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Wikimedia in the Arab World
A Former MENA Peace Corps Director & AUC Professor
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Chair of the Communications and New Media Program at the National University of Singapore
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Arabic Wikipedia - Interviews
All Interviews Conducted & Transcribed by Corey Boling
Table of Contents
file:Ethan Zuckerman Interview.zip
file:Pete Forsyth Interview.zip
file:Jerry Leach Interview.zip
Ethan Zuckerman is
a researcher at the
Berkman Center for Internet and Society
at Harvard University and founder of
- a global community of citizen media authors, an advocacy group that works to preserve freedom of speech online, a media development organization that promotes participatory media in developing nations, and a vast and distributed translation project. Zuckerman is the chair the board of Stichting Global Voices, a board member of
and the US programs board of the
Open Society Institute
. He is a prolific author and speaker on such issues as Quantitative Media Analysis, Free expression and the Digital World and The Wider Web.
Ethan Zuckerman Interview.zip
Let's start with the overall question, which is the question of Arabic on Wikipedia - there's a really good discussion with - i talked with a number of ppl who advise Wikimedia - i think some of the smartest stuff that's been said, has to do with questions of - what are the impediments to Wikipedia in different languages - and one of the things that comes into play - that the way that Wikipedia is pretty small, it tends to be politically relevant - for instance if you are capable of writing in English or in Arabic, there is a political advantage to writing in English and you're much more likely to have a broad influence than you are writing in Arabic - and this is something that we say a great deal of early on in blogging - which is to say that, we saw a lot of ppl in the Arab world who were writing in English bc what they really wanted was representation in the est of the world - what happened over time, is that after there became enough of an audience domestically, then suddenly it was possible for more ppl to blog in Arabic - bc suddenly you had the possibility of having domestic influence bc ppl were following Arabic language blogs - it was a massive shift, it was really bizarre, it was like one day the ppl who had been writing in English were not as relevant anymore - the ppl who were much more relevant were the ppl writing in Arabic - its not like, lets talk everybody into doing this, its this sort of complicated 'whats in it me in terms of political power (447), how is it helpful to be heard writing in Arabic -
so how would video come into all of this? i would love hear more about what you perceive as the cultural barriers and how video could help?
example of peace corps and written distrust...language standardization
Arabic is phenomenally complicated - formal Arabic or classical Arabic, which is what ppl generally write in, is pretty damned uncomfortable - but there are other ways ppl have dealt with this in the past - that's a recently well solved problem - one of the ways to do it is to write in colloquial Arabic that is specific to places that have ???? - so for instance, you'd use technical Arabic for those built around computer shopper magazine, which was being published in Dubai - and so the colloquial Arabic that s being spoken in Dubai is kind of what technical Arabic sounds like - it had influence there - similarly, the number of accents in Spanish is pretty damned broad, so the difference bw understanding a Cuban and a Castilian is pretty profound - but Spanish has been kind of verging on Mexican DF (Mexico city) Spanish, bc that's the Spanish of telenovelas. - so that's ended up sort of being the colloquial Spanish that ppl end up agreeing on -
so the funny thing is that in some ways, video makes that worse - if you pull out the Tunisian Arabic - Tunisian Arabic is this bizarre hybrid language - its like part Italian and part french and part Arabic - and when my friends in Tunisia wanted to share what was going on in the Tunisian revolution, they had to subtitle their own damn videos in Arabic - so i think video is great in terms of giving it a richness, but i worry about it in a way, whee you end up with a situation where you bring in video but what you end up doing is pointing out how fragmented and difficult Arabic has become - so you have ppl translating from Arabic to Arabic, that's what i think you'll end up doing, i suspect
access to bibliographic materials? culture of citation/plagiarism?
at a certain point what you're really talking about is that Wikipedia is always a culture clash, right? - there's the culture clash of Wikipedia and other ways of writing online - and there always has been - there's a very good recent rant by someone who sort of talks about how hard it is for a registered expert in the subject to participate in Wikipedia - and the answer is that, the way that you engage in expert discourse are so different from how Wikipedia engages with discourse that that's the cultural translation - so what i would say more than anything else is to view Wikipedia as a culture - more to the point, if you each Wikipedia as a culture - bc German Wikipedia is really from English Wikipedia - what you really need to do is you need to understand, not just Wikipedia culture but for the greater Arabic Wikipedia culture, whose in it, what do they speak, how do they think about references - and then you need to think about how to contrast them with the ppl you want to get to participate in it and then you want to think about how you align those two things -
in the past we've thought maybe the best ppl to participate in this are university students at non-American universities in Cairo but an Arabic speaking university in Cairo - and we start with the hard science and we say that the incentive for these guys is to have scholarly output that's recognized by their professors so maybe we go in and talk to professors about making part of an assignment doing high quality science writing for the Arabic Wikipedia - and then if those are the cultures we're trying to bridge, we then say what do we need to know about university culture in that context and Wikipedia culture and how do we bring those things together? - don't try to take on the vast task of aligning Arabic culture, bc there is no such thing - w Wikipedia culture bc the truth is Wikipedia culture probably mattes a lot from one Wikipedia to another - pick who your targets are for who you're trying to get to participate and try to figure out enough about that culture and the culture of the current Arabic Wikipedia and try to bridge that gap -that's a much more viable process -
the other trick of course is that - i don't know that this is the moment to get Egyptians involved with a Wikipedia project - for the simple reason that most of the Egyptians that i know that are reasonably technically savvy and care about open culture are busily trying to overthrow military governments - and they're kind of busy - i mean this in kind of a literal sense right? - i sort of call up my friends and say i'd like to hook up w a journalist in Cairo, who can i meet with - the response is: nobody - come on, give these guys a break, they're a little busy right now - i would be thinking about, countries that have an educated population, have some technical experience, are not in the throws of revolution - but are very interested in sort of how their takes the stage technologically - id be thinking about Jordan - and the UAE and countries like that as a different way to go -
partnerships? for profit vs non profit?
