own language, register and start making your contributions. The only way we are going to shift the content bias is by adding content that represents a more diverse user base.”

Ghanaian Wikipedia contributor and free knowledge activist Felix Nartey said some of the primary barriers to contribution from people living in Africa included a lack of access to computers and the affordability of the internet. “What is apparent is that African people have a real appetite to see themselves represented on this platform. They want to see their content and their languages on Wikipedia and are crashing through some of the structural barriers to do so.”

Articles on Wikipedia need to have verifiable references and sources. This means facts must be drawn from recognisable publications and institutions.

One of the ways Africans are being encouraged to get involved is to join a WikiProject around specific areas of interest. WikiProjects consist of groups of contributors who work together to create and improve articles on a specific topic on Wikipedia.

Chairperson of Wiki In Africa, Isla Haddow-Flood, wants more female representation. She said less than 20% of Wikipedia contributors were female and only 16% of the biographies on English Wikipedia were about women.

“If we look at the female population in the world, about 8% are African, yet the Wiki data on African women participation shows only 0.318% of contributions from the continent. “We’re building knowledge in women’s groups, schools and institutions. This is vital so that we don’t continue to the systemic bias.”

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