10 anni di sapere Rotating Header Image

febbraio 3rd, 2011:

Ten.wiki e la storia di Asaf

Per i dieci anni di Wikipedia è stato creato un intero sito con la duplice funzione di fornire informazioni sui festeggiamenti e coordinare i wikipediani. Manco a dirlo è un wiki e si chiama “Wikipedia 10”.
Sul sito c’è una pagina con scopi simili a quelli di Dieci anni di sapere, ossia raccogliere le storie delle persone con Wikipedia.

(CC-BY-SA-3.0 by Ynhockey, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ecco la prima, la storia di Asaf di Wikimedia Israele:

Back in 2001, an Internet-savvy friend told me about a Web site with an odd notion — writing an encyclopedia through massive collaboration on a public wiki system (i.e. an easily editable Web site). I had used wikis before then; I was a free-software and open-content enthusiast already (having founded Project Ben-Yehuda — a volunteer-run project creating digital editions of public domain Hebrew texts, akin to Project Gutenberg — in 1999), and yet the notion seemed laughable. I told my friend: “Well, good luck to them, but it’s not going to work. First, the Internet is becoming wilder, and there’d be plenty of vandalism, and second, massive collaboration would never be able to handle complicated, incendiary issues, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict.

My friend answered: “Well, perhaps. But I’ve been following them for a few weeks now, and I think it’s going well, and that it has potential.” That got me curious, and so I visited Wikipedia to see for myself. I was generally impressed with the seriousness with which most contributors were treating the project, and intrigued by the potential of core Wikipedia principles like “Assume Good Faith” and “Neutral Point of View”. I edited a few articles on topics I knew something about, read a few discussions and policy pages, but did not bother to register a user account. I kept checking in every few months, contributing corrections and improvements of style and grammar, still anonymously.

By 2003, I had created a user account, and was already confident in the success of the Wikipedia model. Wikipedia was flourishing in other major languages such as French and German, and it seemed obvious to me that Wikipedia would one day replace all general-purpose (but not field-specific) print encyclopedias.

In the summer of 2003, a university student in my native Israel decided it was time to start a Hebrew edition of Wikipedia. He translated the software interface into Hebrew, and got the Hebrew edition wiki opened, beginning with the article “Mathematics[1]”.

Learning of this, I immediately thought: “Oh, this is silly; Wikipedia works (surprisingly enough) in English, French and German, but Hebrew? Seven million native speakers are just not enough to form a contributor base! And Israelis are likely to perceive editing Wikipedia as doing something for nothing! And vandalism! And politics would ruin the whole thing! No, this is absolutely doomed; no point in even trying this, it’s a waste of effort. We should all just stick to cultivating the English Wikipedia.”

But then another part of me thought: “Well, yes, that’s all true, and yet — if a Hebrew edition of Wikipedia fails, let it not be because I didn’t contribute. I should participate a little and see how it goes; it’s my duty as a Wikipedian. So I signed up and wrote Hebrew articles in my academic field (classics) — Homer, Iliad, Herodotus, Thucydides, etc.

To my utter amazement (really!), the Hebrew Wikipedia took off, new contributors appeared, a community was being formed, and I found myself gradually switching my focus to contributing to the Hebrew Wikipedia. A few years later, I began taking an interest in the wider circle of Wikimedian activity — everything related to the Wikimedia Vision (working toward giving all humans access to free knowledge in their own language) that goes beyond editing the online projects: educational outreach, government outreach, fundraising, technological development, communications and press, international cooperation, research, etc.

In 2008, I joined Wikimedia Israel (an NGO formed in 2007), the Israeli chapter affiliated with the Wikimedia Foundation, and am now a member of its executive board. Through the chapter I have been engaged in fruitful and inspiring dialogue with our peers and colleagues overseas, produced events, gave talks, and worked on various outreach and technology projects within Israel. I even had the opportunity to be instrumental in delivering 1 million French Wikipedia articles, with pictures, to villages in Cameroon and Benin with no access to the Internet, through an Israeli student expedition.

The more Wikimedia work I do, the more inspired I am by this monument of human goodwill, and the more committed I become to furthering its vision of massive collaboration by the public for the public benefit, relying only on donations to keep its hugely popular servers running (Wikipedia is the 5th most popular destination on the entire Web) and to pay the small full-time staff that maintains them and runs educational and outreach programs worldwide.

I invite you all to join and support our work, whether by contributing time online (editing the projects, even fixing typos) or offline (volunteering with a local Wikimedia chapter or the Foundation), or by contributing money. Or both! :)

Asaf Bartov, Wikipedian since 2001 Israel

[1]There is something appropriate in this, as the Greek stem ‘mathema’ means ‘learning’.