there's a lot of concern that when you're dealing with for profit companies and you're dealing with non profit types as separate - that you end up with inextricable conflict at the face of it - and im not actually convinced that that's true - i think that YouTube actually has created a set of core values, they understand that there's various political ways to use the tool, and they also understand that for YT to be perceived positively, they have to find ways to be useful in that fashion - i think YT potentially would be thrilled about the idea - the argument that ive been making is that it seems like its obvious that what you should have is a Wikipedia-type, citizen-owned YT where we control the content and we control the platform 1907 and that all sounds great, up until the moment you sort of look at it and try to figure out how much it costs to do it - and to do it and have it be robust turns out to be just frightening hard to do - so in many ways, what eve been doing all these years at global voices is saying, we're going to trust that the citizen media platform providers are going to make it possible to do political speech on their platform - if they don't do it, we're going to hit them over the head with it - so we're going to go with a carrot and stick - we're going to try very very hard to ask them to do the right thing - if they don't then we're going to give them a terribly hard time about it but the hope is that we're going to get best behavior out of them - and maybe as an interim step, but also maybe as a longer term step, i don't think that a Wikipedia YT partnership would be a bad thing - i know that it would be hard to do within Wikipedia but i also think that there are all sorts of worthwhile practical reasons to actually work to make it happen -
you are certainly right to argue that video is going to be critical to Wikipedia - i do not know if you are right to argue that video is the solution to Arabic inclusion to Wikipedia, but it's an interesting argument - then the question becomes, does Wikipedia need to have the infrastructure of a YT or is there a way for Wikipedia to partner with YT and my instinct wold be to say that, i would sure try that before i committed to going in a different direction -
ben moskowitz? open video alliance?
i am by my nature an open source person - i have pissed off a bunch of ppl in the open video community by saying things like before you slam the door on YT, think about what they're doing for you that you don't want to do - the reason that i ended up becoming so passionate about YT on this is Whya laba??? - this Egyptian activist who years before all of the tahrir square stuff - was documenting police abuse in Egypt via video - he would put up these videos and his site would get teed off into non-existence and finally what he actually ended up doing is, hosting it on YT and i don't think he ever said its politically the right thing to do it on YT, it was just that there was no efficient open infrastructure where he could do it in an open fashion - he ended up putting it on YT and it worked very well for him - YT initially took one of his video as down, we had a big discussion about whether it was OK for YT to take the videos down - and YT responded by changing their terms of service - and basically saying that video that violates the terms of service but has political relevancy and importance, we're going to give a special status to - and we;re going to allow it to stick around - and i would not be surprised if you could find a way to do that with educational content
this is a massive battle that you may not want to waste your resources on - if i were trying to talk to Wikipedia about this i would be advocating in as many places as you can - which is to say if you can host it locally that's great, but i would also host it on YT and i would also host it on any open video platform you can - and i would just link to all of them - but unfortunately, practical doesn't always help you in the world of Wikipedia -
what about video as sourcing?
i like the idea of video as a sourcing strategy, but i think the problem that you end up with is a pretty fundamental Wikipedia preset - which is no original research - i don't entirely understand the history behind it but i know it became one of the core values very early on - the idea is that you don't want anyone using Wikipedia as their platform for their own original research, what you want is research that has been cited and published elsewhere assembled into an encyclopedia-type article - and the problem is that as soon as you're going out and sourcing something by "here's the piece of video that i shot" - there's an extent to which that in its purest form is original research - ive never been convinced that "no original research" is the best Wikipedia preset but i think that is what you're going to bump into - what i would suggest, is positing it they way you're positing it - i can make an even stronger case for it - ive been doing a lot of work on the Swahili Wikipedia and if you think its hard to find citations to back up Arabic Wikipedia trying to find a Swahili language site for east African culture is incredibly difficult - so the format within that community is ...look if we understand that this is a piece of Swahili culture and we are talking about as Swahili speakers that know our community - well then obviously we're going to go with original research and it sucks that no one has written about this aspect of our culture but our job is to document our culture - and the question you really want to wrestle with is ...do you want to make an argument that for some of these smaller language Wikipedias, you really want to get over that original research ban bc what you really do want is native language documentation of what's going on in the community -
heather ford ushahidi reference paper**with his name
i think you're asking two really good questions and i'm not sure that they always overlap - i think that there's a great question of how does Wikipedia deal with video - i think it's an enormous and interesting question - i think you're also asking a wonderful question, which is what happens to Wikipedia in smaller languages and what happens to Wikipedia in smaller cultures - those are two utterly enormous issues - i thin when you put the two together and you basically say, "one of the reasons we don't have a good Wikipedia in Bengali is that a lot of aspects of Bengali culture are not well documented and not well cited you bump into a third issue which is a really interesting issue which is the original research issue - i would suggest that maybe if you look at that original research issue as a way to limit the other two vast issues - and basically say, im interested in how video might help us with smaller language Wikipedia and that bumps into the notion of creating and documenting our own content - which on the surface is in conflict with core Wikipedia principles -does that now mean that we should reconsider those principles - that to me turns into a very interesting philosophical question
Pete Forsyth is a veteran Wikipedian who helped found
, a dynamic group of Wikipedians which coordinates collaborative projects and engages with local institutions. He was a key architect of the Wikimedia Foundation’s
Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative
, a broadly acclaimed outreach project designed to help the academic world engage with the Wikipedia production process. Pete’s projects have ranged from improving a single Wikipedia article to designing programs that engage Wikipedia volunteers. He has also
spoken about Wikipedia
to a variety of audiences, from Ivy League universities to community groups, and from Poland to California.
