Archive for the ‘Wikipedia’ category

Outreach in Itanagar!

3 April 2012

I was lucky enough to get to go to Arunachal Pradesh. One of my friends, Nearly headless Nick, could not go to the Northeast Regional Institute of Science and Technology (NERIST) so he recommended me instead. The NERIST wanted a speaker on Wikipedia and he recommended me for which I am deeply grateful. They sent me an air ticket and off I went.

At Guwahati, I met up with User:Planemad (Arun Ganesh), a young expert on Geographical Information Systems and OpenStreetMap and we travelled all evening in an Innova reaching late at night at Itanagar. NERIST is a 25 year old institute with very good reputation. The institution has been the bedrock of technical education in the Northeast.

NERIST Academic block, Nirjuli.
(Image credit:Renzut)

We had two days of sessions at NERIST. On Day One, we had the Wikipedia session where we met the local students who were quite interested in what we had to say. Arun Ganesh helped me & vice versa. The Wikipedia session went off very well. We introduced the students to Wikipedia, how to edit, the Five Pillars, etc. The power kept going so we had problems with the presentations. Finally, we chucked the ppts/odps and moved to Wikipedia proper on the internet. A very strong argument can be made for quitting presentations altogether and relying only on the internet. A number of students created their accounts.

The students lapped up knowledge like a sponge! (Image credit:Planemad)

We found that the Wikipedia article on NERIST was quite okay because a student’s from last year’s session – User:Renzut (358 edits) – had built it up. We added a few facts, references and an image. We also created a stub on Ita Fort by moving some material out from Itanagar article. One of my Pune friends, User:Wasimmogal2007, moved to Itanagar very recently. He came over to the workshop and met some students. Hopefully Itanagar Wikipedians will get together now!

The next day’s session was on things geographical. Arun Ganesh dazzled the audience with OpenStreetMap and Quantum GIS. Though the stuff was a bit difficult to cotton on to, the students did really well. At least six sets of students got the Java OpenStreetMap editor going, (quite a feat)  and added road after road, building after building. To see the effects visit NERIST at Nirjuli on OpenStreetMap, just 20 kilometers east of Itanagar. The kids pretty much mapped up their whole campus that day. It was amazing to see the student’s lap up the tech stuff. Reminds us how much their inquisitive minds are deprived of genuine stimulation. They were truly awesome.

Planemad weaves his OpenStreetMagic

After our two days of sessions, we went on the third day sightseeing to Itanagar. Two of the NERIST students were very kind to guide us around. There we saw the Ita (brick) fort – a very few but good looking walls of brick. We took images to add to Commons everywhere we went. We had a rickshaw driver who spoke in Nyishi and whose message we recorded for posterity.

Southern gate of Ita Fort. Very few artefacts remain.

We also visited a very beautiful Museum – the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum which outside is not impressive but inside has fabulous dioramas, modern lighting and display systems. I spent an hour photographing the objects for Commons.The Museum is on two storeys and despite the scarcity of informative charts (there were a few but just not enough), the getup is quite good. The Victoria Memorial, Kolkata has been collaborating jointly with them to improve the Museum’s exhibits and the results are very evident.

Entrance to Jawaharlal Nehru Museum.

A diorama of the Tangsa tribe at the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum. There is a display for each of the tribes.

A display of handicrafts in the Nehru Museum.

Later we went to the Government Emporium where lots of beautiful necklaces, shawls and other artefacts were available but at prices suited for generous pockets than mine, though I bought my daughter a beautiful necklace worn by young girls of the Nyishi tribe. We returned to NERIST that day in time to experience a rainstorm – Northeast style!

Hornbill sculpture at the Government Emporium. The Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) is the state symbol for Arunachal Pradesh!

The next day was also supposed to be sight-seeing but we instead were asked by a new institution – NIT Arunachal Pradesh, in its temporary campaign at Yupia – to come and speak there. We went there in a Scorpio which travelled at breakneck speed through the country mud tracks, across the Dikrong river, through mud patches and a large deep pool to reach it – a real roller coaster of a ride. See this adventurous cross-country route marked as a dashed line in Open Street Map between the red coloured Nirjuli-Doimukh road and the peach-coloured Yupia road (mapped By Arun Ganesh with his Datalogger).

The temporary location of NIT Arunachal Pradesh at Yupia.

NIT Arunachal Pradesh is very new and operating from a temporary campus at Yupia. The students go forth bravely despite many infrastructural problems including water and electricity. The students were very interested in what we had to tell. We got a very hospitable and friendly reception from both the teachers and the staff. The students really wanted to do more but in a couple of hours each, we were only able to showcase the most basics.

Editing Wikipedia at NIT Arunachal. (Image credit:Planemad).

The Wikipedia article on NIT Arunachal Pradesh was already existing and we showed the students how their article was targetted for deletion by a P*@#%$&&i editor and then saved by the intervention of a non-Indian editor of WikiProject India – an example of how globalisation had already begun to affect their lives though they did not know it. We then improved the article, added the first image, cleaned it up and added a reference. After our sessions, we were taken specially to meet the Director NIT, Dr CT Bhuniya, who presented each of us with a book.

Prof CT Bhuniya, Director NIT AP, presented books to the participants. (Image credit:Unknown but with my camera.)

We returned to Guwahati on 28th by the same Scorpio who averaged 80 and often 100 kmph and did a 400 km journey in six hours! We stayed at Guwahati that night and flew out the next day. All in all, it had been an awesome experience for us, and we like to think, for the students of the two institutions also.

I am grateful to the organisers of NERIST Techfest, specially Biswajit Saha, for inviting me and Dr Rattan Chowdhary for inviting us to NIT Arunachal Pradesh. Thanks are also due to User:Sir Nicholas de-Mimsy Porpington for recommending me to NERIST, User:Planemad for great company and opening new horizons of learning to me, and to User:Nitika.t of India Programs for sending me her latest copy of outreach presentation for use in Itanagar.

The most important Indian ornithology paper recently written!

2 February 2011

“Which is the most important Indian ornithology paper recently written?”

I was asked this by a young M.Sc. guy recently. I was taken aback because I had never encountered such an intelligent question from a young post-graduate before. But there he was – and they all looked at me for an answer. So, after a little thought, without going through hundreds of articles on Indian natural history that I should have before answering, anyway answered “In my opinion, Taking Indian Ornithology into the Information Age By L. Shyamal.”

 

An image from "Opinion: Taking Indian ornithology into the Information Age"

Now, Shyamal, no matter how militant he may be in his opinions, shuns the limelight and will undoubtedly disagree with me and be displeased by my actions.

At this stage, I will also disclose to you that he is a close friend of some years, a collaborator with me on Wikipedia and that I have met him a number of times.

