Expand reach within midsize and under-connected populations

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Summary Issue: Wikimedia is not fully accessible to many people around the world

There's so much left to do

Wikimedia has 271 language projects. As of July 2009, there are currently 12.5 million articles and 2.47 million "useful" articles (>1.5kb which equates to a minimum of 150-250 words) in languages spoken by more than 3 million people.[1] Robust Wikimedia projects are available in pan-regional languages such as English, French, and Portuguese, as well as in smaller European languages, matching the languages that are spoken by the most well-connected Internet users in the world today.

With continued growth in Internet usage worldwide, more languages are starting to flourish online, but, large numbers of people in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia have limited Wikimedia resources available in their native languages. See Regional opportunities to extend reach for more detail on potential and challenges to reach populations within different regions.

A major example of this is the lack of a substantial Wikipedia in Arabic. There are 467 million speakers of Arabic, of whom approximately 100 million are online. But Arabic Wikipedia has less than 19,000 "useful" articles of greater than 1.5kb. The number of editors on Arabic Wikipedia has been growing, as has the rate of growth (from May 2007 to May 2008, the number of editors grew by 11%; from May 2008 to May 2009, the number of editors grew by 38% .[2]. However, the absolute number of editors on Arabic Wikipedia remains small (573 as of May 2009).

To provide "the sum of all knowledge, to all people", Wikimedia will need to provide its content in local languages of choice. Many different language Wikipedias have been started over time, but few have taken off and become large enough to serve as a vital reference source in these languages. There are some significant challenges to growing these projects and open questions about what speakers of other languages can do to support their growth.

Common challenges amongst smaller Wikipedias

There are some challenges that are shared by many smaller Wikipedias. Many of these issues are technical. In order for people to successfully develop and maintain a Wikipedia they need to be able to interact with the MediaWiki software in their own language. However, despite the immense efforts of the MediaWiki team there is still a ways to go to fully localize the MediaWiki software.[3]. Another problem faced by many smaller wikipedias is the lack of tools and templates to facilitate editing. This is in large part due to a dearth of editors that have the necessary technical skills to develop tools and fix errors and bugs on the wiki. A final issue common to small Wikipedias with a limited number of editors and administrators is the difficulty of maintaining this site in protecting it from spam and vandalism.

A veteran editor and administrator writes about his experience working on the Wolof Wikipedia a language spoken in west Africa. "When i arrived on wo.wp, there were almost no categorization, no template, no infobox, no page like village pump, etc. I'm not a Wolof speaker, but i could solve all these problems by working in tandem with a native Wolof speaker."[4]

Leveraging Wikipedias offline

While local languages provide opportunities for greater penetration in the online world, the offline world of approximately 5 billion people[5], represents an even greater opportunity for Wikimedia. With the majority of the under-connected or not connected world residing in southern regional countries, offline versions of Wikipedia may enable Wikimedia to further its mission of allowing "all people" to "share the sum of all knowledge".

To date, offline Wikipedia projects have been created for a variety of reasons from convenience and fundraising, to educational outreach (e.g., tools for UK schools), and to extend reach in the developing world. These offline projects have been limited to English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and a few other European languages. The projects have been relatively small in scope with different purposes and strategies. Reach of people without or with limited access has only been the focus of a few projects and while these projects, such as One Laptop per Child (a low cost connected laptop)[6], have had impact in the hundred of thousands, none have reached the scale of successful online Wikipedias.

But are offline Wikipedias necessary? Many Wikipedians question whether offline projects without editing capabilities, even those focused on expanding reach to those with limited access, are truly aligned with the mission of everyone participating and sharing knowledge. Likewise, there are increasingly creating phone-based applications (including voice only) to provide access via call centers in developing countries [7].

