The Tamil Wiki six years on

Imagine a giant tree with its branches spread across the globe. That’s what the Wikimedia Foundation is like. Wherever it drops seeds, small trees called Wikipedias come up. Depending on where they fall, the Wikipedias grow to differing heights. The fruits of knowledge they bear are in proportion to their growth and are in the local language.

Yes, given the number of Wikipedias in the world, the Foundation can be pleased with the progress of this multilingual encyclopaedia project, started in 2001. But there is cause for concern — some Wikipedias are stunted in growth. Tamil Wikipedia (http://ta.wikipedia.org) is one of them.

Not many editors

Tamil Wikipedia, which sprouted in 2003, today has only 247 editors. Of them, 64 are active and 20 very active. The rest are desultory contributors. “There are 18,102 stories. No doubt a decent number, but not anywhere what should have been. Ninety-five per cent of these Tamil Wikipedians are members of the Tamil Diaspora. It’s a pity that we don’t have many editors from Tamil Nadu,” says Kiruba Shankar, who is engaged in efforts to evolve Indian Wikipedias.

But as a positive sign, a team of active Tamil Wikipedians has started a set of initiatives. They are working towards a year-end target — 1000 Tamil editors. When the founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales visited Chennai over five months ago, a meet was organised at a community hall to popularise the Tamil Wikipedia. The invitees included mediapersons.

“The media can help us by spreading the word. Ignorance is our biggest enemy. Most of the Tamil speaking people are not aware of the Tamil Wikipedia. A majority of those who are, don’t know they can write and edit articles. Then, there are those who don’t know to type in Tamil,” says Shankar.

To tackle these problems, Shankar leaves his office at Virugambakkam open on Sundays for anyone to make use of the resources to master typing in Tamil and add articles to the vernacular Wikipedia. When a volunteer is around, the ‘trainees’ can also learn how to place Wiki tags, a complicated procedure common to all Wikipedias.

“Writing a simple body of text is easy. But when you have to create tables, it gets complicated. A mastery of Wiki tags is required to make a page with boxes and complex blocks of information.”

This Sunday school programme would be more effective if more volunteered to be teachers. The school has a few enthusiastic teachers such as Ravi Shankar, who has completed his Masters in Germany and gives his time liberally to the cause, and Saravanan, a student of business administration, who chose to do his internship with Tamil Wikipedia, instead of big companies that were willing to accommodate him. But the school will do a lot better, with more teachers.

Other initiatives include approaching Tamil bloggers; going to schools and colleges to give a picture of the Tamil Wikipedia and how students can contribute to its growth; and visiting villages in Tamil Nadu and creating resources whereby the people there can contribute to the Tamil Wikipedia.

“Tamil bloggers can be our biggest asset. They already have a love for the language and would become Tamil Wikipedians with a little persuasion.” For example, Mayooresan from Colombo is a blogger, keen on promoting Tamil Wikipedia. L.K. Natkeeran from Canada, whose love for the language is evident from his personal website, is a senior editor of Tamil Wikipedia. “His contribution is immense.”The Wikipedia project is driven by the spirit of volunteering. “For Tamil Wikipedia to grow, we need more Sundars ( Banglore-based Sundar is a prolific contributor), Ravis and Natkeerans.” For more details about Tamil Wikipedia, call 99431 68304 or ravishankar.ayyakkannu@gmail.com.

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