Conference about Wikipedia’s future held in Cape Town

World Today

The Wiki-mania Conference came to a close in Cape Town, South Africa on Sunday.

CGTN’s Rene Del Carme reports on how advocates are trying to change regulations to incorporate more traditional African story-telling.

Addressing hundreds of Wikipedia enthusiasts and leaders, Dr. Shaun Jacobs, an associate professor at The New School, said it was time for South Africans and Africans to share their own narrative globally on Wikipedia.

“I think people underestimate what a powerful source it is as a reference tool,” Dr. Jacobs said. “As an encyclopedia online, I think for an ordinary person, what you do is you go online, you look if what’s on the site, you see if there are gaps, you join, you sign up for an account and you start editing at a very low level. Get involved! And if you get involved then after awhile you can also, I suppose, determine what goes on the website. That your history is not distorted.”

The president of Wikipedia South Africa agreed but said that the free knowledge movement was still grappling with a number of serious challenges.

“Two things. There’s a need for African knowledge and perspectives to help inform and build a better, stronger Wikipedia. Both in English and other international language versions of Wikipedia as in their own language,” Douglas Scott, president of Wikipedia South Africa said. “And the second one is for us, as an existing community of editors, is how can we be more inclusive but still maintain the ethos that we have of trying to present a neutral point of view, fact-checking, all that sort of stuff. And basically, be a better encyclopedia. But we can’t be a better encyclopedia without a diversity of opinions and voices in our community.” 

Some African Wikipedia contributors are already hard at work and are committed to working with their communities to ensure they make their mark on the global site.

“We’re working across Africa. So from the very northern tip to the very southern tip, we work with them,” said Isla Haddow-Flood, the Project Leader of Wiki in Africa. “We have an education program in South Africa but we run WikiLovesWomen and WikiLovesAfrica across Africa, from Tanzania and Uganda and Ethiopia to Mali, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. We want to create sustained communities across Africa that build their own communities and build more contributions on their own ‘terms'”.

However, there may be some barriers to entry for any aspiring Wikipedia contributor.

“The challenges in Africa are mostly lack of infrastructure for internet and affordability of internet. Inability of people to be able to acces internet-enabled devices,” said Felix Nartey, the 2017 Wikipedian of the Year. “Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia. Everybody can edit it and nobody gets paid for editing Wikipedia. However, the spirit of volunteerism is not embedded in our culture.”

Wikipedia said that while there has been “a significant reduction in high mobile data costs, and other barriers to participating in Wikipedia, more than half of the world’s population is not yet online.” But it envisions someday living in a world where “everyone can share freely in the sum of all knowledge.”