But that is besides the point. Shyamal, putting it plainly and simply, is both a theorist and practitioner of open science. Read Shyamal’s views on Open science here on this very blog. And the article I have named above.

As far as practicing Open Science is concerned,  he is the single most prolific editor to Wikipedia on Indian natural history and biodiversity. He has an edit count of 34,176 edits to Wikipedia which is quite fantastic. His edit contributions can be found here.   Besides this, to date, Shyamal has donated, improved and uploaded 5200 free images to Wikimedia Commons which can be seen here 250 images at a time..

Shyamal is creative. He uses Inkscape and makes small, simple, easily printed scalable drawings of birds : cheap to print & places them under a free license on Wikimedia Commons. Find svg birds by Shyamal and many others over here. Use them as you wish – even commercially.

 

Free bird svg images by Shyamal

Shyamal spends a lot of time finding obscure details about Indian natural history and adding them to Wikipedia. He finds old material and loads them to http://www.archive.org. He has uploaded a large number of the iconic Newsletter of Birdwatchers of Dodda Gubbi post days on that site.

Shyamal created BirdSpot and provided that data and that dataset under a free license. This was the first common man’s implementation of a GIS in India.

But none of that matters. No matter how good or bad he is, it still wouldn’t matter.

Because, in this paper Shyamal has objectively analysed for us where we are, what needs to be done and what is the way to go ahead. The quality of science displayed in articles and actions of our birding community increases in bits and spurts and then takes a step back in time before returning to its jerky progress. We need to face the demon and berate it soundly. Then alone can we make it cower. And this we can do only if we are brutally honest with ourselves. Shyamal’s paper is honest in this manner. I’m deliberately not commenting more on the paper. It is for you to read and see where both Shyamal and I am coming from.

Now, doling paeans of praise on a friend is no longer politically correct. But faujis are not politicians. We call a spade a spade.

So, don’t believe me, abhor my parochial actions, disdain the personal depths I have probed but read for yourself and see!

 

The Onlooker

Images: All freely licensed. Click image to reach source.

Confessions Of Organising A Tenth Anniversary Wikimeetup In Pune!

21 January 2011

Image: srik.lak

I’m a big critic of Pune as only true lovers of this city can be! Despite its metropolitan ills, the laziness of its shopkeepers,  the urban legends about Puneri attitudes, the city grows on you :-). Puneris are very different from the denizens of other cities such as Mumbai. They are quite laid back. But, when you get them going, they can become a powerhouse. This I re-discovered for myself during the recent Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the Wikipedia at Pune.

It all started on 16 December when I realised that unless an appeal was made, no event to commemorate Wikipedia’s Tenth Anniversary on 15 January 2011 in Pune seemed to be materialising . The powerhouse Bangalore was really pushing for a great bash; Mumbai was also jostling around but Pune scene was quiet. Bishakha Datta (Board Member of Wikimedia Foundation, who is located in India) put me in touch with some prominent movers and shakers of Marathi Wikipedia. Unfortunately, some of these guys who had arranged previous meetups, were out of the country while others caught up with events in a busy life. Mahitgar,  Abhay Natu and others sent messages of moral support.

The appeal was answered by a few people, notably Sudhanwa Jogalekar, Mandar Kulkarni and Shirish Agarwal and we were off to a start with this motley crue. I had not had the pleasure of attending a meetup in Pune but I wanted that whatever we do should not just be to have a good time but also practically contribute to Wikipedia & Commons.

So the following were proposed in that first email :

  • Newbie meet (I volunteer to give an editing tutorial session in English cum Marathi by me but on English Wikipedia. I could be partnered by someone showing the same for Marathi Wikipedia).
  • Marathi Wikipedia Meetup.
  • Wikimedia loves Pune photothon, where people go and photograph Pune’s landmarks and add them to Commons.
  • Outreach activities to schools/colleges?
  • Any takers for birdwatching a la Bangalore/Shyamal?”

This was a shot in the dark. We proposed without any idea whether it was achievable and serendipity provided the rest.

 

The quiet workers - Ashok Bagade, Sudhanwa Jogalekar & Harshad Gune (Image:Prasad Vaidya)

At that point of time, I was attending the 7th Certificate Course in Basic Ornithology run by Ela Foudation and Abasaheb Garware College. Dr Satish Pande and Dr Anand Padhye, the course organisers and mentors, responded very enthusiastically to the idea of contributing to articles on birds seen in Pune. This was to consist of a talk to the course during one of their sessions followed by development of articles. It was planned to bring three articles of bird species to GA quality. This combined two of my wishes – editing of actual articles and also development of the topic ‘birds’.

Mandar Kulkarni, a firebrand editor of Marathi Wikipedia came forth and the Marathi Wikipedia meetup was on. The Pune Photographers group on Flickr responded valiantly to a call for photographers to snap Pune’s heritage. Prasad Vaidya, Anand Patankar and Ashok Bagade responded enthusiastically and I knew that the photothon was on.

The hunt was now on for a hall. Garware College offered to host the meet but their halls had already been booked for the duration. The Symbiosis Institute of Computer Science and Research (SICSR) came to our rescue. SICSR has prominent enthusiasts on “free” issues such as FOSS and Wikipedia – notably Mr Lalit Kathpalia, the Director and Harshad Gune, the Deputy Director. The Director very kindly gave us the facilities gratis and we felt that now our 15 January bash was sure to take place. SICSR hosts Pune Linux Users Group (PLUG) of which Sudhanwa is a driving force. In fact, PLUG and computer science students of SICSR played an important part as volunteers and supporters of our meetup. We sort of stood on their shoulders to arrange the meetups. The computer science students were already innovating extensions for MediaWiki and this too became something for us to highlight.

Moral support

Bishakha Datta (Image:Lane Hartwell)

Bishakha Datta, a board member of the Wikimedia Foundation in India, was our mentor in remote control. She informed us that we could apply for a small grant, which we got, and advised us to form a page on ten.wikipedia.org which we did. Hardly had we made the page when Steven Walling got in touch about promotional swag comprising T-shirts, buttons and stickers being available.  Steven sent us the T-shirts well in time but Indian bureaucratese delayed part of the shipment and we had to make do with only half the swag requested. Sadly, it appeared that the Wikimedia Foundation allotted only one VIP per city 😉 (boy, does Bishakha hate it when I use that term for her, he he he, evil me!) Bishakha spent TEN at Kolkata her home city. I’m sure she had a wonderful time but we missed her in Pune.

I had met Sudhanwa Jogalekar for the first time the day after I sent the email along with Dexter, Manjusha Joshi and Alolita Sharma in the famous restaurant Hotel Rupali on Ferguson College Road. A very auspicious start to a new friendship with this quiet, white-haired, FOSS evangelist who was to prove the bedrock of our organising the meetup.

