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Two weeks ago I attended a meeting of minds interested in setting up a local South African Wikimedia chapter.  Facilitated by the African Commons Project and the Wikimedia Foundation the meeting brought together people from academia, industry, software programming/support and all lovers of open source to discuss the need for a local chapter and how to get there.  Establishing a Wikimedia chapter involves drafting a local chapter constitution and registering the organization with the Wikimedia foundation and the local government.  It also requires fostering a community of editors and contributors to the body of African knowledge.  There is an incredible opportunity for South Africa to lead this charge on the continent by contributing and creating articles currently underrepresented on Wikipedia.  This process is going forward and much of the discussion from the workshop has been documented on the South African Wikipedia Metapage.

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Group photo image by David Richfield

One of the greatest potential benefits in establishing the chapter is to encourage participation in Wikipedia editing.  According to Johann van Tonder at Memeburn, “despite being one of the most visited sites in South Africa, only a fraction of Wikipedia readers contribute to the open encyclopaedia by creating or editing articles.” Perhaps people do not realize how easy it is to contribute and make an addition to most any article currently on Wikipedia.

There is certainly a space for articles to be created as just last week I was able to create the Company Gardens article.  It was quite surprising to me to find that the article did not exist on Wikipedia, considering the rich history of the site.  There is most certainly a wealth of unfounded South African Wikipedia articles, as well as a great number which would benefit from active contributions.

There is also an incredible opportunity to better represent South African languages on Wikipedia.  Wikipedia supports and encourages all articles’ translation into multiple languages.  Ian Gilfillan recently recorded the total number of South African articles which indicates some growth over the past few years but still a great opportunity for further development exists.

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 1/10/2007 3/8/2009 30/5/2010
Afrikaans 8374 12568 15260*
Zulu 107 187 195
Tsonga 10 169 174
Swati 56 157 173
Venda 43 124 162
Xhosa 66 112 115
Tswana 40 103 105
Sotho 43 79 69
Northern Sotho 0 311 540
Ndebele 0 0 0

I believe that academia has a great role to play in helping to build Wikipedia.  Despite being a fallible resource at times, it is now the largest encyclopaedia in the world and a tremendous starting point for knowledge seekers online.  If you see an inaccuracy in an article, change it!  If you see an article not currently represented in Wikipedia, create it! It’s easier than you would think to create an account and get started.  The real fun starts when others around the country and potentially around the world start adding to what you have contributed.  Then before you know it, you’re a ‘Wikipedian’.

I am particularly interested in meeting anyone in the UCT community who currently edits or contributes to Wikipedia in any way. There is already a small group of us who would like to run some workshops on how we can contribute to this movement.  Leave a comment and we can discuss futher.

Engaging with Wikipedia is a great way to get started with Open Educational Resources as well.  Everything (I mean everything) on Wikipedia is licensed under Creative Commons, which makes it a great resource for teachers.  There are literally hundreds of thousands of images, videos, samples which can be exported and used in the classroom.

Establishing a Wikimedia South Africa Chapter

CC BY 4.0 Establishing a Wikimedia South Africa Chapter by Michael Paskevicius is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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