Pete Forsyth Interview.zip
i think its important that it be a part of Wikipedia - i think there are a few good reasons why its not more a part of Wikipedia s of now and i would say that number 1 is technical - since Wikipedia only uses open source codecs and software that the kinds of formats acceptable are just difficult to use - there's not a lot of software for working with and you sort of have to be a sort of a geek to be able to navigate the technical hurdles - and then also, i think with any medium but especially with video, with an encyclopedia where neutrality is really important, its really, there's a lot of possibilities for problematic uses of video - there's certain cases where a historic event, where something is simply documenting a meeting or a speech and there's an article about that that's just factual, that's just simple reporting of the speech, then of course it makes sense that that might be in an encyclopedia article but there's so much opportunity for, for instance, if you were covering something like occupy wall street and you went down and video taped discussions w ppl at the event and tried to put that in an encyclopedia article there would be plenty of ppl that would object and say that those ppl are not, that the pure editorial judgement that's saying that those ppl are in any way representative of the event and that that's not really what an encyclopedia should be - those types of decisions are just more complex. 435
my experience is almost entirely with the English language Wikipedia, and i think its very important that local communities, that language communities, make their own determination about what the appropriate editorial policies are - so im very familiar w how the English language policies go and how some of those decisions on what the policies are have evolved, but i don't really know how that's gone with Arabic Wikipedia and i can certainly imagine that there might be a different approach to it - it may be that for various cultural reasons it makes a lot more sense it have an emphasis on media than on text for Arabic Wikipedia, i do think there is an important related technical issue that one of the reasons Wikipedia has been so successful is that it is so possible for ppl to work w each others' text, its very easy to do the kind of quick collaboration where you can see the types of changes one person made, the software makes it very transparent when one person changes some text by removing some words, you can easily see that comparison of the text - there are some efforts with that for video - im not sure if you're familiar with the sequencer software on commons that's under development -
the idea is something that makes it possible to - if there are several video and audio files and there are photos on Wikimedia commons and you want to put together sort of an edited piece, then its possible to define through the wiki software, say i want to play this one from the 37th second to the 45 second and then show this photograph for 10 seconds and then play this audio file over the photo to sort of construct a video out block components from within the Wikimedia software - that's a sort of more wiki-like approach to video than you'd have when you just uploading entire videos - i do think there's something more valuable about text where its possible for you to upload a paragraph and then add a sentence in the middle of it and for someone else to see which of the pieces i contributed versus what you contributed
hierarchy has issues bc its very everyone for themselves, but there certainly are different kinds of editing styles - the idea of a gnome is that its someone who doesn't really seek to be very noticeable, they just go around a do a lot of small tasks - they edit a sentence to make it flow a little more clearly, they add a link to the article that maybe the original author didn't realize was there - typos and categories - i think the kind of editing varies a lot depending on the kind of article - an article that is on a pretty controversial topic is going to have a very different social dynamic around it than a biography of someone important to the women's suffrage movement 100 yrs ago where you might only have ppl who are very knowledgeable about that subject even interested in reading the article much less improving it -
i think that there's a lot of anonymity in the Wikipedia world - its very common that you really have no idea - you might develop a sense of what someones background is through interacting w them but in a lot of cases you're really just don't know what their gender or age is - but i do think that that general characterization - ive seen those numbers come out of various surveys and it generally matches my experience, i do think there tends to be a very heavily male and i think its very academic, its ppl who are sort of inclined to engage w information and ppl who like to write or like to be involved in knowledge construction, ppl who have some interest in tinkering with internet software whether its directly writing and editing the software or using interesting software and applying its potential
its important to understand that the model that's brought Wikipedia about, the devotion to the non profit, free software, multilingual approach - is really important piece in why many of the technical issues exist. if you compare Wikipedia to Facebook, FB may seem more advanced in a number of different ways but if you compare the # of languages that each is available in Wikipedia is going to come out way on top - i think its important that the decisions on Wikipedia are driven more by a value structure and a devotion to its mission than they are to market opportunities
SMS & funneling?