Serendipity & all that

We had our first meetup at SICSR canteen around the 20th or so of December. That day, I met Mandar and Shirish for the first time – new friends. 🙂

I had mentioned “serendipity” before. The day of our first co-ordination meeting in SCISR canteen, we found a group of young college students excitedly and noisily discussing on the next table. We began discussing and during one of our pauses we heard the magic W word! Immediately we called them over and we found that this was a volunteer group of TEDxPUNE headed by the Curator in Pune, 19 year old Abhishek Suryavanshi who were organising a day-long evangelisation meetup for school children on 15 Jan in SCISR itself! Wham, the synergies hit us. The TEDxPUNE meetup became another of the activities Pune could boast about and present in the meetup. In return, we would provide an editing session by volunteers (yours truly) and share some of the promotional swag. So our evangelism wish also came true.

Dr Anupam Saraph - CIO Pune & Mentor TEDxPUNE (Image:Prasad Vaidya)

TEDxPUNE is mentored by Dr Anupam Saraph. Anupam is a polymath, an evangelist of infomatics and a great supporter of the Wiki concept and in his capacity as Chief Information Officer of Pune, had implemented a governance wiki for Pune. Anupam was in touch with Wikimedia Foundation on a number of issues. Unknown to us he was convincing Barry Newstead, Wikimedia’s Chief Global Development Officer (CGDO) to visit us in Pune. Barry was coming to Mumbai, ostensibly on work and would attend the Mumbai meetup that morning. At that point of time, exciting things were being planned in Pune. Barry wrote mentioning that he would be in Pune for our function. We were really excited.

A Note about Barry Newstead

 

Barry Newstead, Chief Global Development Officer, Wikimedia Foundation (Image:Lane Hartwell)

(blurb begins) – he became CGDO in Jun 2010 and was responsible for increasing readership and supporting editor self-organization in the Global South, for overseeing communications with the general public and the media, and activities aimed at supporting and developing chapters. Newstead joined Wikimedia Foundation from The Bridgespan Group, where he spent the previous year helping the Wikimedia Foundation develop its five-year strategic plan. Previously, he worked with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) for eight years where he  worked extensively in southeast Asia, greater China, South Korea and western Europe. Barry was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and raised in Toronto, Canada. He has an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario, and a master’s degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Barry has been married to P. K. Lee for 12 years. (blurb ends)  Barry is a very nice guy, intelligent and well-informed and it was a real treat for us to interact with him.

Schedule

So now our activities were planned as follows:

  • WIKIPEDIA INTRODUCTION & EDITING SESSION to Basic Ornithology Course at 1930 hrs on 06 Jan 2011 in Abasaheb Garware College.
  • WIKIPEDIA MARATHI MEETUP at 1830 hrs on 08 Jan 2011 at SICSR.
  • PUNE PHOTOTHON FOR WIKIMEDIA COMMONS at Shaniwarwada at 0930 hrs on 09 Jan 2011.
  • BIRD ARTICLE IMPROVEMENT SESSIONS.
  • TEDxPUNE EVANGELISM at SICSR on 15 Jan 2011 from 1000 hrs to 1600 hrs.
  • ‘Introduction to Wikipedia & editing session’ by yours truly from 1200hrs to 1400 hrs. Barry Newstead to attend on arrival from Mumbai.
  • TENTH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION at SICSR from 1830 hrs onwards.
  • Dinner for Barry Newstead and few volunteers. After the function.

For the function itself, we had planned :

  • Presentation on Wikipedia (ten minutes).(Ashwin Baindur)
  • Short talks on:
    • Marathi Wikipedia (ten minutes) (Mandar Kulkarni).
    • 7th [[Ornithology]] Course’s contribution to Wikipedia with Uploading of the three improved articles on Indian Birds (ten minutes). (Dr Satish Pande)
    • Talk on contribution to Wikimedia Commons with symbolic upload of a photograph, from Wikimedia Commons loves Pune (ten minutes). (Ashok Bagade)
    • Talk on contribution made by TEDxPUNE’s event for college students on 15 Jan 2011 (ten minutes). (Abhishek Suryawanshi)
    • Talk on Software extensions developed by SICSR – (ten minutes) (Harshad Gune).
  • ””’Hallmark address by Mr Barry Newstead from Wikimedia Foundation.””’
  • Concluding remarks by Lalit Kathpalia.
  • Cake cutting.
  • Vote of thanks (Mandar Kulkarni).
  • Refreshments.

Ornithology Course Wiki Meetup

Dr Suruchi Pande, noted ethno-ornithologist, Ela Foundation

The Introduction to Wikipedia meetup to the 7th Certificate Course in Basic Ornithology at 1930 hrs on 06 Jan 2011 in Abasaheb Garware College. It was a thirty minute slot given to us. Sudhanwa and Shirish, the mainstays were present and Ashwin (yours truly) took the lecture. The lecture introduced the need for Wikipedia and Commons, the philosophy and showed how simple it was to edit. Thanks to Swapnil for helping with internet when our internet dongle and backup dongle both failed. After the function Tshirts were presented to Doctors Satish and Surchi Pande, Anant Padhye and Anil Mahabal and those who were actively involved in editing in the project. The course was enthusiastic in the reception of Wikipedia editing as an idea but it will need more follow ups to convert some of these interested people into Wikipedia editors.

Marathi Wikipedia Meetup

The Marathi Wikipedia meetup took place at SICSR at 1900 hrs on 08 Jan 2011. The following attended – Ashwin Baindur, Shirish Agarwal, Sudhanwa Jogalekar, Anupam Saraph, Mandar Kulkarni, Karunakar, Harshad Gune and couple of newbies to the concept of wiki editing. Discussion reigned on three topics – the forthcoming anniversary activities (by self), efforts to introduce wikis in the commercial, educational and government communities and the desirability of making Pune a contender for the location of Wikimedia’s India Office (by Anupam Saraph), and the road ahead for Marathi Wikipedia (by Mandar Kulkarni). Mandar gave a number of ideas. See Mandar’s presentation loaded /*here*/.

Shirish Agarwal has given a detailed writeup on that event /*here*/:

Marathi Wikipedia Meetup at Pune on 08 Jan 2011. L to R - Shrish, Mandar, Harshad, Ashwin, Sudhanwa, Karunakar. Anupam left early.

