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The purpose of this report is twofold: first is to document the history of Tagalog Wikipedia and second is to tackle the practical questions related to how to allow Tagalog Wikipedia to continue to grow, in the hope that its example can provide ways for other Wikipedias to grow and develop.
While a significant amount of information I’ve collected comes from reading online conversations and collecting data about users, a majority of it understandably comes from the field, where I not only conducted interviews with persons who have played a key role in the development of Tagalog Wikipedia, but also made a point of engaging people wherever I went in casual conversations about the project. These included both academics and materially privileged people in Manila as well as people who didn’t even own computers in the provinces of Ifugao, Bulacan, and Negros. These experiences allowed me to develop perspectives that are substantially different from a report primarily based on online interviews and data.
One of the important theories I wish to draw from my study is the possibility that a small-language Wikipedia like Tagalog can serve as a microcosm for a large-language Wikipedia like English, in terms of building both editor retention and finding new populations from which to draw editors. I believe it is also important to ask how to reach out to and retain a new crop of editors that can broaden the scope and depth of the project. In this sense, my WikiHistory project as a history not only encompasses a story of the past but a projected story of what the future may hold for Tagalog Wikipedia in particular, in the hope that its example can also aid in gaining a better understanding of other Wikipedias.
General editor trends
I begin this report with an overview of statistical data regarding the state of Tagalog Wikipedia, relying chiefly on Tagalog Wikipedia’s statistics chart page on the Wikimedia Foundation site. As a relatively small project, statistics for Tagalog Wikipedia may be more subject to fluctuations due to behaviors by a small number of users (for instance, the efforts of a single user, Wikiboost, has skewed the average number of articles per day in late 2010 and early 2011 on the site). But the important statistic here for the purposes of editor retention is the number of very active editors who make more than 100 contributions per month. While there has never been any month where the number of very active editors on Wikipedia has surpassed 9, there does seem to be a downward trend since around early 2009. In terms of yearly averages, Tagalog Wikipedia reached its peak of very active editors in 2008 with an average of 5.83 very active editors per month. That number has dwindled to an average of 4.2 in 2010 and the year-to-date average through August is 3.6, which hasn’t been this low since 2006.
This trend is thus in keeping with patterns in other Wikipedias, most notably English, except on a smaller scale. Moreover, interviews with many of the most important Philippine-based Tagalog Wikipedia editors confirms this statistic anecdotally. There are simply not as many highly-active editors now as there were a few years ago, and the reasons are also a cause for speculation among the Tagalog Wikipedia community.
One fascinating statistical aspect that may bolster the theory that social networking sites such as Facebook are siphoning off potential editors is the delay in the downward trend of very active Tagalog Wikipedia editors as compared to English Wikipedia. The latter reached its very active editor peak in May 2007 while the former did so in March 2009. At the time, the Philippine social networking scene was still dominated by Friendster, a site that didn’t have nearly as many features and therefore did not demand as much time than Facebook. By October 2009, articles such as this one began to appear, noting that the Philippine social networkers had switched their allegiances en masse. Given that Facebook became accessible to the general public in September 2006, the Philippine example provides circumstantial evidence that social networking is a factor that has affected editor retention and activity.
However, this report mainly focuses on reasons for the dwindling number of very active editors that are specific to Tagalog Wikipedia, not just to enable this project to continue to develop, but also because its example may be instructive for Wikipedias in other languages. Also, Tagalog Wikipedia has significantly more room to grow not just in terms of article count, but also because its number of very active editors as a proportion of number of speakers is low, especially compared to English Wikipedia. I believe that this can be partly if not largely attributed to the lack of computer and Internet access in the country as a result of poor infrastructure and material poverty. Thus, outreach is a key element of allowing Tagalog Wikipedia to grow. Following are a number of key factors that could possibly be affecting editor recruitment and retention on Tagalog Wikipedia, the growth of the project in general, as well as the possible ways that Tagalog Wikipedia can serve as an example for other Wikipedias.