i think its important for ppl to have some direct experience w Wikipedia in order to be able to contribute meaningfully to it* - so im a little more skeptical of the idea that pp contributing that just aren't online much or at all - the back and forth of the early stages of contribution are so important for someone to develop and understanding of what is meant by neutral tone, what kind of language is considered appropriate for Wikipedia and what isn't, how an article is typically structured - its so important to have a fluid back and forth w other editors- to be able to develop an understanding of how Wikipedia works and its kind of hard for me to imagine that happening wo an opportunity for kind of a back and forth - but i could def imagine the ppl who access to the internet it infrequent, who do have an opportunity to explore Wikipedia, to edit it a bit on a full computer - enough to be able to get a general feel for it and then want to be able to supplement there traditional internet access by adding a sentence here and there or a link here and there, a note here and there through SMS, that seems more promising to me. that it would be a way to more fully engaged of a demographic that may already be somewhat inclined to engage but might have some hurdles to continuity
i think it could take a number of different shapes that could have different pros and cons - i think it would be really different if it was sort of a tight community where that person whose doing the funneling is playing a significant editorial role and is providing some of that continual feedback for some of the ppl they're engaging with - it would feel that they were part of a process that the kind of thing i would like to see happening and probably a long with that a bit of transparency to the reader about how that text got generated - either on a technical level or through blogging style reporting, if there were a bit of info communicated about how the article was generated - that the editor says this many ppl contributed to this article during these dates - on Wikipedia its very common for ppl to be anonymous so you wouldn't necessarily;y need to go into a great degree of detail about who the ppl are, what there backgrounds are , but i think that communicating some sort of sense of the process would be important to other more established Wikipedians to see
citations? bibliographic? video sourcing?
i think its a useful model but i think you would probably run into important editorial decisions - on Wikipedia its often not just the facts but ,someone said a certain thing, but its whether or not that is considered important enough to have in an article about that person - what im use to on the English Wikipedia is the way that those disagreements get resolved is by citing the authority of an established publication - if Pat Robertson says something about abortion and its someone individually captured it on their camera phone, than there would probably be no path for getting that into the article about Pat Robertson - not bc ppl would disbelief that he said it, but bc there is no secondary source to establish that editorial authority - if it was covered in the NY Times and it was in the lead paragraph of the story and it was presented in a way that made it clear that the NY Times considered that important to what Pat Robertson public persona is, then that's what would make the quote include-able
could current Wikipedia editors also filter videos?
the places where im use to seeing things like that happen are more on the projects Wikinews and wiki source - Wikinews on a historical level was established to begin w as a way to get around Wikipedia's prohibition on original research* - that Wikinews was a separate site that did explicitly allow original research that did explicitly allow ppl to go out and do interviews and the idea was sort of that once a news story was published on Wikinews w a clear process around establishing authenticity and all those related things that then you would be a reliable source that could be used for a Wikipedia article - its probably worth exploring how to use some of those sister projects - i think you'd probably encounter a much more friendly reception to a project that was designed uploading a video to commons and transcribing it on Wikisource and writing a news story on wiki news and the incorporating that into a Wikipedia article than you would with a project that was designed around uploading it to YouTube - and having ppl in the ny times like roles within Wikipedia to explore authenticity - kind of leverage of existing structure there
universities? wiki moma?
i think its a great model and im not particularly familiar with the MOMA project but it sounds like its drawing pretty heavily on other partnerships w museums - the British Museum is sort of the first, there's also the Wikipedian in residence at the Smithsonian - there's one at the national archives - and i think those have been excellent content generation projects - the idea of specifically blending university classes in a project like that is new to me and potentially would be effective -
i really feel like the future of Wikipedia has a lot to do with finding ways to engage organizations - i think Wikipedia grew up very quickly on a social level, that the Wikipedia community is a sort of adolescent phase where there's this sense that as Wikipedians we are really the only ones that really understand how everything works and that were the only ones who really care about values like transparency and free licensing and that everyone should do it our way - and i think that while there is something compelling about it that its not completely irrational or crazy, but at the same time there have been institutions that exist for the sole purpose of advancing knowledge and using archives - i really think that the more Wikipedia can be engaged with universities and museums and government entities and even corporations, especially bigger corporations that have higher research, that have entire areas that are really devoted towards advancing knowledge in a certain area, that are quite separate from the corporate interest in building the brand - i think the more than Wikipedians can look at that organization as potential partners and as opportunities for finding aligned interests in stead of looking at it from this defensive posture of being made to figure out how to do things our way, i think that will reap better results
Milagros Rivera is the chair of the
Communications and New Media Program
at the National University of Singapore. Dr. Rivera obtained a SGD$1.6 million grant to add a stream in communication management (public relations) and another in interactive media (games & visual design and human-computer interaction) to CNM. Dr. Rivera led an interdisciplinary team of researchers pursuing a SGD$10 million grant proposal for the creation of a Center for Social Media, granted by The Media Development Authority of Singapore February 2009. She regularly conducts research in regulatory efficiency, ICT comparative policy, online privacy, e-government and information, and communication technologies and development (ICT&D). Her work has been published in Science Technology and Society, Communications of the AMC, New Media and Society, Journalism and Mass Communication Monographs, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journalism History, The Urban Lawyer, Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal, Federal Communications Law Journal, World Internet Law Report, Communications and the Law, Cuadernos de Información (a Chilean academic journal), Asian Pacific Law and Policy Journal, Media Asia and Asian Journal of Communication. From 1999 to 2003, she was the author of the broadcast regulation chapter in Communication and the Law, a media law book published by Vision Press, U.S.A.