Wikimedia Commons Meetup

The Wikimedia Commons meetup took place on 09 January 2011. A bunch of (camera) trigger-happy people metup on Sunday morning at the front gate of Shaniwar wada. Those present included Ashwin Baindur, Anand Patankar, Ashok Bagade, Shirish Agarwal, Sudhanwa Joglekar, Prasad Vaidya, Chandan Sharma and Prasad Rasal. Since everyone was meeting afresh, the first act of the day was explaining our purpose – the idea behind Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, the need for free images on Pune and our plan for the group which we christened as WikiPuneri. The need to do this today, namely, the forthcoming 10th Anniversary of Wikipediawas mentioned along with a special invite for the 15th event. WikiPuneri members played a major role on the 15th.

 

WikiPuneris all - Shirish, Chandan, Anand, Prasad, Ashwin (Image:Anand Patankar)

The photographers soon sorted out into two groups – some to whom photography is serious business and others who consider it a great social activity. I shuttled between both as they pored over the grounds of the old fort and photographed it comprehensively. After that we went to Kasba Ganpati mandir, Lal Mahal (closed due to the relocation of Dadoji Kondadev’s statue) and had Misal-Pav at the close. Prasad Vaidya, the most energetic of photgraphers promptly created a WikiPuneri group on Flickr and Facebook. It is early to say but we hope that WikiPuneri will grow into something good which contributes usefully to Pune’s heritage. The photographers took awesome images some of which were showcased during the 15th function.

Shirish Agarwal gives an interesting writeup /*here*/ .

Bird Article Improvement

The Bird article improvement took place at Dr Satish Pande’s residence since he had both a laptop with internet connection and the references. The contributors comprised of Dr Satish Pande, Dr Suruchi Pande, Dr Anil Mahabal, Rajgopal Patil and Devashish Pandya. Yours truly was the editor as there was no time to teach wiki editing to the particpants. A number of edits were made with references. The article on Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) was developed with a great number of details ranging from distribution to culture. Earlier the crux of the article was by myna-haters from countries where it is an invasive pest. It has been successfully converted into an article with NPOV – containing material both by myna-lovers from India & myna-haters ;-). Besides this information on Indian populations of Shaheen Falcon (Falco peregrinus peregrinator), White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) and others. A unique first was when the Painted Francolin (Francolinus pictus) article was provided not just its call by yours truly but also its sonogram by Rajgopal Patil, we hope it is a sign of good things to come.

The improved article on Common Myna on Wikipedia

The Big Day dawns

Last minute changes and emergencies come up. Ashok Bagade had a severe attack of pharyngitis and Chandan Sharma stepped in at the last minute to speak instead of him. The program changed. Anupam had asked Barry to come relatively early to Pune, be in Pune by 1500 hours and attend firstly – an open session of the kids who had attended the evangelism get-together and later a meeting with movers and shakers of Government and Industry in YASHADA. After that Barry would attend our meetup. So now a new serial was added into our program:

  • Meeting of Barry Newstead with bureacrats and captains of industry from 1700 hrs to 1800 hrs on 15 Jan 2011 at YASHADA.

The cake guys refused to accept our cake design because it had a nation’s map on it – something they had not sensitised us to earlier. Worse, they refused to explain why they were rejecting our design till finally their chief creator of cakes at Copperchocks, Sharon explained the situation to us – that people object to the cutting of the national flag or map on a cake. On our pleading, Sharon, much to her surprise, found herself agreeing to do the cake at short notice. We chose one of Srikanth Lakshmanan’s designs from /*here*/.

Thanks to Tony Thomas and Swapnil Narendra, creators of the design we chose. You guys are entitled to cake, when you visit us in Pune.

 

Our awesome cake - based on a "free design"!

Next, the printers/publishers acted up and last minute running around was required by to be done by Sudhanwa. As a result all of us got involved and could not partiipate much on the 15th in anything but our function. I had an editing session to do which I did but that’s it. Fortunately, we had kept our blogger free to absorb all impressions and Shirish was deputed to attend and report – a task which he has done admirably. Or will have done admirably, once all his posts are up!

TEDxPUNE Wikipedia Event

The 15th morning saw us all phoning each other to coordinate eveything. I landed up at TEDxPUNE bang on the clock at 12 noon for my session. The children were all busy, innovating a parachute from various items of garbage given to them. After about half an hour, my time came. As luck would have it, the internet on the LAN misbehaved and I had to speak cold turkey to the kids till internet was restored 45 mins later by Saharsh Parekh of SICSR – great job, Saharsh, way to go. That gave me an opportunity to tell the children the philosophy about Wikipedias and Commons. Also that it was one of the very few places where they can make a difference and change the world. Our editing session that followed was exciting but necessarily brief – we added some information on Ganeshotsav and deleted some unreferenced information from the wikipedia article on Culture of Pune. Then I had to leave.

With the kids at TEDxPUNE Wikipedia event. (Image:Abhishek Suryawanshi)

Children display their posters (Image:Abhishek Suryavanshi)

The children had a poster competition and I was really gratified to hear that they had got the message clearly – they churned out some fabulous posters which Barry Newstead was shown at his arrival at 1630 hrs.  (You actually believed the Mumbai guys would let him go so easily? Hah!). He had a great time interacting with the kids and departed for YASHADA. We shall be uploading the kids posters to Commons soon.

YASHADA Meetup

The YASHADA meet was NOT about Wikipedia but about the understanding/using the concept of wikis in government, business and acdemicia – though to be fair, Anupam lobbied hard for scholarships to school teachers & students who would contribute to Wikipedia/Wikiversity. Let’s hope he succeeds. Shirish has a detailed writeup on his blog for those interested in this field.

 

Shirish makes a point at Yashada meetup. (Image:Yashada)

The last minute hitches
The final meetup began slowly. Our time-plan had gone for a six. We hoped that Barry would revert very soon from YASHADA but that was pointless optimism. People turned up slowly but steadily and we were relieved to find our hall fill up by 1900 hrs (we had catered for 150). The TEDxPUNE volunteers led by Abhishek Suryavanshi and SICSR volunteers led by Saharsh Parekh were a boon to us and quickly helped us set up our show. Anand Patankar and Ashok Bagade landed up gingerly but triumphantly holding our cake. It was a real beauty – easily the prettiest cake in all the WP celebrations in India.

Ashok, though speechless, landed up with a sizzling presentation on Shaniwar wada for Chandan to showcase. Chandan Sharma and her sister Poornima landed up, both looking gorgeous and adding some much needed colour to our meetup. Immediately, they got together with Amita, my better 99% and Aditi my daughter (who came along to participate and also give me moral support) and took administrative charge of cakes, T-shirts, people etc. They organised our reception, etc so that I could quit flapping. Sudhanwa landed up at last minute with the beautifully printed handouts/booklets that we dished out. (Sorry, folks, we are all out! Don’t worry, you can download it from /*here*/.)