From its inception, language itself has been an enormous issue for Tagalog Wikipedia, as the very name of the project is implicated in larger debates regarding Philippine language politics, at a time when the government is attempting to promote the more cosmopolitan and encompassing “Filipino” as a term that implies a language spoken by the whole of the Philippines, rather than the specific regional Tagalog language that serves as the basis for the indigenous national language taught in schools alongside English. As time has gone on, the terms Filipino and Tagalog have developed their own connotations despite many people arguing that they are in essence the same language and are mutually intelligible, arguments that were used in a debate that started in 2005 and ended in 2007 regarding whether to change the name of the project from Tagalog to Filipino. Tagalog connotes regionalism and a commitment to the preservation of “native” words, while Filipino connotes cosmopolitanism and an openness to the increasing use of loanwords, formerly from Spanish but now more frequently from English, which is now common practice in metropolitan regions.
Eric Andrada-Calica (username: Bluemask), Tagalog Wikipedia’s first major administrator, reports that language use on Tagalog Wikipedia was extremely informal in the beginning, especially because the most of the interface itself was untranslated. But given how a vast majority of Filipinos who owned computers, had enough spare time, and had a reliable enough Internet connection are also part of the educated and materially privileged class who have English knowledge, the untranslated interface was not necessarily a barrier for editing.
According to administrator and current Wikimedia Philippines Vice President Josh Lim (username: Sky Harbor), the task of translating the interface for Tagalog Wikipedia came in two waves: a more informal one involving a significant number of active administrators, and a more formal one spearheaded by three individuals: Lim himself, AnakngAraw, and Felipe Aira, which occurred between 2007 and late-2008. Unfortunately, the latter two are currently inactive on Tagalog Wikipedia and cannot be reached for comment, but this translation wave is the one in current use at Tagalog Wikipedia, and is the one that users interact with on a regular basis. I describe the profiles of these three translators below in order to come to a larger point about how language use stands to have a substantial effect on the growth and maintenance of the project.
In my interview with Lim, he cites language learning as one of his key motivations for working on Tagalog Wikipedia. Lim grew up in the U.S. and didn’t move to the Philippines until he was a teenager, so his Tagalog knowledge was gained primarily through books and educational channels. Administrator and current Wikimedia Philippines President Joseph Ballesteros (username: Jojit fb) also informs me that AnakngAraw is highly reliant on dictionaries to perform her translations, and her old userpage (since revised since she became inactive on Wikipedia) cites several dictionaries as part of her research material. And even though she has remained quite anonymous, she has stated that she is not based in the Philippines. As for Felipe Aira, who writes on his userpage that he joined Wikipedia: “para sa pagpapanatili ng namamatay nang wikang Tagalog” [“in order to maintain the dying Tagalog language”], and cites a reason for Tagalog’s slow death as “nawawala na ang ating mga katutubong salita at pinapalitan na ng mga banyagang salita” [our native words are disappearing and are being replaced by foreign words.]” Between these three translators, and the support of two major Tagalog Wikiepdia administrators, Ballesteros and Andrada-Calica, the current Tagalog Wikipedia interface clearly prioritizes words that have an indigenous origin over those that are foreign-derived.
Many reasons have been cited by various active members for this state of affairs. Lim emphasizes that while foreign words are abundant in casual conversation, native words are still part of Filipino perception of “high” speech, and that Wikipedia needs to maintain an authoritative, academic tone. Jojit Ballesteros, current Wikimedia Philippines president, argues that while Filipinos in the metropole of Manila habitually use English loanwords, there are many parts of the Philippines, particularly in the provinces, where loanwords are significantly more rare. Ballesteros argues that Tagalog Wikipedia needs to represent both those from the city and those from the provinces, rather than merely using language from the metropole. Several editors and administrators also cite the importance of language preservation as a key feature of Tagalog Wikipedia.
What becomes de-emphasized in current discussion is the value of readability or, simply, ease of comprehension. This is curious especially given that there has been a movement among the higher, academic sources that Lim alludes to of becoming open to loanwords because of their increasingly important role in modern discourse. Also, a vast proportion of people from the provinces who speak Tagalog the way Ballesteros describes do not own a computer, much less have Internet access. The infrequency of their use of loanwords can thus be attributed to the possibility that they have less need for them, given that they do not experience the daily tasks of contemporary digital life, of “uploading files” or “editing markup.” And the ones I’ve encountered who do, as I observed them during my stays in three Philippine provinces away from the city, use English loanwords and not the words that are in current use on Tagalog Wikipedia.
