Interviewee from ta-Wikipedia
Interview December 2009
Tell me your Wiki-autobiography:
- When did you get involved in Wikipedia and what were your personal reasons for starting to participate in Wikipedia? Please tell me what for you are the most important or compelling aspects of Wikipedia and its mission.
I like Wikipedia for reading and writing outside my field—biology, linguistics, economics etc.
About 5 years back I’d published a paper on linguistics. To be honest, in my naïve enthusiasm to share my paper on English Wikipedia, you can say that I started as a vandal, because I didn’t know about the guidelines of Wikipedia at that time. I found a page on my subject, but I didn’t know about the notion notability, verifiability, and all the other policies and guidelines. So I just added a link to my paper as my first edit, without even the benefit of registering. An editor contacted me, and tried to explain that I appeared to be indulging in self-promotion. I did not agree with him, but wanted to comply so I created an account and continued to correspond with the editor. He referred me to the guideline pages, which I read, and became a regular editor. But I credit my involvement with the good way the editor guided me without rudeness. It helped create a passion in me for Wikipedia.
I started to contribute like a real user. I liked the policy, details, and transparency. At that time, I was not aware of a Tamil Wikipedia, but eventually found out about its existence from a German editor. So I went to the Tamil Wikipedia. At that time there was only one editor working in that language consistently, although there were many users – and that person continues to be the anchor. There were only 500 or so articles, and of poor quality. I could not find any articles in my area of interest. And Tamil Wikipedia even lacked tools for typing in Tamil. So we had to discuss articles in English. And transliteration was our only method to represent Tamil. It’s a common problem I think in other communities with “smaller” languages.
I developed my own transliteration tools, but later found that such tools exist. Now there are advanced tools to install, so we can type Tamil in place. But many editors and readers remain unaware of the tools.
Do you contribute both in [native language] as well as English?
- Any other languages? What are your activities in each language? Which is the most frequent after [native language], and so on?
I contribute both to Tamil and English Wikipedia, but more in Tamil. I don’t edit in any other of my languages.
How much time do you now typically spend contributing to Wikipedia each week. In what capacities?
My time is reduced drastically recently – to only about 5 hours a week. Formerly I worked on Wikipedia about 20 hours a week. That was a couple of years back. I’m glad to say that inn Tamil Wikipedia there are a growing number of many new editors.
Have you ever recruited someone else to become a Wikipedian? If so, what typically convinces them to register and begin editing and writing?
I personally recruited several friends, who did not continue despite some valuable contributions. I showed my house-mates how Wikipedia works. They contributed somewhat in areas of their interest.
When you talk to people in your country about becoming a Wikipedian, are there consistent reasons they resist converting from a reader to a contributor?
- Please elaborate. How do you personally address those reasons?
I know of one potential Wikipedian who was already an active blogger. He eventually left Wikipedia because of the lack of activity or feedback in his areas of interest at that time. The kind of feedback he enjoyed getting on his blog page was lacking in his Wikipedia experience, so he never developed a feeling of ownership. Others I know lacked a passion for writing – did not see himself as an editor. And there were not other roles or persona at the time through which they could do alternative things to participate in Wikipedia.
What anecdotal stories can you tell me about the experience new Wikipedians have in your [native language] Wikipedia community?
- Are there typical impressions, common feedback of any kind, positive or negative?
In this regard, there is a significant difference between Tamil Wikipedia and English Wikipedia. English Wikipedia has a big community with different levels of experience. The old users lose their patience and become blunt, using templates, which sometimes seems to be rude. It drives people away. Our community is small, so each person is aware of others. Also our cultural differences play a role – we frown upon behaving rudely in a public place. Also there’s the fact that the users in the early days established a friendlier culture. Smaller language communities in general probably import their own culture and practices. In our case, the overlap between English Wikipedia and Tamil Wikipedia editors makes us aware of the problems newcomers sometimes encounter. But I don’t think new Tamil editors have been exposed to this.
Nonetheless, there have been arguments in Tamil Wikipedia, and one user left. But we have tried to reason with them. Also the composition of editors in age groups and in educational background is diverse despite our small numbers. Tamil is different from Romance languages, in that most of the folks with Internet access who participate in our community are ex-pats living abroad – even though most Tamil speakers live in India and Sri Lanka. The situation is slowly changing due to our awareness programmes and the growth in internet usage in India.
I’d like to ask about what ensures quality articles in your [native language], and whether there are any regional differences for the Bookshelf project to keep in mind.
- Regarding “Policies and Guidelines, There is a distinction between a policy, which is mandatory, and a guideline, which is advisory. Guidelines are more complex rules that help to keep Wikipedia's quality high. There are three core content policies (V, NOR, NPOV), which are supported by a host of associated guidelines. These guidelines include the concept of notability and various principles defining the boundaries of Wikipedia's coverage.