Tenth Anniversary Function

Since the program could not effectively began without Barry, yours truly got a chance to put his gift of the gab to work. The audience was fantastic. They neither booed me or chased me with paintbrush and tar-bucket but listened spell-bound for an hour as I put forth the whole philosophy thing and very, very slowly went over my presentation on WP. In short, they were good as gold.

 

Yours truly - pontificating at large! (Image:Prasad Vaidya)

I was also able to inform the public about our activities in general and introduce the wikipedians to them. The editors of Wikipedia were then asked to stand up and introduce themselves. The youngest editor was 15 year old Rishabh Tatiraju or User:Tatiraju.rishabh who has a thousand edits and mostly edits on tropical cyclones. He and my daughter, Aditi, formed the reception committee.

Special Note to Editors from Pune on Wikipedia especially those who attended : Extra T-shrits have come. Leave message on User Talk:AshLin if you are a genuine editor. Minimum 50 edits are a must to collect your Tshirt. First come, first served but do not forget to post me on English Wikipedia on my talk page in any case.

 

Rishabh Tatiraju - the youngest editor present (Image:Prasad Vaidya)

At around 7.45 Barry, Lalit, Anupam & Shirish arrived, to my relief.  I wound up my spiel and launched the people reporting on the multifarious activities one by one.

Dr Satish Pande entertains us all. (Image:Prasad Vaidya)

The first was Dr Satish Pande. Without any presentation of any kind, in simple language he mentioned why the Ela Foundation decided to take up this project and how they went about it. He mentioned the unique contributions such as the addition of very interesting ornithological facts, especially the bird call sonograms which had never been added to Wikipedia before. He regaled the audience with some very interesting names for the Common Myna in Sanskrit literature. The information on Sanskrit names was provided by Dr Suruchi Pande who has doctorates in Sanskrit and History and is working on Ethno-ornithology of Indian culture while the information on so many other aspects of Myna biology were provided by Dr Anil Mahabal who has made his life’s study on this bird. The short talk was very well recieved by the audience. At the end of it, the expanded and revised article on Common Myna was uploaded in front them.

Mandar Kulkarni (Image : Prasad Vaidya)

After this, Mandar Kulkarni gave a presentation on Marathi Wikipedia, a revised version of what he presented in the Marathi Wikipedia meetup. Dressed impeccably in formals, Mandar made a striking figure. His strong beliefs and enthusiasm shone through as he mentioned the different ways we can help to develop this indic language wikipedia of our home state. Mandar mentioned a number of ways we could contribute from creating new articles, translating en:WP (English Wikipedia) articles, adding information, images, references, inter-wiki linking (linking different language versions of an article), marketing WP through social networking such as FB & twitter, etc, etc. My only regret was that for want of time and opportunity we had only paid lip service to mr:WP (Marathi Wikipedia) and could not have made a real contrubution as had been done for en:WP and Commons.

Mandar was followed by Chandan Sharma who spoke of how it was an intriguing to be invited to Shaniwar wada for photography and how the whole idea of photographers contributing to Pune, Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons was an awesome way to contribute to society. For those who don’t know. Commons is the image and media repository providing free images to all the 278 language Wikipedias, other projects and to the general public. Chandan explained how a large collection of images on Pune’s monuments was a surefire way to promote the city and empower its people. The photographers group, spearheaded boldly by Prasad Vaidya had formed Facebook and Flickr groups called WikiPuneri. She then wowed the audience with Ashok B’s (he with the speechless voice) presentation.

Then in front of every one the first image – of Shaniwar wada’s front gate – was uploaded into Wikimedia Commons. Here it is :

"Dilli darwaja" at Shaniwarwada - our first image to be loaded into Commons

Due to time constraints, we had to cancel the talks by the next two speakers, Harshad Gune on PHP extensions created by the students of SICSR and Abhishek Suryawanshi reporting on the TEDxPUNE. They took this very sportingly without a single word of complaint. Though I had mentioned their contribution to the audience, we were all a bit disappointed at that. We are looking forward to Harshad Gune’s boys demonstrating their coding skills on MediaWiki next month at GNUNIFY in their College. But it was late, a few people had begun leaving without hearing Barry speak or even partaking cake and refreshments, so we had to cut short the programme.

 

Barry Newstead at the Meetup

Barry’s Talk

Barry Newstead stood up and in a frank, soft-spoken tone told us all about Wikimedia’s worldview.

Amit Karpe’s blog post gives the points succintly which I am paraphrasing below :

* Wikimedia Foundation’s plans for next 10 years.

1) Secured Infrastructure

2) Increasing Participation of all stakeholders

3) Quality ( Rating Tool ) under test

4) Increasing reach of Wikipedia to offline audiences ( Books, CD, Pendrive )

5) Innovations

* India is on priority. Notably, Barry had travelled 3 times in last 5 months to India. India has a large reader community with more than 30 Million monthly visitors on the total projects of wikimedia.org. Though we now have significant Indic language communities, there is tremendous  scope for growing and improving India is important for Wikimedia Foundation because:

1) Opportunities

2) Free Knowledge

3) Hub for Innovation

4) Office in India ( Only Office outside US )

* Barry explained the significance of the logo:

1) More I learn, less I know.

2) Knowledge puzzle yet to complete represents the work yet to be done and knowledge yet to be added.

3) Knowledge 1% uploaded in Wikipedia and 99% yet to come not vice versa.

 

Barry Newstead points at the logo explaining it stands for the work yet to be done.

Barry then cut the delicious cake and while the cake was being apportioned, Mr Lalit Kathpalia, the jovial Director of SICSR gave a short and sweet summing up. He reiterated the support of SICSR in development of technical projects for Wikipedia and invited Barry to visit SICSR in Feb 2011 for the college techfest GNUNIFY. Lalit has generously offered to help implement whatever changes ordinary Wikipedians would like to see in MediaWiki. More power to him and his coders!

 

Mr Lalit Kathpalia, Director SICSR, concludes the session. (Image: Prasad Vaidya)

Mandar Kulkarni gave the vote of thanks and the proceedings came to an end. Everybody was ravenous and the excellent snacks provided by SICSR canteen contractor vanished as fast as they appeared but since there were only 63 guests at the end, there was enough tuck left over for the hostelites among SICSR volunteers to take with them.

 

Chandan and Aditi clap as Barry cuts the cake. (Image:Abhishek Suryawanshi)

Epilogue
The dinner at Raviraj for Barry to interact with a few of the volunteers was a pleasant, quiet affair with interesting conversations and ideas being thrown around. Everyone unanimously heckled Barry (in a pleasant way of course) to locate Wikimedia’s office in India in Pune. A large variety of reasons were given and Barry smilingly kept nodding without committing – a very diplomatic effort on his part. A great time was had by all and we broke off at 12.30 pm. Thanks to Prasad Vaidya for his flawless organisation of the dinner party single-handedly.