Milagros Rivera Interview Part 1.zip
ive been part of several projects here in Asia trying to build whats called capacity building in the region and it is not an easy thing to do. In Asia i would imagine that you'd probably have some languages where you have a lot of content, i think part of it has to do with the fact hat when ppl are able to access content in their own language then you probably will have more diversity.we were just finishing a project where we found that the vast majority of ppl that use the internet in India, Bangladesh, the Philippines obviously do it in English. and then of course in places like Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia they don't have the same degree of proficiency in English so they try to find content in their own language. Now depending on the localization efforts, they are more successful. So for example, Vietnam and Thailand have a lot of local content. Indonesia has less - and so i think it depends on so many factors, on the level of development, on infrastructure, on education. in the project were looking at the data for over 3000 subjects over 6 countries and south Asia has higher levels of education generally, than for example Vietnam and Thailand - so i would suspect that education probably has something to do with it.
not necessarily in terms of Wikipedia or the internet, but certainly in terms of language policies. and the reason is that language policies are often completely imbued with politics - for example Urdu is spoken as the official language in Pakistan but less than 10 % of the population speaks Urdu and so these decisions are made on the basis of religion and politics and power struggles that have nothing to do with the language that the majority of ppl speak - so that is actually not rare - i would suggest that that policy probably has a great deal to do with the fact that there is less content - you can set up certain things but ppl are going to do what they want to do and that's the beauty of social media that if ppl don't think that you're providing the platform for them to express themselves in the way they choose they'll go elsewhere
non profit? ease of use?
i wonder about the culture of sharing - in some countries ppl have this desire to share and i think that's more common in western countries or countries where ppl have a certain level of education, i don't know ... i suspect that the ease of use may be an issue, frankly i am so busy that i never contribute anything to Wikipedia and i tend to consider it not a reliable source so i don't use it unless i just want a quick check on something that i later will have to check for real on something more reliable - so it may also be a culture of ppl not necessarily having that much access and ...there's some controls so that may limit what ppl do, it may very well be that ppl also if they know English they prefer to go to other sources and i sincerely would suspect that that's part of it...overall, ppl prefer to find other sources of Wikipedia in English or some other language that they would know and they consider those more reliable than any sources done by ppl in their own language - number 1 the language issue and the choice of language for them but also bc of some deep rooted suspicions. i know that's the case in countries here in Vietnam, the government controls and those major searches for example has filters to control certain types of political content - FB is not easily available and you have to be quite resourceful to get it so overall ppl don't go to those sources they find other avenues where they want info to be more neutral - i would be very curious if they have ways of knowing if ppl use Wikipedia in Arabic, what are the topics that they're searching?
it may not really be that they monitor those things but if there is a culture of that then they might seek info through channels that they think are out of the reach of the government
i think that would then defeat the whole purpose of it - and the truth is its not that its making it any better so you have again some ppl who decide this is a good way of making some money and become regular content providers and there's still the same issues of who submits information, how often, how accurate and so on...so i don't know that that would solve the problem - i really think that Wikipedia could do a better job if they hooked up with tertiary institutions or even high schools - but especially universities and try to incentivize ppl to talk about certain issues or areas - that seems to me a more reasonable way of bringing not only diversity but quality to the content -
wiki moma? classes?
if you think about it, if kids are always having to do assignments and research and so on, and they go to Wikipedia for that, why not turn it around and make them to libraries and learn and actually give quality information and then contribute that to Wikipedia -
the catch is - have you done any research on the statistics for access bc the last time i looked at the middle east the numbers were not that amazing and there was a lot of variation within countries in terms of which countries had more access and so on - i would imagine that money is not really an issue in some of these countries and obviously some groups but access might be -
what if you could contribute access via sms? gatekeeper?
all of these suggestions fundamentally alter the way that Wikipedia works bc then you would have somebody who made 85 entries and the other 15 are not appropriate and he'll edit or leave them out or change them so to me that's not the same - i think what they need to really do is figure out is what is it that's stopping ppl from contributing? i mean if they don't know that then they need to figure it out - i would do some research, focus groups, some attempts to see who are the ppl who are contributing - to talk to them - what compels them to participate and contribute - and then talk to the ones who don't and why don't they? - and understand what are the differences bw the contributors and the non contributors and what are the factors that are keeping ppl from becoming involved and collaborating bc changing the way that you do it is not necessarily going to incentivize the ppl who are not interested and yet may have things to contribute -
leach says volunteerism doesn't exist
to be honest wit you, if there are so many factors stacked against it then the only way i can imagine these changing somewhat is to incorporate it into part of the teaching in classes - i have colleagues who require the students to post certain things either on blogs or wikis and collaborate and create that and that's part of the product for the class - so some teachers could actually collaborate on a project and begin to create this content and i think once ppl begin to contribute things within their work online it may create a sense of pride in what their contributing and they may become incentivized themselves and other to do it - but if there isn't a culture of that then you're going to have to create it somehow and i would think that universities are the perfect place for that kind of thing -
lack of Arabic published sources?
sure, they may not be online but there would be books and there will be scholars and there will be journals that may not be online but these ppl would be able to cite them and if you're interested in the citation then you're going to have to figure out how to get access to it - should you go to the website - i think its misguided that only ppl who can provide links as citations should contribute bc then that really it thwarts the idea that you can actually get ppl from all countries to contribute bc then what happens to the ones that don't have access for themselves to be able to double check the citations? if i can g to the library and i just did homework or an assignment on a particular scholar - Sufism - and i have these citations, i may not have them online but i certainly have the citations - why should that not be acceptable? - 944
the moment that you begin to demand that the citations are links, you're precluding ppl in places that access is limited or difficult from contributing -
video as sourcing?