The standard for notability until recently was very inclusive for our community, because we wanted to grow. Now we are talking about raising the benchmark. But we lack the kinds of “pop star” articles you might see in English. We had a rash of single-line articles on herbs, which need to be ganged together. But in general, notability is hard to measure, because we don’t have so much online content. So we are more subjective. We encourage adding a lot of references where possible and have clearly explained in a policy page why this is necessary. Some reasons like making the limited pool of online references in Tamil searchable are borne out of local requirements of our wiki. While there are a number of published books in Tamil, there’s a dearth of online references. So, we tolerate balanced synthesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:SYNTH) to an extent.
In your community, what are the typical roles available to Wikipedians when helping to write, edit, or generally improve an article?
- If your community is non-English-language, do you note any differences between your community’s roles and what you know about the English-language Wikipedia community?
- For instance, the following list describes personae a newcomer will run across in the context of content creation (refer to http://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/Personae_on_Wikipedia):
- Author: Creates new articles, adds sections to existing articles, improves articles
- Copyeditor: Improves the article's language
- Subject matter expert: is involved in a WikiProject; watches article's edit history; does incremental review; reviews the article as part of a formal (internal) review process
- Photographer / mapmaker / table builder: Adds visual aids to the article
- Formatter: Formats articles (community term: "wikifying") according to the style conventions
- Maintainer: Takes care of the article's integrity (community term: "recent changes patrol")
- Consensus-keeper: ensures that editorial consensus is kept.
- Facilitator: Provides guidance on social norms that are conducive to constructive discussion. Moderates discussion on controversial topics to keep focus on neutral point of view, verfiability, etc.
- External reader: Participates in the content improvement by leaving notes on the talk page; doing minor edits
- (Most Wikipedians play several of these roles. E.g. someone can be a subject matter expert for an article's topic and at the same time maintain the article's integrity.)
In our community, until a year back, everyone had to participate in all ways. But new focuses started to form around those other disciplines or personae that you list here, such as formatting, scientific terminology consultant, automation expert, consensus-keeper, ambassador, copyeditor etc. So now an author knows whom to approach for help after starting an article. So slowly, as we grow more experienced people and gain momentum with content, more folks are specializing in one role or another. There are content-area roles like main page article rotation, news, anniversaries, etc. Some details can be found at http://ta.wikipedia.org/wiki/விக்கிப்பீடியா:Tamil_Wikipedia:_A_Case_Study
In the same vein as the above question, are there any differences in how an article evolves in your non-English-language community compared to the English-language Wikipedia community?
(Refer to http://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_an_article_(Celilo_Falls))
1 Creation: a new article is born
2 Beginning of incremental improvement
3 Experimentation with collaborative editing software
4 Maintainance: "wikifying"
6 Protecting article integrity
7 Added to WikiProject
8 Editorial discussion on talk page begins
9 Substantial article improvement process begins
10 Second quality assessment
11 Good article process
12 A new development
13 Further incremental improvements
Our evolution is distinct. There is a sense of ownership for authors. But it comes from a sense of personal responsibility for the content, and not an egotistical personal right. Someone creates an article and adds as much as they can while waiting for comment. So the primary author is not against editing and adding. But if no one comes in, they feel they have to return to the article and improve it themselves. Many times they send out requests for help and so on, but there is a cultural tendency to be not too critical, so it boils down to encouraging comments and suggestions for improvement on the talk page, and mostly copyediting on the main page. So deleting and reverting does not happen so much with us. But the primary author likes the attention he garners from originating an entry.
Have there been any significant Content Disputes and Edit Wars in your region because of regional history or cultural norms?
- (Case Study for Poland: Gdańsk/Danzig - In the case of Gdańsk/Danzig, the particular problem of referring to places now in Poland, but which were in Germany before 1945, dogged the English-language Wikipedia almost from the outset.)
Conflicts are not common, but they do happen for different reasons than in English Wikipedia. Political points of view don’t engender disputes. In fact, it happens more often that Tamils strive to accommodate the opposite point of view than I see in English. But divergent spelling conventions for foreign names can create discussions. For instance, the Sri Lankan Tamils vs. the Indian Tamils had different ideas about spellings, and the editor community had to step in to encourage more contribution than complaints from new visitors.
Another issue is the use of loan words in Tamil, especially Sanskrit loan words. While most regular users prefer using native Tamil words over the loan words, and though this agreement has evolved after several discussions, new users don’t always understand or agree.
Have you seen any notable incidence of Wikipedians in your community taking advantage of the corollary of fifth pillar, which can be interpreted as “If the rules prevent you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore them.”?
This notion of five founding pillars did not exist as such in Tamil Wikipedia until recently, but individual polices have been translated and adopted. We strongly encourage adding citations for instance, even to minor claims.
In the beginning we had no policy pages. But slowly as new editors came, they challenged some edits, which led to reasoning it out as we saw the same questions arise. So as I was aware of the policies English Wikipedia, I began importing them into Tamil.
NPOV is not emphasized so much, because people generally accommodate the different points of view. Verifiability was not mandated much because of the lack of online sources in Tamil. NOR is encouraged as a policy. But original research is in fact tolerated a bit because of the lack of resources in Tamil. I can say that we have concentrated more on a Tamil manual of style, and grammar so far. But, due to the efforts of a new user, the five pillars have been neatly laid out in Tamil Wikipedia now.