Special Thanks to : Wikimedia Foundation, Bishakha Datta, Barry Newstead, Steven Walling, Winifred Olliff.

We also thank Sakaal Times, Times of India, Indian Express, DNA, Maharahstra Times for their press coverage of the event.

The State of Wikipedia – a short enjoyable video look at the Encyclopedia anyone can edit!

19 January 2011

JESS3 is an award winning creative agency that specializes in social media, branding and data visualization. It recently produced a short (3.5 minute long) video to tell the world what Wikipedia’s about. It’s narrated by none other than Jimbo Wales – the great man himself. Enjoy!

What is Wikimedia Commons all about?

18 January 2011

Most of us do not know enough about the free resources of the digital world available to us,  such as Wikimedia Commons!  This article, originally written to expound the philosophy of WikiPuneri, a Facebook group of people wanting to make a difference, has been added here for the greater public to read.

…starts…

Before I explain what WikiPuneri group does, I would like to explain in short about Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons is not an encyclopaedia, it is a media repository. Wikipedia, as you all know, is the free online encyclopaedia which anyone can edit. There are a total of 278 Wikipedias in the world, each in a different language. The English Wikipedia is the largest with 3,528,428 articles. As of now there are twenty wikipedias in Indian languages – including in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, blah, blah and blah. Of these Marathi Wikipedia is the third in size with over 30,000 articles. In addition there are twenty more wikipedias in other Indian languages in the process of being developed.

Now why I have mentioned this is because all of these use photographs, video clips and sound files. Now, it is a waste of space for each Wikipedia to load its images exclusively for itself. Hence the Wikimedia Foundation has created another project called as Wikimedia Commons or in short just Commons. Commons is the media repository. All photos, video clips and sound files are uploaded here just once and they immediately become available to all wikipedias.

The number of images on Wikimedia Commons about an important subject say Pune city is important. That is because all the images on Commons are free. When I say free, I mean free as in free speech as well as in free beer. You are free to use them as you wish, even commercially, as long as you attribute whose image you have used and as long as you make the material available under a free license. These images on Commons are placed under one of a variety of licenses that give you these rights and permissions – this kind of license is called a free license, which allows you to use the images as you wish, as long as you attribute and give free license to people to use your work in turn. The most common free license used around the world is the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.

The full text of Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License is given here.

But to explain it here is a more easily understood diagrammatic version of the same below :

 

The crux of the Creative Commons 3.0 Unported License

Why? Why this talk about free licenses?

Because images are usually copyrighted with all rights reserved by the creator. Because a person who is going to break the law and steal or illegally use your image will not bother about whether image is copyrighted or free to use. But the law abiding person can neither use a copyrighted image whose creator has kept all rights for himself without breaking the law nor can he afford it.

Usually you have to pay a fee ranging from a hundred to tens of thousands of rupees to use a photograph commercially per image. Poor people cant afford that, even if the cause is noble or good for society. Many people agree to permit use of their photos free for a good cause, but it is difficult or sometimes impossible to contact people who have good images on Flickr, Picassa or web ste. So a repository of free images is required. Wikimedia Commons is exactly that – it not only stores images for Wikipedias but also makes them available for everyone in society to use, even commercially.

Imagine a person, Mr Patil, who has knowledge which he wants to share with the world. Suppose he wants to write a very economically priced book on Butterflies Of Maharashtra in Marathi for all the children of Maharashtra to read. To illustrate it he will need over three hundred images. If he buys the images, the book will be extremely costly and not free or cheap. But he can take the images from Commons and use them to illustrate his book. He will have to do only two things – acknowledge the person whose photos he has used and publish it not under copyright with all rights reserved but with free Creative Commons license I mentioned to you. Mr Patil can use these images, print the book cheaply and even make a small honest profit.

The free license allows people to use Mr Patil’s book in a constructive manner. They can make derivatives. A biology teacher takes material from his book and makes a chart of common butterflies for display in class rooms. He acknowledges at the bottom of the chart that the information is taken from Patil’s book, mentions the authors of images used and publishes the chart under a free lisense. Another person thinks that the book and chart are valuable educational resources and translates it into English, Hindi, and other Indian Languages. The free license permits them to do so. And so on. The information and images get re-used freely, the contributions of all people are acknowledged and same freedoms are passed on by means of the license.

In such a context, it is important that enough free images are available on Commons to empower our people. If you check Wikimedia Commons today, you will find very few images of Pune. For example, there are more than 500 historial places such as temples, wadas, buidings etc in Pune city alone but only five such places are covered in Commons. There are images of front gate of Shaniwarwada but none of the many wonders inside.

So some photographers of Pune have decided to remedy this by starting a programme to add images of historical monuments of our city onto Commons. We have formed a group of like-minded people on Facebook and Flickr who are keen to further this noble cause to help society. We call this group “WikiPuneri”. We have already started with our first focus being Shaniwarwada the landmark symbol of Pune city which we photographed last Sunday. In coming weeks we will add many more images of Pune and Maharashtra so that hopefully by the time Wikipedia becomes 11 years of age, all of Pune’s monuments are photographed.

 

One of the images uploaded. - the Shaniwarwada gate - (Image:Ashok Bagade)

The other thing we will do is that we will ensure that both Marathi and English Wikipedias have articles on all these monuments and landmarks. In this way, our exposure of our beloved Pune will increase. People can get all the important information about Pune that they need from Wikipedia and images from Wikimedia Commons.

On the function on 15th January 2011, as a symbolic gesture, we will be have uploadinged in front of everyone for the first time an image which we have taken and contributed to Wikimedia Commons. Hopefully that will be followed by many, many more!

…ends…

THIS TEXT LICENSED UNDER CREATIVE COMMONS 3.0 UNPORTED (See link in main article)

Wisdom of the Wiki-Commons! by Ambuj Saxena

3 September 2009

Guest post

Most people use Wikipedia but never get around to knowing that they could actually edit or contribute something. It’s quite easy.

I have been wanting to write about it myself but found that User:Ambuj Saxena had already done it in his blog. Its a bit dated, about three years old, but except for a few statistics and new features, its absolutely as relevant today.

For those who don’t know about my Wiki-connection, please click my avatar (image on the opposite side of the web page).

Published here at my request and Ambuj’s graceful acceptance.

Wisdom of the Wiki-Commons

byWikilogo

Ambuj Saxena

The bottomline first: It works.

