One of my favorite board members, Jimmy Wales, will be in Johannesburg in exactly 11 sleeps. Jimmy is in the country to launch the African Wikipedia Academies – a series of Wikipedia sprints, workshops and boot camps to encourage the local celebration of Wikipedia as an amazing tool for education, culture and enterprise in Africa.
As I continually say, Wikipedia is not exciting because its the biggest encyclopedia in the world. Its exciting because it gives us the opportunity to write our own history, our own textbooks, our own view of the world. Wikipedia is a practical expression of what makes the Internet special. And practicing contributions to Wikipedia is what makes us realise what the Internet is really for. It’s not just about using, its about being active participants in the creation of meaning about the world around us. It’s about valuing a resource that is powerful because it is in the commons – free for anyone to reuse, remake and remix.
Jimmy is coming to South Africa because he is passionate about his goal of ‘Wikipedias in every major language in the world’ – and this is where he’s starting the experiments. I’ll never forget how kind he was in drumming it into me that the Wikipedia way is not to just translate English articles into Afrikaans articles (even though it might start out that way). The idea is that a local language community can build its own Wikipedia completely separate from the English version. It is this autonomy and the community spirit that has enabled Wikipedia to thrive on the back of volunteer contributions by over 50,000 active users.
A number of schools in South Africa use Wikipedia, and the Wikipedia copyright license enables anyone to freely copy and share the resource in textbooks, lesson plans etc as long as it is attributed. In terms of local language Wikipedias, Afrikaans Wikipedia has an active community of contributors. But contributors are hardly applauded for their work in the local press, and a lot needs to be done to encourage the smaller local language editions of Wikipedia.
This is the goal of the African Wikipedia Academies. iCommons is partnering with the Wikimedia Foundation to bring people like Ndesanjo Macha, considered the Father of Swahili Wikipedia, Ian Gilfillan, a great contributor to the South African local language Wikipedias, as well as Frank Schulenburg who conceptualised the first Wikipedia Academies in Germany.
Better yet, we’re having a fabulous cocktail party during which Jimmy will talk about Wikipedia, Wikia (the business application of wiki software) and a vision for the Academies. Everyone is invited to that one. All you have to do is shell out R500 in aid of the Academies, and join the party at 4pm on Tuesday the 13th of November at the Grace Hotel in Rosebank. Register here. Everyone who is anyone on the SA Internet scene will be there. I promise.