i really think that if they want content for certain regions they're going to def have to change their approach - and the truth is that if you could develop a little application that allows ppl to easily upload short videos, photographs, those kinds of things or even just speech - you then will have opportunities for ppl to do it wo having to get out of the way - bc you have to remember also the cost, - in places where you don't have computer sand you have to go to a cyber cafe, you have to pay for that - but maybe if you localize it and you allow ppl to have an application that easily uploads ..then that may be a way to go - so i def think there's something interesting to be done there and it doesn't have to be text but it could be a combination or text, video and photographs - it could be a combination of things, it doesn't have to be only one way or the other -
i would say not everyone but at least a good 70-80% of ppl will have access to mobile phones of some sort so allowing ppl to submit text messages or all kinds of other sources would provide access and content that otherwise would not be available and if they don't want to do that down the line other resources will come up that will accept that - Wikipedia may simply evolve or they insist on staying a particular way, some other service will provide the content in some other form -
i think the question that they need to ask is which content do they want to increase? what are the limitations that those ppl have? and what are the potential avenues to provide ways for these limitations to be removed? so then that content can be increased in some form - but f you already preclude some forms of content versus others then you expect that ppl in countries where access is limited to submit in the same way in other paces where ppl have 24 hour online connections, then it is obviously not going to work - so they're going to have to change the way that they're looking at this and the will really have to have a greater understanding of what it is that keeps ppl from contributing -
any time you start talking about these things, even talking to a professor who teaches in Cairo, i will tell you personally that we have a lot of foreigners who teach here in Asia and they have biases of their own about the locals and they have sometimes quite racist ways of looking at the local culture - so unless you talk to the local ppl and truly understand what keeps them from contributing, getting info from someone who lives there and knows the locals doesn't really give you insight into the reality of whats happening with the local ppl - especially the young ppl -
oral histories project as model?
in some cultures, interaction, the sociality aspect is tremendously important so if you allow for that kind of oral history, visual oral combined, it would be fun for them to create these things and they would enjoy doing it - but if there isnt a culture of sharing, or a culture of contributing for free - then you can create an incentive for certain ppl to do it but unless you understand what are the motivations and what are the impediments you're making a lot of guesses and i wouldn't base my knowledge of the local ppl on what foreign teachers are telling you - bc i know i interact students all the time and what my colleagues say ... - Singapore is suppose to be this place with harmonious interactions bw all the faiths, that's a facade - you live here and you see the way ppl truly interact then you'll see that very few ppl cross ethnic groups to become friends of ppl of other cultures and that the whole is very simply a myth and its perpetuated and everything but if you talk to ppl from different cultures they'll tell you that the Indians don't like the Chinese, the Chinese don't like the Indians and they don't interact w each other unless they have to - but you can create all these things on the basis of what ppl want to tell you but unless you really talk to ppl you're not going to know the truth
only talked to authority figures so far...
if they want to do a project, it would be really cool if they could just have a series of general small gatherings at various places where youth hangs out and especially cyber cafes bc what do they do when they go to cyber cafes? what are the things that get them interested? just some focus groups to understand ways that motivate them to participate or collaborate in some kind of online community - if you don't know that then you're probably just completely off the mark -
bigger wp gets, slower to react...
of course, that's just natural - any animal that gets too big takes longer to turn -
ultimately, if you think about the internet and its archival power, i was just working w 2 student and we were doing a project trying to understand the cultural embededness of mobile phone advertising and we went to YT and the next thing we know we have more than 60 ads for almost 10 yrs and you can actually do a longitudinal study and look at the way that certain cultural activists have been represented through advertising in the context of mobile phones - so that kind of archival power is something that sometimes ppl forget that the internet provides, sure sometimes some things get moved around - and you no longer know where they are, but your combining the knowledge of media with museums is fantastic - bc i think eventually a lot of out history is going to be in some digital form -
"Dr. Leach has held a number of position in government and in the private sector. He is the former National President of the World Affairs Councils of America. He has also been the Peace Corps Regional Director for Eastern Europe, the Soviet Republics, Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific. In the U.S. government, Dr. Leach served as the National Security Council Director of International Economic Affairs at the White House, as the Deputy Director in the Office of Strategic Technology
Affairs, State Department, and as a Consular Officer in the U.S. Embassy, on post in London, UK. Dr. Leach has also been an Assistant Lecturer at Cambridge University, Instru
ctor at the University of Papua New Guinea; and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkey." -
Jerry Leach Interview.zip
obviously there's some problem behind this or no one would be doing it, so i would assume the problem is that they cant get enough Arabic editors and people who will enter materials?
first and foremost i would start y saying that Arabs in general terms are not readers, they don't take to reading, they don't like it very much and basically have to go to foreign schools - that would include English language or french language or other schools within the region as well as going out of the region as well - those ppl who do become readers- and they are probably the ppl who would be most likely to help out - some of those ppl speak and write Arabic quite well, others speak Arabic quite well but don't write it very well largely because so much of their education is in English or in french or now i guess you'd say Russian or the like.
