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Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Offline Wikipedians at Wikimania 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.

Malayalam offline Wikipedia CD

Malayalam Wikipedia CD

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.

Jimmy Wales introducing the Malayalam Wikipedia offline CD at Wikimania 2010

Jimmy Wales with the Malayalam CD