Archive for September, 2010
One of the exciting things at Wikimania is the chance to meet people from around the world, especially people with whom you share a common interest. One of the main news stories in the offline Wikipedia world this year was the release of the Malayalam offline collection on April 17. This was important, since it was the first such release by one of the smaller Wikipedias, and the first involving a non-Latin script.
As we learnt from Shiju Alex and Santhosh Thottingal (centre & centre-left in picture) Wikimania, the non-Latin script presents a particular barrier in offline releases. The script is poorly supported in Unicode, so it is not rendered correctly by most software. Existing offline reader software such as Kiwix could not be used. In order to produce a collection of articles with the correct script, Santhosh Thottingal wrote the wiki2cd software from scratch, and this proved to be very successful. Wiki2cd is written in Python, and “the program is written such a way that it can be reused with any wikiprojects to do the same kind of work.” Hopefully others will use Santosh’s work, and Kiwix and others will be able to incorporate non-Latin scripts too.
The CD was sponsored by the Kerala State Dept of General Education. This reinforces what we have seen with past offline releases such as Wikipedia for Schools, that one of the main applications for offline collections is in education.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Wikimedia Foundation is (at last!) getting seriously interested in offline releases. At Wikimania, Jimmy Wales spoke about expanding the reach of Wikimedia by expanding in non-Western languages, and he chose to highlight the Malayalam release in his talk (see picture, taken by Ralf Roletschek). If this interest continues, and talented volunteers continue to arise, we may be fortunate enough to see more offline releases from around the world.
I had the good fortune to attend Wikimania 2010 in the beautiful city of Gdansk, Poland in July. As in the past, it was a great pleasure to meet other Wikimedians in person – for example Heiko and Headbomb (see picture).
When I attended Wikimania in 2006, discussions on offline content were minimal, and the main issues were quality (partly as fallout from the Seigenthaler incident), stable versions (aka flagged revisions/pending changes) and pushing on with the Wikipedia revolution. Four years later, offline content has become a major priority. There were several “offline” sessions in Gdansk, all giving different viewpoints and focussing on different parts of the publication process. We also heard Sue Gardner and Jimmy Wales talking about reaching out to the “global south“, which implicitly includes a major offline component.
Clearly, this is an exciting time for those of us who believe passionately in the idea of using offline collections to put free knowledge into the hands of people around the world. Coincidentally, we have a lot happening on the English Wikipedia; our stumbling efforts are finally giving us tools that will deliver reliable offline content, and (I believe!) stand up to scrutiny by the community and by the press. For all of these reasons, I thought it was about time to start a blog devoted to these activities, and hopefully persuade other Wikipedians to share their part of the work. If things go well, this may become a place for us to share ideas and track developments in offline Wikipedia collections.