Interviews/Ethan Zuckerman

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Interview notes Ethan Zuckerman (Advisory Board) 10 Septermber, 2009

Key takeaways

  • Shift in internet: used to be the thinking that language of internet would be English, no need to build out native tongue resources, but now seeing trend in other direction (e.g., blogging)
  • Building small language Wikipedia is going to take a totally different approach than was taken with building German, English – this does not mean translation (this is not acceptable), but potentially about linking into formal education system (high school level)
  • Sees enormous potential in creating affinity groups within Wikipedia – those working on smaller Wikipedias in e. Europe, Africa, Asia – who are facing similar challenges, can learn from each other; learning from other organizations like Global Voices on how they’ve identified connectors and indigenous leaders who are interested in technology/information
  • Very excited about strategy process, interested in serving in advisory capacity and had lots of suggestions of individuals within developing world to connect with
  • On process:
    • Glad to have this conversation about strategy process; Advisory Board has not been fully integrated yet
    • Community perception of Advisory Board is that we are outsiders brought in by Jimmy, who don’t understand wiki culture; my response is that, “yes, we are a group of outsiders, and that is a good thing”
    • Tricky thing is that Wikipedia has evolved its own unique culture and cultures, with impenetrable mailing lists, it’s a full time job to read
    • People who have jobs in real world, are not fully integrated into the community
    • Very interested in serving as an “expert on call” to strategy process; devote an hour a week over 2 months, responding to well-structured questions
  • Very excited that extending reach/participation to developing countries is an issue that we are grappling with in strategy process
    • If we ask, “Are we a free encyclopedia for everyone? Are we close or far from that goal?” One version is that we are close to it, participation is leveling because we have a good encyclopedia
    • Writing an article in the Future of Foreign News – “Wikipedia is emerging as newsroom, hard to beat”
    • As it turns out, Wikipedia kills Wikinews in terms of development, and that’s okay
    • I would expect that path going forward - English Wikipedia is about refinement, quality on existing articles, and all new work will be breaking news
  • Shift to a different paradigm, we will be closer to being a newsroom than being an encyclopedia
    • This is a really different case than in Bambara (language in Mali) few hundred pages, authors not Malian
  • Who is using? Who is writing? How do we build a small language? Wikipedia?
  • Do we take best articles from French Wikipedia or from simple language and translate? Can we build same way as build a big on?
  • We had a good conversation about this, we had a session on this at Wikimania in Boston - Swahili Wikipedia
  • About 5 years ago saw a shift in the Internet: moving towards native tongues
  • Prior to 5 years ago, all in English: bloggers were in English to have national audience
  • hi Wikipedia 5 years ago was small; Indians wrote in en WIK
    • en Wikipedia had an audience, hi did not
    • But as increasing number of hi speakers go online, the shift is happening
  • Jordanians now write in Arabic (2/3 now blogging in Arabic), since so many more Arabic speakers online
  • Icelandic and Welsh Wikipedia have survived too: the reason is a statement of cultural identity
    • Cultural focus within these Wikipedias (most edited sections)
    • Bring culture from 20th to 21st century – bring into digital age
  • This argues for NOT translating from larger WIK since this is not what these smaller WIKs are all about - should be about culture
  • What is holding them up?
    • Not the “rules”
    • If I am a young Bambara speaker, I’m going to make my contribution in French since what I am writing about and what I want to engage with others with will be is French: most widely used Internet language for me
  • Class issue: the folks who can contribute are bi- and tri-lingual, and Bambara-only language users are not online to engage
  • Only incentive there is cultural preservation
    • Small languages maintained by passionate Europeans (10K articles) – e.g. Welsh – has 25K articles – it is cultural preservation
  • Look at 10K+ and 25K+ and look to see what they are doing, the ones who have language choice and choose to go with smaller language
    • Did they start with colonial language and then shift?
    • Need post-colonial language for educational resource: there is a shift in education towards native language at primary level will be using Bambara: reading and basic math
