Of Wikipedia, IIPM & Pay for Play

As an outsider, I didn’t know how it was from the inside. Neither did I care to find out. There were great arguments and some fall outs, I’ve heard. But recently, things have started making it to the public.

First, let me set some context: I consider Wikipedia one of the greatest things that ever happened to the Internet. The collaborative encyclopedia has over 30 million articles and is consistently among the top 10 websites on the Internet. It does all this on a tight budget and an army of passionate volunteers.

As someone who has tracked the Wikipedia movement in India for a few years, I have to say that some amazing things have been achieved. Together, there are hundreds of Wikipedians editing in local languages such as Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Bengali. I could reel more numbers at you, but you get the drift.

Wikipedia

Over the years, Wikipedia has also become the go to site for references. Not just that, Indian Wikipedia users even make sizable donation to the non profit organisation. In 2010-11, India became one of the top 10 donating countries to Wikipedia (nearly $190k was donated). All of this means one thing: Wikipedia has managed to gain the trust of millions of users.

As an outsider, I didn’t know how it was from the inside. Neither did I care to find out. There were great arguments and some fall outs, I’ve heard. But recently, things have started making it to the public. It is no secret that some Wikipedia editors and administrators have been exposed of ‘pay for play.’ But most of it was in the United States & the United Kingdom. This time, it is closer to home.

Wikipediocracy, a Wikipedia watchdog recently published a research paper found that a “number of administrators whose financial interest conflicted with their involvement in the project.”

Wikipediocracy alleged that Wifione, a Wikipedia editor was promoting the Indian Institute of Planning and Management and editing Wikipedia as part of a campaign.

Wifione’s mission was to promote the interests of a group of Indian business schools, the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, owned by flamboyant millionaire businessman Arindam Chaudhuri…Before Wifione arrived, Chaudhuri’s agents relied on an army of sockpuppets. This sockpuppet investigation shows the sheer scale of their operation. This page shows how socks can be used to give the impression of numbers and apparent weight of opinion against an opposing editor. (Read the full story here.)

Now I have a lot of faith in the volunteers who work for Wikipedia. The last time (the only time) I tried making a page, it had to go through so many edits that I finally gave up. The takeaway from that episode is that nothing really escapes the good editors on Wikipedia. Unless, you are very well versed in their policies and know how to game it. So it came as a very unpleasant surprise that hundreds sockpuppets were being used to create and edit Wikipedia pages that make some people look good.

Moving on to another issue that recently came to my attention. Hari Prasad Nadig, An old timer who started the Kannada Wikipedia recently wrote a post titled : The rich and poor of Wikipedia in India. Nadig wrote that Wikipedia now functions in India with huge volume of funds, running into several crores.  The activities, aren’t volunteer driven, but instead,  is being run by people recruited by Wikimedia or nonprofits that have received Wikimedia grants, he wrote.

Volunteers, Wikimedians who have actually contributed to the projects are being left out of these big time. Micro funding of activities driven by volunteers who are actually involved in the projects contributing in some way or the other should have been the norm, but the exact opposite is happening now.

Wikimedia opened its Indian office in 2011 and has been co-ordinating activities directly. As an organisation matures, it becomes necessary to move on and hire full time dedicated staff to run operations. I see no problems in that. But it’s important, especially for an organization like Wikipedia which is built on a strong network of volunteers, to keep the culture intact. As always, I continue to hope for the best for Wikipedia and the people working for it.

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