If you've done a Google search, you've at one point or another encountered Wikimedia in your search results.
The free-to-access, digital encyclopaedia, which first began in 2001 initially set itself the minor task of providing the sum of human knowledge for everyone.
In the prolific times of fake news, they have coped and adapted, says Douglas Scott, President of Wikipedia ZA - but over the years, knowledge gaps, misappropriation of history and systemic bias have also become key issues of concern.
As a result, the theme of its annual conference for 2018 is Bridging Knowledge Gaps, taking place for the first time in sub-Saharan Africa, right here in Cape Town South Africa. Conference organisers have put out a call for participants to boost content submissions from the continent.
14th annual Wikimania 2018 conference - Cape Town:
- When: Wikimania conference in sub-Saharan Africa in Cape Town (18-22 July), a key focus will be on increasing more regional contribution to the world’s largest free, collaboratively-built online encyclopaedia.
- Registration: visit www.wikimania2018.com
- Cost: $25 per South African resident per day. (Usually $50, costs have been subsidized for locals)
The organisers say an estimated 500 participants are expected to attend the 3-day event that will have lectures and workshops to suit all levels of in interest and skill. You have until 13 July to register online, otherwise you can register on site on 17 July. The full programme is available here.
Wikimedia sites are read approximately 15 billion times a month globally, however only a small portion of volunteer Wikipedia editors come from Asia, Africa, and Latin America combined - with the conference intently focused on encouraging thought leaders across Africa to take hold of and ensure an inclusive and decolonised approach to information that is freely accessible.
Anyone can edit Wikipedia, in any of its almost 300 different language versions including Swahili, Hausa, Amharic, Arabic and Afrikaans versions. In South Africa, Afrikaans and isiZulu are the most active language Wikipedia’s other than English.
“To achieve knowledge equity, we need to have more voices represented in our community. This is why we are creating an inclusive environment for people from all over the world to contribute knowledge in a way that considers custom, language, access to bandwidth, and more,” says Ellie Young, Conference Organizer for Wikimania.
Also, starkly missing from the collective digital knowledge base are women contributors - with less than 0.3% of female editors coming from Africa.
Ghanaian Wikipedia contributor and free knowledge activist Felix Nartey says that some of the primary barriers to contribution from people living in Africa is lack of time and lack of access to an enabling environment - such as computers and especially access to affordable internet.
And while certain mobile providers allow free access to social media sites, the movement Wikipedia Zero - which would see all Wikipedia pages served for free has fallen flat in South Africa, according Scott.
Launched in 2011 and aimed at developing markets, the project had seen success in countries such as India and "won a 2013 South by Southwest Interactive Award for activism". But after having received criticism "for violating the principle of net neutrality" it was closed down in February 2018 - with the Wikimedia Foundation announcing it would take a new approach on partnerships.
“We have been engaging with our communities and holding a number of successful editathon sessions. What is apparent is that African people have a real appetite to see themselves represented on this platform. They want to see their content and their languages on Wikipedia and are crashing through some of the structural barriers to do so,” says Nartey.
For example, through a collaboration with the Social Theory Course at Ashesi University in Ghana, students have been given class assignments which have led to contributions of their research and term papers on Wikipedia through the Wikipedia Education Program model.
Across other parts of Africa, organised thematic workshops targeted at bridging the gender gap and other systematic biases that exist on Wikipedia have also been held.
“If you are passionate about a specific topic or piece of local history, or if you would like to see more articles in your own language, register and start making your contributions. The only way we are going to shift the content bias is by adding content that represents a more diverse user base,” says Scott.
With over 5 million articles already on English language Wikipedia, Scott says that more African contributors can get involved by creating an account on Wikipedia and testing out different ways to edit - whether it’s fixing a grammatical error or adding a citation to an existing article, creating a new article, or asking other volunteer editors for support in reviewing a draft article you created.
Articles on Wikipedia need to have verifiable references and sources. This means that facts must be drawn from recognisable publications and institutions. A great way for more African contributors to get involved is to join a WikiProject around specific areas of interest.
For a general guide on how to get started on Wikipedia click here.