As I’ve previously stated in a post on the Wikimedia blog, Wikimedia Philippines met with representatives from the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (Commission on Filipino Language), a government body designated with the task of regulating the Filipino. Those representatives emphasized the need for comprehensibility in rendering words, and allowing actual use to dictate what those words should be. They, grudgingly to my ear, deemed Tagalog Wikipedia’s language policies acceptable because they provided more comprehensible alternatives when archaic words or neologisms based on those words are used in articles.
However, the Commission’s acceptance came after a presentation from Lim rather than their own examination or any substantial review of the site. Had they done this review, they would have noticed that Tagalog Wikipedia’s main interface often does not leave room for words in parenthesis, so that the very tools that editors use to manage entries are written in archaic, often extremely counterintuitive language. For instance, Tagalog Wikipedia currently uses “mga nais ko” as its translation for “my preferences,” but a more intuitive translation for this phrase is “what I would like.” A reader new to the site would be more likely to interpret this as either a help or a request page (perhaps a better translation would be “Kagustuhan,” but this contains the Spanish-derived word “gusto”) . This is one of many examples of counterintuitive translations on Tagalog Wikipedia’s interface, such that a native Tagalog speaker like me needs to have an English Wikipedia open in order to figure out what words mean. And while it can be argued that my long absence from the Philippines may not make me a reliable judge, the fact is that a large number of Tagalog editors also edit from outside the Philippines.
Nor do possible objections to Tagalog Wikipedia’s purist policy only come from the representatives present at the meeting I attended. Because of my research, I spent a lot of time with the renowned poet and professor Virgilio Almario during the trip, author of a well-known volume entitled Filipino ng mga Filipino (Filipino of the Filipinos) a highly-regarded compilation of many years’ worth of columns on language, and has the position of Philippine National Artist. Few figures in the Philippines have more esteemed academic reputations than Almario, especially when it comes to matters of language. As it turns out, he has done some consulting for Microsoft related to translating their software into Filipino. When I mentioned that the Wikipedia translation for “file” is “talaksan,” he immediately objected and said that it would be too difficult to understand. When I asked him how he translated “File” for Microsoft, he said “File.” And when I asked about “Home,” he said “Home.” When I asked why he didn’t use native words, he said that it was important for people to be able to understand the translations, because otherwise they would simply switch to English, which would defeat the purpose of trying to translate the interface into Filipino. This is a factor that the current Tagalog Wikipedia language policies seem to overlook, that it may defeat their purpose to preserve the language if people stop using it in the process.
Of the six highly active editors and administrators I interviewed, who comprise virtually all of the major Tagalog Wikipedia administrators based in the Philippines, only one emphasized readability as a priority for Tagalog Wikipedia. Roel Balingit (username: Scorpion Prinz) is the current Wikimedia Philippines treasurer and began editing under an account in July of 2009, which is quite late compared to other members of the Wikimedia Philippines Executive Board. Perhaps part of the reason he was able to join the elite ranks of Wikimedia Philippines is because of his expertise as an analyst for a major investment banking firm, which made him the natural choice as Treasurer when the Wikimedia Philippines chapter was formed. This has perhaps allowed him to gain respect from his peers despite a relative lack of Wikipedia experience and edit count. Among my administrator and officer interviewees, it was Balingit alone who expressed frustration over the interface, the difficulties it causes, and the psychological effect of having to make Tagalog Wikipedia content conform to the expectations of an interface that sacrifices readability for indigeneity.
I believe that a usability study is required in order to fully ascertain whether language both at the content and interface level has had a negative effect in encouraging editor recruitment and retention for Tagalog Wikipedia. However, it is important to note that everyone I interviewed who were part of the project prior to the interface translation and conservative langauge policies are either neutral or in support of them, while Balingit and Bel Ballesteros, another interviewee who is an active member of Wikimedia Philippines but only edits through her husband Jojit (citing barriers of language and markup as reasons), express difficulties with the interface. Along with my own impressions as a native speaker and active translator who nonetheless is unable to understand many of the words on the interface, I believe that it’s possible to hypothesize that senior editors don’t have a sense of this difficulty because they acclimated to the interface prior to the translation, and are aware of its different functions without having to interpret the words.