there are certain other problems lying in the background, there is, generally speaking, not a system developed yet in the Arab world which essentially is - lets call it a philanthropic use of time - there's giving of alms and all those things that come from the Koran, but when ppl are asked to give their time to do something they very often regard that as strange, or at least a new idea or something that's coming in from the outside world. so there's another one of the small impediments in probably explaining why Wikipedia Arabic is a lot more contracted than the other major language groups
i would say that since there is such a large number of educated ppl, educated young ppl, in the Arab world, starting of course with Egypt and elsewhere as well - the possibility of putting together a team of editors from different parts of the Arab world and paying them some local stipend, or paying them by hour or by entry would probably work pretty well and wouldn't cost all that much money. that's the best way in can think of to build up Wikipedia and get ppl to sit down in front of a machine and write out articles etc. now 2 caveats, there are a lot of different dialects in Arabic and they approach unintelligibility - that is from the eastern to the western - the Arabic can be pretty hard to understand. so the ppl who do this are going to immediately ask are we writing in our local dialect or are we writing in classic Arabic - which is essentially the Arabic if the Koran - which heavily influences the written Arabic, so somebody somewhere is going to have to make that decision. now as to what dialect or what version of Arabic they write, then above and beyond that, the different dialects of Arabic involve differences in pronunciation, differences of spelling, differences of words and word use, and that's going to be a little hard if you have ppl from the gulf plus ppl from Algeria plus ppl from Sudan and Egypt and Yemen and the like, papering over that bc you cant really expect someone writing in Kuwait to be able to write easily or well in the Egyptian version of Arabic or someone writing in Yemen to do the same, so you might have to just accept that they'll be these dialectical versions and that there will be a certain number of complaints flowing in saying that this is really not the way we speak and write Arabic,
but its going to be pretty hard unless you decide to standardize on one of the dialectical variations, the biggest one is obviously Egyptian Arabic bc 1/4 of all the Arabs in the world live in Egypt, so if the answer is standardization and using only one dialect, then i guess what you'd need is for ppl in Algeria, Yemen and abu dhabi to be writing in their own native dialect and then have a super editor turning it into Egyptian Arabic... in other words you're going to have to, as much as i understand Wikipedia, it's mostly a cadre of ppl who are voluntarily editing and expanding the ting all the time, that's not likely to work....so basically given a decade and five more intensive years, everyone is dissatisfied with the input and therefore what's on the screen, and i would say yeah, that's kind of par for the course, if i had to stand back and say what i predict that would have been what i'd have predicted and its largely bc of no tradition of voluntary use of time for good causes and the like, so that's where the problem lies
does Wikipedia ever pay people to write?
assuming that their willing to engage in some type of payment for a period of time, 5 yrs or 10 yrs, and they don't have the resources to pay for it themselves, then i think that turning to one or more of the foundations or organizations in different parts of the world and asking for a grant to bring Wikipedia up to the standards of input of the western European languages, and there are such organizations around and a great deal more effort and money has been put into education in the Arab world after 911 and increasing through to this present day, so i should think that would be a doable proposition, to get a sufficient grant, to get a sufficient amount of stringers or writers you felt like was essential and how many fields you thought were essential to cover. lets just say off the top of your head 100 ppl, and a project director...you'd need a project manager, someone who spoke both English and Arabic in the US, that would be quite easy to do and then the stringers out in the field, and you'd need to devise a method to keep the stringers active bc just paying them isn't going to be perfectly satisfactory either bc they just don't have a disciplined way of using their time and bc of lacks in poor schooling they are accustomed to getting away with pretty much anything they do in school ... so they're not going to be disciplined writers right off the bat, until somebody cracks the whip and stops paying them, or reprimands them or after 2-3 failures says im sorry but we cant continue, you're finished etc..
finding the ppl out there will probably sound on the face of it like a very daunting job but it wont be, it will be quite easy bc there are so many ppl sitting around looking for things to do and not being able to get jobs and not being interested in the jobs they've got etc...now having said all of that, covering abstruse, way out fields which Wikipedia does, that's not going to be all that easy bc some of the academic fields aren't really covered in Arab universities. their structure of knowledge and the structure of their teaching programs is 50, 75, 100 yrs behind the western world..so you'd probably have some decided gaps that you wouldn't really be able to cover. still, i don't think it would be that hard of a thing.
100 ppl for ten years plus a project supervisor plus 2-3 super-editors or something like that would probably do it. you'd probably be able to expect to double or triple or even quadruple the volume in the course of about 10 yrs
how do you feel about approaching universities?
let me start with something out in left field, please note that the principle use of Wikipedia in the Arab world is to crib information for term papers...so that's the principle purpose for which people post the material, to get by assignments in the classroom.
assigning it to universities? assigning it to universities without giving the universities some money, without overhead if you like, wont generally work. Ive seen enough of that at AUC which is much more active in voluntary activities and activities that involve extra time on the part of faculty and students. AUC is way up above all the other Arabic speaking universities in Egypt in doing that and even there without the university getting a cut of the money, the project may start with a certain amount of enthusiasm and there may even be the signing of an agreement or whatever and then it will get assigned within the university to a faculty member, or an institute or something like that, and then it will essentially fall down their agenda and become a low priority and after a while you'll discover that their not putting much into it and you're not getting much out of it.