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.” – Jimmy Wales

For those who still don’t get it what is being talked about, the subject of this post is Wikipedia and more specifically the English Wikipedia. The quote above is by the founder of Wikipedia, quoted in a Slashdot Interview.

What is Wikipedia?

In brief, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. It is the world’s largest encyclopedia and is growing at an extremely fast rate. With more than 1 million articles in English Wikipedia, it can be used as a single point reference to know from biography of Atilla the Hun to ingenuity of the Monty Hall Problem. What’s more a lot of articles also have audio versions also, so one can also sit back and listen to them without having to read anything.

<!– Read about Wikipedia on Wikipedia here!–>

How stuff works?

This is where a complication begins. One would expect an encyclopedia to be written by experts; people who are associated with the topic in concern in great detail. However, Wikipedia is edited and maintained mainly by people like us, who are at best “Jack of few trades”. And there is no deterrent to anyone’s editing. Though registration is optional (though required for starting new articles), anyone can edit any page he/she wants. A big button shouting “edit this page” sits at the top of every article and besides every section welcoming you to edit and improve the articles.

So how does it work when there is no reason it should work? What stops people from vandalizing their hearts out, and corporations from using it as an advertisment board? Or in short, why should one use it at all when all one can expect is nothing more than few sentences of garbled text?

The reason is the philosophy behind Wikipedia and the founding principles of it. Wikipedia is based on three basic philosophies that are complimentary and non-negotiable. They are Verifiability, Neutral Point of View and No Original Research.

Verifiability means that only those things can be written in Wikipedia to which a source can be attributed as reference or can be observed by anyone without susbtantial effort. This directs people who contribute in Wikipedia to quote reputed sources of their articles and hence achieves good amount of reliability.

Neutral Point of View means that articles are to be written without any bias. This means howsever you feel strongly about an article, you have to present it in neutral perspective without adding any personal opinions and flavours to the facts.

No Original Research means that you cannot write things in it that have not been previously reported by a reputed source. Hence Wikipedia is a source-based research and should not create primary sources.

It can be easily seen that with the strong content guiding policy like this, there is a platform created for things to prosper, given the right nurturing is given. It should be noted that Wikipedia strongly disallows copyrighted content (text, image or any form of creative work) to be written in it and licenses all works under GNU Free Ducumentation License Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike License.

Why the name Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is formed by joining the words “Wiki” and “Encyclopedia”. All of you must be knowing what encyclopedia means, so only “Wiki” needs to be explained. “Wiki” is Hawaiian adjective meaning “quick”. The philosophy behind adoption of this word is that a wiki-based system is easy to edit. One of the basic features of a Wiki is that it stores all revisions of the work, so that if anything bad happens (like vandalism or even a genuine mistake), things can be corrected. This can also be used to view how things were in the past, if relevant to the context, and mostly by editors to do things that will be discussed in details later. Wikipedia is based on a Wiki software called Media Wiki.

Adminsitrative Structure

Although most of the editing part can be done by anyone, there are special things like deletion of article or blocking of compulsive vandals that can only be done by Wikipedia Administrators (known as sysops). They are elected on the basis of consensus among the Wikipedia community about the worthiness of the user in concern. Sock-puppetry (creating multiple accounts to support one’s views) is strictly handled by Wikipedia and violators are usually banned.

The Wikipedia Mark-up

Wikipedia uses a markup similar to HTML though customized for a collaborative work with inter-related pages. In case one needs to link to a page in Wikipedia from a Wikipedia article, all that needs to be done is that to add double square brackets to the article name. For example, [[Indian Institutes of Technology]] will create a link to the article on Indian Institutes of Technology. There are similar easy ways of adding images and other useful features like bullets and tables. Although a lot of HTML codes work, their use is generally discouraged in favour of Wiki’s own markup to provide consistency is article formats. Guides for Layout are available to make sure that there is little confusion as to how things are to be presented.

<!–More than the 5,13,496 articles which was the figure for Jul 2009->

Fighting Vandalism

One of the serious problems that Wikipedia faces is vandalism of articles. However, the way Wikipedia is designed, vandalism is largely ineffective. Is is usually seen that most vandalisations last less than 5 minutes! What’s more, I can even quote this from my experience when I have seen vandalisation getting reverted within a couple of minutes. This article can give you a good perspective of the issue being discussed.

The way vandalisation is handled in Wikipedia is really commendable. First of all, since all previous revisions of the article in concern exist, once detected, its only a matter of couple of seconds that the article can be restored to its original state. Also, in order to check vandalism, there is a group of self-appointed people (I am one too), some 1000 in number, who check the recent changes taking place in Wikipedia from the Recent Changes Page. Coupled with a set of tools unknown to vandals and a lot of experience, they are able to weed out vandalism very effectively. In many instances, when I have reached a vandalised page within a couple of minutes, I see that someone has already come and corrected it. Amazingly, very little “garbage” goes through this filter. What does go through is still not spared. Most of the editors in Wikipedia (especially registered users) keep the pages edited by them in their watchlist. So, for example, if a person from Indore tries to advertise his business on Indore’s Wikipedia page (which most likely a Recent Changes Patroller from Utah might not be able to qualify as vanity information), I get alerts of the changes. There are over 1000 articles in my watchlist even in the short span of less than 2 months in Wikipedia. With such multi-layered filtering, the vandalism/nonsense that does gets through is less than one PPM; something that can be considered very good.

Siblings

Wikipedia has a lot of sister projects like Wiktionary, Wikinews, and Wikiquote. These complement Wikipedia’s work as the resource for everything by being a repository of news, quotes, etc. Interlinking between sister projects is also easily done through the Wiki mark-up.

Behind the scenes

If you click on the “discussion” link at the top of any page, you will find what really lies beneath the calm and serene surface of Wikipedia. You will see a lot of discussions between the editors on what is possibly wrong with the article and how can it be improved. The way these discussions are carried out are also very structured and personal attacks are looked down upon. People are given feedback on their edits and suggestion from others (not directly related to the article) is also sought.

All users have their own profile pages and talk pages (for communication). This enables them to communicate with others more efficiently. Many user prefer to use “Userboxes” to tell things about themselves (like mine can be seen in my profile page‘s end and also directly here).

The good editors are rewarded by their peers for work, usually by giving a variety of Barnstars. Wikipedian are also known for their sense of humour and they lighten the mood when things start heating up in controversial topic debates. For example in an RfC (Request for Comments) over Kelly Martin’s high-handed attitude in deleting userboxes that she felt are crap [sic] and should be deleted, also popularly known as the great userbox purge, a lot of people posted humourous stuff like an annoying pastel box.

A lot of things related to wikipedia are prefixed by adding “wiki” before them. For example, any break from wikipedia is known as a wikibreak, the stress caused by it is wikistress and the mood while editing wikipedia is wikimood.