Language in the context of Tagalog Wikipedia can be thought of as a specific problem, but it can also generally be thought of as a problem that has certain similarities to the problem of complicated markup that has been a point of conflict and complaint within Wikipedia in general. With no malicious intent on the part of administrators, they may be setting up barriers of entry that are simply too high for new members not yet fully invested in the project, which may be contributing to the dwindling numbers of active editors and contributors. Such a state of affairs only highlights that for Wikipedia to be generally useful, it must also find ways to recruit editors and contributors from a larger swath of the general population, and in some cases turn to those with specific expertise in order to tackle issues that may require specialized knowledge.
The debates surrounding language within Tagalog Wikipedia may be symptomatic of a larger issue that not only affects this project but possibly other Wikipedias, and may have a negative impact on editor recruitment and retention, which is that the culture of Tagalog Wikipedia has a tendency to grant privilege to those who have been with the project for longer or have contributed more extensively, regardless of their particular expertise in the subject matter at hand. As a result, there is a tendency among administrators to seek out new projects to found, and a possibility that potential editors are being dissuaded from starting because of the entrenched hierarchical structure that is in direct proportion to years and time devoted to the project.
The heading for this section is intentionally borrowed from a relatively obscure source, archeologist Peter Bellwood’s “Hierarchy, Founder Ideology, and Austronesian Expansion,” because its accounting for why Austronesian peoples have had a tendency to find new territories is related to the ways in which those who start new outposts are automatically accorded great privilege within Austronesian cultures. It may seem far-fetched to relate this theory to the state of Tagalog Wikipedia and the possible state of Wikipedia in general. However, one of the things I definitely notice in studying the development of the project is that a combination of prominence being directly linked to one’s amount of editor or administrator activity, the privilege accorded to those who have been with the project longer, and the increasingly limited new arenas within the project in which people can work, have contributed to an emphasis on embarking on new projects, possibly at the expense of ensuring that existing parts of the project are sound.
If an individual’s ability to become an administrator is directly tied to his or her activity on the site, then it’s necessarily true that those who have been around the longest stand to play more prominent roles than those who arrived recently, as they are more likely to have accumulated more edits. In some cases, this prominence attends simply to having been there from the beginning, as is the case with seav, who continues to enjoy sysop and bureaucrat status on Tagalog Wikipedia despite having had little editing activity there. However, I’ve noticed other administrators defer to his perspectives on language, despite the fact that he has had no training in this arena. As much as selflessness is an integral part of Wikipedia ideology, it is nonetheless the case that human pride in being part of the onset of a movement can certainly be a motivating factor for participation, despite what participants may self-report. If an individual sees fewer and fewer possibilities for him or her to play an important role or affect change within Tagalog Wikipedia, then it may be less likely for that person to become an active editor.
A relatively small project like Tagalog Wikipedia shows this effect quite clearly. Using Bellman’s theory metaphorically, one can think of the project as a large island, while projects outside of Tagalog Wikipedia are other islands. As the project’s founder, seav continues to enjoy high status within Tagalog Wikipedia despite the fact that he rarely edits there. Andrada-Calica, as the project’s first major administrator, has a big lead in terms of prominence within the project, both because of his sheer number of edits and due to the fact that he was able to gain administrator status early. Lim found another stronghold within the Wikipedia island by being the major person responsible for founding a Wikimedia Philippines chapter. AnakngAraw found her stronghold in translation. Balingit, after finding it difficult to affect change within Tagalog Wikipedia proper, is currently focusing on an outreach and education program to increase the presence of Wikipedia in Philippine schools. While each of these initiatives stand to increase Wikipedia’s presence in the Philippines, one can see their initiators as settling into different parts of the Tagalog Wikipedia island, rather than attempting to work on existing parts that may not have been well-settled, but may be too difficult to fight over.
The most important of these parts for Tagalog Wikipedia is language, which brings up a range of issues across the board, everything from the interface, to the specific policies that govern editing, to the very name of the project. Rather than revisit these issues, which involves newer members clashing with established founders with accumulated prestige, newer members have tended to initiate their own project in order to settle a different part of the Tagalog Wikipedia island. This is all well and good, but how about those newer potential editors who can’t find a part of the island to settle? Given that there are many other islands on the vast Internet, they may likely find other parts to settle, either new islands, or established islands where the prestige afforded founders and first settlers isn’t so pronounced.