I don't think that universities are the best place unless money is involved and even then im not sure money is going to solve the problem. the best thing i think is really to find university educated ppl who are very enthusiastic and recommended to you etc and turn them in to your direct stringers and have workshops for them and go visit them from time to time and make them feel a part of it...i mean one of the things that makes Arabs really jump up and take notice and get enthusiastic is to say that in addition to getting paid we'll be able to sponsor a trip for you to Wikipedia headquarters to seethe whole operation ... and it means to have a free trip to the US and then boy, all of the sudden they are paying close attention and trying to do exactly what you want them to do...so that might be something nice to put into the grant applications
i'd have to sit and think about this question of assigning it to universities but my first answer is i dont think it will turn out doing what you want it to do, it wont work as well as it would have and does in the western world.
what about the culture of citations/bibliographic material? obstacles?
first of all the typical Arab student does not like to do that and tries to skimp and get by with as little as humanly possible. the second thing is that the typical Arab student doesn't really like to go into libraries and doesn't generally do that...the majority will avoid libraries and the minority will go in. the typical Arab student actually expects to do all of the research and knowledge gathering that's expected of them online these days...so they're all doing online research rather than in libraries or any other type of journal research or data sets...so therein lies a factor i'd say in the choice of ppl to be able to get the right ppl and avoid the wrong ppl etc - in other words that's a matter of the selection process and not letting them dupe you with answers like " oh yes i use to get at least 10 citations for at least every paper that i wrote"...most of that will be a lot of hogwash
question of video?
as content? camera phone?
first, all educated Arabs have cell phones. and they all have cell phones with cameras. secondly, a picture has a great deal more credibility, believability in the Arab world than the printed word and the reason for that is that the printed word as they are accustomed to them are essentially things that have been vehicles of deception, they've been essentially lies told to the ppl by their government, lies told by newspapers, broadsides by the Muslim brotherhood, broadsides by the left wing etc, in other words, whats said by authoritative ppl and what's written down are often suspect in the Arab world because of the long history of deception through the written word. so that would seem to say to me that in the Arab world having a sort of video attachments to written articles would be basically, a very very good idea.
And it would be possible to get ppl to help you out. some have ca,eras of course in addition to cell phones but everybody's got cell phones...
camera phone pictures that have had real impact have become a major part of the Egyptian revolution bc a lot of the revolution has actually been documented - you know, who did what to whom and how the govt is lying and how the police are lying - a lot of it has been caught up now in cell phone images where you can actually tell who did what to whom ...so the use of camera hones for at least political purposes has been well pioneered certainly in Egypt and across north Africa and in Lebanon and Jordan. its a little trickier in saud arabia and in the uae and in Iraq, bc its somewhat more dangerous and can get you in to trouble but still you can go a long way in the countries where it's not a problem any longer. so i think basically ( the use of video on Wikipedia) would be a very good idea.
social media? in Egypt during revolution?
i was there for the first seven months of it.
It's worth mentioning that a lot of the stuff you would want ( videos) would probably already appear on Facebook and you tube anyway so you might be able to go there and find out who has the rights and be able to put it in an article. there's quite a lot of yt material on Egypt and on Algeria and Libya.
how do you feel about citing with video?
the publication rate in the Arab world - by that i mean academic publishing but also novels and things like that - is very low. Then of course, academics here (West) but certainly there (MENA), there idea is that if its not in a printed paper form then it doesn't count. in other words it's just, i don't know, like a newspaper...it doesn't have any gravitas. you don't get any career credit for it. so the idea of publishing academic style material in Arabic has almost no standing in the Arab world, the penetration level is very very low...so personally in the short term i would say to put forward lot of Arabic articles that are being written for the next ten years the citations would have to be in English and Arabic...it have to be bilingual citations. That's not uncommon in the Arab world.
in some places, and in most of the Arab world, (taking videos on a camera phone) would be considered right and proper reporting..no essential political or police problem. in other parts, it would be considered a policing problem. first you could be take as a spy and secondly you could be taken as a subversive or a revolutionary since your motive was unclear for doing it you could end up in a police station trying to explain yourself and if you couldn't, if you had a kind of blockhead for your interrogator - you might end up in the police station for weeks...you'd have to be real careful to make sure that ppl didn't really get themselves into trouble photographing speeches like that. Having said that, there's very little of that done in the Arab world other than through the state run television service and they're not likely to give you the material to go on the web so youre going to have to get it on your own ..so basically since its not available unless the tv services decide to show it, its basically not available, you cant see the person saying...so i think it would be a great thing to have on Wikipedia as a further step in opening up the Arab world
if you had ppl who were dedicated to this project and full time, one thing i would tell them to do is to go out and try to get hold of the list of documentaries, short, sometimes 2 minutes, sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes 2 hours, but get a list of the Arabic language documentaries ...so far that material is largely not collected anywhere but there are a lot of Arabic language documentaries being made now in the Arab world and almost all the countries except where the police state is still strong...but that could be a real beginning for you where you could get your videos and ppl would love to say that " oh my video was put up on Wikipedia"...that kind of thing brings real prestige in the Arab world.
then what you want to do is contact the ppl who make them, some small companies and some individuals, and say whatever you make, let us know. in other words, you want to create for yourself a network of ppl in the documentary world - and there'd be several hundred in the Arab world as a whole - and you want to get a network of ppl feeding into you all the time
This research was done by Corey Boling, a graduate student at Columbia University. Email him at
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Wikimedia in the Arab World
Tapping into Existing Volunteer Networks
Incorporating Wikipedia Editing Into University Curricula
Blogging Culture in the Region and Engaging Bloggers
Women and Wikipedia
Lessons Learned from Facebook Arabic
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