Remembering Wikipedia days

Mahafreed wrote on her blog sharing her writing on Wikipedia in The Times of India in 2010 brought back memories from my good days in Wikipedia editing. In the story she shares  my quote too. The original article is here.

After the early days of Wikipedia editing, things reached a head with the Wikiconference India 2011. Things got subsumed by politics like many other things do in India, if the group is not careful. I left offline activities of Wikipedia and stick to one off editing online. I even changed user ids I used for editing.

I watched Dr. Heather Ford talking about a similar curve on a TEDx talk. She ends the talk saying that Wikipedia needs people to change it from within and with more people participating in the editing to expose it to more points of view.

Has my search for the Yakkara Desam Fort ended?

While participating in Wiki Loves Monuments 2013 in India, I had come across a feature called the Yakkara Desam Fort in Palakkad District. I came across this feature while compiling the list of monuments from the list provided by the Archaeological Survey of India. The Fort found mention in the list for Kerala as N-KL-6. Search as I might, I could not find mention of this monument anywhere else. Even Wikipedia did not have an article on the said Fort.

While searching for a place to go around in Kerala, I stumbled on the website of the Town Planning Department, Kerala. Here, I was able to see the fort mentioned again in a document notifying protected monuments in Kerala within town limits. It also contained a link to the drawing of the Fort which can only imply that it is the Yakarra Desam as there is no other fort in the list.  So, I guess that my search for what is the Yakarra Desam fort has ended with conclusive documentary evidence. Case closed?

A Federated Wikipedia?

Matt Mullenweg shared this article by Jon Udell on the ossification in Wikipedia. Being a part of the Wikimedian community from 2010 to about 2014, I have seen this crystalize on Wikipedia and in the world in general.

Things are a lot worse offline amongst the community – on phone calls, emails and mailing lists. This led to me curtailing offline contributions and contributing edits when I feel like it. Not the best outcome for a community that is trying to retain its members.

GSLV on Wikipedia

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 13, 2013 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I began contributing to Wikipedia in 2007 with the idea of improving coverage of Indian space sciences on Wikipedia. I began working on the articles related to the astronomical observatories. This also fell in line with the space popularization work I was involved in at Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) India chapter. In 2009, I also began editing general interest articles on Wikipedia.

It was only yesterday, after a break of nearly a year or more, that I got back to editing on Wikipedia. I worked on the article of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle or GSLV. The upcoming launch has me nervous and had me interested in the history of the GSLV. I looked to Wikipedia as my first port of call and was frankly, disappointed at the shape in which I found the article. So, I rolled up my sleeves and began working on the article, in true Wikipedian style.

The history of the GSLV is as interesting as the vehicle itself. It was designed specifically to carry the INSAT class of satellites which weighed in at 2 to 2.5 tons. The Project was started in 1990 as the PSLV took shape and was beginning to move towards a development flight in 1993 to reduce reliance on the US’ Delta and European Ariane launch vehicles which are expensive options. Reading up, there seems to have been confusion on how to proceed with the tricky cryogenic third stage of the vehicle. Both US and Europe refused to share the technology and India had to go to the crumbling Soviet Union for help. US and Europe refused help pointing to the fact that India had not signed the Missile Technology Control Regime. I guess they also tried to offer the technology if India became part of the regime. The Soviet Glavkosmos offered to transfer technology to India in 1991. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia could not stand up to US pressure on falling in line with the MTCR. It finally have India just 7 cryogenic stages and 1 ground mock up instead of 5 stages and transfer of technology. I am happy that India did not become part of MTCR despite immense pressure and need for cryogenic technology. Scientists at ISRO began work on India’s own cryogenic technology in 1994 called the Cryogenic Upper Stage Project.

Even the 7 cryogenic stages Russia supplied to ISRO held surprise for ISRO. The stage was heavier and there were interface problems. The engine was also not proven on any flight. It took ISRO about 6-7 years to get the stage to fly at all. Hence you see the first flight of the GSLV in 2001.

Scientists working on the Cryogenic Project were also part of what is now called the ISRO Spy Case. The scientist has alleged that the Case was put together at the behest of foreign interests that were trying to scuttle Indian efforts at building a cryogenic engine.

Although the learning curve on the GSLV has been huge, I think it will help India build a vehicle that is as versatile as the PSLV is today.