This characterization is certainly not universal or ubiquitous. Cooperation regularly occurs within Tagalog Wikipedia, and some members have certainly made efforts to reach out to non-Wikipedians to consult on matters that require expertise. For instance, Wikimedia Philippines Executive Board member Butch Bustria (Username: Exec8) successfully lobbied to expand the board membership in order to potentially recruit non-Wikipedians as board members who can potentially help the project. Balingit has also sought legal advice from sources outside of Wikipedia. However, as long as the high privilege accorded to older members as compared to newer ones continues, Tagalog Wikipedians may find it difficult to get new active editors on board.
The WikiPilipinas project went live on June 2007 and is a potential competitor of Tagalog Wikipedia. Funded by the Philippine-based Vibal Foundation. WikiPilipinas has paid editors that take Wikipedia content but does not allow their content to be published by Wikipedia. Distinctive features include significantly laxer notability standards, encouragement of articles with original research and specific points of view, and extremely liberal language policies for the Filipino section of the site.
WikiFilipino, the Filipino language version of WikiPilipinas roughly equivalent to Tagalog Wikipedia, still lags significantly behind Tagalog Wikipedia (8,000 v. 50,000) in terms of article count, but has significantly fewer stubs in part because of its paid editors. And because of its liberal language policies, articles are significantly easier to read than in Tagalog Wikipedia. It would be useful to conduct more extensive comparisons of traffic patterns between the two sites, to determine how often they get visited and how long users stay on each site once there.
Reactions to WikiPilipinas vary from editor to editor, but none of my interviewees think of the project as a significant threat, especially since Tagalog Wikipedia is part of a much larger movement, and traffic regularly gets diverted from English to Tagalog Wikipedia. Several active editors have even talked about collaborating with WikiPilipinas on outreach projects, and a number believe that having WikiPilipinas around promotes healthy competition that stands to benefit both projects.
Given that English Wikipedia has an enormous lead in terms of both prestige and content compared to WikiPilipinas, that most articles on Tagalog Wikipedia have English counterparts, and a large majority of people with Internet access in the Philippines also have significant English knowledge, I believe that the possibility of WikiPilipinas fully displacing Wikipedia as the country’s major online encyclopedia is unlikely. However, this doesn’t mean that in many cases, WikiPilipinas articles especially in Filipino/Tagalog are more accessible and informative than their Tagalog Wikipedia counterparts.
Wikimedia Philippines Chapter
Josh Lim (Sky Harbor) began floating the idea of a Philippine Wikimedia Chapter in 2007, but it took more than two years for the project to finally come to fruition, until the chapter was officially founded in April of 2010. In its first year, the chapter held a successful Wikipedia Takes Manila event to obtain copyright-free images of significant Manila landmarks. The chapter continues to hold quarterly meetings and focuses on various projects, a number of which are aimed at increasing the number of Philippine-based editors not only for Tagalog Wikipedia, but also for other Philippine-language Wikipedias.
The founding of the chapter is a positive step in the proliferation of the Wikipedia movement in the Philippines, though the group is certainly experiencing some growing pains. The two meetings I attended both struggled with difficulties in scheduling and organization. And while the meetings have been characterized by a civility and politeness that is part of Philippine cultural norm, such civility also makes it harder for Wikimedia Philippines members to resolve contentious issues.
The chapter has also had a tendency to focus on projects outside of the core Philippine-language Wikipedias that in many ways serves as the primary basis for its efforts. A number of board members, for instance, have stated that their activity on Tagalog Wikipedia has been limited by their efforts on behalf of Wikimedia Philippines. Such a division of resources is certainly understandable, but it may be wise for the organization to rein in its efforts in order to focus its energy. For instance, there has been discussion of a project that would produce print versions of Philippine-language Wikipedias to distribute to public schools without computers and Internet acess. While such a project is certainly worthwhile, it seems to overlook that it requires a viable Tagalog Wikipedia as a prerequisite. And judging from the multiple stubs and lack of comprehensiveness of the current version, it may be wise for the chapter to focus on strengthening its core project before expanding to other ones.