Brilliant Prose

Some 1000 2,596 articles of English Wikipedia’s are categorised as brilliant prose (Featured Articles). This is a extensive and rigorous process of review to establish that the article in concern conforms to high standards. In order to make an article into a Featured Article, it has to conform to a lot of strict guidelines on content and presentation. First there is a Peer Review where authors invite comments and suggestions from their fellow editors on how to improve the article. Once done, it can proceed for the Featured Article Review. Here experts suggest how the article can be fine-tuned to make it a brilliant prose. Once having achieved the FA status, the article also appears on the front page of Wikipedia.

<!–There is a similar feature for providing quality certification to articles, especially those which are never likely to become “Featured Articles” due to any reason. This is called “Good Articles” and GA or ‘Good Article’ is an intermediate quality stage on the path of improvement to “Featured Article”. –>

Comparison with other Encyclopedia

Wikipedia, over time, has been compared to a lot of encyclopedia and the main things stressed are the quality of content and reliability. The points where Wikipedia failed to ensure reliability have been quoted often in the media. But I still use it as a primary source of reference because of my experience with it. When I read something about what was reported wrong in Wikipedia, I feel similar to reading about people who win in gambling. Millions of people buy tickets, but only those who win are featured in newspapers, etc. With a lot of opportunities for having an error, wikipedia scores quite good as compared to other encyclopedias also. In a study, it was found that while Encyclopedia Britannica had on an average 3 errors per article, Wikipedia had 4; a feat considering it is just 5 years old then.<!–Wikipedia is 8 plus years old now and has effectively put the paid encyclopaedia trade out of business. –>

Other criticisms include unequal weight-age of subjects, which I have to accept is true. As Wikipedia is evolving, whenever someone comes to an article he knows something about, he edits it. But almost never does he know everything about it. So the article waits for the next “expert” to come over and edit relevant sections. I feel its premature to compare articles randomly. If a comparison is to be made, it should be made between equals. Like a featured article in Wikipedia and in another encyclopedia. Although Wikipedia has the restriction of using free content only (it doesn’t buy content like text, images, etc), I am quite sure wikipedia will be equal, if not better than the other encyclopedias. The reason behind my belief is that even the best of encyclopedias have a non-neutral point of view, or tend to find a diplomatic way out of the problem by either mis-representing facts or completely ignoring them. While in Wikipedia, care is taken that even minority view is expressed. Wikipedia does not work on voting, but on constructive discussions. If there is an evidence to include a content, it finds its way into the article.

The Real Bottomline

Even with so many potential dangers, Wikipedia scores quite well in both reliability and exhaustiveness because of the sheer large number of people editing it (more than 1 million 5 lakh registered users and innumerably more anonymous ones).

<!–See an animation on the growth of articles in Wikipedias here. The English wikipedia is coded ‘en’. –>

Jimmy Wales once said that –

Wikipedia is like a sausage: you might like the taste of it, but you don’t necessarily want to see how it’s made“.

It will apply to most of you but since I am a chef, I have to oversee it being made it to perfection.

(Note: The author is a Wiki-holic and averages around 35 edits a day.)

<!–Lots of statistics, tables, graphs about the Wikimedia projects here!–>

Suggested Reading

Freedom? Still awaited!

15 August 2009

Yesterday we celebrated the freedom of our nation. That was freedom  from dominion by an alien race. We wanted to be free – to prosper, to further ourselves, to contribute to our nations and mankind, to become better people.

the first stamp of independent India, released on 21 Nov 1947

The first stamp of independent India, released on 21 Nov 1947

We did not become free to serve new overlords – in any field, whether it was public life or in private life; definitely not in our love for learning, discovery and engagement with the world around us. In 62 years, more than a lifetime for many of us, we continue to be restrained. Simple things like Knowledge, which should be free, continue to elude us; nay to be denied us by artificial constructs such as copyright, by bureaucracies, by small, selfish people who are blind to the larger picture, the enormous latent possibilities in the hearts and minds of the common Indians and who do not consider the common man to be a stakeholder in anything which affects him.

“Satyameva jayate”

may be interpreted as

“The truth shall set you free.”

So on this day, I celebrate freedom. Free practices, free knowledge, free thinking.

I have placed this blog under free licenses explicitly.

The content on this blog is free!

Free to be used by you, quoted, modified, transformed and even used commercially.

But with the proviso that the freedom which I give you has to be passed on to your stakeholders and you cannot take that freedom away as they can’t  in their turn. And my copyright (or more accurately, my copyleft) needs to be acknowledged by attribution.

Wikipedia - free content in the real world!

Wikipedia - free content in the real world!

The exact terms can be seen from the links on the two licenses (take your pick of one) in the license widget in the right panel on the blog main page.

This blog already has an impassioned plea for Open science by Shyamal.

‘Open science’ is actually a weasel word, mistakenly used by me to title his op-ed; he had not given one to his piece.

We actually need ‘Free science’.

Just as Free software is a more powerful concept than Open source software, so is ‘Free Science’ more ‘free’ than ‘Open Science’.

Richard Stallman - The Prophet for Freedom in content!

Richard Stallman - The Prophet for Freedom in content!

“Value your freedom or you will lose it, teaches history. “Don’t bother us with politics,” respond those who don’t want to learn.”

Richard Stallman, circa 2000.

Just as open source is a compromise between the commercial world of big business and the FLOSS community, ‘Open Science’ envisages an avatar of traditional science where you and I are valued stakeholders.

But my wish is the same that Capt Vikram Batra, Param Vir Chakra (posthumous) paraphrased after the capture of  Pt 5140 p –

Yeh dil mange more!

Yeh dil mange more!

Science should not be just ‘open’ but also should be ‘free’

It should be free to all stakeholders to better their lives and their heritage. Clean green technology freely available to all for saving our planet. Technology to better our lives also free, if not to all concerned, but definitely to those who can’t feed their bellies every day. Science free from the top to the bottom – from academia to the hoi-polloi, from the technocrat to the consumer, from the practioner to the enthusiast.

Maybe, its a pipe dream, but I wish…..

If you find this rant mis-placed in the context of India’s freedom, I allow Stallman to reply for me once again. Only replace the word ‘software’ with the word ‘science’…

“It’s clear that other problems such as religious fundamentalism, overpopulation, damage to the environment, and the domination of business over government, science, thought, and society, are much bigger than non-free software. But many other people are already working on them, and I don’t have any great aptitude or ideas for how to address them. So it seems best for me to keep working on the issue of free software. Besides, free software does counter one aspect of business domination of society.”

—–

God bless all who gave their tomorrow for our today!

Credits – Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote.