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Interviews/Achal Prabhala

From Strategic Planning

Interview with Achal Prabhala (Advisory Board)

Key themes

  • Growth will come through localization and current best available tool is the Chapter – need to have the local face and voice in the local community
  • Setting up chapters is not difficult, but those who are enthusiastic may not know how to set it up and how to get the donor base around them (Achal thinks it took about a week of his personal involvement to move the process forward)
  • Focus should be on-line; foundation can make tools to make off-line distribution happen but should not get involved in that (NGOs are better positioned)
  • Need to rationalize projects within Wikimedia


  • Based in Bangalore
  • Involved with formulation of India chapter as an advisor/facilitator
    • Legwork for setting up chapter (legal and tax)
    • Institutional contacts
  • Outreach in India and South Africa
  • Researcher and writer intellectual property support litigation re: copyright and patents – focus in India, South Africa (currently working in India), visiting faculty in Johannesburg
  • Involvement in Wikipedia re: reform of copyright laws and equitably licensed content especially for educational content
  • Juror for Wikimania locations
  • Interested in strategic issues: languages, connecting emerging communities/supporters in developing countries, sister wiki projects like Wikibooks

Vision for Wikimedia five years from now

  • 5 years from now would love to see as much ownership and representation on Wikipedia in any language from people who live in the “broad global south”
    • e.g. pretty much every street in Manhattan has a page, but at best single page on Wikipedia for each city in India
  • China, India, S. Africa people have Internet access but not editing, need to tap into current Internet users
  • S curve in en wiki of U.S. and European users is natural and maybe it is okay – but should see other countries take over like India users, Brazil user, etc – to add to language --- need to happen

Thoughts on under-penetration in India? Some Indian language Wikipedias tend to be pretty static

    • In India anyone who has Internet access has functional literacy in English so language is not a huge issue, but the way people interact with the articles – there is a lack of ownership, lack of understanding that they can own and edit it
    • Part issue is no India chapter
    • Part issue is that Wikipedia is seen as a project of certain countries (U.S. and Europe)
    • Chapter can create a far greater sense of local ownership – e.g. Wikipedia academies, press, etc
    • Respect issue – ordinary folks don’t feel they have the right to go in an edit – challenge authority
    • People need to be informed and must be spurred to action, rewarded and thanked --- a Chapter can spur the ownership of Wikipedia
  • Localization:
    • On foundation-l often refers to technical aspects
  • But the ownership of Wikipedia – proponents and evangelists of Wikipedia in the very cities and streets they live in, puts a local face on project
  • Chapters are critical to this
      • Alternative would have to have WMF do this, but this is not feasible given its size – chapters are the best way
    • Decentralized authority at local level and perhaps to think of how we can move beyond chapters alone as a way to represent Wikimedia work
  • India languages have huge media industries surrounding them, but technical instruction is still in English
    • In general if the Indian language Wikipedias were ‘working’ then they would look more like Japanese Wikipedia pages, i.e. skewed to popular culture and current events rather than ‘knowledge’

Strategies for extending reach and participation?

  • Offline is sub-optimal since the key is online collaboration
  • Do we need to go after non-Internet users while there is still so many Internet users we don’t have participating – why don’t we focus on this?
    • Doesn’t have to reach the very poorest people in every corner of the world
    • E.g. Kingston flash stick with en, es, po – nice to have, perhaps Wikibooks is best for ngos
  • NGOs have access to the internet even in third world – they could print out the articles for people (print on demand application allows for creating a single pdf)
    • Not the WMF to make this happen, but making tools that allow offline stuff to happen like the collation of articles into a single pdf – not WMF expertise to deliver it
  • Growth can come from people who are online and are made aware that Wikipedia is there and they can own it too and participate
    • Go for saturation in countries where Internet use is high, but Wikipedia isn’t – Chapters should be started from this point of view versus a “moral” stance that we need chapters in developing countries
    • Cultural difference will engender new rules
  • Usability project a really good one – supports the broad outline (doesn’t know in-depth about the project)
    • Threat is alienation of new entrants into Wikipedia: both younger and older generations – older novices it really isn’t a welcoming environment
    • Lots of people could be good Wikipedia contributors and aren’t --- why would they subject themselves to the fairly difficult process which is editing Wikipedia today

Other strategic issues to be resolved by planning process?

  • Need decision on sister projects
  • There is now incredible scrutiny on new projects so it should also be applied retrospectively
  • Need long-term view with potential of doing something no-one else is doing – need to fill a void, uniqueness – this should be the ultimate criteria for determining if they should stay or not
    • Re-examine projects like Wikisource
  • If something is NOT open to online collaborative creation or editing should it be a wiki project?
    • GLAMs, uploading information – very good, but not on wikipedia
      • E.g. India government should digitize, donate content, put online and accessible to all – whether Wikipedia site or sister projects are the best places to house and archive this content is a different question
      • Not for it on Wikipedia page --- this is a sister project
      • E.g. Wikisource has letters from Gandhi --- not to be edited, maybe should be in project Guttenberg – already doing a good job of archiving documents online
  • If something does not fill a void should it be a wiki project?
    • Flickr and others now allow Creative Commons so where does Wikicommons fit?
    • There are several different ‘commons’ repositories with lots of duplication
    • Wikimedia Commons could use an overhaul, and glad that it is happening