There are indications of efforts to do the kind of outreach that would strengthen Tagalog and other Philippine-language Wikipedias. For instance, Balingit’s Philippine Wikipedia Expansion Project certainly falls under this heading. Given that an enormous barrier for Wikipedia editing is the lack of computer and Internet access, it makes perfect sense that an expansion of Wikipedias in Philippine languages would necessarily entail providing potential editors and contributors with the necessary tools to become part of Wikipedia.
The expansion project stands to infuse new blood into a Tagalog Wikipedia project that has been decreasing in activity, along with other Philippine-language Wikipedias that have been even more inactive. Though I believe that maintaining and keeping existing projects viable is just as important as embarking on new projects, something that both Tagalog Wikipedia and Wikimedia Philippines have not been as attentive to.
The factors I’ve outlined above lead me to a number of provisional conclusions and recommendations regarding Tagalog Wikipedia, provisional because I believe that a summer is insufficient time to fully understand the project and all its complicated components. However, the time I have spent interviewing key figures on the project as well as culling various textual sources for information can hopefully provide some useful perspectives in terms of allowing the project to improve and remain viable.
First, while efforts both to rename the project Filipino Wikipedia and start a new Filipino Wikipedia alongside Tagalog have failed, I believe that one or the other is necessary in order for the project to increase its chances of remaining viable. Articles can fork from one to the other, but it is simply infeasible to maintain an online encyclopedia in a Tagalog that staunchly avoids loanwords while there are many terms that have no equivalent or non-archaic terms in the language. Tagalog Wikipedia’s language policies severely limit its usefulness, especially among a population that has significant English knowledge. I believe that Tagalog Wikipedia administrators need to ask themselves whether they would rather change their policies or have readers not read their work, preferring instead to switch to English. Also, not having a Filipino Wikipedia would make it harder for Tagalog Wikipedia to collaborate with university and government entities, all of whom now use Filipino instead of Tagalog to refer to the country’s national language. If the role of an encyclopedia is to reflect existing norms rather than establishing new ones, then a Tagalog rather than a Filipino Wikipedia fundamentally violates this policy. If one of Wikipedia’s major tenets is “no original research,” then the insistence on a Tagalog Wikipedia is, in a sense, the most fundamental form of original research, since every major government and university entity in the Philippines currently uses Filipino and not Tagalog.
Second, I belive that it’s important for Tagalog Wikipedia and Wikimedia Philippines to find ways to modify its founder-focused ideology, which would make it easier for newcomers to enter the group and feel like they are making worthwhile contributions. This can, for instance, include ways for administrators to serve fixed rather than indefinite terms, and for precedents to be set where new members can become administrators without accumulating large numbers of edit counts. It may also mean finding ways to not automatically confer privilege onto certain members simply because they’ve been around longer. Finally, it can also mean being more open to the opinions of people with outside expertise, which some members of Wikimedia Philippines already are.
Third, I believe that it would be wise for Tagalog Wikipedia and Wikimedia Philippines to focus on strengthening its core projects rather than embarking on new ventures, namely the continued development of Tagalog and other Philippine-language Wikipedias. This entails asking difficult questions about which areas of the encyclopedia can be improved upon, and what are the best ways to find editors, contributors, and translators who can meaningfully contribute and stay with the project. Given its limited number of members, I believe that the diffusion of effort in the current Tagalog Wikipedia / Wikimedia Philippines structure may compromise the viability of Wikipedia-related efforts in the Philippines in the long run.
I hope that some of these accounts and recommendations may also help other Wikipedias tackle problems of editor recruitment and retention. Even as I haven’t conducted in-depth research into the workings of other Wikipedias, I have a hunch that some of the conditions I’ve outlined in this report apply to other Wikipedias as well. There’s a sense in which Tagalog Wikipedia’s small size serves as an advantage, becuase it can move more quickly to solve problems that may take longer in larger Wikipedias. I plan to continue monitoring Tagalog Wikipedia’s development closely in the coming years, and hopefully continue to play a role in its continued development, and communicate ways in which its example can help other Wikipedias.
- As a rough estimate, if there are roughly 1 billion English speakers in the world and 342 very active editors in June 2011, and Tagalog has roughly 50 million speakers (a reasonable estimate given that the Philippines has a population of 90 million and Tagalog is part of the national curriculum), then one would expect roughly 17 very active editors as a comparison to English Wikipedia. In June 2011, there were 5 very active Tagalog Wikipedia editors.