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India is an opportunity for Wikipedia, so are languages & reliable info: Raju Narisetti, member, board of trustees, Wikimedia Foundation

Raju Narisetti, member, board of trustees, Wikimedia Foundation, talks of the sheer scale of Indian interaction with the platform.

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And, India is already an important part of Wikipedia in more ways than one.

Within hours of the shooting in Texas, the Wikipedia page of the Robb elementary school in Uvalde saw 765 edits coming from 154 different contributors that was overseen by 103 page watchers ensuring only accurate information was published. This ability to offer ‘reliable information’, especially in these critical times, is for Raju Narisetti, a member of the board of trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, a ‘significant opportunity’ for Wikipedia in countries like India. The opportunity is also languages.

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“Most people don’t realise it but over 80% of articles on Wikipedia are not in English. And among the 300 languages, Hindi is ranked at about 55, followed by Tamil and Telugu. On number of articles, Hindi is close to about 150,000 articles, Tamil is about 130,000 articles and Telugu is getting to be about 100,000,” Narisetti elaborates on why it is a significant opportunity for a non-profit like Wikipedia, which has a 2030 strategic roadmap to help every person on the planet to access free knowledge and information.

Narisetti, who has been associated with the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal after starting his career as a journalist in India, says several Indians are not aware of history, arts, politics and science. “So we are particularly targeting younger Indians, you know your typical Gen Z, with a campaign #KnowWithWiki.”

And, India is already an important part of Wikipedia in more ways than one.

Narisetti says that just in the past month, Indians have visited Wikipedia pages 750 million times. “Also while we focus on Indian languages, on Wikipedia, Indians are the second-largest English language contributors… and that’s a pretty amazing number.” In fact, India has a total of 65,000 Wikipedia contributors, which is about 20% of all contributors on the platform. And Indians have also backed Wikipedia fundraisers wholeheartedly.

“When we last did a fundraising campaign in India, 500,000 Indians contributed,” he says, adding that this accounted for about 7% of their global donors. “As a non-profit foundation, we believe that India is an opportunity and in some ways a challenge,  because of the languages… and how do we as a nonprofit cut through the clutter?” Wikipedia has over the years started offering content in about 300 languages, a lot of them from India. A lot of the uptake has been because of awareness campaigns in places like India. Narisetti underlined the role of what Wikipedia calls Project Tiger aimed at getting more Indian languages on board and training of volunteers. “Unlike a lot of other countries, India is mobile-centric… you can’t tell people go to a desktop or to a laptop and edit. So that became a constraint. So we actually partnered up with Jio and made sure that  it (editing) was built into the app itself… we enabled people to edit Wikipedia on the phone, which is a big breakthrough in a country like India, and that has contributed to the significant growth in languages,” he said, adding this is also the answer to the question on why Wikipedia raises money. Narisetti explained that Wikipedia could get into about 15 more Indian languages, but the “key is to make sure you can get 2,000 articles and, more importantly, 50-100 volunteers… That’s when it starts snowballing.” This is why Wikipedia is investing a lot of energy to create these user groups and communities and enable them by giving them the tools. “More than 75% of the money we raise globally goes to two things. One is to give money back to the volunteer community so they can launch a new language. Two is about half of it goes to the infrastructure. You need to be able to have databases and kind of put it on the cloud and make sure it’s reliable,” he said, adding that though a lot of the money is raised in the more developed Western markets, most of it is actually flowing into the south where the growth is going to come in languages and users. On creating content that has demand, Narisetti clarified that unlike a Facebook or TikTok, Wikipedia does not have a central command to take these calls. “We are creating technology like bots to translate certain critical information. So automatically you have a base layer in a new language. But on top of it, most of the directions in which our language Wiki goes is often up to the community.”

The building block of Wikipedia, Narisetti said, has always been this idea of neutrality, which in turn is built on its transparency unlike present-day media. “So the basic building block of a platform where there are 350 edits a minute is that everything is public and everything is recorded and everything can be seen. I think you’re trying to build trust,” he explained. However, he accepted that this does not mean there are no mistakes. “What people don’t realise is that literally in under five minutes it has been fixed by people who are watching that page. So that to me is how trust is built.” While Wikipedia is open to endowments from billionaires, especially in markets like India, Narisetti said the focus remains on individual donors to keep the platform running. “But honestly, the best thing you can do for Wikipedia is to contribute to it (with updates, editing)… the easiest is to read it…”

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