Liam Wyatt and the Mumbai Wikipedia GLAM Meetup

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 14, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

For the past few days, Liam Wyatt has been going around cultural institutions in Mumbai. We had a meetup yesterday at the Pinstorm offices in Santacruz. Our thanks to Netra there who offered and allowed us use of space on such short notice. We had a nice turn up today of around 20-25 people.

We started off with directly with Liam’s talk on his work with the British Museum. His work/documentation of his work here can be found here. He then talked about his idea behind doing a project with the British Museum after a controversy the year before with the British National Archives. He said that the relationship was mutually beneficial to both and did not compromise on the principles of either Wikipedia or the British Museum. He talked about the series of conferences called GLAMWIKI that have already happened in London and Paris and are planned in Washington DC and Barcelona.

He then went on to talk about five of the events that he conducted during his 5 month stint as the Wikipedian-in-Residence at the British Museum. These included the Backstage Pass, One on One Collaborations/Photos Requested, Feature Article Prize, the Hoxne Challenge and the School Translations.

Backstage Pass involves a free tour of Museum objects in display and out of display by curators of the Museum for Wikipedians working on an article. The One-on-One Collaborations was an exchange of requests between Curators and Wikipedians who needed each others help – curators to improve articles on Wikipedia and Wikipedians for expert advice on articles in Wikipedia. Photos Requested requested for photos in different parts of the museum. Feature Article Prize was an interesting if controversial experiment. The British Museum offered 100 pounds for the 5 articles in Featured Article in Wikipedia related to an item in the British Museum. This became similar to the pay-for-edit idea. However, the rationale was that since the prize money was not for an article on the British Museum and was for an object/topic related article, it was okay. The Hoxne Challenge was an effort to see how Wikipedians could improve an article on one subject given access to subject experts etc.The subject given was that of the Hoxne Hoard discovered in England in 1992. I think it goes without saying that the article reached Featured Article rating pretty quickly. The last was the School Translations project where a group of French school children that Liam knew translated the articles on certain items in the British Museum from English into French as part of their English class homework. The students later visited London (like they regularly apparently did) and visited the Museum to see the objects they had written about as part of class.

These were some of the implementations possible in the 5 week period whilst Liam was with British Museum.

Bishaka and Liam reported on their visits to The Museum (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay) and Jnanapravaha. I accompanied Liam and Bishaka to The Museum. I am pleasantly surprised by the way they have transformed it! We’ve reported on positive responses from these cultural institutions. Liam and Bishaka will be visiting one more institution tomorrow.

In the discussion that followed, we had a discussion about GLAM applications in Indian libraries and archives. Ashwin Baindur asked about how to work with institutions like Maharashtra Archives which are facing a brunt of the budget cuts (they get the money after the song and dance shows, museums etc all get their cut) and have trouble with up-keep of their archives. Liam replied that this would mainly be in helping them digitise records. The trouble, Liam said, was on where to begin and how to priorotise work. Stating the example of the National Library, Kolkata he said that some books were not even catalogued. We agreed that Libraries and Archives also suffered because there was no good Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software for Indic languages. Liam suggested a French example of how an old French cursive text made it un-OCR-able (new word – mine!) and got help from Wikipedians to manually type in text onto WikiSource.

Bishaka raised the point that all of the GLAM activities could also be simultaneously done in various languages in-parallel. So, during a Backstage Pass event in Mumbai, we could improve the English, Hindi and Marathi (as an example) articles at once.

We then had a brief introduction to (I have written about this in detail earlier). The part that relates to Wikimedia Commons was a demo on how a plugin for Firefox developed by the same team helped in uploading files in the .ogg format to Wikimedia Commons.

We had a small reference to the Workshop for Women on Wikipedia (WWW) and we suggested the idea to two students who had come from SNDT Women’s University to the meetup. We’ve requested them to check on the possibility of using their labs to conduct the Workshop in Mumbai on or around March 8, 2011 (to re-iterate: the centenary celebrations of Women’s Day.

All-in-all it was a fun 7th meetup of Wikipedians in Mumbai.

February Observatory Improvement: Gauribidanur

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 1, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I have been working away at the Wikipedia article on Indian Astronomical Observatory. Towards the end of the month, I requested for an informal review of the article which is on-going. I will go back to it occassionally. Once I complete my GATE 2011 exam on February 13, 2011, I want to take it to the folks at Homi Bhaba Centre for Science Education where I hope to get some help on improving the article further besides the help I get from Wikipedians.

In February, the target article is the radio observatory at Gauribidanur near Bengaluru. The article is currently a stub article and getting the whole month to edit and improve it. Your help is welcome. Specially with pictures!