A summary of offline project history and potential paths forward can be found at Offline Wikimedia projects

  1. Analysis based on information from Wikipedia stats and http://www.ethnologue.com/
  2. Regional Analysis/Middle East & North Africa
  3. For more information on localization efforts seehttp://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Localisation
  4. Talk:Regional Analysis/Sub-Saharan Africa
  5. Gates Foundation Global Libraries [1]
  6. http://laptop.org/en/
  7. New York Times article, Question Box Answers Calls in Africa,| Question Box Answers Calls in Africa/

Task Forces

Local Languages Task Force

In the world, there are 79 languages that are spoken by more than 10 million people. Together, there are 4.7 billion people, 1 billion of whom are online, that speak these languages.[1] Thus far, Wikimedia has had good success in localizing Wikipedia in several of these national and high-use local languages in Europe, as well with specific languages in the Middle East (in Hebrew and Turkish), and in Southeast Asia (in Indonesian and Vietnamese).[2] However, opportunity still exists to further localize Wikimedia

A number of "high potential" languages remain; these are the languages that are spoken by more than 10 million people, but where Wikipedias are "undersized" (meaning: they have less than 20K "useful" articles). For example:

  • Malay, Malaysia with 26 million online users and 45,000 articles (11,000 "useful")
  • Thai, Thailand with 12 million online users and 49,000 articles (18,000 "useful")
  • Persian, Iran with 9.7 million online users and 66,000 articles (12,000 "useful")
  • Tagalog/Filipino, Philippines with 5.4 million online users and 23,000 articles (2,500 "useful") (NB: Forrester Research predicts Internet usage to growth at 20% annually in the Philippines over the next 5 years)
  • Kurdish, Iraq with 3.5 million online users and 13,000 articles (1,000 "useful")
  • Hausa, Nigeria with 1.6 million online users and 131 articles (35 "useful")

What common tools and strategies can be used across projects to help spark the growth of these smaller Wikipedias that have the potential be used by many online speakers of these languages? Understanding the conditions and resources that made other Wikipedias successful even in the presence of high pan-regional language use (e.g. Europe) may provide some insight. In Phase II, a Task Force will be set-up to identify common solutions that could be used across regions and languages to spark and sustain growth in these numerous projects.

See Local Language Task Force for the list of critical questions associated with this Task Force, as well as specific supporting materials.

Arabic Task Force

Over 20% of Arabic speakers have Internet access. Arabic is the language of media, education, and commerce for many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. However, there is a relatively small number of "useful" articles (articles greater than 1.5kb) in Arabic Wikipedia. A core group of active editors on the Arabic Wikipedia has been growing, but their task is difficult. With the spread of Arabic speakers across multiple countries, editor community development is difficult. In addition, there are substantial technical issues to overcome. The most significant issue is the inability of MediaWiki to support Left to Right script.[3]

While the continued growth of Turkish, Hebrew, Persian and Kurdish language Wikipedias is desirable, the growth of Arabic Wikipedia may provide the biggest opportunity for deeper penetration in the Middle East and North Africa. Developing a growth plan for Arabic language Wikipedia which takes into consideration both technological barriers and expansion in number of editors is a priority. In Phase II, a Task Force will be set-up to further investigate the opportunities and challenges of expansion in Middle East/North Africa, particularly with Arabic language speakers.

See Arabic Task Force for the list of critical questions associated with this Task Force, as well as specific supporting materials.

Offline Task Force

There are 5 billion people for whom Internet access is either very difficult or non-existent. While more people are becoming connected everyday, there are some regions of the world where access is likely to lag for some time to come. It may be that if Wikimedia is to truly achieve its mission of sharing knowledge with all people, offline projects will need to play a greater role.

What would be achieved and what would it take to expand reach through offline Wikipedia projects? In Phase II, a Task Force will be set-up to further investigate these opportunities.

See Offline Task Force for the list of critical questions associated with this Task Force, as well as specific supporting materials.

Additional information and resources


  1. information from the International Telecommunication Union and http://www.ethnologue.com/
  2. Southeast Asia Middle East
  3. Regional Analysis/Middle East & North Africa