  • What can WMF and Community to do?
    • Let’s figure out who is doing this well and what they are doing
  • We built Global Voices – we looked at people who were blogging in local natives
    • “Bridge bloggers”: we latched onto them
    • “Bridge bloggers” wanted to do their work in native tongue: no strong business reasons, but there is community enthusiasm
    • Using broken English as their working language, “bridge bloggers” started helping each other out: those with similar issues start
  • Can we build an alliance between different African speakers – build cross-language working groups?
    • Wikipedias of thriving languages (more than 10K articles), clearly spoken/working language - can we bridge them both in person (scholarships to working group at Wikimania) and online?
  • Define common work language so they can bridge/work together
  • How do we find these people – even to start these small language? Where do we start?
    • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia funded by the European education system (Europeans enrolled in free universities and aren’t requiring them to attend classes - e.g. Germany)
    • E.g. Ghana – guys who have college education, good Internet skills, disposable income – they are fantastically over-committed – already building new industries, most desirable hires, there is not the same class of “cafe dwelling”
  • Same in Arabic world – all starting businesses in their free time
    • Need to co-op the education system – need to insert in the education system
  • E.g. Indonesia -- better than descent education system, want to preserve Bahasa Indonesian, there is a spread of Internet cafes, but 20-somethings are getting jobs – tough folks to buy their time of because they have a pressure to make money and support their parents generation --- Wikipedia would need to get them earlier (high school or college)
  • This would require getting involved in middle-development countries, finding creative educators and integrating Wikipedia into the curriculum
  • Would need to build one school district at a time? Can we do pilots in critical nations – 50M or more speakers and 10K or more articles?
    • Identify who are the big editors (local or not), drivers – need people on the ground (chapter, heavy contributors) – with strong community roots
    • Experiments – go to local schools, can we integrate WIK article creation? e.g. writing articles on Indonesian authors
  • Very much about preservation of culture and language, combined with education
  • Model at Global Voices : Rising Voices -- open call for proposals ($5K) -- figure out how to do citizen journalism in your local area, in high-need areas (20 projects, 100 or so in touch via email)
    • Need great support --- project director flew from project to project around the world
    • Foko Club – group of after-school clubs in Madagascar that were doing after-school computer training, added journalism training --- basically those kids are now doing journalists as the country fell into chaos/coup
  • Did not send European bloggers to Madagascar, but had local bloggers to teach/learn from
  • Project director was the bridger who bridged between different projects so they could learn from each other and support each other (usually speak in 1 of 5 languages: en, zh, ru, es, ar)
  • Wikipedia is good at high school level:
    • Do your report in Wikipedia is first step
    • Hope that some kids start to edit each other’s work – that’s when they become Wikipedians
  • Could One Laptop per Child be a pathway?
    • Is it alive or dead?
    • Better to put out a call for proposals --- e.g. Global Voices says if you are critical to project, we’ll fly you to our national summit (analogue is Wikimania)
  • Scholarships for Wikimania
  • Maybe also be small funding per project
  • Do we need different task forces tackling SE Asia and S Asia—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal—different set of issues
    • Recommend separating them since they are different
  • S Asia – bridge language in English
  • Issues are around domestic issues: education, caste, university entrance system
  • SE Asia – need to look at differently – in some cases, won’t be able to use local communities (e.g. Vietnam, Burma) – tough to get locals because of human rights issues
  • Issues: human rights, population on Internet
    • Global Voices have segmented the world – might be helpful --- took them 1 year
  • Sub-Saharan African Anglophone, etc.
  • Leverage communities around Global Voices, other digital communities and reach out to them to help develop WIK -- well established people in their own communities, but not to WIK -- how do we deal with this?
  • Wikipedia culture is now hard to engage with for newbies

Reference

  • WMF Advisory Board Zuckerman.pdf