Friday , 18 January 2019

How many Goans does it take…

Frederick Noronha
You might not suspect this, but being a volunteer editor on the Wikipedia can be rather addictive. Before you realise it, you spend hours on it. It works this way especially when you begin to understand the logic behind it, and get the high from doing it (more or less) right. As in cricket, you are fighting the various challenges that can come up along your way when other editors disagree with your decisions.
During my long (since 2004) now-on, now-off love affair with Jimmy Wales’ baby (since 2004), my one big regret has been the inability to convince others of this truism. But hang on, isn’t that just an assumption? If it really is as addictive and all that good, crafting pages and contributing knowledge via Wikipedia should have caught on in a big way, right? We in Goa, with our many bars, and the many youth of our generation who get addicted to all kinds of substances, natural or otherwise, should know better.
In hindsight, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem does not lie with the Wikipedia logic. Or even with my supposed lack of convincing skills. Instead, the issue is to understand how many Goans it takes to create a single Wikipedia page.
Normally, making a new Wikipedia page and collating the information that can be shared for all time (or so we think) should be just a half an hour affair. If you are working in the highly contested English Wikipedia, then you would need to be more careful. Some other editor could come along – often someone who doesn’t understand your subject – and delete part of your work for violating someone’s copyright, or on some other technical grounds. Or he may question whether the subject you are writing on is actually ‘notable’ enough. Some articles you craft can also get deleted; this is the price of the popularity of the English Wikipedia.
But, on many of the other language Wikipedias, things are far easier. The situation there is: the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.
The other day, I took it on myself to reorganise a page listing poets from and in Goa. This page, existing since 2015, needed some tender loving care.
Instead, it got an army of questions. One Goan asked: “who actually deserves to be listed as a poet?” Another wanted to know: “who is Poet X or Poet Y?” A third chipped in: “shouldn’t one have some work published before?” And a fourth would comment: “should self-published books be accepted at all?”
We Goans love our food and our parties. But few care about our own writing, literature and artistes. You can often see a tendency among us to criticise the work of others, without even knowing what work they have done. To make things worse, such records of the past are hard to come by. Even our colleges and university study such subjects only rarely.
Who is Manuel C Rodrigues? (Hint: a writer and more with a link to Calangute.) Why should students of literature in Goa at least have heard the name of Innocent Sousa? (Hint: his early work got published even in England, and all memories of him seem to have vanished without a trace.) Do we have enough sharable photographs (which our students of today can reuse in their assignments) of our contemporary writers and litterateurs available online? What do English-focussed readers know about the poet Ramesh B Veluskar? These are just random names that came my way. But do we understand the work of litterateurs from Goa writing in another language other than our own?
The point that many seem to miss out is that the Wikipedia is not just a tool for sharing information with others. It is a tool for learning how to create and access information.
It is simply amazing how, through a careful set of rules and conventions, it is possible to scour the Internet for information on a topic you are working on. Then, that can be collated all in one place, adequately quoted and sourced (without violating anybody’s copyright) so as to create a useful collection of information online.
When talking about ‘Wikipedia in education’ recently, someone online quickly misunderstood it to mean large-scale plagiarism from online sources that hard-pressed school children often resort to. But, in places like Christ University in Bengaluru, professors and students have learnt new ways of creating and assessing projects online. Instead of just becoming ‘academic exercises’, these actually get an online life, and thus contribute to the wider knowledge of (hu)mankind.
Language groups across India have found great ways of building knowledge in their regional tongues. Those in West Bengal are working with the Bangladeshis. In Telugu, topics like ISRO and oilseeds find their way into the regional languages. A young lady professor and her students are creating articles on forensic medicine in Punjabi and Hindi. A photography enthusiast from Bhopal has been collating photographs of top Indian classical musicians performing at the city’s Bharat Bhawan, and sharing it with the world.
In Goa itself, the Goa University donated four volumes of the Konkani Encyclopedia to the commons. But, after that, the progress has been slow. Much talk has come about on building a Konkani Wikipedia, but the actual results have been very limited.
Academies funded by government for decades now seem slow and slothful when it comes to taking the initiative to build sharable knowledge; knowledge which everyone benefits from, and which could last for a long, long time. For a small community like Goa, this also offers an opportunity to create knowledge on topics which would otherwise seem too niche, or not worth writing about for any ‘market’.
I’m quickly coming to the conclusion that people mostly don’t like to share. The copyright and I-want-to-control-things virus has been embedded deep within us. Today, almost everyone has smart phones with powerful cameras attached to them. You can see people clicking photographs all over the place. And yet, there is always an acute famine when it comes to photographs available online reflecting the diverse realities of our small communities.
The lack of sharing may happen because of laziness, or because we just don’t care. Whether we don’t appreciate the importance of having information and images out there in the ‘commons’ or whether we are convinced an ‘all rights reserved’ approach is the best way forward (even for non-profits, government-funded institutions and individuals), the net result is quite the same.
So, once again I come back to the same question: how many Goans does it take to create a Wikipedia page? It would seem the answer is 1,457,723; because with all of us around, little seems to be getting done. That’s unfortunate…

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