Wikimedia Foundation/Annual Report/2010-2011/Dispatch

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Dispatch from India: Stories from the Future[edit]

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The rise of India

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Wikipedia is the only place that’s allowed for a system where generosities can be coupled and multiplied and leapfrogged upon, where therefore one’s individual generosity, the fruits of it and the results of it are something that are just far beyond the effect of that act alone.

— Achal Prabhala
Bangalore, India
user:aprabhala
Wikimedia advisory board member

Helping Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects flourish in India is one of the Foundation’s highest strategic priorities.

With the help of a strong community in India, the Indian chapter and a team of consultants based out of Delhi, Wikipedia is poised for rapid growth in this large and diverse country.

More Indians speak English than anywhere outside of the United States of America. Several hundred million people speak Hindi, and there may be more than 30 other languages with more than a million native speakers each. Today, there are Wikipedia projects in 20 Indic languages with 20 more in incubation. Indians are important contributors to Wikimedia projects in English and other languages.

The Foundation sees India as the most logical place to support community growth because of the country’s rapidly growing population of Internet users, its tradition of free speech, and the presence of a committed community. Through our work in India we are learning about the challenges of growing free knowledge projects in a developing country.

Wikimedians in India created the “Narayam” MediaWiki extension, an input tool that allows wiki users to type in Indic language scripts. For many, Wikipedia is the first Internet location where they contribute in their mother tongue.

India presents many daunting challenges. Approximately 37 percent of the nation’s population lives in abject poverty, surviving on less than $1.25 per day. Outside of the major cities, electricity is rare, and Internet access is a luxury for most. Only 7 percent of the population have online access, yet that translates into the fourth-largest national Internet audience — 81 million — in the world.

And, while 71 percent of the population is literate, less than half of women can read and write. Only 15 percent have completed a high school education.

The number of Indian contributors to Wikimedia to date, around 2,000, is small relative to India’s size, but they are extremely active and passionate about their work on the projects. They also are especially creative. Among the most impressive breakthroughs by Wikimedians in India is an innovation by local software programmers that allows Indic language scripts to be expressed as text on a keyboard, and therefore to be integrated into Wikipedia.

In 2008, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Foundation executive director Sue Gardner went to India to evaluate how best to stimulate interest and growth in the Foundation’s projects there. Since then, the Foundation has added an Indian, Bishakha Datta, to its board of trustees and Foundation managers have traveled frequently to the country, where they see indications that the multiple language versions of Wikipedia are gaining traction and more Indians are reading and contributing to Wikipedia.

Early in 2011, almost a quarter (about 95) of Wikipedia’s tenth-anniversary celebrations held around the world (over 400) occurred in India. In partnership with the Indian community, the Foundation is just getting started in the work to catalyze Wikimedia’s free knowledge projects in India with the expectation of planting deep roots in the world’s second most populous country.