Every time I ask a room full of students, how many of them have used Wikipedia, everyone raises their hands. But to my next question, the response is disappointing. When I asked how many have edited and contributed back to Wikipedia, typically I find only a couple of hands or worse, none. This is the case I have seen in the best of engineering colleges and in some of India’s biggest IT companies where I have had the chance to lecture and interact.
It’s suspected that less than 0.1% of the Wikipedia readers contribute back. It’s only a handful of dedicated Wikipedia volunteers who take on the responsibility of editing. But the real power of Wikipedia lies in the strength of numbers. The more the people who contribute, the more robust the system becomes.
If Wikipedia can be such a treasure trove of knowledge with less than 0.1% of the readers contributing it, imagine how powerful it will be if the percentage increase multi-fold. That’s exactly the motive behind Wikipedia Academy. It’s a simple, honest effort to change Wikipedia usage from ‘Read Only’ to ‘Read Write’. It’s an effort to educate people about wiki editing and to give the confidence that anyone can edit and add information to the site.
The idea fructified when a group of about 20 people huddled together at the first session of BarCamp Chennai and ideated on it. Some very interesting ideas flowed that resulted in the formation of the Chennai edition.
The Chennai Wikipedia Academy is NOT a brick and mortar entity. It’s a concept that embodies the spirit of sharing. It’s a simple initiative that anyone can start in their office, homes, community halls, schools or colleges. It’s simple. Arrange for a place where people who are knowledgeable about Wikipedia will help people who want to learn about Wikipedia.
That’s exactly what I’m doing. I run a small office in Chennai. On weekends, I’m using the space as a venue for people to learn and train to use Wikipedia. The first academy takes place on 22nd November 2008 between 3 PM and 5 PM. You can find more information about it here.
Feel free to spread the word around. We need help from Wikipedians in Chennai who can come volunteer to teach about Wikipedia and how it functions. We’d like to learn more about how Wikipedia keeps itself remarkably clean with relevant information. How does it ward away spam and edit conflicts? How can one start a new topic and what are the do’s and dont’s that one should know before starting off? It’ll be a good way to learn and share.